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Shifts, Chapter 23: A Trick of the Firelight, pt. 3 - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
Shifts, Chapter 23: A Trick of the Firelight, pt. 3
Limbering the writing fingers...

Well, I put up chapters 20-22 at HB, and Chapter 6 ("Detention With Dudley") is available at SQ. Not many changes in either. Chapter 20's last section, which is unsatisfactory, is mostly unchanged, though when I finish the whole story I'll see what I can do with it, and the final version will hopefully go up at the Quill. If I'm going to keep up with this schedule, The Judge is going to have to take some time off and come back after The Mad Writer has been taken off to her little padded room. Crits still welcome--I'll check the LJ entries when I'm really revising--major ones probably just won't go into the initial HB archiving.

Anyway, stopping in the middle of the pre-existing story, "A Trick of the Firelight," which has changed here and there, and will certainly change a lot in this section, as it's in Remus's POV instead of Dora's (as in the original), and they have half a year of history that I hadn't given them when I wrote the original story. Remus has been sketching a lovely woman in the Three Broomsticks, appreciating her in a sensuous (if rather distantly aesthetic) way. Suddenly, she stands up and says, "Wotcher, Remus. You're early!"

Table of Contents and Summary So Far




Remus froze.

The woman he'd been drawing slipped out of the shadows of the hearth and into the bright daylight that came through the windows, and she was Dora--no question about it, no ambivalence. It was the smile. It was always her smile, no matter what face she was wearing, and there it was and...

"Remus?"

He flailed for a moment, found a smile, and didn't look at her. "Hullo, Dora," he said, and was pleased to hear that his voice was relatively even. Just like he hadn't been touching her with his eyes a moment ago.

She laughed lightly and sat down beside him. "Are you all right? You look a bit peaky."

"Just..." He shook his head and looked away from her. "I wasn't expecting you yet, either."

She shrugged, and a tiny hollow under her collarbone deepened, and he realized that he was looking at her again and made himself look away. "There was no one in the shop," she said. "No waiting. And Maddie's design is already chosen. It only took a few minutes, even when I asked Lucille to tweak the shape on the clothes."

"Oh, you did get the outfit changed," Remus said.

"Just had the length changed a bit and got the waistband tightened. And the hips let out. I wish I had slim hips. I can, but it seems like a bit of a lie."

Remus found his eyes tracing the curve of her hip as she said this (it was, indeed, generous), and he forced his head to turn back to his drink. He had only been looking in a disinterested way when he hadn't known her, really nothing he needed to apologize for. But the thought that he had looked at her in that way at all seemed to make it impossible to stop looking.

She waved for Rosmerta. "Another pint of mulled mead?" She turned back to Remus. "And I took off the horrid sweater and scarf, of course."

Rosmerta brought her drink. Remus held a hand over his own, which he was drinking as slowly as possible. "Are you morphed?" he asked.

"Not even my hair. The pink didn't match Dora Lewis's wardrobe. Why?"

"I was just wondering. I didn't recognize you for a few minutes."

She gave him a somewhat cross look, her eyebrows lowering, but the corner of her mouth rising in a puzzled half-smile. "Aren't you the man who said on New Year's Eve that I always look like Dora to you?"

He nodded and concentrated his attention on the charcoal stick that was still in his hand, trying to dance it over his fingers the way James used to with his wand when he was bored. He'd once dropped it and accidentally made daisies grow out of Lily's ears.

She rolled her eyes and took a sip of her mead. "Honestly, Remus, how long have we known one another?"

"A long time," he said. "Your mum brought you to the platform the year you were born. We'd all helped Sirius sneak out for the birthing party, and she said that made us all honorary guests." He noticed that some dust had fallen from the charcoal stick, and began to dust it off of the bar. The day at King's Cross came back to him--sneaking to a far off corner in the Muggle part of the station, where Ted and Andromeda were waiting with their little bundle of brightly colored blankets. He remembered the smell of powder overpowering the smell of the trains. "She let all four of us hold you. You were frightened of James's glasses for some reason. You just started howling. I took you then, and you smiled."

"Good to know," Dora said, and when he looked at her, she had a slightly bemused look on her face.

"I'm sorry," he said. "You don't care about that, do you?"

"It's an interesting enough bit of history. Did you give me a Charm?"

"No, I just held you." He realized how that sounded and felt blood rushing to his face. "Just holding a baby, you know. I hadn't done it before. It was nice. And I liked being better at it than James was. And you really don't care, do you?"

"I'm a bit puzzled by the voyage down memory lane. I only meant that we've known one another long enough that I thought you always knew me on sight. You usually recognize me even when I am morphed."

"Just..." He shook his head and sighed deeply, making himself look at her now, remembering her as a baby. It helped with the current problem, but it also hurt him sharply--he had loved that day, and this business of having looked at that baby like a stranger, of noticing things he had no business noticing... it seemed to cheapen it somehow, as if their entire history together were suddenly tawdry and tainted. "It was just a trick of the firelight, Dora," he said. "I'm sorry."

"It's all right, really. You were the only one of my friends who hadn't had an is-that-Tonks-or-not moment so far. I guess you were due." She looked over at him, and he realized with something like horror that she was eyeing the sketchbook. "I'm glad to see you got that out. I was wondering if you would. That was from Sirius and Harry, wasn't it?"

He nodded. "Harry said it was mostly Sirius's idea. He wouldn't have any reason to know."

"You should let him get to know you. He wants to."

"Sirius is his guardian."

"Did you see him when we went to collect him Surrey? I never saw anyone as relieved to see someone as Harry was when he saw you. It was all over his face."

"I'm not his guardian."

"You're not my guardian, either. I still like knowing you. What were you drawing?"

Remus put his hand over the sketchbook, wishing he'd thought to lock the covers before it had become too late to do so unobtrusively. "Nothing, really," he said. "Just getting back into the habit. Casting around, drawing what I was looking at." Which happened to include a child I tutored in Latin and have cuddled after nightmares when her parents were out, only--funny thing, really--I didn't know her, and what I drew was a beautiful woman. He closed his eyes, wondering what Ted and Andromeda would say if they happened to come across it. It wasn't a suggestive picture by any stretch of the imagination. He'd only had time to trace the lines of her body and capture her casually elegant pose, but those lines, the curves and bends they made, that he'd traced with his fingers to urge them into what he saw... They weren't the sort of thing parents would want to see coming from a man they had trusted to care for their child. "A bit of this, a bit of that. Shall we order lunch?"

"Good plan."

They ordered stew and bread, and Remus steered the conversation as far away from the drawings as he could while they ate it. They couldn't very well talk about Smeltings or the Order here, so the subject drifted to the past, to ancient lessons and long-ago Christmases spent with her family. Remus let himself relax a bit. After all, it had been an understandable slip, and he hadn't meant anything by it. He'd get rid of the sketch when he got home, but it didn't really make any difference. She was still Dora, and if he happened to be fascinated with the way she looked at this moment, it was because she spent so much time in various altered forms that seeing her true form--the young woman that the girl he'd known had grown into--was a surprise. It was like seeing an old friend whom he hadn't seen for some time and noticing all the little differences. He found himself laughing again by the time they were finished eating, looking at her normally, simply enjoying her company.

"Do you remember that time you came caroling with us when I was ten?" she asked. "And Dad insisted on doing a solo?"

"Someone needs to tell your father that he can't carry a tune."

"Don't look at me. It would break his heart." She smiled fondly. "I remember that we went into a Muggle house, and the lady there made us tea. I wanted to look at her stove. Mum had to pull me away."

"You were always interested in everything."

"Guilty." She grinned. "At the moment, I'm interested in another drink. What do you say, do we have time for another round?"

"Time, we have," Remus said. "But, I should check--" He didn't finish the sentence. Dora knew perfectly well that he was checking his remaining money, but she looked away while he reached for the battered leather pouch he kept it in.

Unfortunately, he was paying more attention to where she was looking than to where he was, and his traitorous elbow caught the edge of the sketchbook, which flew off the bar and landed in a sprawl of open pages on the floor, a spill of charcoal and crayons it had caught going with it. Before he could stop her, Dora had slid off of her stool to help him pick it all up. She started with the sketchbook.

And stopped.

"Dora--" he said, but didn't finish.

"These are nice," she said, glancing at the drawing of the Whomping Willow and the boxy mess he'd made of Hogsmeade's business district. She flipped the page and looked at the pictures he'd made of her morphing. They were only quick sketches, no more than five minutes apiece, so perhaps that was why she was looking at them with such an utter lack of recognition. She smiled. "What a cute child," she said. "Who is--" She frowned at the picture, ran her finger along the line of the scarf, looked at her own scarf, which was draped over the chair, and looked up at him again. Her eyes, to his shock, seemed deeply hurt. "Is this me, Remus?"

"I was trying to catch the way you looked transforming on the road."

She looked down at the pictures again, her smile entirely gone now. When she spoke, her voice was quiet. "I really do look ten to you, don't I?"

"It's the clothes," he said. "They got too big for you..."

"It's not the clothes. You look at me--no matter what--and you see a little girl. Sweet little Dora. That baby from King's Cross."

Remus closed his eyes. "Keep going," he said, not wanting her to see what he'd drawn, not wanting her to keep feeling hurt. "Just turn the page."

There was a pause before he heard the motion of the paper, and she didn't say anything right away. He opened his eyes. She was looking at the most recent drawing, the one in the firelight, her fingers hovering above the figure like it might burn her. "I'm beautiful here," she said.

"Yes. You are." Remus pulled out his wand and began Summoning the rest of the supplies that had gone flying. "I'm so sorry, Dora," he said. "I didn't mean to look at you that way. You must think I'm a filthy old man."

"Yes, you're ancient," she said absently, her eyes not leaving the drawing. "And I'm dead offended that you think I'm beautiful."

"You know what I mean."

"Actually," she said, "I haven't the first bloody idea what you mean." She snapped the sketchbook shut and stood up, slamming it down on the bar (her stew bowl went flying; Rosmerta caught it with a Charm, studiously looking away from the scene). Her hands were shaking. "Do you know why this picture offends me, Remus?"

She seemed both to be waiting for him to give an answer and to give one herself. He shook his head.

"It offends me because you didn't know who I was. Because I know that if I went back to that same chair, with the same paper and the same fire, you'd draw me like you did on the road."

"Dora--"

"When you see me as a little girl, you love me. I know that. I can see it when you draw, and I... I just know it. I've always known it. But when you see me as a woman, I'm a stranger. Just something pretty to draw." She put her hand over her breastbone. "But this is me, Remus. And you don't love me at all like this, do you? You don't even know me like this."

Remus caught her hands and held them until she calmed down a bit and sat miserably on the stool beside him. He let go. "I always love you," he said, then smiled. "I thought I was reading too much into the damned drawing."

She tried to look reproving, but then looked down and laughed softly. "I'm sorry," she said. "I suppose it's just a sore spot. I really... After New Year's Eve... I just..." She rolled her eyes. "Apparently, I've lost my ability to finish a sentence. I know you don't think of me like that. And if you want to think of me the way you think of Ginny or Harry or Hermione, I understand. I know you love them, so I know you love me. I shouldn't have said you didn't. I know better. If you want me to be little Dora again, I can always--"

He saw her starting to concentrate for a morph, and he put his hand on her wrist. "Don't, Dora."

She looked at him, surprised.

"You don't owe any apologies," he said. "And I never want you to feel that you need to morph around me. I've been unfair to you." He moved his hand back to his drink. "I'm the one at fault here."

"That's true," she said, and smiled. "All right, then."

They ordered drinks (Remus felt one was needed, although it depleted his money supply fairly badly), and drank them amiably enough, letting the talk drift from subject to subject, finding less dangerous terrain. He made himself look at her as she was, see her as an adult. There was no reason that needed to be inappropriate--he had loved her yesterday and would love her tomorrow; being an adult didn't mean she was suddenly a different person to whom he could only respond like an over-eager adolescent. Remus knew many women and looked at them as adults without having a single lewd thought about them. Certainly, he could be fair to Dora and see her as a woman without also seeing her as an object to be coveted.

It all sounded well and good, and he congratulated himself on getting past the ludicrous interlude, but when he dreamed of her that night with the shadows of the firelight dancing across her skin and her soft, full lips brushing against his own, as soft and rich as living smoke, he awakened in terror and he knew that nothing at all was all right between them.

Everything had changed.

And he wished with all his heart that he'd just taken the Knight Bus home.
21 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
jesspallas From: jesspallas Date: December 26th, 2004 10:15 am (UTC) (Link)
Wow. Just wow.

You've taken one of my favourite one shots and made it even better. That was amazing.

I wish I could think of something constructive to say but I can't. I'm just in awe. Thank you. :)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 26th, 2004 06:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thank you. I was nervous about revisiting it and making changes--would they dilute it? I'm glad that you mentioned liking the original one-shot; that helps dispel that fear a lot.
chienar From: chienar Date: December 26th, 2004 10:29 am (UTC) (Link)
thank you for keeping up with shifts. I check many times a day to see if you have posted more. Just love the story.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 26th, 2004 06:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks. :)
liebchen127 From: liebchen127 Date: December 26th, 2004 01:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
I never had the time to tell you that I really liked the long awaited Remus-talks-to-the-werwolf-in-St.-Mungo's bit and especially the strand of the plot it is involved in. So I am doing it here. "Shifts" is a great story and I am glad for every update.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 26th, 2004 06:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
Cool, thanks. Holmes turned out better than I originally pictured him (at least in my mind's eye), so I'm glad he worked for other people, too.
lyras From: lyras Date: December 26th, 2004 01:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
This was a lovely version of what's already a lovely short story. The backstory that we now have from the rest of shifts infuses the scene with even more depth. I love the ending. And poor Remus - still desperately trying to pretend that he doesn't have feelings for Dora!

Oh - I think you're missing an "a" in the following sentence: "Good to know," Dora said, and when he looked at her, she had slightly bemused look on her face.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 26th, 2004 06:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
Picked up the "a."

And poor Remus - still desperately trying to pretend that he doesn't have feelings for Dora!

I think he's not going to be able to do nearly as good a job of it now. :)
siegeofangels From: siegeofangels Date: December 26th, 2004 04:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wow. Nobody writes Repressed British UST like you do, Fern.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 26th, 2004 06:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
Cheers, mate. ;)
chicleeblair From: chicleeblair Date: December 26th, 2004 05:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wow...
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 26th, 2004 06:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks.
sophonax From: sophonax Date: December 26th, 2004 05:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
The original was sweet.

That was SEXY.

Wow.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 26th, 2004 06:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
Phew. Writing sexy isn't something I've done much of, and I wasn't sure if it was coming off sexy or totally overblown.
ajaxbreaker From: ajaxbreaker Date: December 26th, 2004 10:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh yes. Definitely sexy. Very intense and great writing as usual, I love it!
trinity_clare From: trinity_clare Date: December 27th, 2004 12:05 am (UTC) (Link)
Since I'm relatively new to reading your work, could youi point me towards the original of this? I'd like to compare.

Also..."Remus put his hand over the sketchbook, wishing he'd thought to lock the covers before it had become to late to do so unobtrusively." There needs to be another "o" on that "to."
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 27th, 2004 12:28 am (UTC) (Link)
trinity_clare From: trinity_clare Date: December 27th, 2004 03:55 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, thanks!

...

It was good, but I like this new version better. Especially with all their added history. :-)
barbara_the_w From: barbara_the_w Date: December 27th, 2004 04:36 am (UTC) (Link)
Did I mention that I'm sighing like a leaky tyre?

Prickly and sweet and tentative and touchy.... pardon me if I squee like a 13-year-old fangirl? :)
From: isabela113 Date: December 27th, 2004 07:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
Dora's outburst was just great. Her emotional state was so clear and vibrant. Lovely.
kikei From: kikei Date: December 29th, 2004 12:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Excellent chapter, excellent use of a concept I already loved the first time around. You know what? there's a poem by John Lindley that I've posted a few times in my lj, and I've always said it reminds me of Remus and Tonks, and I finally hit the button why, heh.

Lewis Carroll's Wife Asks Questions

How do you want me: flesh, blood and bone
or a page's phantom, drunk on wonder?

Do you want me child-bride or woman,
naked or clothed; a puzzle even you

shan't unravel? For you I can be
lover or limerick-frivolous as

fancy or as meltingly hot as new sin.
Where will you put me, Charles: cross-legged

in your study or yielding in your bed?
Or will you just rock me as always

as a memory that's yet to occur
in your sleeping, confessional head;

take me for a white stone never marked
in a page in your journal never turned.

-John Lindley


21 comments or Leave a comment