Happy Halloween everybody!

Hestia tried to get up, but she was frozen to the ground. Try as she might, she couldn't even raise her wand.

The monster turned to look at her with its cold, vacant eyes.

"Nooo Shacklebolt! HELP!"

Project Initiation

"Every bloody year," Kingsley muttered, stuffing the stack of papers back in his briefcase.

"If you're talking about Dawlish's garlic-and-pumpkin risotto, I'm with you on that one," Moody's eye swiveled around the hall, searching for any irregularities and potential attackers. As usual.

"What? No…well, yes, but I meant Challenge Day."

Mad-Eye shrugged. "Just a bit of fun."

"Why do they have to do in October? At least pick a month that's less busy."

"I say leave it as it is. What's Halloween good for if not to finally face your fears?"

"Never had you down as a sentimentalist, Mad-Eye."

His friend glowered.

Project Planning

"Nice bit of courage you showed there," Kingsley praised Hestia, setting her latest report aside.

Hestia glowed. She was proud of that mission, for once in her life she and Tonks had handled the situation without annoying the general public, inadvertently breaking Auror protocol or exploding anything.

"Did the sorting hat offer you Gryffindor, by any chance?"

Hestia snorted. Her brains, natural charisma and noble lineage had immediately ensured her a spot in Slytherin house, just as they had for Kingsley.

"Oh, what's that I sense?" her mentor teased, his lips breaking into a wide grin. "Not as brave as you'd have everybody think?"

Damn. Hestia's Slytherin side kicked in, working to slither her way out of this discussion. It wouldn't do for Kingsley Shacklebolt to think she lacked the one essential trait for aurors. "Oh, I'd say I'm pretty brave," she mused. "Not much that scares me."

Shacklebolt laughed. "Little tip, Jones. If you want people to believe something, don't make bold, outrageous claims. Just admit to one or two small fears instead."

It was Hestia's turn to smile. "Don't think I can be fooled that easily."

"All right then, just humour me for a minute. Close your eyes. You're in a dark alleyway, all alone at night, when you hear something creeping up behind you. You jump, and turn around to see-well, what is it?"

"A zombie."

"A zombie?" Hestia pulled her eyes open to see Kingsley looking at her, eyebrows raised.

"An inferius," she translated into wizarding terms.

Stupid Tonks. It was all her fault, taking her to see Night of the Living Dead.

"I see," Kingsley nodded, turning back to his paperwork. Stupid Scrimgeour. Next year, he'd start a petition to just do an office-round questionnaire. On a scale of 1 to 10, how afraid are you of the following magical creatures? Much better.

Project Execution

Hestia had barely entered the office on Friday morning before Kingsley bundled her off, muttering something about an urgent mission. So it was that the morning sunrays found her flying over London, torn between squishing up into a ball to conserve the little heat that her denim jacket provided and spreading her weight out as far as possible to minimize the pressure on her butt. She wouldn't mind getting out of this. Sitting on a broom was uncomfortable enough without the bruises from yesterday's spanking serving as a constant reminder of her embarrassing antics.

Just then, Kingsley accelerated and she leaned forward to keep up with him, whooshing through the brisk autumn air. Hestia laughed with joy as they sped along the Thames, the natural cool of the river rising around them in a mist, then they turned south, admiring the tiny dollhouse villages.

The pair came to a halt near a tunnel, a stony monster of a nondescript grey colour that had been sprayed with red graffiti.

"Rick loves Kerstin?" Hestia giggled as they went in, standing near the walls to avoid the flooded center. "What are we here for, then, Shacklebolt?"

She sensed it before she saw it, the pounding of a baseball bat, the inherent cold that came with zombies. Then it came into view, a man in ragged clothes with a white face and cold eyes, more real and fear-inducing than anything Romero could've ever hoped to create.

Hestia turned to run and stumbled, tripping over a rock. It was coming closer, any minute now the creature would be near enough to strike.

"No," she panted, and, pulling her strength together, she crawled away a few paces. But the monster was coming closer.

"Stun him, Jones." Kingsley sounded like he was miles away. Hestia lifted her wand to obey him, then the zombie extended his arms and she fled, diving for safety behind a pile of cardboard boxes.

"Incendio." Kingsley flicked his wand and a stream of fire spun out of it, moving his arm in a circle he directed it to encircle the zombie. "All right, Jones. Now it's your move."

Hestia tried to get up, but she was frozen to the ground. Try as she might, she couldn't even raise her wand.

The monster turned to look at her with its cold, vacant eyes.

"Nooo Shacklebolt! HELP!"

Just then, Kingsley's walkie-typie beeped.

Um, guys, there's been a slight problem with…well, everything

"I told Scrimgeour this would bloody happen." Kingsley paced agitatedly, seemingly indifferent to the wretched creature a few inches away from him, then seemed to make a decision.

"There's been another mugging in Bethnal Green, I have to go. Jones, just please finish the inferius off, all right?"

And before Hestia could argue, the top auror spun on his heel and disappeared in a whiff of cologne.

"Fuck," Hestia moaned. She was still shaking from her last encounter. She couldn't go near that thing. She'd just have to fail the mission and disappoint Kingsley, disappoint the whole department…If only Tonks was here. Hestia giggled, imagining her friend running after the inferius, brandishing her wand like a sword. She could do that. She could be the strong auror she liked to pretend she was. She crept out from behind the crates, pulling her wand out as she walked.

Her stomach dropped when she saw the fire had dwindled to a flicker, almost low enough for the zombie to step over.

No. She could do this.

Those stony eyes, though. Those outstretched hands.

"Stupify!" She cast the spell with all her strength, and the monster stumbled back, fell into the flames, extended its arms and changed into a fat sewer rat.

"A boggart? You were a freaking boggart all along?" Hestia laughed with relief, then fell to the ground, utterly worn out.

Project Closing

The last hints of sunlight danced through the art deco windows, and customers without reservations milled around, waiting to be seated at the trendy, en vogue French restaurant. Hestia and Kingsley had been seated upon arrival, which, Hestia thought, was rather suspicious. After all, Kingsley had only suggested going to the restaurant half an hour ago, leaving no time for reservations. That only really left magic, but then again, her mentor was always so strict on reserving magic around muggles for life-threatening situations. Ah well. It was easy to let tricky thoughts slip out of one's mind when one had sherry, and a menu that promised escargots, chestnut beef and chocolate soufflé.