Brooms, Butterbeer, & Bereavement
Sweat clung to his forehead and bare torso. The muscles in his hands were sore as they had been holding the weight of Zangetsu for hours now. Ichigo ignored the discomfort. He had become weak over the past year, but that wasn't something he could afford anymore. Things were different from what they were last year. He needed to be strong.
With a deep breath, he reached inside of his being as he swiped his hand across his face, solidifying his mask. He continued his training. Thrust, slash, block, repeat; further committing the movements to memory, more so than they already were. His muscles strained, but he only stopped when there was a knock from the open doorway.
Ichigo gazed at Sirius. The man looked at him, his face calm, but Ichigo could sense the apprehension jumping beneath his skin. "They're about to head out now to get Harry, would you like to join them?" With the lapse in concentration, Ichigo's mask disintegrated into the air. The shinigami raised his arm in time to catch the warm towel Sirius threw at him. He wiped the sweat from his face and chest before he slung it around his shoulders. The convict had clearly seen better days, his appearance was ragged, more so than usual, and his frame had thinned over the course of the past couple of months. Ichigo couldn't blame the man. His godson was being targeted by he-who-must-not-be-named.
"No, thanks. I've never been a fan of broomsticks, and I need a shower anyway." Ichigo watched as Sirius' face fell. "Don't worry, Harry will make it here safely," he explained as he passed the man while leaving the room. He clasped a strong hand on Sirius' shoulder and patted his back. Sirius nodded as Ichigo climbed the stairs to his room.
The stairs groaned under the weight of his body as he ascended them. Step by step, he made his way up to the second floor. Ichigo smiled when he overheard Hermione and Ron bickering over something trivial when he passed by their room. Something about a cat? He continued his trek until he reached his own room. He knocked twice before he entered.
Winky looked up as the door opened, but she was not disturbed when she didn't see anyone come in. Instead, her eyes moved to the prone form of her master that was lying in his bed. "Master, Winky has laid out fresh clothes for you on your dresser after your shower."
Ichigo smiled in the doorway from her perceptiveness. After all, it wasn't easy to explain to the house elf that his soul could leave his body, but she wouldn't be able to see it unless she had witnessed death. He told her that he would knock twice before entering the room to alert her of his presence. So far, it had gone smoothly.
The shinigami crawled onto the bed and enveloped his gigai. It only took a moment for his soul to weave itself back into place. He sat up and nodded to Winky. "Thank you, I'll be back in a little bit." He smiled, but she did not return it as whole heartily as she once had. His gaze roamed to the empty butterbeer mug on his nightstand, but he chose not to comment on it. That was a discussion for another time.
He slipped out of his bed and walked to the bathroom across the hall. Knocking to make sure it was empty - he did share this one with everyone on the second floor after all - he stepped inside, locking the door behind him. He relieved himself before he turned on the shower and stepped inside. As the scalding hot water covered him, Ichigo couldn't help but sigh and relax. Nothing could ever outdo a hot shower after training. Ichigo stood there for a while, just letting the heat embrace him as he thought about what was to come.
Harry's court date was next week and even though he couldn't join him in the proceedings, Ichigo still planned to accompany him to the ministry. With all the fussing they were doing, Ichigo knew that they were going to be a key player in this fight against You-Know-Who.
Not that they acknowledged his return, mind you.
After all, there were only three people who saw the dark wizard personally. Cedric was there, but because of the curse he received and the trauma he sustained to his soul, his memory of the event was shotty at best and could not be trusted. Harry obviously witnessed the account first hand as he was the one to report the dark lord's reappearance. The third was Ichigo, but the ministry wasn't going to touch him with a ten-foot pole. If they were unnerved by the return of You-Know-Who, they definitely weren't going to acknowledge the emergence of the Ebon Phoenix, despite several witches and wizards witnessing his feat of resurrecting Cedric.
Ichigo shook his head and watched as the water droplets sprayed across the shower. It wasn't his problem to deal with. If he were to be honest, he was happy the ministry was keeping its nose out of his business. The less suffocating they were, the better. Ichigo doubted that he would be able to investigate the cause behind his mask materialization with them breathing down his neck.
Realizing he was spacing out, Ichigo quickly lathered himself and rinsed it off. He turned the water off and pulled the shower curtain open. The cool air seemed to chill him down to his soul. He grabbed a worn red towel off the rack and patted down his hair and body before he stepped fully out of the shower, mindful not to drop water across the floor. A commotion of sound could be heard from outside the bathroom.
'Harry must be back. I guess I was in the shower much longer than I intended.'
Ichigo wrapped the towel around his waist before unlocking the door and stepping out. He caught the attention of the two teens who were hugging down the hallway. Harry and Hermione looked at him for a moment before they pulled away from each other. The sour look on Ron's face did not go unnoticed by the man, but it seemed to alleviate itself when they parted.
Harry walked towards him, his friends in tow even though they had been in the same quarters for a while now. "Hey Ichigo, it's been a while!" Harry exclaimed as he pulled Ichigo in for a hug as well. It just seemed to dawn on the young wizard that Ichigo was still damp and unclothed as he quickly pulled away. "Oh, sorry."
Ichigo laughed, "That's alright. We can chat after I get dressed."
"Oh, actually," Harry began as he rubbed the back of his neck. "Molly asked that you join them downstairs once you're finished. 'Order stuff,' she said."
Ichigo nodded slowly. "Ah. Best not to keep her waiting, then. She is awfully daunting at times, you know." On that note, he returned to his room. He didn't knock before entering, but the creak of the old wood was enough to alert Winky of his return.
Ichigo smelt the tang of the butterbeer before he saw the mug that Winky was cradling in her hand. The shinigami sighed when he noticed the glaze over her eyes and the sway in her stance. She had begun to partake in her new hobby after the death of the Moody imposter, Crouch Jr. The house elf would only do it when Ichigo wasn't in the room or nearby. Ichigo didn't know what he was more upset about, the fact that she was trying to hide the addiction from him, or that she felt the alcohol in her grasp had a better effect than talking to him.
He bypassed the elf in favor of the clothes on his dresser. Molly had sent for him, after all. Ichigo wasn't even sure what he would say to her. Despite his annoyance at the situation, it was a delicate one. Everyone grieved differently, and Ichigo knew that better than most. Whereas he took to violence, Winky took solace in a bottle.
Ichigo dried his body one last time with the towel around his waist before he began to dress. Winky had set aside a pair of dark wash jeans and a wool gray sweater for him to wear. There was a satisfying snap as the elastic on his underwear conformed to his hips. He slid his feet into his pants and slid them up his legs before he fastened them. Ichigo had just pushed his head through his sweater when he heard Winky walk up behind him. "Is Master Ichigo mad at Winky?"
Ichigo turned around to find Winky standing with her head lowered and her hands fiddling with the hem of her dress. The shinigami kneeled before her and cradled her face with his hands. He lifted her head to look him in the eyes. "I could never be mad at you, Winky… I'm just disappointed in myself that you think butterbeer a better companion than I when you're in pain."
"That is not true!" Winky spoke up as her eyes began to glisten from something other than the alcohol in her system. "Winky loves Master Ichigo very much, that she does."
Ichigo pulled his hands back to his own lap. "Then why don't you talk to me?"
Without the man holding her head, Winky broke eye contact again in favor of watching her hands continue to ravel themselves in her dress. "Because Sir is busy with other things, and Winky's old master tried to hurt her new one and Winky has tried to tell others before how she feels, but no one listens… and Winky is scared that…"
"Scared of what?" Ichigo prompted.
"Winky's past masters were both good men at one point and Winky cannot help but feel as though she is the root of their problems and that if she is not careful, she will cause bad things to happen to her new master too."
Winky froze as strong arms pulled her into a tight embrace. Ichigo held onto the elf tightly. "Winky, it is not your fault. Crouch Jr. made his own decisions. No one forced him to do the things he did, not even the Dark Lord, do you understand me?" When she didn't respond, Ichigo pulled her away from him again.
"Winky, look at me," he demanded. She complied. "The only thing you are guilty of is making your family proud from your dedication. I'm proud to have you working for me. I want the whole world to know that Winky is my house elf. Do you understand me?" This time, she nodded with a tremble in her lips. Ichigo pulled her back into a hug, albeit gentler than he had before.
A tentative silence filled the space between them. Several moments passed before Winky spoke. "Winky is proud of Master Ichigo too, that she is… Mrs. Weasley asked for you while you were bathing."
Ichigo shook his head as he loosened the connection between them. "Molly can wait, you're more important right now. Come on, let's have some tea."
Alright, everyone, it's finally here! I'd love to hear what you thought of the first chapter, and what you think/hope to see in the second installment in the comments!