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Stray, Chapter Seventeen: Interlude (2): Hogmanay, pt. 2 - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Stray, Chapter Seventeen: Interlude (2): Hogmanay, pt. 2
And, more interlude. (And continuing the scorching pace. Sheesh.)

Table of Contents and Summary So Far

I won't jump, Fiona Brodie thought as she came down the stairs toward the portrait. I won't jump, I won't...


Fiona managed not jump, but it was a close thing. She nearly seared her nose with the candle she was carrying. Upstairs, she heard Elspeth wake up with a scream, but Kirsty's sleepy voice was comforting her before Fiona had gathered her wits enough to decide whether or not to go up. Both voices quieted quickly. After nearly a week, they were getting used to the insanities of this particular madhouse, and Fiona wasn't at all sure how she felt about that.

There was a flickering light coming from the parlor, where Sirius Black had been reading when Fiona had taken the girls upstairs to bed. The five of them--Lupin had been down for a bit--had managed a subdued marking of the New Year two hours ago, and she'd assumed that Black would have gone away. So far, he'd not spent a night in his house, and he said he meant to go away altogether soon.

She went in.


He looked around the back of his chair. He didn't look any more tired than he had six hours ago. He was going through a pile of Prophets again, his face oddly grave. Stubble had grown on his cheeks, and it accentuated an ill and haunted look that had come over him since he'd let them inside. Still, his eyes were bright and friendly. He'd been a few years behind her in school--a year beyond where he would have been noticeable to her--but he'd been a lovely boy, and he'd grown into a very handsome man, even looking as disheveled as he did.

Oh, stop it, you're a married woman, however long it's been since you've had a husband to go about any husbandly duties for you. And this man has enough problems without adding any more of yours.

She took a deep breath and went in, taking the seat across from him. "Thought you'd have gone by now," she said.

"I might as well read here, as long as I'm settled," he said. "I'll be gone by morning."

"It's your house, you don't have to leave it."

"Trust me, I do."

Fiona looked around, and supposed she could understand. "I'm glad I didn't turn you in when I realized who you were." He didn't respond. His eyes were back on the papers. "Sorry to interrupt," she went on. "I, er... well, I'll let you get back. I just thought I'd clean up from the party a bit."

"Some party. Five pathetic souls rolling around Grimmauld Place." He looked up with a smile. "Sorry. This place doesn't bring out my best side."

"It's all right." She nodded at the papers. "Are you looking for whoever burned my island?"

"Sorry, no. Just trying to understand how things have got to where they are. What happened with Crouch, and my mother, and the damned Death Eaters."


"And my brother. Dora brought me what she could about him. They never found him."

"Do you think he might be alive?"

Sirius thought about it, then shook his head. "No. No, I don't think so. He'd have seen to Mum if he were." Without explaining this--and Fiona wasn't sure she wanted an explanation--he held a folder over to her. "He was acting ill before he disappeared. People saying that he wasn't making much sense. Not that he ever made sense, the stupid git. Following Bellatrix and Voldemort around like a bloody puppy. Stupid, soft in the head..." He sighed. "But at Azkaban, the Death Eaters... they all said Reg betrayed the Dark Lord. If so, good for him, finally found a brain. But Voldemort wasn't keen on people leaving him."

"I'm sorry."

"About what?"

"About your brother. You must have loved him very much."

"He was a soft-headed git."

That seemed to close the subject for Sirius. Fiona held her tongue--she was a guest in the man's house, not a Healer on the closed ward. "Is there anything I can help you with? You've been very generous with the girls and me."

"Oh, yes. Trapping you here. I'm the soul of generosity."

"It's safe," Fiona said. "Not entirely pleasant, I'll admit, but safe."

"There's got to be someplace better. Wish I could get you to where I was in South America. It's warm and sunny, and there are attractive people in small bathing suits."

"I'm an Orkney girl. What would I do with that much sunshine?"

He sighed. "Lie out in it. Feel it on your bones. Let it bake away everything else."

"Sounds like you should go back."

"I have a godson," Sirius said. "People keep trying to kill him. Going back isn't a choice."

"No, I suppose it isn't." Fiona got up and, on an impulse, kissed his stubbly cheek. "It'll be all right," she said.

He blinked at her dumbly.

She went to the door. "I'm going to bed now," she said, and left without looking back to see if he'd follow.

The offices of the Daily Prophet weren't exactly luxurious, especially with the rubbish from last night's party still strewn about, but Rita Skeeter had always felt more at home here than in her more luxurious haunts. There was something about the smell of spilled ink and stacked parchment that got her blood pumping.

Not that it needed help this week.

That miserable old dingbat ensconced in the Headmaster's office thought he could deny her access, but he'd have been wiser to let well enough alone. Harry Potter was news however she presented him--even if she didn't present him, actually. So there'd been no point to blocking the press. It was undemocratic, frankly, nearly fascist, when one thought about it--blocking the press, indeed!

But her little rebellion at the Yule Ball would set things right enough. See if it didn't.

"I got what you were looking for, Rita."

She looked up. Terence Higgs, her research assistant, was carrying a large folder, overflowing with maps and notes.

"Is that everything?"

"Everything on known female giants in the region at the time you were asking for. What's the scoop?"

"Hmph," Rita said. "Do you really think I'm going to hand over a scoop to another Slytherin who wants this desk?"

Terence laughed fondly. "Good old Rita."

"And don't think I don't know you're trying to impress Isolda Rackharrow. Not that it's a bad choice--fine old family, and she's my goddaughter--but you'll not be getting an advantage at my cost."

"I'm not trying to scoop you. Just wondering what you're after."

Rita raised her eyebrow. "Let's say, it's a bit mind-blowing. I'm looking for... shall we say... giantesses with close friends among human men. Very close friends."

Terence recoiled. "You don't mean... Oh. How would that even work?"

"There's a shop in Diagon Alley that sells magazines with drawings of every permutation, if your prurient interest is piqued by the subject. It didn't look appetizing to me, but I suppose to each his own."

Terence looked like he was caught between revulsion and compulsion, then he shook it off and went back to the subject of the article. "Come on, just a hint." He smiled winningly.

"Not until I tongue-tie you, and bind your quills."

He held out his quills and stuck out his tongue.

Rita didn't bother with complex tongue-tying spell, but she did Charm the parchment she was working on so that as soon as he lost physical contact with it, he'd forget what it said. She handed it over.

He read it, then looked up, shocked. "Hagrid? The groundskeeper?"

"That's the one."

"How did you get there to get the scoop?"

"A lady never reveals her secrets."

Terence read her entire draft, smiling more and more as he went. "Rita, this is... cruel. I'm impressed."

"Well, a girl needs a hobby, doesn't she?"

"You make quite a fat living at your hobby." Terence shook his head in wonder. "This'll teach Dumbledore who to cross, won't it?"

"That's the idea, my dear."

"People will say you're just digging in the dirt."

"Not until they've all contemplated exactly what you did, and at greater length. By then, the papers will have been sold, and the gold will be in the vault." Rita shrugged. "It's not like there's any real news going on, anyway."

Peter Pettigrew wanted to enjoy the day--Crouch had arrived in the morning, and he and the Dark Lord had business to discuss, so Peter had been dismissed, which he gladly accepted a moment of freedom. He'd transformed into a rat and run out beyond the Apparition point, only to discover that he had nowhere to go, nowhere he was wanted any more than he was in the house.

On Christmas Day, he'd gone up to the cold, windswept island and burned all the structures on Barty Crouch's command. There'd been dollies and toys and animals. He'd killed a ram that hadn't done any harm, and which hadn't even been part of his assignment. He'd hoped that doing a thorough job would lull the constant questions about his loyalties.

Of course, that hadn't happened. The questions were as strident as they would have been if he'd refused the assignment altogether.

He supposed he'd expected that.

Crawling in the grass there on the island, with the Dark Mark lighting the sky above him and the grass fires threatening him on every side, he'd had a wild moment of thinking he might run to Dora Tonks, jump into her pocket, and then reveal everything back in London. The way she and the other Auror had been talking had suggested that it wouldn't be a surprise. But as he'd edged toward the clearing, he'd seen another shadow--a huge black dog, blocking out the stars.

Sirius would have ripped him in half on sight.

So he'd backed into the smoke, dived into a hole, and waited for everyone to leave. Then he'd come back here, back to his routine, the miserable shape of his life.

There was Remus. It had been obvious that he was living somewhere up there. Remus was calmer, more collected...

And he'd been as cold-tempered as Sirius had been hot-tempered in June. Both of them had their wands raised at him. Both of them meant for him to be dead.

No, Remus wasn't any more of an option than Sirius.

And anyone who wouldn't kill him on sight would turn him in, send him to Azkaban with all the madmen there, who would find a way to drive him mad before they got around to killing him.


Peter froze.

Dumbledore would listen, and Dumbledore wouldn't kill him. Dumbledore had taken in Snape, perhaps...

"Wormtail! Wormtail, get in here!"

Peter stood in the dead winter grass, looking ahead at the new year, at the terrifying possibility that had entered his mind.

I could go to Dumbledore. He'll protect me from Remus and Sirius. He'll take me before the Wizengamot, and he'll defend me, like he defended Snape, and, and...

There was a pop, and Barty Crouch appeared in front of him. "Now, now," he said. "Are you deaf in this shape? I don't remember anything about rats being deaf, and that must mean that you've got nasty little thoughts running through your mind."

Peter transformed. "No, no. Nothing in my mind. Just... the wind. I couldn't hear... I mean, that is to say... well... I was coming. I heard. I was coming."

"I don't trust you, Pettigrew. You still have the stink of your friends on you, even though they'd as soon kill you as see you."

"I said I was coming," Peter repeated. "The Dark Lord knows it."

"It was he who sent me for you. Naughty little thoughts in your head. He sees them all. And he wants a word with you. But he said I could have one first."

Peter's body went rigid with understanding. "No, no, please, I wasn't going anywhere."

Barty raised his hand. "Crucio!"

Peter fell to the ground, and the pain came again, the pain he ought to have been used to by now, but never seemed to be.

The new year faded into the old, and Peter Pettigrew took no new directions.
10 comments or Leave a comment
From: severely_lupine Date: June 23rd, 2009 07:48 am (UTC) (Link)
Man, I feel so sad for Fiona. How terrible would that be? Her husband's alive, at least by some definitions, but has no hope of recovery. And it's even worse than if he were in a coma or something, because if his soul's not in his body, a strong case could be made that he isn't really her husband any more. It's such a tricky situation. Meanwhile, she's living the life of a widow, but without being able to move on and explore a relationship with another man if she chooses. So very sad.

So, it was Peter. Little bastard. What a despicable character.
shiiki From: shiiki Date: June 23rd, 2009 07:58 am (UTC) (Link)
Ah, finally able to catch up with this!

And what happened to the Brodies is finally starting to come clear. That poor family.
From: glynngriffiths Date: June 23rd, 2009 12:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
Peter's interlude was just phenomenonal; you've done a wonderful job capturing him.

And Rita's had a wonderful transition - the final line about there not being any real news moving into Peter's section was spot-on.

And Fiona kissed Sirius! Squee! (Also, loved the line: "I have a godson. People keep trying to kill him." )
vytresna From: vytresna Date: June 23rd, 2009 03:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
Crap. I'm just about certain Fiona's going to die now.

On a lighter note, now I guess I know where Honoria gets these notions.
malinbe From: malinbe Date: June 23rd, 2009 03:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, great, now I feel bad about Peter.

Rita is such a great minor villan.
marycontraria From: marycontraria Date: June 23rd, 2009 05:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
I am so happy to be reading this, no matter what the pace. :)

I always love your interludes; seeing events from varying POVs (PsOV??) is a refreshing change. Rita's and Peter's were both creepy, each in their own way!! And I am still loving the Brodies...

Have you considered doing some minor retconning on Shifts/Shades to work some of this in as backstory (as well as clear up some of the early inconsistencies post-DH), or are you just going to leave them?
silvery_wraith From: silvery_wraith Date: June 23rd, 2009 06:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
Perfect, perfect, perfect! This interlude may be my favorite out of all of the chapters available so far. That you managed to show so many facets from each character in such a small interlude is amazing. I felt for Fiona and Sirius, stuck in life and in the house and even Peter; whom I've never been able to feel for.

Amazing chapter, Fern, thanks!
willowbough From: willowbough Date: June 24th, 2009 04:07 am (UTC) (Link)
More interlude-y goodness. Illuminating to see that Fiona feels the attraction between her and Sirius too. And nice little shout-out to the Teddy-verse with Rita's assistant, Terrence Higgs. And Peter ::sigh:: remains a rat, in every sense of the word. Now, though, I wonder what Dumbledore really would have done if Peter had come in from the cold, like Snape.
kt_tonguetied From: kt_tonguetied Date: June 24th, 2009 06:45 am (UTC) (Link)
...Fiona/Sirius is my new OTP...

Just thought you should know...

*utterly dazed*
mollywheezy From: mollywheezy Date: August 19th, 2009 01:10 am (UTC) (Link)
"Oh, stop it, you're a married woman, however long it's been since you've had a husband to go about any husbandly duties for you. And this man has enough problems without adding any more of yours."

Poor Fiona!

Wow. Rita is such a @#$%^!!

I actually really feel sorry for Pettigrew here . . .
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