“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players:”
Tonks sat at her dresser, her expression grim as she changed her appearance from one person to another. This was an exercise she did on a regular basis to keep her skills honed, but today she was doing it to keep her mind off what she had been asked to do. She stopped as she transformed into Ginevra Weasley, taking time to ensure that she had accurately replicated the pattern of her freckles. To a non-Metamorphmagus, the detail would be irrelevant, but the small details were the ones that mattered, as they were the ones often noticed by close friends and relatives.
She slipped off her bathrobe, checking her arms and legs and, finally, as far as she could, her back. The girl was not unattractive, even to her eye. She was slim with an athletic build, but with sufficient curves to make wizards give her more than a second glance. She resisted the temptation to check the accuracy of her transformation further; the only person who knew what she looked like in the all together was the girl herself, and no amount of detail would help her if the two met under those circumstances.
On the dresser in front of her she had three phials, one of Polyjuice — a backup in case something went wrong with her transformation — and the others contained the antidote. What she needed to do tonight required her to change back quickly, and if she was forced to use Polyjuice then having the antidote together with spare was essential.
Her preparations were interrupted by a knock on her door. What had that idiot cousin of hers forgotten now?
“Just a minute,” she yelled as she let the transformation go and became herself once more.
She hurriedly put the vials away and pulled on her robe as she made her way to the door wondering what Sirius wanted. She pulled open the door to find not Sirius, but Bellatrix there to greet her.
“May I come in?” she asked, pushing past her niece as she did so.
“I thought you’d gone out?”
“I did, an hour ago, or at least that’s what Sirius thinks.”
“What? Why did you come back?”
“I heard that you were feeling unwell,” said her aunt as she turned to face her.
“Unwell? I’m feeling fine. Who told you I was feeling unwell?”
“I did.” And with the words still ringing in her ears, the spell hit Tonks and she crumpled to the floor.
She looked up; her aunt’s normally carefully-schooled features were replaced with a grin that filled her with foreboding.
“Don’t worry, dearie, nothing permanent. You should be right as rain in a day or so.”
And with that, Bellatrix cast another spell, bathing the room in green light. Tonks shook her head, feeling disorientated, and then immediately regretted the decision as her stomach rebelled against the sudden movement.
Sirius Black closed his eyes, willing away the headache that had been his regular companion for the last three days. Every potion he had tried had failed to shift the throbbing that had made every waking minute hell. The headache even resisted every attempt by Edith to remove it. If he hadn’t known before, he now knew Edith Bennett was more than a pretty face who kept his bed warm. He had convinced himself the reason for her frequent presence in his bedroom was laziness, but as their days together following Harry’s departure from Hogwarts turned into weeks, he had begun to accept she had become more than his favourite bed warmer. Quite where she fitted into the end-game of Harry and Hogwarts that was going to play out over the next few hours, he did not know, but he decided he was better with her than without.
“When this mess is over, and Harry has moved out, we’re going to, get married, you know.”
“I know,” she replied, her fingers still kneading his knotted neck muscles. “And I know that once this is over and done with, your headache will be gone.”
“If Harry lives.”
“He will, he’s good at that sort of thing.”
“You honestly believe that?”
“I do, but things would be better if you told him everything, including the Memory Charms, not just the bits you think he needs to know.”
“If I’d told him everything, then he’d never talk to me again.”
“There is that, but he’ll find out sooner or later. He’s far from stupid and the only chance you have of ever talking to him again, is for him to find out from you.”
She removed her hands from his neck and swatted his head.
“Yes, I know…”
She stood and his headache grew worse immediately.
“I’ll leave you to your plotting. Shouldn’t Tonks be here by now?”
“Probably. I’ll give her a few more minutes then go and give her a swift kick up the jacksie.”
Edith walked towards the door of the study and just as she reached out to grab the handle, the door flew open and Tonks fell into the room.
Harry went through the plan once more in his head. Like all of Black’s schemes it appeared unnecessarily complicated, and he was sure that there was a lot more to things than he’d been told, but at least matters were being brought to a conclusion. And not only that, but Black had finally promised to talk to him after it was all over.
Now all I have to do is survive it all.
He was the bait in the trap, not for the first time, he suspected, but at least this time he knew what was going on. It worried him that Ginny would be there, too, but once the fighting started, she would safe and sound. He’d wanted to talk to her, to tell her what was going on, but Black and Dumbledore had refused permission for him to do so.
I just hope she doesn’t think I’ve lied to her, again.
Ginny took a long look at the parcel on her bed, wondering if she was going to bother opening it. If the handwriting hadn’t been so obvious, paper and string would be strewn all over the floor and whatever gift was inside discarded or accepted.
Why did he have to go and complicate things?
After their last meeting, she felt she knew him a bit better and held out hopes that, given time, they would work things out — eventually. He had sent the odd letter, nothing much, and she had begun to feel he didn’t really want their relationship to go anywhere. And now he was, spoiling it by sending her a Christmas present when all she wanted this Christmas were answers from her parents.
Well, at least he hadn’t asked her to the Ball. She knew he could have done so. Even though he had left the school, he was still a student until the Michaelmas term was officially over and that wouldn’t be until the train left at eleven tomorrow.
She took a deep breath and started to open the parcel.
I’m going to regret this.
Misdirection, she reflected, was the best solution to difficult problems.
So as she walked through the atrium at the Ministry, she made sure she made eye contact with as many people as possible. Nothing added to an alibi more than a score of people able to say they saw you. She reached her destination and was pleased to find the young woman was expecting her.
“Is all in readiness?”
Bellatrix leaned in and kissed her on the cheek.
“Then let us begin.”
Ron Weasley pulled at the collar of his dress robes and checked the clock on the wall. He groaned when he saw there was still over an hour to go until they had to leave for the Great Hall. What did women do that took so long to get ready? He’d thought Hermione wouldn’t turn out to be such a girl, but it appeared even she wasn’t immune from the frenzy associated with the Yule Ball. He flicked through his copy of Quidditch Monthly for the umpteenth time, wishing it was all over and done with. It wasn’t that he didn’t think Hermione wouldn’t look good in her robes, it was just that he knew he wasn’t much of a boyfriend, and he doubted he’d be able to keep her entertained for the whole evening. He knew she didn’t have queues of boys waiting to ask her out, but surely at some point she’d get bored and she’d go off and spend time with someone else. Wouldn’t she?
He was glad his sister wasn’t going. After the last trip, she’d spent far too long with Potter, and he’d had to step in and let the git know he needed to steer clear of her. He’d been surprised Potter had listened and even more surprised he’d agreed to stay away from her. He knew Ginny would be angry when she found out, but by then Potter would be long gone. The lad wasn’t that bad, but he was in Slytherin and once a snake always a snake, eh?
He tossed the magazine onto the bed and glanced at the clock. Still only five past? Still? He stood up and walked to the top of the stairs wondering if he should join the other blokes downstairs. Like him, they’d been ready for ages, but he’d stayed in the dorm unable to shake the nagging belief there was something he was supposed to do. Just what it was he couldn’t for the life of him remember, but he was convinced it was to do with the Ball.
She’ll kill me if I’ve forgotten something. Best stay here until I remember.
He sat down again and racked his brain.
At the top of the stairs stood Seamus. “Time to get your arse in gear, the girls will be down soon.”
“But it’s only five past.”
“That clock’s been wrong for years, Ron. You don’t really pay attention to anything, do you?”
And with that he disappeared, leaving Ron to wonder if he was coming or going.
There was a time, thought Albus, when I was naive enough to think that once Tom was gone, then the war would be over.
On the one hand it was comforting to think that even at his advanced age he was still capable of naivety, but on the other…
He settled back in his chair, steepling his fingers and wishing it was all over. He was being dragged along with Black’s mad schemes once again.
I should have said ‘no’ back in August when Harry first came to school.No, he corrected himself, I should have put my foot down immediately Tom had been vanquished. Perhaps the time has come for me to retire? Possible write a book or two? Possibly.
He took a deep sigh and rose to his feet.
“And te tide and te time þattuiboren were, schalbeoniblescet.”
“Kreacher is a good house-elf, yes he is. He knows that; Master Harry tells him all the time. Only Master Regulus treated Kreacher like that, but Master Regulus was dead. Killed, Murdered.
“Kreacher loved Master Regulus, but he loves Master Harry more. Good Master Harry had ignored Bad Master Sirius and treated poor, sorry, worthless Kreacher like his Master Regulus. Master Harry had killed the Dark Lord, who hated house-elves, even good ones, and had treated poor Kreacher with shame and killed his beloved Master Regulus. Master Harry loved Miss Bella too, but Bad Miss Bella was not worthy of Master Harry’s love. Kreacher sees things, yes, he does, sees lots of things, and what Kreacher sees troubles him. But he can’t say; no, poor Kreacher cannot say. Miss Bella is of the blood, the old blood, the pure blood and Kreacher is bound to the blood. Master Harry is good and Kreacher wants to tell him, but he can’t, poor Kreacher can’t because Mistress has forbidden it.
“He sees Mistress with the changeling half-blood and Kreacher is sad because the half-blood is Master Harry’s friend. Kreacher would stop Mistress, but the blood is strong and the poor changeling, she is not of the blood, not properly, not in the way Miss Bella is. Kreacher has promised to help Master Harry tonight, and he will and he must, and he delivered his parcel, yes, he did, but poor Kreacher can’t tell him this. Can’t tell him, wants to tell him, yes he does, Kreacher wants to tell Master Harry what she’s done and where she’s gone. But, poor, sad, mournful Kreacher can tell no one about it, even nasty Master, Bad Master, Horrid Master Black. And Kreacher shudders because Miss Bella will hurt Master Harry and his friend he wants to kiss. Kreacher has seen Master Harry’s friend and he likes Master Harry’s kissing friend, but he thinks Master Harry likes her more.
“And then there is Him. He will kill Kreacher if he tells, even if he tells Miss Bella. So Kreacher waits and hopes that Master Harry will still want to be poor Kreacher’s Master when he knows, if he knows or can know.
“So Kreacher waits.”
“Help me, Sirius!” Edith shouted as she caught the young woman as she fell.
Before she could turn and berate Sirius for being slow, he was at her side, taking the weight of Tonks’s limp body from her and helping her lay his niece down on the dark green chesterfield that dominated one wall of the room.
Slowly she opened her eyes, but appeared to find it hard to focus on the world around her.
“Tonks? Can you hear me?”
“Feel… feel… feel…” and then she threw up.
Edith pulled her wand out and quickly cleaned up the mess. Supporting Tonks’s head with one hand, she waved her wand with the other.
“A glass and some water! Quickly, Sirius!”
Sirius grabbed the tumbler that appeared in front of him and waited as the glass filled with water. Once it was full, she was encouraging Tonks to drink.
She turned towards Sirius. “Poison?”
The elf was suddenly in front of Sirius, his normal calculating look gone and a blank, almost calm expression, despite the situation.
“Yes, Master Black.” If his tone had been designed to wind up Sirius, it couldn’t have been pitched better.
“There’s no time for your sodding sarcasm, you bat-eared bumpkin! Tonks has been poisoned and we need a Bezoar.”
Edith expected the elf to disappear immediately in a fit of pique, but instead Kreacher merely shuffled over towards Tonks and sniffed.
“Miss Nymphadora,” he said, in a tone that displayed exasperation with his master’s lack of understanding, “has not been poisoned.”
“Stop arguing with me, you great lummox, get that damn Bezoar!”
“Kreacher is not surprised that Master Black doesn’t recognise it, no, he’s not, but then Master Black prefers to be sequestered in his Seraglio, with his strumpet rather than learning the ways of his noble ancestors.”
If Sirius didn’t understand the insult, Edith certainly did. She had put up with a lot as first Sirius’s paramour and then his intended, most of it from Bellatrix, but she had also endured a continual stream of snide remarks from the house-elf. Sirius did not command his elf’s affection as Harry did, but there was a line that Kreacher would not cross with his master. There was no such line with Edith, not whilst she remained Sirius’s partner rather than his wife. She was about to shout at the Kreacher, but stopped herself as reality dawned.
“It’s a curse?”
Kreacher turned towards her, his face an expression that was part grimace, part smile. He bared his teeth at her and nodded. “Kreacher sees, yes he does, and Kreacher knows, yes, yes, he knows, he does, mmm.”
“Who cast the spell, Kreacher?” she asked with more calmness that she felt. The scene was set for an almighty row between Sirius and his elf and she wasn’t about to let past animosity get in the way of saving Tonks’s life. Instead of addressing her, Kreacher turned to face Sirius.
“Does the Master not know? Kreacher isn’t sure that he should be telling secrets. She will be upset and Master Harry will not be able to protect poor Kreacher anymore.”
“She? Who are you talking about?”
Before Kreacher could reply, Edith answered.
“Bellatrix! You are talking about Bellatrix, aren’t you Kreacher?”
Kreacher merely nodded and shuffled away from the humans.
“Kreacher! You come back here—”
But Edith put a hand on his shoulder.
“No, Sirius, leave him alone.”
“But he knows what’s happened to Tonks, and if he won’t tell me what, I’ll force it out of the little bugger!”
“Stop! Leave him be, Sirius! Have you ever thought why he doesn’t obey you in the way he does Harry or even your accursed cousin? You’ve treated him no better than Voldemort and his cronies and if Tonks dies because you can’t keep yourself under control, then I’ll make sure that Andy knows. Now stop being an idiot and talk to him. He won’t listen to me but he will to you.”
Kreacher had stopped backing away and instead was staring at her as she ranted at Sirius. Sirius had his wand out and it was still pointing at the house-elf, but he now seemed unsure as to what to do.
“Master Sirius has found a witch of good sense, more than Master Sirius has. Master Sirius should listen.”
“Put your wand down, Sirius, and ask him about Bellatrix. Sirius!”
Finally, Black lowered his wand. “What is she up to, Kreacher?”
He shouted more than asked, causing Edith to wince as he did so. Did this man have no brains?
“Miss Bella is out.”
“I know she’s out, you stupid idiot—”
She watched him take a deep breath and then begin again. Tonks did not stir all through the conversation, and if it wasn’t for the slow rise and fall of her chest, she would have believed her dead, so cold was her skin.
“Kreacher,” he took another deep breath, “I know Miss Bella went out, but did she come back in again and do something to Tonks?”
Kreacher stared at him, his mouth moving, but no words come out.
“Damn family bindings! Damn Bella! He can’t tell me anything.”
“He can, Sirius, and he will, if you phrase it right.”
“I haven’t got time for twenty questions, we need to find Bella and get her to reverse it.”
“She’s long gone, and if this is anything to go by, she knows what we’re up to tonight and is busy messing everything up. So get on with it!”
“Kreacher,” she asked, “Miss Bella came back without us knowing and placed a curse on Tonks, didn’t she?”
There was no response from the elf, but this time, rather than letting his anger get the better of him, Black continued to think. Edith watched in frustration, willing her intended to reason his way to a solution. The tension in the air was palpable and, not for the first time, she wondered why it was that when it came to dealing with Kreacher, the schemer who could come up with a hundred different ways to perform a simple task was so blind to reason.
And then, she saw the expression on his face change from anger and frustration, to realisation and relief.
“It’s a family curse, isn’t it?”
Rather than answering, Kreacher merely stared at him. Thankfully, Sirius remained calm and carried on.
“So it will only work on those with Black family blood…” He paused. “…and it can only be reversed by someone of the blood!”
If he was expecting his eureka moment to be greeted by applause and acclamation by anyone, then he was sadly disappointed. At first the elf didn’t say anything and Edith had to put her hand on Sirius’s shoulder to stop him from resorting to his previous rant. But then the elf’s eyes went from being angry and upset to calm and hopeful.
Then he took a deep breath and spoke, taking great care over his words and the intonation.
Edith sighed again as it was clear that the subtlety was lost on his master.
I’ve been patient enough, thought Edith, time to act.
“Shut up, Sirius, or I’m leaving with Tonks and taking her to Andy. Think, rather than shout. Is there a family curse, one used to discipline family members that can only be cast by and lifted by a family member?”
She waited for what seemed like an age. “Think, Sirius! Think!”
He paused and then a smile crossed his face. “Verili, Nymphadora, ye schulen be fre!”
A red light shot out from his wand and a brown sphere enveloped Tonks, who promptly opened her eyes and threw up.
“That bastard… witch!” she declared before the next heave of her stomach stopped her.
“Sirius… she knows… what… we’re doing!” With one last heave, she wiped her moth with the back of her hand whilst Edith cleaned her clothes and helped her to sit up.
“Tonks, thank goodness you’re back.”
“But she knows, Sirius, she knows. Harry is at risk.”
“Yes, she does know that we’re going to Hogwarts tonight, but she doesn’t know everything, she can’t.”
“She’s a clever bugger, she probably does know everything. What are we going to do?”
“No, she can’t know everything unless she’s broken all the Memory Charms.”
“Everyone’s instructions for tonight are layered behind Memory Charms. They only unlock with certain phrases or actions.”
“And if the person with the phrase is dead or unconscious, what then?”
“Then that triggers the removal of part or all of the Charm.”
“Isn’t that playing God?”
“Perhaps, but it was the safest way to set all this up.”
The boy bowed low, his pride protesting more than his back at his obsequious.
“Do you bring news?”
“Yes, Lord, I bring news.”
“I mean proper news, not that gossipy rubbish I get all the time about the Weasley girl.”
“Yes, Lord. The persons you told us to watch are moving. Miss Bella is at the Ministry and the girl is still in her room.”
“And Potter? Where is he?”
“He hasn’t moved from his last location.”
“You mean that he has and you and your idiot friends haven’t noticed.”
“Begging My Lord’s pardon, but we set the charms exactly as you ordered and none have been disturbed.”
“That presumes you set them correctly in the first place, and Potter is having a bad day. Sometimes, pure power is enough, young man, to slip through the wards of any building. You think the Headmaster opened the door and let me come in?
“Isn’t that the way she enters?”
“She enters that way because she has chosen tradition over efficiency and if she was as powerful as her father had led me to believe, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
“And what about the crystals, are they in place? You did manage to stick them to the walls, didn’t you?”
“Yes, we did.”
“Good, even someone as gormless as you couldn’t bugger that up, but I am open to being unpleasantly surprised.”
“Yes, Lord, thank you Lord. We will check the charms once more and report back to you immediately anything changes.”
“Don’t bother, Potter is on the move. I have other sources, more reliable sources than you and your classmates. It’s a good job your family brings more than your alleged competence and leadership or I would have to treat you the way the Dark Lord treated failures. Now be gone before I start to hanker for the Good Old Days.”
The boy kept his head low as he shuffled back towards the door, grateful to have escaped without punishment.
Once he had left the room, Rodolphus turned to the fat, nervous man and the repulsive sister who stood next to him. Pure blood was one thing, but just because there were no mongrels or half-breeds in the family didn’t mean that the blood wasn’t polluted.
Unlike some, the Black and the Lestrange families had been meticulous in their research of the main pureblood European families and it was that which first attracted his father to a marriage with them. That the girl had been trained to be respectful of a man’s needs and had thus accommodated his brother as well as his own particular desires, was a bonus. Lucius was welcome to the virgin, and the sister that rutted with the Muggle was more than regrettable, but he had been satisfied with his choice. That was, until it became clear of the extent to which some of her father’s business associates’ diseases had rendered her useless for breeding. Her desertion had come as a relief made more pleasurable by the betrayal of her cousin and his schoolboy charge.
“Well, what are you waiting for? Black and his friends aren’t going to kill themselves!”
There were times when Sirius thought he was too clever for his own good, and tonight was one of them. Despite the briefings he had given to everyone, he was the only person who knew everything and everyone else would remain ignorant of the bigger picture, unless, of course he died. And then it would be up to Harry and Albus to see the whole thing through.
He knew Bellatrix couldn’t be trusted and he suspected she had less than honourable motives when it came to Harry’s wellbeing, but he also knew she would do no permanent harm to him whilst she believed Harry could still be hers. From tonight though, he knew all bets were off and he had a dangerous adversary loose in Hogwarts.
Tonight, he had witnessed the truth of the old maxim: no plan survives its first contact with the enemy. He thought Bellatrix would poison Tonks rather than curse her, and had a Bezoar ready in case. The family curse had caught him by surprise, something he should have anticipated, and he began to worry about what else could go wrong. Still, there was no turning back now, the dogs of war had already been set free and were running towards the foe.
“Oh, Harry!” she cried as she stared at the now unwrapped package on her dresser. Slowly, as if stroking a wild beast that she expected to either flee or turn on her, she ran her hand across the material. It was almost too sheer to touch and it slipped through her fingers even before she could gather some of the folds in her hand. Just how he expected her to wear such a garment, she didn’t know. It would never stay in place. Not that she was going to wear it, let alone go to the Ball. That’s what he wanted, wasn’t it?
She looked down at the letter that came with the package; there, in large black letters, was written:
Tap the parchment and say the words.
She stared at the message, warring with herself and what she was going to do. If he’d wanted her to go to the Ball, he should have asked her himself. In not in person, then his owl was perfectly capable of delivering an initiation. She would have turned him down, as she had everyone who thought the Ball was an ideal opportunity to rekindle their non-existent relationship with her. If she went, after the rejections, she would forever be known as his. What was the point in enduring the pain of recovering her own life and becoming her own woman if she threw it all away to become known as Harry Potter’s Girl?
She lifted the robes out of the box they had arrived in and noticed that they were not actually a set of robes, more a collection of clothing that had Splinched itself getting from Madam Malkin’s to her room. She examined the conglomeration of cloth from all angles, but it made no sense to her increasingly intrigued mind.
Okay, Potter, I give in!
She picked up her wand and, tapping the parchment, spoke the magic words.
The parchment responded by exploding in a cloud of smoke which coalesced into the smiling face of her tormentor.
“Good evening, Ginny.”
That was new, didn’t he always call her Ginevra?
“Thank you for agreeing in part, at least, to accept this small token of my appreciation.”
She doubted that it would be small by anyone else’s definition except his own, but that wasn’t his fault.
“Now that the spells associated with my gift have been activated, you will find the contents of the box have started to unpack themselves. The clothing will take a few minutes to sort itself out — the spell work was complex and although there are quicker ways of doing it, none of them would be kind to the clothes themselves. A bit like machine washing something that was dry-clean only.”
She understood that the reference he was making was to the ways that Muggles washed their clothes, but getting something clean, properly clean, and not Scourgify clean, involved the clothes getting wet, so just what dry-cleaning was, she would have to ask him later. That was, of course, if she actually went.
“If you’re wondering about the washing machine, I can explain later, assuming you do agree to come with me. Now, onto the fun stuff! In the box you will now find a short-duration wand, a single-use Time-Turner and what looks like some doll’s shoes.”
She looked into the box and picked up the Time-Turner.
“Whatever you do, don’t start the Time-Turner running, otherwise you’ll find yourself… well, you don’t want to find out. Trust me, you’ll want to wait.”
She carefully set the Time-Turner back in the box and pulled out the wand and the tiny shoes. She saw that the shoes were actually boots and, even as small as they were, she could see that they were finely made.
“Tap the wand on the boots and they will grow to their proper size. I think I’ve got the right size, but once they’re on, tap the boots and they will change to fit you. Now, time for you to pop off to the shower and for me to disappear whilst you do so. When you come back, tap the parchment again with the wand I’ve provided, and I will pick up where I’ve left off.”
The face faded from view and she wondered what she was going to do next. She was torn; on the one hand, some of the finest clothing she had — and possibly ever would — come across lay a few wand taps away. On the other hand, did she want to give up what she had fought so hard to achieve? She wanted answers from him, and perhaps as they were dancing and socialising, she might get some. And just because she agreed to wear the clothes he had provided didn’t mean she was duty-bound to do anything, did it? And it was the least he could do, when she thought about it, given the lateness of the invitation. As a modern girl in the Muggle mode, couldn’t she give and take as she wanted? Expensive or not, no amount of gifts were ever going to give a man access to any part of her or her life that she wasn’t already committed to allowing. And still, he had never struck her as the type to feel entitled to anything. Even under the contract he had attempted to woo her, albeit in his own clumsy way.
Before she had made up her mind, the shower was running and her clothes were being discarded.
“It wouldn’t hurt to try on the clothes, would it?”
Bellatrix left the Ministry, nodding to those who greeted her, and getting into an argument with a woman who stumbled out of the Floo and knocked into her. Ignoring the whole thing or accepting the woman’s embarrassed apology would have been very easy. But today was about being seen.
“Stupid woman, can’t you look where you are going?”
“I’m very sorry, Miss Lestrange, really I am.”
“Apology NOT accepted. Why don’t you crawl back under the rock from whence you came and leave those of us who are fit to walk the earth in peace.”
“Now, look here, you hoity-toity nitwit! Just because some bloodthirsty relative jumped on a ship with the Bastard and killed a few Saxons doesn’t give you the right to boss the rest of us around still.”
“Oh, put a sock in it, you woe-begotten excuse for a witch, I have places to go and people to see, so get out of my way.”
The woman pulled her wand and Bellatrix responded in kind. But before a spell could be cast, a passing Auror intervened.
“Now, now, gentlewitches, ‘tis too late in the day for such a kerfuffle. Be at peace and be on your way.”
Ignoring his entreaty, Bellatrix shoved him out of the way, but before she could take the fight to her opponent, a jet of scarlet flew past her shoulder and stunned a passing Warlock.
The Auror quickly recovered and a few moments later he was leading them to the cells to process the papers for their arrest. The poor woman whose only mistake had been to stumble when leaving the Ministry fireplace was fighting back tears while Bellatrix was fighting to keep a smile off her face.
Mission accomplished. It will be hours before I’m released, and in the meantime, all I have to do is wait and eventually apologise to the woman. Whatever punishment I have to endure, my Mistress will ensure I’m rewarded. Now, where was that extra vial?
Edith watched as the combatants left for Hogwarts, glad that the drama, for the time being at least, was over. Now to play her part.
Still no response.
With the loudest crack she had ever heard a house-elf make, Kreacher appeared, a look of malevolent disinterest on his face.
“Master’s… lady… called Kreacher?” There was just enough civility in his voice to comply with Sirius’ orders to obey her, but barely.
Edith ignored the insult. Unlike Sirius, she could pick her battles and this was not the time for getting upset over trifles. That would change soon anyway.
“Kreacher, look at me.”
The elf glanced at her, but then looked away.
“No, Kreacher, look at me.”
At first there was no movement from the house-elf and then a look of concentration came over his creased and weathered face. This was followed by puzzlement and then wide-eyed disbelief.
“Yes, Kreacher. You can see, can’t you?”
A panicked look came over him and he hung his head in shame.
“Kreacher is sorry, Mis—”
“There will be time enough for apologies later, if indeed apologies are needed. As it is, I have little time to waste, so take me to Bella’s quarters.”
Without a word, Kreacher grasped Edith’s hand and the two of them disappeared.