x~*~*~x Prologue x~*~*~x

"Turtles? You like turtles?" he asked incredulously. "Turtles," he repeated, looking at the girl as if to say Are You Mad? She gave a little smile – one that the boy had come to think was only for him – and nodded quickly.

They were lying in a copse of trees on the side of the Black Lake furthest from the school and thus, furthest from the prying eyes of teachers or, worse, classmates. The ground was soft with fallen leaves – so soft there was really no need for the Cushioning Charms the boy had cast liberally upon their arrival more than two blissful hours previous.

"I think they're adorable, Alastor, with their little shells and their slow pace of life. They never worry or get too excited. If danger comes along, they simply retreat into their shells and wait it out," she explained, but the boy merely continued shaking his head. He broke into laughter, and she smacked his hand away from her thigh before pulling away and sitting up.

"Go on then," she scolded, her already pinked cheeks flaring, "what's your favorite animal? This was your idea in the first place."

The boy's laughter stopped immediately. "Now, now, I'm not makin' fun of you; I just thought it would be a magical animal, that's all. Especially with you bein' so keen on Care of Magical Creatures." He sighed and gave his best apologetic look. "Listen now, really. I'm just surprised is all."

She looked up at him through sun-kissed lashes, her shoulder-length hair falling in sheets on either side of her head and framing her face. "You sure? 'Cause I'm not above hexing you, Alastor Moody." To prove her point, she pulled her wand from seemingly thin air and leveled it at the boy's startled face. His eyes widened and then he grinned, raising his hands in mock surrender.

"Yes, Isa, I'm sure. Now, what about your favorite magical creature? Besides me, o' course."

Isa gifted him with that smile again, then broke into quiet giggles.

He smiled. He seemed to be doing a lot of that, and his friends had noticed. They had immediately suspected a girl was the reason, and had all tried very hard to coax, trick or simply bully the name of this mysterious girl out of him, but so far he had resisted.

"It's the unicorn, silly, what else would a Mudblood say?" She blinked as his smile faded and the temperature seemed to drop between them. Silence reigned as she picked at her well-worn sweater. Trying to lighten the mood, she pasted a fake smile on her face and adopted a poor imitation of his accent.

"Besides you, o' course."

x~*~*~*~x

A scarred hand reached out to touch an old wand clattering across the bedside table. In the hush following the silencing of the rudest alarm klaxon he'd ever had the displeasure of hearing, Alastor Moody decided he was too old for this shit.

The last vestiges of a dream slipped through the fingers of his mind while he resisted opening his eyes. Alastor knew without looking what the lurid yellow numerals floating above his wand would read: 4:57 a.m. He'd given up trying to remember why he hadn't set it for a round number - say, 10 a.m. - and simply marked it down to Constant Vigilance. Or perhaps the Scotch had had a hand in the reasoning, but Alastor preferred not to dwell on the hangover thumping in his temple at that very moment.

Sitting up slowly because of the headache - not because I'm old, he reasoned, never because I'm old - he scratched his stump and swung his remaining leg over the side of the bed, groaning appreciatively as he cracked his neck first to one side, then to the other. Getting up in the morning is really becoming a chore, he thought. And, he mused as his thoughts drifted to the witch sprawled on the other side of the bed, getting up in the evenings isn't the piece of cake it used to be either. Reaching for his wooden leg, Alastor couldn't help but see the cruel irony that he was always waking up to this woman instead of going to bed with her. A moment later and Alastor stood to clomp his way to the privy, carrying his wand and wearing nothing save his wooden leg and a sardonic smile.

She was gone when he returned, as he knew she would be - as she was every day. He'd learned long ago to take his wand with him to the WC, and to cast a Notice-Me-Not charm on his money pouch, else he'd be wandless and broke upon his return. After all, Alastor had quite a few people to kill before dinner - hell, before lunch - and killing wizards without a wand was difficult work.

Scratching himself, Alastor lamented the fact he wouldn't have time to shower. Still, he conceded, there were worse things to smell like than the woman who'd just snuck out. Alastor also knew that if today was anything like yesterday - and his being there almost assured it - he'd smell of blood and death before the day had run its course.

In fact, he thought grimly, I'm going to make sure of it.

x~*~*~*~x

x~*~*~*~x Geminio x ~*~*~*~x

x~*~*~*~x

God, but London is a shithole, he mused. Standing under an Invisibility Cloak in the small park across the street from Number 12, Alastor surveyed his surroundings, watching and waiting for a sign. Signs of any Death Eater, but greasy, bat-like ones in particular. After forty-five minutes revealed no one and nothing unusual outside the old Black residence, Alastor cast Albus' Revealor spell at the building.

A split-second later, the spell returned to his wand, the acquired knowledge leaping through his arm and into his head. One, it whispered into his mind.

Just one, he repeated to himself.

Moments later, Alastor touched his wand to the handle of the ancient front door, letting himself noiselessly into the darkened foyer. As none of his alarm wards had suggested anyone had even attempted to enter the decrepit old house following Dumbledore's death, Alastor breathed a bit easier once the front door had shut behind him. Inside the house was deathly silent, and looking around, he noticed that age and neglect were once again creeping throughout the place, slowly but surely overtaking the care and cleaning brought to bear by Molly Weasley and the rest of those who'd once called it Headquarters.

He'd once felt real pity for Molly – for all the Weasleys – in light of the danger the new war posed to such a large and visible family. Time had eroded that feeling though, and now Alastor knew he'd sacrifice each and every last one of his red-haired friends to finally end this war once and for all. Alastor knew he'd do so with a heavy heart, but he'd do it just the same. What did it matter if in the end they'd all be slaughtered anyway? It was becoming hard to face them every day, when it seemed that each time he did, it was with the image of another dead Weasley or two fresh in his mind.

A shuffling sound caught his ear, bringing his attention back to the here and now. He turned and pointed his wand at Kreacher, and the elf curled its lip sourly.

"The old cripple has come back, yes he has. Kreacher had hoped the old cripple had died." The insolent tone made Moody's fingers twitch to curse the little bugger, but he refrained.

"So how's tricks, Kreacher?" Alastor asked neutrally. The thought that Kreacher could possibly have a scrap or two of good information forced a kind of calm nonchalance into Alastor's voice. "Anyone been round to see you?"

Alastor left the question as open as he could, hoping to entice the elf into giving a report, and plastered on his face the most curious expression he could muster. Kreacher was not fooled, however.

"The old cripple wants to know what Kreacher has seen, does he? But Kreacher belongs to the half-blood now." At this, Kreacher began to rock back and forth on his heels, the long ears drooping further still. "Yes he does, and ohh, what would Kreacher's Mistress say? What would she say to werewolves and cripples and Mudbloods in her-"

"Shut up," Moody growled, leaning forward to shove the glowing wand-tip closer to the fleshy end of the elf's nose. "Your dead Mistress is lucky this hole is fire-proofed, though I'd wager a bit o' Fiendfyre would do the trick."

Kreacher had stopped talking at once, and Alastor saw for the first time the tell-tale glint of madness in the elf's eyes. Before Alastor could raise a defense, the deranged elf snapped his fingers, and a wave of cold energy sent Alastor careening backward and sideways. Realizing what the little maniac was trying, Alastor concentrated and Apparated to the adjacent drawing room before he could be expelled from the house entirely.

"Now hold on there, elf," he began, attempting to reason with Kreacher. Total darkness descended on the room as all the gas lamps were abruptly extinguished. Alastor wondered if the elf knew about his magical eye, and closed his good eye to better concentrate on the magical one.

The visual distortion was Alastor's first inkling that something was amiss. Normally, his magical eye looked through walls and even Invisibility Cloaks, and that had previously been the case inside Grimmauld Place. Now, however, all the walls were opaque to the whirling orb, and the waves of rippling distortion caused the hairs on his arms to rise up. Alastor also had a slight feeling of vertigo as the floor seemed to undulate under his feet.

Having never fought a House Elf prior, Moody opted to consider self-defense first and foremost, deciding he'd take the offensive when the opportunity presented itself. The adrenalin-fuelled portion of his psyche was roaring, drowning out the part of his brain that would have liked to talk the elf down. Moody tapped his wand on the crown of his own head, and felt the Shield Charm drape over his body like a sheath.

In the end, that cursory spell saved Alastor's life, as every piece of fabric in the house burst into life and attempted to throttle him from multiple angles. The thick and intricate rug beneath him surged upwards, throwing Moody from his feet. The tapestries made to bind him, and the heavy blood-red window dressings began to swirl about his head.

If not for the Shield Charm over his entire body, Moody would not have been able to loose the series of cutting and blasting hexes that kept his upper body from being engulfed in dangerous fabrics. As it was, the rugs and tapestries tangled around his legs as he tried to backpedal on his hands and heels away from the curtains, and succeeded in removing his fake leg.

"Dammit!" he roared, "Expulso! Confringo! Confringo! INCENDIO!"

Liquid fire erupted from his wand, illuminating the room once more and consuming the tentacles of fabric. They writhed and spun, and Moody Summoned his fake leg as they burned. He expected another attack at any second, and wanted to be a step ahead.

He renewed the Shield Charm, and just in time, as a cacophony of sound reverberated through the drawing room. All manner of pots and pans were raining down on him from an opening in time and space, the copper and brass shinier than anything he had ever seen in Number 12. Moody absently wondered where in the hell they were coming from.

He fired Stunning Spells into both doorways leading out of the room, hoping to catch Kreacher unawares, when suddenly his vision swam once again, this time due to a heavy blow being delivered to the top of his head. Once again, the Shield Charm had saved his life, for Kreacher was now standing astride the grizzled Auror and hacking away at the crown of his head with the largest meat cleaver Moody had ever seen. A stream of obscenities and nonsensical words rushed from Kreacher's snarling lips.

Alastor raised his wand to Stun the elf, but Kreacher turned and drove the cleaver into Alastor's forearm, the Shield Charm buckling but managing to keep Moody's hand from being amputated. Alastor grunted and dropped his wand. The demented elf wound up for another strike, and Moody hit him in the mouth with all the strength he could put into his uninjured hand.

Kreacher's head rocked backward and he fell off Alastor's chest. Grabbing the fallen wand in his left hand as Kreacher bounded back onto his feet, Alastor managed to cast a clumsy Stunning Spell which only seemed to further enrage the House Elf. Unwilling to allow the elf another go at his head with the enormous cleaver, Moody reluctantly cast an explosion hex into Kreacher's chest.

A large hole was blasted through the drawing room wall as Kreacher slammed into the already screaming portrait of Walburga Black before landing heavily on the hallway floor. Sighing, Alastor hobbled warily from the drawing room into the hallway littered with plaster, wood chips, wallpaper and a House Elf.

"Shut the fuck up!" he bellowed at the crazed portrait, and knelt to Kreacher's limp form. The elf's chest was caved in badly, though the blackened skin was remarkably unbroken. Alastor met Kreacher's dying eyes and it was as if he was seeing the elf for the first time. The shadow of madness was gone – replaced by the gleam of real loneliness. He was unsurprised when he felt Kreacher's small hand slip into his own.

"I'm sorry, Kreacher," Alastor began, but Kreacher shook his knobbly head.

"Kreacher goes to serve Master Regulus now," said the elf, and smiled at Alastor's look of confusion.

One last rattling breath, and the old elf had passed on. Alastor stood and wiped a hand down his face, then turned to the eerily silent portrait of the Black matriarch. She looked both furious and shell-shocked at the turn of events, but soon found her voice.

"HOW DARE YOU-" she screeched but the bang of a spell cut off her rant. Moody brought his smoldering wand-tip very close to the painting's surface, his magical eye quivering in fury.

"Those others might not've known how to get your paint-by-numbers off the wall, but I do, so just you try me, you old cow," Moody said through clenched teeth. "Now tell me: has anyone else been here since I was here last? Be quick, before I tear out the wall you're on and use you to wipe my arse."

"N- no one," the portrait replied finally. "No one since you sealed the entrance." There was a pause before Mrs. Black added, "Now clean up your mess and get out."

Alastor repaired the drawing room and hallway, then buried Kreacher in the back garden. Although he wanted no part of speaking with her further, he nevertheless stopped again at the silent portrait.

"Don't say anything. I'm placing another layer of wards on this place for my slimy friend, so perhaps you'll have the pleasure of seeing him disemboweled before your eyes. I'll be back for the details."

Although explosion hexes were not difficult to cast, layering several and linking them to a proximity charm was. Moody cast this set of charms on either side of the door, and layered overlapping detection charms across the threshold after stepping outside. He concentrated on tying the charms to the floor and not the door itself, so that an intruder would be inside and closer to the blast before it activated. He'd come up with the ruse after Rosier had escaped an Auror ambush, surviving because the explosion was set off by the opening of the door and Rosier had been outside, away from much of the destruction.

With one last look at the hallway floor, Alastor sealed and locked the peeling door, and Apparated away.

x~*~*~*~x

"Are you out of your mind, Alastor?" the other boy asked. They were facing each other in a disused classroom as a circle of others, boys and girls from all Years looked on. The only thing Alastor felt he had in common with them was being a Slytherin.

Alastor seethed; whether with fury or embarrassment he didn't know. Perhaps it was both, standing lonely and alone against all these people, every one of which he'd have counted as a friend before this moment. And at the head of the pack was Wilkes, his oldest friend. His Sixth Year at Hogwarts was unraveling before his eyes.

"I said, are you mad?" the boy repeated, "Or is she just sport? Tell me that's it, Alastor, because I can't see any other reason you'd be seen with that filthy Mudblo-"

However Wilkes was going to complete the sentence was lost in the resulting explosion of light and sound. Alastor had unleashed a bolt of crackling electricity that, upon hitting Wilkes's chest, had lifted the other boy off his feet and sent him crashing bodily through what had been a magically-sealed classroom door. Every other person in the room, save Alastor himself, had dived for cover or scrambled away from the body as it was thrown from the room. Hazy smoke drifted in from the hallway, and several girls ran from the room to look after the fallen boy.

In a flash, more than a dozen wands were trained on Alastor. He was breathing evenly, and seemed almost calm but for the muscle spasming in his cheek. He looked around without lowering his wand, his eyes flashing dangerously as acrid smoke wafted into the room from Wilkes's scorched and prone form.

"Who's next?" he asked, swiveling his wand to point at several different boys and girls. "Step lively now; I 'aven't got all day."

"You shouldn'a' done that, Moody," said a lean and wiry-haired Seventh Year as he stepped forward, his wand at this side. "Here Wilkes has gone to the trouble o' gettin' us all together, tryin' to help you, tryin' to show the correct way for a Pureblood like yourself ta act…" – the boy shook his head – "and you go and curse him like that? I believe we need to teach you some manners, get your head on straight."

Alastor shook his head, his wand leveled between the boy's eyes. "Sod off, Avery – I never asked for this. And if you take another step, having your head on straight will be the least of your worries. I reckon we can find out right quick how many curses I've learned from you and yours."

Avery's eyes narrowed, but he stopped moving forward. A moan of pain could be heard from the other side of the shattered door.

Alastor looked around again, though he left his wand trained on Avery.

"And that goes for the rest of you as well. The next one o' you what speaks ill of Isabelle Turner is going to get the same. I may be younger than a lot of you, but you don't own me. I'm my own man, and I'll carve that fact into your chests if you push me." He looked back to Avery. The other boy was at least six inches taller than Alastor.

"Now if you're done, I've plans for the evening. And one o' you ought to see Wilkes up to Madam Culpepper – those burns will leave some wicked scars if their not looked at."

Avery looked as if he still wanted to curse the younger boy, but at last he cocked his head sullenly toward the door, and the others filed out, many with their wands still warily trained on Alastor. For his part, Alastor had eyes only for Avery, and the two stared at each other for several beats once the rest of the room had emptied. At last Avery spoke.

"Don't kid yourself, Moody; this isn't the end of it. You've gone against everything our house stands for, consorting with that-" Avery stopped as Alastor raised both his eyebrow and his wand.

"Don't say it, Avery. Just don't. I'll put the Quidditch team down two players instead of just one."

Avery raised his hands and backed out of the room, his gaze promising revenge.

x~*~*~*~x

"Of course she's dead, you great fool," Moody replied, mockingly. "Look around – you don't reckon that's my blood painting the ceiling, do you?"

A strangled cry followed by a violent cutting curse were the only answers, and Moody easily side-stepped the spell. Brandishing his wand, Moody Summoned the modest larder across the room, causing it to crash heavily into the other man's back.

Three thunking strides later, and Moody stood over Amycus Carrow's sobbing and defeated form as the man reached a trembling hand in the direction of his dead sister's corpse. The sound of a wand snapping only served to increase the incoherent wails.

"If it helps," Moody began, scratching the place on his nose where Evan Rosier had come close to decapitating him, "I doubt there was much pain before her head popped like an overripe melon."

A flash of green and a rushing sound, and the Carrow family was no more. Good riddance, thought Moody.

Looking around the dilapidated hovel, Alastor was sorely tempted to loose a stream of Fiendfyre to consume the place; the stench was overwhelming. Alastor knew, however, that the conflagration would draw attention, would alert the others on his list and put them on their guard.

And so he stayed his hand, tossing down the broken wand pieces and arranging the scene to suggest a murder-suicide. Alastor knew the ruse wouldn't hold up to strict scrutiny, but he had places to be and wizards to kill, and any head start was better than nothing.

x~*~*~*~x

4:57 a.m.

"Bloody buggering fuck," Alastor mumbled, turning off the alarm. It seemed to reverberate throughout the meager room even after being silenced.

For fuck's sake, he thought, why did I ever decide that this was a good time to be getting up? No one in their right mind is up at this hour.

Alastor sat up and strapped on his wooden leg, only glancing to the duvet-covered bumps by force of habit; he'd had no doubt she'd still be there, just as she was every other day.

Grabbing his wand and money pouch, Alastor stalked to the en suite, his mind already abuzz with plans and schemes to make today the day he killed the right arsehole and, hopefully, set the Order on a path to victory in this godforsaken war.

Scrubbing his face as his trusty magical, electric-blue eye kept watch, Alastor's mind drifted back to the dreams he'd been having of late. More like forgotten memories, he admitted to himself. Memories of another war, a war of which Alastor had been blissfully unaware until it came knocking.

Knocking? Hell, it kicked down the door, he thought bitterly, and the memories, unlocked by his recent dreams, came flooding back.

x~*~*~*~x

"Whachoo doing down there, Alastor?" drifted a voice from above the young man. "It's been fifteen minutes since you went down that cellar. It's high time you got your skinny self back up here with those boxes."

Alastor smiled in spite of himself. He had been moping about ever since arriving back home for the winter break, and his mother had noticed immediately. His father had remained oblivious, of course, but there was no fooling his mother. Throughout Alastor's life, his mother had possessed a keen eye for his disposition, and five-and-a-half years at Hogwarts had done little to diminish that talent.

Still smiling, Alastor looked to the bright shaft of light coming down the ladder which lead up and out of the storage cellar. His mother's head was stuck through the trap door, swiveling about in search of him in the darkened space, her dark hair spilling out of a hasty bun and into the room. Alastor remained silent and slid behind a nearby stone pillar. A moment later, he heard his mother's exasperated sigh.

"Well, I suppose he's trotted off with his friends then," she said to no one in particular. "Too bad, that. I've gone and made his favorite dessert-"

"AHA!" Alastor yelled, jumping from behind the pillar and directing a stream of green and yellow sparks at his mother's head. She only quirked an eyebrow as the sparks flared against an unseen barrier and fell to the dusty floor. He kept up the assault, trying in vain to get the sparks to overcome the invisible shielding, before finally giving it up after several seconds.

"Thought I had you that time, mum," he said. She nodded sympathetically, though she was smiling.

"I know. Better luck next time, dear. Why, if I didn't know any better, I'd swear you were becoming quite the sneaky little Slytherin stereotype," – here she winked at him, then became serious – "Right then. Come along now; we have loads to do and those hats certainly aren't going to stack themselves…"

She trailed off and Alastor stopped inspecting his wand to look at her. A faraway look had come across his mother's face, and Alastor knew she was contemplating the difficulty of Charming all the hats in their small store to stack and organize themselves. He couldn't help but smile at her thought process as she shook herself and scrutinized him appraisingly.

"Enough of that; I'll think on it later. Have you found the oldest hats and moved them nearer the door? The new season is starting and I want to get those out and sold before they're out of fashion. The Gordon sisters will buy anything trendy, you know."

Alastor's lip curled at the thought of the Gordons, a fact his mother did not fail to notice. "Anything on your mind, dear?" she asked.

"It's nothing, mum. Really." He sighed and spoke quickly. "I just don't want to see them if I can help it. They think- that is to say, we had a falling out this past term, and…" He gestured as if that explained the matter fully. Meeting his mother's eyes, he saw concern there, then dawning comprehension. Alastor looked away, his wand suddenly exceedingly interesting.

"Ah. I see," she said, nodding, and Alastor almost believed her. "I suppose this has to do with your new friend? The one I've heard so very little about?"

He nodded without looking at her, twirling his wand in that nervous way she had seen since the day it had picked him at Ollivander's. She nodded too, causing the remainder of her hair to fall and increase the shadows in the dim storage cellar.

"Well then, shall I ban those traitorous wenches from the store then?" she began, only to stop short at the stricken look on his face.

"No, mother! Just leave it. It's best to just-" he sighed and continued. "Look, there are a few people… unhappy with the fact I'm spending time with Isabelle," he said carefully. His mother froze, and Alastor steeled himself to finish the tale.

"I… might've gotten into a… small fight with a… few of my Housemates about associating with her," he said haltingly. His mother gestured for him to continue.

"And?" she prompted when he hesitated too long.

"Well… I might've… cursed a few of them," he said. "Namely Wilkes," he mumbled. He would have laughed at the stunned look on his mother's face under different circumstances.

"I… see," she said again. "And this is the reason I've been getting those form letters from Professor Dippet? Because you've been cursing other students? Alastor, what is this about? And speak up, dear, I'm not going to hex you." She paused. "Not until I have the whole story, at any rate."

Alastor rolled his eyes. "What was I supposed to do, mum? Let them talk that way about my-" It was Alastor's turn to pause before amending, "About her."

Neither spoke for several seconds. Finally, his mother spoke. "This Isabelle," she said, trying out the word, "Her parents are Muggles?"

x~*~*~*~x

Full night had fallen by the time he caught up with Mundungus, and Alastor was in no mood to be merciful. Fletcher was casting furtive glances up and down the street from the mouth of the same alleyway in which Moody had appeared, and Moody felt his eye twitch at the sight of the thieving coward. A light rain had begun to fall as Alastor raised his wand for a spell he'd come up with early in his Auror days.

The hex he used yanked Mundungus off his feet, reeled him in and then dumped him at Moody's feet like a landed mackerel, spluttering indignantly and scrabbling for his wand. No sooner was Fletcher's wand in his hand than it, along with the tips of all his fingers, was removed in a wash of blood and magic. The resultant scream of fear and pain reminded Alastor to cast a privacy charm on the alleyway; he'd been too tired, frustrated and angry for such precautions once he'd finally gotten close enough to the thief to get hold of him.

"How d'ya like that Fletcher, ya fuckin' dog?" Moody bit out through bared teeth. Gripping his wand with whitened knuckles, he launched another cutting curse at Mundungus - this time at the man's calves - and was rewarded with fresh cries. Fletcher was trying to pick up his wand with his left hand while cradling his ruined right hand to his chest. Moody blasted the wand to flinders, his anger rising further.

"That curse? That's the one ol' Snape just used to kill Arthur Weasley, Fletcher, along with one of his boys. All because you were too much of a coward to stay and fuckin' fight!"

He whipped his wand and Mundungus was swinging upside down, an unseen hand holding him by his ankle. Fletcher sputtered as hot blood from his ruined hand fell onto his face.

"Cor, Alstor! I'm sorry! I - I jus' panicked, alright? Please! Please, you know I ain't no fighter, I'm a simple man -" Mundungus began, but was cut off by a tremendous bang and the sensation of being slapped hard across the face.

"Shut yer fuckin' mouth, Fletcher. I don't give a good goddamn about your excuses. How did you know to Apparate away so quickly, huh? They knew everything!" Alastor pointed his wand dangerously, jabbing it at Mundungus as he continued, emphasizing his words. "They knew when, they knew how, and they knew where we were taking Potter away from his useless Muggle relatives, and guess what? It was your fuckin' idea to begin with! So I'm forced to assume I'm standing here with another traitor, while Potter and what's left of the Weasleys try to pick up the pieces! Any last words, you pathetic fuck?"

Mundungus felt light-headed and disoriented, his mouth working but seemingly no longer able to form actual words. He'd never seen Alastor so unhinged, and felt almost relieved to see the green glow that followed that chill rushing sound.

x~*~*~*~x

The entire Wizarding World was celebrating, and Alastor Moody was among those heady with the thoughts of new possibilities and overcome with relief. The news had just come in that the Dark wizard Grindelwald had fallen. Fallen at the hands of none other than Albus Dumbledore, Alastor's very own Transfiguration professor. It was almost too surreal for belief. Alastor knew Professor Dumbledore as an exceptional if eccentric teacher, not some world-beating sorcerer.

He turned to his left as Isabelle squeezed his hand, a smile on her face to match his own. The uncertainty so palpable in Diagon Alley just one day before seemed now a distant and receding memory. Alastor lifted the girl and twirled her around, feeling the thrill of peace time mixed with the now-familiar feel of her body pressed to his. All was right in the world, his parents were on an anniversary holiday in the south of France, and Alastor planned to enjoy every second of the remaining week before the return for his seventh year at Hogwarts.

He set Isa down and kissed her soundly, then let out a whoop and thrust his hands in the air. She laughed, he wrapped his arm around her and they started out towards Fortescue's.

x~*~*~*~x

Later, their damp bodies cooling in the wan light of evening, Alastor touched Isabelle's chin and she looked sleepily into his bright eyes. She returned his contented smile with one of her own.

"I love you," he said simply, but the words hung in the air of his quiet bedroom. Her lidded eyes widened and she reached up to touch his cheek where the first real hints of stubble were forming.

"I love you," he repeated, drawing out the sounds in an attempt to add gravity to words already heavy with meaning. Her smile grew wider and she lowered her head to his chest while he gave her a reassuring squeeze.

"I love you too," she said, and though the sounds were muffled by her mouth pressed to his chest, he could hear the smile in them.

"So," he began, "you're not sorry we… did this?" The question hung in the air, as weighty as their proclamations of love, and somehow Alastor felt real apprehension that she might indeed say she was sorry they'd done it, that she regretted ever kissing him, let alone sharing his bed. The amount to which his own happiness had come to depend on hers was both frightening and exhilarating.

She shook her head, her silky tresses tickling his bare chest. "No," she said, "Never." She turned to look at him through long lashes of angel hair. "In fact, I wouldn't be opposed to another round."

Some time later – time had ceased to mean anything somehow – Alastor came back from the loo to find Isa asleep under his duvet, a smile on her lips as she sprawled over most of his bed. He had to smile at the lumpy form, and after donning a bathrobe, slipped from the room to find a bite to eat.

The Moody family home was situated in a large apartment over top of the family store. Alastor bypassed the apartment's kitchen, padded down the staircase and emerged in the store's back room. He walked across the open space, eyeing the trap door to the storeroom below, and continued on to the store's small kitchenette. In the larder he found mince pies and butterbeer. Grabbing several of each, he shoved a mince pie into his mouth and headed back toward the staircase in the dim light from a pair of ever-burning candles. As he placed his bare foot on the first stair, a tap-tapping at the window gave him pause. For some reason he was never able to place, that light tapping made his blood run cold. Wanting nothing more than to ignore the sound, Alastor turned towards the direction of the insistent tap-tap-tapping. There in the twinkling half-light was an owl, perched on the windowsill with an innocuous-looking dark envelope tied to its leg.

Alastor put down the pies, and fear pooled in the pit of his stomach as he lifted the window. The owl hooted once and hopped onto the narrow sill, then offered its leg. Alastor made no move to take the envelope, and after several seconds the bird hooted again. Alastor shook himself and fumbled to untie the letter. Standing back up, he looked back to the owl, which lowered its head apologetically.

Alastor licked his lips and the old building creaked around him. The envelope read M. Alastor Moody, 13 High Street, Hogsmeade, written in crisp black letters on a stiff, earth-colored parchment, and felt like lead in his hands.

Alastor broke the ornate seal, noting that the wax was black as well. His hands did not shake as he pulled the letter from the envelope and unfolded it, though he knew his breathing had sped up.

'Dear M. Alastor Moody,' it began, and he noted that it was a fill-in-the-blanks form letter.

'It is with greatest regret that we inform you that today, 25 August 1945…' Alastor's vision began to tunnel. His breathing was fast and shallow, his eyes wide and locked to the sheaf of parchment.

'…were pronounced deceased in Nice. The cause has been determined…' He could read no further. A shattering sound broke his daze as the bottles of butterbeer crashed to the floor, glass and foamy liquid running in rivulets over the rough stone. The post owl squawked in alarm and took flight out the still-open window.

When Isabelle thundered down the stairs, wand in hand, she discovered Alastor sitting on the floor, a crumpled parchment in his clawed hands and his bathrobe soaked in a soup of butterbeer and glass fragments. She was about to speak, but his unseeing face brought her up short.

"Alastor?" she ventured, stepping gingerly off the last step. "Are you- all right there, love?" Isabelle picked her way through the debris and knelt beside him, shoving away the embarrassment of her nakedness. Her fear mounting, she laid her hand on his shoulder.

"Alastor? What is it, love? What's happened?" She tried to keep her tone soothing, but she'd never seen him act this way, had never known him to be rattled or affected. He blinked twice and turned his wide eyes to her, searching her face as if she were a stranger before recognition dawned in them.

"Dead," he said woodenly. "They're dead." A thrill of fear and a sinking feeling brought Isabelle to her knees, wrapping the unresisting boy in her arms. He made no move at first, and then she felt the sobs wracking his body.

x~*~*~*~x

Three days after a post owl shattered his existence, Alastor Moody buried his parents in a small graveyard outside Hogsmeade. Hundreds of wizards and witches were in attendance, giving condolences and reciting empty platitudes to a young man who drifted through their ranks like a wraith.

The world seemed to him at first to be closed off, until he realized that he was the closed one. The entirety of his universe could now be divided into two distinct parts – the part with his parents in it, and the part without. He felt inside-out, or perhaps upside-down. Food was a forgotten concept, and the only constant apart from the numbness had been Isa.

He clung to her like a lifeline, feeling that without her he might literally drown in this sorrow. Feeling a squeeze from their clasped hands, he looked into her face and saw a measure of understanding there; she had lost an older brother in the Muggle war, and the unfairness was not lost on her. Alastor's parents had died needlessly at the hands of Grindelwald's supporters – a day after the Dark wizard himself had fallen.

x~*~*~*~x

The world was upside down. Rocketing through a gap between two broom-riding Death Eaters, Moody snagged them both with a Conjured chain and accelerated downward. He barely registered their screams as the arm of one and the head of the other were severed by the tautening of the chain.

The pair of masked figures was blasted apart as Lord Voldemort flew through the air, tracking Moody's every move. Realizing he could not outmaneuver the Dark Lord, Moody opted for distance. Turning the broom skyward, he accelerated straight toward the moon, still visible through the darkening clouds. Behind him, the Weasley boy slumped earthward, and Alastor did not know whether he was alive or dead.

In fact, Alastor realized, I can't say for sure which Weasley it is.

The sound of something large and eerie accompanied the pale green light of a Killing Curse as it passed on his left, and Alastor felt the Dark Lord's presence closing in like a wave of suffocating pressure. Moody pointed his wand to the roiling clouds and pulled, picturing in his mind a spot just behind where he was.

"Procella Fulmens!"

Moody felt his entire right side being singed by the thunderbolt that extended from the clouds to explode behind him. Thick ropes of yellow and orange writhed hungrily downward, and he felt the waves of heat and the surge of electricity roll back past him, upsetting the magic of his electric blue eye and causing his hair to stand on end as he halted the broom's ascent. He looked back over his shoulder and his heart sank.

Lord Voldemort was hovering in the air below, his robes in tatters and smoke rising from blackened patches of skin. In his hand, Voldemort held the sizzling remains of a wand, but he was alive. He was alive despite Moody unleashing on him the most destructive spell he'd ever learned, and was still flying.

"Selwyn! Give me your wand," Voldemort hissed, and Moody knew he had to strike quickly.

"Avada Kedavra!" Moody screamed, and Voldemort smiled, Disapparating. He reappeared beside Selwyn, who had stopped his approach upon seeing Voldemort disappear. Moody launched another Killing Curse at the pair, and Voldemort Disapparated again, this time taking Selwyn's wand. The curse passed through the spot Voldemort had occupied, but struck Selwyn, who fell wordlessly from his broom.

A thrill of fear spread through Alastor's body. He had no idea where any of the other Order members were, and with a Polyjuiced Weasley injured on the back of his broom, he was still the most likely target of choice. Alastor concentrated on his magical eye, which was working haphazardly as a result of the lightning curse he'd been so near. Images from the orb were fuzzy and for a moment he only saw the inside of his own skull.

Deciding that he'd rather be on the move, Alastor turned his broom again towards the distant city lights and began to gather speed. Seconds later, he heard the Dark Lord's voice, seeming to come from everywhere and nowhere.

Alastor Moody, hissed the voice, quiet and high and yet fully audible. Is our game at an end? Pity. I was beginning to enjoy the effort.

"Fuck you," Moody snarled, and the view from his enchanted eye finally found the source of the voice, resolving the image cast into Alastor's mind into focus. Lord Voldemort was directly behind him, following so closely that Voldemort was actually grasping the front of the Weasley boy's shirt, looking into the boy's slack face.

Another decoy, came the voice, and Moody could hear the disappointment in it. He pushed the broom to its top speed as the odd trio plummeted to earth.

I take my leave of you, Alastor Moody, but I shall give Harry Potter your regards. He is with the half-giant, yes?

A strangled cry left Alastor's throat and Voldemort laughed before Disapparating.

x~*~*~*~x

Alastor crawled into his four-poster and curled into himself. He'd declined to attend the Welcoming Feast, and had left a bewildered and hurt Isa at the entrance to the Common Room, saying he was tired and wanted to get a good night's rest before the following day's classes. How could he tell her what was eating at him if he himself did not know? Aside from having to bury his parents less than a week prior, of course.

He wasn't tired, and the tears refused to come. Memory after vivid memory of his parents – alive and well, laughing and joking – paraded through Alastor's mind in a blur of sounds and images until he thought they might never end.

The creak of a door caused him to open his eyes. Somehow, an hour or more had passed, and Alastor's dorm-mates were filing in after the feast, all boisterous talk and raucous laughter. He knew by the abrupt silence the exact instant they noticed him there. Someone coughed and there was a shuffling of feet.

"Alright there, mate?"

It was Lambrose Moore, a boy who'd tried to steer clear of the blood purity games because of his half-blood status.

Alastor did not respond, and after a moment, the boys returned to their business in hushed voices and the scuffing of shoes on stone. Alastor closed his eyes and tried in vain to fill his mind with a picture of his mother, her hair escaping its bun, flitting about her small kitchen as she made his favorite dessert. If he could make the memory sharp enough, Alastor thought he might smell once again that-

"My mother sends her condolences."

Alastor opened his eyes to see Wilkes' clenched fists at his side as the boy forced himself to speak.

"She made me promise to tell you," the other boy continued. Alastor looked up incredulously, and for an instant, saw his long-time friend in those angry eyes. Wilkes' lips turned down and the moment was lost.

"Have you told her nothing of what happened here?" Alastor began quietly, and all other noise in the room stopped. "My parents died because of your parents' cause. They happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and tried to defend the Muggles there. Don't tell me she's feeling sorry for me if she knows who I'm seeing, or that I cursed your arse for not minding your own business."

If possible, Wilkes stiffened further, and his hand twitched towards the wand Moody knew was in the pocket of the boy's robes. Moody laid his head back down on his pillow, closing his eyes and smiling humorlessly.

"Go ahead," he snorted, "curse me if you've the stones. But you'd better make it good, 'cause I'm in the mood to wipe the floor with you. Again."

The silence was deafening as Alastor waited, half expecting Wilkes to go through with it, half wanting him to. Anything to break through the wall of emotionless despair he'd felt for a week now. Seconds passed and finally, Alastor heard Wilkes huff angrily, then stalk off, kicking Alastor's trunk hard as he went. Alastor frowned and let out the breath he didn't know he was holding.

x~*~*~*~x

Breakfast before the first class of term was always a riotous affair, so Alastor took his slices of toast and bacon to the edge of the lake, where he sat without eating and watched the rippling water. It seemed only seconds before a shadow fell over him.

"You have missed the first lesson of the year, Mr. Moody," came the strong baritone of Professor Dumbledore's voice. Alastor had expected Isa, or perhaps even Professor Slughorn – not the new Headmaster.

"I- lost track of the time, sir," Alastor replied flatly. He knew he ought to show more deference to his former Professor and now Headmaster, but he couldn't muster it. He settled for inspecting the blades of grass in his hands.

"Indeed," said the Headmaster after a moment's pause, and Alastor was surprised to see the man sit beside him, his long legs stretched out and his polished, buckled boots very close to the edge of the water. Waves lapped at the heels of his boots but the Headmaster seemed unfazed.

They sat silently, listening to the rhythmic sounds until Alastor sighed and threw the grass into the water.

"I don't want to talk about it, sir," Alastor said. The Headmaster said nothing for a time. Alastor blew out a breath.

"Really, sir, I'd actually prefer to be alone right now," Alastor ground out, angrily pulling more grass from the ground.

The Headmaster turned to him. "It was never my intention to intrude on your grief, Mr. Moody. If I am honest, I journeyed to this spot to answer your questions." Alastor started, turning to look at the man with knitted brows.

"What questions would I have, sir? Are you asking if I wonder why you didn't confront Grindelwald before? Why you waited as he gained power? Why life is one irony after another or why my parents had to die?"

The Headmaster looked away at the soft accusations, and Alastor continued.

"Because I've already wondered all those things, Professor, and the answers don't really matter, do they? What's done is done – I can't change any of it."

x~*~*~*~x

Isabelle was waiting outside the Common Room when Alastor returned. He had skived off every class that first day, unwilling to meet the pitying stares or hear the whispers as he walked past. Yet for all his pulling away, Isabelle had braved the jeers and hateful words of all Slytherin to wait for him outside the snakes' den.

Alastor could not avoid the feeling of guilt that welled up in him at this realization.

"'Lo," he said, sounding far more friendly than he felt. She anxiously chewed her lip, and Alastor cursed himself for wallowing in self-pity now that he was back at the castle.

"Hullo yourself," she hedged, and Alastor could see her apprehension. Her fear that what they'd shared over the summer was gone or had never been, that perhaps she was sport after all, just as his Housemates had cruelly claimed.

He opened his arms and Isa practically flew to him, hugging him harder than ever she had.

"Ohh, I've missed you, Alastor," she breathed into his chest, squeezing him tighter. He wiped his face and hugged her back, earning a baleful look from a passing Sixth Year. Alastor narrowed his eyes at the boy, who quickened his pace.

x~*~*~*~x

Slapping his hand down on the wand to silence the alarm, Alastor huffed loudly. Turning his aching head to the right, he regarded the woman sleeping by his side.

The night before – how long ago had it been from his perspective? – had been a disjointed mess of foggy memories the first time he'd woken up beside her, the long-time widow of a former colleague. She saw the coming war for what it was, and was on her way to the Continent when they'd happened upon each other. For her, the drinks and smiles had been mere hours ago, but for Alastor it seemed an age.

The fact that he was here – again – only served to drive home the point that he had failed – again.

Alastor scrubbed at his eyes and sat up. Despair would serve no purpose – he had long ago accepted that obstacles would be placed in his path, and that the only choice was to soldier on. He cracked his neck to either side, and buckled the straps of his faithful wooden leg.

He had work to do, and Antonin Dolohov was no easy prey.

x~*~*~*~x

"I'll see you outside your Common Room," Alastor said, waving. The girl smiled apologetically at him and nodded from the far side of the classroom where one of her Housemates droned on about the new and difficult runes Professor Harigast had decided to teach. Alastor gave her an exaggerated wink and set off for the greenhouses to serve yet another Detention.

At the castle's heavy front doors, the reason for many of his well-earned Detentions stood stamping powdery snow from his boots. Alastor stopped a few feet away but instead of drawing his wand, he shoved his hands into his pockets and waited. The entrance-way grew silent as Wilkes' two companions became aware of Alastor's presence.

Finally, Wilkes himself looked up and, flushing, made to draw his wand. Selwyn put a hand on the boy's arm in what appeared to be an attempt to defuse the situation, though Alastor knew better. Damien Selwyn had no qualms about making violence his first reaction, except that he preferred it to be away from the prying eyes of professors. Wilkes stilled, though his hands shook, and he, Selwyn and Thaddeus Nott stole glances around the now empty entrance hall.

Wilkes bared his teeth at Alastor and looked around pointedly, his eyes narrowing. "Looks like we're alone again, Moody," he said dangerously. "What's that? Attacking a Prefect? Perhaps another Detention or three is in order. What say you, Tad? Damien?"

The other boys nodded as Alastor sighed. "I'd hoped we could put this aside, Karl," he began, hands still in his trouser pockets. "We're both tired of the Detentions, and I imagine you're tired of the arse kickings."

Embarrassment and anger flooded Wilkes' face, and just as suddenly drained away, leaving behind an emotionless mask.

"Professor Slughorn," Nott said, his voice syrupy with false cheer. "How are you this afternoon?"

The professor in question rounded the corner carrying a jar of sweets and stopped at the tableau of one student, hands in his pockets, facing three other students – one a Prefect – hastily stowing their wands.

"I am well, m'boy, thank you for asking," he said cautiously, and touched his mustache with large, manicured fingers. "Not… fighting… are we, gentlemen?"

Wilkes' eyes never left Alastor's as he smiled a terrible smile. "Not at all, sir. We were just discussing the amount of fresh dirt in the castle, and while some of us want it cleaned up, others are content to play with it."

Alastor's eyes blazed, his façade cracking for the first time. "Careful, mate. That dirt might just bury you."

Pushing past the other boys, Alastor made his way to the greenhouses through the mid-winter snowfall.

x~*~*~*~x

4:57 a.m. and the thrice-damned alarm ended yet another sequence of repressed dream-memories. Alastor wondered what he'd done to deserve this fate. He'd be tempted to think he'd been a right bastard in a former life, if he believed in that sort of thing.

Today was a day for retribution, not for wallowing in dreams or beating himself up for the death of yet another of the Weasleys. Hell, he'd seen almost the entire Order cut down in one fiasco or another; had seen the Granger girl killed in a spray of blood and gore; had seen almost every one of the Weasleys die, and had seen Hagrid blasted to atoms by the Dark Lord himself.

Moody made his way to the bathroom, muttering darkly.

x~*~*~*~x

On the third attempt, Alastor was able to regain his feet. Or rather, his foot, seeing as his fake leg - or what remained of it - was somewhere on the far side of the building. He took a few steadying breaths and listened intently before daring to move from the pillar he was using for support. Dust continued to sift down from the old iron beams high above, sparkling in the light from a lone shaft of sunlight streaming through the remains of a window. Aside from the plopping sound as drops of his own blood splattered the warehouse's concrete floor, the place was silent. Mollified, Alastor Summoned his trusty leg before trying to heal or at least close the series of angry wounds on his torso.

His wooden leg - that faithful companion of nearly two decades - was decidedly worse for the wear: splintered down the inside, most of the lacquer burned away, and the harness straps broken in several places.

"Reparo."

Inspecting his repaired leg, Moody growled in frustration as his suspicions were confirmed: the previously splintered appendage was not completely repaired, still sporting a smaller but not insignificant kerf down its full length. Pale, raw wood fibers could be seen through a gap in the now-restored wood stain.

Alastor reattached his leg, testing it gingerly, then set to work on the damage to the rest of his body. Healing charms did little more than stem the flow of blood oozing from his stomach and chest, and after two Reparos failed to mend his leather tunic he gave it up as a bad job. He made a mental note to steal a bit of dragonhide the next time he planned to cross wands with Snape. Traitorous bastard though he was, that fucker was downright dangerous.

A light rain had begun to fall on what remained of the old building's metal roof as Alastor straightened, cracking his neck to either side and picking up his battered bowler hat. Now satisfied that he wouldn't bleed out before finding a Blood-Replenishing Potion or three, Moody turned his attention to the reason he was even in this shithole.

There on the floor, no more than five paces away, lay Severus Snape. As Moody approached, wooden leg thunking a wary beat, Snape's own leg began to spasm slightly. Moody noted that Snape's hand was moving as well, furrowing the piles of dust around it as the fingers slid slowly back and forth, and Alastor saw the object they sought just about a foot out of reach: Snape's wand.

Alastor Summoned the wand, and was pleased to hear a note of despair in the gurgling sound coming from Snape. Alastor smiled thinly as he knelt down next to the traitor, bringing his own face into Snape's field of vision.

"Hello again, Severus," Moody cooed, drawing out the name. "Fancy seeing you here, of all places."

Snape's eyelids fluttered, but his dark eyes glittered, pleading yet somehow still defiant. Moody saw with grim satisfaction the growing pool of blood beneath Snape's head and neck. Even in the shadowy warehouse Alastor could tell this was bright blood - arterial blood. Alastor's eyes roamed to a long and jagged piece of metal standing like a flagpole from Snape's abdomen.

Moody brought his mismatched eyes back up to meet the double-agent's black ones. "Right nasty nick you've got there, Snape," he said conversationally. "And that" - Moody pointed to Snape's stomach and the bloodied steel protruding from it - "well, if you don't mind my saying, you really should get that looked after. Who knows where that rusty iron's been, eh? You might get a serious infection."

Snape coughed and spat out a glob of dark blood. His lips quivered and Moody realized Snape was trying to talk.

"Don't bother begging; you'll get no quarter from me. I'm not Albus, and you've had your second chance," Moody said flatly, and Snape shook his head almost imperceptibly, his lips pulling back to reveal bloodied teeth.

"Now if you'll excuse me, I have a very pressing engagement this evening, and you're not the only piece of trash I need to take out before then." Leaning closer to Snape, Moody heard the wet sounds of the dying man's breathing, and his scarred face twisted into a semblance of a smile before he continued.

"But trust me when I tell you: the others won't be half as satisfying."

Moody stood, albeit shakily, then dusted off and donned his abused hat. As he turned to make his way outside and past the Anti-Disapparation Jinx he'd laid on the crumbling warehouse, he ignored Snape's strangled whispers and did not see the silvery mist leaking from the man's eyes and nose.

x~*~*~*~x

Bright sunshine and the sweet smell of fresh flowers greeted the couple as they made their way to a certain secluded spot away from the edge of the lake. A tumultuous and bittersweet year was coming to an end, and every moment with Isa involved either a discussion of their future together or a dizzying snogging session that reminded Alastor to appreciate the present.

Never one for mood swings, Alastor had taken his cue from an even-keeled father as opposed to the effervescent personality of his mother. Yet he now found himself cycling between overwhelming joy when thinking about the life he was going to make with Isabelle, and crushing sadness each time he realized she would never meet his mother and father.

Alastor was snapped from his thoughts as they rounded the last large tree and Isabelle stopped in her tracks. He looked first to her and, seeing her expression, followed her gaze. The small clearing – a place he and Isa had come to regard as their private sanctuary – was in ruins, all the lush grass blackened and burnt, and a large, muddied hole where their favorite shady spot had been. A sound caught his attention, and Alastor's stomach twisted as he looked into the pit to find a pair of pigs fucking noisily in the soupy mud; beside the pigs lay the splintered remains of the picnic basket Isa had brought on so many of their little trips. Moody found himself breathing quickly, his heartbeat pounding in his ears.

From the surrounding treeline emerged several students, looking very pleased with themselves. Six or eight in all, they moved to stand in a loose semi-circle in front of Alastor and Isabelle.

Recognizing the contingent of sixth- and seventh-year Slytherins, Isabelle looked to Alastor and saw the hard set of his jaw, the boiling rage evident in his narrowed eyes. The two of them were outnumbered – badly. Still, she'd heard the rumors of Alastor facing down another large group of Slytherins the previous year, and she knew for a fact that he'd utterly humiliated a pair of his dorm-mates just after winter break, and had done it all for her.

"Do you like it?" asked a tall boy, sweeping his arms wide. Isabelle recognized Alastor's dorm-mates and former friends as the apparent leaders of the group. Alastor's grip on her hand was crushing and becoming painful.

"You haven't introduced us to your friend, Moody," Wilkes began, and Alastor noticed all the other Slytherins had drawn their wands. "Terrible manners you have, really. After all, with no friends she must be homesick."

Wilkes affected a contemplative look, tapping his nose in mock thought as he continued. "So we thought, 'How can we welcome her properly? I know,'" he snapped his fingers and grinned viciously, "'Let's give her a little something to remind her of home.'"

Most of the other Slytherins laughed, though one or two looked as if they wished to be anywhere else. Alastor noticed that the Gordon sisters were among those most enjoying the spectacle. When he spoke, his voice was dangerously calm.

"I was doing this level of Transfiguration in Second Year, Karl," Moody said as he drew his wand. "While you, on the other hand, never quite got rid of the hedgehog feet from your pincushion." Wilkes' face reddened at the insult, but Moody merely looked into each of the opposing faces.

"Would you like me to show you what magic can really do?"

Moody flicked his wand upward, and the ground beneath the group trembled. A sound like breaking rock echoed off the surrounding trees, and several of the Slytherins staggered. Nothing happened for a moment, and Athena Gordon laughed derisively.

"Is that it, darling?" she drawled, the voice a heavy contrast to her porcelain features. "Because I can make the ground-"

Athena was cut off as the forest floor erupted around the Slytherins, gnarled and earthy roots slipping quickly around the legs of each and climbing rapidly higher. Several people screamed and covered their heads as loamy soil rained down, unaware until far too late that they were being trussed up by the animated roots and vines. Wilkes and Selwyn tried to curse the ropey appendages but had their wands knocked away, and of the group, only Nott managed to fire off a single slicing hex. Moody Disarmed him and Summoned the remaining wands as seven students were hoisted into the air on twisting pillars of dark wood. With a disgusted look, he tossed the wands into the muddy pit, where the Transfigured pigs continued copulating, trampling the wands into the muck in the process.

Through it all, Isabelle had said nothing, but Alastor felt her cringe when the ground exploded. He chanced a look at her, and saw her watching the pigs with wide, shining eyes. He saw the tear tracks on her cheeks, and while he looked, another tear slid down her face. The face he had kissed on that very spot, both cheeks and ground now spoiled by hate and intolerance. A ball of anger reignited in the pit of Moody's stomach as the injustice of it all spread through him like fire. He whipped his head back to the still-struggling group, whose shouted protests were muffled by thick cords of tree vines.

"I warned you, didn't I?" Moody said as he stepped to the edge of the muddy hole. "I warned you to mind your business, but you just wouldn't listen. I know your kind and I know you only respond to power. You could never take me, so you've turned to this." Moody indicated the mud and the pigs.

"Well now I'll make damn sure you understand." He looked to Karl Wilkes – his life-long friend – and saw only loathing and fear in his face.

"Wilkes here has convinced you I'm someone you can bully," Moody said to the larger group. He twitched his wand and the roots holding Wilkes leaned forward, extending to hold the other boy over the yawning pit.

"Let me show you otherwise," he snarled, slashing his wand downward. Wilkes' muffled cries were drowned out by the creaking of wood as the roots and vines slammed his body down into the mud. The pigs scattered as a soupy mud splattered in all directions. Moody raised his wand and the sinewy tentacle of wood pulled Wilkes from the mud with a sucking sound. Loud protests erupted from the other captive students, muffled though they were.

"Allow me to reiterate," Moody said. He stabbed his wand downward again, and the process repeated. Wilkes was shoved bodily into the mud, this time so deeply that Moody lost sight of him. An upward flick of Moody's wand and the tree-like appendage yanked the other boy out of the slop, his head lolling and his shape the only thing to indicate he was a person.

"You! Don't! Control! Me!" Each word was punctuated by another round of Wilkes being hammered down into the mud, only to be pulled back out again in humiliation.

"Stop it, Alastor, you're going to kill him!" Isa begged, pulling on Moody's arm. Close by, he could hear people rushing through the underbrush. Teachers, he thought, and shoved his wand down again, harder than before. Isa moved in front of him, her hands clenched on the front of his robes.

He brought his wand up again at the same time that several teachers broke through the surrounding trees and into the clearing. Isa was screaming at him, and one of the professors launched a Disarming Charm in his direction. Moody had only the slightest indication of what was happening as Wilkes brought up the muddy wand he'd managed to grab. Moody vaguely heard the screamed incantation as his ears filled with a rushing sound and green light filled his vision. The light faded from Isabelle's lovely eyes and she slumped against him.

His knees buckled and they fell backward, Isa landing bonelessly atop him, the feeling a grotesque caricature of the way they'd spent many an hour in that very clearing. Someone shouted another Disarming Charm, but Alastor's vision began to darken, blackness creeping in at the edges.

Someone was wailing, and Alastor realized it was him. He clutched Isabelle's lifeless body to his chest as the words streamed out.

"No no no no nonono"

x~*~*~*~x

"You're in a mood," Tonks deadpanned, raising an eyebrow – currently pink – at the old Auror. Moody merely looked askance at the young woman, whose hair was enormous. And baby blue.

"Do you ever mind your own business, Tonks?" he asked and continued to look straight ahead. His one good eye was on the filthy bottles behind the bartender, while the magical electric blue one swiveled this way and that, seemingly of its own accord. He raised his empty glass in her general direction before continuing, "I'm trying to have a peaceful breakfast here."

"I can see that," Tonks replied, eyeing the older man as his glass was refilled. "And while you're welcome to bottled breakfasts and making a meal out of mead, I doubt you prefer to be potted and pickled when we pay a visit to pick up Potter." She smiled as Alastor's good eye narrowed and finally looked to her.

"This newfound love of alliteration is appalling and asinine, Nymphadora. See? I can do it too," he began, ignoring her own narrowed eyes at the mention of her given name. "So get it out of your system. Soon. And for the love of Merlin, shut up about the other; we're not exactly among friends here, and a little operational security would do us all a lot of good."

Far from chastened, Tonks simply grinned. "Alastor, you know as well as I that I cast a privacy charm around us the moment I sat down. So now that I've gotten you to look somewhere other than the bottom of that glass and its disgusting dregs of draught, care to tell me what's really got you so chipper?"

Alastor scowled. Silence stretched on as he eyed the amber liquid. Tonks' grin fell as Alastor's eyes seemed to glaze over, and when she could stand it no longer, she reached over and shoved his shoulder. Alastor seemed to come to himself, giving her a half-grimace which Tonks assumed was what passed for a smile on his lined and scarred face.

"It's nothin', Tonks. Just thinkin' about things. Here, the Ministry, Hogwarts – war's comin', as sure as I'm sitting here, and there's nothin' we can do to stop it. Hell, it's already started. Dumbledore dead, the Order in disarray, the Ministry falling under the Imperius – oh yes!" – he had caught her look of surprise – "Just like last time."

Tonks blinked and turned to look at Alastor in the dingy mirror behind the bar, before affecting her best Scottish brogue. "Never figured you for the defeatist role, Alastor. Cynical yes, but always with an eye towards carrying on, making things better. Blimey, we are fucked." She touched a finger just under her left eye to accentuate the jibe at Alastor's eye.

"Don't put words in my mouth, Tonks. We're not out of this yet, and old Moody's still got some tricks up his sleeve. I'm only sayin' we've got to be on our guard now. According to more than one source, Thicknesse is acting very strange the last few days, and his actions make it very difficult to get Potter out safely. Just because there were a lot of people faking the Imperius last time, doesn't mean there weren't plenty of people actually Imperiused."

Alastor stood and pulled his cloak around him, then pointed his gnarled finger at Tonks' face for emphasis.

"You'd do well to avoid goin' places alone. Keep Remus handy, and keep your head down." He held up a hand to forestall Tonks' ire. "Save it. I know yeh can handle your business – that's not what I'm sayin'. These dogs travel in packs, cowards that they are. They only fight when it plays to their advantage, and don't you dare tell me a right few of them wouldn't love to get hold of you. A woman, an Auror, someone from the Order. And a Metamorph to boot?"

Tonks was as angry as Alastor had ever seen her. Good, he thought, because she needs to hear this.

"Just be on your guard, Tonks. Please." And with that Moody dropped several Sickles onto the warped bar top and Disapparated.

The bartender ambled over as Tonks dispelled the privacy charm, a bushy eyebrow raised questioningly.

Tonks stood, a worried frown on her face as she looked up at the man. "I dunno, Aberforth. It's like he's lost or something. You ever see him like this?"

The barkeep's brows furrowed and he wiped the glass faster, smearing the dark streaks further. Presently he nodded, put the glass down and placed both hands on the bar.

"Yes," he grunted, "The last time. When for every Dark wizard he brought in, there seemed to be two more waiting to take his place. Of course, everyone was down then."

Tonks nodded, thinking hard. She picked up the glass of amber liquid and raised it in a mock salute, mumbled "To your health," then knocked it back in one gulp. She set the glass down rather harder than she'd meant to, nodded to Aberforth, then Disapparated with a pop.

x~*~*~*~x

4:57 a.m. and a torrent of sound washed away Alastor's dream. Only fragments remained, and he grasped at them like a drowning man, hoping to retain a few more scraps of the hopeful feeling it instilled. The dream was not a new one - in fact, it was more memory than dream - but Alastor hadn't allowed his conscious mind to return to that time and place in many years.

Recently though, his unconscious mind had begun returning there on a nightly basis, and although he'd be loathe to admit it for the weakness it implied, Alastor treasured those snippets of a time gone by, of the person he had been those many years ago, before war and duty had taken the place of carefree peace.

Alastor silenced the alarm with a touch on his wand, cracked his neck to each side, and gave a sidelong glance to the form lying under the blankets to his right. He'd noticed she slept farthest from his stump, though it hadn't seemed to bother her before going to sleep.

He felt dirty, and decided that today, despite his schedule, he was going to allow time for a shower. Bellatrix fucking Lestrange will just have to wait, he mused as he strapped on his fake leg. Taking up his wand, he Summoned his money pouch and made his way to the en suite. Once inside, he warded the door.

When Alastor emerged from the loo fifteen minutes later, he was not surprised to find himself alone in the room. After all, she always left like that, and over time Alastor had decided to take a cold comfort from the fact that she never wavered from her routine no matter how he varied his own. If he went straight to the toilet upon waking, she was gone when he returned. If he tried being conversational – he'd even once offered to make what meager breakfast he could – she demurred, disappearing as soon as his back was turned.

Alastor realized – again – that he was thinking about this woman as a distraction from concentrating on his dreams, and the voice of Albus Dumbledore took that moment to float into his head. "It does not do well to dwell on dreams, young Mr. Moody, and forget to live."

Alastor had been seventeen when first he spoke to Dumbledore in any capacity other than student and teacher. The man exuded power and confidence yet seemed distant and stand-offish – qualities a young and impressionable Alastor Moody could appreciate. The summer following his graduation from Hogwarts, Alastor had been a listless young man, rudderless in his sorrow and self-loathing. A missive from his once-Transfiguration professor had arrived in a burst of fire and phoenix song and despite himself, Alastor had felt uplifted, if only slightly.

One hour later, Professor Dumbledore himself had arrived in similar fashion, the flamboyant colors of his robes clashing horribly with his somber expression and Alastor's dark mood. They had sat in Alastor's kitchen and talked of nothing for a time, until Alastor tired of the hedging.

"What is it that you want, Professor? Do you go round checking in with all your former students? I'd have believed it if I'd been a Gryffindor, but seeing as I was a Slytherin…"

"Only those who have so recently – and so unexpectedly – lost a loved one, Alastor. May I call you Alastor?" Dumbledore said. Alastor only shrugged, looking back to the flickering candles atop the small table.

Dumbledore continued. "May I ask, what are your plans, now that Hogwarts is behind you? I daresay with marks such as yours, one could – what is the Muggle term? – 'write one's own ticket'?" Ignoring Moody's baleful glance, Dumbledore merely gazed at Alastor expectantly. Finally, Alastor sighed.

"Fine," Alastor replied, "If you must know, I had intended to go and be a cursebreaker. I like to think my father would've liked that, and it would have had the added benefit of driving my mum daft with worry. Even after they passed, I thought it was a good plan, and Isa-" Alastor choked out a sob that he tried to cover with a cough. He cleared his throat and continued, "Ahem. And Isa was going to try her hand at it as well." Alastor paused, and Dumbledore was reminded of a lost puppy.

"Now?" Alastor said to no one in particular. "Now I just don't know."

They sat in silence for several moments before Dumbledore spoke. "I am truly sorry for your loss, Alastor. To lose one parent at your age is difficult, and losing both only magnified that grief. Then to lose your-"

"Enough, Professor," Alastor interrupted, "I don't want your pity." He shook himself and locked eyes with Dumbledore, and the older man saw in them a spark of true malice. "Look, I appreciate what you're trying to do here, I do. Really. But I'm in no mood to be charitable, even for you. All I can think about is…" Alastor stopped himself and looked away.

"Vengeance?" Dumbledore prompted, his brow raised but otherwise unmoved. Alastor nodded once.

"Yes," he said, fiddling with the small glass in his hands. "Everything inside me is screaming for their blood, Professor. Screaming at me to make them pay, to make them feel the way I do right now." He looked again into Dumbledore's bright blue eyes, and thought he saw understanding there.

"I'm alone, Professor; completely alone for the first time in my life. My so-called friends don't understand. Hell, most of them are secretly glad now she's gone. They never approved and though they'd never be fool enough to say it to my face, they'll all be saying about right now that Isabelle got what she deserved."

Dumbledore seemed unfazed by the simmering venom in Alastor's voice. "Would that magic could change hearts and minds, Alastor, but it is not so. Only friendship and perseverance have that power, as young Miss Turner herself so ably demonstrated."

Alastor looked stricken, squeezing his eyes shut. Dumbledore ignored the tears that leaked out as he continued.

"However, admirable as Miss Turner was and still is, it is Alastor Moody I wish to discuss. His present as well as his future. If I might be so bold, have you considered the Auror programme? I took the liberty of procuring the required forms, and – again, forgive an old man his presumptions – have gone so far as to draft a recommendation letter for you."

Alastor narrowed his eyes as the older man held up the documents – several sheaves of parchment and an ornate and official-looking scroll with a green wax seal, tied with purple ribbons.

"What's your game here, Dumbledore? I reckon I was an above-average student, but nothing to warrant this amount of attention, especially from the Headmaster of Hogwarts, not to mention the man who took down Grindelwald." Alastor's mouth twisted at the last word. "So what're your motives here?"

The candles seemed to dim slightly as Dumbledore smiled predatorily and leaned closer.

"You have just shown the very reason, Alastor: rather than take my words at face value, you probed for my reasons, wondered at my motivations. In short, you became an investigator."

Dumbledore drew himself back, reclining into his chair, and his smile became benign. "Our world is desperate for thinking men of quality to take a role, Alastor, and as you yourself are well aware, the forces of fear and intolerance have not been beaten back simply because one Dark wizard has been defeated."

Alastor's expression was unreadable for several moments as Dumbledore fished in his pockets, eventually retrieving a small tin of sweets and offering one to Alastor.

"No, thank you. I have to say I'm glad you didn't say that Isabelle would have wanted it or something – I might've cursed you."

Dumbledore smiled widely, and Alastor had the distinct impression that he was welcome to try.

"I would not insult your intelligence with such a crude and ultimately ineffectual ploy, Alastor. I prefer to think I am far subtler than that."

Moody smiled thinly. "You're not as subtle as you think, Professor. I know you're trying to play on all that's happened – I just can't figure why. I won't be your or anyone else's pawn, and if you think being an Auror will somehow deter me from the retribution I'm going to dish out, well, you're very sadly mistaken."

Dumbledore waved off the young man's anger. "Do what you wish, Alastor, but aside from taking you on as my apprentice, this is the best I might do for you. You are not the only person to be left wondering what to do in the wake of tragedy."

Moody looked sullen, and his brows knitted together as he thought for several moments.

"I'll think it over, Professor," he said at length, "but I promise nothing. I'm not prepared for anything but this yet." Moody gestured to the other table, and Dumbledore knew the young man was indicating the half-empty bottle of dark liquid that Dumbledore had recognized upon entering the room.

"That is all I ask, Alastor, and more than I had dared hope. There is ample time to consider, as I daresay – pardon my immodesty – a letter of praise from one such as myself carries considerable weight in the selection of Auror trainees."

They both stood, and Alastor gestured for Dumbledore to lead the way to the hearth and its smoldering embers. Once there, Dumbledore donned his tall, pointed hat and, after taking a pinch of Floo Powder, turned to regard Alastor fully.

"My sincerest hopes for brighter days, Alastor. And about your skills: Do not underestimate yourself, Mister Moody; of all my recent students, your talent for Transfiguration is second only to young Miss McGonagall, a girl of prodigious skill who also shares your gift of forthrightness."

Without waiting for a response, Dumbledore turned and threw the Floo Powder into the fireplace, shouted his destination, and was gone in a whirl of bright robes and even brighter flames.

x~*~*~*~x

Alastor had once heard a young Auror trainee say that pain was nothing more than weakness leaving the body. He'd invited the young man to get back to him once he'd tasted the Cruciatus Curse.

That young man had been cut down attempting to protect the parents of a Muggleborn student on the steps of Gringotts in 1981, and it was his boyish face that sprang to the forefront of Alastor's mind as he avoided a second helping of the torture curse from Bellatrix Lestrange. Acrid smoke from numerous small fires – most caused by stray Killing Curses – continued to fill the space as Alastor ducked behind a nearby column.

Wiping blood from his mouth with his wand hand, Alastor stood behind the carved stone pillar and let his magical eye scan the surroundings. His left hand seemed incapable of fine motor skills, and with the amount of blood causing his overcoat to stick wetly to his waistcoat, there was no time to use his wand hand to investigate the damage.

Two against one, he thought grimly, his magical orb locating the now-cooling corpse of one of the Lestrange brothers on the upper floor balcony. Moody was pleased that his explosion curse had flung the fucker so far.

Damn you, Tonks, for getting this stupid alliteration stuck in my head.

"Still alive, Alastor, or did you go and die back there?" Bellatrix's voice was like glass scratching glass, setting Moody's teeth on edge. In one of the large pockets of his overcoat, his fingers finally found the short orange cylinder they sought.

"My friends call me Alastor, Lestrange," Moody called, his back to the pillar but his whizzing eye tracking both of the remaining Death Eaters. "You can call me Mister Moody."

He stepped out from behind the stone column and threw the orange canister overhand at the space between the other two, adding, "But 'sir' will do just as well."

Rodolphus made to stop the cylinder, but was blown off his feet and into the adjacent room by a deafening explosion the instant his spell touched the spinning object.

From the opposite side of the room the putrid green of a Killing Curse streamed out of the smoke and dust, and Moody returned a Killing Curse of his own, followed by a Stunning Spell, a Cutting Curse and, for good measure, a Conjunctivitus Curse. He set another of the orange cylinders at his feet, then limped toward a far corner of the ruined dining hall. A raging fire had already consumed one tapestry and was threatening to set the wall ablaze, and Alastor ducked below the smoke to apply a Bubblehead Charm and Disillusion himself.

Several seconds passed in relative silence as Moody observed Bellatrix casting silent Killing Curses at the general area he'd just vacated. He noticed she had also cast a Bubblehead Charm and was looking around in vain for her husband. At last she began cautiously making her way through the debris to the spot where Alastor had last been. If not for the columns and her fast reflexes, Alastor would have cursed her then, but as satisfying as that would be, he wanted to see her die, to look into her dark eyes as the life left them and tell her it was a gift from Tonks. It would be a lie, at least partly, but it seemed his vindictiveness was on a roll these days, and he'd found a certain enjoyment in exacting retribution that a younger, more idealistic Alastor Moody had grown to find repulsive.

He cast his Patronus just before Bellatrix emerged from the cloud of dust and smoke and could be seen with more than his magical eye. Though the fanaticism and years in Azkaban had all but drained her of her former beauty, a shadow of it nonetheless still hung about her, in the wary grace and ease of movement she still showed.

The silver shape of a unicorn slipped soundlessly from the smoke on Lestrange's left, and she tracked it with her wand, a cruel smile playing across her lips. The creature's opaque eyes blinked slowly.

"Addled as ever, Alastor," she mocked, "Sending your Patronus for help only works if you send it to a friend. Or are you as scared of me as the Dement-"

"Boo." Moody's gravelly voice drifted incongruously from the ephemeral beast. Bellatrix snarled and brandished her wand.

"Deletrius!"

She was thrown into one of the stone pillars by the blast, and another portion of the ceiling caved in on top of her limp form, the enormous chandelier shattering and peppering the area with broken crystal. Boosted by the rushing air, the fire grew faster as Alastor cancelled his Disillusionment Charm.

He Vanished several pieces of plaster-coated beams and levitated the rest, exposing Bellatrix's bloodied and battered body. A sharp kick from his fake leg rolled her over onto her back. A few motions of his wand, and the shards of crystal chandelier were assembled and animated into a writhing shape.

"Ennervate."

Bellatrix blinked groggily, then sucked in a breath as her hands flew to a large wound in her right side.

"Wakey wakey, young Bella," said Alastor, "I wouldn't want you to miss this." His animated debris coiled closer to her, and she looked up at him with hate-filled eyes.

"Going to kill me now, Alastor?" she spat. "What would your dear mother say?"

His good eye narrowed and the electric blue one quivered, but Alastor did not take the bait. Beside Bellatrix, the mass of moving crystal elongated, a thick tendril rising up in a column of sparkling and ragged glass. The bine snaked nearer, and Bellatrix's eyes widened as a large, jagged hand formed at its end.

"Well, the last thing she said to me was, 'Remember to take out the garbage,'" Moody said. He drew his wand in a small circle and the rough crystal hand surged forward to clamp onto Lestrange's throat.

Bellatrix gurgled, her hands scrabbling at the sharp edges of the construct crushing her windpipe. Her booted feet thumped the broken tile on which she lay bleeding, even as fresh blood leaked between the coarse fingers of Moody's surrogate hand. He watched unflinchingly as his creation strangled her – watched her face purple and her eyes bulge. As she was losing consciousness he finally spoke.

"This is for Tonks, you murdering bitch. When you get to hell, give the devil my regards."

Moody waited for the sound of her neck breaking before he unleashed the Fiendfyre, then Apparated away as the cursed fire consumed her body and then the rest of the manor house.

x~*~*~*~x

Alastor pulled the pocketwatch from his waistcoat, its chain falling free to slap against his belt like a slowing metronome. He hmm'ed at the amount of time he'd wasted at the pub, but it was a habit he'd fallen into for… well, for what seemed forever now. His life had become a routine to end all routines, and it was only the prospect of successfully removing Potter from his areshole relatives that kept him going of late. All else was smoke and mirrors, merely subplots leading up to that one purpose.

And what if he failed? Alastor was all too familiar with failure – his own as well as that of others. But for whatever reason, today – tonight – was a very big deal. He needed to be sharp, he needed to be prepared, and he needed to be watchful. In short, he needed to be perfect. For one day, despite the weariness that had crept into his bones like poison. And then he'd see if his hunch was correct – if he'd played his cards correctly. He forced himself to stop the nervous wand-twirling; it was an old habit he'd quashed many years prior, and had troublingly resurfaced of late.

He looked again at his pocketwatch before stuffing it back in its place. So little time. So much at stake, and he was so tired. He took one last look at the stoppered phial of swirling silver in his clawed hands before Banishing it to his trunk to wait with its many brothers.

x~*~*~*~x

Another long day in a goddamn parade of long days, Alastor lamented from his vantage point across the street and under his old Invisibility Cloak. He scratched at the divot in his nose as the largest Dursley, sweating profusely, heaved the final bit of luggage into the car's boot. Having no desire to watch the predictably grudging farewells, Alastor pulled his battered pocket watch and hmm'ed, his regular eye on the timepiece as his magical one scanned the surrounding houses with a mind of its own. He let it roam of its own accord, knowing the real threats were elsewhere, gathering at that very moment. Only force of habit kept him returning to Privet Drive every day to check the status of things before meeting the rest of his motley crew.

Realizing the Dursleys were finally leaving, Alastor took one last look at the front of Number 4, then turned on his heel and disappeared with a pop. He emerged from the crushing nothingness in a dilapidated Surrey warehouse where twelve other witches and wizards waited, some more eagerly than others, but all frightened and wary.

"Well?" came Kingsley's slow, deep voice. "What is the-"

"The status is go," Moody cut him off, chafing at the larger man's trademark phrase. Already nervous, several members of the team stole worried glances at Alastor, though for his part, Shacklebolt seemed unfazed. Alastor looked into each face in turn, his wooden leg clunking as he walked and tried to impart the seriousness of what they were about to undertake.

"It's time. All our preparations, all our schemes, will be for naught if we aren't exceedingly careful now." He gave Tonks a significant look as he finished.

"Mount up now, and let's get Potter out of that shithole before the Dursleys get far enough away to break the charms."

x~*~*~*~x

There was argument from Potter, as Alastor knew there would be, and Alastor waited for Granger to pluck a few hairs from the boy's riotously unkempt locks. Something in Harry's face gave Alastor pause. Perhaps it was the earnestness, but he'd noticed that before. Maybe it was the resolve etched into his young face. Or perhaps it was the set of the young man's slender shoulders, too small by any measure for the weight of a world, and yet there he stood, resolute and, if not as prepared as Alastor would have liked, at least willing to go the distance in the face of terrible odds.

Alastor tore his eyes from the young man and took the proffered hairs, adding them to the phial of shape-changing potion. Six others then drank and, by degrees, became that fated boy. Alastor stood near the door to the back garden and seized Mundungus Fletcher by his collar.

"You're with me, Fletcher, so I can keep an eye on you."

Alastor lingered in the sterile kitchen long enough that he was the last to leave, following Remus and one of the Weasley pranksters out into the thick evening air.

The time had come. Alastor had played this game with every hand imaginable, save one. He had done everything in his power to keep each of the rescue party safe, and had succeeded only in getting them killed one at a time through countless iterations of a single, nightmarish day.

He had no idea why the Fates had smiled on him so cruelly. No matter his course of action, no matter who he'd tried to protect, an Order member – sometimes more than one – had died during this ill-fated rescue attempt. When Alastor had flown alone, Harry himself had been cut down. Whoever he kept with him had been destroyed by the Dark Lord's wand.

No matter what his plan, the night ended in death and anguish, and Alastor found himself waking in his bed the previous morning, and having to live that fateful day anew.

Killing the Death Eaters had seemed the logical answer, but no matter which he sent to the Next Great Adventure, he remained stuck in that godforsaken day. And now, Alastor knew why.

It was he who would have to die. He who would have to face Voldemort's Killing Curse to allow time to push forward. For whatever reason, all the others who died in all the iterations he'd seen of this day were needed in a grander scheme, while he himself was the expendable pawn.

x~*~*~*~x

Fletcher was gone, and the Killing Curse sailed through the space he had just occupied. A curse full of hatred and venom, meant for the thief wearing Harry's face and carried on the sound of a rushing train, connected instead with the narrowed eye of retired Auror Alastor Moody.

As the curse filled his vision and the sound his ears, he breathed one quiet word: "Isabelle."

x~*~*~*~x

x~*~*~x The End x~*~*~x

x~*~*~*~x

A/N: I hope this was coherent enough. I've long wanted to write some back-story for Alastor Moody, and when the plot-bunny of Groundhog-Day!Moody came to me, I decided to combine the two. I never liked that Moody was killed so early on in DH, as I pictured him as a great fighter and it seemed such a waste. So, I decided to write some badass!Moody, but still wanted to make it DH-compliant.

I was partly inspired by The Time-Turner's Curse by mattyjam.

A/N 2: This was submitted for the May contest on DLP, the category being time-travel. I'm honored and humbled to say it won, against some very stiff competition. If anyone reading this hasn't visited DLP and its C2 here at FFN, what are you waiting for? The website for the forums is darklordpotter dot net, and the DLP C2 is "DLP_5_Starred_and_Featured_Authors" – pretty much the best of the best in HP fanfiction.

A/N 3: I've uploaded this once already and FFN is too fucking stupid to recognize "~*~*~" as a scene or line break, electing to place abso-fucking-lutely nothing in place of it. If you're one of those lucky enough to see the story that way, you probably think I'm a goddamn retard who vomited onto the page. So, apologies that I didn't catch that sooner.