This is my response to the HPFCF "Forum Wide Competition". The prompt was as follows:
Shame – (a) a painful emotion caused by a strong sense of embarrassment, guilt or unworthiness
(b) a great disappointment
Word Count: 2,189
Rufus Scrimgeour lived as what was termed a 'great man', if not a good one. The flame of ambition had always burned bright within him. Even as a child, Rufus had known that he wanted more, – to achieve and to take everything that he could from life – and it hadn't always been obvious to him that others didn't feel the same hunger. He had used his skills, his intelligence, his power and his cunning to advance through the ranks of the Ministry with prodigious speed, mildly surprised that the number of colleagues (acquaintances, if not friends) falling behind him grew and grew the farther he went. If his advancement made him feel alone, then the slight sacrifice of meaningless chatter and token invitations to group outings was more than worthwhile when he considered the smooth, seamless sense of satisfaction brought about by his success.
There had been times when Rufus knew that it had been his drive alone that had kept him going. It had not, by any stretch of imagination, been easy becoming the Head of the Auror Office.
"Scrimgeour, I always told you that your reckless streak would be your downfall, didn't I?" A hint of a sneer played about the corner of his mouth. The fact that the smarmy, arrogant wizard standing before him was officially his 'superior' made Rufus angry. It made him even more furious than the shooting pain that gnawed mercilessly at his leg.
"Sir." Rufus fought to keep his voice level as he gave the curt reply, his knuckles white as he clenched the mattress to keep from crying out.
"Well, you can kiss the front line goodbye unless you can report for duty within the hour." His 'superior' snorted as though he had made an especially good joke. "You always were a loose cannon. Good riddance, Scrimgeour."
The wizard turned on his heel, and as his back receded from view, so did everything that Rufus longed for. In a sudden frenzied motion, he pushed the sheet back from his legs and lifted his wand from the bedside table, summoning his cloak. Although it was torn and singed from battle, Rufus shrugged it around his shoulders and clambered gingerly from the bed. As soon as his injured leg touched the ground, Rufus buckled. He tasted bile at the back of his throat. His vision swam. The petite little mediwitch raced over to his side, worry etched into her unlined features.
"Mr Scrimgeour! Did you fall?" She wrapped her arms around his torso and tried her best to lift him.
"No." He ground out the word with difficulty, barely noticing the confusion in her eyes. Rufus took an uneven step, unwilling to consider the damage he was doing to himself. It didn't matter.
"You need to get back into bed. The skele-grow is still healing you, and if you don't stay still, then we can't undo the damage." Her voice became increasingly high pitched with every step he took – either the witch was unsure of what to do when a patient defied her, or the pain was impacting on his senses – and the mediwitch followed him along.
"Worse things could happen." It had taken everything not to scream the words. His hand had shaken as he reached for the floo powder, but it was worth every moment of pure, breathtaking agony to know that his 'superior' would be forced to allow him to return, and that soon it would be he, Rufus Scrimgeour, that was the superior one.
Although the injury done to his leg had left Rufus with a limp that would always hurt his pride more than it had done his body, it had never been a decision he had regretted. And worse things were indeed going to happen. At the time, Rufus had thought little of the remark, but never had he imagined it would be proven so very true. There were traitors in his midst, worming their way through the fabric of the Ministry, and there was nothing he could do to stop it, aside from remaining as vigilant as always. He stalked through the corridors of the building, his uneven footsteps echoing around him.
Rufus paused, considering the notion that he was being followed.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
Outraged that he had stooped to experiencing the cold shiver of cowardice down his spine, Rufus moved to the site of one his greatest triumphs in an effort to recapture the moment. He stood at the top of the stairway, recalling how scathingly he had thought of the photo opportunity, which was of no practical value. It should boost morale, Scrimgeour – be a team player. Moody was dead now, and the press release had been intended to comfort the masses, not their leader. Sheer, bloody madness. Amelia Bones was dead too.
"Mr Scrimgeour, for a number of years now you've been a passionate supporter of the punishment fitting the crime, and my readers would like to know if that will continue now that you're the Head of the Auror Office?" Rita Skeeter looked up at him from among the scribbling sea of journalists, giving a saccharine smile that embodied everything he loathed about these events.
"Yes." He suppressed an impatient sigh, conscious that he was being watched.
"Yes? Mr Scrimgeour, could I ask for more detail-" Yet the bright green quill seemed to be racing back and forth across the page.
"Incendio." He waved his wand, causing her quill and the parchment beneath it to ignite. Skeeter screamed, and the people surrounding her surged backwards. "There's an example for you."
Fudge laughed nervously, gesturing for the press to fall silent. For Cornelius, it had always been about popularity, not achievement. One extended press release.
"Mr Scrimgeour has a lot to be getting on with, and so I'm sure you'll all appreciate that he's on a tight schedule." Recognising the dismissal, the crowd dispersed. Fudge turned, extending a hand. It was soft and lined, the hand of a wizard who had spent the greatest part of his life behind a desk. "You're a good auror, Scrimgeour, but my advice would be to leave the press to those that know how to handle them."
He had listened to the veiled threat with barely concealed disinterest, applying just enough pressure with his fingers to cause the false, benign smile to slip away. Fudge had been the first to break the handshake.
Becoming the Minister of Magic had been the crowning glory of Scrimgeour's career. Rufus had known instinctively that it was his determination, his iron will that would guide the wizarding world through the darkness, and he had risen to the challenge. Unlike Fudge, he had not wavered. Rufus had worked relentlessly against the Death Eaters, but soon the leaks he had plugged had started to haemorrhage. He was not enough. He had always wanted to be the best, the strongest, yet it wasn't enough. Panic had set in, and Scrimgeour had put the harshest methods into place, trying to fight one extreme with another.
He looked around the atrium. Once, it had been filled by the energy and ambition of countless witches and wizards. They had chattered happily as they had worked, a sound that although it had always struck him as unnecessary, was something Rufus had accepted – it was like the hum of worker bees. That synergy was gone. He watched as a junior minister darted across the hall, casting a furtive glance over his shoulder as he headed for the exit. It was pathetic.
Having succeeded in becoming more irritated than frightened, Rufus returned to his office. He forced himself to return his attention to the paperwork spilling out of his pigeonhole. Had it not been for his accelerated heart rate, the bead of sweat trailing down his forehead, then boredom would have quickly set in. The nub of his quill broke as he attempted to sign a document, the red ink splattering across the parchment like blood.
No longer was he the bold young man with a deep rooted desire for success. No longer was Rufus the fearless auror who had stepped into battle without a thought for his own safety. He was afraid. Humiliation and frustration coursed through his mind, and he reached out, swiping his inbox from the desk with a snarl. It landed with a clatter.
Rufus was afraid.
He was not good enough.
Rufus was afraid.
He was not invincible.
Rufus was afraid.
He was filled with shame.
Parchment fluttered through the air, falling gently to the ground. Closing his eyes, Rufus rested his head in his hands, allowing himself the briefest moment of respite. His face was thinner and more lined than he had recalled.
When he opened his eyes, he did not cry out. He knew that it was over. Lord Voldemort stood before him, skeletal and pale, no spark of humanity behind his terrible red eyes. With as much dignity as he could muster, Scrimgeour stood, wand clasped in his hand.
"Avada Kedavra!" A long time ago, he had lost his remorse. Rufus knew that it was unlikely he was going to survive, but if he could take Lord Voldemort with him, then he would. The Dark Lord dodged with a disturbingly easy elegance.
"Fighting to kill? Dear me, Minister, you're not playing by the rules." Voldemort laughed. The sound made Rufus want to back away, to flee. Instead he rounded his desk, wand pointed at his enemy. Before he could even blink, Voldemort had aimed a curse his way.
Scrimgeour blocked it, as had become second nature during his years of training, and sent a hex back towards his opponent with as much force as he could muster. Voldemort didn't manage to escape it completely, but before Rufus could follow through with his hit, he had aimed a jet of green light that caused the Minister to dive out of the way.
"Tell me where Potter is, and you won't be harmed." The words had a honeyed edge to them, and for a moment Rufus understood why so many had been tempted into following Lord Voldemort, and talked into giving their master everything.
But he was stronger than they were.
He was the man with the ambition and the talent.
He was the man who had achieved everything and climbed to the top.
"I will not." Scrimgeour's blood was racing, a perverse delight colouring his thoughts. Once more he was the defiant one. He had become the superior. He had become the Minister. He would not submit. Displeasure shaped Lord Voldemort's features into a mask of hatred.
The duel continued, destroying the entire department as it raged onwards. Every time he hit Lord Voldemort, Rufus was satisfied, although his attacks only served to increase the wrath directed towards him. He could feel himself growing tired, weaker – even all those years ago, when he had been in his prime, when he had followed a more rigorous training programme, Scrimgeour knew that the odds would not have been in his favour – and yet he couldn't bring himself to stop. Rufus would not disapparate, even if it would save his life. He wanted to cause Lord Voldemort to feel the weakness, the vulnerability, and the uncertainty that he had suffered since his appointment as Minister.
He attempted to stun Lord Voldemort, leaning out from behind the wall in a gamble that would end the battle, either way. He missed, the red blur bouncing off the wall and through the fire now ravaging the hallway. Voldemort seized the opportunity and cast a stinging hex at Rufus' leg, his aim true. Scrimgeour fell to the ground, agony crippling him. A slicing hex quickly followed, re-opening the old wound. His wand rolled along the ground, out of reach.
Voldemort stood above him. Scrimgeour's vision grew black around the edges as his life ebbed away.
"Tell me where Potter is and I'll allow you to die with dignity." Voldemort looked down at him as though he already knew that the answer would be an affirmative plea. It made Scrimgeour sick. He would not give lord Voldemort the pleasure – in fact, Rufus would enjoy depriving him of it.
"No." Scrimgeour inhaled the smoke-filled air.
There was no way of telling how much time had passed, not that Scrimgeour especially cared. He knew that he would die soon. Lord Voldemort was growing bored of torturing him, and the bleeding had not slowed.
"For the last time, Minister, where is Potter hiding?" Impatience caused an ugly flush to spread across Voldemort's unnaturally white cheeks.
"I can tell you something." He could barely feel his hands, yet Scrimgeour dug into the reserves of his strength and gestured for Voldemort to come closer. "It's... an effective tactic that Potter's employing."
For a moment Voldemort looked down at him, disappointment warping his expression into an almost infantile pout. The monstrosity before him was still susceptible to shame.
With his last breath, Rufus Scrimgeour laughed.
As the green light sped towards him, his contented smile did not fade.
Rufus Scrimgeour died not as a 'great man', but a good one.
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