It was as though her domestic, friendly cat had become vicious and snarling. As though her teddy bear had been thrown into the ocean to waste away. A new, expensive bracelet that had been smashed by the neighborhood bully. A toddler who had been eaten alive by flames. A fairy whose wings had been ripped off.
Her world had been shattered, irreversibly, permanently. No matter how it was worded, no matter how she tried to hide it – that was the truth she could not escape from no matter how hard or fast she ran.
She had gotten used to missing him – he hadn't been a part of her life for quite some time. But this was different. Despite the fact that he hadn't been in her life, she had still always known he was there. She had depended on his presence, his solid, unwavering form always being there in the background, hovering around the border of her life. It didn't make much sense, but it was true, and nothing more could be done about it.
She is twenty-nine, working for Magical Law Enforcement.
(He is thirty-one, an Auror.)
She is working hard at the moment, writing letters, patching up laws, ensuring that everything is running smoothly. She is starting to become noticed by those higher up in the Ministry – some of her drafted-up regulations and laws have even been put into use! She is very proud.
Alastor comes in. She doesn't even have to look up to know that it is him; she can recognize his purposeful, stumping steps.
"Hello, Alastor," she says distractedly, signing a letter with a flourish of her quill.
He doesn't give a response, and she looks up. His eyes are narrowed; he seems cross.
"What's wrong?" she asks concernedly, laying down her quill.
He pounds up to her desk, brandishing several papers in her face. "Why are you restricting the centaurs' living area?" he questions her in a tight, constricted voice, as though holding back raging emotions.
She is surprised. "You're upset about that?"
"Obviously," he growls.
"I – Alastor, those restrictions are supposed to beneficial to the wizarding world – they aren't supposed to be a cause for our kind to be upset – " She is so stunned by his anger that she can barely formulate a sentence.
"It's not right, Dolores."
"Not right?" she echoes. "What do you – ?"
"They have a right to the land just as much as we do."
"They're – Alastor, they're half-breeds," she informs him. "They aren't like us, therefore they are not entitled to the same rights as we are."
"They have minds, they have emotions, they have the ability to think rationally – even if they would usually rather gaze at the stars. You can't just – "
"Actually, I can," she counters coolly, her former shock steadily being replaced with fury. "And I have – so there isn't any use arguing the point. They are half-breeds, they have only near-human intelligence, and should be treated as such."
He shakes his head, staring at her with intense yet repressed rage, like a balloon about to burst. "You're being unreasonable."
"Unreasonable?" she repeats, the word resonating with a shrill cry. "Unreasonable? I am not the one barging in declaring that filthy half-breeds should be treated as though they are part of the wizarding community when they clearly are – "
"All right, then," Alastor says roughly, slapping the papers down onto her desk and then bringing them to his sides, "what about all these restrictions you're putting on the werewolves?"
"They're half-breeds too," she says with finality to her tone.
"They're humans who have no choice but to become animals once a month!"
"They're not like us," says Dolores, "and they are a danger to society. Imagine having a werewolf working at a shop full of happy, uncontaminated people, or in a Ministry office – people would be bitten right and left, our world would be in a shambles! And it's not as though I was the one who came up with these decrees, they have been in place for years now – "
"That's true," he says bitingly, "but you've elaborated on those decrees and made it even more difficult for werewolves to find work."
"I am doing it for the good of the wizarding world!" she shouts. "Much as you do your job for the good of our world!"
He's breathing in a shallow way. "That is completely different."
"How so?" she demands.
But his only response is to shake his head, as though he does not even want to waste his time trying to explain this simple concept to her.
She rockets to her feet. "Don't just shake your head at me! I want to know what makes our professions so vastly different! I want to know why you're doing good in the world and I'm not!"
It registers dimly in her mind that with her yelling so loudly, people might come in and see what is wrong, but she does not care. Let them see then, if they must. Her chest is rising and falling rapidly as she stares wildly at him, waiting for a reply.
"You want to know why?" he says finally. "Fine, I'll tell you why. It's because I'm not selecting who I'm fighting to protect based on their background or their blood – I'm fighting for the ones who deserve it, the ones who are good creatures, be it human or animal. That's why our jobs are different, Dolores."
He shakes his head again, though not with anger this time, with bewilderment. "I just don't see why you're doing this. You never . . . I never . . . I don't understand your motives."
"Alastor, they're not part of our – "
But he seems determined to get everything off his chest now that he's began. "They're as much a part of our world as any other witch or wizard, even if they don't possess the same powers as us, and you've no right or reason to do this to them. It's disgusting. It's sick. Is this really how you want to spend your life, making pathetic changes to the laws, when you could actually be doing some good in the world? And what in the name of Merlin are you wearing?"
This last question is such a tangent from his other words that she looks down at her attire blankly for a long moment before resuming her gaze on him. "It's . . . they're robes, Alastor, what are you talking about?"
"They're so – pink," he grunts, eyeing them with a revolted expression. "And – fluffy."
"Yes, well, I just bought them a few days ago, and I like them," she says, smoothing down the robes. "I don't see what you have against them, but – " She breaks off, gives him an incredulous look. For a brief moment, she has forgotten that they have been arguing only seconds before.
"Why are we discussing my robes?" she cries out. "I thought we were talking about rights!"
"No, we're just talking about you in general, Dolores, because frankly I don't really know who you are anymore."
"Then why are you still here?" she asks coldly. She is tired of playing this game with him.
He blinks, caught off-guard, but then tries to resume his scowl. "Because you're being – because I'm trying to – you are just – "
But then the scowl falls off his face again, dissolves like salt specks into water, and he looks at her with tranquil resignation. "Because I care about you."
She opens her mouth, then closes it, gazing at him intently. She then lowers her head and leans back miserably against her desk.
"I'm just trying to bring some order to the ever-reigning chaos," she mumbles. "Make a difference in this world."
"I know," he says quietly. "You just have to be careful what kind of difference you make, Dolores."
Hesitantly, she meets his eyes again. It seems to take some effort, but he manages to smile at her, and then opens his arms and growls at her, "C'mere."
She steps forward and permits his arms to enclose her. She closes her eyes and melts in his embrace.
"I'm sorry for shouting," she murmurs against his chest. "But I do have to do what I think is right . . ."
There is a pause.
"I suppose you do," he sighs, rubbing light fingers over her back. "I'm sorry for shouting also."
"So we're . . . okay?" she asks uncertainly, pulling away to peer up at him.
He smiles, brushes his lips over her forehead. "Yes, we're fine."
"Do you really not like the robes?" she asks, plucking at the left sleeve with her fingers. "I thought they were nice . . ."
"I like them if you like them," he replies firmly, and that's good enough for her.
After a few more words and kisses, Alastor leaves her office. And though it is with a contented smile that Dolores sit back down behind her desk, she can't help but feel that yet again, something strange is stirring in the air between them.
The truth was something she couldn't deny, but that didn't mean that she had to dwell in her sorrow either. She needed to hollow out her feelings, put aside what she felt. Toughen up. Be strong.
A sudden thought, one that simultaneously terrified and enchanted her, suddenly wormed its way into her mind. She hovered for a moment, completely still in her chair, spine frozen as her hands clutched the rim of her desk.
Then, moving as quickly as she could before she would change her mind about doing this, Dolores yanked open one of the smaller drawers on her desk, lifted up a stack of papers, and opened up the box she had kept the item (she had hidden it well for good reason; she didn't want anyone snooping around and finding such a beautiful item, after all).
Hardly breathing, she removed the necklace from its container. The pendant caught the light and gleamed a sparkling gold; the little emeralds, curved in the shape of an 's', twinkled.
It was gorgeous, an ancient object that no doubt held extraordinary history. She did not know the exact origins of the locket; she had snatched it from a thief who had been trying to make a few quick Galleons. Upon first receiving it, she had immediately clasped the necklace around her neck, wearing it proudly for days on end. It was beautiful. It was valuable. It was envied by others. What more could she want from the locket? She loved every part of it.
It was on the fifth day of her with the brooch against her throat that she began to notice something . . . different. She felt more . . . irritable than usual, and disagreeable. She also felt . . . hungry. But not for food; it was for something that she didn't quite know, couldn't quite identify. She did not connect these feelings with the locket; she thought she was just going through some mood-swings.
As the days wore on, the feelings of irritability and grumpiness increased, along with her hunger. The difference now was that she knew what to feed this hunger that would make her stomach stop rumbling: power. When she was able to exercise her power, when she was able to be stronger than others, that was when all the other grouchiness faded away – that was when she felt good.
It took a few more days for her to realize that she didn't like what was happening to her. She wasn't herself anymore. Yes, the power felt good – it felt incredible, she was hardened to everything – but there were sacrifices that had been made, and they were sacrifices that she missed. She no longer enjoyed her mandatory morning and afternoon cups of tea, no longer cared for her cat, no longer enjoyed simply talking unless she was using her power. They were little things, but they mattered. Eventually, she connected it all to the locket, and it was with mingled regret and relief that she removed the thing and hid it away in her desk drawers.
And here she was now, about to put the thing on again. Was she mad?
But she needed it this time. It would protect her, shield her from all emotions but the hunger. That was what she required.
Because she didn't want to feel anymore. She didn't want to care.
With slightly shaking fingers, she fastened the locket around her neck, patting it smooth against her chest, where she knew it would be remaining for a good long while.
She is forty-one, Senior Undersecretary to the Minister.
(He is forty-three, a seasoned Auror.)
She strides down a hall at the Ministry with a brisk, anxious step. It is 1971, and a war is beginning to brew. Everyone is under constant strain, working harder than ever. As the Aurors are some of the busiest of all, she hardly sees Alastor anymore, though she supposes that might be a good thing. Their relationship has been tense at best during these past few years.
They pass each other in the halls, and he corners her.
"Why," he demands to know, "is the Prophet hardly mentioning any of the deaths and disappearances that've been happening?"
"I don't work for the Prophet," she snips back frostily. "I suggest you ask them."
"It's your lot that's leaning on them to hush all these things up."
"'My lot'? What do you mean by that?"
"You, the Minister, and all the other little cohorts he's got running around for him – "
"There is no need for the general public to know of every single death!" she snaps, firing up. "They're happier not knowing!"
"They have a right to know! And don't act as though you actually care about the general public," he sneers, "all you care about is protecting yourself, keeping yourself in a position of power, because you like to feel strong and important."
"Stop pretending like you understand me," Dolores says angrily. "You have no idea – "
But he has already stomped off.
The day became a bit more bearable after securing the locket around her throat. She got through her work with minimal difficulties. She managed to talk cordially with the Minister during lunch break, even was able to smile and giggle a few times. Her stomach felt queasy in a way that had nothing to do with the food she'd consumed after lunch, but she merely strode back to her office, gripping the necklace hard in her fist until its cold had suffused her entire being.
Once the day was, at last, over, she picked her way over to the Auror department and tussled up Williamson, Dawlish, and Savage. The odd group made their way to the front of the Ministry, where they then Apparated off to the location the Minister had suggested to begin their search.
She is fifty, Senior Undersecretary to the Minister.
(He is fifty-two, a renowned Auror).
She stands opposite him yet again, as they go through another of their arguments. The war is worse than ever. Catastrophes happen daily. Tensions are high. Trusting anyone is a dangerous business. Nobody feels safe.
"This is stupid," she cries at him. "Our constant fighting and going at each other's throats is just stupid. We should be on the same side – we both want You-Know-Who dead."
"But we have different ways of going about that want," says Alastor quietly.
She leans back against the wall, wipes at her forehead in exhaustion (sleep is also difficult in these dark times). "We should be on the same side," she says again, in a weaker voice.
He observes her for a moment or two, leaning on the walking stick he recently acquired after a nasty combat with a Death Eater.
"You want to know why I never kill any of the Death Eaters that I catch, Dolores?" he says at last in a low tone. "It's not because I'm weak, it's not because I couldn't commit a murder if I tried – it's because I know I wouldn't be able to handle killing someone. I wouldn't be able to handle that sort of power. If I killed one of them, I would have to kill them all – it would become an obsession, a search, a constant drive to feel powerful and strong. I would have to exercise those feelings, lord them over others.
"I know what it would to do me. That's why I don't do it. That's why I don't kill them. I don't want to be on an endless chase for power – I want to do the right thing."
She takes a deep breath, pushes off from the wall, stands up straight. "So, I guess we're on completely different sides, then?"
He looks her in the eye, and she looks back, and she knows that he understands her question entirely – she is not just speaking about sides of the war here. She is speaking about their relationship. She is speaking about them.
They have not exactly been 'together' in years, but there was never an official separation either. But she realizes now that they've both just been delaying the inevitable. They've both just been biding their time before going through with what they must go through with. What they must inevitably end.
"Yes," he says quietly. "Yes."
"So, where do you believe the fall was, Madam Umbridge?" Savage asked her, as the three Aurors and Senior Undersecretary to the Minister prowled around the outskirts of a Muggle village.
Dolores studied the magic-filled map that Scrimgeour had given her: the area that he had calculated to be where Alastor's body flashed in a yellow border.
"We are on the edge of where the Minister thinks he fell," she told them. "The area he marked does cover about a mile from its center though. I suggest that we split up and search – between the human revealer spell and magical detection spells, we should be able to locate him fairly easily."
"With the greatest respect, Madam Umbridge, I don't think it's wise to split up," said Dawlish. "Death Eaters could be lollygagging around even now – it would be wisest to stay together . . ."
"No Death Eaters are going to come and attack us," said Dolores, waving her hand carelessly. "They don't care about us right now, they're still sore over losing Potter. Besides, we won't be that far away from each other, it isn't a large area that we have to search."
In addition to hardening her, the locket seemed to give her confidence too. Or perhaps it was just arrogance. Either way, it was not an unpleasant feeling – more pleasant, at least, than the other emotions fighting to escape the shell that the locket had formed around them.
Nobody seemed to want to argue with her, though she did distinctly see Dawlish and Williamson share wary looks.
With a wave of her wand, she duplicated the map three times, so that she and each of her companions would know where to look. She handed them out, then proceeded on with her scouting of the area, doing her best to focus on where she was looking rather than what she was looking for.
She is fifty-seven, still securely Senior Undersecretary to the Minister.
(He is fifty-nine, still an Auror.)
She walks the hallways calmly now. The war has been over for some years. There is no impending doom, no looming threat. No worries that all you know could suddenly be destroyed in one violent, unexpected swoop.
She passes him as she walks along. They barely acknowledge each other. It is as if they are strangers.
He is a stranger, she thinks. You don't know who he's become. He's a stranger to you now.
It's not as though this never happens, them brushing by one another. They do work at the same place, after all.
She tells herself it doesn't matter. She tells herself she doesn't care. She tells herself she has everything she has ever wanted – a high-up job at the Ministry, and people who listen and admire her ideas. If Alastor Moody can't respect what she does, then that's fine: she doesn't want to be involved with him if he can't live with the good she is doing for the wizarding world. She tells herself she doesn't need someone around who can't even support her in what she does.
She tells herself she doesn't care about him anymore.
She tells herself it doesn't hurt when he walks by.
(But it does.)
"Homenum revelio," Dolores muttered, pointing her wand around as she stalked forward slowly, a cougar on the prowl. "Homenum revelio. Homenum revelio."
She had been saying the spell about every few feet, but so far, it hadn't done much good. The only bodies that kept showing up were the bodies of her three companions. She was not sure whether to feel relieved – she didn't really know if she wanted to see his body, mangled and twisted from the fall . . . or if she should feel upset – if the body wasn't around, that might've meant that some animal had come and torn it apart . . .
The locket was thudding in time to her own heart as she grasped it between her fingers tightly. Sometimes it was hard to tell whether it was the pulse of her fingers or the pulse of the brooch she was feeling; both were becoming almost interchangeable. That was good, she kept telling herself, that was a good thing. This locket was going to become a part of her. It was going to make her the strong and unfeeling woman she needed to be to continue on in this world.
She needed this locket in a way that she needed nothing else. In a way that she needed no one else.
She is sixty-six, Senior Undersecretary to the Minister and former Hogwarts staff member.
(He is sixty-eight, a retired Auror.)
She is sitting at the counter of a dingy Muggle bar in the middle of nowhere. She normally doesn't visit places like this – she prefers places with more class, and places without Muggles – but she hasn't been feeling very normal as of recently. Besides, tonight she wants a place where no one knows her, and this tiny pub fulfills that requirement.
She picks up her glass of whiskey, takes a small sip. When she first arrived at the pub, she had been wanting alcohol desperately. Yet once the glass was in front of her, she found no real desire to drink it, but rather just to sit slouched over, inhaling the fumes of the drink and enjoying the anonymity she had in such a place. So she just sits there now, elbows on the table, body slumped. The war has been getting worse with each passing day, the Ministry is under more pressure than ever, and it has been starting to weigh on her. That is why she had needed to get out tonight.
"I certainly never thought you'd degrade yourself enough to show up in a place like this, Dolores," comes a low voice from behind her.
Dolores closes her eyes, as though by doing this she can make him disappear, as though by doing this he will have never been there in the first place. She does not want to see anyone she knows tonight; he is at the very bottom of her list.
Over to her right, there is the sound of chair legs scraping against floor. She reluctantly opens her eyes. He sits beside her at the counter, expression disdainful, a bowler hat pulled over his magical eye.
"And you?" she snips back. She may not want him here, but that does not mean she is going to ignore him – or worse, beg him to go away. Dolores Umbridge always fights back. "Is this a place you come to often? I should have known that, I suppose . . . a lot of your characters around this area."
"And not many of yours," he replies coolly.
"I can decide to spend my evening here if I so wish it," says Dolores pridefully. "I can make my own decisions."
"Well, that's surprising. I was under the impression that everyone in the inner circle of the Ministry was just spouting each other's words on various matters."
"What would you know about how the Ministry is working these days? You're retired and working full-time for that bloody Order of the Phoenix."
"Yes, and I've been doing things that are much more useful than what you've been up to."
"Than what I've been up to? I – you don't – the Ministry is on the same side as the Order, Alastor!" she cries, attracting some attention from the other occupants of the bar. Lowering her voice again, she hisses, "Just because the Order refuses to let us help, to trust us – "
"You have shown no reason to be trusted. Not you, and not any of the other pigs that you work with – "
She has a retort ready for this, and is fully ready to give it, when a strange and unexplainable thing happens: she begins to cry. It is not really for any particular reason, it is not really because of what Alastor Moody is saying to her. It has all just become too much for her: all the stress from her job; the tension she feels when speaking to anyone, even companions; the constant deaths and disappearances; the overwhelming feeling that she is powerless despite having the power she has always wanted; the long and sleepless and lonely nights . . .
It has all just become too much, and this is the icing on the cake, the last straw, the insult to injury – and in this moment, she can hold back the outpouring of emotion no longer. She cries, she sobs, she bawls, noisily, putting her hands over her face in a feeble attempt to disguise the weakness she is showing. It doesn't help: she can still feel the eyes of everyone in the dingy bar on her, staring bug-eyed.
Lithely, with an agility that she has not seen him exhibit in years, Alastor is on his feet. He puts one arm around her shoulders, the other grasping one of her forearms, and it is in this manner that he pulls her off the stool she has been sitting on and leads her towards the less crowded area that is at the back of the pub.
Through her fingers, she sees him push her down into a vacant chair in the corner; still holding onto her, he sits down next to her.
"Shh," he says softly, suddenly much gentler, "shh . . . it's okay, you're okay . . . Dolores, I'm sorry . . ."
"It's – not – just – about – you," she chokes out between sobs. "It's – everything – and – "
"Shh," he says again. "Don't try to talk now."
She falls silent, sniffling and blubbering into her fingers as she tries to master herself. At last she finally has herself under control, and manages to stammer in a small voice, "It's just – too much – the war – and I try to – help – but I don't know – and then you – but I don't – I can't – "
She swallows, takes a deep breath, determined to get at least one coherent thought out.
"I miss you," she breathes.
She isn't able to get out anymore than this, for her throat closes up again, but he seems to understand everything just from those three words. His arms still firm around her shuddering form, he begins to murmur, so as not to be overhead by anyone in the vicinity.
"Sometimes, Dolores," he begins huskily, "sometimes things . . . sometimes things get lost in the fire, the fire of war. And we – we just have to learn to let them go, these things, because the remains – what's left from the fire – they're burned and charred and broken, and they won't do us any good."
She takes a deep breath, presses her face into his chest. "But I still remember what they looked like before the fire," she whispers to his shirt.
He sighs. "So do I," he mutters gutturally. "So do I. But that still won't restore things, just because we remember. It's – the fire has – the damage is too deep. We learned that years ago, Dolores. We just have to accept it."
Taking one moment longer to savor her burned remains of the fire, she nods . . . and then finally pulls away.
"Hey, I think I found something!" Savage yelled out unexpectedly, jerking Dolores from her reverie. "It's not much of the poor guy, he must've been either torn apart, or else his body landed somewhere else and the eye fell out – " her heart gave two painful twists as her imagination pictured both of those gruesome thoughts " – but, well, it's something."
"Bring it here, Savage," she commanded, and he trotted over to her, Dawlish and Williamson coming behind.
"Well?" said Dolores, when Savage was standing feet away from her. He did not seem to be holding anything – not abandoned robes, or a stray shoe, or a severed limb . . . anything. "Did you get the item or not?" she asked impatiently.
Savage held out his left arm; his hand was closed into a fist, then he opened his fingers. Resting against his open palm was Alastor Moody's magical blue eye.
"It was the only bit I found," said Savage, sounding a little apologetic – perhaps her stunned face, staring fixedly at the eye, had him worried. Even the locket, it seemed, couldn't wrestle away a shock such as this. "Should we keep looking or call it a day, ma'am?"
"We – we should call it a day," she managed to get out. "We can bury the eye, at least. Or – even better – we won't bury it – I've been needing a way to make sure the Ministry workers are all doing their job, and not loitering or going off-task. I shall use this eye to watch them. We must have order, after all."
She had no idea where the idea or the words had come from. The locket was beginning to go cold against her skin – that meant it was warming up. That meant it was just beginning its influence over her. She needed influence though; without it, she would be a crumpled mass of grief upon the ground, unable to function.
The Aurors stared at her for a minute, then they slowly broke into nods of agreement.
"Good plan, Madam Umbridge," said Dawlish.
"Very," agreed Williamson.
Savage grinned a little, and handed the eye to her. "That eye can watch over them all."
She arranged a smile, holding the eye gingerly. "Yes – yes, it can."
With their work done and permission to leave, the three men bid her their good-byes, and Apparated away to their homes. She stood for a moment, staring at the spots they had disappeared from, then looked down at Alastor's eye. Before, when she had first seen the object, it was constantly swiveling and darting around, taking in every detail of its surroundings. Now, it was still and cold in her hand, staring up at her, wide and blank.
She looked up at the sky, which was beginning to darken with the coming of dusk, blinking wetly up at the faint stars. "Maybe you can watch over me too, Alastor," she whispered, closing her fingers around the eye.