December 1, 1980

Alice Longbottom was a small, fair-haired woman with a round, sweet face and a big smile. She beamed when she smiled; she glowed, and she charmed. Those on the receiving end of the smile delighted in it, because they believed at that moment that she smiled only for them. Leaving aside her smile, most found her appearance unremarkable. She looked like any number of women who passed unnoticed as they ran to pick up their children or rushed home from work.

The ability to appear small and commonplace were assets not normally considered important for an Auror; others prized power, strength and intelligence when hunting dark wizards, and of course Alice did as well, but her work as an Auror had taught Alice to turn anything to her advantage.

Her vocation obliged her pass unnoticed and unremembered as she slipped through crowds watching and appraising, she needed to disarm her quarry and she needed to inspire trust in those she met. They had to find her sympathetic, kind and trustworthy.

In her ten years of service as an Auror she had tracked and interrogated enough people that she feared recognition. Transfiguring her appearance while working had become a necessity.

Polyjuice potion was not acceptable to her. Although Alice claimed the potion was too restricting because it lasted for a limited period and she found repeatedly drinking the potion to renew her appearance awkward in public and sure to make her conspicuous, actually she felt dishonest assuming a real person's identity, which was a strange scruple because so much of her work required trickery and deceit.

Transfiguring her face had become surprisingly hard. She was running out of faces and she couldn't just choose features out of her mind and come up with a face that made any sense as a face. Often the face became noticeably odd looking when she matched a random set of eyes with another mouth or nose so she studied Muggle magazines and newspapers for likely combinations of features as carefully as a teenager looking for beauty secrets.

Of course she did not choose her facial features for beauty - quite the opposite - she wanted her transfigured face to be plain, ordinary and easy to forget. She knew how to use her own features to advantage in her work; she wouldn't know how to use a beauty's or a teenager's or an old woman's for that matter.

Her assignment on this rainy night was to find one man out of these dozens and alert other Aurors to his location, Aurors who were not so small and unremarkable and who could not track the gentleman unnoticed. Tonight her partner was Alastor Moody, who could not walk across the street without attracting a flurry of attention and driving any Death Eater within fifteen miles into hiding.

Her informant reported a tall, gray haired man with a long nose who frequented the Black Bat tavern at night. She had surveyed the customers of the pub after dark, watched them enter and exit, and scanned the passersby. The Black Bat, a staid establishment offered few likely candidates even for such a broad description. After three nights, she decided to abandon her original plan and broaden her search.

It had rained all day and the streets were slick as she cut through an alley and entered a large thoroughfare filled with crowds rushing home from work. These wizards on the street were too young or unskilled to Apparate or couldn't afford to pay the fees for lessons. They lived in homes without fireplaces or were too poor to hook up to the Floo network, so they traveled on foot like Muggles.

These were the bus drivers and waitresses and maids of the wizarding world and they mixed with people all day. They served and talked and observed. When they went home they walked the crowded streets looking into each others faces and bumping into each others arms. They'd seen and could show her far more than the office workers at the Black Bat who took the Floo network to and from the ministry. These were the people she turned to when she needed answers.

She picked her way through the crowds in the manner of a woman rushing home from work, brushing and bumping with humble apologies others on the street. In this way she gained access to their eyes and with that their thoughts and observations, searching their minds for any sign of her Death Eater. There was none, but there were occasional images of another pub, the Black Dog. Her suspicion grew that the informant had confused the names.

She continued her search until it grew late and the crowds thinned and she risked becoming that most conspicuous of travelers – a lone woman on an empty street in the dark. She considered giving up for the night when a young woman walked past her. Fear and guilt spilled out of her so powerfully that Alice could see the fleeting images as she walked away. Most were confused and indecipherable, as would be expected, but one caught her attention: two men and the inside of a pub.

Alice immediately followed the girl wanting to investigate her fear, because fear had a source and that source might be her Death Eater. The girl was standing at the entrance of a small apartment building. Alice approached her – a woman alone on a dark street talking to another woman and asking for help.

"Oh, would you please excuse me. I'm lost and I'm looking for a pub in this neighborhood. It's called the Black something? Can you help me?" Alice asked. An image from the woman's mind was clear: two men in a pub again, but more easily perceived than the first image and this time one of them, Alice recognized immediately as a wanted Death Eater. She'd found her source and grinned with genuine joy.

"Oh, you don't want the Black Dog." the woman answered. "Some awful blokes came in, nasty ones. When my shift ended I ran out as fast as I could. I left my friend behind." Alice flashed a sympathetic smile and spoke with sincere gratitude. "That's it. It's the Black Dog. My husband is meeting me there. Do you want us to check on your friend?"

Moments later she was on her way, with the girl's name, the friend's name and the directions. Thank God, she had been lucky and now she was sure she had her man. The original informant had gotten the name of the pub wrong, not the first time something like that happened.

She wound her way through dreary alleys pocked with puddles and soggy trash until she found herself at The Black Dog. The whole location, the rain, the street, the pub, was dismal, a step down from the Black Bat. Through the front window she could see the pub was empty except for two men, one a young man and another older who matched the description of the man she hunted. She wondered if the men had scared off the other customers.

She circled around to the kitchens. Another young girl, a teenager really, was pacing around the kitchen, peering through a window in the kitchen door and walking in agitated circles. Alice stepped into the kitchen and gave the girl her most sympathetic smile. The girl smiled back, but passed her wand nervously from hand to hand.

"Are you alright dear," Alice asked. "I don't like the look of those men. Your friend Mary told me how to find this pub. She mentioned them, and asked me to check on you. Do you want company?"

Please dear, Alice thought to herself, trust me. It will be better for everyone if you trust me. The girl stopped passing her wand between her hands and looked at Alice briefly. "You know Mary?" she asked.

"She told me how to find this place." Alice repeated. "She's worried about you. I don't think she liked to leave you alone here."

The girl sighed and began to fidget with her wand again. "What can you do?" she answered, her voice tense with nervous energy. It wasn't really a question but a statement. "They've come in every night for a week. They're mean. They follow me sometimes while I work." she added. Renewing her agitated pacing she said, "Hecate's pants, I hate working nights. I've got to get another job."

Alice crossed over to the window. The men were content with their drinks, but who knew how long that would last. Before Alice could act, she had to get the girl out of the pub. She made a quick decision deciding to take a risk.

Alice walked up to the girl to gain her attention. The pacing had stopped.

"I can help you." she assured the girl. "I'm with Magical Law Enforcement and I've been looking for those men." Alice gestured toward the pub area. "They're dangerous and there's going to be a fight, so I want to get you out of here." she said calmly.

Alice pulled out a small badge and showed it to the girl, who didn't even glance at it, instead she stared at Alice in shock. Her hands were shaking, and she dropped her wand. Alice picked it up for her and put her arm around the girl leading her to the door. The girl's relief was palpable. Pressing her wand into her hand, Alice whispered into her ear, "Go home." and the girl took off.

Alice threw a towel over her shoulder and hurried into the pub. The man she thought was Travers looked up at her.

"Who are you? Where's the other one?" he asked.

"Family emergency. I'm replacing her." Alice replied.

He looked at Alice suspiciously. The younger one, a large and oafish boy, ordered two Firewhiskeys. She placed one in front of the young man, but she needed to get a good look into the eyes of the older man. She was positive he was her quarry, Travers: long thin nose, tall as Frank, with long, gray, frizzy hair sticking out around his head.

Alice tripped a little as she leaned over to place his glass on the table. Then she purposely let the glass slip through her fingers. It smashed on the floor spilling the Firewhiskey at his feet. The suspected Death Eater cried out in anger as he shoved his chair back and jumped away.

Apologizing the entire time she knelt at his feet and wiped the mess up with a towel.She wiped the floor like a Muggle rather than use a Banishing Charm suspecting that it would incite the man and it did. She looked up into his face as she apologized and was able to look right into his eyes. He slapped her across her cheek.

The brutal and unnecessary act was useful to her because it allowed her to get further into his mind. The contempt, anger, and pleasure at humiliating her provided a hook which allowed her to grab his memories. She could see him killing the McKinnons. The scene was clear and vivid:

They were in the park with their children, two girls, eleven and nine. She could see picnic tables, large shade trees and a distant lake.

Travers Apparated in front of them, two other Death Eaters behind them. The Death Eaters formed a V around them effectively trapping the family. The girls and Marlene were killed quickly by Avada Khedavra curses. The children had run to their mother and had clung to her impairing her ability to defend them.

Tom McKinnon was killed last. He was an important Healer and could be relied upon to care for any injured Order member, but he obviously had little experience dueling. He was easily overwhelmed by his opponents.

At the end Travers used a curse against him that Alice had never seen before, Sparagmos. It rent Tom McKinnon's body apart as if torn with invisible hands. Horrible to watch it seemed intended to terrify onlookers, but there was no audience for this death. The only living witnesses were Death Eaters. When they'd finished they burned his body.

The entire scene took moments to observe. She broke her gaze from Travers. Her hands shook as she finished cleaning the mess in a fair imitation of fear. She wanted to blast him against the wall for what she'd seen, for Marlene, for the slap, but that would have ruined everything. Also a suspected Death Eater sat behind her. He could kill her before Travers hit the wall.

"I'm sorry, I've been clumsy. I will get you another glass – no charge - no charge, for either drink," she said. She was shaking.

"You do that you clumsy squib." he replied, taking her behavior for fear in reaction to his slap.

She had set two glasses of Firewhiskey in front of both men when Antonin Dolohov Apparated into the pub and joined them. A cruel man, he was exquisitely dangerous and had delivered the death blows to both Gideon and Fabian Prewett. Frank's and Moody's wanted list featured Dolohov in the first position. His picture and his dossier had been her constant study for months. She recognized him immediately.

Quickly adding a third glass to the table, Alice said, "No charge, because of my clumsiness. I'll be in the back room. Call if you need anything from me." she added.

She walked scuttled back to the kitchen and then ran to the back door and pointed her wand into the alley. "Expecto Patronum" she whispered and a silver squirrel burst from the tip of her wand. She sent it off to Moody with the message: "Dolohov, Travers and a third at the Black Dog Pub. I'm in the kitchen. Travers killed Marlene. He has a new curse. Sparagmos. The flesh render. Beware."

She slipped back to the kitchen door to keep watch over her Death Eaters noting carefully who spoke and who deferred to the other. The young one was still unknown to her. She was tempted to scan his mind, but she feared that if she was too ambitious she might give herself away. Then she would have to fight all of them alone, and one of the three the powerful Dolohov. As an Auror she dueled well enough but this fight was beyond her skill.

If they attempted to leave, she would have to stop them. She watched for any sign of movement on their part because the only chance she had was to hex them quickly before they realized she was after them. She was glad she gave them the extra Firewhiskies; it might make all the difference if it came to a fight between them.

To her great relief, her partner, Alastor Moody, Apparated into the kitchen with an expectant look on his gnarled and scarred face. She felt the familiar shock at the sight of the large chunk newly cut out of his nose by dark magic. It added an almost comical air to his otherwise menacing features. The original plan was for her to find Travers and for Alastor to fight him. The addition of Dolohov changed things. She held up three fingers and pointed into the pub and made a motion to imitate drinking.

Just as she was preparing to join Moody and capture the three men her husband, Frank Apparated into the kitchen. He was supposed to be guarding Neville while she was on this mission.

He wasted no time making it clear why he was here. "You're not dueling with Dolohov around" he said. "Go home, Alice."

Unlike Moody, Frank refused to allow her to accompany him on arrests, claiming worry for her distracted him and placed them both at risk.

"Go home to the baby," Frank whispered.

She was ready to argue with him that there were three and she would be needed, when Moody turned and gave her a look that said, Frank won't budge stop wasting time. As he and Frank signaled to each other the plan for the fight she Disapparated from the kitchen leaving both her husband and her mentor behind.