Fred Weasley POV
A persistent knocking broke across the cloud of unconsciousness and Fred jerked awake, sitting up so suddenly that he cricked his neck. He was slightly disgusted to find that he'd fallen asleep at the kitchen table, one hand still curled possessively around an empty fire whisky bottle. Now that he was conscious, he remembered buying the alcohol in the Hog's Head before he'd apparated himself home. Last night, he'd felt as though he couldn't live without the booze induced numbness and he had broken his month of sobriety in one foul swoop. He'd only meant to have one. This morning, his head throbbed and his mouth felt like sandpaper.
The knocking went on, reverberating around his aching head. Blearily, Fred realised that there was somebody at the front door and wondered who it could be; most of his family and friends automatically came round to the back door and let themselves in through the utility room. With what felt like a gargantuan effort, he pushed the chair back and staggered to his feet. His stomach churned with the change in motion and he had to swallow several times before he could be sure that he wasn't going to be sick.
'I'm coming,' he muttered, as his had throbbed in time with the insistent knocking. He deposited the empty firewhisky bottle in the sink and then made his way slowly over to the front door. When he pulled it open, the bright morning sunlight assaulted his eyes and he blinked stupidly at the shadowy figure standing on the threshold.
'Good morning Fred,' Percy's voice said stiffly; Percy always enjoyed the formalities of visiting family which was probably why he had chosen to come to the front door.
Fred hoped that the bright light would make it impossible for his brother to see past him into the shadowy interior of the cottage – last night's dirty dishes littered the sideboard and there was that whisky bottle too. Fred suddenly wished that he had chosen a better hiding place; he was disgusted enough at himself for resorting to drink again and he neither needed nor wanted his family's judgement. Last night he had seen no other escape from his thoughts. He hated himself for what he had said to Tansy and how badly he'd frightened her. He missed George so much he thought his heart was breaking. The numbness the alcohol had brought had been a blessed relief.
'Good morning Fred,' Percy said again, even more stiffly. 'I came to see if you were okay. Lee Jordan flooed mother to say that you hadn't arrived in work this morning and you hadn't answered your home floo. You didn't answer mother when she called either…' Percy made no attempt to disguise the disapproval in his voice and Fred felt another stab of guilt, this time at the unnecessary worry that he'd caused his mother.
'It's turned off… I missed last month's payment. I'm fine; I er… I overslept.'
'Fred, I know you had a difficult night.' Percy looked meaningfully over Fred's shoulder and into the messy kitchen. Following his brother's eyes, Fred saw the second empty whisky bottle standing in the centre of the table illuminated by a pool of sunlight.
'I didn't mean to worry mum,' Fred said miserably, all bravado and pretence vanishing as his head gave a particularly nasty throb. 'Is she okay, Perce? Why didn't she come herself if she was so worried?'
'She's gone to Hogwarts.' Percy said awkwardly. 'Tansy… I think she was unwell in the night.'
'Unwell…?' Fred felt a spike of anxiety; 'unwell' with Tansy usually meant a relapse and he knew how Tansy's relapses usually manifested themselves.
'She's okay, Fred. Professor McGonagall and Professor Snape were there.'
'What did she do to herself?' Fred had asked the question before he could stop himself. Did he really want to know the details? Whatever she had done to herself had undoubtedly been as a result of the horrible things he'd screamed at her.
'I… I don't know.' Percy said unconvincingly. Fred felt yesterday's emotions bubbling up again at his brother's evasiveness. He didn't know if he wanted to shout and scream or sink down in a blubbering mess against the door frame.
'Yes, you do, Percy. What did she do to herself?' Fred asked, fighting to keep his voice steady. Percy drew himself up to his full hEight and looked at his brother through his horn-rimmed spectacles. He seemed to be sizing Fred up, as if wondering how much of the truth his brother could handle.
'Just tell me or I will apparate straight to Hogwarts this minute.' It was an empty threat; Fred knew that he had barely made it to the front door without vomiting. Apparition would definitely be beyond his immediate capabilities. Percy was, however, too dense to see the empty threat.
'Okay, fine! They found her in the bathroom with cuts all over her legs and arms.' Fred groaned at his brother's words and Percy hastened to continue. 'SteadY on Fred; they don't know whether it was an accident or not because the bathroom mirror had broken and there was glass everywhere.' Percy raised his hands in a pacifying gesture as he tried to reassure his brother. His glasses had steamed up slightly, a sure sign that he was sweating. 'Remus was quite adamant about that when he dropped by to tell mum what had happened this morning. It might have been an accident… but she hasn't woken up yet so they haven't been able to talk to her and…'
'I was horrible to her, Perce.' Fred said, interrupting Percy. 'She did it because of me. I… I said some really awful things… I made her… she was so frightened she…' Suddenly there was nothing Fred could do to stop the tears from rolling down his cheeks. Blindly, he felt his brother taking his elbow and steering him back into the cottage.
'Fred…' Percy couldn't seem to think of anything else to say in comfort. The sheer hopelessness of the situation made Fred want to scream and pummel something. He felt another wave of the same sudden and unreasonable anger that had swept over him the previous day and jerked his arm away from Percy's, shoving his brother violently away from him so that Percy staggered into the kitchen sideboard.
'Leave me alone!' His head throbbed violently as his voice rose in volume and nausea gripped him. He turned blindly and staggered to the sink and retched. 'Just go Percy.' He turned, wiping his mouth with the sleeve of his soiled robes and glared at his brother, defiant that he should witness him in this state.
'If you think that I'm going to leave you when…' Percy began.
'Just go! I don't want you here! Stop pretending to care!' Fred yelled.
'I do care!' Percy had suddenly lost his composure and he bellowed back.
'I miss him so much! I just want him back! He shouldn't have died!' Fred felt himself crumpling against the draining board. He heard Percy's footsteps coming towards him across the tiled kitchen floor and felt his hand closing around his elbow again. For some reason, the touch infuriated him.
'I miss him too, Fred, we all do! I suppose that we all have to learn to move on now. It's what he would've wanted. He wouldn't want us to be sad.' Percy was clearly fighting to keep his own anger in check.
'How do you have any idea what he would've wanted?' Fred demanded, knowing full well that his brother spoke the truth, but needing an outlet to vent his anger nonetheless. He wrenched his arm away from his brother and glared at him through his tears. 'You hadn't spoken to him properly for years! You hadn't spoken to any of us for years! Even before you left us you never knew him as I did!'
'I just…' Percy began but Fred's anger crashed over his head again, before he could continue.
'He shouldn't be dead! It shouldn't have been him! It should've been you! You were the one who betrayed us. You were the traitor who deserved to die!' Fred choked suddenly, too late to stop the deadly words from tumbling out of his mouth. The accusation hung in the silent air between them. Fred could see that his brother had gone white.
'Don't you think I already know that?' Percy said finally. His voice had dropped in pitch and it was icy cold. 'Don't you realise that I've thought the same thing every day since we found his grave in the Manor grounds? I would give anything, anything, to change places with him.' He gulped and tears suddenly overflowed from his eyes. He didn't bother to wipe them away as they cascaded down his cheeks. 'But I can't Fred! He's gone and there's nothing I can do to bring him back again! He died and we are the ones who survived. And now we have to help each other because we're stronger together.'
Fred felt his anger deflating like a pricked balloon and instinctively he stepped forwards and wrapped his arms awkwardly around his older brother.
Tansy woke slowly but as soon as she was aware of her surroundings, she could tell that she'd been asleep for a longer stretch than she'd managed since waking up in the hospital wing a month ago. Her eyelids felt like lead and it took her several attempts before she finally managed to prise them open. The curtains of her room were pulled across, leaving only a narrow crack for the strong September sunlight to penetrate through. It illuminated her surroundings enough for Tansy to see that she was alone in her room; the baby crib beside her bed was empty.
Hesitantly, Tansy sat up and pushed her legs out of the bed. Then, still moving slowly for fear that her change in posture would cause a wave of vertigo, she stood up and crossed over to the window and tweaked back the curtains. Immediately, the sunlight seemed to poke her in both eyes and she drew them shut again, blinking quickly. That one, quick, glance had been enough to give her all the information that she needed – the sun was directly over the clock tower which meant that it was just after one o'clock; morning classes were about to finish. Tansy was desperate to find Hope and to reassure herself that her daughter had been looked after as she slept but first, she had more pressing concerns to deal with; she crossed swiftly to the bathroom and pulled the door shut behind her so that she could use the toilet.
As she pulled down her pajama bottoms, Tansy saw the new diagonal scar running down her left thigh and the events of the previous night suddenly returned to her. Glancing up quickly, she saw that the mirror hanging on the back of the door was smooth and perfect once again. Her own pale, worried, face stared back at her, her sad eyes almost lost in the deep shadows that ringed them.
'Tansy, dear?' Mrs Weasley's concerned voice broke through Tansy's thoughts and the bathroom door swung open. Tansy jumped up, swiftly pulling up her pants and pajama bottoms. 'Oh, I am sorry, dear. I thought…' Mrs Weasley blushed and Tansy felt herself growing hot with embarrassment too. Nonetheless, she was extremely relieved to see that the other witch held Hope in her arms. The baby was sleeping peacefully and looked none the worse for her time away from her mother.
Tansy quickly washed and dried her hands and then swiftly approached the other witch so she could take the baby. She stared down into her tiny daughter's peaceful face, feeling a sense of calm sweeping over her. Even the memories of the events of the previous night fell away from her.
'Do you want some breakfast, dear or would you rather go straight to lunch?' Mrs Weasley asked, as Tansy followed her back through the bedroom and into the living area. With half of her mind still focussed on the baby in her arms, Tansy analysed the question, coming swiftly to the conclusion that she honestly didn't care; she didn't feel at all hungry. She shrugged in response but then flinched away as the other woman's mouth thinned.
'You need to eat something; you're fading away, dear. I'll order you a selection of breakfast items and we'll go from there.' She flicked her wand and, less than a minute later, there was a loud crack and a house elf, wearing a tea towel stamped with the Hogwarts crest appeared out of thin air, carrying a huge tray of food.
'Here you go Mistress Cassiopeia.' Tansy jerked so violently that Hope startled awake and started crying. She stared at the elf in total disbelief. In spite of the new Hogwarts uniform, his snout-like nose and the fluffy white hair sticking out from his sagging ears made him instantly recognisable.
'Kreacher?' She whispered in confusion, relinquishing the crying baby to Mrs Weasley, who immediately sniffed at her nappy and then carried her out of the room to change her.
'Yes Mistress,' Kreacher affirmed, placing the huge tray on the coffee table and bowing so low his nose brushed the carpet.
'Kreacher? You're alive…' Tansy shook her head against the fog. 'We thought… I…' A wave of guilt swept through her as she realised that she hadn't even thought of the elf once since waking up in the hospital wing. Merlin, she hadn't thought of him since being captured and taken to Malfoy Manor.
'Kreacher fled to Hogwarts when the Death Eaters came to Mistress's house.' Kreacher said, still in the ridiculous bow. 'Kreacher has been here ever since. A whole year.' Tansy thought that she could hear a faint note of reproach in the elf's muffled voice.
'I'm… I'm sorry Kreacher. Please stand up. I… I didn't mean to leave you there but… but, we…' Her voice trailed off; it just seemed like too much effort to explain and too many words. Talking was too exhausting.
'Kreacher!' There was a muffled exclamation from over by the door and Tansy looked over to see Ron and Hermione standing in the open doorway.
'It's good to see you, Kreacher,' Ron said earnestly, walking over to the elf and extending his hand. The elf shook it, looking rather taken aback at such familiarity with a wizard.
'It was my fault,' Hermione came over and took a seat next to Tansy on the sofa. 'I brought the Death Eaters inside the protective enchantments at Grimmauld Place when we escaped from the Ministry. It was an accident but it meant that we couldn't go back there. And from that point we were on the run.'
'Yes, your fault that you got us away safely,' Ron said, placing a comforting hand on Hermione's shoulder. 'Well almost safely…' He continued, teasingly, pointing to his arm. Tansy winced as she remembered the gaping wound in Ron's upper arm.
'We couldn't summon you because they might've come too… by side along apparition.' She whispered. In spite of the long sleep she'd had, she suddenly felt exhausted again.
'Kreacher understands.' The elf said, still formally but some of the stiffness had left his voice. Still feeling dazed, Tansy reached for the coffee pot and poured herself a mugful. The first gulp made her eyes water but it cleared away her tiredness like magic.
'Kreacher, are you… are you happy here? I mean…' She looked pleadingly at Hermione hoping that her friend would come to her rescue. But Hermione nodded for Tansy to continue. 'The war is over. You… you don't have to work here anymore, not if you don't want to. You can go back to Grimmauld Place or… or anywhere you want.' Kreacher looked at her for a few seconds, apparently considering her proposition.
'Kreacher likes to work here.' He finally said, taking all three of them by surprise. 'Kreacher likes the company. Kreacher doesn't want to be by himself again.' The elf bowed again and then straightened up. 'Does Mistress require anything else or can Kreacher return to work now?'
'Um no… thank you.' Tansy said faintly. Kreacher bowed for a third time, nodded at Hermione and Ron and then disapperated with another loud crack.
'Wonders will never end.' Ron said blithely, helping himself to a piece of toast from Tansy's breakfast tray. Tansy downed the rest of her coffee and quickly reached for a pastry before Mrs Weasley could return and accuse Tansy of giving all of her food away.
Draco Malfoy's POV
Draco was pretending to study in a disused classroom on the top floor of the castle, although, in actual truth, he was hiding from his peers in the Slytherin common room. He was trying to focus on his Transfiguration homework but he was finding it difficult to get his brain to work; his mind kept returning to the events of the Potions class the previous day. He could not forget Tansy Laverstock's frailty and the look in her eyes; like a trapped animal.
In spite of his strange location, the owl successfully found him. It tapped quietly on the window and Draco, always on edge these days, jumped horribly and knocked over his bottle of ink onto his parchment. His essay had only consisted of his name, the date and the title so it wasn't the end of the world. After flicking his wand at the puddle and returning the ink to the pot, Draco got to his feet and went over to the window and opened it. The owl immediately hopped inside and stuck out its leg towards him. He recognised it as one of high-speed Ministry tawny owls, bred for their strength and stamina on long distance flights.
His hand shook slightly as he undid the leather thong that bound the scroll of parchment tightly to the owl's leg. Draco ignored it; his hands shook a lot these days. Immediately, the owl took flight again through the window. Draco stared after it as it flew out over the forbidden forest, illuminated clearly by the pale moonlight of the nearly full moon. Then, he walked back to the desk and sank down in his chair again.
He withdrew his wand and tapped on the purple wax seal which bore the capital 'M' of the Ministry of Magic and the scroll sprang open, flattening itself out on the desk. The information it contained did not actually come as much of a surprise to him – the trial dates for his parents and his Aunt Bellatrix and the unwelcome information that he would be called to testify against all three of them. Draco had already known that he would be required to do this; both Severus Snape and Minerva McGonagall had vouched for him but Kingsley had set this as one of the conditions for his freedom. He sighed and rolled up the paper again. In less than three weeks he would be standing up in court, testifying against Bellatrix Lestrange. Her convictions were so severe they expected her trial to last for several days. The thought of seeing her again made him tremble and nausea stirred in the pit of his stomach.
He had just collected his stuff together, having decided that it was late enough to sneak back into the eighth year common room and go to bed, when he realised that there was a second scroll of parchment tucked in behind the first. It was from the head of administration at Azkaban prison. Draco read the short letter three times, his earlier nausea returning with a vengeance.
You may not be aware that Your Aunt Bellatrix Lestrange is legally allowed one visit from either a friend or family member before her trial commences. She has named you as the person she wishes to see…
Draco had no idea why Bellatrix Lestrange had named him as her designated visitor. He was sure, however, that there would be an ulterior motive, there always was with his Aunt Bella. There would be a reason why she needed to speak to him before her trial and it wouldn't be a pleasant one. But Draco had no intention of playing her games any longer. The decision was quick and easy – he wouldn't attend.
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