bethbethbeth: (HP Beholder (femmequixotic))
[personal profile] bethbethbeth posting in [community profile] hp_beholder
Recipient: Mindabbles
Author: [personal profile] alimsiemanym
Title: Dogs of War
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: Alastor Moody/Rufus Scrimgeour
Words: ~11,500
Genre: Drama, Angst, Friendship/Pre-slash
Warning: (graphic) blood, violence, war; homophobia; mild torture
Notes: Thanks to LifeWriter for the beta.
Summary: A tale of triumph and tragedy, of two broken men and the war that made them and killed them.


"You are the security of our nation! You are the last line of defense!" Bartemius Crouch, mustache quivering, cast a sweeping glance over the assembled trainees. The folds of his red Auror robes were crisp and starched, and the torch light glinted from the assorted medals on his breast as his booming voice rallied his audience.

They were young, baby-faced Hogwarts graduates, all of 17 or 18 years old. Barely old enough to vote, hardly old enough to understand the world they were expected to save, and nowhere near old enough to have a wife, a husband, a child – but perhaps it was better that way. He let the echoes fade before taking a breath and shouting, "You are the brave warriors who stand the third watch over what we hold dear!"

The crowd exploded, the noise swelling to a thunderous roar that set the glass rattling in the charmed window panes. In the back of the crowd, leaning against the wall, Rufus Scrimgeour snorted. If this was the future of the wizarding world...

"Old Barty sure knows how to give a good talk, eh?"

The voice came from his side, and Scrimgeour turned to see Alastor Moody, half his face swathed in layers of white bandages. The stories of the epic battle between Evan Rosier and Alastor Moody on the outskirts of Hogsmeade grew with every telling, but Scrimgeour was sure that Moody would, in an instant, trade the resultant notoriety for the half of his face he lost to the young Death Eater.

"He can talk the talk, but can they walk the walk?" Scrimgeour murmured in reply, eyes fixed on the man who strode from one side of the stage to the other, inciting the crowd into a shouting, hopeful, expectant throng with his bellowed words and sweeping arms.

Moody snorted. "Considerin' the NEWT scores I've seen from this bunch? Not a chance."

The roaring was too loud by now to hear what Crouch was shouting, but it mattered little. The veteran Aurors watched in silence and not a little scorn. "He's windin' down," Moody said at length. "They'll hit the pubs soon. You want to get a head start?"

Rufus considered the paper work on his desk that young Sirius Black had fashioned into a towering two-meter sculpture of the Eiffel Tower. Why not. He shrugged, and the two slipped unnoticed from the hall, the raucous cheers of the young men and women following them long into the night.

They had secured a table in a dark corner of The Laughing Lynx, a pub that was popular with ministry types and law enforcement. It was relatively empty, being somewhat early and a Tuesday to boot. Moody claimed a spot in the corner with a clear view of the door, and Scrimgeour obligingly sat next to him. They ordered ales, less of an inebriation hazard than the traditional firewhiskey. Scrimgeour had quietly, instinctively catalogued the possible entry and exit points, suspicious types, and defensive positions. He knew that beside him Moody was doing the same.

The waitress had no sooner placed two frothy mugs on their table when the door burst open and a wave of over-excited Auror trainees swarmed in. Scrimgeour took a breath and forced himself to relax the muscles that had tensed with instinct and adrenaline. They were so young and carefree, loud and boisterous and entirely lacking the hardness that came with having your partner die in your arms, screaming in agony as his internal organs slowly liquefied. There was a part of him that sneered at the children who put on their uniforms to play soldier, and a whole other part that mourned for their impending loss of innocence.

Moody cast a critical eye on the crowd and announced derisively, "Puppies."

He pulled his attention to the man sitting next to him, who was making significant headway into his pint. He cast about for something to say, found nothing, and settled for an idiotic-sounding, "Eh?"

Moody nodded at the caterwauling youngsters at the bar. "Puppies, the lot of them," he repeated. "Excited, and bouncin', and yappin' to high heaven. The potential's there, unless some big dog kills them first."

"Moody–" he started, but was quickly interrupted.

"The name's Alastor."

Scrimgeour stared at him for a heartbeat, but there was nothing in Moody's perfectly blank face. He made a mental note never to play poker with the man. "Alastor," he acknowledged.

Moody nodded and turned his attention back to his ale. His train of thought completely derailed, Rufus cast his thoughts back to the conversation they had been having. "Old dogs, like old shoes, are comfortable. A bit out of shape and worn about the edges, but they fit well," Rufus said.

Alastor snorted into his nearly empty mug. "In dog years we'd both be dead twice over." He drained the last of his ale and set his mug down decisively, turning to Rufus with a look of mock indignation. "Are you callin' me old?"

They shared a laugh. How long had it been since he had laughed like this, in the company of almost-friends? Rufus couldn't remember, but he was sure it had been months ago, before Samuel Callahan died, spitting blood and clutching at Rufus's robes. The waitress came by, looking significantly more frazzled than before, and set two more pints on their table. Alastor raised his mug and offered a toast, "To old dogs and old shoes."

Rufus tapped his mug with his own and added, "To absent friends." And as he drank, sitting between between Alastor Moody and "the brave warriors who stand the third watch," he couldn't help but think that there might be hope for them after all.

It was some weeks later when Rufus bumped into Alastor in the back corridors of the Ministry. The bandages had since been removed from Alastor's face, revealing a massive patchwork of criss-crossed scars, ruts, and gouges. The gaping socket where his left eye belonged was hidden by a black leather eye patch similar to those worn by the pirates in muggle children's books. The overall effect was a dashing, roguish look that was quite charming, not that Rufus would ever admit that to anyone but himself.

Rufus greeted the other Auror with a smile and a nod and a murmured salutation. As he passed, Alastor lay a scarred hand on Rufus's arm and asked, quietly, "Rufus. You got plans for tonight?"

Nothing came to mind but the stacks of paper work that still vied for his attention – this time thoughtfully arranged into a representation of a phallus, also courtesy one Sirius Black. And staying late to work on the lifeblood of the bureaucracy for the eighth night straight was not on his list of priorities, to tell the truth. "The Laughing Lynx?" he asked. "Eight o'clock?"

Alastor smiled in reply, his grin a bit lopsided where the muscles in his scarred cheek refused to pull exactly as they should. As he opened his mouth to reply, the lights flickered for a second, and the air was filled with the tell-tale whizz-whine-pop of the wards bending to allow an emergency portkey activation. In that split second, the colleagues arranging to meet up for drinks disappeared, seasoned Aurors appearing in their place.

Alastor sprinted toward the receiving room, Rufus hot at his heels. Their wands in hand, they burst into the room, ready for anything: injured comrades barely escaping with their lives, Death Eaters who had stolen the emergency portkeys and tortured their original bearers to give up the password, prisoners of war rescued from the bowels of some dark magic stronghold, anything –

– except, perhaps, for a room of dead Aurors. There were five, maybe six of them sprawled across the floor, some of whom he recognized, all too young to be dead. Beside him Alastor murmured an oath; Rufus was inclined to do the same, but found himself without the ability to speak.

There was one still alive, a fresh-faced boy he had met once. Matthias Ozark, if memory served, one of the puppies from the Lucky Lynx who had, much later in the night, been convinced to buy a round for the house. But this Ozark looked nothing like the exuberant boy from that night. He knelt on the platform, arms wrapped about himself, eyes wide and unseeing as he rocked back and forth. He was muttering something, Rufus noticed, moving toward the boy. As he got closer, he could make out a stream of nonsensical mumbling, "Dead, dead, die you mudbloods, kill them dead, quick, move move move, watch your head, die, die, kill them dead."

Rufus stepped onto the platform, his boots making squelching noises in the assorted blood, mud, and other gore that coated it. "Matthias?" he asked quietly, gentling his voice as though speaking to a child. "Matthias, can you hear me?" He felt Alastor step up beside him.

Ozark stopped mumbling, though his rocking continued. Rufus was about to try again when Ozark shifted his gaze to stare blankly at Rufus's boots. "Cap'n?" he mumbled.

"We need to get him to Mungo's 'fore internal affairs gets here," Alastor breathed in his ear. Rufus tensed instinctively, impressed in spite of himself that Alastor had managed to get quite so close without him noticing, and then nodding in agreement.

"Matthias, I need you to do something for me, all right?" he said gently. "Will you follow my instructions, Matthias?"

Ozark rocked back and forth, back and forth. "They're all dead," he said. "They're all dead, Cap'n. Ambush, ambush, take cover, Ozark! Lewis, watch your back!"

Rufus took a deep breath and tried not to think about Heidi Lewis, a very capable lieutenant with a husband and two children, whose body, if he wasn't mistaken, was lying in at least three pieces on different parts of the platform. "Matthias," he began. His voice cracked and he cleared his throat to start again. "Matthias, I need you to go with Captain Moody. He's going to take you to St. Mungo's and get your statement. Do you understand, Matthias?"

Ozark nodded, but made no move to stand. He continued rocking. Rufus cleared his throat and tried again. "Please stand up, Matthias."

The trainee stood slowly and stumbled toward them, eyes fixed on his bloodstained boots. Alastor caught him by the upper arm and led the boy off the platform and to the door. In the doorway, Ozark paused and turned back to the platform. "Cap'n?" he said, his tone absent but much louder than his previous mutterings.

Rufus cocked an eyebrow. "Yes, Matthias?"

"Jus' thought you should know," he said. He paused and licked his lips, eyes slowly moving up to about chest-level, though Rufus was sure he wasn't actually seeing anything. "You should know. You're standing on Lewis's face."

Rufus took a deep breath and willed himself not to be sick, not to jump, not to react in anyway but step carefully from the platform. He watched them leave, watched the internal affairs officers arrive, and answered questions in a hollow monotone. Heidi Lewis, Richard Montrose, Garreth Olden, Zachary Elsmor, Elmer Fudge. Two Aurors and three trainees dead. One traumatized beyond hope of recovery.

He was late to the pub that night. He sat beside Alastor and said nothing, staring all the while at blood and brain matter as it slowly dried on his boots.

John Dawlish was by far the oldest of his puppies, old enough that calling him a puppy was probably a bit insulting. There were a few trainees like him: full qualified Aurors serving in other squads – Narcotics, Rackets, Robbery – who had made a lateral transfer to Special Operations. His training was fast tracked, focusing on the skills and procedures he had not needed in his previous career.

In some ways, this made Dawlish more interesting than the past few puppies Rufus had babysat. His questions were generally less fundamental, his comments less inane. And when they entered the warehouse where they were to pick up two death eater prisoners, Dawlish had cast a critical eye over the assorted contraband and immediately declared, "Counterfeit."

With anyone else, Rufus would have immediately doubted. He would have asked, "How so?" or, at the very least, cast some form of detection charm on the neat lattice of Cleansweep Sevens. But five years in Fraud were good for a thing or two, and Rufus took the declaration at face value.

That had probably saved both their lives.

He dove to the side, knocking Dawlish behind the pile of brooms as two angry red spells criss-crossed the air where they had been standing. The "subdued" Death Eaters were on their feet and casting spells. From his new position, he could just barely make out a crumpled shape in scarlet Auror's robes.

Dawlish scuttled to a crouch and sent a series of concussive jinxes at the faux prisoners. Rufus tapped his badge and activated the transmission function. "Officer down," he reported. "Officers under fire–"

A malevolent, sparking purple-red spell hurtled toward him. Rufus scrambled forward and performed an awkward sort of running roll across the open area that lay between his original position and the cover of several large, stacked crates. Back pressed against a crate, he continued his report. "Secure all portkeys. Emergency transit compromised." He ended the transmission, his badge glowing white, then gold in acknowledgment.

Something exploded and the ground roiled. Rufus clutched at the boxes for support and wondered where Dawlish was. A whip of fire whizzed just above his head, cutting through the stacked crates like a knife through butter. Scraps of burning wood and embers rained down on him and he ducked further into the warehouse.

He ducked a stunner and a cutting curse skinned his nose. The spells were coming from above, and he risked a quick look to verify that there was, indeed, a death eater on top of what appeared to be a stack of cauldron bottoms. He cast a stunner, and then dove as the spell trace pinpointed his position for the sniper.

Rufus ducked another cutting curse, dodged around the corner and–– found himself at a dead end. There was a sound behind him, almost unnoticeable, the whisper of cloth on cloth, and he whirled around in time to catch a bludgeoning charm to the arm.

He was knocked to the ground, his arm a bleeding, misshapen mass of torn muscle and bone fragments. His wand rolled just out of reach, the once-golden oak cracked, and the core, a single hair of a particularly feisty Nemean lion, lay exposed. He scrabbled uselessly with his left hand for the spare wand at his ankle, but was unable to draw in time.

The Death Eater raised his wand. "Say 'bye bye!'" he sing-songed, what was surely a malevolent grin hidden behind the emotionless silver mask. Alone and disarmed on the dusty floor of a warehouse, Rufus stared death straight in the eyes and waited. "Avada Ked–"

"Bombarda!" The bludgeoning charm hit the man square in the back of the neck. It all but exploded, his head flopping about on a single tendon as his body sprawled forward across Rufus's legs. There was blood, more than he had ever seen in his entire life come from a single body, and he could feel it, sticky and warm as it dripped through his hair and down his head.

Dawlish's face, even contorted as it was now into an expression of utter horror and revulsion, was perhaps the most wonderful thing Rufus had ever seen.

"His name is Simon Fox."

A thick file landed with a loud smack, photos and parchments scattering across the wooden surface like dandelion fluff in a brisk wind. A stray photograph landed on Rufus's broken arm where it lay stretched out on the table. The medic brushed if off quickly with a muttered curse, his wand dancing in delicate patterns as he wove a complicated bone setting charm. A handsome blond man with a wide grin peered up at them from the glossy paper.

Bartemius Crouch, looking decidedly displeased, dropped into the chair opposite Rufus. They were in a spare interrogation room, St. Mungo's being too crowded with a small parade of splinching accidents due to a miscast anti-apparition ward near Diagon Alley. Dawlish stood behind Rufus, out of his line of sight, though he could hear the younger Auror shifting from one foot to the other.

"Mister Fox has a long history with the department," Crouch continued, tapping the file firmly with one finger. "Five counts possession of stolen property, six counts trafficking contraband, three counts resisting arrest, one count sexual assault of a minor. Intelligence is of the opinion that Mister Fox is the Death Eaters' primary supplier of bulk support equipment: brooms, portkeys, medicinal potions, travel documents." The finger tapped the file firmly as each item was listed. "Intelligence had been surveilling Mister Fox for the past three months in an attempt to map the larger network of smugglers and determine who within the Death Eater organization were the principles in the matter."

Crouch paused. "Thanks to your actions today, we now know nothing." He swept his arm across the table and the file went crashing to the floor. Dawlish flinched violently.

Rufus gritted his teeth as the medic's treatments sent flares of agony through his arm. It felt as though he were constantly breaking and resetting it, over and over again. Come to think of it, he probably was. "Next time we'll make sure to aim a little higher and the scum-bag won't ever be identified," he ground out, clenching his jaw before any of the epithets queuing up behind the witticism escaped.

Crouch did not look amused. "Mister Dawlish," he said. "If you would give us a moment...?"

Dawlish all but bolted. Rufus waited for the door to close behind him before speaking. "There was no time to check his identity," he said. "No time. If we had been in a position to check, we wouldn't have needed to kill."

"This is war, Mister Scrimgeour," Crouch said coldly. "The rules are different now."

Your rules, maybe, Rufus thought, but I'm a better man than that.

"I am an Auror, nor a murderer," he said instead. "If John Dawlish had not killed Simon Fox, we would not be having this conversation; you would be tracking down two Aurors' next-of-kin."

Crouch was starting to flush an ugly brick-red color. It clashed horribly with his robes. "Dawlish has no place in special operations," he growled. "He has entirely the wrong instincts–"

"No!" Rufus interrupted. Both Crouch and the medic stared at him, either for having the temerity to interrupt Bartemius Crouch or for the acerbity of his outburst. The medic finished with a flourish and a jab or his wand, gathered up his kit, and swiftly departed. Rufus rubbed at his arm; it ached, but it was no longer broken. Crouch watched him through narrowed eyes.

"No, sir," he repeated, tempering his tone somewhat. "Of all the trainees–" He almost said puppies and wondered, for the briefest instant, what Crouch might have said to that. It wasn't worth finding out. "– John Dawlish has better instincts than most. The rest of them are ... are..." He waved a hand, looking for an apt descriptor that was fit for polite company. "They're little more than school children with practice wands. Sir." He added the last bit hastily. Would you like a little respect with your insubordination, sir?

Crouch stared at him for a long while, and Rufus wondered if he had just tanked his career. The department head harrumphed at length. "Fine," he said. "But he is permanently assigned to your squad."

Rufus inclined his head. Crouch seemed to be on the verge of saying something, but decided against it. He gathered up the file with a flick of his wand and strode from the room.

He was flexing his hand experimentally, testing the range of motion available from the spelled bones, when Dawlish re-entered the interrogation room. He sat down heavily in Crouch's vacated chair, and Rufus got his first good look at him. He looked, in a word, horrible.

"How are you holding up, Dawlish?" he asked. It was an inane question, but the younger Auror seemed to appreciate it.

"Oh Merlin." Dawlish slumped forward and buried his face in his hands. How was he holding up? Not at all.

"Hey, hey, John," Rufus cajoled. "Come on, man. Look at me." Dawlish lifted his head, and his face was a study in agony and self-recrimination.

"You did the right thing today," he continued. "You did a fine thing."

"I killed him," Dawlish whispered. "I killed a man."

Rufus supposed there wasn't a very high death rate in Fraud. "You took a monster off the street," he said, tone still gentle. "Not a man, a monster."

Dawlish seemed to be beyond the point of listening. "But how does that make me any different from them?" he asked, eyes wild and desperate, as if he needed Rufus to tell him that he was. Perhaps he did, at that. "How does that make me different from Simon Fox?"

"You don't rape little girls," Rufus pointed out. On second thought, that probably wasn't the best response.

"Look, Dawlish," he continued. "This is war. There will be times when it's kill or be killed. You didn't go to that warehouse intending to kill Simon Fox." He paused, considering his words. "We tell ourselves that the men we kill are monsters, and sometimes they are," he admitted. "But in that moment it doesn't matter. When it's life or death, who you are doesn't matter. In the end, the world is better off with one less Simon Fox than it would be with one less John Dawlish."

"I still killed him," Dawlish protested, though Rufus could see that his heart was no longer quite in the argument.

"We have a wartime prerogative to ensure the safety of our nation through any means necessary," Rufus said, and damn it all if he sounded like Crouch. "You have the ability and the wherewithal to kill, but your actions must be your own. You are the master of your soul."

Dawlish was staring at him, mouth slightly open. Rufus cleared his throat and rubbed an hand against the back of his neck sheepishly. "If killing bothers you, then don't do it," he said. "You killed a man today. Fine. So you made a mistake. Don't do it again."

The other Auror was still staring at him a bit bug-eyed, though he seemed to realize this as well, snapping his jaw shut with a click and straightening himself in his chair. He took a breath. "Sir," Dawlish said. "I don't think I have what it takes to be in Special Operations."

"Don't have–?" Rufus shook his head. "Don't be ridiculous–"

But Dawlish was shaking his head as well, and not for the same reasons as Rufus. When he spoke, he was practically babbling. "No, no," he said. "See if I go back to Fraud, you'll get another trainee who won't have this problem. They'll send you someone else–"

"I don't want someone else, Dawlish!" Rufus exclaimed. "I want you. You're a damn fine Auror, and there's nobody I'd trust more to have my back."

Dawlish snorted. "You're just saying that because I killed that man," he replied dismissively.

Rufus rolled his eyes. "Before he killed me," he said. "Case in point."

He got to his feet, flexing his fingers experimentally. "You have plans after shift, Dawlish?" he asked.

Dawlish, still looking miserable, shook his head. Rufus sighed. "Come along, then."

Three people shared the corner table that night at the Laughing Lynx.

It was a sunny day in Spring when Rufus Scrimgeour was assigned two trainees to perform a routine inspection of Borgin and Burke's. Amadeus Borgin's twenty-year-old conviction for trafficking in stolen goods meant that the ministry was entitled to perform surprise inspections of the premises to ensure that no such activity was repeated. It was a simple assignment – ask a few questions, poke through the wares, write a citation or two – and that was why Rufus was here instructing two wide-eyed, spotty-faced teenagers on proper procedure, their heads bobbing nearly constantly as they showed their fervent agreement with every word that passed his lips.

He knew instinctively that something was wrong as soon as he set foot in the store. It wasn't Borgin's shifty eyes or the oppressive feel of an activating portkey ward that had Rufus throwing himself to the floor, but rather a tried and true instinct for self-preservation honed by years of experience. The angry purple-red streak flew harmlessly through the space where he had stood, its proximity ruffling his hair as it passed.

His trainees, his puppies, fared nowhere near as well. The taller, Michelson, took a cutting curse to the throat as he raised his wand to retaliate. His head snapped back, eyes wide, blood spraying across the store. His body fell to the floor like a marionette with severed strings, head flopping loosely in his near-decapitated state. His face, frozen in a perpetual mask of profound surprise, stared unseeing at Rufus.

The other, a girl, Rogers, had the presence of mind to cast a shield, but froze at the sensation of the droplets of Michelson's blood spattering across her face. Rufus was never sure what happened to her; he rolled to his feet and shot off a series of hexes in quick succession – bludgeoning, tripping, and a malformed blinding that would probably cause visions of flashing lights rather than complete blindness. He ducked behind a display of shrunken heads and activated his pendant, officer under fire, scuttling over behind another display just as some green-grey spell vaporized the heads into a shower of sand and hair. He was backing himself into a corner, he realized, and stood, casting a series of area-effect spells as cover while he moved from his position to one in front of the large display window.

Borgin had long since disappeared, and one of the death eaters had lost his mask: Amycus Carrow, if the wanted posters in Diagon Alley were to be believed. That, at least, explained the cutting curse that had killed Michelson. The other death eater of similar height was, therefore, probably his twin sister Alecto. The third, a stringy fellow with a penchant for throwing curses that Rufus didn't recognize was still unknown.

There was a commotion outside; his reinforcements were coming. His attackers must have known this too, for they stepped up their assault. He dodged cutting curses and bludgeoning hexes and a strange, whistling purple spell cast by the unknown wizard. The great window behind him shattered, glass falling like droplets of razor-sharp rain. He knocked Amycus into a display of silver cauldrons that collapsed upon him, and Alecto winged him with some form of a hammering hex that probably broke a few ribs. The unknown wizard sent off a yellow spell that hit the bits of falling glass and fractured, scraps of spell light flying every which way, some hitting Rufus, the others merchandise and the walls, none with any visible effect.

Alecto shouted something, a spell he could not identify, though the roaring, billowing noise he certainly could. The unknown death eater took advantage of his moment of surprise, slashing his wand like a sword and shouting, "Sectumsempra!" The spell caught Rufus in the thigh. As his consciousness dissolved into agony, he took a stumbling leap and threw himself bodily through the broken window.

He lay still on the ground, feeling the oppressive heat from the fiendfyre within as his body descended into a sort of foggy numbness. He was bleeding, he realized absently, a pool of blood growing steadily larger underneath the open wound on his leg, yet he could not summon the energy to cast even the mildest clotting charm. There were sparkles on the edges of his sight, his peripheral vision fading to gray, when Alastor Moody knelt beside him, hands clutching at the gaping wound on his leg, murmuring something about not giving up. There was a strange expression on his scarred face, but Rufus was too tired to identify it, too tired to do anything but close his eyes and let everything slip away . . . .

He vaguely recalled being on the verge of waking. Blurred almost-memories of healers and orderlies, a parade of Aurors, and a hooded and cloaked Unspeakable danced on the edges of his memory. The confusing collection of images disappeared post-haste, however, when he finally blinked awake and came face-to-face with an enormous, terrifying, electric-blue eye.

"Hullo," Alastor Moody said with a grin, the bulging prosthetic eye rolling crazily in his left eye socket. "What do you think?"

Rufus stared at his friend, shocked into a sort of stupor. The eye was rolling like a mad, possessed thing; now it looked at you, now it was rolled back and staring out the back of Alastor's head. It was, frankly, beyond creepy. "I do believe I preferred the pirate look," he said at length, his voice a rough, scratchy rasp.

The lopsided grin grew even wider. "I get that a lot," Alastor replied, seeming not at all bothered by the thought. "Just for you, I'll wear the patch."

"You don't know how much better that makes me feel," Rufus teased. He paused, the memory of the fire fight vivid on his conscience. "How long . . .?"

"Three months."

Rufus stared. Three months? He opened his mouth to ask any one of the thousand questions fluttering through his head like snitches, but found himself unable to settle on anything concrete. "Why?"

Alastor gestured vaguely at the blankets covering Rufus's lower body. "That curse he hit you with was no simple cuttin' curse," he said. "Some kind of dark curse, wouldn't stop bleeding, wouldn't close. No one could figure what it was. Had half the ministry and all the healers in this blasted hospital traipse through here. Even dragged old Nick Flamel to take a look – the alchemist, you know? He'd ain't never seen anythin' like it. Then yesterday Albus bleedin' Dumbledore moseys in, pretty as you please, and wham, bam, Vulnera Sanentur three times and boom! you're healed."

"Three months–?" he repeated. Why had it taken Albus Dumbledore three whole months the come by and say six words? And how had he known the cure to a curse that had the greatest minds in the wizarding world confounded?

His friend seemed to follow his train of thought easily enough, if his disgruntled look was anything to go by. "Aye, I asked him too," he admitted. "Wouldn't say a word. Just that he was playin' it close to the chest." The Auror captain looked more than a little put out at the thought.

He stared at the light blue blanket that covered his legs and wondered what they looked like. His right hamstring ached as though he had just run several miles, and that didn't bode well considering his sedentary state. And yet, at the the same time, he could not summon the courage to peel back the blanket and look. "How bad is it?"

The look on Alastor's face was not reassuring. "There's a chunk gone," he replied. "Could've told you that havin' bits missin' isn't worth the hype." He paused, but the joke fell flat. "It'll hurt to walk, but you'll manage. With a cane, prob'ly at first; maybe just a limp later." He shrugged. "You got lucky there. The healers were about six hours away from choppin' the thing off when Dumbledore came by."

That thought was, quite probably, not as comforting as Alastor had hoped it to be. "Desk duty, then," he sighed, rubbing his throat in irritation at the perpetual roughness of his voice.

Alastor caught the gesture. "Another gift from our friend, the mystery death eater," he offered. "Fixed it up right good, before the curse dissolved your vocal chords, but you're left with that."

Rufus snorted. "Lovely," he deadpanned. "I always wanted to sound like a chainsaw."

Rufus leaned heavily on his cane as he limped through the halls of Saint Mungo's hospital. It was only two weeks previous that he had been discharged among admonishments by the nursing staff that, while they liked him well enough as a person, they most certainly did not want to see him again in their hospital. And, frankly, that had been perfectly fine with Rufus, who had become sick of everything even vaguely related to the hospital during his convalescence.

And yet here he was, slowly making his way through familiar corridors, being greeted by name by healers and patients alike. They offered the familiar friendly jibes – have I seen you before? you look mighty familiar – but Rufus couldn't find it within himself to respond in kind. The corridors seemed to grow longer with every painful step, the agony in his ruined leg matched by the breath-taking pain in his heart, every smiling face that greeted him but another torturous trial of his gauntlet.

In that journey that lasted forever and a day his mind had considered and prepared for every scenario, every sight. And yet, when he finally stood in the doorway in the small room, with its white-washed walls and spartan furnishings, he could do little but gaze upon the still form of the bed. Even with half a face, Alastor Moody had always seemed to be an unmoving pillar, the rock from which others drew their strength. To see him like this, pale and so terribly still, turned Rufus's worldview on its end.

He almost left, then, knowing that, if nothing else, Alastor hated for people to see his weakness. But he stayed, because Alastor was his friend, and he knew that Alastor counted him as one of only a few close friends in return. He owed it to the man, if for nothing else than his near-maniacal quest to determine the identity of the mysterious unknown death eater. His desperate actions had led two two reprimands for vigilantism, and he had come within a mere signature of dismissal.

Rufus drew the two wooden chairs to the side of the bed and took a seat, carefully using both hands to lift his leg onto the makeshift foot rest. He reached out hesitantly, and carefully brushed the grizzled grey hair away from his friend's scarred brow. "Don't worry, Alastor," he whispered, situating himself with a clear view of the door. "I've got your back."

The plaque on the door said RUFUS SCRIMGEOUR, HEAD AUROR. There was little more to say, except, perhaps, now what? The war was over, the remaining death eaters either in hiding, Azkaban, or the ground. A cripple, leading a division of elite warriors; another cripple, training them.

Broken men, a broken division, a broken country. Some were missing limbs, others their minds. There was little place in society for the young men and women who were too quick on the draw, whose instinct was an Avada kedavra when startled. On his desk, ignored for the time being, were reports. Longbottom, Frank, medical discharge, honorable; full pension, full disabilities; place of residence, St. Mungo's long-term ward. Masterson, Magnus, citation, excessive force. Plunkett, Jonas, the same. An arrest warrant for Quiggley, Quincy for manslaughter. Coroner's inquest into the death of Ott, Miriam; cause of death: suicide (spell). Three memos from Finance, RE: BUDGET CUTS, one from the minister, STANDARDS OF BEHAVIOR AND CIVILITY FOR ALL AURORS, HIT WIZARDS, ET AL, and one to all department heads, EMPLOYEE REASSIGNMENTS DUE TO RESOLUTION OF CONFLICT.

Extra money for counseling? Ha.

Rufus sat at the desk, fingers steepled together. The room was rather bare; he was only halfway unpacked. Boxes of old case files stood stacked in one corner, two wooden visitors chairs in another. The bookshelf against the side wall stood empty; he couldn't remember the last time he'd read a book, let alone enough to fill even a shelf.

Alastor was pacing back and forth before the desk, still rather unsteady on one leg. Every so often he would mutter under his breath something disparaging about the difference between his modern prosthetic eye and his arcane wooden leg.

"I know who he is," Rufus said suddenly, without preamble.

Alastor, having reached one wall, turned sharply on his heel, and continued pacing. "Eh?"

"I know who he is," Rufus repeated. "The bastard who took my leg."

Alastor stopped mid-step and stared at him with both eyes. He reached out, snagged a chair from the corner and thumped it down in front of the desk. He sat down and stared meaningfully at Rufus, but didn't voice the thought that was obviously at the forefront of his mind. You stupid bastard, you still have both legs. "Our friend, the mysterious death eater," he said instead.

Rufus nodded. "His name's Snape," he said. "Severus. They brought him in Wednesday, along with Dolohov and Brandtley." A tall, thin, miserable looking bastard if he ever saw one.

"They were tried Friday," Alastor noted. "He confess?"

Rufus shook his head. "Dumbledore vouched for him," he replied. "Closed court."

"Vouch...?" Alastor's voice trailed off and his eye widened as he realized the significance of the statement. "He got off?!"

"Dumbledore said he was a spy. His spy."

Alastor frowned. "You're sure he was the one? If he didn't confess. . . ."

"Too much doesn't add up," Rufus exclaimed, his frustrations getting to him. "Dumbledore knew the cure to an unknown curse, but he waited three months to cast it, and then refused to explain where he learned it. The time line fits – he claimed that Snape became his spy a few days before he later came by and cast the counter-curse."

He sighed, dropping his head into his hands. "And now he's in Azkaban waiting for the tribunal to let him off with a slap on the wrist," he mumbled. "Which they will, because who better to vouch for you than King Albus himself?"

Alastor was silent, his eye whirling perhaps a little less vigorously than usual. "Let me talk to him," he said at length, though he looked a bit less composed than usual.

Rufus looked up, confused. "Snape?" he asked.

Alastor shook his head. "Dumbledore."

Drudgery and paperwork, punctuated by sporadic moments of extreme danger – that was the description of the peacetime Auror. The number of forms to be filled and affidavits to be prepared and signed had tripled since the war's end, and it was almost bad enough that Rufus once caught himself wishing, for the briefest moment, that the Dark Lord had not decided to visit the Potter house that Halloween.

All of the Aurors in the Special Operations Squad had spent the war actively opposing death eaters, with the occasional paperwork when time permitted. The complete about-face had set not a few teeth on edge, and most of the officers were happy to be distracted. So when Atticus Amargo, one of the top solicitors in London, came by for a less-than-friendly visit, most of the division found need to be in the Special Ops squad room.

Amargo burst into the room, resplendent in blue-green robes and gold bangles, and blustering. He looked rather like a disgruntled peacock. "I want his badge!" he shouted, "I don't care who he is or who vouches for him – no man is above the law!"

Madame Bones, Crouch's replacement as the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, trailed the lawyer. She looked at once both amused and annoyed. "I could say the same for your client, Counselor," she said dryly, looking around the squad room. An eyebrow rose at the sheer number of Aurors that had found one excuse or another to be there. By now, most weren't even pretending to work.She caught sight of Rufus and nodded, "Chief."

Waving his arms theatrically, Amargo continued, "I want him brought up on charges! Battery, at the least. Witness intimidation! Torture! Unlawful interrogation! Assault! By Merlin, just wait 'til Dumbledore hears about this!"

The lawyer was winding up for another diatribe, and Rufus decided to cut him off before they had a filibuster going in the middle of the squad room. "Counselor, Madam," he said, gesturing. "If we could step into my office?"

This had the unfortunate effect of drawing Amargo's attention to him, and Rufus blinked at the sudden wave of vitriol that crashed over him.

"Why, Mr Scrimgeour?" he exclaimed. "So that you can pretend to agree to my demands, and then insist otherwise as there were no witnesses? So that you can offer me a bribe to forget this incident occurred? So that you can ensure that I do forget this incident occurred with the help of a clever bit of spell casting?" The lawyer's voice rose with every accusation, and his posture reflected the utmost indignation. The end result left him looking like a peacock with indigestion.

"So that my officers could concentrate on their paperwork rather than the melodrama," Rufus replied in a tone far drier than even Madam Bones's. "But if you prefer to discuss this here, that's fine; it's not as though we'll be discussing anything other than what is on public record." He made a show of folding his arms and settling himself comfortably against a desk.

Somewhere in the room, an Auror giggled. It might have been Dawlish.

Just like that, the bluster was gone. The pompous windbag deflated like a punctured balloon when his bluff was called. "On second thought–" he began nervously, but Rufus cut him off.

"No, no, I insist," he said, waving his hand imperiously. "Please, Counselor, who should I be firing?"

"Er," Amargo stuttered. "Alastor Moody. But really–"

It grew very, very quiet in that squad room, and Rufus absently noted that the majority of the Aurors present had completed basic training after Moody took command of the Training Squad. Amargo seemed to have realized the same thing, if his furtive looks toward the door were anything to go by. Even Bones seemed a bit concerned as she shifted her weight and oh-so-casually lay a hand on her wand.

"Very well," Rufus said, his tone magnanimous. He gestured once more at his open office door. "If you please, sir."

The lawyer sniffed and flounced into the office, though his gait was far from his previous pompous strut. Bones let out an audible breath and relaxed, moving her hand from her wand. "Well done, Rufus," she murmured as she passed him. "I was half afraid I'd find myself explaining away a trial lawyer's tragic accident in the middle of the squad room."

There were times when Rufus hated the disparity between the muggle world and the wizarding one. The muggles were, on the whole, much more understanding of the differences between two people. Wealth, color, gender – these barriers that once kept the honest worker from advancing were torn down, first by the muggles, then by their wizarding counterparts. The barrier that the muggles were currently in the process of dismantling, that of sexuality, however, still stood strong in the wizarding world.

Which brought him to Jeremy Fisher, a pale man with scruffy blond hair and wide, doe-like eyes. Fisher was an Auror with seven years' experience, not one of the best, but certainly not one of the worst. Just another member of the rank and file, he was one of the "puppies" from the war who had survived those bloody years and gone on to become a valuable part of the law enforcement team.

Personally, Rufus liked Fisher. He was a kind-hearted man who seemed to get along with everybody, and Rufus viewed him with a kind of parental affection as he did all of the surviving puppies. He liked Fisher as a man, he liked him as an Auror, and that was why he was trying to save his life.

Though Fisher seemed to be missing the point.

"Aren't I a good Auror, Chief?" he asked, voice cracking. "Just tell me what I did wrong, please, and I'll fix it. You know I will. Please, Chief!"

Rufus sighed and closed his eyes. "You're a fine Auror, Fisher," he said quietly. "And in my book, you've done nothing wrong."

"If I've done nothing–"

"Nothing in my book," Rufus repeated. He sighed again. "I'm giving you the choice because I don't want to find you dead in an alley someday. I don't want you to suffer a 'mysterious accident' in the locker rooms. I don't want to see you in Azkaban because the thrice-damned wizarding world can't get its head out of its collective arse and see the bigger picture!" His voice had risen to a near shout by the end of his diatribe, and he rubbed his face with both hands in an attempt to steady himself. Calm. Now is not the time.

Fisher was paler than Rufus had ever seen him before, with two spots of color high on his cheekbones. "This is about Michael, isn't it?" he whispered into the silence.

"Yes." There was no reason to beat about the bush. "I don't know how they found out, but I know that come tomorrow the squad will know. And knowing the transient speed of rumors and bad gossip in this building, the entire division, if not the rest of the ministry, will know by the day after." That was a lie, but Fisher didn't have to know that. Gulliver Hendricks would be standing guard duty at the minister's executive washroom for the foreseeable future. It was career suicide, as promotions to anything worthwhile were few and far between for people whose only commendations were on their oh-so-politely holding the door open for the minister when he went to the toilet.

"You of all people–" Fisher's jaw clicked shut, eyes wider than ever, a look of astonishment at his own temerity plastered across his face.

Rufus took a deep breath and folded his hands on his desk, the motions calm and deliberate.

"Sir! I-I meant no disrespect–!"

"Fisher. Explain. Now." His tone left no room for arguments.

"Sir, Captain Moody, he went a bit –" Fisher visibly groped about for the least career-damaging adjective in his vocabulary. It would be laughable if the situation weren't so serious. "– well, unhinged, sir. When you were cursed and the healers couldn't figure out what it was or how to fix it. He wouldn't hear a cross word about you, sir. No hint that perhaps you might die or lose your leg or remain in a coma or anything. He cursed Stevens, you know. And Appleby, Frederiks, and Longbottom. Ah, Frank, not Alice. The Captain went to the hospital every day and sat with you, according to Johnson, who heard it from his sister, who's a nurse in the spell damage ward."

Rufus raised an eyebrow. "That would explain your comment had I been Alastor Moody," he replied dryly. Unhinged. He mentally awarded points for excellent use of descriptive language. "I, however, possess a larger percentage of my original equipment."

Fisher looked nervous. "Then when Captain Moody got hurt, you were still on the inactive list, and Johnson's sister told him that you were sitting with the Captain. Johnson didn't believe it, so he and Stevens and Andrews went and had a visit and they told everybody that the two of you were sitting together in the bed."

Clearly unnerved by Rufus's lack of reaction, Fisher prattled on. "Frederiks tried to tell them that you were just friends, that you probably couldn't sit in those hospital chairs with your leg and all anyway. But Stevens pointed out that you're a wizard, and a whiz at transfiguration, and you could easily have done something about it if it was a problem. And Frederiks kept insisting that it was nothing, and they almost believed it, but then he took that curse and went all funny in the head. But by then you were back and nobody dared say anything 'cause you weren't just a Captain anymore, you were the Chief."

There was something more to this story. "And Captain Moody?" he asked. "Did he know?"

The ashamed look told him the answer before Fisher ever had the chance. "Yes, sir," he said. "They tease him, a lot. Don't do much but talk, whispers where he can hear, scribbles on the walls of the loo. Hendricks talked to old man Morse down in Records, 'cause he went to school with the Captain, and Morse said that he never saw the Captain with a girl. And there were rumors about the Master Auror he apprenticed with, Claudius, but it's all hush-hush and Claudius has disappeared. It's all talk, though," he added quickly at the thunderous expression he saw growing on Rufus's face. "They're too scared of him to do anything else. He's the best we've got, you know? They tease him about goin' on dates with you every week and they call you–"

"They call me what?" he snapped.

The silence was absolute. "Mrs. Moody," he whispered at length, eyes glued to a point somewhere half a meter above Rufus's right shoulder.

Rufus forced his fists to un-clench, and peered down at the crescent-shaped indentations that remained in his palms. "Mister Fisher," he began, then paused. "Jeremy. This isn't about me, or Alastor Moody, or what Hendricks and Johnson and the rest of them saw or think they saw. This is about you, and what is best for you." He held up a hand to stall the imminent protest. "Look, Jeremy, you're an excellent Auror. You've got great instincts. You have what it takes to make Captain some day. You just need to live 'til then, and that's the problem at hand."

He tapped a parchment on his desk. "I have some connections to the Korpstovenaar in Amsterdam, where they're a bit more... liberal... in their politics. Algemeen Van Bakker is willing to take you on at your current pay grade and position, no questions asked."

Fisher stared at his hands. "It's my choice, right, Chief?" he asked slowly. Rufus nodded, and Fisher continued, "I appreciate everything you've done for me, sir, but England is my home. I joined to protect and serve England and her citizens, not Holland. I'm proud to have served on the third watch. So I–" he swallowed hard. "– I'm going to have to respectfully decline. I hope you'll respect my decision, sir."

Two days later, Jeremy Fisher tracked down a key enforcer in a local narcotics ring. In doing so, he accidentally stumbled upon one of the largest underground Amortentia-brewing facilities in the United Kingdom. Severely out-classed and out-numbered, he frantically called for back-up.

Nobody came.

"... And I swear this batch of recruits is even worse than the last batch."

Rufus listened with half an ear at the familiar diatribe, accepting the two beers from the waitress with a roguish smile. He slid the red ale over to Alastor's corner and took a sip of his stout. "You've been complaining about the general state of education, or lack thereof, for the past five years," he said dryly. "How is this one any worse than the others?"

Alastor harrumphed into his beer. "I suppose there's one fellow with potential," he allowed. "Ridiculous lookin' fellow with poofy hair – Shacklebolt, I think." He took a good size swallow and thought a bit. "The rest... eh..."

He nodded. "Potential like Proudfoot?" he asked. Lazarus Proudfoot was a capable wizard. Not extraordinarily smart or strong, he was an average wizard gifted with good instincts and excellent reflexes.

But Alastor was shaking his head. "Nah," he said. "Potential like you. Or me." He paused. "That is, if I ever manage to disabuse him of the notion that vampires are sparkly."

Rufus froze, his stout halfway to his lips. He stared at Alastor, thinking perhaps he had misheard. When no correction was forthcoming, he echoed, "... sparkly?"

"Aye, his words, not mine," Alastor replied. His tone was serious, but his eye glinted with hidden laughter. "Lad seems to think that Porphyria contagios is a skin condition that causes – eh, I didn't understand much of what he said myself. Pretty much it makes your skin sparkly. Didn't believe me when I told him that it was the proper name for the condition of vampirism."

Sparkly. Rufus peered into his stein and decided that he didn't have nearly enough left to be having this conversation. He raised his hand and signaled the waitress for another round as Alastor roared with laughter.

"Sparkly vampires notwithstanding," Rufus said, "how would you classify the rest? Are they puppies?"

Something in Alastor's expression changed, and Rufus knew they were both thinking of that group of eager, young soldiers who died so tragically at the end of the last war. The lost generation. Michelson, Rogers, Ozark, Olden, Elsmor, Fudge, MacDonald, Prewett, Potter.

Alastor cleared his throat. "Not if I can help it," he replied, voice rough.

There was a group of trainees at the Laughing Lynx that Tuesday, celebrating the end of their training. The five of them were clustered around a sixth, a bright-eyed witch whose hair changed color and style every few minutes. The group, already well into their drinks, was challenging the young metamorphmagus with new body parts and shapes. It was, Rufus mused, a rather strange sort of drinking game.

"Now that's a talent I wouldn't mind havin'," Alastor said, watching as the trainee morphed into a perfect replica of the girl next to her. Rufus nodded, and they watched as she showed off with, in quick succession, an elephant trunk, a third eye, pointed ears, a ridged forehead, and an impressive Dumbledorean beard.

"Most men would kill to date a girl like that," he continued. "Take any shape you want. What do you think?"

Rufus hmm'ed and didn't reply. Alastor continued, regardless, "Scuttlebutt has it that you've taken up with Missus MacArnold, the Minister's senior subsecretary."

"She's married," Rufus replied.

"And a fine woman to boot. Not too tall, with curves just–" Alastor made appropriate motions with his hands, with what was perhaps the most lascivious look on his face that Rufus had ever seen.

"Stop, Alastor," Rufus said flatly. His knuckles were white with the force of his grip on the handle of the stein, and he relaxed his grip with some effort, laying his hands flat on the wooden table. Why was this conversation affecting him so?

"Not Missus MacArnold, then, eh?" Alastor ribbed, either unaware of or ignoring the growing unease in his friend. "The young lady who interned with disposal of magical creatures, then? Miss Lovegood?"

Luna Lovegood, all of fifteen years old, who had stopped by his office to hand-deliver a memo. There was something unsettling about her gaze, and he knew, instinctively, that she was special. Not a seer, but perhaps a prophetess in the druidic tradition. She had handed him the parchment and peered at him a long while before saying, "Old dogs stand the third watch so that the puppies might carry the day." Then she had smiled, standing there, twirling strands of long, silvery-blond hair about her fingers before skipping gaily from his office.

The entire incident had been observed by a number of his employees, and by the end of the day, the rumors had him either married, engaged, or sleeping with young Miss Lovegood. The good-natured ribbing he could take. It was the blow to Miss Lovegood's reputation, however, that he could not stand for. No sooner than the rumors began propagating when she was summarily dismissed from her position due to "behavior unbefitting a ministry employee" and for violations of the morality and ethics clauses of her employment contract. Not to mention the swarms of howlers, angry parents, and the subsequent investigation by the internal affairs board. She was, after all, underage.

Why couldn't his friend let it go?

"Nice girl, Miss Lovegood," Alastor said. "She'll grow up to be a mighty fine woman someday–"

Something deep within just snapped, and he brought his fist down on the table with a resounding crash. A hushed silence descended upon the pub as all attention quickly refocused on the corner table. Moody's face twisted into a parody of surprise, though what little remained of his face was incapable of properly affecting the emotion.

The blood was rushing in his ears, the sweeping tide of his anger a muted roar that swirled around them and narrowed his attention to his little pocket universe. Too far gone to care who was watching, he snarled, "This conversation is over."

"Y'hear me?" he practically spat in the face of the man who had become his best friend. "Over!"

His cane had fallen under the table, but he was too far gone in his fury to feel the pain in his leg. He knew, objectively, that he was far too angry for such an insignificant matter. And it was Alastor, who would never try to hurt him intentionally, just the occasional ribbing between friends. That it was Alastor, perhaps, made it all the worse.

He turned and limped to the door. People called out to him – the waitress, the bartender, Alastor – and he ignored them as he wrenched open the door and stepped out into the frigid cold. He walked slowly, aimlessly, and let the cold wind cool his anger until his heart froze solid and shattered into a million pieces.

He found himself in Hogsmeade, at the fountain in the center of the village square. The water flowed cool though it should have frozen solid, and he sat on the edge and let the gentle, soothing sound wash over him. The charms in his clothes kept him warm as he watched the stars tack slowly across the sky.


He tensed at the sound of his name. "Alastor," he replied. He looked over at his friend. Something clenched deep in his gut, and it felt like a moment of reckoning.

Alastor stepped from the shadows. He looked unusually solemn, both eyes looking straight ahead. Rufus's cane was clutched in one hand and he passed it over as he took a seat alongside him on the fountain.

They sat in silence for a moment, each contemplating nothing. Eventually, Alastor muttered a gruff, "Sorry."

Rufus snorted. "No you're not," he replied with a humorless grin. "You knew exactly what you were doing, and you were trying to make a point."

"You're right," Alaster admitted with a sheepish, lopsided smile.

Taking a firm grip on his cane, Rufus levered himself upright. His thigh throbbed in protest of the abuse it had taken over the past several hours. He sighed, "Why, then, Alastor?"

"Everything with you is about work," Alastor said. He thumped his wooden leg against the side of the fountain. "Your job, the paperwork, the ministry, your Aurors. Nothing about what you do outside."

Rufus had a sinking suspicion he knew where this was going. "Alastor," he tried to interrupt.

"Nothing about your friends–"


"Nothing about your personal life–"

"You are my personal life!" Rufus shouted, cutting him off. "God damn you, but these Tuesday nights at the Lynx are all I have left."

Moody almost looked triumphant, though Rufus could not, for the life of him, think of why. It mattered little, the words were flowing and he could do little to stop them.

"It's this stupid, screwed-up almost-friendship that keeps me going," he continued. "Even with the crap they say in the locker rooms, the trash talk and the insults." A harsh, gasping breath and he plowed on.

"And I can't tell them that every time they call me Mrs. Moody, I wish that it wasn't such a god damned lie!"

Well hello, cat. You seem to have gotten out of the bag.

Alastor had a strange look on his face. He reached out toward Rufus, on the verge of saying something, but Rufus stepped back smartly, turned on his heel, and was gone.

The knock came two days later. The two days Rufus took for "personal time" had resulted in a flood of owls that set the wards a-twitter. Little trainees had big mouths, and by the end of the night, even the Daily Prophet was dropping broad hints about dissension in the ranks of the Aurors.

Rufus opened the door and found Alastor leaning against the door jamb. He held the door open and wordlessly invited the other Auror in.

"Scuttlebutt has you dead in a ditch by my hand," Alastor said gruffly as Rufus led the way to the sitting room. "It helps no one's seen you since that night."

That night. Rufus suddenly felt eternally tired of the whole affair, a great leaden weight affixed to his soul. He sat down heavily on the sofa. "What is it you want, Alastor?" he asked, running a hand through his hair. "Why did you come here?"

Alastor perched himself on the coffee table, their knees almost touching. "I want my friend back," he said baldly. He paused, and it was a heavy, pregnant pause.

"What I also want," he continued. "Is to know whether you were serious what you said that night."

Rufus froze. "I said many things that night," he temporized. Both of Alastor's eyes fixed squarely on Rufus's face. He took a deep breath and let it out. The moment of truth. "Yes."

Alastor nodded. He reached up, one large, rough hand stroking up the side of Rufus's face. His palm rubbed along the curve of his jaw, fingers lacing gently through strands of greying amber hair. Rufus's breath caught in his throat, and he felt his eyes go wider than they'd ever been.

"Don't panic," Alastor whispered, and leaned forward.

When Rufus woke, it was with an arm thrown over his waist and a hard body pressed up against his back. He shifted slightly, and the arm tightened.

"Don' get up yet," Alastor murmured, face buried against the back of Rufus's neck. "Don' wanna let you go yet."

Rufus relaxed, running his hand down Alastor's arm and threading his fingers through Alastor's. "You don't need to let go," he replied. "As long as you'll have me..."

Alastor groaned low in his chest, the sound reverberating through both their bodies. "Too dangerous," he said. "Someday... someday, when this is all over..." He huffed, and it might have been a laugh. "In a world without death eaters..."

Rufus closed his eyes and echoed the thought. In a world without death eaters. Someday.

For the first time in a very long time, he felt hope.

Pius Thicknesse was droning on, something about logistics and obliviators and a fall from a broom. Rufus heard none of that, every fiber of his attention transfixed by the precise, clinical text of the incident report clenched in his right fist.

Cause of death: Loss of broom control.
Classification: Accidental.
Status: Case closed.

When had Alastor ever done anything by accident?

"Did you find the body?" he asked, voice a gravelly rumble. The tears that could not fall from his eyes were thick in his throat, and the words tasted of salt and loss.

Thicknesse looked surprised to have his recitation into the dwindling number of applicants to the Auror program interrupted. "Ah, n-no, sir," he said, blinking hard as if the movement of his eyelids would somehow set him back on track. "The obliviators did the rounds, but the muggles were asleep–"

Rufus nodded and returned his attention to the report. Thicknesse took this as a sign to continue speaking. The parchment, now forever creased by his frozen grip, seemed to taunt him with complex vagaries that gave the whole story, but at the same time, told him nothing at all. Perhaps, he thought, this was why friends and family were strongly cautioned against reading the case files of their loved ones. Any sense of closure was sacrificed in favor of efficiency of language and concise, politically correct summaries of circumstances.

No body, no witnesses; nothing but a charred broom handle and a glass eye. Alastor wasn't one for joyrides, unless– Rufus's eyes snapped back to the top of the report. Investigating officer: Kingsley Shacklebolt. Of course.

"Thank you, Thicknesse," he interrupted again. "I'll be sure to look into possible solutions. Send in Shacklebolt; we need to have words."

He stared down the length of the Dark Lord's wand, to the slitted red eyes set deep in a noseless face, and felt nothing. Some part of him knew he should be scared, terrified; rather, it was as though a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders.

"Where is Harry Potter?"

Harry Potter, Harry Potter – it was always Harry Potter. How many had given their lives in his name? How many great men? James Potter, who never saw twenty-five. Albus Dumbledore, murdered in his own castle. Alastor Moody, who would never again share joke over a pint, or shout CONSTANT VIGILANCE! and watch the trainees startle like pigeons. And now, Rufus Scrimgeour?

"Rufus, Rufus, Rufus," the Dark Lord murmured, his deformed face twisting the name into a purring, sibilant hiss. He sounded more like a disappointed father than an evil overlord. "Why must you resist me so?" He sighed with a look of faux regret – or as close as a half-snake-half-man could get. "Crucio!"

He writhed in agony on the floor as every nerve screamed pain, Pain, PAIN! There were tears on his face, in his eyes, and the world was little but a blur of colors as he lost the ability to focus. He was only half aware of his actions, of spasming muscles banging his head into the stone floor; of desperately clawing at his face, his chest, the floor, until his fingers were little more than bloody, masses of mangled flesh and bone; of screaming obscenities and pleas and God-damn you fucking bastard of wizard! And then, as suddenly as it had started, the pain was gone. He drew deep shuddering breaths, his throat torn from his screams. Little rivulets of blood trickled from his face to stain the scruff of his beard.

"Where is Harry Potter?"

This time, it was Pius Thicknesse who asked the question, his eyes glazed with the thrall of the Imperius. He wished he could see a hint of pity, or regret, or consciousness in the flat, grey-blue orbs, but there was nothing. The Auror repeated the question, his voice bereft of emotion, "Where is Harry Potter?"

He let his head loll to the side. Where is Harry Potter. Two words, or one, if the monster knew where the Weasley family lived. One word and it would be over. He'd be dead, true, but it would be quick and quiet and painless. Weasley. The word tasted of blood.

His eyes focused beyond the door of his office, where a figure crouched in the shadows. Kingsley Shacklebolt. One of Dumbledore's servants, but a good man, barely visible in the corridor but a look of despair clear on his face. Rufus knew that despair, knew what it was like to stand on the outskirts, impotent, waiting and watching. Kingsley held his wand in his hand, clearly uncertain of what to do, and Rufus was struck by just how young the Auror really was.

The man who had been with Alastor at his death, who had watched him die, who had not protected him. The man who was the boy who became the Auror who Alastor had ribbed mercilessly about the 'sparkly vampires,' but who had later admitted had the potential to be as good as either of them. He took a breath and locked eyes with Kingsley, who looked on the verge of charging into the room. He made his decision. "Go," he mouthed.

Rufus turned his head looked to the Dark Lord, not waiting to see if his message had been received. He grinned, blood trickling from the corner of his mouth. Old dogs stand the third watch. "Go to hell."

When death came on wings of green, he embraced it.

He opened his eyes to a strange white emptiness that was, at the same time, nothing and everything. He recalled a muggle belief about angels in the clouds, but no sooner had this thought begun to percolate through his subconscious than the surroundings shifted, changed. The white fog roiled like an ocean in a storm, and solidified.

A floor, then pillars and walls, individual bricks coalescing from nothing, first taking shape, then color. A bench, a clock, a track, a train – King's Cross Station, platform 9¾, the scarlet engine of the Hogwarts Express puffing smoke as it prepared for its journey. The whistle shrieked, all aboard, and there, standing in the doorway, a familiar one-eyed figure grinned lopsidedly at him.

He remembered a promise – someday when this is all over, in a world without death eaters – and he stepped onto the train.

End notes:

*The "Old dogs, like old shoes..." quote is by Bonnie Wilcox in her 1991 book "Old Dogs, Old Friends." True, Rufus couldn't have read it in 1979/1980, but hey, that just makes it AU.

*The leg muscle thing is cheerfully lifted from the American TV show "House M.D."

*The sparkly vampires jibe is a reference to The-Series-That-Must-Not-Be-Named. (*cough*Twilight*cough*)

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