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Alastor Moody was only six years old when he first fabricated a story about the incident.
"It was a Blasted-Ended Skrewt," he said, blurting out the first thing that came to mind - the story his mom had told him about a group of Blast-Ended Skrewts that had become friends with a bowtruckle. But, facing an audience of wide-eyed and anxious friends, he made sure that these Skrewts didn't make friends with anybody.
"One of them was so tall it c'udda blown up an entire house if it wanted to. The Skrewt exploded" - here he had added a wild gesture with his hands, complete with sound effects, and one of the girls screamed - "and hurt me." He pressed his hands against his right eye - the eye with the green patch.
When he grew older, the Blast-Ended Skrewt became a dragon spitting fire. Being attacked by a slimy slug wasn't as cool as being the hero and sacrificing himself to destroy a dragon, the boy thought.
And with every place that his family went - and there were many; his parents didn't stop moving, "on account of the dark wizards", they had fretted often - the stories grew wilder and more extravagant.
His friends had been entranced with the enthusiastic storytelling of their scarred friend, his face prematurely aged by constellations of red, ugly scars. But his friends didn't see him as a cripple. With his stories, Alastor Moody had transformed into a valiant wizard straight from a fairy tale, fighting off dragons, dementors - even dark wizards whose names had started appearing in the paper.
But when his eleventh birthday came around, things changed.
The letter arrived on the morning of his birthday, delivered by a plain-colored owl that had dropped it on his breakfast plate. He couldn't help thinking, as he picked up his butter-stained letter, that it was a bit unceremonious.
The boy with duck-fluff hair opened the seal and squinted at the letter, his good eye scrutinizing the parchment.
"I'm going to Hogwarts?" The boy scrunched his nose, the little scars rippling with the movement.
His dad smiled over his newspaper. "As your parents did."
"But..." Alastor started to say. But what? That heroes don't go to school, of course, but he couldn't tell him that. "Do you think that Hogwarts is...safe?"
His dad's eyes latched onto his. "Safe from what?" he asked carefully. Face to face, they weren't that different. Alastor had lines of scars where his dad had wrinkles, had soft and fluffy hair that matched his father's dark waves.
"From...the wizards chasing us."
His gaze hardened. He looked almost sad. "I promise you'll be safe at Hogwarts." For a moment, he wavered. Then, he drew a silver object from his pocket, somewhat embarrassed. "Take this, Al. It's a flask for drinks. With this nobody can ever poison you. I installed the filter myself. Being an Auror comes with many enemies -- enemies who might want to bring harm to my family. Do you remember our saying?"
"Constant vigilance." They said it in unison.
"Do you feel better, Alastor?"
Alastor nodded, blushing. "Thanks, Dad." He tried to say it somewhat thankfully, while his dad ruffled his hair, but he couldn't help thinking that heroes didn't carry flasks.
The Great Hall of Hogwarts was...great. Alastor leaned his head back, mouth gaping, to stare at the ceiling, a perfect replica of the starlit sky. He tried to block out the students, muttering and looking askance at the strange, deformed boy. He tried to not notice how a clear line was toed between him and the others.
You're a hero, he whispered fiercely to himself. You've fought dragons and evil wizards and dementors. Out of reflex, he searched in his robe pocket and found the cold metal of the silver flask. They can't bother you.
His fingers remained on his father's gift even when his name reverberated throughout the Hall. The Hat awaited. Slowly, he ascended the steps, settled on the stool, and faced the room. His fingers clutched his flask as, instantaneously, the Hall buzzed nervously as they took in his tiny face, a skein of scars and green fabric. Alastor swallowed. You're a hero, he thought to himself as the hat settled over his head.
"A hero you are, Alastor." A voice whispered in his mind. "And a hero you will be." Alastor groped for his flask with sweaty fingers.
"What do you mean?"
"This head is destined for great things. Yes, courageous things. A hard future lies before you, and many people will look up to you in times of strife. You will be..." The hat wavered. "You can be the hero you have yearned to be."
"Seriously?" Alastor breathed in sharply.
"There is only one house for you. Do you trust me?"
"I trust you."
And then - HUFFLEPUFF!
The hat lifted. Alastor wrenched himself onto his feet. He made his way to the oak table of Hufflepuff with trembling knees and blinking eyes. The world spun in front of him.
Even when the sorting had ended, and the food had been served, Alastor remained in a state of shock. He had been tricked, and worse - he had fallen for it. He played with a lump of mashed potatoes, fingers tingling.
Heroes aren't in Hufflepuff.
Alastor refused to drink from the school's cup. Instead, he took only small sips from his flask, even when a nice girl had offered to pour the juice for him.
"I'm not a cripple, I'd have you know. I have scars, but I also have hands and feet," he grunted. The bitterness seeped into his words.
The girl's eyes widened and she splashed the juice onto his lap. She squeaked, as if Alastor was going to strangle her.
He blushed. "I'm sorry. Don't...don't worry. Thanks for thinking of me." She still seemed terrified, so he gave her a weak smile, hoping it would make him seem less like a strangler. "What's your name?"
-Pomona. Pomona Sprout," she whispered, voice quavering. Strangler he was, then.
"I'm Alastor Moody. And it's fine. You can ask me. Everyone does."
Pomona hastily averted her gaze, realizing that she had been staring at his scars.
"What...what happened?" Her eyes met his one - black and sparkling - for a moment, then broke away.
Alastor ran a hand through his duck-fluff hair. He breathed deeply. "It was a potion. My father's an auror for the Ministry and he suspected that one of his enemies was chasing us. My dad wanted to trap him, hurt him. He prepared a potion when I was in the room with him. He left for a moment, to get some ingredients, maybe, I don't know. I was two. I guess I thought it was juice." He gave Pomona a shy smile. "Obviously, it wasn't."
Pomona didn't look at him while he had spoken, but she did now, hesitantly. "You were strong," she whispered, a bit breathless. The non-strangling campaign wasn't working in his favor.
Alastor shook his head. "Me? Never. I've never been strong. I've never fought dragons, or saved people from dementors, or destroyed a dark wizard. I've only....I've only had constant vigilance."
Pomona nodded. "Constant vigilance. That's worth a lot." Then, quietly, "If you want, my mom is a healer. I...I know a couple of herbs that could help with the scars."
Alastor found himself nodding his head. "I'd like that. Thanks."
When he leaned his head back and observed the star-lit ceiling for the last time that night, he felt lighter than he'd ever felt in his life.
He had told the truth and - honestly - he had never felt so brave.