FIC: "As Time Goes By" for miss_morland Recipient: miss_morland Author/Artist:cardigrl Title: As Time Goes By Rating: PG, for brief description of torture Pairings: Rufus Scrimgeour / Augusta Longbottom Word Count: 5,000 Warnings: AU ending Summary: In the midst of war, unlikely alliances may form. Sometimes, they become more. Author's/Artist's Notes: Many thanks to the mod for a wonderful fest! Thanks to my wonderful beta, Venturous. I hope you enjoy this, miss_morland! You mentioned understated romance and I hope this suits!
It was a busy night at the Leaky. Smoke hung low in the room, as Tom kept a watchful eye on the groups. He knew the signs, and Trouble was definitely brewing. Maybe it was a tad dramatic, he thought, to think of Trouble with a capital T, but then again, most people didn't know how much work he put into keeping the place up. Magic was all well and good, but sometimes things needed plain old elbow grease.
A burst of talk erupted from one corner — the trouble-makers' corner, as Tom thought of it. The usual suspects clustered there, their posture gradually changing from hunched up to relaxed and open as they conversed, their heads up and faces flushed. About time to cut them off.
Too late, he thought with chagrin, as the Diagon Alley door swung open and Rufus Scrimgeour stepped through. He paused for a moment on the threashold, and one of the prime troublemakers spotted him.
"Well, lads, look who's here!" the man shouted. "If it isn't old Rufus. Got any more worthless flyers for us, then?"
Rufus looked down his long nose. "Hello, Peter. You know, if you had ever bothered to learn a basic shielding charm, those flyers wouldn't be so pointless."
"Nah," Peter replied. "They are worthless so long as you think there's any point in fighting You-Know-Who. Why don't you just accept it? He's the new power around here, and we'd all be better off if you'd just work something out with him!"
"What?!" Rufus exclaimed, as he limped towards the man. "Are you insane? Do you have any idea what he intends to do you people like you, given half a chance? He'd slaughter you as soon as look at you." Peter shook his head.
"Thas just because you all keep fighting him. If you'd just leave him alone, he'd leave us alone. Live and let live, I say." Rufus looked at the men clustered around the table with disgust.
"You are all a bunch of old fools. It disgusts me to see you swilling ale and firewhiskey, spouting nonsense, all the while brave witches and wizards are out there fighting to protect you."
"Never asked them to, did we?" Peter responded belligerently. "Spending all our tax galleons, just so you Aurors can play games, pretending to fight people that don't need fighting."
Rufus saw red. He thought of the brave Aurors whose funerals he had just attended: two wizards, tortured to death after losing their fight to protect an orphanage. He grabbed the man by the robes, wand gripped tightly in his other hand. Neither man noticed Tom had made his way across the room.
"Minister, let me get you a cup of tea," Tom said quietly. "You don't want to do this."
With a jerk, Rufus looked around to see a room filled with silent observers, staring at him in varying degrees of surprise and disquiet. Awkwardly, Rufus released the man's robes and cleared his throat.
"Yes, Tom. That's a good idea. I could stand a spot of tea right now."
Rufus did not notice the woman with the vulture-topped hat stand up from her table in the far corner. Nor did he see her leave, grandson in tow.
* * * *
Later that evening, Augusta bid Neville goodnight and retired to her own room. Sitting in her room, she contemplated Rufus Scrimgeour as she brushed out her hair.
Scrimgeour had been behind her in school. She barely recalled him from those days. She knew he visited Frank and Alice from time to time. He was always very kind.
Rufus Scrimgeour was the only Auror who still went to see them; she had seen his elegant scrawl on the sparse visitor logs. Bitterly, she reflected on how few of their contemporaries could be bothered to visit Frank and Alice. Nor did they ever try to visit Neville. Oh, Scrimgeour asked about Neville when she saw him, however infrequently. But considering Frank and Alice were worse than dead, all in the service of the sainted Aurors, she would have expected that a few more of them could be bothered. With a sigh, Augusta squelched that train of thought, pointless as it was.
Scrimgeour was obviously feeling the strain of his new post, she thought. He certainly had not handled himself at all well this evening. And he looked terrible. She wondered about him. Who did he have for support? She suspected, from comments others let drop from time to time, that he and Dumbledore did not see eye to eye at all. Perhaps a visit might be in order?
* * * *
The morning after his contretemps at the Leaky Cauldron, Rufus sat at his desk, moodily eyeing the stacks of scrolls which seemingly multiplied overnight. He hated paperwork. If only Fudge hadn't been so inept. . .
His new assistant, Percy Weasley, entered with another armload of scrolls and stood in front of his desk, waiting. Rufus transferred his attention to Percy with a sigh. He was a good lad, Rufus thought. Just a bit too . . . well. . . eager and naive for his position. The eager attitude set his teeth on edge; it reminded him of Arthur when he started in on muggle devices. He cleared his throat.
"Anything of interest there?"
Percy handed over the correspondence requiring his attention, including one which was sealed for his eyes only. Rufus raised one eyebrow as he broke the seal and perused the note. Augusta Longbottom was herself the daughter of an ancient Slytherin family, disgraced when Grindelwald fell. Married into an equally ancient but Gryffindor family, she had adapted quickly to her social position as a magically powerful witch associated with the politically influential Longbottom family. Rufus had no trouble recognizing the note inviting him for tea as the equivalent of a demand for a command performance. He sighed again.
"Percy," he said. "Block off the afternoon. I have things to do."
Later that day, he stood before the open door to the grand Longbottom mansion, facing a diminutive but exceptionally fearless House Elf. He was getting ready to identify himself again, rather more loudly this time, when she nodded decisively.
"Lissy is taking you to see the Mistress." Bemused at the House Elf's unusual level of scrutiny, Rufus limped along behind as she turned abruptly and marched into the house, presumably in the direction of the drawing room.
Despite being Frank and Alice's boss during the first war, Rufus had never been invited to their home. His had been a solidly middle-class upbringing, in a mixed-blood family, and in those days people like the Longbottoms — not to mention old line Slytherins like Augusta's family — did not mix with his sort. Seeing it all for the first time, then, Rufus viewed with interest the grandeur of the mansion and its ancient furnishings. He had learned early on as an Auror to recognize quality, and he saw nothing but top-notch furnishings, immaculately maintained.
He was impressed. Augusta Longbottom had been a widow for years, but obviously had no trouble maintaining the family mansion as well as her position. He entered the drawing room to find Augusta rising from her chair.
"Minister," she replied with a brief smile that did not reach her eyes. "You may call me Augusta." She waved her hand towards a seat. Rufus inclined his head.
"And please call me Rufus." He settled awkwardly in his chair. Apparently the weather was about to change, for his leg, which the Healers had been unable to mend completely after a raid gone badly wrong, was aching abominably. He looked over to see Augusta settling into her chair. Their eyes met as she reached towards the tea service and he was struck by the calm certainty of her gaze. Definitely a woman used to getting what she wanted from people. He wondered what it was she wanted from him. Meanwhile, she was determined to observe the formalities.
"One lump, and a splash of milk, please." Rufus attempted a smile as he reached for the cup. They made the requisite small talk as they sipped their tea until, finally, Augusta set her cup down and cleared her throat. Rufus braced himself for whatever was coming.
"As you may know," she began, "my grandson is currently attending Hogwarts. Gryffindor, in Harry Potter's class," she added with a touch of pride. Rufus felt a twinge of annoyance. He was more than a little tired of the hero-worship directed at a teenaged boy, not to mention the apparently unthinking approval of all things Gryffindor and, by extension, Dumbledore.
"I am aware, yes. I have tried to keep an eye on him, if from a distance. It's no more than he's owed as Frank and Alice's son."
"Yes, of course." Augusta favoured him with a flat stare. Rufus shifted a little in his seat, uncomfortably aware that something in his comment had annoyed her, but unsure of what it was. Augusta continued, "A number of the parents have expressed concern after the recent incident at the Ministry. Now that You-Know-Who has publicly returned, what assurance do we have that our children will be safe as they return to school?"
Rufus relaxed a little — if that was all this was about — only to stiffen as Augusta continued.
"It would, of course, be reassuring to know that the Ministry takes the safety of all of us seriously, but we are most concerned at this point with the children."
"I assure you," Rufus replied stiffly. "We at the Ministry are most concerned about the safety and integrity of our society. We are taking steps—"
"Not very effective steps," Augusta interrupted, "or my grandson and his friends would not have found it necessary to fly to the Ministry earlier this year. And are you aware of what your representative did at Hogwarts this last year? She used a blood quill!"
Augusta's tone was sharp and her face set in haughty disapproval, Rufus observed with resentment. Fingers tightening on his cup, Rufus replied in kind.
"I assure you Delores Umbridge was not my representative. You will shortly see a great many changes at the Ministry—"
"Be that as it may—" Rufus grit his teeth as Augusta interrupted again— "the parents want some assurance the children will be protected."
"I assure you," Rufus replied evenly, with great effort, "the children will be protected on their travel to Hogwarts." And then, suddenly unable to contain himself, he continued: "Once they are in Hogwarts, however, we have no authority. For that, I suggest you look to the Board of Governors, or better yet, Dumbledore. He is the one who is acting like a rogue warlord, recruiting child soldiers for a private army to do his bidding, all the while he sits safely in his tower after having got their parents destroyed the last time around!"
Augusta sat back in her chair at that. Approval glinted in her eyes, and an expression of deep satisfaction briefly crossed her face.
Mortified, Rufus cursed his inability to restrain his dislike of Dumbledore's methods, not to mention his annoyance that people blamed the Ministry for the Grand wizard's results. Still, Augusta still not seem put off. In fact, he was almost certain she approved of his comment. So it was with confusion that he watched her rise from her chair, her face fixed in a bland expression.
"Well, then. It has been a pleasure, Rufus. I look forward to seeing you in the future." There was no mistaking that dismissal.
As the House Elf showed Rufus to the door, he pondered the conundrum that was Augusta Longbottom.
* * * *
Standing in Diagon Alley, Augusta listened with satisfaction to the reporter's description of the Ministry's new security proposals surrounding the Hogwarts Express. Happy to urge them on, she spoke at some length to the reporter about her concerns. Security at the school was paramount, of course.
Rufus shook his head as he read the Daily Prophet the next day. He was gratified to see that Augusta spoke highly of his security proposals. And that she put in a dig at Dumbledore's security in the school itself. But . . . why did she have to go on about Harry Potter?
* * * *
Rufus and Percy watched Stan Shunpike's questioning from behind the glass looking into the interrogation room. Shunpike had the requisite dose of Veritaserum and was singing like a bird. Rufus reflected grimly that the Death Eaters were really on a roll if they were convincing even previously upstanding (if a bit daft, in Stan's case) wizards to support them this actively. It did not bode well for the war effort. In disgust, he turned away and snapped at Percy.
"Enough. Put a press release out. People need to know that we're on top of this. Or at least getting there."
* * * *
Rufus contemplated this latest invitation. Augusta had asked him to dinner at her home. He had so much work to do, but he knew better than to ignore this opening. Besides, Augusta was an intriguing woman.
Later that evening, Augusta again contemplated Rufus Scrimgeour as she brushed out her hair. He still looked strained. No wonder, as hard as he was working. She approved of his attempts to get a handle on how deeply the Death Eaters had infiltrated society. She knew from Neville's owl post that many at Hogwarts thought Scrimgeour was deluded. But they obviously did not have all the facts. Besides, Rufus was an intriguing man.
* * * *
As he entered the Ministry, Rufus fought hard to keep his smile under control. Last night, Augusta had invited him for dinner again. It was a regular occurrence now. They were comfortable with each other. And she had listened without censure as he described his fury over Potter's insistence that he let Shunpike go. As though he should release a man who confessed under Veritaserum to Death Eater activity, for no reason other than Harry Potter liked him!
* * * *
Augusta sipped her coffee as she contemplated the previous evening. Rufus had once again been over for dinner. She thought with annoyance of his description of his latest meeting with Harry Potter. She had always thought Harry was a nice boy, and a true Gryffindor. Unfortunately, however, that sometimes equated to not much in the intelligence department.
Honestly, to complain that Rufus had not immediately turned over Hogwarts heirlooms! She was not a Gryffindor herself, but she knew full well that the Sword of Gryffindor was a priceless artifact belonging to Hogwarts, not a toy to be bestowed by any headmaster, even Dumbledore.
And then to complain that Rufus had not contacted him, all the while he had been in hiding from both the Death Eaters and the Ministry! Teenage boys were not known for sense, but she had thought more highly of the Granger girl. She had heard rumours that they were not returning to Hogwarts and thought perhaps it was just as well. Neville might do better that way.
Augusta thought back to the story of Neville's being attacked by Harry and that girl as first years (just so they could sneak out of their common room, no less) and nodded. Yes, it might be better for Neville now. He needed to come into his own.
* * * *
Augusta slept in that morning. Rufus had come over for dinner, as was their Thursday custom now. But he had not left after their meal and conversation. Their conversations had become much more personal.
She had wondered if she were just a silly old woman, seeing things that weren't there, until last night. Last night, Rufus had talked about taking his leave and then, hesitantly, he leaned over and gently brushed his lips over hers. She had not been able to stop the soft moan from escaping as she savored the sensation. Nor had she resisted her impulse to wrap her arms around him and deepen the kiss. Then, as they used to say, nature took its course.
Thinking about it now, her smile was slow, gentle and (above all) satisfied. For so many weeks now, she had sat at her vanity brushing her hair before bed and contemplating Rufus and their mutual goals. Until last night. Last night, he had been there while she brushed out her hair and contemplated Rufus. She was not used to so much . . . attention. But it had been, well, wonderful.
* * * *
Rufus awoke in a Ministry holding cell. The sharp pain stabbing at his ribs as he took a breath jolted away the last remnants of unconsciouness. Gingerly, he began taking inventory but was distracted as the door opened and Lucius Malfoy stepped into the cell.
"Malfoy," he growled, "what can I do for you?"
"It's rather what I can do for you, I think." Malfoy spoke in a mild tone, but his grey eyes were flinty and his face was set in stern lines. "As you may recall, I stopped Bellatrix before she could do her worst, but without a little cooperation to show for it, I will — regrettably — have no choice but to step back in favour of Bellatrix." As Rufus eyed him stonily without any visible reaction, Malfoy raised one eyebrow and murmured, "Or perhaps . . . the Dark Lord may see fit to allow Greyback his long desired revenge." Malfoy smirked in satisfaction at Rufus's involuntary jerk as he imagined Greyback and his crew surrounding him . . . rending . . . tearing . . .
"So, what is it to be, hmm? Will you take tea with me and answer my — quite benign, I assure you — questions as a civilized wizard would, or do we need to take . . . other measures?" As he spoke, Malfoy lazily twirled his wand in a not-so-subtle threat.
Rufus took a moment to consider his options. He had no intention of telling Malfoy anything he wanted to know. But perhaps the delay might be helpful to those fighting Voldemort, at least those still left. He had no other way, really, to help them at this point. He did not delude himself that a rescue was in the cards, nor did he have any misapprehension about the consequences of his delaying tactics. Malfoy's fury when he realized how useless the delay was would not bode well for him. In fact, he spared a second to marvel at the offer; Malfoy had always been an arrogant, pretentious git, but that he was willing to waste time to satisfy his pretense of being civilized was an astounding indication of his vanity.
Still, it might be useful, so Rufus jumped at this miniscule opportunity he had to — if not hinder, then at least delay — any Death Eater. Besides, he would be a fool to turn down tea. He knew to expect Veritaserum coating his cup, but Malfoy obviously did not know Aurors learned early how to circumvent Veritaserum. Yes, it was challenging, and some got sloppy and lazy, not maintaining the mental discipline needed to resist interrogation under Veritaserum. And often the younger Aurors never got enough experience to succeed. But of all the things people had called him, lazy or sloppy were not among them. Malfoy was a fool, but then again, Rufus thought with asperity, most people underestimated Hufflepuffs.
"Why, I thought you'd never ask," Rufus replied with a crooked smile.
Hours later, Rufus could not stop the screams ripping from his throat as Bellatrix cackled madly over him. Still, it had been worth it. He ground out the thought, recalling with satisfaction Malfoy's increasing frustration as Rufus evaded question after question. Except, of course, their primary question: Where was Harry Potter?
Rufus repeatedly answered that question with complete honesty: he had no idea where Potter was or who was with him. He attempted to respond in such a way that would tantalize the idiots with the possibility that he did know, so as to occupy them longer, all the while marveling at the apparent ineptitude of their spy. Snape had appeared hand in glove with Dumbledore; surely, he knew that Rufus and Dumbledore despised each other and Dumbledore made certain Rufus would be the last person to know Potter's whereabouts? Rufus had concealed that information within the Ministry, thinking it best for their world in general that people did not realize how serious the rifts at the top were. One would think Snape would have reported that, yet Malfoy seemed certain Rufus would have that information. It almost made one wonder about Snape . . . .
The thought was interrupted as yet another wave of agony coursed through him. Bellatrix had long ago started in on round after round of Cruciatus, unimaginative cow that she was. It was only made worse by the more targeted, but still agonizing, injuries Dolohov and Malfoy preferred to inflict. Still, he was satisfied. He'd delayed and kept several senior Death Eaters occupied for hours. And with the general ineptitude of that crowd, that meant the minions had been idled. That much more time for those fighting Voldemort to regroup.
Rufus felt his sanity slowly slipping away, and knew that once he lost that, another Death Eater would intervene with a quick Avada Kedavra. Briefly, he toyed with the idea of allowing that to happen. A simple, straightforward death, one that would let his soul go on to the next adventure, clear of all his injuries, bitter regrets, and obligations. He could not in good conscience do that, however. There was still work to be done, and he had a duty to grasp at the chance — no matter how small — that he could still carry on the fight. He wondered if Augusta recalled their conversations, whether she would think about the possibilities.
He took a risk. If he were wrong, if she did not remember, if no one guessed, well… He did not fancy the thought of forever remaining in limbo, unable to move on, unable to go back without assistance that would not come. Still, he had a duty. As Bellatrix shouted Crucio yet again and Rufus felt his body start to convulse, he managed it. One nonverbal spell and the Potion hid inside the Wizard Space contained in the now fractured hollow molar flooded his mouth.
Rufus somehow managed to gulp the liquid down, insensible to Dolohov's disgusted voice or Bellatrix's howl of rage as Dolohov exclaimed, "Now you've done it, Bellatrix! You killed the bastard."
* * * *
Shrouded by an invisibility spell, Augusta Longbottom slipped down the alleyway behind the Ministry of Magic. Her face contorted in disgust as she took in the carnage and bodies lying nearby. Apparently in the mistaken belief that it proved his benevolence, You Know Who had announced through his new mouthpiece, Thicknesse, that the bodies of a number of people who recently died at the Ministry could be retrieved by their families for burial. Word was widespread that Rufus was among the dead. His surviving family consisted of one brother, with whom he did not get along, so she hoped his body was there. Thinking back to their earlier talks, she had other hopes as well, but she tried firmly to squash them. It would be just too cruel otherwise, if he had not succeeded.
There! Her breath caught as she saw his body. She hissed as she took in the state of it, then shook her head decisively. No time to waste, she told herself firmly. Get him out of here, then take stock. With a soft pop of Apparition, Augusta appeared in her guest bedroom, Rufus in tow.
"Lissy," Augusta shouted and then, as a House Elf popped into view, she continued, "Bring the healing chest, quickly now." So there was a silver lining to all those accidents Neville had as a child, she reflected. Lissy was a very special House Elf, having been trained in healing humans, a measure Augusta had arranged after her idiot brother-in-law threw Neville off that stupid pier and almost drowned the poor boy. Plus, her healing chest was second to none, especially after restocking it in the wake of Neville's exploits in the Department of Mysteries. Now she had two brave men to care for, she hoped.
Augusta eased Rufus' body back on the bed and silently took in his condition. She debated briefly: heal the obvious injuries first, and then see if he still lived? Or try the antidote first? Better heal first, she decided. She'd learn soon enough; the injuries would not heal as well before the antidote, so there would be scarring. But he would not suffer as much pain when he revived, if he still lived, that was. And Merlin! There would be enough pain in any event. Rufus was almost naked, bruises covering almost every inch of him. His feet were flayed open, as was his back. His swollen face was a mass of contusions and it appeared his jaw was dislocated. His hands were crushed. And his internal injuries! She shuddered. Augusta wished she could call in her old friend, Poppy Pomfrey. With that bastard Snape in charge of Hogwarts, however, she dared not risk contacting her.
Augusta began with the most obvious injuries first, her concentration wavering only for an instant as Lissy popped back, healing chest in tow. Augusta prayed that Lissy's and her skills would be adequate. Once Lissy was ready, Augusta stood back and watched with bated breath. She watched with grateful amazement as, after a few moments of intense concentration on Lissy's part, Rufus' body began to straighten and heal. Finally, it was time for the big test and Augusta retrieved the antidote to the Draught of Living Death.
Feeling as though her heart would hammer right through her chest, Augusta watched closely as Lissy poured the antidote into Rufus' mouth and gently massaged his throat. It should just take a moment for the antidote to begin its absorption through the mouth membranes. Did she imagine it . . . There! Rufus' chest definitely rose shallowly and his eyelids fluttered. Exultation surged through Augusta as Lissy smiled triumphantly.
"Master is living," Lissy exclaimed.
Augusta glanced at her sharply. Master? Well, why wouldn't Lissy know how deeply they felt about each other? House Elves were notoriously empathic with those people they chose to claim as their own. Once again, Augusta marveled at her good fortune in having Lissy accept her so readily when she had first come to Longbottom Manor, a nervous young bride with an unwilling bridegroom in a marriage arranged by two old-line families. It had been so difficult at first, a Slytherin trying to fit in and adopt the values of her new Gryffindor in-laws. Still, she had prospered in the end. Now, she had a wonderful, thoroughly Gryffindor grandson to carry on the Longbottom name and, she hoped, a man she truly loved beside her.
Rufus coughed and Augusta's gaze snapped back to him. She gently took his hand — almost miraculously whole — and said softly, "Easy, my dear. Easy."
"Gus," Rufus breathed as he met her eyes. "You remembered. I dared to hope—"
"Of course I remembered, you silly man," Augusta said sharply. "Now, you must rest. It's a miracle you survived at all."
"Easy. You are at my house."
"Must. . .go . . . not . . .safe—"
"No! You aren't well enough! And where would you go?" Rufus struggled to catch his breath, chest heaving.
"Don't . . . want . . . Endanger—"
Augusta's eyes filled with tears as she said, "Enough of that, my love. We will move you soon, as soon as it's safe to move you. They would be watching in any case, so you're better off here for now." She smiled as Rufus subsided, his eyes drifting shut.
A tear escaped her as he breathed, "Love…"
* * * *
Neville fidgeted, his dress robes uncomfortably rubbing against his wrists and chafing his neck. He watched as Rufus Scrimgeour, leaning heavily on a cane, slowly limped into the room.
"Do you have them?" Rufus asked a bit sharply.
"Yes, sir. Right here." Neville patted a pocket in his robes and watched with concern as a spasm of pain flitted across Rufus' face when he turned back to face the crowd of people gathered. A year ago, he would not have believed he could ever even respect Rufus Scrimgeour, but then... He thought about the stories Gran told him. About how Scrimgeour, crippled and unable to stray far from his bed, coached her on the code Aurors used to communicate; how he helped her work with those Aurors loyal to him in harassing the Death Eaters; and how those contacts helped her evade capture once the Death Eaters went after her.
Scrimgeour aggravated him no end, of course, with the way he so obviously disliked Harry and Hermione. Selfish and stupid, he called them. Neville had not thought anyone could hold a grudge the way Snape did, but Scrimgeour surprised him there. He would happily have washed his hands of the man once Scrimgeour had completed his convalescence at the Longbottom summer home , except…
Neville took in the smile that crossed Scrimgeour's face as his Gran entered the room, the radiant look that transformed Gran and made her look years younger. Augusta walked towards them, her eyes never straying from Rufus. He stood motionless, spellbound, until she reached them and Rufus gently touched her cheek, his expression one of awed joy. She smiled and looked towards Neville, then turned.
Except they were so obviously happy. Taking a deep breath, Neville turned as well to face the Wizard standing before them, waiting to perform the Handfasting.