[Word Count without
disclaimer and title:1500
Disclaimer: All characters
and uses of magic from the Harry Potter series belong to J.K. Rowling.]
A Beetle Gets Its
Rita Skeeter, intrepid reporter, flies forward into the
most foolhardy folly of her career.
Rita Skeeter did not believe in self-doubt. There were
times, however, when her marvelously complex human form was squeezed into the
body of a mere beetle, that she felt she wasn’t quite herself. She couldn’t
communicate with her Quick Quotes Quill as a beetle, and unintelligent,
irrational excuses for thoughts sometimes flew through her miniaturized mind –
thoughts confusing brilliance with folly, for instance. She always re-wrote
Rita Skeeter, intrepid reporter, strides boldly into the
unknown. Into the lion’s lair! Into the green-flowered robes of a
colorblind Death Eater disguised as a witch, but no one needed to know the
unglamorous details. The mystery of how she’d infiltrated the headquarters of
You Know Who would only add to the allure of her story.
Rita crept to the robe's gaping armhole for a breath of
fresher air and a glimpse of her surroundings. She saw no fortress looming, but
Potter had warned her that she wouldn't.
"You can say there's one, if you like," he'd said,
"as long as first you tell me these five things with every bit of accuracy
you have, and don’t tell them to anyone else. Write for The Prophet that
he lives in an igloo. I won’t care. But no embellishments with me.”
"Or what?" Rita had sneered towards the Granger
girl. "She’ll clap me in another jar?"
She’d laughed. Potter hadn’t. He’d grasped her wrist from
under that invisibility cloak of his and held her captivated by the sight of
his disembodied hand as he spoke. "No. No threats, no force. You can't
send someone on a mission like this under coercion. It's got to be your choice
Rita in her insect’s body remembered how she had begun to
remind the boy that she had no interest in helping anything but her career. But
that had been interrupted by an odd feeling: a tensing in her chest, almost
like excitement, or like the sensation that preceded the shrinking of her body
and the growing of her wings when she Transformed.
“Or don’t choose to help us,” the Granger girl had put in
before Rita could open her mouth. “Choose to help your career with the first
report from inside Voldemort's headquarters. Either way, it has to be your
Yes, Rita thought now. My career. This will be
the pinnacle of my career!
She felt the wind in her antennae as the wizard’s path led
upwards to where the long grasses were being tangled and torn by gusts from the
sea. A single twisted willow pointed towards the moon. Holding a branch with
one hand, the wizard reached upwards with the other so that Rita feared that
she'd been detected and was about to be hurled into the surf. But then she
found herself brushing against rough wood and recognizing the sensation of
She landed, clinging to the Death Eater’s sleeve, on a
doorstep in an unlit alley. The sea’s roar had been replaced by the morbid
gasps of a dying city. The only reminder of the countryside was a gnarled
willow knob protruding from the blackened door they faced.
The wizard touched the doorbell, which blinked silently while
they were examined before entry. Rita saw the light flash more rapidly when,
she supposed, the spells to identify Magical Disguises detected her. But the
doorkeeper had been warned to expect Hermann Howe to arrive disguised with Polyjuice
Potion, and they were admitted.
The slate on which they waited slid aside and Howe stepped
onto a staircase that drew him and Rita downward. Rita decided that they were
descending into an abandoned asylum. As she was borne along the corridor, she
thought she could hear the echoes of desperate laments between footfalls. She
tried to memorize the real details, too, and longed for her Quick Quotes, which
she trusted more than even her own memory.
She studied the walls, which were darkened cement marked
with sockets that had been stripped of electric lights. The doorways were low,
hung with wood -- she'd have to change that to bolted steel, or perhaps
Around the next corner the atmospheric change was striking. Walls
gleamed unmarred except by an impressively studded lead barrier that swung open
at Howe’s touch. He carried Rita through, their entrance announced by the sound
of a gong.
Between two more studded doorways loomed an arch of seven
torches, although the top three were unlit. Rita had barely begun to study them
when Howe plunged into the patch of wall they framed. It was shocking, yet
painless, like stepping through a waterfall. Rita emerged, blinking in the
brightness of a granite chamber, to the echo of another gong. The room was lit
with floating mirrored torches, lined by life-sized busts that grinned
maniacally with what appeared to be real eyes, and seething with stone
Rita tried to note it all, but her wings were trembling.
"Look out for the snake," Potter had warned. "And not just to
tell me about it. It will sense you.” There were snakes everywhere and Rita had
no idea how she'd identify which one to look out for -- and then she knew. It
was there, at the head of the room, at the foot of a throne, wrapped around the
legs of a hooded figure. It looked at her not with primitive hunger, but with
human murder, a malice that overshadowed even the presence of He Who Must Not
Rita’s career flashed before her eyes.
Illustrious Career Cut Tragically Short, the obituary
would say. Ms. Skeeter, preeminent interviewer of our age, who fearlessly
pursued criminals and celebrities alike, martyred by the greatest villain of
But they wouldn’t know by whose hand she’d perished. People
couldn’t write their own obituaries. That was as terrifying as death itself.
Rita Skeeter would not have the last word. Then came a nagging beetle-thought. What
will they say about me?
Rita tried to ignore it by listening to the conversation
between Howe and his master, memorizing every word and gesture, every glance at
the snake and exchange of gentle hisses, until she began to fear that her
exquisite attention to detail would be her downfall. She would lose a vital
fact for a triviality. Longing for her Quick Quotes Quill, Rita considered
flying away, but her reporter’s instincts told her that that would be suicide
in the presence of the snake. Finally Howe began to shudder as the Polyjuice
Potion left his bloodstream, and he was excused because the Dark Lord disliked
seeing his male servants in women’s robes.
Rita escaped the stale sleeve with relief once she was
beyond the snake’s sight. She crawled along the crack below the first door she
found until a dip in the slate floor let her slip inside, where she had two
objectives. Second was investigation, but first was privacy. She needed to
Transform and record her thoughts. For this she had brought and shrunk her
Quick Quotes Quill and a special pad which Granger had modified with a Protean
Charm so that writing on it would appear on a matching tablet of Potter’s. This
room was well-suited to her objectives. It was filled with shelves of books and
specimens and unlit, except by the dim glow that snuck under the door.
Behind one of the shelves, Rita Transformed to her full
height, restored her Quill and pad as well, and began to pour out her thoughts.
It was disorganized -- she would have to edit her work for once -- but it was
thrilling. She was detailing the torches, because Potter had especially wanted
to know about anything in groups of seven, when she realized that footsteps in
the hallway had paused.
Rita grabbed her Quill and watched between bookends as the
door opened and a man entered in shadow, accompanied by a slithering sound and
the chime of a bell, lighter than the gong, yet longer-resonating. As the bell
rang in her ears, Rita felt a strange pressure behind her heart, like the one
she’d felt when Potter had proposed this quest, as though she were about to
grow her beetle-wings. But she couldn’t do that. The snake would sense its
She could show her true self, Rita thought, and declare that
she sought the Dark Lord to bring him information on Harry Potter’s plans. She
could tell them what information he’d wanted her to collect. They would let her
live if she could be valuable.
But that thought didn’t relieve the tension in her chest.
She could step forward and choose to live, but it was perplexingly difficult to
fight the intoxicating desire to grow wings. It was unlike the usual pull to
Transform; it wasn’t fed by fear. It finally explained a word Rita had always
written in the way an illiterate would speak of reading.
Ms. Skeeter, the beetle thought, makes the bravest
decision of her life.