The Red Reign Challenge: This Christmastime
The Twelfth Night : A Faerie Tale
by I Got Tired of Waiting

December 24th : The Eve

It had been too long since he'd last been to market, but with the approaching holidays and his lean larder, he'd had little choice in the matter unless he wanted to starve. Which, given his current situation, sometimes tempted him more than it probably ought.

Walking up and down the aisles held many reminders of pain, and not just the one in his left hip which, with this bitter season, was stiffer than the ice blanketing the roof of MacGruger's shop. With their labels jauntily vying for attention, jars of Madam Manson's Magical Morels stood side-by-side with Tina Tiani's Tomatillos and Willie's Wizarding Watercress. Even though he would never consider buying any of it, he still looked longingly at the gaudy jars and tins of foodstuffs that were out of his reach, and of more than just his pocketbook, for he no longer had the means to open their magically-sealed contents.

So he looked between and around the magical fare to seek instead their dowdier Muggle relatives. His tastes thwarted by his purse, his hands wandered over the shelves in a most desultory manner and soon tins of lentil soup and marrowfat peas were joined by a quart of milk, a box of dumpling mix, six eggs, three half-wilted carrots, an onion, a loaf of day-old bread, and a single bar of soap. As he listlessly debated whether he should splurge on some biscuits, his hand ghosted over the dearer things; no, he could not afford shredded chicken or beef and... well, MacGruger didn't offer credit to almost-squib, former Death Eaters, not even at Christmas, and biscuits were not worth beg--

A yell and a crash preceded a tawny smear streaking across a floor suddenly wet and reeking of herring. A cat, just a cat, he thought as his hands swept three flattish tins into his winter cloak and then, since the clerks were still futiley chasing the thief, a fourth. Settling them deeper into his inner pockets with a shrug, he paused only to add a small tin of biscuits to the basket looped over his arm before boldly walking to the register. The purloined tins weighed heavy against his chest as he patiently waited in queue, silently watching as MacGruger smoothly alternated between berating his hapless lad mopping the floor and adding a bit of shine to the spot he'd been kissing on Mrs McBane's lush arse.

Well, his skinny bum was buss-free by the time the old man tallied his purchases with much sniffing and hateful side-glances. Too late he opened his mouth to protest when MacGruger roughly grabbed his basket, haphazardly dumping his purchases within while beady brown eyes begged him to complain. He sighed; at least the eggs and milk seemed safe. He pocketed the change (three Knuts short, as usual) and tucked the basket securely in his arms; black brows drawn over glaring black eyes eloquently expressed what he dared not utter. The door slamming shut behind him, he stopped long enough to rescue his squashed bread from under the tins before setting off for home. His other booty still safe in his pockets, he smiled with grim irony, silently thanking the unlucky cat who'd been caught stealing its supper. His mind wandering to thoughts of another cat from his previous life, he quickened his pace, the almost-mirth sliding from his long, thin face.

On the long walk home, the crunching snow underfoot making him wish he'd worn another pair of socks, he supposed he should be ashamed of his theft, but survival was something with which he'd become all too familiar in the last two years. Besides, it was nothing more than getting his own back for all the times MacGruger had cheated and belittled him because the old curmudgeon knew he wouldn't retaliate.

Couldn't, more than like, given his sentencing, athough he'd been told many times he should be thankful for what he had. He snorted, thinking how requisite gratitude chafed worse than sackcloth when one was bound to a place where one was not welcome, yet refused a peaceful parole even with good behaviour. Considering how little they'd left him and how small their remaining regard, he'd decided long ago that living with the Muggles would be preferable, not that they would let him.

His long legs making short work the distance, he studied the buildings he passed, hoping to detour his thoughts from the morose direction they always wandered. Eventually, he reached a small tidy cottage at the end of a lane as far from the center of the village as could be without falling off the earth. Beyond his back garden resided dragons and demons, or so he'd been told by those who found their amusement at his expense. He wouldn't know; he couldn't step past the fence marking the end of the tiny property alloted him by the Wizengamot, although he suspected there were more demons than dragons if his dreams were any indication.

Fat snowflakes dotted his dark, lank hair as he inserted a brass key into the front door lock. Although his burden had seemed light at the onset, by the end it weighed as heavy as a four-stone cauldron and just as cumbersome as he struggled to release the latch. Once inside, he slammed the door shut against the rising wind and limped into the cold kitchen. After dropping his basket on a wooden table, he leaned against the room's solitary chair to catch his breath and, soon after, wearily hung his cloak on a hook by the door. Rummaging in its pockets, he pulled forth his stolen prizes. Strangely satisfied, he added them to the rest of his groceries, thinking as he put them away that, with some planning, he could make these unexpected treasures stretch for weeks. Closing the last cabinet, he blew warm air into his icy hands and set about making his supper, wondering whether he should have beef or fish in his stew.