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The New Skin by Mottsnave
Chapter 6: Pardon
I did my job-searching on foot. It took me over two weeks. I zigzagged through the streets, combing every block and slowly working my way out from my house. I was given many applications that I balled up and binned when I saw that they asked for ID numbers, work permits, immigration documents, references or job history. I finally came to the conclusion that any job with a written application was effectively closed to me. When I pulled down the HELP WANTED SHORT ORDER COOK sign at Hull's Diner it was a different game entirely. The manager, Ed Blume, a short rotund man with thinning blond hair, only asked me, "you cook before?" then led me back to the kitchen. He shoved an apron in my hands, then pointed out ingredient locations in the walk-in."That's Joaquin," he indicated a young dark man almost completely enveloped in a cloud of steam on the grill, "he's usually on evenings and dish, just filling in. He'll get you started. All right, let's see how you do."
It was eleven in the morning and orders were coming in. I put on the apron and washed my hands in an enormous sink. A woman's face appeared in a small window over the counter. She was spinning some metal contraption littered with scraps of paper. "Scramble, hashbrown, two white!" Scramble, that was clear, hashbrowns, I remembered Blume pointing to a bin of shredded potatoes, but two white what? I went to the side of the griddle to pour the eggs which were already mixed. "Oh man, no, no, we're not there yet!" Joaquin caught my wrist before I poured. It was all I could do not to pull away. "Here's the ticket up, two over easy." He pointed at another fluttering paper on the metal contraption. "Two OE," it read, "Sg, wheat."
Joaquin stabbed at it with his finger. "Two over easy, two sausage, wheat toast." Ah, that also explained the 'white.'
The rest of the morning was hell. The toaster was a vicious beast that burned the bread if you turned your back on it, I broke more yolks than I could count trying to flip the eggs evenly, I forgot to salt the hashbrowns, idiot, charred strips of bacon went straight into the rubbish, and all that for nothing. I was sure I wouldn't last out the day. But at 2 pm closing, as I was wiping down the cutting boards thinking how quickly it would go with a few scourgifies, Blume stuck his head in and said, "prep stars at 5 am sharp, you got that? Late or don't show, and you're done. Mondays are off." His head disappeared around the doorway before I could answer. Welcome aboard.
I found prep actually peaceful; two hours of mixing and chopping, bringing in deliveries and stocking the walk-in. The cooking continued to be hell, though after the first few days I knew at least how to decipher the waitresses' incomprehensible scribbling and I knew what was supposed to appear on each plate. I had better, since Joaquin went back on dish and I was on my own after the second day.
The other good points of the job were that I could make myself a breakfast of any eggs whose yolk I had broken or overdone toast and bacon, and lunch from whatever was left over at the end of my shift.
Also, I couldn't think of anything at all while I worked except for the order I was cooking and what orders were coming next. Everything else, past and future, could simply not exist. In some ways it absorbed me like brewing, even though it did not require the same precision. I supposed the scores of hungry patrons made up for that. The black hole that gnawed at me at night was silent in the furious activity of the kitchen.
I didn't need to speak very often, which was fine by me. I didn't like that I could be recognized as British by my accent. Whenever I went home I practiced speaking like the waitresses and patrons, trying to use short, nasal vowels and to drop my Rs. I had changed my accent before; I knew I could do it again, with practice.
Finally, I was paid in cash, though the pay wasn't very much. I was amassing a pile of small bills that I separated into groups of 100 with elastic bands from the produce we brought in, and hid behind a brick I loosened in the cellar.
Every time I went into the cellar I caught sight of the black-and-white stray, usually peering at me from under the stairs. Cats do have a special talent for crossing wards, and maybe this one had been inside when I set them. I would have ignored her if she stayed in the cellar, but after a few days the scent of leftover tuna salad I brought home from the diner proved to be too much for her. She began to venture up into the kitchen. My yelling and snapping the kitchen towel at her only worked a few times before she made herself at home and ignored my protests. If I put her out the back door she was in again in moments. She even made herself free to try to lick my fingers if I had been handling the tuna.
It all would have been insufferable if she hadn't pulled her weight by licking the leftovers containers clean and by being a dedicated cockroach hunter. Dedicated, but not very efficient. She would spend hours by the crack in front of the oven or above the sink until she could nab an unfortunate insect and then torture it slowly to death. Absolutely no conception of a clean kill. I decided to call her Bella.
The first week or so of work I had been too exhausted to do much of anything after my shift, but then I began to think about my next assignment: 2.) Find Wizarding Quarter. Every day after I hung up my apron and collected the crumpled bills that were my share of the tips from one of the waitresses (Tyra, who was acceptable, or Shelly, who would let food get cold in the window unless I banged on the bell and yelled at her to pick up.) I would walk the streets, discreetly casting specialis revelio every half-block.
As I worked my way back into better neighborhoods I began to get hits now and again. They were mostly low-level wards and Notice-me-nots on private residences. Short of rapping on the doors and asking, though, it wasn't much of a step towards finding the wizarding quarter.
Over the course of the week I was slowly working my way back towards downtown. I caught my first large grouping of spells a few blocks from the Commons. I sat on a bench in a small square and worked on pinpointing the spells. They were clustered in a large building of Romanesque design with seated bronze sculptures on either side of a rather grand entrance. Boston Public Library. I headed up the steps. I picked up a paper map in the grand marble lobby. There must be a wizarding section. If there was, it would be the perfect place to start; there could be a gazette of the city, papers and maps. First though, I had to find it.
Following the map, I found a deserted side corridor. I quickly cast another specialis revelio. Nothing here… I moved down the corridor and tried again. I led myself all over the building, around a courtyard and a fountain. When I stood behind a column and cast there, I got a distant hit, somewhere towards the back of the second floor. Back through the marble lobby, between two guardian stone lions, up a wide staircase, I wandered through long galleries. I found a sheltered spot to cast again behind a shelf; wards appeared across a door at the back of the room. Wiggin Gallery, my map told me. I entered a dim room with lit exhibits along the walls.
I was alone, so I cast again. The walls, exhibits, floor and ceiling were all a web of wards, transfigurations, charms and enchantments. I dropped the spell at once. Well, here I was, apparently, but where was I?
I approached one of the exhibits. It was a light-box with an exquisitely detailed scene in miniature. A man sat on a city street sketching an enormous excavation below him. I was reminded of the open construction pits and giant cranes I had passed in downtown just a few weeks ago, except that this looked like a scene set at the turn of the century. I was peering at the tiny figures at the bottom of the excavation when I heard a click. A man had entered the gallery. He strolled over to look at the exhibits on the other side of the room. I moved along to the next box, a man in a darkened doorway looking out at a rain-streaked country road with a couple tilting against the wind beneath a black umbrella. I heard a sort of scuff from the other side of the room. The man was gone.
There was an entrance here, somewhere, there had to be. I stepped on to the next box, careful not to look up as two figures entered, a girl of about nine and an older woman, maybe her mother. My next box was a fairly dark interior with two figures and a dog on a tiled floor, a bright window with a red curtain behind them. If I ducked my head a bit and leaned close at an angle I could clearly see my fellow visitors in the reflection on the glass case. The girl was pulling her mother eagerly towards the last box on the opposite wall saying loudly, "I want a book…" Her mother pulled on her hand and shushed her, looking over at me. I remained engrossed in my own exhibit.
They positioned themselves in front of the last case and the mother muttered something, too low to hear. Their image blurred in the glass in front of me and I was alone in the room. I had the entrance.
I went over to the case they were looking at. It was a bright scene; an artist sat on a folding stool, sketching on the edge of a country road which angled back towards a late-Gothic church. Midway down the road was a farmer leading a horse cart. I gave the glass an experimental tap with my wand. Nothing. It wanted words, I thought. The mother had said something, but what? The young girl's eagerness gave me an idea. "I want a book," I said. Nothing. They were the wrong words. Or… "I want a book, please," I amended. The artist turned his head to look at me. He considered for a moment, then gave his tiny head a tiny jerk. I stepped in.
The sun was hot on the packed-dirt road. I could smell cows and hear birdsong. A door creaked somewhere in the distance. The tranquility of the scene was only broken by the irritated tirade from the artist behind me. "Here now! Can't you see you're in the way? Go along then!" By the sound of him, he was a countryman of mine. He waved his hand at me. "You're blocking my bloody view!" I stepped along the dusty road, easily passing up the farmer who was tugging ineffectively at the horse's halter. I suspected that the horse was not going to move.
I arrived at the arched wooden doors of the church. Boston Public Library Stimson Wing was inscribed in the stone above. The doors squeaked dreadfully; that must have been what I heard before. I had to stop and blink in the dim light until my eyes adjusted. There was an information desk in front of me staffed by a middle-aged woman. A pile of paper maps sat on the counter. I took one as she asked me, "can I help you find anything?" I shook my head and moved off quickly through a side door. I was among wizards now. I didn't even want to open my mouth.
I stepped into a large reading room. Long tables stretched out with green-shaded lamps set along them. Stacks lined the walls and stretched up to a second story balcony running all around the room. Above that at the far end of the vaulted space was a rose window depicting the tree of knowledge. I took a seat and poured over my map. I was in the research library. The main entrance I had come through was labeled 'Griggs' Lone-End.' There was another entrance connected to a tube station: 'Exeter Street.' I had already memorized all the T stops on my Boston map, there was no stop by that name, I was sure of it. I felt a sliver of excitement. That had to be my gate to the wizarding quarter; I was in.
I followed my map to the Carter Room and began to skim down the shelves of travel books. International first: 'R'lyeh on 5 Dollars a Day,' 'Staying Sane in the Mountains of Madness,' then national: 'Roads to Oz,' 'Capharnum Co. Magicians Assc. Guide to the U.P.,' and finally local: 'Devils' Stomping Ground,' 'No Exit, Weekends on Roanoke,' 'Best Fish Shops in Innsmouth.' I selected the 'Purple Guide to Boston,' and 'The Magic of Massachusetts, History and Places.' I sat at an empty table with a stack of note cards and one of the stubby pencils from the reference desk and got to work. I couldn't check any books out; I didn't have a card and didn't want to apply for one. I would have to copy anything I needed.
It was all downhill now, only the work of a few hours to familiarize myself with the layout of the wizarding quarter. There were a few hidden streets in the heart of downtown that were dedicated to it, wedging themselves invisibly between Milk and Water Streets. Honey Street was the main shopping district. I took special note of nearby Vinegar Street, as the guidebook warned casual visitors away. That put it at the top of my list. Honey Street was served by a tube line. I noted that there were several public buildings (such as the library) and stores outside the wizarding quarter that were listed as mixed muggle and wizard establishments. Was that usual here? I had noticed that the patrons of the library all wore muggle clothes. It made sense if one was constantly moving between both worlds.
I wrote down the entrances and exits for the main streets and some of the shops. It felt strange to be studying again. I had been without books for so long, weeks now.
My immediate business done, I was torn. Any time I spent in the company of wizards was time that I could potentially be recognized, but I was loath to leave already. It was the first place I had been in weeks that I felt a little bit at home. Well, it was about seven in the evening, too late to make much of a start on finding a shop to sell me new papers or an unregistered wand. I decided to explore the rest of the library and find the tube stations instead.
The library was pleasingly extensive, with two floors of smaller rooms served by narrow corridors along both sides of the central reference room I had already visited. I entered a periodical reading room with very comfortable-looking chairs. The room was quiet and empty except for a young sandy-haired clerk who was tidying and refolding stacks of papers.
A headline caught my eye on one of the papers on the rack. It was the New York Prognosticator. I picked it up and settled into a chair near the end of the room. The clerk was glancing over at me; I unfolded the paper and tilted it up until I could no longer see his look. The article was under the 'International' column. Martial Law Restrictions Eased as Verdicts Reached in Death Eater Trials.
June 16th. Interim Minister Kingsley Shacklebolt has announced the end of certain Martial Law restrictions including the curfew and total travel ban, though wand monitoring and increased travel security and restrictions continue, for now.
The announcement comes as a welcome sign that the British wizarding society is beginning to stabilize as verdicts are reached in the continuing Death Eater trials. Sentences of life imprisonment have been handed down in the cases of the marked Death Eaters McNair, Lestrange, Selwyn and Yaxley. Lesser sentences of 60 years were given to Alecto and Amycus Carrow. Other hearings are still pending.
However, the sentences for collaborators and those acting under coercion through fear for their own or families' safety have been less severe. Many Ministry workers in the notorious Muggle Registration office have reduced sentences of 5 – 10 years, lower-ranking secretaries and officers have mostly been given probation and fines, leading some to consider the tribunal not strict enough. Most controversial have been the trials of the Malfoy family. Narcissa Malfoy has been acquitted as an unmarked and unwilling collaborator. Draco Malfoy, 18, pleading that he took the Mark under coercion and out of fear for his own and his family's lives, received a fine of 5,000 galleons and five-years' probation. Though his father, Lucius Malfoy, used the same plea, the tribunal awarded him 15 years imprisonment and a fine of 25,000 galleons. Though many have criticized the tribunal for the short sentence in comparison to the life sentences received by most other Death Eaters of his rank, several credible witnesses testified that Lucius Malfoy was acting under coercion after 1997.
I realized that I was gripping the paper tightly. Fifteen years. He pled coercion, but what about his cooperation with me? Where was the signed statement, the proof? Fifteen years. The sodding Ministry, the sodding Order and their worthless promises.
I shoved the paper back on the rack. The clerk was gone now, I was alone. Just as well, I was thoroughly sick of the company of wizards. I had wanted to locate the tube connection from the library, but now I could hardly wait to be out on the muggle streets and back home. I left the way I came in. The hot sunny day outside the church had turned into a cool blue evening, the artist and the horse cart were gone now. There was a wooden gate just behind where the artist had been sitting. I stepped through and was back in the dim gallery.
I could have disillusioned myself and apparated, but I wanted the walk back home. I thought it would dissipate some of my anger, but instead my thoughts kept circling back to Lucius and the verdict. Fifteen years in that place. When I arrived home I slammed the door hard behind me, sending Bella scurrying down the cellar stairs. But what could I do? There was nothing I could do. I calmed myself a little by making dinner. I didn't need to think of anything while I chopped.
Later, as I readied myself for bed, I saw that the cigar box had moved in its warded circle. Did I really want more papers? News, I was thoroughly sick of news, but I knew that if I let it lie I would spend all night wondering what it was. I needed to sleep; I slept little enough as it was, and the less I got, the more likely I was to chop off a finger at work
I flipped the lid back impatiently, but there were no newspapers this time, just a few loose pages folded in half. I was too wary to be relieved. I flattened them out. The first was my pardon, not the original, a copy. '…for any and all crimes committed while working undercover for the Order of the Phoenix...' I traced the lines down to the signature, Kingsley Shacklebolt, Interim Minister of Magic, and the Ministry seal.
Fifteen years, fifteen years, and I got this. I turned it face-down and looked at the next pages. It was more Ministry paperwork, the release of my estate and appointing Aberforth Dumbledore as executor as successor to Albus. I vaguely remembered naming Albus as my executor years ago, back when I was much surer of his survival than my own.
I skipped over the page listing my property and accounts, it was too pathetic. The last page was a handwritten note: 'Now you've got this, maybe you want me to send you a portkey back, maybe some of your things. Just write it down then. Aberforth.'
A portkey back? Was he round the bend? As if I could trust those papers, as if I could trust the Ministry. I seized the pardon, at once so furious that it was all I could do to keep from ripping it to bits. Instead I scrawled across it: 'Not worth a bloody sickle,' my pen ripping the page at the end. Let him make of that what he would. I stuffed all the papers back in the cigar box and flung it to the floor in its warded circle. Fat chance I had of sleeping now.
I spent a good two hours casting scourgify into every corner of the cellar and ground floor, rousting Bella from her favorite spot near the stove, before I felt exhausted enough to sleep. I was troubled by dreams all night, and the last one before waking was as vivid as a vision. I was in a narrow row-house, alone. There was a gang going down the row, pulling families out, one by one. I could hear them disposing of the family next door. The floo in the front room burst into life. I couldn't quite see the face, but the voice of whoever was calling me came through clearly enough: "I'll tell you once: get out." I grabbed a bag that I had ready and left through the back just as I heard a spell smashing into the front door. I walked along the alleyway behind the row as casually as I could. As I came out, a light-haired young man ran up a seized my arm. He was one of them, the most eager one, I somehow knew. He had a great grin on his face and I realized that he thought I was one of them. "Are you ready? We're going to get the next one now," he said excitedly as I woke.
I was still groggy and slow, but I forced myself up. I had to get to work. Work was more hellish than usual. The toaster, which I thought of as 'the Beast,' jammed and I burned my fingers trying to free the smoldering bread before it burst into flames. Joaquin was somehow always underfoot until I finally had a bit of a shout at him. Then he disappeared on an extended smoke break out on the loading dock while the dishes piled in the sink, damn him.
Joaquin and the waitresses were all glaring at me in uneasy silence when they cut up the tips at the end of the day. "What crawled up his ass and died?" said Tyra a little too loudly as I went out the back. Enough, I was glad to be out.
It was a fine blue afternoon, thin clouds scudding high across the sky. I attempted t wipe the hellish day from my mind on the walk home. I had to concentrate. Back in my kitchen I ate my sandwich and laid out my tomato soup label and all my note cards from last night. I tried to ignore Bella's complaints as I made tea, then finally gave in and fed her the ends of my sandwich to shut her up. I looked over my sketch map of the wizarding quarter. It was time for Assignment 2.
A/N: The Stimson dioramas in the Boston Public Library are real, and really amazing. If you are nearby, make sure you check them out!
My chapter image is based on Louise Stimson's diorama "Grigg's Lone-End," which depicts the artist F. L. Griggs sketching a ruined church as the subject for his etchings. It's kind of funny to think... the chapter image is a scan of a watercolor of a photo of a diorama of a sketch for an etching of some architecture. It's someohow fitting for a story based on a story...
Yes, please don't despair, I will eventually give you more Lucius backstory. I do love to parcel things out in little bits, so you may have to wait.
Thank you, all my readers and reviewers! Please let me know what you think!