26 July: Birthday shenanigans and other negotiations Who: Rabastan Lestrange and Fabian Prewett What: Even in the midst of everything else, birthdays are important and should be marked with due… something When: Friday 26th July Where: A part of Muggle London probably in imminent danger of gentrification, and later the Swallowed Octave Warnings: Includes discussion of horcruxes and what one does with them
A small package arrived by owl on Fabian's birthday--the birthday of both Prewett brothers, of course, but Gideon's present from this particular source wasn't even notable in its absence. Alongside a slender box of handmade chocolates, each both beautiful and startlingly different in flavour, were a note and a flimsy flier. The note read: Happy birthday, old man. Doing anything Friday? --R.L
The flier was almost more cryptic. "Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life," it declared, attributed to Picasso, above a logo of crossed paintbrush and ballet shoe, and below, in dramatic capitals: Drown the boring. The finer print offered little in explanatory details. Location by word of mouth. Entry by gift. Friday's date, and a hashtag: #artattack
On the back, Rabbit had written: Meet at the Pig & Whistle at 9
And Fabian was, duly, at the Pig and Whistle at 9 PM Friday, in clothes that could pass for a wizard slumming it or a Muggle slumming it, because he wasn't entirely sure from the invitation which it was meant to be. Sometimes wizarding artists of a certain set used Muggle locations and techniques to be interesting, or had Muggles in the audience. It slid by under the Statute of Secrecy because any magic was deemed art by the Muggles, but it was a pretext for harassment. Fabian had seen it happen.
For all that Fabian was alone, Gideon knew where Fabian was and was ready to pull his fat out of the fire if needed. It was 99% the real thing, just Rabbit wanting to show him a good time for his birthday, but Rabbit's friends might take advantage of it to make a point. And while Fabian could probably stand his own against one or two of them, having a hot (and completely illegal) portkey out or an assist from one's twin in trying times was useful.
But, still, good odds that it was just interesting art and friendly talk. So Fabian arrived early, cased the joint, watched the tender draw his pint, and nursed it carefully while waiting for Rabbit to arrive.
Which he did at barely five past the hour, squeezing through the eclectic but jovial press of the pub to nudge against Fabian's shoulder. "Fancy meeting you here," he said with a flash of a grin, soon turned away, catching the bartender's eye. "Dram of whiskey, whatever's cheapest," he ordered, and then turned back to Fabian, eyebrow lifted. "Another for the birthday boy before we get going?"
"I'm not done with this." A flash of a grin of his own, as Fabian elbowed Rabbit with the arm not holding his pint. Rabbit ordering the cheap shite, given their relative financial situations, was always amusing. Unless Rodolphus was suddenly holding him on a tighter leash now that Bellatrix was ... whatever she was. "You outdid yourself with the sweets, thanks. Delicious. I won't ask where you got them. A man has to have his secrets. Speaking of which, how are you?"
Rabbit's snorted huff of laughter was extremely expressive, without being at all precise about just what it was expressing. "We get into how I am, we're going to need the rest of the bottle of this," he declared, as the bartender set down his drink; Rabbit added, "Which we don't, ta," as he handed over his money. "Anyway, chocolates are easy," he continued, though his smile was a smidgen pleased. "Tonight's the real experience. Hopefully. Who knows. Last time I went to one of these things it was ridiculous, but it also got shut down by the Muggle cops so--" He shrugged, took a slug of his whiskey, and winced.
"I think I can get us out of trouble if it comes to that. I have ways," Fabian intoned mysteriously. He let that hang for a moment before adding in a more normal tone, "I know there's been trouble at the Park, obviously, but if there's something I can help with, we can have a good long talk about it afterwards, assuming it's not in Muggle holding."
"Never thought I'd see the day I was the least troublesome member of this family," Rabbit quipped, more than a little snide. But he didn't leave space for further exploration of the topic before he was drumming knuckles against the bar and saying, "Drink up, princess. Adventure awaits." Taking his own advice, he knocked back the rest of his whiskey, and coughed. "Bloody hell. That's what I get for going effect over something worth savouring."
Fabian snorted his amusement at Rabbit's reaction, filing the bit about the trouble at Lestrange Park away for later consideration behind his wicked smile. "When you don't drink a lot," and he knew Rabbit didn't, "don't drink cheap whiskey. Keep to the good stuff."
A few minutes later and the crowd started to thin out, drifting out the back of the pub. Fabian followed Rabbit's lead and went with, making his way down the muddy alley and out into a different road, this one in a less prosperous neighbourhood, as if they'd crossed some unseen barrier between respectable poverty and abandonment. Boarded-up windows here and there, graffiti and tagging, not all of it in English, and a few signs that Fabian knew. Muggle history was far from his strength but even he understood what the swastika meant.
Down another side alley a few more blocks and thence into the back of a building whose lock had been broken. Squatting, then, and Fabian respected that with the admiration of one minor lawbreaker for another. There were enough squats in this neighbourhood that they might be able to set up a safehouse here and offer community clinic for mild injuries. The thought preoccupied him until the way inside was blocked by a bored young lady sitting on the edge of an out-of-place bathtub, reading a battered copy of Chaucer with a highlighter in hand. A sign taped to the side of the bath read: Gifts for the collective.
From a Harrods bag--or something magicked to appear like one, at least--Rabbit produced a bottle of wine and a pair of oversized glittering star-shaped sunglasses. "Him and me," he said, setting them in the bathtub (amidst other bottles, books, a large blue toy train with a face painted on the front and a pair of bright red high heels). The girl barely glanced over before she gestured to the open door.
Rabbit folded up the Harrods bag--and kept folding until it was small enough to tuck into the back pocket of his jeans, and led the way inside. The building had once been some sort of warehouse, still smelling of cold concrete with a faint tang of rust, and the harsh fluorescent lights on the wall didn't quite reach up to the distant ceiling. The space itself had been divvied up by partitions and stacked crates and in one case the introduction of a shipping container, turning it into a drab labyrinth. A corridor of sorts ran down one side of the building, with Muggles dressed in all manner of attire coming and going, or chatting in small knots. There were more signs on the wall, taped up, pointing this way or that, but they weren't much help. Eminent grease, said one of the signs pointing further into the building, and Monkey C/Monkey D. A sign pointing the other way, into the first sidelong space, said merely, Fuck their labels, and Rabbit peered around, then shrugged, and pulled Fabian that way.
The space was a proper room, might have been an office at some point in the warehouse's past. The walls and windows--and ceiling and floor--had been covered over with sheets of cheap butcher's paper. They'd perhaps started out pristine, but now had scribblings and splotches on, difficult to make out in the dim light. A thin chap dressed in all black was writing on the wall with a thick pen attached to the ceiling by a bright yellow cord; when he was finished, he just let go, the pen swinging away. He stepped into the middle of the room, where there was another bathtub, this one already full--of loose ice, and nestled into the ice, someone wearing an enormous lobster costume. The man in black reached across the lobster, pulled a bottle of beer out of the ice, and walked out past Rabbit and Fabian with a passing, "Cheers."
The blotches on the walls, Rabbit realised, were the labels from the beer bottles, peeled off by damp and patient fingers and stuck up on the paper.
While Rabbit contemplated the beer labels, Fabian took the pen and found a spot on the wall where he could write something in large letters that minimally overlapped the other graffiti. Three words in large letters, which had the lobster not been there, would have appeared on the ceiling: MAGIC IS REAL. But there were no traces for the Ministry to find here, just a man with a marker that smelled of Muggle chemicals.
Having made his contribution to disorder, Fabian moved to pluck a libation from the ice. "Cheers," he told the lobster, and peeled off the label with his fingernails to apply to the wall. He'd had no idea what to expect but this was brilliant.
Rabbit contented himself with a quick doodle of a cartoon bunny before fishing his own beer out of the bath. He paused as he turned away to ask the lobster: "What happens if you get an itch?"
The lobster glared at him. Rabbit grinned, and sauntered after Fabian to the next room, through a thick doorway of heavy plastic strips that were nominally translucent but blocked any view of what was inside. Fabian pushed his way through a couple of layers of the stuff to see a room with walls covered mostly in cotton wool, with sections of pale blue peeking through. The lights were low and also pale blue, at least to start with. Coloured gels flashed over them slowly, turning the overhead pale shades of purple, green, and pink. A section of one wall had been left clean and there was a huge pair of brightly coloured wings with room for a person to stand in the centre for a photograph.
Once the couple that were snapping each other finished their business and started exploring the rest of the room, Fabian gestured to Rabbit. "Fancy a portrait?"
One of Rabbit's eyebrows tweaked up, amused, as he eyed the rainbow spray of wings on the wall. "What, you'd like me as some sort of fairy refugee of the Pride parade?" But he leaned obligingly against the wall, though he didn't do anything like put down his beer or offer an expression other than his habitual smirk. "One for you too?" he asked in return, glancing around the room for other interesting options.
"Sure, why not?" Fabian ran his fingers through his hair and bit his lips so they looked even redder than usual. Shoving his phone in his pocket, he posed between the wings, eyes raised to the heavens like a devoted altar boy. Then he looked straight at Rabbit and ran his tongue around the edges of his mouth.
Rabbit shot Fabian a look over the top of his phone (and took another picture).
They drifted onwards, deeper into the warehouse, like wandering through strange dreams. A cacophony of drum and bass dance music thundered inside the shipping container, the darkness was broken only by mirrorball projections of fractal light patterns on the wall; they passed through quickly, to a space ringed in mirrors, where three lithe figures in black morph suits undulated and stretched and danced not quite in time to the faint echoes of the music. The air was full of wafting bubbles of various size; a bucket full of bubble wands in the centre of the room had a sign saying, Blow me, and Rabbit had to pause to laugh.
The way Fabian didn't quite fellate his beer bottle at Rabbit's giggle suggested he was well towards over the eight. He put the mostly-empty bottle in his jacket pocket and proceeded to blow with a ferocity and lung capacity that suggested his wide experience with instruments included something in woodwinds or brass as well as piano and strings. The multicoloured bubbles spilled out and covered the room. Fabian caught Rabbit's eye with the universal look of want to make some trouble?: raised eyebrows and a wicked grin.
When didn't Rabbit want to make trouble? (Certainly not any time when it was Fabian asking.) He let his head tilt to a familiar angle, that what-did-you-have-in-mind cant and drained the last of his beer like he might need the extra boost (or his hands free).
Cover me Fabian mouthed at him in the dim light, and went to work. With his wand in his sleeve, the work had to be all mental, not broadly gestural or, with Muggles all over the place, spoken, but this kind of thing was a simple working. Fabian did some things with his fingers and whispered a couple of words before blowing another few wandsful of large, bright bubbles. Then he looked at Rabbit and tilted his head, a suggestion that it was time to move on.
Despite how far--ostensibly--they'd come from schoolboy larks, Rabbit fell easily into his role here, shield and distraction and partner in fleeing from the scene. Though he did glance back at a sudden chiming sound, to see a cloud of something shimmering and golden tumbling down from where the outstretched finger of a blonde girl had clearly popped a bubble; she squealed in delight, and Rabbit said, "Nice," and grinned as he shoved Fabian through into the next space.
A darkened room where circles of light on the floor caused musical tones when someone stepped into them; a space where a woman on a swinging trapeze was spraying the walls with paint from water pistols; but Rabbit's favourite was probably a loitering pass along that corridor running down the side of the building, where three Muggles were shouting at each other about, as far as he could tell, who had been sleeping with whom for how long and who was most agitated about it.
Fabian could have spent an hour in the room with the music, of course, and had only let Rabbit drag him on with reluctance. His favourite had been the room of candy sculptures and portraits, most of which he suspected he'd recognise if he were better up on Muggle art history. One of the portraits had looked remarkably like Bellatrix; following in the footsteps of those who came before, Fabian had taken a piece of licorice from her hair and used a fresh piece from the basket beneath her feet to repair the artwork. He offered the hair to Rabbit on the way into the next room, which proved to be--
-- a tiny rim around a large ball pit made of marshmallows. Or at least giant pillows that looked like them, with a couple of people bouncing around in it. Fabian laughed and raised his eyebrows at Rabbit.
They'd left behind their empty beer bottles on a window ledge by now (and Rabbit had vaguely considered going back to the lobster, but probably better to not get too inebriated, all things considered). Otherwise Rabbit may have hesitated longer--or at all--before he unceremoniously shoved Fabian into the pillow pit.
Fabian was ready for Rabbit, and his fingers looped round Rabbit's wrists so they collapsed into the pit together, ending in a tangle of knees and elbow and Fabian's semi-drunken laughter. There were some marshmallows in the pit as well, apparently, squashed but still spreading a light dust of sugar over everything, now including Fabian and Rabbit, which only set Fabian off more.
Rabbit was just as helpless, resting his forehead against Fabian's shoulder as he laughed. Dragging himself back up to kneeling was harder than it should have been, personal gravity assisted by the booze and the laughter and the whole damn evening. He considered his somewhat powdery hand, before lifting it to his grin and licking a clean patch on his wrist. "Well, I taste somewhere between delicious and revolting."
Fabian was still giggling. "That's life for you."
After they finally extricated themselves--from the marshmallow pit and the entire art-addled warehouse--it was, perhaps unsurprisingly, too late to get back into a muggle pub. Easier, in any case, to head for more comfortable and familiar territory. Places where magic could be used to get the last of the powdered sugar out from under their collars, though Rabbit could've sworn he still felt the grit of it under his fingernails as he scratched at the back of his neck, slouching down the stairs into the Octave. The night had stretched long here as well, the crowd loose and starting to thin, the music slinking toward indulgent. Which at least got Fabian to stop singing to the tune of one of the songs on a television in the warehouse: Rabastan, Rabastan, does whatever a rabbit can.
"I'm halfway back to sober," Rabbit observed, which was probably just as well, all things considered. With the return to their side of the magical divide, everything that Rabbit had let himself be distracted from for the evening was settling back on his shoulders. The night wasn't over. He knocked his elbow against Fabian's. "Buy you another drink?"
"Sure," Fabian said absently, "Pint'll do fine, thanks." He raised his eyebrows a little at Rabbit's tumbler of straight ginger ale, no whiskey, but he'd always known Rabbit was a light drinker so it didn't really bother him. And Fabian was neither as intoxicated as he appeared nor incapable of disappearing part of his pint as needed if it came up.
Drinks in hand, Fabian made his way back to the table he'd long since claimed as his. This close to what passed for closing time, it was empty. He settled into his usual chair, which gave him a good sightline to the door, the bar, and the corridor to the restrooms, and had a swig of his pint. "So what's been on your mind? Tell Uncle Fabian all about it."
Rabbit couldn't help a smile at that--a line he'd often deployed himself--though there was precious little of the past few weeks to smile about. He dragged a hand over his face, which felt, at this stage of inebriation, ill-fitting and ill-used. "Hardly know where to start. It's all been such a fucking mess." Not a lie, even if he had a good idea where he wanted to end up. And if he couldn't entirely trust his instincts right now--partly the lingering edge of tipsiness, partly other influences--he still had nearly a week of turning this over, examination from every angle, tallying all the pieces in myriad ways and coming out at similar answers.
"I can't help with what you're not telling me," Fabian pointed out. Whatever else he might be thinking, and Rabbit was certain he was, Fabian was keeping his own counsel on. "Should we start with your darling sister-in-law? Or am I even on the right track?"
"Would you believe," Rabbit said, with a wry little chuckle for the unlikely truth of this statement, "that she is the least of my worries right now? Or by herself she would be." Though nothing right now was by itself, it was all overlapping and he couldn't start peeling one thing away without tangling up in three others. Rabbit drummed his fingers against the table edge, probably good as a giveaway to someone who'd known him as long and as well as Fabian had. Stilled his hand by reaching for his wand. "Mind if I--" Gestured with his other hand at the not-exactly-private surroundings.
Fabian nodded, and waited.
Privacy ensured, Rabbit tucked his wand away and picked up his drink again. "I'm having a very complicated sort of problem that needs a very precise sort of solution, or I wouldn't--" He cut that line off abruptly, had a gulp of ginger ale, and set the glass down again, looking over at Fabian for a long moment before he asked: "Do you have contacts in the Order of the Phoenix?"
"Oh, so we're finally doing this, are we?" Fabian asked, his eyes narrowing. "Don't you already know the answer to that question?"
"How would I--" was as far as Rabbit got before he stopped, as a few pieces of the puzzle all clicked into place, the obvious interrelation presenting itself. "I see. Did you catch him, or did he finally manage the courage to come clean?"
Fabian gave Rabbit a hard look. "Does it matter? The point is, we could have had this talk months ago, after your father died, and the troubles that are hanging over our heads wouldn't--wouldn't be. Now you need a plan B so you're leaning on me for it. I'm sure I'm going to help, because I always do when it's you, but it's nontrivial at this point and it's not going to be cheap because I don't have a lot of leeway. Now talk."
"Things weren't--" Rabbit started, but cut himself off again, to sit back in his chair and swallow down the sharpness in his voice. Maybe they could have talked months ago, maybe not, maybe--definitely--it didn't matter right now. The problem was indeed nontrivial, and Rabbit didn't have a lot of leeway either. "I know you lot are hunting horcruxes. I need to know if you have a way of destroying them."
"Not yet. We've got several promising leads, on both the avenues for destruction and the items, but we haven't had a certain test yet. And I wouldn't say we could do it until we'd got one and done for it." Fabian's expression had shifted; he was focusing on the problem now. "Do you have one we can test on?"
Rabbit grimaced. "I know where one is, yeah. But testing isn't enough. I need the thing gone." It and all its bloody tendrils and influences.
"You get it to us, we'll get it gone. If the dragonfire doesn't do it, the next thing or the thing after that will." Fabian sat back in his chair. "Why do you want it gone? You made the oath. Don't you want him back, or have you thought better of that decision?"
That was a whole other can of shifting sand, but the important thing was the first question. Rabbit took another swig of his ginger ale, wishing there was some way out that wasn't the truth. Risking himself here was one thing, but this started to get into territory that could be used against others. But Fabian knew him too well for Rabbit to sell altruism. Leaving nothing but... "There's some--influence on Rodolphus. Him--" Extra weight to Rabbit's voice indicating that he did not mean Rodolphus here. "Or some part of him, or some compulsion. I don't know. I don't have time to nail down the nuance. But resurrection needs a living body, apparently, and he can't--" Rabbit swallowed, and said it out loud: "He can't have my brother's."
There was an arched eyebrow and a slight nod from Fabian; he'd bought that much at least. "I can work with that," he said after a moment. "But you should understand that once you embark on this course, you can't exactly turn back. It's not like you can hand me the thing and have me destroy it and go back to what you've been doing. Even if I'd do that, my colleagues won't. Besides," he added, "if they're preparing him for the boss to wear like a glove, your brother won't be safe until the horcruxes are destroyed. All of them." Rabbit wasn't stupid; he'd be able to follow the corollaries to the correct conclusion. And probably even build the argument he'd need to make it work himself.
"Maybe." Rabbit shrugged a shoulder. "Maybe not." He honestly wasn't sure who they were, to what extent it was even intentional or just a chance combination of unfortunate effects. There was a possibility that if he could just get the chalice--the one Rodolphus had worked with so much--nullified, it would be enough of a break.
Rabbit wasn't one to hang all his hopes on a possibility without also having other options in play. But there were limits. "You'll forgive me," he said, with more dry humour than chill disdain, "if I'm not going to roll over and be your performing monkey just on the offchance that you lot can figure out a way to destroy these things. If that's the price, I'll find another way."
Fabian shrugged, apparently unconcerned. "If you don't want to deal now, you'll come round later. But really, Rabbit, think about what you've already done. What happens when and if the people who are preparing your brother to host your boss figure out you're trying to thwart them? What happens when they figure out you've been talking to my crowd even if it doesn't go anywhere? What happens if you actually stop them and he shows up in, I don't know, Evan Rosier's dead body and realises you kept him from something better?
"You've already made your decision, Rabbit. I can help you, and I will if you need it, but I'm not rolling over for you, either." Fabian said this with the confident awareness that there wasn't anywhere else Rabbit could go: not the Aurors, not Mysteries--not with Claire Rookwood there, and what a relief that Pettigrew hadn't had any knowledge of her--and absolutely not Hogwarts. All three of the obvious places led back to the Order.
"Of course," he added, "if you do come up with a way to destroy them on your own--" and Fabian left the attendant trouble that would bring on from Rabbit's nominal allies as an exercise for Rabbit "--that'd probably buy your way out of a life sentence in Azkaban."
"I talk to you all the time," Rabbit said, light and casual, but it was just words to be saying something; his eyes were caged and considering, turning it all over--the things Fabian had and all the other bits and pieces he'd accumulated himself. Rabbit knew he could dance a merry jig, but Fabian wasn't wrong on the myriad obstacles here, and without even his brother's support...
Fuck it all.
"I don't have an easy handle on any of the others," he said. And, with a wry twist to the corner of his mouth, admitted the other significant problem: "And I can't work with your lot. Depending on how much you wrung out of Pettigrew, half of them will leap to see me dead."
Fabian could afford to be generous; he was getting what he wanted.
"I don't know what they have from Pettigrew," he had to admit, "but I can handle the direct conversations. You don't really want to have to talk to the people in charge on my end, do you? I have to tell them something, sell them something, so they'll believe what they're getting from you isn't a trap. To the extent that they weren't paranoid before--" Fabian thought of Moody, who really was, and snorted, amused "--they are now. If I turn up with something and tell them it's one of the horcruxes, without independent confirmation of some sort, they're not going to believe it."
He sat forward again, elbows on the table: a negotiator's stance. "I'm assuming your desired outcome, after not dying or being host for undead Dark wizards, is for both of you to stay out of Azkaban. It'll take some work, but I think we can manage it. Especially if we can lay blame for some of your brother's actions on magical compulsion."
Rabbit ran tongue consideringly over his bottom lip. He didn't really know if he could, was the kicker. Maybe, actually, Rodolphus would be thrilled to host Voldemort in his own flesh and Rabbit would go through all this and burn a whole lot of things to ash and receive no thanks for it. He'd face that when it got to it. At least it would still be his brother shouting at him, and Rabbit hadn't got where he was by thinking too long and hard about the worst-case consequences before he could do something about it. (Despite that, he was going to carry on.)
"That's basically the goal," he confirmed. He assumed Rodolphus would like Trixie back as well, but while it was something to keep in mind, she was pretty much off the edge of the map. Possibly literally. "Preferably," he added, "without either of us being hounded for the rest of our lives by irate remnants of this clusterfuck."
"There are no guarantees in life, unfortunately," Fabian intoned solemnly. "But yeah, I get it. Got to have something to slum from. That's harder, but I reckon if we throw enough people in gaol--and some will have to go, as I'm sure you know--the survivors may be grateful enough to shut it for a while. I have my own goals on that front which will dovetail somewhat with yours. After all, when it's over, my part will eventually come out. That's the lesson of Pettigrew, or one of them anyroad. Personally I like the ones that says Slytherins don't have a monopoly on terrible decision and Gryffindors aren't immune to treachery after all." This last was said with a sliver of a smile.
The faint tick of Rabbit's smirk was a match for--or an echo of--that smile. "But we do it better. Terrible decisions and treachery both." He lifted his glass as though drinking to that, but lowered it again after barely a sip. "I think I need scotch in this after all."
"This time it's my treat," Fabian said, rising to do the honours. "After all, you did give me something I really wanted."