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Shifts, Chapter 38: The Last Interlude - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
Shifts, Chapter 38: The Last Interlude
Okay, so there's one more interlude than I thought I'd have.

We're coming toward the end now.






Remus didn't know that he meant to transform in the Shrieking Shack until he found himself in Hogsmeade. If he'd thought about it at all in the past two days, he'd assumed that he would just slip downstairs at St. Mungo's before moonrise, then go back up to Dora's bedside at dawn. He'd only left her to sleep for a few hours on Saturday night, and to duck home for dosings... and he'd only done the latter because she had prodded him.

But this afternoon, Mehadi had examined her and pronounced her fit to go home. Dora had told him to for heaven's sake not put himself in chains this month of all months, and to go somewhere that he felt safe and comfortable.

None of the safe house network shacks had seemed right, and he supposed some part of him had known all along that the Shrieking Shack was the Wolf's only real home, empty and abandoned as it might now be. But that part of him hadn't been conscious, and it was with a species of dull surprise that he opened the creaky front door and let himelf in, throwing his copy of the Sunday Prophet onto the floor with contempt.

How the tabby cat sitting on the floor beside the broken kitchen table knew to be there waiting for him was fully a mystery.

He hunched down. "You don't need to do this," he said.

The cat blinked at him, and he could swear she was scowling.

Remus shook his head. "I should send you away. I'm a lot larger than a cat."

No response.

"Thank you," he said.

The tabby cat nodded and stood up. She was limping badly as she walked into the foyer, but Remus knew better than to try to pick her up or assist her in any way. He saw her sit down in the shadows, her back turned, giving him privacy to prepare for moonrise.




The twins closed the shop early on Sunday night, ostensibly to do a weekly inventory, but Bill wasn't surprised when they made no moves in that direction at all. Instead, they spread the Sunday Prophet out on the counter, Conjuring stools to sit on as they read. Bill joined them.

They read all of the articles regarding the return of the Dark Lord, trading bits of the paper around until all of them had finished. By then, Fleur had come. She'd opted not to bother trying to read it in English, and just translated her own copy into French with a tap of her wand and slipped into her spot in the crook of Bill's arm to read comfortably.

Fred finished reading last (he'd ended with "Why Nobody Listened To Albus Dumbledore," which was the longest and most absurdly self-justifying of the articles), and set down his piece of the newspaper with distaste.

"Well," he said, "now we know what takes to get through to Fudge. You just have to turn a department in his building to rubble."

"Too bad we didn't think of it earlier," George said bitterly. "Although I suppose old"--he looked at the paper in utter disbelief--"'Lord Thingy' wouldn't have bothered to show up just for us, and Fudge would still have his head in his"--he glanced at Fleur--"sandpit."

"In French," Fleur said, "we would not say 'sandpit.'"

Fred grinned at her, then looked at Bill. "So, what happens next?"

"I'm afraid my special older brother Seeing powers entirely disappeared when the pair of you came of age."

"Oh, but you were always so good at it!"

George tugged at Fleur's hair. "What about you? Your sister's still small. Do you have older sister powers?"

"Yes, but zey involve braids and dollies, not fortune-telling."

"What's wrong with your powers, anyway?" Bill asked. "Last I knew, you had a younger brother and a younger sister."

George scratched his head in mock concentration. "I seem to recall being told that only the oldest got older brother powers."

"Right," Fred agreed. "That was why when Bill said that his powers told him that if we tried flying Charlie's broom, we'd turn green and grow webbed feet, we were meant to listen. My older brother powers told me that we'd become Quidditch champions, but--"

"--but only the oldest really gets to See," George finished, smiling. "We were gullible little gits, weren't we?"

Fleur smiled at this; she'd developed an affection for the twins' style of storytelling, and they performed for her at every opportunity.

"At any rate," Bill said, "my best guess is that the Ministry will act quite pious about the whole business, let on that they were acting in the best interest of the people, and so on. Fudge will come out of it clean."

"We could tell the Quibbler a story or two," Fred suggested.

George frowned. "I reckon not. If he's doing the right thing--"

"--but he's lying--"

"--then maybe we ought to leave it alone--"

"--and he's a git--"

"--and worry about having the war instead."

Bill raised an eyebrow. The twins didn't disagree often; he hoped it didn't bode ill for their business venture. It didn't seem to be particularly bad. They just looked at one another and shrugged, then turned back to Bill and Fleur.

"What about Dad?" Fred asked.

"Dad'll be fine. The last thing Fudge will want to do at the moment is get rid of people who are loyal to Dumbledore. It would look bad for him."

George snorted. "Of course. I'll bet he gives a medal to--" He stopped and frowned at the door. "Is that--?"

Bill looked over his shoulder. A thin figure was standing at the glass door of the shop, the full moon illuminating his pale skin and reflecting off the lenses of his glasses. His hand was raised is if to knock, but he drew back when he saw them looking at him.

Frustrated, Bill slid down from his stool, stormed to the door, and pulled it open. "For God's sake, Percy, if you're coming in, come in."

Percy shook his head slightly. In his hand, a copy of the Sunday Prophet was folded untidily. "I know I'm not wanted," he said. "I just... " He tapped the paper, which was open to the story about the break-in at the Department of Mysteries, which hadn't listed the names of the injured, but had mentioned two seriously injured Hogwarts fifth-years who'd been in the company of Harry Potter. It wouldn't take special older brother Seeing powers on Percy's part to figure out who they'd been. "I just wanted to ask... how is Ron? Is he--?"

Bill nodded. "Ron's going to be all right. He's got some scars on his arms. Something about a brain."

"Oh. I..." Percy shook his head. "I don't reckon he'd care to know that I asked. I just... thank you for telling me." He glanced around Bill at the twins, and must not have liked what he saw, because he took two steps back into the moonlight-flooded street. "I'll go now," he said, and within seconds, he was fleeing into a book shop across the street.

Bill turned back. The twins were standing against the counter, arms crossed.

"He's gone," Bill said. "Are you happy?"

They stood that way for a bit, then George sighed and sat on the stool Bill had abandoned. "No," he said. "I'm not."

Fred glared at the door a moment longer, then cocked his head and said, "Neither am I."




Ginny saw Harry come in after dark, but he didn't see her and didn't seem to want to see anyone. A part of her thought that he needed to be dragged into company, but some clear voice in her head told her to just let him be. She would have wanted her family around her if she'd lost someone--she'd barely been able to let her brothers out of her sight the night Dad had been attacked, and she'd missed having Ron the common room since they'd gotten back from London--but Harry wasn't like her, not in that. He needed something, but she didn't reckon that it was anything she could give him right now. She'd discussed it at length with Neville, who was worried and staying awake nights to make sure Harry didn't do anything mad, and with Luna, who she'd hoped would have a bit of an outside perspective. No one had any good suggestions to help Harry.

Ron and Hermione both advised treating him as normally as possible, and letting him go off when he needed to without questioning him about it before or after. "Harry's not one for great, long talks," Ron had said. "Hermione and I generally just watch out for him until he comes around."

Hermione had looked like she didn't think this was a healthy aspect of his personality, but had allowed that it was one that must be taken into account. "He'll only get angry with you if you try to force him," she'd said.

The whole business frustrated Ginny, even moreso because she knew that her absurd, three-year crush had put an uncomfortable twist into things that would make it impossible for her to help him anyway. So she just watched him disappear up the stairs to his dormitory and gritted her teeth in frustration.

"Hey," someone said beside her. "You look like a girl with a long thought or two." Dean Thomas had come up behind her, unnoticed. He came around the sofa and sat down in the wing chair opposite. "Was that bit in the Prophet... is that what happened on Thursday night? Sprout ended up coming in here to see if any of us knew anything."

"Sprout?"

"Well, the Headmistress was missing and our Head of House was gone, and five Gryffindors were missing as well. I reckon it could have been Snape--Flitwick was at Ravenclaw, trying to find out about Luna Lovegood--but it turned out to be Sprout. Everyone was worried. She was all right about it, you know? Worried sick about Neville, though."

"It didn't occur to me that anyone had come here."

Dean shrugged. "They like us all right, except for Snape. And even old Snape wouldn't have left his House alone if any of them had been missing. Is it true that Lupin brought you back?"

"Yes."

"That's good. I always liked him. What was he doing there, anyway?"

Ginny bit her lip, then glanced at the copy of the Prophet that was spread out on the Common Room table. It wasn't a secret anymore.

She told Dean everything.




Joe was back to himself, and that was good. He was fretting over his students, reading Raymond Lewis's notes on them, and generally becoming enthusiastic about returning to the classroom this fall. Miriam was glad to see it, though she wished wholeheartedly that the job did not include his inexplicable fondness for Dudley Dursley. The boy was horrid, and his willingness to be a human being seemed to stretch as far as Joe himself, and no farther.

"The boy has to start somewhere," Joe grumbled to Anna Garvey, who had just pointed out that fact (Anna, if anything, managed to like Dudley even less than Miriam did, which was going quite a distance). "I'll work with him. There's a good man in him somewhere, if we can find it."

"Raymond thought so, too," Alan said, "but at the end of the year, Dudley was still at his throat about something. And even Raymond was running out of patience with him by spring."

"I thought they might send a note before they left," Miriam said, in hope of changing the subject, as Joe could be quite intractable where Dudley was concerned. "But they're already gone. I went by their flat, and the landlady was there cleaning up. Said the place was up for rent again." She frowned. "She also said that this time, she was going to make sure that whoever rented it signed a long-term lease. Didn't Dora say they'd lived there for years?"

"I don't remember," Anna said. She checked her cards. "I thought she did. When we were talking about that first book, the one about Rosie and Norman, and Rosie was talking about how she loved her new flat. Dora said she understood it perfectly, that it was like that with her flat... but then she said right away, 'When we first moved in, of course. A long time ago.'"

Alan folded. "Dora moves so fast, I reckon a few months is a long time to her."

The others accepted this with an ease that troubled Miriam for some reason. The landlady's statement had made her feel very uncomfortable, and had triggered a recurrence of the nonsensical dream she'd had, where Dora and Raymond had been young and newly in love. Dora had bright pink hair in the dream, and had been terribly frightened by something, but what Miriam remembered most clearly was an urgent whisper: Before we can help you, I need to tell you the truth, and I'm so sorry about all the lies. I'm so very sorry about them... but we had no choice.

Miriam wasn't angry in the dream and the thought of the discrepancy didn't make her angry now, just somehow sad, as though she'd touched something wondrous and had it stolen away from her and hidden behind a thin and milky screen. The plain truth was that she'd liked the young girl with absurd hair as much as she'd liked the older woman she already knew, and would have liked to continue talking with her.

"Does anyone have a forwarding address for them?" she asked.

Alan rolled his eyes. "You know Raymond and paperwork. We'll probably get their Australian address the week they decide to move on to Timbuktu."

Joe raised the bet. "Well, wherever he is, I hope he'll get his certification to teach. The boys say he's bloody brilliant. I've got a bit of stage fright about going back after him, to tell the truth."

"You do not," Anna said. "You just want us all to tell you that you're bloody brilliant as well, which you know perfectly well, so you can stop sniffing about for compliments."

"You've caught me." Joe grinned at her. "Seriously, though, we do things very differently. It'll take some adjustment time. No two teachers teach in precisely the same way."

"It'd be awfully boring for them if we did," Alan said. "I see my job as being the plodding and irritated one, so they'll be relieved when they get to you energetic types."

They drifted into a long conversation about teaching styles, caricaturing many of their colleagues in the process. Miriam and Anna rolled their eyes at one another.

The game continued.




Minerva McGonagall was able to feel the instincts of the tabby cat whose shape she took, but the thought of becoming a cat in any real sense did not appeal to her. She had been rather surprised when Sirius had explained his escape from Azkaban; because she had never given herself over fully to the cat's instincts, it had never occurred to her that long term transformation would cause noticeable changes in her emotional state. The whole business had sounded questionable to her, and she had cautioned Sirius strongly against spending more time than was necessary as a dog.

Scolded him, not to put too fine a point on it. Scolded him as though he were a third year student intent on Transfiguring a banana into something that was meant to shock her (there was one of these every year, and in Sirius's year, it had, in fact, been Sirius, and she'd had in detention for a week over it, and he'd laughed and joked with her the whole time, and she hadn't laughed back).

Now, in the Shrieking Shack's dusty living room, she was tempted to let herself experience the cat's emotional life, but she knew perfectly well that it was a poor idea--the cat's emotion at the moment would be stark terror and would run for its life.

The gray wolf, after all, was considerably larger than she was.

Minerva had kept her back to Remus as the moon rose--he removed his clothing before the transformation--and listened to him talk until he had abruptly begun to scream. She had never seen a werewolf's transformation before, and she'd felt helpless in the face of it, but when it was over, the Wolf seemed not to be in any physical pain. It raised its snout and howled miserably, then started tearing at the furnishings of the house, totally ignoring Minerva's attempts to engage it. It wasn't until it started biting at its own paws that she decided to be more aggressive. The Wolf might or might not have Remus's mind, but it was Remus's body that would suffer the consequences in the morning.

She ignored the pain in her right hip--it had been growing over the last several years and seemed to have been exacerbated by the Stunner attack--and leapt onto his shoulders, careful to keep her claws in. He stopped chewing on his foot and rolled over, trying to dislodge her. When she slid to the floor, he righted himself and she quickly stretched out across his paws. He could easily have thrown her had he chosen to, but between the Wolfsbane Potion and the company, there was apparently enough of Remus Lupin there to stop him from doing so.

The Wolf had finally drifted to sleep, but Minerva remained alert, knowing she would have to move quickly when sunrise came.

She didn't know whether or not Remus wanted her company here, and she didn't care. She wasn't doing it for Remus, but for Sirius Black, the brilliant, bright-eyed boy who had brought total chaos to her classroom on more than one occasion. She'd chosen to do what he had once done as a way of honoring him, and she suspected that Remus Lupin would understand that.

Remus, after all, was also a teacher, and would know that no matter how many promises one made to oneself about not having favorites, there were always the students who wormed their way into one's heart above all others. There were a few every year, but for Minerva McGonagall, the two students she'd loved best over the years were James Potter and Sirius Black. She supposed she'd loved them too much, given them too much credit and leeway (Severus certainly thought she had, and in his case, she knew he was right), but they had been so full of life and so talented and so... there. They'd been enthusiastic and had kept their classmates interested in everything that was being done, and they'd brought up the Transfiguration marks for all the Gryffindors in their year, simply because their powerful presence had driven everyone to push their own limits. Minerva had managed not to laugh during their numerous detentions, but it was a rare week that one or the other of them hadn't forced a laugh from her in class.

And now they were both gone, and pretty Lily as well, and poor little Peter had betrayed them all.

She stretched out across Remus's paws and put her own over her her ears, not bothering to lick them to give the appearance of grooming--it was simply a comforting motion. Against her will, she started to feel sleepy.

She fought it for a long time, but in the end, she had no choice. She stretched her neck out along her forelegs and slept until the wolf prodded her urgently with his snout, and she realized that sunrise was nearly upon them.




Tonks wandered through her parents' home, unable to sleep, worried about Remus. He'd been slipshod at best with the Wolfsbane Potion over the last three days, and he was in pain. At least he'd finally gotten some rest (an Apprentice Healer had seen him in her bed on Saturday morning and looked at him with revulsion; Tonks had raised her eyebrow, daring him to comment), but it hadn't been enough. It was just too soon after what had happened for him to transform.

"Dora?"

She turned. Mum was standing at the base of the stairs, wearing a dressing gown and looking quite washed out.

"I didn't mean to wake you," Tonks said.

Mum brushed it off with a wave of her hand. "It's nearly sunrise," she said. "I'll get us some breakfast."

Tonks followed her into the kitchen and sat down at the table. She made her usual pointless offer help, and Mum shook her head, as expected. When Mum cooked, it was because she wanted to take her mind off things.

What time she hadn't spent at St. Mungo's this weekend seemed to have been entirely spent in the kitchen.

And it didn't seem to be taking her mind off of much. She was cracking eggs into a bowl when Tonks saw her shoulders start to shake and her hands go to her face.

"Mum?" Tonks went to her and put a hand on her shoulder. "Are you all--"

"Don't. You've been through this as well. You don't need to comfort me." She wiped her face savagely and went back to the eggs. "It just..." She took a shaky breath. "It was just so good to have him back."

"I know."

They didn't talk while Mum finished cooking and set breakfast out for them, and had both toyed with their food for quite awhile before either of them spoke again.

"Dora, I'm sorry," Mum said. "I'm sorry I've been so touchy about you and Remus. I'm sorry I've treated you like a child. I'm sorry I've--"

Tonks reached out and took her hands. "It's all right, Mum. It's been a rough year for all of us."

"I hope parts of it have been happy for you!"

"Well, yes." Tonks tried a smile and found it surprisingly easy. "Parts of it have been wonderful."

"Are things between you right?"

"I hope so. It hasn't been the time to talk about engagements or weddings, but we still... he still needs me."

"That, I noticed." Mum drank her juice thoughtfully. "This should have been the happiest of times," she said. "I'm sorry that there's grief right on top of it."

"I sort of wish we'd waited," Tonks admitted. "We knew something was brewing. And we could have waited until it was settled. But then Sirius wouldn't have known, and it did make him happy."

"That doesn't surprise me. He loved you both." There was another long silence. "We almost had them," she said. "I'd gotten enough on Narcissa that it should have at least allowed a search of her home, and that would have turned up Bellatrix."

"You should still turn the evidence in. I doubt Aunt Narcissa would allow Aunt Bellatrix there anymore, but you could still get Aunt Narcissa."

"It would leave the boy alone," Mum said. "I couldn't. And even if I could, it doesn't matter. They got wind of what we were doing somehow. Lucius confessed to using the Imperius Curse on his poor, innocent wife and causing her to curse Harry Potter's Muggle cousin. Narcissa put on quite the performance, claiming outrage and betrayal. I doubt I'm the only one who noticed that none of it seemed to prompt thoughts of a divorce decree, but once the Imperius Curse enters the picture, it's impossible to prove anything."

"So it was all for nothing."

"No. It was for a chance to spend a lot of hours with someone I love, who I wouldn't have seen otherwise, and I'd have lost him without knowing him again. It was worth it."




Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, was empty again, as it had been for so long. Kreacher was still there, bound by the limits of the property now and trapped in his eternal routine, but as the sun rose, he was deeply asleep in his den.

In the drawing room, a corner of the family tree curled lazily from the wall. The empty glass cases waited expectantly to be refilled. The gray, pre-dawn light filled the high, uncurtained windows. In the kitchen, the magical fire under the cauldron of Wolfsbane Potion still flicked, but nothing else moved. In the dining room, even the writhing of the snake-shaped candlesticks had ceased. There was a flicker of motion as the image of Phineas Nigellus wandered through the other portraits, but he said nothing.

The only sounds came from the master bedroom, where Buckbeak the hippogriff scratched at the door, waiting for a companion who had never left him alone for long, and the steady, endless weeping that came from behind the closed velvet curtains in the entrance hall.
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Comments
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jesspallas From: jesspallas Date: February 20th, 2005 11:30 am (UTC) (Link)
I really am running out of superlatives here. And that last scene....

Beautiful and painful. I'll leave it at that.
barbara_the_w From: barbara_the_w Date: February 20th, 2005 11:36 am (UTC) (Link)
and the steady, endless weeping that came from behind the closed velvet curtains in the entrance hall.

*pang* Oh, Fern....you gave her that much credit....
kt_tonguetied From: kt_tonguetied Date: March 21st, 2008 05:25 am (UTC) (Link)
I agree. You're the only person in the whole world who could make me feel sorry for Mrs. Black.
chienar From: chienar Date: February 20th, 2005 11:46 am (UTC) (Link)
WOW!

Powerful as ever. You've done an amazing job with this.
antonia_east From: antonia_east Date: February 20th, 2005 11:49 am (UTC) (Link)
Beautiful and painful has it down to a tee. Ah and ouch.

One thing - 'in France we wouldn't say sandbox' - we wouldn't in Engliand, really either. Sandpit is what little children play in. Litter-tray/box is what cats pee in.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 21st, 2005 04:53 am (UTC) (Link)
Well, sandboxes are what stray cats pee in here as well, though it's not their advertised function... ;)

Sandpit, eh?

I'll go catch that.
beaustylo From: beaustylo Date: February 20th, 2005 12:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
Sobbing my eyes out again.

That last scene at Grimmauld Place was so beautifully written. The imagery was amazing.

I must admit that your story in these last two chapters is actually making me angry with J.K. - Remus should have been there at Hogwarts to talk to Harry - there's no one else who can truly sympathize and understand. Harry needed an adult to talk to, just as he would have when Sirius was alive and Dumbledore or McGonagall weren't going to do the trick and even Hagrid was wrong. Remus would have been the one. But typically Remus, he doesn't understand just how important he is or could be to Harry.
kokopelli20878 From: kokopelli20878 Date: February 20th, 2005 12:22 pm (UTC) (Link)

nits (2)

she'd missed having Ron _in_ the common room

Transfiguring a banana into something that was meant to shock her (there was one of these every year, and in Sirius's year, it had, in fact, been Sirius, and she'd had _him_ in detention for a week over it,

Brilliant as always
author_by_night From: author_by_night Date: February 20th, 2005 01:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't know what to say... it's all very sad. :( I loved the part with Percy, too.

And check your AOL email, there's something you might want to see.
kinderjedi From: kinderjedi Date: February 20th, 2005 01:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
"Oh. I..." Percy shook his head. "I don't reckon he'd care to know that I asked. I just... thank you for telling me." He glanced around Bill at the twins, and must not have liked what he saw, because he took two steps back into the moonlight-flooded street. "I'll go now," he said, and within seconds, he was fleeing into a book shop across the street.
Oh, Percy. *sigh* Still, it was a step in the right direction.

She'd chosen to do what he had once done as a way of honoring him, and she suspected that Remus Lupin would understand that.
I love McGonagall, and this scene just felt right. I'm so glad Remus didn't have to spend this full moon alone. I was worried about the transformation, what with the disruption in his Wolfsbane doses and the sheer hell of the past few days.

butterflysteve From: butterflysteve Date: February 20th, 2005 01:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
Okay and I thought I'd finished crying until I read this:
The only sounds came from the master bedroom, where Buckbeak the hippogriff scratched at the door, waiting for a companion who had never left him alone for long, and the steady, endless weeping that came from behind the closed velvet curtains in the entrance hall.
And Now I've started again.

That was really emotional and moving. I loved every bit of this including the very realistic scene between the twins and Percy and Bill.
Sigh. It's a shame Shifts has to end.
belita013 From: belita013 Date: February 20th, 2005 01:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
Again I'm crying.
That last scene...just...*sniff*
affabletoaster From: affabletoaster Date: February 20th, 2005 02:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
How do you do it? How do you DO it? I was in love with this story long ago, but that last sentence just tripled all that...it's beautiful. Well done, Fern. My writerly cap's off to you.
kizmet_42 From: kizmet_42 Date: February 20th, 2005 03:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh Fern.

I'm out of superlatives.



Can we have an outtake of Sirius and Minerva talking about spending a full moon with Remus? Or when she finds out about the animagi work that the boys did during their Hogwarts years?

sprite6 From: sprite6 Date: February 20th, 2005 04:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wow. What a great chapter.

I loved the WWW scene. It was such a great exchange among all the characters, and the way it ended, when Fred and George admitted they weren't happy...brilliant.

I really liked the scene from Ginny's POV. It was refreshing to get a glimpse of the students again; I especially liked hearing that Neville was staying awake to keep an eye on Harry. And it was nice to see the beginning of her interest in Dean.

I also loved the fact that McGonagall came for Remus's transformation, and I thought your explanation for her decision was just right. I've heard other people suggest that she favored James and Sirius, but I never really believed that until reading your description; now I can see it.
(no subject) - feylin17 - Expand
marycontraria From: marycontraria Date: February 20th, 2005 04:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
You pretty much had me at the first mention of the tabby cat. Beautiful. Thank you.
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