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The New Skin by Mottsnave
Chapter 5: What Purpose?
I didn't return to the city the next day. When I was finally able to get back to sleep I slept late. I woke to a far off clanging, and then eventually the noises of visitors drifted to my end of the island. That meant it was Sunday, it wouldn't be no use to try to change money in the city. Instead, I concentrated on altering my appearance.
The bleach stung my scalp and left me an awful ginger shade on the first round. By the second round the fumes were burning my throat and eyes but my hair was a rather crispy blond. I let it set for a few hours and focused on the glasses. It was a tricky bit of transfiguration, straightening and thinning the lenses until they no longer affected my vision.
I used the hair dye when I was done. It came out a bit lighter brown than in Cyril's pictures, but it would do. It certainly looked completely different than it had before. I was helped by how little I had changed my old appearance over the years. Even small changes made me look quite different.
I used sticking charms to affix the two mirrors to the wall and the back of the door, then adjusted the angle until I could see the back of my head. I evened out the ragged hair at the back, then finally with my razors, warm water, soap and mirrors, I gave myself a decent shave. I compared myself in the mirror with my ID cards, both the muggle still photo and the wizarding one which flicked back and forth between front and side views. Close, fairly close. It would have to do.
I spent the rest of the day pouring over the city map. I could see the island, the wharf, Long Wharf, and the streets I walked the night before. I set to memorizing as much as I could, as much to use up time and occupy my mind as any real end. What I needed to find the next day wouldn't be found on a map.
At the end of the day, when the ferry had carried the day trippers away, I finally emerged into the golden late-afternoon light. The island was quiet except for birdsong and the rush of waves. I wished I could save up that tranquility somehow for the next day when I would plunge back into the noise of the city.
I started early the next morning. I packed my belongings yet again, and made a few sandwiches to take along. I would probably be all day at my search. The wharf and brick square were quieter than they had been on Saturday, but the rest of the city was much busier. I was glad that I had cleaned up and changed my appearance. I found a bank with a currency exchange desk without too much trouble. I handed over 500 pounds. They took a healthy bite in fees, but the exchange rate was still in my favor. I also managed to get a brochure with all their locations in the city. I visited another location a few blocks away and changed more of the money. I was losing ground in fees, I knew, but I didn't want to change it all in one place.
The next part of my search was more difficult. I rested and ate a sandwich and apple in the large green park that the map told me was Boston Commons, then I wound and zigzagged my way south for almost an hour before I found a second-hand store. I almost groaned when I stepped in. The feeling of shoddiness and humiliation was not so deeply buried in me that it couldn't come rushing up to the surface at the look and smell of the place. At least now I could choose clothes that fit properly, not castoffs that I would 'grow into.' I couldn't say that I was really pleased when I left, but I was at least satisfied that I had a few decent changes of clothes, a heavy wool navy coat for cold weather, and a pair of trainers.
The last part of my search was the hardest; I needed a place to stay. I propped myself in a corner with the map. I wanted an abandoned building, somewhere I wouldn't need to pay rent, somewhere I could set proper wards. I hadn't seen anything at all in the downtown area. Real estate must be too dear there for anything to stay vacant for long. I would have to look for a poorer area, or an industrial district, someplace where abandoned buildings might stay vacant.
The map showed me that if I continued a little further I would come to loading docks and wharfs. I studied the streets then set out. Sure enough, after passing under a freeway overpass on enormous concrete supports, crossing a bridge over a short stretch of green water, and cutting disillusioned across several rail yards, I reached a dilapidated neighborhood. I saw and passed two boarded buildings. One was too close to a thriving pub; the other was already claimed as a squat, as a Hominem Revelio showed me. I found the third as the light was fading, a narrow brick building of three stories that once had a wide bay window in front, now covered with sheets of plywood. It was set slightly apart, a vacant lot on one side and an alley on the other. It would be hard for a muggle to approach it under cover, which perhaps was why it hadn't already been claimed.
Still under my disillusionment, I went down the alley to the back of the house. I raised a Muffliato and a Notice-me-not for cover as I destroyed the plywood covering the back door with a Reducto. The door beneath opened easily enough. I took a moment to glamour the outside of the door to mimic a sheet of plywood. Now no one would notice my entrance.
The house had been stripped, every metal fixture removed, even wires ripped out of the plaster walls. Most of the room doors were leaning uselessly in the halls, their hinges and knobs gone. The brass letter slot in the front door had been overlooked, but not much else. Aside from the missing metal, the actual structure was in good repair. The stairs were solid, the floors even. The WC on the top floor had water stains on the walls, but there were no other signs of leaks. For now, it would do. I left my bag at the top of the house that still had a door on its hinges. When I removed the plywood over the window to replace it with a glamour, I could see that it opened straight out onto the metal fire escape. Two exits. This would be my room, I decided.
I laid basic wards that night, along with more Notice-me-not charms. I wanted to be sure no one else had the idea of squatting here. This place was mine. Finally, exhausted, I decided the wards were good enough for the night. Tomorrow I would retrieve the rest of my food and belongings from the island, buy some salt and lay some really strong wards. Now I needed sleep.
I woke early, sweating and shaking out of a dream of trying to reach an Order meeting. I was being followed, and I knew it, but I simply couldn't shake the footsteps behind me, coming closer and closer. Waking, I staggered out of the corner where I had laid out my sleeping bag, down the hall to the bath. The exposed pipes and taps had all been removed, but a chipped porcelain sink still stood. I fitted in a rubber plug and filled it with Aguamenti . I splashed the cold water over my face to wash away the images from my sleep.
It wasn't quite dawn. Just as well, I could get an early start. I first improved the glamour on the back stoop so the image of the boarded door stood a meter in front of the actual door. Now I could lay anti-apparition wards on the house and have a shielded spot outside the ward to apparate from.
When I was done I put my apparition point to use, first to my spot on the wharf behind the ticket booth, then out to the island. Back in the room under Battery Terrill, I packed the rest of my supplies. Finally, I picked up the cigar box. Surprisingly, I felt something shift inside. A single Daily Prophet lay there. It had been folded back to page three, where a bold story headline read Minister Pardons Snape.
I sat down on the creaking couch. The byline was R. Skeeter. Dear lord. I read on, with some trepidation.
After a single two-hour hearing on Friday, 8 May, Interim Minister Shacklebolt issued a posthumous blanket pardon to Severus Snape "in light of his extraordinary service to the Order of the Phoenix and all of wizarding Britain" with the concurrence of his own appointed War Crimes Tribunal. The announcement marks an interruption of the tribunal's stated purpose of quick dispensation of justice on the scores of captured Death Eaters and collaborators arrested immediately after the fall of the DWFKAHWMNBN. Wizengamot member Graham Turlough commented that the pardon comes as an "unwelcome distraction from the very real and urgent issues we must address to rebuild our society. There is no reason to rush into decisions on the dead when so many of the living need our attention, particularly when, with such a controversial figure, careful review and reflection are indicated." An informal poll by this reporter confirmed that several members of the currently suspended Wizengamot believe that the hearing was rushed through to prevent a thorough review and allow the Interim Minister to issue the pardon without serious opposition. The language chosen by the Interim Minister suggests that the late Professor Snape, short-lived Headmaster of Hogwarts and former Death Eater, may be nominated for an Order of Merlin. If so, the Interim Minister would be well-advised that he must "do much more to state his case if he expects to win the support of the Wizengamot," in the words of one anonymous member of that august body. Another posthumous hearing is scheduled for later this month for Regulus Black.
There it was, but what was I to make of that? My mind felt as blank as a Hufflepuff's. I reread the article, but it hardly made any more sense the second time through. Why on earth? If it were true… My eyes went back to the byline. Well, it couldn't be believed, of course. Not on face value. But what would be the end in fabricating it? Did they suspect that I was alive and in hiding? Did they think I would fall for something so transparent and reveal myself? Surely not. None of it made any sense. Yet what purpose could they have? And why would Aberforth send it to me? Was he trying to trick me? That didn't make any sense either. He had, or at least he thought he had, my location and my alias. If it were some sort of trap, it was an insulting one. I decided that I couldn't give it any credit, it simply did not make any sense.
I carefully tore the byline out of the paper, burned the rest, then left the pile of ashes in the cigar box with the excised byline on top. Let Aberforth make of that what he would. I packed the box to take back with me. Perhaps it was foolish, but I wanted to keep that line of communication open for the moment. I could construct a small ward around it to disrupt tracking charms, if there were any.
Finally, I broke the wards across the threshold. I wanted to remove any trace that there had been a wizard living there. If Aberforth was intending to lead the Ministry there, there would be no evidence to support his story.
On the way back to my new home I stopped for more supplies. Then, armed with a large quantity of salt and some of my own blood drained into an empty tin, I set to laying some really strong wards. I took my time, making sure I didn't cut across the foundation or neglect any part of the building. It also gave me a chance to thoroughly explore my new home. The cellar, it appeared, was already home to a stray cat that disappeared out a cracked window in a black-and-white blur. I patched the window. That and the wards should prevent it from coming back in.
I also found some old wood pallets in the cellar. I broke them down and dragged half the boards into the cramped kitchen, where I transfigured them into a chair and a table. I was fairly exhausted when I was done. I used the kettle, pot and dishes I had bought at the second-hand shop to make myself a supper of toasted cheese and tomato soup. And tea, the first real tea I'd had in weeks. I sat, dumbly staring at the crumbs on my plate and the deadly thought crept in: 'now what?'
I threw myself into tidying up to avoid it, and finally took myself up to bed, or rather to bag. It was no use. I woke at three in the morning with the deadly thought clear in my mind. Now what?
I've had a black hole at the back of my mind for as long as I could remember. Sometimes it spoke, sometimes it was silent, but at three in the bloody morning it always gaped like a bottomless pit that could swallow the world. 'Now what? ' it asked me.
I'm safe here for now, I thought, but that wasn't an answer and I knew it. The horror was that I didn't have an answer; there was nothing for me to do now. I could lie awake all night, and I was sure I would, and I couldn't name a single reason for me to be alive.
I didn't have to do anything now, I had no urgent assignment. I was free. But what was this freedom? I had no purpose, no excuse to exist. I could close the wards from the inside as well and never leave this house again, just let the food run out. I could apparate back to the island and walk into the ocean.
I pulled myself out of the sleeping bag and almost ran down the stairs into the chilly kitchen. I knew, I had done it often enough, I couldn't let the black hole go on talking. I got the kettle on and salvaged the paper label off the tomato soup tin.
I started a list on the back of the label. Assignment, I wrote. The food wouldn't last forever, nor would the money. 1.) Find job. It would have to be something menial at first. I didn't have the papers or training to get anything better in the muggle world and I wanted to stay out of the wizarding world as much as possible. That did give me an idea however. 2.) Create new identity. Aberforth knew about Cyril. It would be good to have a backup. Backup… that led me to 2a.) Find wizarding quarter and Dark Market. 2b.) Obtain backup wand and new identity papers. That would take some thought. The wizarding world was by and large by invitation only. One was invited in as a child, not as an adult. An adult who steps out of the world and doesn't want to go through official channels to get back in would have trouble simply finding it. I had a few ideas, though it would take some time.
I wrote down 3.), but there I stopped. I didn't have a 3.). That elusive thing, a real purpose, was still out of my reach. At least the black hole wasn't gaping at me so viciously now. I drank tea and poured over my map until I could hear the keening cries of gulls. I looked up to see light seeping in around the edges of the plywood over the windows. I ate some toast and made ready to leave the house. Assignment number one.
A/N: Thank you for reading! Thanks to all my reviewers as well; I always love to hear what you think!