"Until you have lost your reputation, you never realize what a burden it was or what freedom really is." Margaret Mitchell

Scabior loped down the corridor towards the lifts, intent on stopping in Raoghnailt's office before leaving. It was nearing Valentine's Day, and he had a particular ache in his being that he know only she could soothe. And, he had an inkling it was also her birthday.

Not that he would ever admit any of that aloud.

"Oi, where're you-" Fenrir began, his stride matching Scabior's.

"I'll catch up wiv ya la'er, got some bus'ness ta discuss with Scrimgeour."

"'Business,' eh?"

"Yeah," Scabior snapped.

"Well, I'll be at the Leaky Cauldron, waiting."

Scabior nodded, stepping into a lift. The gate closed shut behind him as he leaned casually against the wall.

It was growing late. There were only a few Aurors still in their cubicles who peered up at him as he strode by. He heard shuffling behind him as they scurried away. Reaching her door, he took a deep breath and straightened his coat before knocking.

No response.

Scabior knocked again, this time harder.

Again, no response.

He looked down at the floor, a sliver of light reaching his boots from underneath the door.

"Scrimgeour," he barked, knocking harshly.

He strained to hear anything.

Silence and then... a soft moan.

"I'm coming in," he snapped, throwing open the door.

To his surprise, Raoghnailt was not seated behind her desk or shuffling through her filing cabinet or even asleep on her sofa. She was instead lying on the floor, and he wasn't entirely sure if she was breathing.

Scabior took a step forward and squatted, "Scrimgeour?"

"This ain't funny," he grumbled.

"C'mon," Scabior shook her shoulder.

When she didn't respond, panic began to set in. For the first time in a very long time, it felt like his pounding heart had jumped to his throat.

"Raoghnailt?" he breathed, pressing his fingers against her parted lips to see if she was breathing.

She was. Faintly.

What if someone's poisoned her? Is she dying?

He hesitantly shook her.


What was he supposed to do?

He stood and looked around frantically. Bottles. Bottles strewn everywhere.

What in the bloody hell?

It didn't take him long to piece everything together. Well, part of it. Who knew why she had done this. He would ask her later.

He bent down, hoisted her up, and set out of her office and down the corridor to the women's toilet. Raoghnailt moaned weakly. She stumbled beside him, and he felt as if he were just dragging her along. He shoved open the door and went straight for the sink, turning the knob for cold water and liberally splashing her face. It seemed as though minutes passed before her eyes flew open, her hands slipped around the bowl of the sink, and she gasped for breath. She sputtered, but he refused to stop.

Suddenly, she pushed him away and he stumbled back.

"Bloody 'ell, don't–"

Before he could finish, she stumbled into one of the toilet stalls and wretched. Raoghnailt's hand pressed firmly against the wall. She trembled with each heave.

Scabior patiently waited until she sunk to her knees. He didn't move from his position by the sinks. She would turn to face him when she was ready.

Finally, she did.

His eyes were glued to the form of Raoghnailt Scrimgeour as she crawled back toward the sink, her head hung in shame. She hoisted herself up by the sink's edge, took a long look at herself in the mirror, and then leaned over the sink and scooped a handful of water to her mouth. Scabior pretended not to notice the tears that streaked her cheeks.

This is a new low, even for her, he thought as he turned his attention to his fingernails. And yet, she remained stoic as ever. He looked back up at her when the water stopped. He didn't say a word-in all honesty, Scabior had no idea what he could possibly say. He just studied her face and occasionally glanced at the faucet which dripped slowly.

"Will you take me home?" she asked weakly.

If he hadn't been listening, waiting for her to fill the awkward silence, he wouldn't have heard her.

"'Course." He stepped forward to open the door for her. She slowly followed him, her hand not leaving the wall. As she stepped out, her hand curled around the crook of his elbow. Scabior glanced down at Raoghnailt, who stared evenly back at him.

"C'mon," he grumbled, shaking his head.

Scabior had never given a thought to what Raoghnailt's flat would look like, but when he arrived and candles were lit, he couldn't say he was at all surprised. A long sofa sat in front of a fireplace and a painting of some ancient diety hung above the mantle. Her table (accompanied by only one chair, he noted) was crowded with books, papers, and files. A half empty cup of coffee and a poked-at piece of cake sat near the sink, but the kitchen was otherwise spotless.

He led her to the sofa, which she sunk in to. She immediately leaned forward to tug her boots off.

"Can you help?" she asked hoarsely after struggling to pull a new, shiny Italian leather boot from her calf. Scabior quickly obliged, if only because he was discomforted by this new side of her. She was helpless, and scared, and sick. He didn't know how to handle it.

Setting one boot next to the other, Scabior took another glance around as he stretched and cracked his fingers. He turned and studied the painting. The woman blinked back at him before turning her eyes to focus on something just beyond Scabior. It was old. Years in the black market taught him it was eighteenth century. It had probably been in the Scrimgeour family home for centuries. He scowled.

"Artemis," she croaked from behind him, as if reading his mind.

"Lovely. Right, well, on tha' note, I fink I'll be on me way," he said, clapping his hands together and turning. He nearly jumped, though, when he barreled into Raoghnailt. She was standing a very short distance from him.

"Please don't go," she breathed, "not yet."

He cocked his head to the side. Raoghnailt stared at her feet.

Scabior sighed, "Alrigh'."

He brushed passed her and collapsed, throwing his feet over one arm of the sofa. He tried his hardest not to watch her shuffle to her bedroom. She left the door open and with a wave of her wand, a candle began to flicker inside. He could see her shadow against the door as she slowly peeled clothes from her body.

"Since you seem to have such a keen interest, how much is it worth?" she slurred.

Scabior's eyes turned back to the painting, considering it for a moment. "Eighteenf cent'ry, unsigned, but possibly a West. I'd wager ten thousand galleons...fourteen years ago." He snorted. He hadn't been in the business for almost a decade and a half. He had no idea what it'd fetch today. It could be a worthless piece of shit for all he knew.

He heard stumbling and then a groan come from her bedroom. The painting's eyes darted from his reclined form to Raoghnailt's door. Something in his gut fluttered nervously.

Stop that, Scabior scolded himself.

He quickly stood and crossed the short distance to the doorway. Raoghnailt leaned against the chest, her hand grasping her bare stomach. Her shirt hung open and untucked from her trousers.

"Not again," he grumbled. Scabior pulled her towards the watercloset. Once inside, she bent over the toilet, wretching. She had a firm grip of his wrist, and Scabior eventually slid down the wall and sat beside her.

She isn't right, he thought. Her eyes were closed and she breathed heavily.

"Would you bring me pajamas?" she whispered hoarsely. "And some water."

"Yeah, luv," he muttered without thinking as she withdrew her hand. By the time he had rummaged through her drawers, finding what he supposed was a nightshirt, and poured her a glass, Raoghnailt had pulled herself up and had just finished brushing her teeth. She shrugged out of her blouse, slid her trousers down her legs, and unhooked her bra. Scabior just stared, holding the glass of water in one hand and her nightshirt in the other.

"Stop gaping-it's uncouth," she snapped. "Nothing you haven't seen before," she mumbled, reaching for her pajamas and tugging the long-sleeved shirt over her head. She took the glass from him and took a sip.

"Good?" he asked. He wanted to leave. Desperately.

Instead, her hand wrapped around his bicep. "Bed."

"Yer in no shape t' be considerin' a quick romp, Raoghnailt," Scabior joked.

Next thing he knew, the entire contents of Raoghnailt's cup met his face. "No, you pissant, I want to go to my bed and I would rather not crawl there," she bit out.

"Oh, righ'," he said lamely. Well, at least she still had some fire in her.

He slipped an arm around her waist and led her to the bed. She sat on the edge and set the now empty glass on the small table next to her. Scabior stood leaning against the doorframe.

"I'm sorry for throwing my water at you," she sighed.

He was silent for a long time. He was trying to understand the situation, or to at least figure out what she was thinking, but Scabior couldn't. "What th' fuck is wrong wiv you?" he finally asked. She pat the empty space on the bed next to her. Several times. He crossed the room and sat hesitantly beside Raoghnailt.

She took a shaky breath beside him, and just when he thought she was about to say something, she groaned and collapsed back into the mattress. When he turned to look at her, she was pinching the bridge of her nose.

"I was in a meeting with Thicknesse this morning, discussing the possibility of snatching Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ronald Weasley, in exchange for Luna Lovegood."

"Why?" he asked flatly.

"Because she's an innocent young girl," Raoghnailt shot back. "She couldn't hurt a fly, and there's nothing they'll get from her."

Scabior rolled his eyes. He pitied Raoghnailt and her conscience.

"Well, tha' certainly seems a good enuff reason ta drink yerself inta oblivion," he remarked flippantly.

"I wasn't finished," she hissed.

"Go on, then," he said impatiently. He would much rather be drinking with Fenrir than talking about feelings with Raoghnailt Scrimgeour.

"I–I received a," she cleared her throat, "an urgent owl during the meeting. From St. Mungo's."

Scabior's brow furrowed and he turned more fully towards her. "St. Mungo's?" he repeated.

"It–it said I was needed immediately, so I excused myself and went there straight away." Her voiced tightened with every word. He instinctively leaned forward and searched Raoghnailt's face. She was staring up at the ceiling, fighting tears and avoiding his gaze.

"I went down to the," she paused and her face twisted, "the 'Loony Ward,' and the nurse led me to his room and, I know she was trying to explain and slow me down, but I ran down the corridor and refused to listen to her."

She took a shaky breath, "I wasn't prepared at all. To see him hanging there, from...from a pipe he had found in the ceiling. He had literally torn part of the ceiling away...and he had hung himself with a–a bedsheet. He was completely lifeless, pale, . . . cold. He–I couldn't do anything, I didn't get to . . . to say good-bye or . . . apologise," she choked on a sob and covered her face with her hands.

Another annoying feeling, like a hand squeezing his heart, hit Scabior. "'Oo?" he asked as gently as he could. Some old lover, perhaps?

"I don't think I should tell you," she wimpered.

"Fine, well, I'll jus' be–," Scabior made to move from the bed. Good, she didn't want to tell him. He was free to leave.

She moaned something suddenly, and he stopped. Her muffled response was indiscernable, so he turned to face her again.

"Wot was tha'?"

"Baines," she said more clearly. "My–my brother."

Scabior had not expected that. "Your brother died years ago," he started. Raoghnailt peered up at him from between her fingers and shook her head.

"No, no. He died today," she whispered frantically. "I've never told anyone. We lied. We sent him to St. Mungo's. It was horrible. We were horrible to him. It was wrong. That's why my mother," Raoghnailt trailed off, her hand now tugging nervously at her collar.

Scabior shook his head. "The great Scrimgeours fooled us all," Scabior lightly joked, trying to make sense of this.

She blanched.

You've done it now, ya git.

He stood suddenly and smoothed his plaid trousers.

"Where are you going?" she sat up quickly and gasped, her hand going to her forehead and her eyes squeezing shut in pain.

"Gettin' ya ano'ver wa'er," he said, grabbing the glass. Scabior blew out the candles in the kitchen as he left. He noticed that she hadn't received a single birthday card. Instead, one from last year, dated 6 February 1997, sat next to her plate of cake. It was signed by her father, "With love always." By the time he returned with water to the bedroom, Raoghnailt had settled against her pillows on the far side of the mattress. He handed her the cup and she gratefully took it.

"I'm sorry," he finally said. In all honesty, Scabior wasn't entirely sure what to say. He was still mulling over the shocking revelation that Raoghnailt's younger brother had been alive all these years, stuck–imprisoned–in St. Mungo's. She only nodded.

He wasn't entirely sure he could look at her the same ever again. She, without a doubt, was not the goody-goody, know-it-all he had always thought her to be, though. No, Raoghnailt Scrimgeour had some dark secrets of her own. Very dark secrets, indeed.

"Please stay," she whispered. "I don't," she took a deep gulp of water, "I really don't want to be alone tonight."

"Actually, I've gotta meet Greyback at–"

"Please," she looked up at him desperately.

Scabior weighed his options. A small voice told him he should stay. A louder one told him to go drink this all off. But then that small voice grew, louder and louder, telling him if he didn't stay, he would be worrying about her all night. He had to give in.

He groaned, "Fine."

Scabior shrugged out of his jacket and waistcoat, tugged off his scarf and boots, unbuttoned his shirt, and set his ring on the table near the candlestick. She held her blankets up so he could slip underneath them, and he did so. He quickly blew out the candle, trying not to gag at the thought of how domestic this tableau was, and stretched his arms behind his head.

"No more wiv th' drinking ourselves int' a stupor though, eh?" he said. She didn't reply.

Scabior had just closed his eyes when he felt Raoghnailt curl up against him, her head resting against his chest and her arm wrapping around his waist. He wasn't going to move, but then he felt a small, wet drop against his chest, and then another, and another, and another. With a sigh, he shifted and wrapped an arm around her. He gave her what he hoped was a reassuring and comforting squeeze. She only buried her face against his shoulder and he felt more warm tears against his skin. Raoghnailt shook beneath his arm.

"I'm sorry," he repeated when she finally calmed down and her breathing steadied.

Her chest rose and fell against his side. Tha' feels . . . nice, he thought as he once again closed his eyes.



"'Appy birv'day."

She shifted under his arm and he felt soft lips against his jaw. He opened his eyes to see her hovering near his chin. He leaned forward and gave her a brief peck. She still tasted like firewhiskey. The tips of their noses brushed when she moved to return the kiss before settling back against his chest.

"Thank you," she breathed.

Scabior didn't respond, instead closing his eyes and drifting off to sleep. Maybe, just maybe, a small part of him could get used to this.

Well, it's been a long time, hasn't it? I apologize for that, and also if this chapter was a little slow. Character development and all that! Anyway, you know the drill–J.K. Rowling owns that which you recognize from the Harry Potter universe, I own that which you don't. I'll try to have another chapter up tonight (or one for Wee Birdies Sing, we'll see)! Thanks for reading and for your patience! Yours.