Winky the house-elf ponders the nature of relationships as she observes her Master and Professor McGonagall debate marriage law.
“Agnes Crouch is dead.”
“Says here in the Prophet. Agnes died yesterday.”
The soft, wrinkly witch in grey handed the paper to the sharp, pointed one in green, who scanned it briefly before handing it back to the other one.
When she heard her mistress’s witch-name, Winky had looked up briefly, confused.
My mistress is dying three months ago, she wanted to tell the two witches, but of course, she didn’t. Master had forbidden her to say anything about any member of the Crouch family to anyone.
The young house-elf prided herself on precision, accuracy, and correctness in her work. She had learned the importance of these attributes at her mother’s breast as an elfling born into service of the Crouch family. Master valued these things above all else, Winky’s mother had said, and Winky had observed it to be true. Rule-breaking and wrongness were not tolerated in the Crouch household; even Mistress and Young Master were not exempt from Master’s firm discipline and sharp tongue where infractions were concerned.
Winky curbed her impulse to respectfully correct the witches; she was unsure whether she should punish herself for it. The master’s command took precedence over all other imperatives, but Master had also instructed his house-elves to be helpful to the witches and wizards he worked with—after gaining permission to speak, of course—whenever possible. As an elfling, Winky had been given the task of helping Young Master with his studies: holding textbooks and providing correct answers when Young Master erred. Surely supplying her mistress’ correct date of death would be helpful to the grey one and the green one? But she held her tongue. Blumber, the kitchen-elf, had got in a new supply of dragonfire spice just yesterday; Winky decided she would ask for some when she returned to the Crouch home, to coat her tongue. Just in case.
She continued her search for Master’s ceremonial robe, saying nothing to the two witches who were taking their tea in the Ministry’s staff lounge.
“Very sad,” remarked the sharp witch. (Madam Minerva, Winky recalled; Master had called her “Minerva”.) “I suspected she wasn’t well when I saw her at the trials. I hadn’t seen her for years, of course, but I was shocked by her appearance. She was a few years younger than me.”
“Mmm. Always a shock when someone your age passes,” remarked the wrinkly one, whose name Winky didn’t know. “Happens a lot more as you get older—and nobody’s older than I am—but the feeling is the same . . .”
“Griselda’s older than you are.”
“After what we’ve been through lately, I daresay I feel as old as Griselda. Older.”
Winky saw Madam Minerva cross to where the wrinkly one was sitting. She averted her eyes when she saw Madam Minerva caress the wrinkly one’s cheek, and saw the master’s cloak sitting there, right where her eyes had landed. She Summoned it silently, so as not to disturb the witches, and smiled to herself at the soft words she couldn’t help overhearing. She’d been privy to precious few of those recently.
“This has been especially hard on you, my dear,” said Madam Minerva.
“Hard on us all.”
“Yes, but you have to face it every day. I wish I could take some of the burden from you.”
“Will you stay tonight?”
Winky heard the pause and Apparated away before she could hear the answer.
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