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Crocus by Equinox Chick

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Andromeda had always preferred Apparition to Portkeys. There was something about taking charge of one’s own destination, which forced her to concentrate. In her mind, Portkeys were less reliable because she couldn’t know exactly where she’d land. Howver she felt safe with Kingsley, and as they landed in an alleyway to the side of Gringotts, she felt his hand on her arm, steadying her in case she stumbled.

–Damn, Skeeter’s there with that reptilian photographer,” he muttered, peering around the corner.

–Can we use a side entrance?” she whispered.

–Not advisable,” he said grimly. –The goblins have strict Security Charms surrounding the bank, and if we attempt entry other than at the correct entrance, then a Caterwauling Charm will rouse the whole of Diagon Alley, and half of Knockturn, too.” He chewed the side of his mouth and glanced at her. –Disillusion Charms will disappear as soon as we approach, as will any Transfigured disguise. Sorry, Andromeda, I thought we had a little more time.”

–Come on,” she said stoutly, and stepped out into the main street. –I can say ‘no comment’ as well as the next person. And at least the Malfoys aren’t here yet.”

Rita Skeeter didn’t look surprised when she saw Kingsley, but her eyes widened when she realised just who he was accompanying.

–Andromeda Tonks, what brings you here so late at night with the Minister?” she asked, deftly removing her quill from behind her ear.

A flashlight went off, just after Kingsley raised his hand to ward off the photograph.

–Madam Tonks does not need your questions, Rita,” he began. –If you have anything-”

–No comment,” Andromeda replied, and tilted her face away from the camera.

–Come to open your cousin’s vault?” Rita persisted. –Only shouldn’t you wait for your sister?”

–No comment,” Andromeda said, still not looking up. Kingsley ushered her up the steps, but even with his looming presence, Rita skipped up the steps in front of them.

–What will you do with the money, Andromeda? Do you have a message for our readers? Can’t be easy for you these days.”

–No comment.”

–The Lestranges lived off the treasure of others,” Rita yelled. –Your sister stole treasure from Muggle-borns to keep You-Know-Who happy.”

Andromeda kept her face straight, knowing any attempt at a smile, sardonic or otherwise, would be distorted by The Daily Prophet to show her in the worst possible light. –No comment.”

–Still, it must be tough looking after a kid at your time of life,” Rita said, sounding friendly. She leant in, her face close to Andromeda’s and hissed, –How is the little cub?”

Andromeda flinched, the camera bulb flashed, but this time Kingsley wasn’t quick enough to prevent the photograph, because he’d moved sideways. Now he was physically moving Rita away from Andromeda, carrying her down the steps, much to the amusement of the photographer.

–I’ll have you for this, Minister!” she yelled, her fists pounding on his back.

–Silencio!” he boomed as he deposited her on the pavement. He bent over, speaking slowly and clearly to the furious journalist. –If you’re a good witch, Rita, then I might have a statement for you later. But you are NOT to harass Madam Tonks, or I will ensure the Auror Department investigate you very thoroughly. Do you understand?”

–Kingsley,” Andromeda called.

–It’s all right, Andromeda, Miss Skeeter’s not going to bother you now.”

–It’s not that,” she said. –The Malfoys have arrived. I can see them at the Floo point outside Flourish and Blotts.”

Quicker on his feet than she’d thought possible for such a heftily built man, Kingsley loped to the top of the steps, and hammered one fist on the door. –This is Minister Shacklebolt. I have an important meeting with Gorrick!”

Almost immediately, the doors creaked open. In the distance, Andromeda could see Narcissa, Lucius and a third figure she assumed to be Draco, striding towards the bank. Kingsley slipped through the doors, then pulled her through, before slamming them shut.

–Gorrick,” he said, inclining his head respectfully, and pulling out a sheaf of papers. –This is Rabastan Lestrange’s heir, Andromeda Tonks. I have the proof here.”

–Blood will tell,” Gorrick replied, and walked forward to study Andromeda. He was short, wizened as all goblins were, with a disdainful expression on his face. Andromeda wasn’t sure she’d met him before, her account whilst not deprived of money, certainly didn’t hold any treasures that would interest the Head Goblin. But there was a glimmer of interest in his shrewd eyes as he surveyed her.

–Madam Tonks,” he rasped. –If you are not a true Rosier, then you will not be able to enter the vault. And imposters will be dealt with severely.”

She arched her eyebrows. –Oh, I am a Rosier - that is not in any doubt.”

He bowed low. –Then come this way. There is a cart waiting and Bedrug will take you both down to the depths.”

–There’s one more thing,” Kingsley said, turning back to Gorrick. –Madam Malfoy is about to arrive. I suspect that’s her knocking now. If there is a way to-–

Gorrick stared at him. –As she also is an heir, I cannot prevent her from examining the Lestrange vault,” he replied. –However, she has made no appointment with me, and there will be preliminaries to get through before I will allow her access.”

Kingsley grinned, and if Andromeda hadn’t known this was a goblin in front of them, she’d have sworn he gave them both a wink.

Bedrug gave no wink. Bedrug was a grim faced goblin who gave nothing more than a grunt in acknowledgement that they were in his cart. Setting off with a jolt, before they’d properly settled into the cramped cart, Andromeda stumbled, falling into Kingsley. Then as she righted herself, the cart jolted again and she staggered backwards.

His hand grabbed her cloak, reeling her towards him, his arm around her waist as he sat her down.

–Careful with the cart!” he rapped to the goblin. –Madam Tonks nearly fell.”

–I’m fine,” Andromeda assured him, –and we don’t want to slow down, do we? Narcissa could be right behind us.”

–True, but I’d rather we got there alive and uninjured,” Kingsley replied.

–I never realised you were so cautious, Kingsley,” she said, half mocking. –What happened to the fearless Auror?”

–I’m not reckless with other people’s lives,” he said, and turned back to Begrud.

She felt rebuked. It hadn’t been her intention to belittle him, but that’s clearly what he’d perceived. Caution was something she’d always advocated, time and time again with Dora.

‘You weren’t cautious with me, Dromeda.’

–I was younger then,” she muttered softly so Kingsley couldn’t hear. –And you were worth any risk.”

They travelled in silence for a few more minutes, Kingsley unspeaking. But his hand was clutching the side of the cart so hard she could see the whites of his knuckles.

–Vault 830,” announced the goblin, braking suddenly. He half turned towards Andromeda. –There’s a Blood Charm on the door. It’ll only open for you.”

Accepting Kingsley’s arm, she got out of the cart and stood outside the vault. Hers and Ted’s vault was much higher up, where the air was clearer and the light brighter. Here it was dank, dingy, and the smell of musty soil and fusty breath pervaded the air.

–What do I do?” she asked Begrud.

–Place your palm flat on the door,” he muttered, his lip curling scornfully.

–Wait a minute!” Kingsley stepped in front of her stopping her before she’d even flexed her hand. –What would happen if Madam Tonks had been disinherited?”

Begrud shrugged. –She’ll get hurt.”

–Andromeda, if Hermione is wrong, then-–

But she didn’t listen. All she could hear, in fact, was the whirr and clank and furious shouts of another cart, as someone far above them urged the goblin to drive faster.

–That’s Narcissa,” she said, and stepped up to the door. There was a palm print, bigger than her hand, embedded in the granite. The realisation that the last person who’d used it had been Lestrange at that moment hit her, and she shuddered. But despite the impending fear that threatened to engulf her, she raised her hand and placed it on the impression.

The door to the vault scraped open, metal against hewn rock, the sound setting her teeth on edge. Kingsley stepped in front of Andromeda, his wand raised, but didn’t enter.

–Narcissa is getting closer,” she whispered.

–Preliminaries, first,” Kingsley muttered, and waved his wand at the heap of gold Galleons in the front corner.

They shimmered and several coins spilt onto the floor, one landing just by Andromeda’s foot. She bent down, but Kingsley tugged on her arm. –I should examine it first.”

–I’m the one with the blood tie, Kingsley,” she replied, but instead of picking it up, she poked at the Galleon with her wand, flipping it over until it landed on her shoe. Kingsley’s hand clenched on hers, but nothing happened, except they heard a faint ‘chink’ as it clicked against her shoe buckle.

–It’s just a Galleon. Rabastan was a treasure hoarder, after all.” she said, and started to laugh as she held it in her hand. She peered inside, but didn’t walk in. As well as Galleons, Rabastan had accumulated a stack of possessions. There were one or two she recognised - her mother’s portrait in a silver frame and a set of jewel encrusted goblets that her father had used for mead - but the rest were either Lestrange relics, or possessions they’d stolen.–Begrud, we need to go inside to make an inventory, but I don’t want the Malfoys to disturb us. Is it possible to keep them away?”

–The door will close after you,” he muttered, his eyes glinting malevolently. Then he paused. –The Malfoys, you say.”

–Yes, Madam Malfoy has rights to the vault.”

The goblin hurried over. –There is another impression inside the vault,” Begrud explained. –It will open, when you wish to leave. As for the Malfoys ...” He trailed off, almost smiling. –Gedlunk is not as experienced as I am with the deeper vaults and their history.”

Emboldened, especially as the sound from the Malfoys ‘ cart was getting louder, the both stepped over the threshold. The door slid shut behind them, and they could hear nothing from the outside.

–Do you trust that goblin?” Kingsley asked as he conjured a sphere of light to illuminate the contents.

–Now you ask me!” she reproved, but turning to him, she smiled. –Oddly enough, I do. He certainly appeared to be on our side, don’t you think?”

–Mmm, he did,” replied Kingsley. He began to cast a variety of counter-curses. –What do you think that is over there?”

Andromeda peered at the object. It had a square and covered with a ragged blanket, standing out in a room filled with so much treasure. Peeping out from the cover, she spied a wooden foot with claws. –I think it’s my grandmother’s cabinet,” she murmured, –I remember getting trapped inside it once, but it had a ... a ...” She gestured with her hands, not sure how to explain. –Like a back board, you know in an arch shape. That’s been removed.”

Kingsley frowned. –Perhaps there’s something valuable inside it,” he said, and with one flick of his wand, he levitated the blanket into the air.

It was the wrong thing to do. Before the blanket had even landed, the doors to the cabinet swung open. The light from the sphere dulled to nothing as the vault was encased in darkness. And then the blackness swirled in front of Andromeda, solidifying into a smaller shape. Her eyes misted over, tears welling.

–Teddy,” she cried, and ran forwards as the little boy lay on his back, his eyes glassy and unseeing, a rivulet of blood streaming from his mouth.

–NO!” Kingsley leapt forwards, shoving Andromeda behind him. She screamed as the little boy disintegrated into a mass of dust, leaving her hollow and helpless.

–What have you done? What have you done?” she shrieked and pummelled on Kingsley’s back.

–It’s not real, Andromeda. Lestrange has planted some kind of Boggart in the cupboard. Watch... it’s changing.”

The mass of dust reformed around Kingsley, settling into another solid figure. Another Kingsley, one chained and writhing as earth and rubble crushed him. In an almost bored voice, Kingsley shot a spell at his Boggart self, and the chains became feathers, causing it to sneeze so loudly the rubble blasted away. He laughed loudly, Andromeda tried to join in, but after all this time, summoning up a happy thought was beyond her.

–Sorry,” she mumbled, furiously rubbing at her eyes. –I’m not much use here if I can’t even deal with a Boggart.”

–That wasn’t the normal type of Boggart,” Kingsley replied. –It fed not only on your greatest fear, but your deepest despair.” He ran his hand over his face. –I had some experience of these in Egypt in the pyramids. Because they live undisturbed in enclosed places surrounded by Dark Magic, they assume a more sinister aspect.”

Trying to recover some of her usual cool, she bent down by the cabinet. –It is my grandmother’s,” she said. –I was locked inside it once. But there’s not much more I recognise.”

Gingerly, Kingsley began to explore the stack of paintings, frowning at some, uninterested in others, until he pulled one out. With a grim expression, he showed her the portrait.

–Isn’t that...” She flinched. –Merlin, that is them, isn’t it?”

–Frank and Alice Longbottom, yes,” he replied. –The Lestranges liked their trophies, it seems.”

Aware the Malfoys would be close, they worked quickly, Kingsley pulling out items, whilst Andromeda noted down any possible provenance. He emptied a tea chest full of china cups and a large silver teapot.

–I’ve seen that,” Andromeda muttered.

–Your mother’s?” he asked.

–No. Dirk Cresswell’s. I was friendly with his wife for a while. It’s Muggle made, I’m sure.”

He turned it over, examined the small symbols stamped on the bottom and grimaced. –I think you’re right,” he replied. He stretched, flexing his shoulders. –Andromeda, this could take all night and all tomorrow. Are you sure you want to continue?”

–And have Narcissa benefit? No chance.”

–I can cast other spells,” he said, and stifled a yawn. –It should be easy enough. We might have to compromise with the Malfoys, as Narcissa is of Rosier blood, but it would stop them coming in and just taking what they want.”

She found herself yawning with him, and nodded her head in agreement. As Kingsley began to cast a range of Shield Charms, imbuing them with his own brand of authority, Andromeda examined the Cresswells’ teapot. It was dented and tarnished, not that valuable to a wizard, or even to Muggles in this state. Dirk’s widow might appreciate its return, but only for sentimental value. It was a trophy, as Kingsley had said, something for Rabastan to gloat over.

–Just this last corner,” Kingsley called. –And then you can open the - Ow!”

Alarmed, she looked around. Kingsley was smiling ruefully and he held up his hand. –Just a scratch. There’s a tapestry here depicting the Lestrange family tree. I’ve seen something similar in Grimmauld Place.” He stood back, waved his wand again, and pronounced himself satisfied.

–Right, shall we face the Malfoys?” she asked, and tried to repress an insane urge to giggle. Because however hard she tried to pretend that this was all to help those abused by the Lestranges, there was a part of her that only wanted to thwart Narcissa. As Kingsley nodded, she fixed a serious expression on her face and opened the vault door.

–What are you doing in there?” Lucius’s furious voice reached her before Narcissa could react.

–Begrud, thank you,” Andromeda said. –We’ll be leaving now.”

Lucius grabbed her arm, his fingers biting into her arm. –You will not leave without telling us why you are here!”

Mildly surprised that Kingsley hadn’t intervened, she looked Lucius up and down. –I would have thought that was obvious, even for you,” she said coolly. –My mother was a Rosier.”

–You were disinherited!” spat Narcissa.

–Apparently not.” She stared at Lucius’s hand on her arm, then glanced at his son. –Your son must be very proud of you, manhandling a woman simply to get your own way,” she whispered.

It did the trick. Lucius released her and stepped to one side. Now free, Andromeda looked over her shoulder to where Kingsley was leaning against the vault door. Narcissa eyed him warily, clearly respecting the power of the man, who was after all the Minister of Magic. The Malfoys may have disliked Kingsley Shacklebolt, but they understood the importance of staying on his right side.

She waited for Kingsley to step forward, to explain the procedures for opening the vault, and what they had discovered, but then he shot her a look, and his eyes betrayed something else. She returned to his side. Up close, sweat was beading on his forehead, and his eyes were glazing over.

–What’s the matter?” she said in undertone.

–My hand. I don’t know if something was on that tapestry needle, but I can’t move it.”

Pressing her lips together, Andromeda fixed a tight smile on her face and shielded him as she faced Narcissa. –We are making an inventory of what the vault contains. Rabastan appears to have treasures that belonged to Muggle-borns and other victims from both wars. I’m sure the Malfoys would not want to be associated with that sort of prize,” she said, and her gaze flickered to Draco. They locked looks, and then he turned away.

–There’s a portrait of Mother,” Andromeda continued. –And Father’s goblets. There’s also that cabinet of Grandmother’s, but it’s been hacked down.”

–I want to see for myself,” Narcissa said. –It is my right, and Draco’s.”

–Yes, I agree. Draco should understand exactly how vile his relations were,” Andromeda replied. –Narcissa, I will fight you if the confiscated possessions are not returned to their rightful owners. It’s late now. The Minister has placed the vault under many protective spells, which you will find hard to dismantle.”

–Undo them, Shacklebolt!” Lucius said coldly. –You have no right to keep my wife from her inheritance.”

Kingsley cleared his throat. To Andromeda it appeared every movement was painful for him, but he stepped up to Lucius, eyeing him coldly, radiating power and authority. –Your wife will not be cheated out of anything that is rightfully hers,” he said slowly. –And neither will Madam Tonks. We shall return here another time. The goblins can take a proper inventory for us all, and then the contents can be redistributed.” He took a breath. –Do not fight me, Malfoy. You cannot win.”

–If my wife loses her inheritance...” Lucius persisted.

–Who would care?” Andromeda replied, and laughed because she knew it would infuriate him. –Lucius, your standing in the magical community is still so very low. Protestations that a war hero and a war widow have robbed you, will fall on excessively deaf ears.” She turned back to Kingsley, not betraying the concern she felt when she looked into his eyes.

–Begrud, would you drive us back, please?”

Linking arms, she ushered Kingsley into the cart, praying he wouldn’t stumble, or show any sign of weakness in front of Lucius. Begrud drove off, fast but smoothly, not jolting the cart as he had on his way down.

–Shall I take you to St Mungo’s?”

–Not unless you have to,” he muttered. –It will appear in the Prophet.” His good hand clutched hers. –Andromeda, the Portkey is in my pocket. It will get us to your house, and then you can call a Healer.”

–I might be able to treat you myself,” she said. –I think it likely that the tapestry was impregnated with a Doxycide. I know Walburga used it to stop the Doxies attacking her tapestry. It’s entirely possible she got the idea from my mother.”

–The Minister of Magic felled by a common household Potion,” he said, and started to laugh feebly. –I’ll never live that down.”

She smiled, feeling immense relief that he could joke, despite the pain, and squeezed his good hand.

–Madam Tonks,” Begrud said a while later. –We’re approaching the entrance to Gringotts. The Malfoys are following. Would you like me to take you to a side door?”

She nodded. –That would be perfect, Begrud.”

He grunted something, then eased up by a small aisle. –Go through there, and it will lead you to the goblin entrance.”

–You’ve been very helpful,” Andromeda said as she helped Kingsley out of the cart. –Thank you!”

–I do not need your thanks,” he growled. –Rabastan Lestrange was complicit in the murder of my father, Gornuk. The Malfoys housed him. I can’t forget that.”

Supporting Kingsley, Andromeda staggered through the passageway. Clearly suffering now, he leant heavily against her, and his head flopped forwards. Flinging open the door, she pushed him into the fresh air, heartened when he gulped greedily at the air.

–Portkey,” he muttered, pulling out the inkpot from his robe. –Andromeda, activate this and get us home.”