Matters Considered Practically
Disclaimer: The following is not purely original fiction, but rather characters, settings, and situations as created by J.K. Rowling. No money is being made of this piece of fanfiction and can not be reproduced for any purposes but strictly private entertainment. (D'you see the period at the end of that sentence? - Good!)
Ghosts, unless driven by the need for revenge, seldom show themselves to those of their own lifetime. One has to be very shameless to reveal oneself in such as state, as less than whatever they were during life, to open speculation and ridicule, because they are, in fact, dead.
Often it had been said of Rita Skeeter that she was shameless. She was also a ghost. Or, rather, ghostlike, of course. She still lived, breathed, and retained an inability to glide through solids. There were times that she wanted to die, of course, well and properly (who didn't? she honestly thought). And then at other times she wanted to die but not so well and properly. Being a ghost sounded fun. If only there was a time limit of some sort. (And, again, she believed that others always felt the same way as she.)
No one is supposed to speak ill of the dead, but it's too safe to not be tempting. Hogsmeadians looked at and spoke in undertones to their companions of her significantly, although there were far fewer of these than Rita actually thought. She had no way of knowing otherwise and suffered acute self-consciousness, drawing her cloak (last year's fashion) around herself tightly as she plodded down High Street, sans winter footwear.
How she hated Hermione Granger. Self-righteous little chit.
Rita pushed open the door of the Three Broomsticks, stumbling thankfully into the comparative warmth. Again she steeled herself against inquisitive glances that did not actually exist as she moved with an abrasive air of confidence to Rosmerta Meade. The landlady did look at her with pity and amusement. Rita seethed fruitlessly, mind already racing over damning tidbits. She had plenty: the Three Broomsticks was a well-known institution. The bigger they are, the sorer their arse when they fall. She suffered shivers at the re-realisation that she couldn't, that her one defence against the world had been roughly torn from her by -
'Granger. Is she here?' Rita leered for good effect.
Rosmerta blinked politely. 'Grang - '
'Oh, never mind. And don't nag me to buy anything - she's paying once she gets here.'
Two minutes later, while Rita hunched over at her table, feeling at once fragile and heated as she stewed helplessly over her wrongs, Rosmerta stopped with an empty tray. 'Do you mean that nice girl with the thick hair?'
That nice girl. Indeed.
Rita glared. 'Thick? Thick?'
'Well, excuse me.' Rosmerta didn't know quite in which direction Rita's acerbity was running, but she was offended nonetheless.
'I didn't come here to listen to Saint Mione's choir of angels sing her praises. Don't you have something to do?'
'She's over there,' said Rosmerta tersely, pointing so vaguely that it took Rita a good minute to scan the place herself. She had been looking for Granger alone, which must have thrown her off, as the girl had brought a friend who looked even more out of touch with the real world than herself. Rita didn't like the looks of the smaller girl to begin with, and when she pulled out her chair, scraping so roughly along the floor that some others turned to look, and sat down, her dislike was immediately confirmed.
The girl glanced up from her play with the salt and pepper shakers with large, prominent eyes that didn't seem to quite be in focus. 'Oh hello.' She considered Rita as Rita put in the time trying to glare intimidatingly at the chit, who met her eye coolly, with a provoking little smile. 'I like your glasses,' the unknown girl continued before either Rita or the chit could get in a word.
The chit could turn her laugh into a cough, but still had to hide her grin behind her hand. Rita seethed, but decided the other girl was beneath her notice, and focused on Granger. 'So what is it? I can't exactly spare a lot of time for schoolchildren - '
'Yes, I'm sure you have so other many obligations lately,' said the chit in the superior, prissy tone Rita hated her for. Rita made a snippy reply, but Granger didn't respond. Rosmerta arrived, took their orders, and came back with their drinks before anyone felt the need to say a thing. Then several more moments passed. The chit twirled a quill, and the other girl looked as though she could have sat there playing with her cherry's spear for long hours without realising that the society she was in was under any awkwardness whatsoever.
'So what are we waiting for, the plague?'
Granger looked at her with a pointed expression that she must have practiced in front of the mirror. 'Witty.' She paused for a moment, apparently for the sheer annoyance factor, and said, 'No, we're waiting for someone. Harry.'
'Mind if I pull out my wand?' Rita muttered irritably. 'I don't normally talk to lunatics when unarmed - '
That got a slight rise from Little Miss Perfect, but it turned out to be aborted and unsatisfactory.
'He is not a lunatic!' the chit hissed, glaring fiercely, before she calmed herself with a deep breath or two, continuing placidly: 'You know very well that Harry's perfectly sane, as you were the one who started those nasty rumors - '
'Fainting fits, snake-tongue - '
Granger ignored her.
' - and, incidentally, this is going to be a key point today.'
'And what, precisely, is the point of today?'
Sparing the barest glance for her, Granger drank consideringly. Long moments passed. Rita put in little rebellions - elbowing Granger's Muggle book of paper aside, swirling her drink loudly, and drumming her fingers. The lattermost ended in abrupt horror when the spacey girl smiled and started tapping her own fingers in talented counterpoint. She also put in several good glares at the chit, who did not truckle under pressure. No need. She had the upper hand, didn't she? She had done exactly what Rita would have done, hadn't she? She would have been irritating enough, but employing Rita's own techniques was simply beyond the pale. It also meant that Granger wasn't quite as innocent as initially supposed. Most of all, Rita loathed her naiveté, her innocent self-righteousness, her inexperienced passions, an emotion that was inflamed rather than soothed whenever Granger showed signs of shrewdness. Because no matter that the chit did have a few flashes of real intelligence. She was still insufferably idealistic and if she were lucky these You-Know-Who rumours would prove to be false, because she seemed exactly the sort of fool to get herself killed painfully under Dumbledore's direction.
Granger seemed exactly the sort that would read with tears in her eyes, or perhaps even write, those stupid, openly but faultily proprogandaish books about the non-pureblood (with an exotic name and devastating good looks) who finds themselves Sorted into Slytherin and who somehow survives seven years on the strength of scruples, half-baked, smart-arse witticisms, the friendship of a few saints, both inside and outside of their House, and their illicit golden Gryffindor lover, or else the scheming, immoral Housemate whom they convert to the sunshine of values that make one question how the character became a Slytherin in the first place. Obviously the writers of those teenage fiction books had no real experience inside the Snakepit (Rita was inclined to believe they also weren't very good observers of real life, for that matter). And, despite their oh-so-admirable attempts to promote inter-House understanding, their dislike of Slytherin the way it actually was came through too clearly. Or, rather, their ignorance of what the Snakepit was actually like.
Rita had been that non-pureblood Slytherin. The House got a fair few halfbloods, but mostly the magic - and the prestige of a name - came from their father's side. Not so with her. It hadn't been easy. Rita had survived by an old, oft-used method. It was a simple plan indeed, consisting of three easy-to-follow steps, time-tested and time-honoured, passed down from generation to generation in powerful families who needed to learn it by rote, but known instinctively by every oppressed Slytherin with the proper House attributes (emphasis on cunning): part the first, sniff out thine enemies' closets; part the second, find the skeleton(s) - collect irrefutable proof if necessary; part the third, blackmail without mercy. Rita had become very proficient at it, and, obviously, hadn't lost the knack. She got paid for it now, after all, didn't she?
Little Miss Perfect would have been running home to mummy and daddy within two months of that.
But Rita had never regretted it. As much as she hated those years, she was proud of them; the paradox made her look down on all the other Houses as soft, where no knife could be sharpened. Nothing good could come from an environment where one didn't have to hide oneself in the dormitory of a Housemate of the opposite sex every night for three weeks with a magical recorder just to catch him mumbling incriminating sweet nothings about a Gryffindor Mudblood in his sleep. She had known it would happen sooner or later - he was an adolescent boy, after all. Ooh, Higgs had been so angry with her - typical bully, could dish it but couldn't take it. 'You are just absolutely shameless!' he had fumed when Rita played it for him the next morning, in conjunction with her demands that he leave her the hell alone and keep his fat mouth shut from then on, thank you very much. 'And you,' she replied, 'are a loverboy with no choice.'
Along with the art of blackmail, Rita had learned practicality in the Snakepit. That and a continual shortage of pocket money lent themselves naturally to capitalism - Rita had started three fads among the first-years during her sixth, all in items that only she could provide. There was no idealism when she considered a career, only a natural conclusion: she lived in a small town that offered good training ground for journalism, she had honed the skills for muckraking over seven long years, and, upon further reflection, found that she never had any problem guessing what the readers of various publications wanted; the idea of supply and demand came easily to her. She went into the office of the local crier during the summer before her seventh year with confidence. Afterwards she left it haughtily for new worlds to conquer - namely, the area's more professional daily. Rita hustled, and, even while doing her assignments, badgered the editors into considering her own ideas for stories that the rustics found unconventional. Unconventional, but entertaining. Unconventional, but good sellers.
It sometimes required her trademark shamelessness. Rita considered her full break with childhood to have come when she was twenty and delivering a story that would completely ruin Harian Reed - incidentally, an old family friend. But she anxious to get taken on by a city non-Muggle paper, and so, pushing aside memories of a wizard who had changed her nappies, wrote it up.
Harian had gotten wind of it and had showed up at the paper's office. It had been the largest building in town, full of file cabinets, pile upon pile of papers, tiresome rows of office supplies; no one would have known what the business was had it not been for the constant thrum of the presses. He had shaken off several authority-less employees and had stormed the halls, shouting for her until someone had, apparently just to shut him up, pointed him in Rita's direction. Talk of shameless. He had stood, clearly a man whose world was falling about his ears, and, ignoring a roomful of detached or amused strangers, pleaded with Rita then and there. Unable to understand the concept of defeated, he had been stockstill when ordered to leave.
'I've known you since you were born,' he had said, slowly, hoarsely, desperately. 'God damn it, I gave up my life to you when your mam died. Your da worked nights. Made you dinner every night for seven years. Blew half my life's savings to take you to see the Harpies play the Wanderers. Took you out for ice cream. You always wanted to get Fwooper Swirl, God alone knows why. When I read you bedtime stories you always made me change the ending so that the princess rescued herself. And you were scared of the dark…'
By this point Rita had been in danger of blushing - something she simply never did - and could no longer pretend to ignore him. 'Awfully eager to help out, weren't you?' she had asked coolly. 'Very generous. Must have been very devoted to my father.'
He had ignored the blatant insinuation. 'It was your mam. We were friends since she was a first-year. Only Ravenclaw in the world with a sense of humour.'
'That's enough. The mushy card will not get you out of this.' She had attempted a grim smile and could not manage even that. Harian had come in here and humiliated her with that touching little monologue about her girlish quirks in front of half a dozen others. Rita was hugely embarrassed. It had not been the way to go; far from touching her, he had only made her more determined to run the article, only now it was personal.
Besides, he had mentioned Harpies, Wanderers, Fwooper Swirl, and Ravenclaw in front of Muggles. Perhaps there was a follow-up in this… in about two weeks, once she was at the wizarding paper… recently disgraced Ministry of Magic employee Harian Reed dealt with his public fall from grace due to an illicit relationship with a male Muggle in London by flouting the Statue of Secrecy…
The day the planned second article on Reed was published, Rita spent a restless night roaming Yorkshire and staring mulishly at pigeons.
It was on that night that she discovered the Dragon's Eye, one of two magical pubs in London (save for the many in Knockturn Alley, which were just a mite too disreputable for Rita to frequent casually, although not to appear in while hunting the scoop). It had a steady but slow business, it was clean and unwelcoming, the lights were dim because the owner was blind, and was one of the earliest recipients of the Daily Prophet - when the owl arrived with the morning copy, it was still warm from the spells of the presses. They found in Rita a good and longtime customer.
She'd had another something of a babysitter in those days, presumably on the nights Harian had been with his boyfriend. Of course, they didn't call them babysitters back then, and it wasn't precisely what Madge Fepiro had been: strictly speaking, she wasn't paid, although she called in plenty of favours from Rita's father to make up for her time. She had been a comfortably fat woman with the largest supply of alcohol in the village, whom Rita had been unable to reconcile with a few pictures of a young, slender, and very pretty girl - save for the smile. Old Mrs Madge was the happiest person she ever knew, with a loud laugh and a philosophy she had tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to impart to Rita before Rita left for boarding school.
'Yeh've got yer hand, and yeh play it,' she had said once. It was the only of her sayings Rita remembered, declared as it was on one of those chance days when Rita's mind had been particularly clear and sharp, a level above the usual mundane, childish state of impressioned monotony. 'Yeh can' do anythin' else. And don' worry yerself too much abou' other people's hands. Tha's what makes yeh unhappy, see? Ain't no one got a perfect hand to work with, and even if they did, yeh spend too much time mindin' their hand and yeh won' be payin' attention to playin' yer own. Yeh do whatever yeh can with what yeh got. Throw in a little determination and most things ain't impossible no matter what the hand, although it might be a little harder to git there. Yeh never see a happy person complainin' abou' how unfair life is, no siree. Happy people've already made their peace with tha' and've moved righ' alon'.'
She had been an ignorant, abrasive woman, and a disgusting one at that, thought Rita unkindly, looking back, but not entirely lacking a high form of intelligence that could have been dangerous if properly trained nonetheless. Rita wished she had remembered a bit more of what Madge had said, even if it did seem to have taken a good tiresome hour for her to say what Rita herself could have summed up in under thirty seconds. But Rita had remembered this, and, seeking the endlessly satisfied contentment and peace Mrs Madge possessed, had followed the advice all of her life.
It didn't seemed to have worked as well for her, though. Which just figured.
The advice had aided her, though, even if it hadn't brought about the desired results happiness-wise. Career-wise, though - oh, career-wise! On one hand, she had a slow news week. But despite not having the truth, she did have piles of circumstantial evidence and considerable talent with the English language. For a journalist of her calibre, enough said.
She also had the Animagus ability, which she had also acquired solely due to the memory of Mrs Madge - without those words, she never would have summoned the patience necessary. (And without her ambition, nor would she have the blind courage to test her own limits.) She had started reading up on it in sixth-year and was thirty-six before she had mastered it. (So, despite what the prissy perfect pedantic opined, she could, indeed, carve out a journalistic career without the benefit of her sleeve-inhabiting trick… although said career hadn't really peaked until after the transformation.) Well, she had figured, one the one hand, she had no especial talent in Transfiguration. On the other hand, she had determination, plenty of it, and nothing but time. And so she took the time-consuming - and flesh-consuming, had she done it wrong - gamble, and it paid off wonderfully: her form had been a beetle, better than she could have possibly hoped for. Even the idea of being a fly on the wall fell short to being a beetle on the wall: beetles were less disgusting, and inspired less of an instinct for people to swat them with rolled-up newspapers. That would have been an ironic way for her to go out.
Madge's philosophy appealed to her because, although Madge Fepiro was the sort of person most Slytherins would revile, it in it's own right was very Slytherinish. Play your hand, Fuller Jugson had always growled at his younger siblings, his throaty baritone audible to all of the common room. And then, sometimes, startlingly, Well, it's your hand, damn it! Play it! The metaphor of cards was not new to the Snakepit. And Rita really was proud of her Slytherin background, of Slytherin's attributes and Slytherin's history, and one of the few things her pragmatic self ever got worked up about was when people started disregarding, whitewashing, or otherwise showing said attributes and history less than a proper respect.
Nevertheless, she had moments of severe doubt. Most had come shortly after The War, down in the Wizengamot dungeon, reporting on trials, sometimes showing up for ones out of personal (her own morbid curiosity) rather than professional (the readers' morbid curiosity) reasons. It was something of a bad period for her anyway, coming off of a couple of months where in the glow of You-Know-Who's defeat, her editors rejected any but the cheerful, sunshiny stories the creation of which Rita had never mastered. The trials, almost a year afterward, were a welcome relief to her, but it had taken a frightening amount of time to get back into her old groove, and she felt nervous and fidgety, a woman who knew that her world could be Vanished in one good blindside.
So many of these people had been either among those who had made her school years hell, or of the sort that would have if they had been closer in age. Still, she got surprisingly little satisfaction out of them. Were the really the true Slytherins they thought they had been, staking everything for ideals under a madman who had been banished by a baby?
No, she thought in some moods, they had been idiots and now they were paying, weren't they, betaking their sorry selves to Azkaban, no less than they deserved for sheer unSlytherin stupidity. But then, so many of them had gotten off, hadn't they? The worst they had gotten was some savage treatment at public quills such as Rita's own, and even that stopped when some of what Lucius Malfoy - now there was a devil of a bastard for you - dismissively called 'rumour-mongrels' had died or disappeared so conveniently or mysteriously.
Yes, she thought in others. On each day that Bellatrix Lestrange had been there Rita had been miserably ecstatic. Queenly and confident and scornful, Bellatrix had set her veins on fire. During her first day in court, Rita had lost a Quick-Quotes Quill as Lestrange had sapped all of her attention, until, slack-fingered, the quill had fallen without her notice. By her final day, Rita was nearly in tears as she almost blindly watched Lestrange leave without the least bit of fear. Yes, oh yes. Bellatrix was right, absolutely, Rita was ashamed at not having been part of it herself, and she hoped Bellatrix's promise, prediction, and threat (the Almighty Three-in-One! Rita had thought hysterically; sacred sacrificial blasphemy!) came to pass sooner rather than later, so that she could join and sacrifice herself as well…
But out of Lestrange's hypnotic presence Rita simply wavered - a few inches to one side, a few inches to the other, never coming anywhere near a conclusion on a question that consumed her for several years: As a stable, rising reporter for none less but the Daily Prophet, was she more or less of a Slytherin for not having involved herself with a wizard commonly known as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named? All she knew was that it was one or the other, more or less, with no middle ground. You-Know-Who had either been right… or he had been wrong.
And then, a few months after the trials ended, she decided that it didn't matter, because, right or wrong, he was dead.
Rita owned a country house - far removed from any village such as the one in which she had been born, however. She had bought it because she could afford it, easily, and it was ridiculous to have worked for a company for almost a decade (it had been a decade when she had bought it) and to still live in a London flat as if she had been a struggling hopeful rather than firmly established and respected in her field.
She banged up the stupid article for The Quibbler - to have been reduced to this - in her flat, still wondering if her professional reputation would ever recover from it. She had made the mistake of voicing that while wrapping up the interview and all of its outrageous content back at the Three Broomsticks. 'Maybe, maybe not,' Miss Priss had said in that offhanded tone that made it difficult for Rita to resist strangling her. 'But I can name something it most certainly wouldn't from. Consider matters practically, Rita.'
'Listen, girlie,' she muttered now, belatedly and to herself, 'we are so very not on first-name terms.' She wrote away. The chit had insisted that if she didn't hear from Lovegood that the article was in by the end of the week… well, predictably enough, she would go ahead and tell. 'I hate this place,' growled Rita, thoughts disjointed as words flowed smoothly from her.
The truth was, though, she spent an awful lot of time in her London flat, even if it were updated from her early years.
And the further truth was, she didn't even like it there, and was always finding excuses to get out… and couldn't find many that weren't related to work. If all that work had left her, at thirty-six, without a social life, as every spare second had been devoted elsewhere… well, sacrifices had to be made. And if she hadn't acquired one since… well, Rita was used to it. She hadn't made any particular friend during her childhood, just a few mates to complain companionably about homework with and then to promptly forget about after they left school. Her selections had been limited, she defended herself, as even to the end a good seven-tenths of her House still thought that her polluted blood was contagious, never having been given a good sex education, apparently; in all of this, she remained ignorant of the problem signaled by believing that friends were something one selected, because of rather than the more accurate in spite of. She had thought a wider social life would emerge once she had left the looneybin known as secondary school. It hadn't, and the thought had occurred, just quite recently, that the problem was her and not the situation. That would be Madge Fepiro's explanation. She hated the thought, induced at the realisation that she spent most of her time with her photographer, and that he was paid to do it. She hated the mirror - even silent ones - telling her plainly that she looked hard and tacky, in both the literal and the figurative ways, betraying her own conception of herself as a scintillating, modern, and (possibly) eligible career witch. The eligible bit was still up for questioning, because she wasn't all that sure she wanted to put up or argue over the loo with anyone for any significant length of time.
In any case, she didn't have much choice in the matter just now. Not until Little Miss Perfect's ban ended. Although Rita had been keeping an eye on the Prophet and was worried about her prospects when June rolled around. First off, they had been suspicious enough when she had declared that after fifteen plus years it was time for a holiday. A year-long one. 'Does Skeeter do anything but work?' she had overheard an editor's secretary asking another reporter, who replied, 'Sure she does,' quite absently. They had hardly been about to boot her, however; still, at the moment the Prophet needed to keep things very smooth, even, calm - reassurances that nothing was happening, not notices that things might be happening. It was just the sort of reporting that Rita didn't do well. They wouldn't actually sack her, would they? She didn't write soft news, and right now soft news was a generous name for most of what the Prophet was published. The Ministry drafted half of their articles for them, anyway. Rita expected to return in June to find herself feeling stifled, just as she had during the first few months after You-Know-Who's defeat. While she hated to admit it, she was almost enjoying the writing of this piece. At least it was nice and meaty.
'Higgs is so very rich now,' she said to herself again, without realising what she was saying or even that she was saying it, finishing her draft with a flourish.
Rita stared, open-mouthed and impressed, rapidly trying to sort out what were journalistic touch-ups and what must have been the true, basic facts. But she soon realised that if any part of it was true, all of it was true - a watertight story. And if it was true, then who needed touch-ups?
She supposed she ought to be worried to the imminent threat to her life caused by the madman's return, but before she had quite gotten around to it, she spotted something at the end of the article. Leaning over to see in the dimness of the Dragon's Eye, and to block out those talking over its content, she squinted to read:
Exclusive Interview with Harry Potter, page nine…
It wasn't - ! But surely there hadn't been enough time - It was!
And she had refused to put her name on it!
For a moment Rita gaped, whooshing in her ears, sickly defeat in her stomach. The blow knocked her breathless. And then - she smiled. She rummaged through the entire paper, skimming, and reread the front article. A watertight story, indeed. Too watertight to be fiction.
The entire paper was full of doom and gloom, just as it would be for months and perhaps years to come. There was a war on again. Exactly the kind of atmosphere in which her meteoritic rise through the journalistic ranks had begun. The humiliations she had suffered over the past year would be eased - nay, forgotten - in the plunging in of something in which she was capable and talented and sure.
This rumour-mongrel was back in business.