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Chapter 2: Decline and Fall
The next day Daphne and Astoria found themselves ushered into the kitchen along with the house elves to wait for the search to be completed. The kitchen was in the basement of the house and was often only inhabited by the three house elves and the dogs. It was a warm room with a large open hearth and copper saucepans. Bundles of herbs hung from the ceiling, giving off a pungent and aromatic smell. The plastered walls were lined with jars of spices, sugars and flour, all in neatly labelled containers. The girls sat at the large oak table and tried to listen to the voices from the floors above, but they were muffled by the thick stone and wood that divided them. Daphne scratched the head of the fat, fluffy cat she was holding absently, her eyes cast up to the ceiling as if she could see the bottom of the mens’ shoes on the floor above. Astoria was crumbling a sprig of dried rosemary in her fingers; she had given up trying to listen and was instead attempting to engage her sister in some form of conversation.
“How long do you think they’ll be Daphne?”
“I don’t know.”
“They’ve already searched the house once, what do they expect to find now?”
“I don’t know.”
“I hope they don’t go in mother’s breakfast room, Daddy was furious when they did that last time. Do you think they will?”
“I don’t know.”
“‘Storia please I’m trying to listen,” snapped Daphne, she had grown impatient now and Astoria knew better than to try and make contact with her again, instead she coaxed the fat ginger tom cat who was circling her legs onto her lap and tickled his nose with her fingers.
Out of the corner of her eye Astoria saw Daphne shoot her a furtive glance, checking to see if she had done any damage with her harsh tone. Of course Astoria felt no hurt at being scolded in such a way, in fact she felt a kind of comfort in her sister’s reprimands and apologetic glances afterwards. When Daphne had used her childhood name, from the days when the four syllables of her name had been too much for their child’s tongues, Astoria felt a contentment and happiness which came with being the adored and spoilt baby of a rich family. Daphne glanced at Astoria again and this time the younger girl looked up and bestowed a smile on her sister. Daphne smiled and returned her gaze to the ceiling.
The kitchen fell into silence once more, the only sound was the fastidious little house elves creeping delicately round the kitchen trying to clean without breaking the silence that belonged to their young mistresses. Their feet made shuffling noises on the floor and occasionally they yelped as a particularly impatient dog snapped it’s jaws at their bony little heels.
The silence was broken as quickly as it had come as the door opened with a creak and a figure gracefully descended the stone steps into the kitchen. It was a figure that was well known to the girls, a figure whose dark green velvet suit with silver buttons and detailing could belong to no other, for this was undoubtedly Silvius Delaney, their mother’s youngest brother.
“Oh my dears,” he declared, “How perfectly wretched of those ministry men to detain you in the kitchen of all places. Do you know, I had to fairly barge my way passed them, they tried to shove me back into the fireplace upon which I promptly announced my distress and threatened to cry,” Silvius smiled fondly at the recollection and stood looking expectantly at his two nieces. Astoria recovered herself first and leapt out of her chair, causing the fat ginger cat to fall to the floor, and ran to her Uncle, pulling herself up to kiss him on the lips. Daphne followed her and kissed Silvius neatly on the cheek before gesturing for him to sit down at the table.
The effervescent beauty of Silvius Delaney was always hard for people to capture in their thoughts, every way they could think to describe him always sounded clumsy and awkward. It was as if by wording his person he lost his magic so that you weren’t really describing him at all but were describing someone who bore a faint resemblance to him: like his reflection. He was an undeniably beautiful man, he had full red lips and long lashes, which coupled with his flamboyant manner, gave him an effeminate appeal and spark. But he also had a strong jaw and firm brows which made him handsome rather than pretty, and indefinable rather than feminine. His hair was the same colour as Astoria’s: a rich colour between red and gold and brown, and was meticulously side combed. He also shared Astoria’s nose though his model was slightly more pronounced and a hundred times more insolent. Everything about him was carefully designed to provoke scandal and debate, today’s suit which blatantly flaunted the Slytherin colours could not have been more controversial.
“Well my dear little nieces,” Silvius said, settling himself in a chair and crossing his legs primly, “How have you been? Has it been truly awful?”
“Truly,” said Daphne and turning to the nearest house elf added, “Dumpy, get us some tea.”
The house elf bowed deeply and scurried away. When it returned Daphne served up the tea taking care to stir in the right number of sugars and the correct proportion of milk, Daphne was a perfectionist in every way. Silvius however took no notice of Daphne’s carefully worked out routine and helped himself to two more spoons of sugar, stirring his tea deliberately and methodically. Astoria felt amused to see Daphne’s lips purse in frustration and remarked in her head that though Silvius’ face showed no signs of malice, that he was possibly the most infuriating person in the world because he knew perfectly well what he was doing.
Silvius cast a critical and haughty eye around the kitchen, “Good god it has come to this. Skulking in our own houses to hide from the wrath of the ministry, did you know they searched my house the other day? Yes, it was one of those abominable Wesleys-“
“Weasleys,” interrupted Daphne.
Silvius waved his hand dismissively, “Yes, one of them, awful things. Anyway this young man-Peter I think his name was-looked everywhere; though when I invited him to check my underwear drawer for dark and dangerous items he turned a most magnificent shade of scarlet and declined. It was all very odd.”
“I don’t blame him,” said Astoria, taking a dignified sip of her tea, “I can’t imagine a more terrifying prospect than rifling through your undergarments.”
“Although now we know a suitable place for hiding any illicit goods we may have,” Silvius said in a purposefully loud, echoing voice.
The girls flinched and Daphne immediately shot her gaze to the ceiling. Astoria followed her lead, her body leaning over the table giving her the look of a cornered animal. There was a collective intake of breath as the footsteps, which had been becoming louder as they drew nearer to the floor above the kitchen, stopped ominously. There was a mummer of voices from above and the sound of the men retreating away from the kitchen again.
Daphne turned to Silvius, her face imploring, “What do you think you’re doing?” she hissed angrily, “What will they think if they heard that? Our family cannot afford any more trouble and if you had any sense you’d realise that you can’t afford any more either.”
Silvius merely raised his eyebrows and took another sip of his tea. Under the table Astoria nudged Daphne’s leg with her own to try to comfort her. Daphne however still looked panicked and put her head in her hands, rubbing her eyes frantically with the underside of her wrist. Finally Daphne looked up and smiled tightly at her younger sister.
Silvius however appeared not to have noticed the fuss and stress he had caused; either that or he did not particularly care, “Astoria dearest I hear you have your results, all O’s I presume?” Silvius said smiling indulgently at his niece.
"Of course,” Astoria replied as flippantly as she could, drinking some of her tea to try and disguise her own pride at the fact.
“Yes,” Silvius continued pensively, “quite the little intellectual. Taken after your father of course, as you know I adored your mother, but God knows she was not an intellect. Educated, yes and sharp and witty but she never had a brain for academic pursuits. Just one for good conversation, she could talk about anything and know about it too, but no intellect, no academia. And as for Cordelia, well! All spark and no substance really, and very little spark. It is such a shame, I feel she lets us down, as devoted as she is.”
Daphne smiled wryly at him, “Lets you down? Surely she is the most successful, look at the marriage she took. Look how rich she is.”
“Yes, but now her act as the grieving yet glamorous widow is wearing a bit thin.”
“Ah, but people still think she may have murdered Hamish, that must give her some credibility as a Delaney. She’s still got that mystique. She’s still famous...well infamous,” argued Astoria.
Silvius sighed theatrically, “Well I suppose I’ll have to agree with you. But I still don’t like her. She’s like a daisy that has grown up in the shade of a rose bush. I don’t suppose anybody who was your mother’s sister could ever do particularly well in their own right because no-one would expect them to. It’s odd isn’t it?”
The girls watched as Silvius took another sip of his tea. Astoria could see Daphne steeling herself to deflect any more conversation on the topic of their mother. Daphne was strange when it came to their mother she seemed to love and hate the memory of her in equal amounts. She loved the photos and the pictures but hated the stories and anecdotes of other people. It was as if she thought that Ophelia Greengrass was best kept in two dimensions; on a canvas or behind a photo frame. If Daphne had any real memories of their mother, besides the things that everyone else remembered, she did not share them with her sister. Astoria herself had no memories, she had been six when it happened, but she could remember nothing more than the smell of a deep exotic perfume.
Whilst the afternoon melted away, Silvius talked incessantly. He talked of his friends who were in hiding, he talked of his own trial which had been brief but well publicised much to his satisfaction and he talked of his family. It did not take Astoria long to sense that there was unease on the Delaney side as well. They were known for their hedonistic, beautiful lives; their opulence. The Delaney’s were the other side of the aristocratic coin to the Greengrasses, they lived lives of idle wealth, and their business was parties and inheritance. In an environment where an abundance of money was equivalent to a conviction, the Delaneys were struggling. At last the small clock above the fireplace chimed seven o’clock and Silvius’ monologue died down,
“Heavens is that the time? I really must go,” Silvius got up and made towards the kitchen door, “I have to see Timon, he’s rather insistent. Farewell my dears!” Silvius exited the room with a typical flourish and wave.
Astoria stared after him in amusement, “He’s quite mad you know. Daphne...Daphne?”
Turning to look at her sister Astoria was bemused to find her in floods of tears. She was slumped on the table, her face buried in her hands. Daphne choked and spluttered and raised her head out of her hands. Her eyes were very red and swollen and her upper lip was slimy and glistening. When Daphne cried she did it properly: with determination and concentration and complete disregard to what she looked like afterwards. “It’s just seeing Silvius, hearing him talk about family it’s just...I don’t know,” she trailed off, collected herself and started again, I’m just so scared Astoria, Papa isn’t telling us the full story. If his t-trial was over why would they have to search our house? I just...just cannot...and why was Silvius anyway? He adores you...but he-” she broke off and collapsed onto the table again crying. Astoria sighed and stroked her sister’s arm. She had had exactly the same thoughts as Daphne, lying awake in bed the night before; the circumstances of their father’s trial were without a doubt fishy. It was odd for Astoria to sit there and comfort her sister. She followed the patterns of behaviour that she had seen Daphne use when comforting others. She stroked her hair and cradled her in her arms, pressing herself to her sister, she whispered and murmured random words trying to soothe and stop the relentless onslaught of emotion.
There was, Astoria thought, something distasteful in trying to stop somebody crying. Something false and flimsy in the little lies she whispered into Daphne’s ear, telling her that everything was alright and that there was no point getting upset over nothing. It was the reversal of roles that shocked Astoria most, though perhaps she didn’t realise it. It was the idea that she must now look after Daphne: her elder sister who had been her substitute mother for so many years. It was as though she was looking at her sister with the eyes of an adult rather than the eyes of a dependent child for the first time; Astoria found herself noticing how small Daphne’s wrists were, how delicate and translucent her pale skin was in the kitchen light, how Daphne, who had always stood so high above her younger sister, was in fact only two years older. Astoria sniffed; her nose had started to run so suddenly it was hard to tell if it was an emotion or if it was simply a cold.
Daphne sat bolt upright and looked concernedly at her little sister, “Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said, “don’t get upset... just being silly, just...” Daphne trailed off and got to her feet. She rubbed her eyes and snatched a handkerchief out of her pocket to blow her nose. Daphne paced around the kitchen agitated and flustered, alternately rubbing her eyes and blowing her nose.
“Daphne-“ Astoria began but she was cut off by the sound of the door flying open yet again.
Daphne stopped her frantic pacing and turned to look at the person who had opened it. It was their father. “Have they gone?” she asked. Her father nodded gravely and then pushed himself against the door frame as Daphne barged passed him. Roman Greengrass shot Astoria a questioning look. A look that Astoria felt herself unable to return.
Roman Greengrass sat alone in his study. It was ten to one in the morning. The carriage clock on his desk ticked loudly into the silent room, brushing the walls with the sound of time elapsing. The fire blazed in the corner of the study as it always did, even now in August. The flames illuminated the picture above the mantel piece. Roman stared at the picture as he often did when he was alone at night.
The study was an impressive and yet cosy room. It was one of the few rooms in the house that the girls were forbidden to enter. It was a sanctuary of knowledge and business. The dark floorboards were almost entirely covered by a rich, red rug and the walls were a combination of dark mahogany panelling and red silk wallpaper. Book shelves and cabinets full of trinkets and magical devices filled the room. At one end of the study was Roman’s writing desk, there were deep, black leather seats positioned around the desk, interspersed with tables baring cigars and matches, in the corner was a wooden drinks cabinet. It was without doubt a very masculine room.
Every so often Roman glanced at the drinks cabinet. He wanted more than ever just to drown himself in fire whisky, just get drunk and fall asleep. But he couldn’t he needed a clear head. Besides Daphne would worry if she found him hung over again. She would worry and he’d get aggressive and Astoria would tell him off and he’d hit them. Burying his face in his hands, Roman tried to blot out the anxiety that rested in his stomach. He thought instead of his daughters. He still had Astoria’s results from her OWL’s in front of him on the desk, all Os of course. He had expected nothing less from his academic daughter. He picked up the piece of paper and ran his finger along the lines of neatly printed writing. Astoria could do anything she wanted, Roman thought, she was the special one of the family, the one with the real spark. The one in whom the Delaney pride and aristocracy and Greengrass raw ambition and intellect had mixed the best. The one whose spoiled nature had not produced a petulant brat but a proud and self-assured girl; Daphne on the other hand had a different mix of genes. Roman did not understand Daphne. It was as though she was a different breed altogether, cold and yet motherly, aloof without any real pride. She was always second best, always eager to let someone else take the lead and then look after them. This was not the Greengrass way. This was some foreign nature which Roman could neither connect with nor like though he loved his daughter. Daphne did however have the gift of making good friends. Those who surrounded her at Hogwarts were all of eminent and pure-blooded families. Astoria’s however were eclectic, odd: all pure-blood or at least half, but with no discrimination of wealth or social rank. Not, Roman thought, that wealth or previous social rank were of much use any more.
“Good evening, Greengrass.”
Roman looked up to see the speaker step out of his study fireplace and dust himself off. The figure marched over to the leather chairs and threw himself down in the one directly opposite him.
“Timon, you came.”
Timon laughed, “Of course I came Roman, you didn’t expect me to go back on my word now did you?” Timon swept his haughty, heavy-lidded eyes, over Roman’s tired face, “Or perhaps you hoped I would?”
Roman gave a grim smile and stood up, “A drink perhaps,” he suggested. Timon smiled back smugly and nodded his assent.
When drinks had been poured and offered, the conversation seemed ready to resume. It would be like verbal warfare, and Roman would have to watch where he put his attacks and mounted his defences. Tactics of the tongue are the hardest kind to master and yet Roman had navigated many battlegrounds and fought many wars, he could overcome his adversary. He had to overcome him. To Roman’s surprise though conversation did not start straight away, both men seemed to find themselves lulled back into the old familiarity by the familiar tastes and smell of expensive cigars and oak matured mead.
Timon was older and greyer than Roman remembered him; but then Roman was older and greyer himself. Timon was Roman’s brother-in-law, the eldest of the infamous Delaney children, the eldest brother of Roman’s late wife. There were some shared characteristics but not many, Ophelia Delaney had most resembled the younger brother Silvius in manner and looks. Timon’s hair had been a rich brown but was now faded and greying. His eyes had been a clear bright blue that stood out from the smooth pallor of his face, but now they seemed glazed and sunken. He had, of course, inherited the famous Delaney nose though it was slightly larger and more masculine than Astoria’s and less pronounced and insolent than Roman’s wife’s and Silvius’. Timon’s clothes were rich and expensive but old. Delaney money was thin on the ground and Roman knew it. More importantly Timon knew it.
It was Timon who spoke first, tentatively edging his way into the conversation, “We were friends once Greengrass, best friends.”
Roman sipped his drink before replying, “We were. Before everything changed.”
“You mean before you chose family over friendship. My family. My sister.”
“It wasn’t as simple as that Timon-“
Timon cut Roman off, “No of course not, there was money involved as well.”
Timon’s face was still calm and betrayed no sign of emotion, apart from a slight contracting of the brow, but malice had seeped into his voice. An anger that Roman knew he would have to face, the deep wrath of soiled aristocracy. Roman swirled his mead about in his glass, “I loved your sister Timon. I loved her more than anything. That’s all there is to it. And as for my family loyalties; what about yours? We were both the same: trapped by relatives and duty.”
“And yet my idea of duty does not involve seducing my best friend’s sister so I could give myself a leg up on the social ladder and earn a nice bit of property! It was a very convenient arrangement for you wasn’t it Greengrass, but of course that doesn’t matter. You were in love. You thought you were so much better than them didn’t you? Your father and brothers. You the eldest Greengrass, you were the one destined for greatness, you were the one that made the journey into the dizzying heights of the upper class! You were the one that would bring Arbersvert out of the shadows again and into the world where it belonged. Our world. You wanted to escape. But you went crawling back didn’t you? You could never escape! And you know what’s worse? Not only could you not escape your own family you couldn’t escape mine!”
Both men were stood now. Mildly polite expressions wiped off their faces. The Hogwarts friendship stalled. Roman clenched his fists in anger and glared at his opponent. “Who was it Timon, who let the marriage to the girl he loved be destroyed by his family? Who was it that followed the career chosen for him by his mother? Who was it that couldn’t let go of their family? Who let them pull him back in every time he tried to leave the world he hated? Don’t you dare, Timon, don’t you dare tell me that I’m the one who was trapped. They sucked you in and they’ll never let you go!”
Timon was white with rage now and shaking. His glass of mead wobbled dangerously in his hand and his lips were pursed and tight. His voice was deadly and low, “You know your time is running out Roman, you know it is. What will happen to Arbersverte when you’re gone? It cannot be left to the girls,” Roman’s face paled and Timon nodded smugly, “Yes I know of the clause, the part of your father’s will which forbids females to inherit the property, the part you made the un-breakable vow to when you thought there was still chance of you having a son. Did you think she wouldn’t tell me? Did you think she really loved you more than her name? So who will take Arbersverte eh? Julius, your convict younger brother, the ministry will never allow it. A death eater in charge of all this property? Impossible. What about Calligulus? Calligulus the simpleton? He in charge of your great estate, your pride will never allow it.”
Roman looked long and hard at Timon, “You wish me to sign Arbersverte over to you, that is why you have come. And Silvius-“
“I sent Silvius over here to confirm the house’s condition and to try to talk to the girls, yes that’s right, though he didn’t do a particularly good job of it.”
Roman looked at Timon wearily “And why would you want my house old friend? What is it to you?
Roman collapsed into his chair again and rubbed a hand over his face. Through his fingers he saw Timon descend cautiously back into his own seat. He was so tired. “I will not give you my home or my money. Leave Timon.”
Timon just sat unmoving in his chair, his face clearly said he had no intention of moving. Roman felt a surge of anger, great powerful and destructive, rise through him, heating him to the tips of his fingers. He stood and pulled out his wand in one slick, fluid motion. “Leave Timon. NOW!” He bellowed, “I don’t care any more. If I curse you, so what? What more can they do to me. It is foolish to provoke a man who has so little to lose.”
Timon started from his chair and hastened towards the fire. He knew what that wand could do the power behind it and Roman was pleased to see that his rival was scared. Grabbing a handful of floo powder from a jar on the mantel piece, Timon turned, “You are wrong about one thing Roman, you have so much to lose that you can’t even conceive what I could make you.”
Roman faltered on the edge of asking what Timon meant, but it was too late. In a swirl of emerald flame Timon was gone and Roman was left to sink coughing into his chair, reaching for the bottle of mead.
Astoria heard the raised voices as she lay awake in bed. She was used to her father shouting at people and getting into arguments, it was after all a good thing to be able to argue in his line of work, but there was something about the strained circumstances and tension that turned a regular occurrence into something more sinister. After a while there came a lull in the noise and then a stop. Whoever it was had left.
Astoria turned over onto her back and gazed at the canopy above her bed; she stretched out her arm in front of her and moved it around, watching the moonlight move around on her skin. It was an odd sensation; it felt as though her arm was not her own, as if she had no control over it. She made shapes with her hand, clenching her fist and spreading her fingers as wide apart as they could go, to see the tendons and bones in her arm move under her skin. A sudden almost unconscious thought mad her clench her fist into a tight ball and bring it down onto the mattress with a dull thud. Unbidden words sprung effortlessly from her lips and into the darkness in a hiss of air and thought, “I will not let them hurt us.”