C O W A R D

by Gueneviere

XII

FIREWHISKY FOR THE BROKEN HEART


"Why are we so full of restraint? Why do we not give in all directions? Is it fear of losing ourselves? Until we do lose ourselves there is no hope of finding ourselves..."

Henry Miller.


- - - -

Despite having spent the previous night both pouring over the dusty old books of Grimmauld's library, and single-handedly ruining his love-life, Kingsley Shacklebolt still had to be up bright and early that morning at the Auror Headquarters.

He didn't mind, though. If there was one thing that always distracted him from his gloomier moods, it was work.

It wasn't easy to feel sorry for yourself while attempting not to get killed by the Dark Lord's thugs, after all.

Kingsley sighed as he entered his office and eyed the paperwork sitting on his desk. Paperwork wouldn't do. Paperwork wouldn't keep Hermione Granger's big, brown eyes and tear-stained face out of his head.

He needed some fucking Death Eaters to beat up, and he fucking needed them now.

Turning around sharply, he left his office in a huff and walked up to his secretary.

"What have we got today, Fauna?" He demanded from the auburn-haired witch who sent him a flirty smile, her hazel eyes gleaming with interest.

Like that was new. Fauna Mitchell had started working as a receptionist at the Auror Headquarters only a couple of years after Kingsley had graduated from the Academy, and since then she made sure she was attached to the nearest high-ranking Ministry official in sight.

Currently, she was supposed to be Preston Moore's girlfriend, but Moore was only a Senior Auror, and Fauna Mitchell was always looking for an upgrade.

"Oh, nothing you need to worry about, Kingsley, darling. That Death Eater you boys rounded up a couple of days ago is supposed to be interrogated this morning, but you can let the others take care of that. Being Head Auror, I'm sure that you have much more important things to do…"

Kingsley sighed mentally.

"Fine. Just tell me if something comes up. Being Head doesn't make me any less of an Auror; I'm not going to spend the day doing paperwork."

Fauna blinked. "But Mr. Simmons never—"

"Yeah, and Simmons got sacked," Kingsley interrupted her with barely concealed exasperation. "Look, I don't care what that fool did. Just tell me if something comes up."

Fauna blinked again before she tilted her head to the side and smiled again. "Why, of course, darling. No need to get huffy."

"Just do it." He growled as he retreated to his office. "And Mitchell?"

"Yes?" The woman asked, batting her eyes seductively.

"Do not call me 'darling'," he finished brusquely.

Quiet whispers elicited among the scared-looking Aurors as their boss' door closed with a bang.


It wasn't until late in the evening that a timid knock interrupted Kingsley from his brooding.

"Come in," he called, his voice still hostile.

A nervous-looking Fauna peeked into the room. "Er, Mr. Shacklebolt?"

It was Mr. Shacklebolt now, was it? He smirked.

"Yeah?"

"Um, well." Fauna replied, biting on her lower lip. "Something came up—"

Kingsley stood up quickly and tried to suppress the grin that broke across his face. The law being broken wasn't supposed to be something to smile about after all.

"—Peter Pettigrew was sighted in Knockturn Alley a couple of minutes ago."

Kingsley's grin slipped.


Shadows hugged the small, twisted streets of the shabbiest part of Knockturn Alley, the hurried footsteps of half a dozen Aurors echoing in the darkness as they attempted to catch a certain slippery Death Eater rodent.

They had evacuated the sector as soon as they had arrived, but there was still the fact that Pettigrew's Animagus form was a goddamn rat, and there were plenty of those in Knockturn Alley's smelly streets.

Kingsley caught a flash of movement in his peripheral view and turned sharply around the corner it had disappeared to. The beady, little eyes of a human-shaped Peter Pettigrew widened comically as they took in the tall, dark Auror before him.

The sodding idiot was trying to apparate. Did he really think they wouldn't have thought of a simple anti-apparition ward?

Wasting no time, Kingsley sent an Incarcerous his way, the spell hitting the man in the middle of the chest. Sturdy-looking ropes secured him tightly.

"Expelliarmus," Kingsley muttered, and Pettigrew's wand flew to his hand. The rat-like man whined pathetically as he struggled against his bindings.

"What's a wanted Death Eater like you doing out in the open, Pettigrew?" Kingsley asked lightly, his eyes dark eyes flaring in anger at the sight of the Order's traitor. "One would think that even a cowardly fool like you would have enough sense not to show his face in public."

Cries and footsteps were heard as the rest of the Aurors caught up with him. Pettigrew's sniffles got louder as he realized he hadn't come alone.

"P-please… d-don't hurt me…" He pleaded, crawling up to Kingsley like a dog begging for food.

Kingsley scowled and kicked the man sharply on the shin. "If it was up to me, Pettigrew, you'd be dead already." He hauled the man up with one hand and pointed his wand at his throat. Pettigrew wailed quietly in fear. "Sadly, we need your information. Don't worry, though; once we're done turning your brain into mush, I'm sure the Dementors will be delighted to have you."

Peter cried again as one of the Aurors brought down the apparition wards. It was only a couple of seconds later that he was unceremoniously thrown into one of the Ministry's dingy, old cells.


Kingsley's shift was over soon after Pettigrew's capture,. Stepping out into the darkening London night, he breathed in the cool air as unwelcome images of a certain pretty, dark-eyed girl plagued his mind.

He walked into a dark alley and apparated to the Leaky Cauldron.


The dark, morose Auror was nursing his third shot of Ogden's Best when a young witch with blond braids entered the bar and tripped with a chair.

"Oh, bugger. I'm so sorry, Sir," she apologized to a bearded middle-aged man who now lay soaked in his own butterbeer.

The man glared at her, and the witch smiled nervously before she got up on her feet and tumbled to Kingsley's table.

"Tonks," he nodded at her before throwing back his shot and swallowing more of the warm, amber liquid that hadn't quite managed to numb his pain just yet.

"Wotcher, Kings," she said with her customary bubbly smile, although it seemed significantly less genuine than usual.

"How'd you know I was here?" he asked in a low, glum voice as he inspected the remaining droplets of liquor that clung to the translucent glass.

"Well, you know what they say; firewhisky for the broken heart, right?" Tonks replied apprehensively staring at the row of firewhisky shots waiting to be drunk. Sighing, she took one and stared at her friend. "I heard about the capture."

Kingsley nodded distractedly. "Have you told your boyfriend that I caught his rat?"

Tonks smirked. "Yes, I did actually. He was a little miffed; I think he wanted to get him, himself."

He snorted. "If Lupin had gone after Pettigrew, there wouldn't have been a corpse to throw in a body bag."

The young woman chuckled uneasily and curled one of her blond braids around her index finger, sending Kingsley sideway glances every once in a while.

"You look like a Swedish milkmaid, you know," Kingsley smirked at her, putting down his glass and reaching for another shot.

Tonks stuck her tongue at him, and Kingsley laughed; his smile slipping quickly as he stared into his friend's currently blue eyes, suddenly wishing they were brown. He turned away quickly, gritting his teeth and cursing his wandering thoughts.

They fell into silence once again, and it wasn't until several minutes later that Tonks broke it.

"You know, Kingsley, there have been times when I've wondered why you weren't sorted into Ravenclaw." She proclaimed as she stared to the crowd distractedly. "At any rate, I've never taken you for a fool." She glanced at the man in question out of the corner of her eyes. "It now seems I might have been sadly mistaken."

"Whatever do you mean, Nymphadora, dear?" Kingsley replied sardonically, his eyes trained on his shot.

"I mean you have been acting very foolishly in regards to Hermione," she started in the same light tone, noting how he winced at the girl's name. She went for the kill. "You all but pushed her to Harry, you know."

Kingsley choked on a little on his firewhisky before turning to Tonks. "Ah… so they are together after all." He stated bitterly, his throat so constricted that he could barely utter the words.

Every time he was remembered the dagger in his gut, it hurt almost as much as being stabbed for the first time. It was a remarkable thing, really.

"No, I don't think so," Tonks replied evenly.

He masked his surprise very poorly, but Tonks didn't notice. They weren't together?

"But, Hermione's hurt and vulnerable, and Harry is kind, and supportive, and there…" Tonks continued, stressing that last word, sending Kingsley an accusatory glare that made him avert her eyes. "You're damn lucky he's her best friend, and she doesn't think he deserves to be used as a substitute. That's all that's stopping her."

Kingsley nodded dumbly and took another gulp of his firewhisky as he mentally agreed with Tonks. Knowing Hermione, she would probably feel too guilty about the library incident to continue a relationship with Potter.

"She's not friends with my cousin, though… and Draco seems interested." Tonks drawled, hoping to get a reaction from him. She knew Hermione would never do something like that, but if Kingsley thought she might, then maybe…

"Not going to happen, Tonks." Kingsley snorted. "Malfoy just wants her to spite Potter, and Hermione couldn't possibly do anything that would hurt her poor, little Harry, could she?"

Tonks sighed before turning to him and raising a speculative eyebrow. "It seems that you know her really well."

"It's hard not to get to know someone when you spend a month staring at them," Kingsley replied sarcastically.

"Don't be too tough on yourself. I think it's cute." She gave him a condescending smile while she patted his back.

"Don't ever let me hear you call me that again."

"Hey, they seem to agree with me." Tonks smirked, her eyes sparkling in amusement as she pointed at a group of giggling, young witches sitting a couple of tables away, leering at Kingsley very unsubtly.

"Bloody harpies. They've gotten worse after the promotion," The Auror grumbled tiredly, returning to his drink.

"Of course. They were after your looks before, and now they're after your money too."

Kingsley let out a weak, half-hearted chuckle that made Tonks worry. He used to have such a deep, booming laugh.

He sobered up in a second and fixed his eyes on the bottom of his glass as though it held the answers to the mysteries of the universe.

"Maybe it would be for the best—a good thing even…" He said quietly, trailing off and raising a new shot to his lips. He was started to feel lightheaded already. Not enough, though. Not nearly enough.

"Huh?" A confused Tonks frowned.

"Hermione getting together with Potter." Kingsley repeated swinging his arm around as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. He smiled bitterly. "Maybe it would be a good thing."

"What? Why?" Tonks shook her head in perplexity. "You do love her, don't you?"

Kingsley didn't answer, but his cringe at the word 'love' wasn't lost on the young Auror.

A couple of seconds passed before he spoke again. "I—well, I just figured that maybe it would be easier if she was unavailable…" he said, his voice uncharacteristically tentative. "Easier to forget."

Tonks laughed then, her eyes bright in disbelief as she patted her friend on the back. "Good Merlin, Kingsley, you really don't know anything about love, do you?"

The Auror remained quiet, his eyes trained on his firewhiskey, his lips pursed into a straight line.

A thought occurred to the young witch just then.

"Kings, you've never been in love before, have you?" Tonks inquired in a soft voice, leaning closer to her friend.

"I like control," was all the man said after a few seconds of silence.

Tonks blinked a couple of times, a light of understanding settling on her blue eyes. "Ah," she smiled as though she had just solved a terribly complex puzzle. "You're a control-freak." She nodded to herself, ignoring her friend's glare. "You're a control-freak and now an eighteen-year-old girl stumbles into your life and makes you fall in love with her, completely messing with your self-righteous moral code, and thoroughly screwing up your rigorously organized life."

Kingsley continued to glare at her but nodded all the same.

Tonks just smirked back. "And it scares you to death, doesn't it? Losing control? Falling in love?"

This time, all she got was an angry glare, and she noted worriedly that Kingsley's grip on his firewhisky shot had tightened considerably.

"So…" Tonks said in what she hoped was a soothing voice. "How are you going to win her back?"

"I'm not going to win her back, Nymphadora. That would certainly defeat the whole purpose of leaving." Kingsley replied gruffly before he polished off his glass of firewhiskey and reached for another shot.

"But, Kingsley, Hermione's miserable! You should see her!" Tonks argued in exasperation, waving her hands for emphasis.

Other than tightening his hold on his shot, Kingsley remained morosely silent.

Tonks glared at him and tried again.

"Kingsley, you can't do this! You're breaking her heart!"

The freed amber liquid ran over the wooden table, Kingsley's blood giving it a reddish tint. Tonks winced, but her friend didn't even seem to notice he had broken his glass in two.

"And me, Nymphadora?" He hissed; frustration laced to his quiet voice. "What about me? What about my heart? What if I don't want to be used and then tossed aside when the whole 'older wizard' novelty wears off and she starts looking for a man her age?"

Tonks blue eyes widened. "Kingsley, you can't mean that! Hermione lo—"

"Don't tell me she loves me, Tonks, because you do not and cannot know that!"

"Yes, I do, actually! I just spoke to her this afternoon!" She yelled back.

Kingsley's eyes widened for a second before narrowing again in suspicion. "Did she tell you that? Did she actually say it?"

The young woman hesitated for less than a second, but that was enough for him. Kingsley shook his head and smiled cynically at his wounded hand.

Tonks growled in frustration. "That's not fair; she did say she had feelings for you!"

"Ooooh, feelings!" Kingsley just had to laugh at that. "A silly crush is more like it," he added bitterly, reaching for another shot without even cleaning up the broken glass.

"Damn you, Kingsley Shacklebolt! Why is it so hard for you to accept that maybe she might be genuinely in love with you?!"

"Because she's too good for me, damnit! Because she deserves better!" Kingsley snarled at his friend. "And because I don't want to be around when she realizes that!"

If the situation hadn't been so delicate, Tonks would have laughed at how ridiculous that statement seemed coming from the tall, dark, muscular Head Auror himself.

As it was, all she did was shake her head and wave her wand over Kingsley's hand, healing his cut. He paid her no mind, staring at the women that were still attempting to flirt with him across the room.

Tonks regarded him calculatingly for a few minutes. "So, you are just a coward after all," she said matter-of-factly after a long, stretched silence.

To her surprise, Kingsley nodded after a few seconds. "Maybe I am," he agreed quietly as he continued to stare at the group of witches. His face was impassive but Tonks could tell from the gleam in his dark eyes that something had caught his interest.

Frowning, she followed his eyes across the room.

A pretty, twenty-something brunette peered at Kingsley over her margarita.

Oh, dear.

Kingsley sighed before standing from his seat and throwing a couple of galleons on the table.

Tonks grabbed his wrist. "Kingsley, she's not Hermione," she said, attempting to dissuade him. "No one will ever be."

Her friend nodded, fixing his pain-filled dark eyes on the witch. "I know," he replied.

That's the reason I can do this, was the unspoken explanation.

"I'll see you tomorrow, Nymphadora," he said instead, squeezing her hand before he schooled his features into the mysterious impassivity he had perfected over the years.

Tonks watched him as he made his way through the crowd confidently, his stride slow and arrogant. As he passed by the women's table, Tonks saw him flash a smirk at the brunette and nod at the door.

The young witch whispered something to her giggling girlfriends, put down her drink, reapplied her lipstick, and swiftly followed Kingsley out of the bar.

Tonks cursed and slammed down her glass on the table.


TBC
A/N: 'If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging', they say. Our charming Mr. Head Auror clearly hasn't heard that one, though.

Thank you to all my reviewers. I really couldn't (and wouldn't) do it without you:

disdainx3, r0manticr0se, Right or Ryn (I'm betting the bar scene didn't turn out 'quite' like you expected, huh? Sorry about that!) sparklespaz16, x-Lazart-x, Galleon-to-Galleon, alizaleven, Miss Artemis, Monnbeam, Mari, AsylleClaire, wasu, FreeSpritSprite, Zafiro, I Heart Ginny, Cecilia from Sweden, Wickedswanz (Please update Take Two! I'm dying here!), hryptrlovr92, sandpaw, Hotkat144, and Pickled Princess (How's Something Borrowed going??)

As always, thank you to EuphoniumGurl0 for the beta work!

I hope you guys liked the chapter despite a certain Auror's exasperating stubborness, Lol.

Reviews are very much encouraged and appreciated!

Cheers,

Alex.