Chapter 1 : The Lowlands
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Disclaimer: I claim no ownership of Rowling's work. However, I do own all my OCs.
Freddy sat on the fence bordering the cow pasture, watching the setting sun dye the heather red. She’d never realized before just how eerie the lowlands could look at dusk, with the empty valleys and great looming hills topped with old standing stones or some crumbling feudal fortress.
It made her feel downright haunted, like she had stood here before with the high wind screeching through her hair and someone calling out to her from afar.
A nervous flutter filled her stomach and she tucked her arms over her middle, hiding her hands in the folds of her Arisaid. She hardly ever wore the family tartan anymore, only on special occasions like weddings, births, funerals…
The kirkyard over in town would be empty now, save for the gravedigger who was filling in another plot under the Fotherby headstone. Donal Fotherby, aged fifty-seven.
Dear old Dad.
Freddy stuck her face straight into the wind to cool her burning cheeks. The cattle were lowing in the field beyond and she watched the easy swish of their tails, remembering how Dad would drive them into the barn every night with a switch of hazel, his collie dog underfoot.
Now the farm was empty, even with the cattle, the sheep, and her Shetland pony dozing in his stall.
Cancer. The word brought bile to her lips. Cancer.
She didn’t know until the end of it, until the night before when she was sleeping in a hostel in Greece. Dad hadn’t bothered to tell her or Mam about it. Instead, he let his life slip away with the same good cheer for which he was notorious.
She could have gone home, could have seen him one last time. Was he afraid she wouldn’t come back? Afraid she wouldn’t cast off her carefree life to spend the last days of summer with a dying man?
Dad. Oh, Dad. I would have done anything for you.
But it wasn’t guilt that kept her feeling haunted and sick on the moors that night. It was what she had seen, what had penetrated every thick layer of ignorance shading her mind.
Her old divination teacher, Professor Trelawney, had been right.
Freddy started as the back door of the farmhouse opened with a wooden groan, and she heard light footsteps on the cobblestones in the yard. She braced herself on the fence, feeling a sudden chill at her back, wanting to run and hide herself on the reddening moors until she no longer heard the cries from afar in her mind.
Her mother crossed in front of the barn, passed through the stile, and stopped behind the pasture fence.
“I’ve put a pot of tea on,” she said, her voice like a sharp stone lodged in the tender silt of a streambed.
Freddy glanced once over her shoulder. Mam had changed out of her Arisaid and was wearing her usual house robes.
She’d always looked a bit like a widow, favoring black and piling her dark hair atop her head in an efficient bun, but now her face was old and grey with age like the standing stones hidden in the hills.
“I’m a’right,” Freddy mumbled.
Finella Fotherby tugged her shawl around her shoulders. “Please, Forbia, be reasonable.”
Sudden anger boiled up within Freddy. Her fingers curled around the rough fence slat. “Mam, I’m not arguing with you.”
“You’re upset about what I said yesterday, about what Dad would have wanted for-”
“Dad didn’t care what I did,” Freddy said sharply. “He was happy so long as I was happy.”
“He would want to know that you were safe, that you could take care of yourself.”
“I can!” Her raised voice spooked one of the grazing cows. Freddy felt the hair on the back of her neck stand on end as Mam approached the fence.
Why does it have to be this way, she thought miserably. Always a fight. Dear old Dad isn’t even cold in the ground and already, already….
The tears came. She drove them away with a hearty sniff.
“The money your father left us will only last so long,” Mam said. “I can’t afford to support you.”
“Is this what all the fuss is about?” Freddy flinched as Mam gracefully pulled herself over the fence and sat next to her. “I haven’t been home in six months and now Dad’s gone and all you care about is money.”
“No.” Mam dropped her gaze, one slender hand resting neatly on her lap. “But Forbia, don’t you think you’ve traveled enough? How long has it been since you left Hogwarts?”
“I get along fine,” Freddy snapped, not daring to tell Mam just how low her funds were running. Sure, she was a bit of a slacker, too restless to commit herself to any one place, happy to see the world, to live, love, and learn.
Mam had never understood that. Dad had.
“You need to take responsibility for yourself.”
Freddy did not answer, but instead let the wind rise and carry away every ugly word. She closed her eyes, listening to the steady pulse of her heart in her ribcage. A dog barked, cow bells tinkled and she was reminded of the keening pipes, the sad, slow air Mr. McGregor had played as they lowered Dad’s coffin into the ground.
She was alone now. Terribly alone.
“Forbia, please.” There was a catch in Mam’s voice. “Don’t do this to me. Don’t fight me.”
Despite herself, Freddy felt a smile lift her lips. Nothing had changed. Nothing. She and Mam had never quite gotten along. Dad said it was because they were too alike, a pair of wild, lowland women with hearts belonging to the moors.
Freddy knew better.
She was nothing like Mam, nothing like the fierce, stoic lady that was up before dawn to make sure the family had their breakfast, to scold her daughter for being lazy and pull on her sloppy pigtails until they were straight and neat.
No Dad, she thought, we’re nothing alike.
It was showing now, splitting the last seams of domesticity. Freddy wondered if that’s why she had traveled so much after graduating from school. To get away from her, from the emptiness. And in turn, she had left Dad behind.
“I saw him die,” she said, letting her eyes flutter open.
Mam stirred on the fence beside her.
“He was sitting in his favorite chair in the kitchen, reading the Prophet, still smoking his pipe.”
“I was in Greece, Mam, and I saw it. Felt it. I knew before you sent word.” Freddy forced herself to look at her mother. “Professor Trelawney was right. I do have a way about me.”
Mam dropped her gaze and slid down from the fence, her boots sinking into the high grass. “Forbia….I…” But she couldn’t finish. Fresh tears marred her face. Slowly, she climbed back over the stile and crossed the barnyard.
Freddy watched her go. “Don’t worry, Mam,” she said, unable to choke back the bitterness coating her tongue. “I’m applying for a job at Hogwarts.”
Mam paused by the farmhouse door and shook her head.
Although they had wounded each other many a time, the pain was sharp.
Freddy let her own tears fall on the fence, the parched wood swallowing the salt readily.
The pasture was still and darkening under the setting sun, the cattle lowing, the wind crying.
Bye, Dad, she thought, too weak to bring the words to her lips.
This time the lowlands were silent, and no one answered her back.