The sizzle of bacon and fat frying on a pan attracted Ginny to come down the staircase. She hadn't known much about her assignment, other than the fact that she would be a nurse at the Malfoy's home. Her first instinct was to reject the job, but she knew her family could use the money. Mr. Samuel emphasized that they needed a girl like her – lively, joyful – and so she knew it was hard to refuse this offer.
Ginny had heard rumors about the Malfoys. It didn't take a genius to figure out what sort of craft the Malfoys were involved with, but she hadn't expected the family to be shattered to nothing after the downfall of Voldemort. While Ron, Harry, Hermione, and many other wizards emerged as victorious heroes, there were also many families that were completely destroyed. Though the rumors were varying, she had heard that Lucius had gone mad. Then there was the rumor that Draco had tried killing himself and was in a coma in the Malfoy household. It was dispersed by people who could swear they saw him move in and out of the Ministry of Magic daily, whiter in the face than bed sheets.
She tucked her long red braids into a bob, fastening it with a glossy yellow ribbon. Hoping that her dress would meet the favor of Narcissa's eye, Ginny stepped into the kitchen. She had expected to see something grand in there, but it looked very much like the Weasley's kitchen, only everything was much more spaced out in the large room. Standing by the Magic-Stove was Draco, his wand pointed at a skillet filled with bacon. He had an apron on, but it hung loosely on his slim frame.
" Good evening." She managed.
He turned and looked at her. The expression on his face was difficult to decipher. It was something between embarrassment and loneliness. " ' Evening." There was a pause, and he filled it with a warning: " You do know that, starting tomorrow, you'll be expected to prepare the meals?"
Ginny nodded. " I can do that."
Draco didn't have to say anything else. She realized that he didn't seek a conversation. Ginny sat herself down at the table and waited patiently for him to finish.
" Draco." A dry voice spoke out from the door behind Ginny. She spun around in her seat and saw Narcissa Malfoy, also tall for a woman, her face pulled into an expression that was just on the verge of fractiousness. " This must be the nurse?"
Ginny stood up almost immediately and then attempted to shake Narcissa's hand, but Narcissa didn't even budge from her position in the doorway. " How old are you, dear?" Narcissa asked.
" I'm eighteen, ma'am." Ginny replied.
" You do know you'll be staying here for quite a while, I hope. I most certainly expect you to keep from getting homesick, and fleeting off to your family the moment things go lonely." Narcissa smiled cruelly.
" I… I intend to visit home on weekends." Ginny answered, and added: " Draco told me what to expect—"
" When you're in this household, you will refer to him exclusively as Mr. Malfoy." Narcissa hissed. " Same goes for my husband. If you intend to go by first-name basis on the first day, you are sadly mistaken."
" I'm sorry." She replied helplessly.
Draco was silent, as usual. He turned from the stove, setting the skillet down on the table and promptly pushing the bacon slices onto the three plates waiting readily on the table.
" What's your family line?" Narcissa demanded.
Ginny looked down at her plate uncomfortably. " I… I'm a Weasley, madam."
" Lord, does the Ministry ever file anything correctly?" Narcissa replied, crossly, sitting herself down across the table from Ginny and grasping a piece of bread from the wicker basket on the table.
" I promise, I won't be any trouble." Ginny exclaimed. Harry, who had received Narcissa's report for a nurse, was especially kind enough to pull a few strings so that Ginny could get her job.
Narcissa had not meant to be very allowing with her rules when it came to the freedom of her nurse. She was unwilling to let the girl visit her family over the weekends, but then started weighing it silently in her mind. It wasn't a very large expectation - a small visit to her family every week would be just enough time away from home for both her and Narcissa to be satisfied. Ginny had caught on a bit to what the Malfoy family would expect and immediately conjured up three teacups, which she promptly filled with piping hot water.
" Do you have tea bags?" She asked. Draco motioned towards the cabinet hanging over the Magic-Stove. Ginny fetched the teabags and busied in preparing the tea.
" Are you in any relationship?" Narcissa persisted. " I won't have any boy loitering my house. We need a hard worker, not a slovenly flirt."
" No, I'm single." Ginny replied, thoughtfully. It seemed as if for the first time, she had begun to consider someone to be her mate, right there at the table. Her cheeks flushed and she added: " I don't think I'll be needing a boyfriend anytime soon."
" Times are hard. Very unusual of a young lady, to prefer work to a husband." Narcissa replied, her bitterness fading away into a trance-like state of remembrance. " I remember when I was young, my father lost his job for a while. It was so humiliating. I had to actually work for 2 months then - at seventeen! Can you imagine that, Draco?"
Draco, who had barely spoken a word so far, suddenly glanced up from his tea cup and spoke in a reserved tone: " No mother, I don't think I'd be able to picture you in such a state."
" See, now?" Narcissa stirred her silver spoon through the cup and then took it out, tapping it slightly on the saucer beneath the cup. " A family shouldn't rely financially on a daughter." She gave Ginny a hard look. " No matter how badly they are off."
" Well, I..." Ginny began, but was cut off again by Narcissa's droning voice.
" And young ladies should bite their tongue when someone older is speaking." Ginny stared at the tea bag floating around in the cup in silence now, feeling her embarrassment swell and multiply until it seemed to be in each of her vital organs and in all her cells, like the beating of a human heart, and it was a terrible feeling.
" My father got a better job, though. A father isn't doing his job unless he can support his family on his own." Narcissa then added, quickly: " Or at least the oldest son. Isn't that so, Draco?"
" Yes." He replied, in a voice that clearly showed he had not been listening.
Ginny smiled at this and raised her fork to her mouth, ready to try the bacon. Narcissa tapped her fingernails on the table impatiently though. " How impolite. You haven't even washed your hands."
At this point, Ginny felt absolutely degraded. She stood up and ran to the sink, washing her hands furiously, the humiliation now thundering along with her heart, filling her cheeks with blood.
" I'm very sorry." She whispered, returning to the table.
Draco had finished by then and was standing up. " I think I'll retire to my room for the night." He managed, glancing at his mother for her support. Narcissa nodded and Draco kissed her cheek and left the room.
Turning her face to Ginny, her tone of voice went from gentleness to icy fury again: "Now, you! Stand up and get the dishes into some sort of order. I hope that Molly Weasley had the sense to teach you how to clean...?"
" I can clean." Ginny replied. Her yellow ribbon was growing untangled and her red braids were swinging around her elbows as she stood and then hunched over the table to gather the dirty silverware and dishes. Narcissa watched out of the corner of her eye, while taking up her needlework in her hands. It was as if Ginny was the bane of society and Narcissa was keeping an eye on her to make sure that a piece of silver wouldn't be snatched and hidden into Ginny's pockets.
Ginny cleaned the dishes quickly and then cast a simple spell that had the dishes stack themselves into the cabinets again. " Good night, then. I'll be going to sleep too." She stated, hoping that Narcissa would smile and nod just as she had for her son.
" Isn't it a nurse's job to keep company?" Narcissa exclaimed angrily.
" But you..."
" My needlework keeps my hands busy, but not my mind." She interjected. " Now, can you sing?"
" Only a few songs." She tucked her red hair behind her ears and then stood. " I can tell stories though." Her face was becoming rosy again, and her cheer gave the room an immediate electric jolt, adding color and life to the dreary gray curtains and the plain countertops and scuffed tiled floor.
" Amuse me, then." Narcissa commanded.
So Ginny spent her evening as a court jester for Narcissa, mumbling stories and amusing anecdotes as Narcissa stitched and sewed and worked her needle in and out, in and out of the little cloth in her hands. With each jerky stab, Ginny could almost feel a shudder, as if the needle was going right through her. Narcissa finally said, after a good half-hour: " Enough."
Narcissa had been smiling the entire time, but now she let her face tighten into a scowl again. " You can go to sleep."
Ginny bowed her head and then left right away, knowing she had been dismissed.
The scream must have come around one or two in the morning. Ginny's dreams had floated sweetly in her mind, as if she were still sleeping in her home bed. The room was incredibly drafty, but there was something very cozy about it now, with Ginny's numerous accessories to spice it up. She didn't react at first - the screaming cow in her dream was really more humorous than frightening, but then she realized the scream was coming not from her dream itself but from the outside world.
Her eyes burst open reluctantly, her first instinct being to check and see if Ron's owl had finally fallen trap to their newest family member - a black cat. Instead, she saw Draco standing in the doorway, his eyes wide. " Get up!" He exclaimed. " I thought you'd be in his room by now."
She stumbled out of bed, rearranging her nightshirt so that it looked more appropriate in the company of a gentleman. Together they rushed out into the hallway. Draco had been right about one thing for sure - she could most certainly hear whatever it was that needed her attention.
Stepping into the room, she saw the most grotesque figure she could ever imagine, even in her nightmares. It was Lucius, Draco's father, after two years of grueling illness and immobility. The pale, writhing body in the bed had wrapped the sheets around itself as if it were a mummy.
Inhuman sounds rose and then fell from it, like an unrehearsed choir all shrieking at once. Ginny grasped the nearest object for support, for she suddenly felt weak, and she found herself grasping at Narcissa. Narcissa's thin pale face was even more angry and even more threatening in the blind darkness, the moonlight just barely highlighting her features.
" You're late." Narcissa warned angrily. " I don't ever want to see you late, when my husband needs you."
Ginny nodded absently and then turned her face to Draco, hoping that he might offer her some sound advice as to what to do.
" He's having a seizure, again." Draco explained.
" I can see that! I can HEAR that!" Ginny exclaimed. " What am I supposed to do?"
" Let's unwrap him from the sheets first." Draco suggested.
Together, in the darkness, they began to slowly uncurl the shaking form from its position in the bed. The screaming continued, quieting and then rising again even louder. Ginny could now see the face, and it was a face worse than that of a specter back from the dead. For this face was the face of a man who should have very well been dead, but instead lived through agonizing pain for every minute of his life, every single day, for two years now.
" Oh, Lord." Ginny said through her clenched teeth. " Now... what?"
Draco's gray eyes were filling with tears. This was the first time anyone had ever seen Lucius ever since the accident. He was nineteen, just nineteen, but already an old man inside, shattered at having to deal with his father's illness each day. " I don't know." He replied, his voice cracking. " I thought you were a nurse."
Ginny nodded. " I am, I am!" She wiped at her eyes angrily. " I haven't - I have never - this is..."
" Just do something, quick. I want to sleep." Narcissa said, turning away from the sight and closing the door.
Working like a slightly unhandy duo, Draco and Ginny unclothed and then bathed the figure. The man had been shrunken and thinned beyond human form. His face and body were contorted and so sickly that it was difficult not to feel repulsed. Afterwards, Ginny sang softly, her voice wavering, as Draco tried to get Lucius to sleep again.
" Potter! It was Potter!" Lucius finally said, for once making perfect sense. At that point, even in the pitch black, Ginny was able to tell apart the look on Draco's face on the mentioning of Harry - it was a look of such pure malice and hate that it distressed her.