FernWithy (fernwithy) wrote,

Stray, Chapter Seventeen: Interlude (2): Hogmanay, pt. 1

Ah! Finally time for another interlude!

I've missed these. Nothing to recap, since all the snippets will hopefully be self-contained.

Table of Contents and Summary So Far

As the new year approached, the blur of motion in the passing year slowed, fragmented, took on the arcane shapes of puzzle waiting to be solved. What shape would it take? What form would the new year lean on as it began its own quick journey across the months? Between the bonfires and fireworks and drunken revelries, shadows often fell across the faces of people caught alone and off guard.

Albus Dumbledore considered the view from his office the finest Hogwarts had to offer. Even in the silky black of the late December evening, the lights of the castle and the stars twinkling above the darker shadow of the Forbidden Forest made it all something of a wonderland. Tonight, someone in Hogsmeade was sending up grand fireworks, and the centaurs were shooting flaming arrows into the sky, making the effect even more wonderful than it generally was.

He supposed he didn't have many more new years ahead of him, and his enjoyment of this one was tinged with that pleasant sort of melancholy. How many times had he watched the years turn? What had he done with each of them? Most years, he felt he could be reasonably proud of, though there were a few--one in particular came to mind--which he'd have rather preferred to leave out of the parade of days. He'd never been in the habit of celebrating the day with the ribald festivities that tended to mark it, but in general, he'd found a way to privately commemorate it. This had been greatly aided by his acquisition of the Pensieve, which--until this year--he'd used almost exclusively at year's end. This year, now that it seemed to be his constant companion, he'd rather petulantly shut it into its cabinet for the evening. Let this year be different. Let them all be different.


Albus turned away from the window. High on the wall behind him, Phineas Nigellus had stood up in his portrait and come further into the foreground. "Yes, Phineas?"

"Do you intend to do anything about the strangers in my family's home? The elf is quite distraught."

Albus took a seat. "Yes, Phineas, I'm aware of your deep concern for the feelings of the family house elf."

"Quite so." The portrait waited perhaps ten seconds--an eternity, for Phineas--then said, "Well, do you intend to do anything about it? This sort of"--he sneered--"rescue operation is somewhat closer to your interests than ours."

"Apparently, it's Sirius's interest."

Phineas glowered. "And why," he asked, "would you presume that I care? He was a traitor to the family."

"For one thing," Albus said, "I would note that, while I was informed immediately about the presence of a six-year-old who upsets the house elf, I was not informed when a fugitive wanted for murder came by to pick up a vault key."

Phineas chose not to address that question, and went back to his original point. "The two little brats have holed themselves up in the nursery, with my portrait. The inane prattle alone is quite enough to drive a man mad."

"You do have a second portrait to which you can escape, Phineas."

"And clearly, I have done so. But I won't be banished from my own home by a child in pigtails!"

Albus smiled. "My father spoke of you often before he went to Azkaban, you know. Pity they didn't collect his memories. He always said you were a softhearted housecat who enjoyed playing at being a viper."

"Yes, a charming recollection, I'm sure," Phineas said. "And--to my disgust, of course--the artist did, in fact, see Percival in Azkaban. Quite mad by then, really, I can't imagine what the silly girl thought he'd be able to add. Percival's judgment of men--and women, for that matter--was hardly what one would call inarguable."

Albus ignored the implied slight on his mother. Phineas had been needling him with her for quite a long time, and it had reached the point of a nearly comfortable tic of an old friendship. Mother had never reached such a point about Phineas, of course; long before everything had gone sour, she'd referred to Phineas as "nothing but a spoiled lout of an aristocrat" and considered him a terrible influence on Father. Her voice was clearer to him him lately than it had been in years, and he could hear her in the kitchen, as she chopped ingredients for potions: "Your father and Phineas Black are out drinking again, I'm quite sure of it. They'll no doubt come up with some grand plan that will end up costing gold we don't have, and Black will think nothing of it, he never does--holidays, research projects, miserable inventions... I've a house to run here, and we don't exactly have a full vault at Gringotts to do it with..."

Albus's smile wavered. He had loved his mother, at least as well as he'd understood love in his youth, but she'd been a hard woman. The hardness had served her well later, when everything went wrong, but it hadn't been easy to grow up with.

He sat down at his desk and looked up at the portrait. "I shall investigate other options for the Brodies, who are as uncomfortable as you are, I'm sure, with the arrangement."

"Thank you," Phineas said and returned to his seat, adopting a regal pose.

Albus sighed, Summoned his Pensieve, and began his yearly examination of the patterns of his life.

Kingsley Shacklebolt checked his watch.

Two minutes. He'd promised Tonks that he'd "first-foot" her parents' home (a tall, dark-haired man was supposed to be lucky, and Tonks's logic had been that his hair was, in fact, dark when he didn't shave his head), but he'd got here three minutes early, and would have quite frankly preferred to be inside already. He could see Andromeda dancing in her stocking feet while she mixed drinks. Ted was playing old Muggle records--the player was apparently not doing well with all the magical decorations, because everyone in the room--mainly people Kingsley had seen at St. Mungo's, he thought--kept stopping to laugh at it. Tonks was playing a card game with two people her own age (for once)--a tall, thin boy with straw-like hair and the remnants of his spots, and a slightly plump girl with wavy, white-blond hair and a squarish face that was more properly called handsome than pretty. All of them were laughing. As Kingsley watched, a gangly Asian boy sauntered in from the kitchen, a deep bowl of crisps in his hand, and plopped down among them.

He checked his watch again. One minute.

Tonks suddenly raised her arm and tapped her watch, and a Charmed burst of light spread around the room. Kingsley could hear the distant sounds of other parties, and the great public celebrations as they waited for the last seconds to tick by.

With a burst of noise and merriment, the year nineteen-ninety-five began.

Kingsley added the tones of the Tonks family doorbell to the racket, and seconds later, Andromeda appeared, her face flushed, and grandly gestured him inside. He'd interrogated her twice in the course of his investigation of her cousin, and she'd always been prim, proper, and even a bit cold. None of that was in evidence at the moment, as she threw her arms around him and wished him a "habby yew near." She called over three women with whom she seemed to be friends, and introduced Kingsley as "Dora's single boss."

"Mum!" Tonks shouted over the din. "Don't do that!"

"Nonsense!" Andromeda straightened up and looped her arm through Kingsley's. "It's the new year, time for new starts. These are Mehadi Patil, who works at St. Mungo's"--she pulled forward a simply beautiful woman--"and Eliza Valence, who also works there, and"--she frowned over Eliza's shoulder at the third woman, a tall, beauty who seemed to be the only entirely sober person in the room. "Oh, our Healers' liaison from Brazil er... sorry, we just met."

The woman extended her hand. "Larissa Alves," she said. "I heard your name once from your colleague Alastor Moody."

"You've met old Mad-Eye?"

"He was on holiday in Brazil and became convinced that he'd been targeted by a Dark Wizard and cursed on the beach."

"Sunstroke?" Kingsley guessed.

Larissa smiled. "Freckles. But we talked at length after a bit. Quite a character."

Behind her, Tonks came winding through the crowd. "Kingsley," she said. "Glad you could make it. Sorry about Mum, she's had a few."

"She's hardly the only one tonight," Kingsley said.

Larissa nodded to him pleasantly and said, "We shall talk again, I think."

Tonks winced as she walked away. "Sorry--didn't mean to interrupt; I actually thought you might need rescuing from the set-up."

Kingsley sighed. "Well, I suppose less is always more on first meeting, anyway."

"Let's get you some food," Tonks said, and led him to a fully-laden table. "Every good luck food we know. Personally, I think we could use some luck."

"Whatever do you mean?" Kingsley asked, taking a promising pastry.

The party picked up after that, and Kingsley found himself whirling through the room, speaking to strangers who came to visit. Remus Lupin wasn't among them--a fact that was noted as odd by Mehadi Patil, with whom Kingsley shared a dance or two--but there wasn't really time to notice that until after two o'clock, when people started to drift off. Tonks's friends left early. The Asian boy, who had an unruly mop of curly black hair, had been invited to do some first-footing of his own near his Muggle parents' home, and the others, who he'd discovered to be a recently married couple, suddenly decided that they had pressing business in the morning and ought to be getting to bed. Without them, Remus, or any other companions Kingsley suspected she'd picked up this year, she seemed to be wandering at loose ends. As the party quieted a bit, Kingsley noticed her slip out the back and head toward a small pond in the garden. He followed.

"You are expected at work tomorrow," he said.

She smiled. "I know. Don't worry, I'm never asleep before this, and I'm always fine. Don't you want to be inside dancing with Mum's friend?"

"Alas, she chose to go back to her inn and sleep."

"Oh. Sorry."

Kingsley sat down and pulled a magnifying glass from the pocket of his robe. "Have you seen this before?" he asked. "Sirius Black sent it to me."

Tonks failed to suppress a laugh.

"When I first came to Hogwarts," Kingsley went on, "I thought Sirius Black and James Potter and Remus Lupin were the coolest thing happening. I should admit, even now, I feel I've reached the high social echelons, visiting Lupin in his home so often, and getting presents from Sirius."

She didn't even try to suppress the laugh this time. "Oh, dear. You should tell Remus that. I think he'd laugh for a month at the thought of being a 'high social echelon.'"

"Oh, but he was once, even if it was just through Potter and Black." He picked up the glass and looked out across the pond. The glass commented that he'd see better if he looked someplace where there was a light source. He smiled and put it away. "Do you remember what I told you this summer, about it not being our business to judge whether or not our fugitive was guilty?"

Her eyes grew wary. "Yes."

"I believe you didn't follow my advice."

"Are you going to sack me?"

"If I were going to sack you, we'd be having this conversation at the office. After which Rufus Scrimgeour would undoubtedly have a similar conversation with me."

She measured him carefully with her eyes. Gone was the flighty girl nearly everyone saw upon meeting her. He was being examined by the Auror Nymphadora Tonks, who had made her reputation as an apprentice when she'd been the first to realize and prove that their star witness on a case was lying through his teeth to hide his own guilt. "What do you know?" she finally asked.

"Not the how," Kingsley asked. "Or at least, not until the fire. He got careless, and was bloody lucky it was me and not Robards who answered your call."

"He's not guilty," Tonks said.

"I know that. But I can't prove it."


Kingsley took a deep breath. It was oddly comforting to speak frankly of the matter. "So," he said, "I got a tip from an informant in Cape Verde. He seemed absolutely certain that he saw Black climbing Mt. Fogo..."

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