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The New Skin by Mottsnave
Chapter 7 : The Wager
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 1


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I decided to use the library's tube entrance as my introduction to the wizarding quarter. I thought momentarily of using one of my vials of Polyjuice, but I discarded the idea. I didn't like the hour time-limit when I was traveling into new territory, and there were tests to detect it. It was an expected disguise, if anyone was checking. It was better to trust to the physical changes to my appearance. I was aided by my efforts over the years to not be photographed. I did however take along a good portion of my emergency money in case I had to apparate away quickly.

I entered the Stimson branch of the library as before, but this time I went straight through to the exit down to the Exeter Street tube station. At the bottom of a scuffed white tile staircase a steel turnstile ate several of my coins with a small snapping brass mouth before it let me onto a dim cement platform. The walls beyond the tracks were white tiles that flickered with moving colors and images; books flew slowly across the wall, flapping their pages.

I looked up at the spiderweb map of tubes lines and stations: Narrow House, Artillery Tower, Herbmarket, Molasses Wharf, Nautilus, The Ladder, Sisters College, and there it was, Honey Street, on the Grey Line. While I was still trying to find the right side of the platform, a deep approaching roar and a stale gust of wind signaled the arrival of a train. Two Amber lines passed before I caught the one I wanted. It was a bit ridiculous; I was only traveling 3 stops and I had probably waited for the train longer than the whole trip. Well, at least now I knew the system. Honey Street was a popular stop. I joined the flock of passengers surging up the steps out in the late afternoon sun.

It was a chic street. The clothes were muggle, but very well made. I imagined they were fashionable, not that I knew much about that. When I looked up, I could see the brick facades were at least 200 years old, but at street level the storefronts were modernized with plate glass and slick signs. These were definitely not the sorts of shops I was looking for. I glanced at my notes from the guidebooks and cast around for the right direction. I hung close to the buildings and hurried down the street. I almost longed for the invisibility that my ragged looks had granted me a few weeks ago. Still, I had a feeling that my transient disguise would have given me the wrong sort attention here.

An imposing grey granite building loomed over the narrow street on my right. Bronze letters over the door spelled out 'The Vinegar Works.' I must be close. Sure enough, Vinegar Street was the next crossing. It was much narrower than Honey Street, and the brick-and-timber buildings looked older as well. Their jutting gables almost met across the cobblestone street in places. When I began to pass storefronts I could see that the guidebook's warning was warranted. They were decidedly sketchy; Black Star Bookstore, Bokor's Boutique, with a sprawling vevé scratched into the window glass, Campbell's second-hand store had a display of desiccated monkeys' paws, and incongruously, Aunt Nellie Rims' Bakery, with rows of custard pies and loaves of bread.

Murdley's Pawn and Trade had brown paper blocking out the windows and a heavy door with protection wards carved deep into the threshold. I decided to try it first. I had to wade through several aisles of battered cabinets and boxes, racks of cursed swords and masks, until I finally found the collection of unregistered wands stuffed unceremoniously into a child's plastic sand bucket printed with shells and gulls.

After going through about 20 of them I found one that was acceptable. It was reserved and stiff at first, but once I got it started it cast accurately without holding back or dragging. It would do. There were some used brooms, but I didn't like the looks of them at all. I picked up a used but solid cauldron, some stirring rods and vials, a set of brass scales and a simple knife, and brought everything up to the counter, where the grim-faced clerk began to tot them up. She had a round wrinkled face and short-bobbed white hair. She was not the picture of someone who would know how to pick up false papers on the Dark Market, but her inventory told another story. I had to try.

"Maybe you can tell me…" she didn't look up from trying to read the smudged price-tag on the cauldron. "I've got to register that," I went on, gesturing at the wand, "but I've lost my ID. Where can I get a replacement?"

"Try City Hall," she said shortly. That didn't do me any good.

"Anywhere else?" She gave me a disapproving glare over the tops of her spectacles. I thought she was going to tell me to remove my criminal self from her respectable establishment, but her hand snaked below the counter and dropped a small white card into my sack of purchases. I must not look like an auror.

"That's $285."

"Shouldn't that be $250?"

"References come extra."

Back out on the street I fished out and examined the card. It simply read 'William Pulcipher, Spiritual Power Rock, Dogtown.' Dogtown, I had seen that somewhere, perhaps in one of the guidebooks. I would have to go back and look it up. Still, it was a start.

I stopped at Hagopian Potions and Herbal Emporium next. I was going to need a pain-reliever before I put my wand back in place, and I knew it would be much cheaper if I bought the ingredients and brewed it myself rather than purchasing it ready-made. The shop looked like an unkempt hole from the outside, but the selection was surprisingly good and cheap. Of course, one had to track down stock numbers in a hard-to-read registry book and then serve oneself from the bulk bins, which had to keep down their staffing costs.

I was about to exit when I saw a cork board by the door crowded with paper notices, mostly potions companies' adverts. Some were for actual shops, but others seemed to be individuals. Only a few were marked 'licensed and bonded,' the other notices looked no more official than someone hawking their dog-walking skills. Were things so unregulated here? I peered closer. 'Reddi-Bru, tinctures, salves, philters and potions, you can't beat our prices! Online orders only.' A strip of tear-off labels at the bottom held a strange sort of code. All very well, but if you couldn't spell your own business name, how could you possibly be trusted to be a competent brewer? A more respectable and certainly more legible notice read 'Caprona Potions. Quality ingredients, quality results. Full catalog available online.' Again, there was a sort of code. It had to do with the 'online,' I supposed.

There were also some jobs notices on the board. 'Work from home as a Debunker! Part-time positions available. Will train. Positions: Photoshop 'expert', Devil's Advocate, 'Fake and gay,' Conspiracy Theorist. Get started today!' I had heard of Debunkers; they were America's version of Obliviators, ever since obliviation was ruled as a physical assault by their courts, back in the 1950s if I remembered correctly. It seemed like a slipshod way to keep the Statute. I wondered if it actually worked.

I pulled off one of the strips from the Caprona Potions' advert and added it to my bag as I went out the door. I wanted to find out what that code meant when I visited the library again.

It was a week before I returned to the library. I spent the intervening time setting up the cellar as a makeshift lab, brewing the pain-reliever, and the unpleasant task of placing the (now) spare wand back in my arm. I was glad when that was over. I felt much better when I had to wands at hand, so to speak.

I had been putting off my return to the library and the company of other wizards when another reason came to make me hurry back. I was moving my bed down to a lower room. Every day a sticky wet heat was settling further over the city, making my work in the diner almost unbearable. I had cast cooling charms in my bedroom to counteract the stale hot air, but with the high humidity, my casting made the walls of the room run with water and a mildew bloom developed almost immediately. A move to join Bella in the cool cellar was called for. When I picked up the cigar box, something clinked inside. Was Aberforth sending me medals now to try to entice me back? The thought made me a bit ill. Nonetheless, I had to look.

It was a glass vial filled with the unmistakable shifting pearlescent light of a memory. My memories. Aberforth must have acquired them as the executor of my estate. I could put them back now… but no, I couldn't be sure that they hadn't been tampered with, or even that they were really my own. There could be some very unpleasant mental effects in trying to replace a memory that was not one's own. I had no way to check at the moment, since I had no Pensieve.

The library here might have one for public use, as did London's library. Besides, it was high time I look up transportation to Dogtown. I determined to make a trip the next day.

I thought the cooler cellar would ease the stifling urgency of my dreams, but if anything they were worse. I was chained into that chair, that awful chair under the Ministry. Frank Longbottom across the table from me said, so very casually, "if you can't tell me anything, I'll walk out of here now, why, I'll forget all about you." I could feel them below me, in the yawning darkness, all the ones he had ever forgotten. He made a small movement with his hand and I began to fall into the darkness to join them. I woke with a start, shivering. It must have been the wet smell of the cellar that brought on the dream. I went up to the kitchen for tea; it was close enough to when I needed to be up for work anyway.

It was another sweltering day in the diner. I sighed with relief when I was able to escape to the dim cool library. This time I actually approached the woman at the information desk rather than rushing past as quickly as possible.

"Yes, can I help you?" she rattled off.

"Is there a Pensieve for public use here?"

"Yes," she seemed a bit hesitant, "there's just one, so sometimes there's a wait, but on a weekday…" she shrugged. "Check in at the Resources desk," she poked at the paper map, "and they'll get you signed up." Signed up. I hoped I wouldn't need a library card or ID.

On the way to the Reference Desk I stopped at the local guidebooks and looked up Dogtown. Apparently, it was a hilly parcel of land northeast of the city not far from the ocean in an area known as Cape Ann. The guidebook described it as a 'historical refuge for the outcasts of the wizarding world. It gained its name as a haven for werewolves in the early 1800s, though that colony has long been disbanded.' I shuddered, but read on. 'Residents of the area were known up until 1870 for regularly breaking the Statute of Secrecy in order to extort money and goods from muggles. Today, the remaining homes and businesses are disguised as ruins and boulders among a confusing and overgrown network of trails. Tourists and casual visitors are advised to take care when visiting, as muggings and cursings are not unknown after dark.' Wonderful. The guidebook gave many more details on the wizarding sections of the rest of the cape, but at least there was a general area map with the borders of Dogtown marked. It looked like the muggle train line from Boston to Gloucester stopped nearby. It would have to do; I didn't own a broom at the moment. I copied the map as well as I could.

I went on to the Resources desk. There were two men staffing it, a young sandy-haired man and an older one who looked up at my approach. "Yes?"

"I'd like to use the Pensieve." He picked up a clipboard.

"Looks like it's free now. Just sign in here." He pushed the clipboard across. There was a stack of lined cards and a pen attached to the board. The cards had a line for the date, sign-in time, clerk's initials… and my name. I wasn't about to write my name, either of them, so I wrote down a bland J. Williams on the line and filled in the date and time. I pushed the clipboard back across. The younger clerk picked it up quickly. "I'll take you up," he said, tucking the board under his arm. The older one gave a nod at him, and he led me up along a short corridor with several doors to the last room on the left. He unlocked the door with his wand.

"There's a thirty minute time limit. Check in at the desk when you're done." The door shut behind him. I tried to lock it with my wand, but it was blocked against such spells. There was a simple physical latch to use; I slid it across.

The Pensieve was granite and very thick, clearly meant for heavy use. I poured the memory in and stared for a moment at the swirling cloudy depths. I couldn't see what might lie ahead of me. No use holding back; I leaned forward and in.

Aberforth was standing in a dark-paneled office. He stepped forward and shook hands with… Kingsley Shacklebolt, Interim Minister Shacklebolt, who stood to meet him from behind a wide desk. Dear lord, what the hell did Aberforth think he was doing?

"Thanks for meeting with me. I know you're busy, nowadays." What was this awkward, penitent manner? It didn't suit him. Shacklebolt seemed to sense that as well.

"Not at all, I've been meaning to meet with you to thank you for your help evacuating Hogwarts."

"Ah, no problem, no problem at all. There was really nothing to it, just minor damages, on the stairs, you know, a bit of furniture to be replaced, and the one window, not much really…" There was the Aberforth I knew. Shacklebolt looked amused.

"We'll be honored to cover any repairs; you've only to submit the receipts. I'll give you a form," he said smoothly as he rummaged in his desk. He signed a slip and pushed it over to Aberforth, but he just sat, making no move to pick it up. Shacklebolt looked at him sharply. "Was there something else?" Aberforth shrugged.

"Nothing really, just a word from you, if you like. A friend of mine, we've got a little wager on, you see?"

From Shacklebolt's look, he didn't see. I didn't see, myself, but I was getting a bad feeling about this.

"A wager."

"And you're the one to settle it, without a doubt. It will only take a word from you." Shacklebolt leaned back and raised his eyebrows at Aberforth.

"We were reading a story in the Prophet. 'Good news, then,' says I, but my friend, he takes one look and says 'not worth a sickle.' Well, it's written by that Skeeter woman, so you know what he thinks. As for me, I think it's true after all." Oh hell, he wouldn't. Shacklebolt was leaning forward.

"You want me to confirm it?"

"That's it, one way or the other. You're the one who'll know the rights of it. I just need your word."

"If it's something I do know about…"

"Oh yes, you'll know." Shacklebolt was starting to look impatient with Aberforth's evasiveness.

"The article?" I was clenching my fists on the edge of the desk. Not that I could touch the desk; if I could I would have pounded on it. I had the impossible urge to yell 'no!' at Aberforth, to stop him, somehow, but this was all in the past, it had already happened. I felt sick.

Aberforth slid a copy of the Daily Prophet across to Shacklebolt. I noticed that he picked the slip off the desk and pocketed it in the same movement. I could probably guess the headline, but I had to see. I stepped behind Shacklebolt and read over his shoulder. I already knew it, but my heart still sank when I saw the familiar words: 'Minister Pardons Snape.'

Shacklebolt sat dog-earing the corner of the paper and starting at the headline. Finally, he looked up at Aberforth. "This friend of yours –"

"One thing at a time, if you don't mind," said Aberforth, quite sharp, "I'll have your word on that now."

"The word is yes, it's quite true. Well, in all that I have knowledge of. I can't speak to her quotes of the Wizengamot members, but I wouldn't doubt the gist of them. She is simply biased in which members she chose to interview. The pardon: that is true. It's real."

Aberforth was pushing a folded piece of parchment across to him. "Well, then it wouldn't be any trouble for you. Just to make it official."

Shacklebolt opened the parchment and read, frowning. "Is this really necessary?"

"My friend has a suspicious nature." Shacklebolt snorted at that. Damn Aberforth! How dare he call himself a friend? He was as good as giving away my name! To the Ministry! At that moment I felt I could cheerfully send him to a family reunion with his brother.

Shacklebolt was working on Aberforth's parchment, scratching out a line and adding one of his own. I went back around to his side but I couldn't get a clear view. Shacklebolt slid it back. Aberforth read it. I darted back around the desk but I wasn't quite quick enough; Aberforth was already folding it up, nodding at Shacklebolt.

"I wouldn't consent to that step, usually," Shacklebolt told him, "but your friend… is someone I'd also like to thank." Aberforth was already walking to the door. What was he up to? "Ready now," he was saying to someone outside.

Theodore Nott came slouching in, much to my surprise. He looked bored, as usual. I wanted to bark at him to stand up straight. Not that it would do any good; he would always straighten for five minutes or so, then go back to looking like a piece of undercooked bacon. Why was he there? He was one of my eyes, but how had Aberforth known that? Perhaps he had already passed some information to the Order. What of my other eyes, were they known as well? Their names hadn't appeared in any of the papers I had seen. I forced my attention back to the memory around me.

Aberforth and Shacklebolt were kneeling now, right hands joined. Aberforth had his parchment open. Theo touched his wand to create the bond as Aberforth began to read the vow.

"Do you swear that your pardon of Severus Snape is genuine and complete?"

"I do."

"Do you swear that you and the Ministry of Magic have no plans or intentions to search out or prosecute Severus Snape for any reason, to the best of knowledge?"

"I do."

"And will you keep this vow, and the continued life of Severus Snape secret, except in the case of risk of harm or loss of life to himself or others… and except upon the release of this vow by Aberforth Dumbledore or Severus Snape?"

By the intent way Aberforth was reading from his paper, I suspected the last exceptions had been added by Shacklebolt.

"I will," he finished. A brief flash, and the vow was sealed. They got up, Aberforth clutching his knees and muttering.

"You'll be telling your friend about this I suppose?"

"That's the point, isn't it?" snapped Aberforth.

"Tell him… I understand his caution, but at the moment I see no reason for him not to come forward. Despite how Skeeter's article made it sound, he can expect the support of the Wizengamot. I have enough members on my side; I'll see to it. I will back him on this."

If only it were possible to use legilimency in a memory. I would swear that Shacklebolt wanted something from me, but what? His mind was closed to me. The vow… it wasn't quite air-tight. The fact that he and the Ministry had no current plans to search me out did not completely preclude future plans. Of course the secrecy provision protected me to some extent. The vow was something, I had to admit, but it wasn't everything. He must think me a fool: step forward before all the trials were complete? When at least three of my former colleagues were still at large, when Lucius had been put away for fifteen years, despite Albus' assurances? Damn him, his word, his so-called protection were worth nothing. Both his and Shacklebolt's. Shacklebolt was shaking hands with Aberforth and Nott and showing them the door. The memory ended.

I pulled myself up and out and replaced the memory in its vial. I would have to destroy it as soon as possible. I nodded to the two at the Resources desk as I went out, trying to think of a response to send to Aberforth. It seemed that I couldn't trust him to be circumspect any longer, but I really had no direct way to influence him at the moment. I would have to bring him along as neutrally as possible until I could cut all contact with him. I needed to make sure I had everything in order until then.




 

A/N: A 'veve' is a symbol common in Vodou.

Dogtown is an actual place, and in fact the history in the guidebook is mostly correct if you replace 'werewolves' with packs of abandoned and feral dogs. Several self-proclaimed witches really did live there in the 1700s and early 1800s who extorted firewood and food from the locals in exchange for not cursing them. It was also the home to many other outcasts, such as retired prostitutes, a freed slave woman who dressed as a man, a man who wore women's clothing and worked as a nurse and fortune teller, and a former ship's captain turned dentist who refused to walk because he believed that his legs were made of glass. Today you can still see old cellars, stone walls and house foundations from the abandoned town in the woods there.

Debunker jobs can be pursued part-time at home, but the American Department of Magical Regulation also employs some high-profile debunkers who work full-time 'revealing' spirit healers, psychics, and other magic users who break the Statute. In fact, some highly successful teams of debunkers have become so well known in the muggle world that they have even had popular television shows, and in one case, a Vegas stage act! Most debunkers prefer to work in a less-flashy way, however.


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