Kingsley Shacklebolt was having a bad week. Not that it was unexpected for a Ministry auror to find himself exhausted mentally, physically and emotionally during a war, but Kingsley was now beginning to feel disturbed by the sheer world weariness lurking inside him. Alastor Moody, with his all-seeing-eye and decades of experience, had pulled him into his office the previous day and with gruff sympathy had told him to get drunk, get laid and get some new perspective, before it started eating him away from the inside.
"Is it that obvious," Kingsley smiled wryly at his superior.
"To me it is," he clapped the younger man's shoulder. "I'm not having a go at you, lad. Just a piece of advice from a grizzled old wizard. You're a fine auror and a good man, I don't want to see you fall apart. We lost the kids, that's a crying shame and a blow for the Light, but that means the rest of us need to be twice as good."
The kids. Kingsley swallowed, refusing to curse his sentimentality. He considered it a strength, not a weakness, that after all he had seen and done he could still be moved by the pain and death of others. Shastri Khalili had been twenty three, an active auror but still in training one day a week, still turning in assignments and taking exams in between field and office duties. Coming top in those exams, actually, and perfectly calm and competent under pressure. Kingsley wondered if that calm had cracked under torture, if she had panicked when she realised the Death Eaters were not about the release her alive. Did they force her to reveal Ministry secrets? Did they gloat about making her an example of the fate of the enemies of Voldemort? Had she screamed?
Her fiancé had asked all these questions when Kingsley had gone to break the news. Broken-hearted, he had raged, yelled and sworn vengeance on just about everyone, including the Ministry and anyone connected with it. Her mother had been worse to watch. She had listened silently to the story of her daughter's capture and death, nodded once, then offered him a cup of tea.
That had been the point where something died inside of Kingsley Shacklebolt. On receiving the worst possible news, his colleague's mother had offered the bearer a cup of tea.
Of course, this had not been the first time, nor likely to be the last. But somehow, it was more than he could bear at the moment. It had not helped when, the day after Shastri's remains had been mailed to the Ministry, a distraught Michael Ivetsy had been led into his office, tendering his resignation.
"I'm so sorry," the newly-qualified auror sobbed, head in his hands. "I'm letting everyone down. I feel like I've wasted all those years of training, all those resources, all that effort. But I just can't do it anymore. I've been having doubts for months, but now, after what happened to Shastri…" They talked. Kingsley counselled. They had hours of conference with Moody, and Michael's mentor, Tonks (whose hair was currently black as a mark of respect). They had offered him a year's sabbatical or a desk job in the filing room, but it seemed his mind was made up.
"Another one bites the dust," sighed Tonks sadly.
After his pep-talk with Alastor, Kingsley found himself in the kitchen of 12, Grimmaud Place with several members of the Order of the Phoenix. It had been two months since Sirius Black's murder, and meetings remained rather subdued. Harry Potter seemed to be suffering from depression, judging by the worried discussion between Molly Weasley and Remus Lupin. Poor kid, thought Kingsley. Really, his own problems could be so much worse. "Get drunk, get laid," he repeated to himself. Surveying the room, his eyes flicked over Tonks, Mundungus and many Weasleys before resting on the dark figure sitting impassively in the corner. No, not impassively, corrected Kingsley. He knew Snape was more alert than any of the others, but those deep black eyes betrayed nothing as they met his own. Kingsley held his gaze for so long, Snape arched an eyebrow at him. Kingsley used his most polite and professional tone.
"Professor Snape, may I have a word with you afterwards, please?"
He inclined his head, in agreement, but said nothing. Kingsley suddenly felt inexplicably nervous. Ah well, he thought, I've faced scarier things than teachers. Ferocious ex-Death Eater teachers with a reputation for sadism, a little voice in his head added. He ignored it.
"Auror Shacklebolt?" he asked with a hint of curiosity later, when they were alone in the Blacks' tatty drawing room.
"Are you busy this evening?" Kingsley asked neutrally.
"I beg your pardon?" a sneer began to form on Snape's sharp features.
"Would you care to share a rather excellent bottle of claret I received for my birthday last month?"
Snape was momentarily floored.
"I hate to drink alone, and you are one of the few who appreciate a good wine."
The sneer was back in all its glory.
"So the order no longer trusts me," he stated. It was Kingsley's turn to be floored, echoing Snape's earlier "What?"
"It is perfectly simple. I am under suspicion, Dumbledore has instigated this interrogation…"
"It's not an interrogation," interrupted Kingsley. "It's nothing to do with the Order, or the Ministry." The eyebrow rose again.
"Then what is it you want?"
Kingsley sighed. As tough and as paranoid as Moody. Suspicious, unpleasant, cruel even, if his students were to be believed; but so very intriguing. Over the past year, he had found himself imagining what would happen were Snape to allow the mask to slide, to imagine that blank face fixed in an expression of pleasure, of desire. This had progressed to a fantasy of that smooth voice whispering gently in his ear, his own hands slowly undoing those endless tiny buttons… He stopped that train of thought abruptly as Snape's glare intensified.
"Very well. Would you care to sleep with me tonight?"
The glare turned incredulous. Then suddenly, without warning, Snape laughed - a soft, musical sound which Kingsley imagined few had ever heard.
"Direct, aren't you?" The auror shrugged.
"I didn't think you were the flowers and chocolates type." Snape looked amused.
"Are you calling me a slut?" This time it was Kingsley who laughed.
"I would not dare. I don't have the energy for mind games, seductions or any of that tonight. I would very much like to spend the night with you, but if you're not interested then say so and we can forget all about it."
Snape fixed him with an uncomfortable, probing stare. Kingsley automatically occluded his thoughts and stared right back. After a few moments the potion master's thin lips quirked in amusement again.
"What kind of claret?"