The letter seemed to weigh heavily in her hand. She felt a lot more aware of the feel of parchment between her thumb and fingers than she would normally have felt with any other letter. This letter was dangerous. It had filled her with dread since it had arrived a week ago. Now though the letter seemed a silly thing to have been scared of; it was the people that Daphne realised she should have feared.
The letter was Astoria’s equipment list from Hogwarts and Daphne was sat with her sister in the “Black Dog” a small pub just inside Knockturn Alley. Before the war Daphne would have never dreamed of coming to the disreputable little pub but it was the place that Pansy had requested to meet her so Daphne obliged. Though the pub was small and right on the street it was still fairly empty. When Daphne had wondered aloud why this was, Astoria had looked at her scornfully and reminded her that most of the clientele had probably been rounded up or scared off. There was only one other person in the pub apart from themselves, a funny little middle-aged witch who was sat at the bar knocking back fire whiskeys at an impressive rate. The barman stood at the bar was reasonably young; he had a thin horrid mouth and small mean little eyes which seemed to have a habit of wandering. He was stood behind the bar alternately pouring fire whiskeys for the witch and staring in the direction of the girls. Daphne sat primly and stiffly to ward him off. Astoria did nothing; she didn’t even seem to have noticed. She was sat by the window, her chin in one hand, as she gazed out onto the street beyond.
Daphne picked a piece of lint off Astoria’s shoulder and tried to smooth her hair with her hands. It was a nervous tick really which led her to groom Astoria, the fluff had been tiny and Astoria’s hair was always in long rippling waves which tumbled down her back prettily and didn’t need smoothing at all. Astoria did not seem to mind though; indeed she had not turned round. There was a whooshing sound from the fire place, which was situated in the corner of the pub and Daphne turned to see Pansy Parkinson step out of the oak surround, dust herself off and walk to the bar. After receiving her drink Pansy dropped into the seat opposite Daphne. In the reflection of the mirror, which hung on the other side of the room, Daphne saw Astoria shoot Pansy a look of utmost disdain which reminded her uncomfortably of their mother.
“Hello,” Daphne said when she realised that Pansy was not going to greet her.
Pansy looked up from her drink and stared blearily at Daphne before emitting a dull, “Hi.”
Pansy looked awful, her face was pale and there were dark circles around her eyes. Her short dark hair was slightly limp and though it was not greasy it had a lank, unkempt look to it. Though Pansy could not be considered beautiful in the way that maybe Astoria was, she was without doubt still very pretty. She had a slightly round face with a small nose and big dark eyes. Pansy’s eyebrows were angular and seemed to always look scornful. Her lips were bent down slightly at the edges as normal but today the expression was even more pronounced.
“Well aren’t you going to ask me how I am?” Pansy snapped, crossly.
Daphne opened her mouth apologetically to speak but Astoria spoke before she could. Without turning from the window, Astoria said, in a voice that dripped with dislike, “Well unless my sister was blind or stupid, I think she’d find it fairly easy to work out how you are.”
Pansy was quick on the uptake of the challenge, “I wasn’t speaking to you. Do you really find it that impossible to keep your nose out of other people’s business?”
Astoria laughed, it wasn’t a fake laugh but a genuine outpouring of mirth that seemed to force its way out of her and reverberate around the whole pub, leaving Pansy angry and bemused and Daphne slightly embarrassed. Still sneering slightly Pansy turned back to Daphne expectantly. Daphne knew what was expected of her and complied, “How are you Pansy?”
Pansy scowled, “How do you think? My father is facing a court hearing and mother’s locked herself in the bedroom. Did you read that piece in the “Prophet?”
Daphne had indeed read the offending article. It was written by none other than Rita Skeeter and described in condemning detail Pansy’s efforts to have the Potter boy handed over to the Dark Lord in June. It had not even been front page news and yet everyone seemed to be talking about it. Everyone in Daphne’s section of society that was, she doubted anyone lower down the ranks really cared for a good old scandal anymore. In response to Pansy’s question, Daphne judged that it was probably best to just nod and give a sympathetic smile.
Pansy spoke again, she let out all her words in a long hiss keeping her head bowed, “I don’t see why everyone’s reacting to that so badly. It was the sensible thing to do at the time. I didn’t know Potter was the bloody chosen one. Honestly going into the woods and coming back from the dead? Who could have predicted that? You thought it was all nonsense, didn’t you? Protecting him? I know you did and yet they never wrote about you. It was me they picked on. Me!”
“In all fairness,” Astoria said cutting across the dialogue, which was getting more and more heated, “You were the one that stood up in front of the whole school and screamed that we should hand Potter over. It would have been more sensible to keep quiet and leave: if they wanted to get themselves killed that was their choice. You’re really in no position to complain, you were the one who couldn’t control yourself.”
Pansy scowled at Astoria, “You didn’t run though did you? Why not? We all know your lot keep out of everything. I don’t think there’s ever been a time the Greengrasses drew a side.”
“Anyway,” Daphne interrupted, trying to change the subject, “Have you spoken to anyone over the holidays?”
Pansy looked sullenly at the table and rubbed her left eye with the underside of her left wrist, “No, funnily enough I haven’t really wanted to - except Draco of course. I’ve spoken to him. You?”
“I wrote to Fenella the other week she-“
Daphne was cut off by Pansy, “Oh God. Fenella? What’s she doing? Moping around I suppose. I heard they called her Father up on potion dealing.”
“Yes well anyway, I invited her to come to dinner with us on Thursday.”
“Daphne! Why would you do that? We don’t like her remember?”
Daphne looked slightly crestfallen, “Oh, I thought we did.”
Astoria glanced sideways down the table. Secretly she shared Pansy’s opinions on Fenella Snell but she would never admit to it. Fenella was a whiny, mousy, self-centred girl, who had once spilt wine on Astoria’s best dress robes at a party. She had never been forgiven. To add to her many unattractive qualities, Fenella’s father was a half-blood desk clerk at Gringotts, a man who was ordered around by goblins. Astoria turned to the window again. Knockturn Alley was practically deserted; there were no longer throngs of strange people milling about on the streets. It was too dangerous; Knockturn Alley was under such heavy surveillance that if you so much as sneezed the ministry would know about it. Astoria’s father had never let her come down here on her own and he had avoided bringing her here unless he had urgent business to do and could not off load her onto some relative or another. Astoria was surprised at the knowledge Daphne seemed to have of the area. She herself would never have been able to find this dingy little pub, indeed she had never heard of it before, so for Daphne to lead her fluently through the disreputable labyrinth of Knockturn Alley was quite a surprise.
Daphne looked down at her watch, “We should probably get going. Astoria needs new school things.”
Pansy looked appalled, “You invited me to Diagon Alley to go shopping for school things for your little sister? Hasn’t she got any friends of her own to go with?”
“Papa wanted me to come with her.”
“I don’t want you to come,” Astoria put in rudely.
"Flourish and Blotts’ had changed since Astoria’s last visit. The censorship had been lifted and now all the aisles of books were open and lit again. Daphne and Pansy hovered by the counter and didn’t venture into the crowd, they were muttering to each other darkly and were drawing more attention to themselves than Astoria thought they would have, had they just acted like normal shoppers. Astoria barged her way through the people, some whispers trailed after her but it was nothing less than she had expected. Her notorious family was in the papers every day. She travelled through the shop, refusing the assistance of an over enthusiastic shop assistant who looked as though he was just out of school. Instead she gathered her school books into an alarming pile in her own arms as she passed through the shop.
Astoria reached the back of the shop where the books were older, bound in leather, where there was no one else in sight. She ran her finger along the spines of famous authors one after the other. She traced the gold embossed letters of one particularly thick tome entitled ‘A History of the Court’; it was a book she coveted. A book that was not displayed in her father’s library because of its controversial nature: it was one of the first books to be banned by the Dark Lord’s administrators. Astoria slid her index finger up the spine of the book and coiled it over the pages pulling it out so it dropped heavily into her other hand. Her fingers fluttered over the cover of the book, edging apprehensively to the edge, lifting the leather lid, revealing the smooth yellowing parchment below...
“That’s a bit risky for you isn’t it Greengrass?” A voice had emerged breathing in Astoria’s ear quite out of the blue. Uncharacteristically, she blushed. She didn’t have to turn her head far to see who the newcomer was; his face was practically resting on her shoulder as he bent down to read the title of the book. Astoria snapped the book shut, resisting the temptation to simply push it back onto the shelf and pretend she had never had it.
“Not at all,” she said clutching the book to her chest and moving along the shelf. The owner of the voice followed her.
“Theodore Nott, if you’re just going to pester me I will hex you,” Astoria said in as haughty a voice as she could muster.
Theodore smiled and crossed his arms, leaning against the bookshelf. Astoria picked up another book. She balanced it on top of ‘A History of the Court’ and flicked with no interest through the dry pages.
“How is your father?” she muttered not taking her eyes from the book.
“Fine,” a pause, “In prison.”
Astoria turned to look at Theodore, his eyes were glued to the bookshelf on the other side of the aisle and his lips were pursed. Theodore was a strange looking person, somewhere between being handsome and being hideous. He was tall, uncommonly so, and rather gangly, long limbed. He had a thin face with pronounced cheekbones and a mouth that seemed almost too wide and full for the angular jaw. His light brown hair was non-descript, messy at the best of times and inexplicable today, but he had dark thoughtful eyes hidden beneath pensive brows and an old fashioned intellectual character.
“I’m sorry,” she said and she really was, she had liked Mr Nott, who had leant her books and taught her about the Goblin wars better than Binns had done.
Theodore turned and looked at her, he gave her a grimace which was meant to be a smile and she gave him back a twitch of the mouth. “Are you here alone?” he asked, clearly trying to redirect the conversation.
“No, unfortunately not,” Astoria replied, examining the book cases once more, “Daphne and Parkinson are with me. They’re hovering by the door.”
“That’ll be where Draco’s gone then.”
"Draco, he came with me today, you didn’t think I was stupid enough to come alone did you? You don’t want to read that it’s an awful book. You’d be much better off with ‘An Anatomy of Charm work.’”
Astoria added the book to the growing pile in her arms, “Actually I do; it’s for school.”
“Oh yeah, I forget you’re not in my year.”
“What you going to do now you’ve finished school?”
Theodore shrugged his bony shoulders, “Dunno really Dads left enough in his Gringotts vault to keep me going for a few years yet. But the money’s all frozen until they work out how much of it is legitimate.”
“Looks like you might actually have to work then,” said Astoria dryly.
There was a commotion from the front of the book shop followed by a crash.
“Maybe. You should go and pay for those,” he said, “I’ll come with you.”
Astoria did as he suggested and pushed her way out of the secluded aisle and into the throng of people crowding the rest of the shop. The hisses of whispers that had followed her through the first time grew now she was with the son of a convicted death eater, swelling against her eardrums.
“Prison and court...”
It was a relief to reach the till. A relief even to see her sister hurrying towards her in the stifling manner she always carried and drop the money on the counter as if Astoria couldn’t pay for herself. Astoria found herself bustled out of the shop before she even had time to blink.
“What was all that about?” she demanded of Daphne who was still gripping her arm and leading her down the street at a formidable pace.
Daphne looked anxious and harried, “Did you not see? Oh I suppose not, you were lurking at the back,” here Daphne shot Astoria a severe look, “Pansy got into a bit of an altercation with Hermione Granger in the shop.”
Astoria raised her eyebrows slightly but said nothing, with a jerk on her arm Daphne had pulled her out of the busy main street of Diagon Alley into a small side street and into the company of Pansy Parkinson and Draco Malfoy. A sound of hurried footsteps brought Theodore into the Alleyway, where he stood slightly behind Astoria so she could feel the faint tickle of his breathing against the back of her neck as he regained his breath. Pansy’s face was red and mutinous; her jaw clenched and something about her eyes threatened tears. Draco stood uselessly at her side like an unwanted limb. There was an awkward silence in which Astoria reflected on the irony of five prominently rich pure-blood children standing in a dank alley surrounded by dustbins and discarded Butterbeer bottles to hide from the common mass. Astoria wanted to speak, to demand an account of what had happened but she didn’t. Pansy was upset and the blow had been against their side. Daphne was chewing her lip nervously.
“Robes,” Daphne said at last, “’Storia needs new school robes.”
There was nothing worse than when Pansy was upset; nothing worse in everyday life. When she was upset her face became a red colour and the space between her top lip and the bottom of her nose was vivid and shiny. Her mouth would scrunch up pushing her nose up into her face. It was in these moments Draco understood the pug comments, the little whispers everyone thought he was oblivious to. It was useless trying to hold her hand or touch her hair. She did not want to be comforted by him and he was relieved because he did not much want to comfort her. She was repulsive when she was sad. She was hissing like a kettle to Daphne sharing secrets and thoughts with her that she would not share with him. Draco felt like stopping her speaking, plugging up her words so she would stand by him again, silent but pretty and his. He turned to speak to Nott but upon seeing his friend turned away from him towards the window, he held his tongue. Nott did not take kindly to people interrupting his thoughts.
Unable to take being ignored any more he set off alone down a rack of dress robes with the vague intention of finding a new travelling cloak. No matter how much Draco trained his eyes on the materials in front of him, he couldn’t see dress robes. All he saw was his own anger and frustration, his own overwhelming fury. His ears were full of the confrontation in ‘Flourish and Blotts’. Draco dismissed cloak after cloak, his anger mounting. His feet drew him further and further away from the front of the shop until he was separated from his friends by rows of manikins and clothes racks and shelves. Draco looked up, he couldn’t even hear Pansy and Daphne anymore so whose voice was it that was disturbing his torturous thoughts. Draco turned around. He was at the very back of the shop now and on the other side of the floor was the dressing room: the arrangement of wooden screens behind which Madam Malkin measured customers and forced them into all manner of clothing. Draco approached the screens with curiosity, taking care to minimise the sound his feet made on the wooden floor.
“You look lovely dear,” came the voice of Madam Malkin, “Now if you could just let me take up the hem a little...”
Draco had now drawn level with a small slit of light which came from the gap made by the hinges in one of the wooden screens. Forgetting for a moment who he was and the implications of what he was doing he drew closer to the slit so he could see through the gap into the make-shift changing room. The customer was Astoria Greengrass; of course it was Draco thought annoyed, she was the reason they were in the shop in the first place. In his anger he had forgotten all about her. The customer stood on a small platform, her arms held aloft like she was preparing to fly. She gazed at herself idly in the floor length mirror the stood in front of her a small smile of secret contentment on her face. Her reddish gold hair streamed over her back in gentle rippling waves almost as if she had just emerged from water. She was not wearing school robes; they were slung carelessly over the back of a chair which stood in the corner. She was wearing instead long sweeping emerald green robes which tumbled over the platform on which she stood and cascaded to the ground. Madam Malkin hovered around her customer like a fly stitching and pulling back sleeves and hems. Measuring tapes hovered around the girl, unrolling themselves to measure an arm or a hem. The edges of the sleeves and the neckline were embroidered with weaving, serpentine silver thread. Unconsciously Draco was impressed with the girl’s audacity in choosing the colours she had, consciously he felt a curious desire to smirk and laugh at the same time; on a physical level he did nothing.
A pin dropped to the floor right next to Draco’s foot. The small ping noise did not disturb the girl or the woman but it made Draco jump as though he’d been burned. Suddenly aware of himself and inexplicably terrified that the girl would turn and see him, Draco inched away from the gap in the screens. Silently and in a state of unconsciousness he walked back to the front of the shop. As he approached he could see Pansy and Daphne’s heads craning over the shelves and clothes racks like meercats, looking for him.
“Where have you been?” snapped Pansy as soon as she saw him.
“I’m surprised you noticed I was gone,” replied Draco, trying and failing to not get angry with her. She seemed so ordinary, so achingly dull in that fragment of a moment. She did nothing, she had nothing and there was no fight left in her. He wanted to hit her as hard as he possibly could, indeed his hand even twitched, but whatever he was, he was not one of them.
Daphne Greengrass immediately took this as her que to strike up a conversation with Theodore Nott, who looked bewildered at her sudden interest in the weather.
Pansy sneered at her friend and rolled her eyes, “Oh for goodness sake Daphne don’t be such a wimp. We all know you hate Theo.”
Daphne had the decency to blush apologetically and stop talking. Pansy gave her one last condescending sneer and turned back to Draco, brows knitted. She opened her mouth to speak but was interrupted by an outburst from the back of the room.
“What on earth do you mean by that?” came the carrying, haughty voice of Astoria Greengrass who, from the volume and tone of her speech, was extremely angry.
The four adolescents at the front of the shop looked around. The gesture was somewhat pointless as they could not see the source of the noise; the shelves and racks of clothing shielded the speaker from sight yet they all craned their necks in anticipation of seeing a conflict. They heard Madam Malkin’s mumbled reply and then,
“I’m not a criminal and neither is my father!” Astoria’s voice was loud and haughty but did not give way to hysteria or shrieking. It was merely strong and forceful, quite unexpected really.
Madam Malkin spoke up now though her voice was slightly shaky, “I’m afraid it’s Ministry policy, young lady, there is nothing I can do about it. If you are unhappy I suggest you leave.”
Astoria’s voice echoed around the shop again, reiterating what she had said. Draco found his ears tuning out, felt the girls voice drowning in his head. He was watching Pansy. There was such a look of open shock on her face it was rather endearing. Her scowl had gone to be replaced by a mouth that hung slightly open, eyebrows that were flexed into a softer shape and eyes that focused not on him but on the invisible source of noise. His train of thought was interrupted by Daphne’s sudden lurch towards the back of the shop and Pansy pulling him lightly to the door. He let her lead him out of the door and down the street. They walked quickly through Diagon Alley with their heads down to avoid recognition, Nott trotted along at their heels. Pansy tugged on Draco’s arm and they headed off down Knockturn Alley. They turned into the pub “The Black Dog” and sat down.
“I’ll go and get drinks,” said Nott, “what do you want? Butterbeers? Fire whisky? Mead?”
“Just Butterbeer,” Pansy replied with half a glance at Draco. Draco nodded his assent and Nott went off to the bar. The pub was busier than it had been earlier, there was a tall slim witch at the bar talking to a very short rotund warlock and several tables were full of hunched customers whispering and mumbling to each other. The bartender was wiping the same glass over and over again as he had been earlier and looked put out at being asked to get them some drinks.
“Where did you go in the shop?” asked Pansy.
Draco ran his thumbnail along a groove in the wooden table, “Thought I might look for a new cloak. That okay with you?”
“Don’t snap at me.”
“Don’t ask me questions.”
They sat in a moody silence as Nott brought back the drinks and placed them on the table then the pub door opened again and Astoria Greengrass strode in followed by her sister. Without a word she dumped her parcels of shopping on the pub table and stalked off to what Draco supposed was the toilet. Daphne sat down next to Pansy looking pale and harried. Nott slid a Butterbeer bottle across the table top to her; Daphne smiled her thanks but did not drink it.
“What happened there?” asked Draco surprising even himself at being the one to ask.
Daphne looked at him warily and then put her forehead on her hands and addressed the wooden table top, “Madam Malkin told ‘Storia that she couldn’t put her new robes on our Father’s old account. The practice has been outlawed by the Ministry.”
Draco’s ears perked up at the word ‘ministry’; recently any new legislation put into place by the ministry seemed to affect him so directly it was like it was he himself being outlawed, “Why?” he demanded.
Daphne looked up at him this time as she answered, “To stop individual families having a hold on businesses.”
The statement meant more than it said and everyone around the table knew it. It meant that the rich upper classes who could afford personal accounts were being pushed out of the system to stop them from controlling the businesses, the people, to stop a rise to power being easily repeated.
Draco slapped the palm of his hand on the table causing the girls to jump. Nott whispered in his ear as he ground his teeth “Hey, quiet yeah. Don’t draw attention to yourself.” Draco nodded and ground the heel of his fist into his forehead. Under the table his other hand turned to a fist, he clenched his fingers so tight that his fingernails dug painfully into the palm of his hand.
Pansy reached across the table to Draco and pulled his arm down from his face. She brought it down flat against the table and moved her finger down his arm and intertwined them with his own. Her hand was warm and soft. Reassuringly real. He could feel her heartbeat in her palm, a rhythmical beat. Something that would live inside her until she died, private and unseen. He was one of only two or three people who could ever have got close enough to her to have felt this, the fluttering and palpitating of her being. Draco looked up and she was pretty Pansy again, concerned only with making sure he was happy and that he wanted her. They could have been at school.
Astoria reappeared at the table; her voice was soft and muted, “Shall we go Daphne?”
Daphne looked up.
“Shall we go?”
Astoria opened Daphne’s bedroom door slowly and slipped inside. Though it was nearly one o’clock in the morning Daphne’s room was still lit, glowing with soft candlelight. Daphne was sat up in bed turning the pages of a yellowing book with one hand and stroking the grey cat coiled up on the bed sheets with the other. Daphne’s long blonde hair was tied back into a French plait which was looped over her shoulder.
Astoria padded across to Daphne’s four poster bed and sat on it so she was facing her sister, she held out a hair brush and a ribbon, “Do my hair?”
Daphne smiled and took the brush and ribbon, “Turn around then.”
Astoria turned around so she was facing the rest of Daphne’s room. The candlelight flickered across the camomile coloured walls. Daphne pulled the hair brush through her sister’s hair gently, she then divided the top half of it into three sections and started to weave them all together pulling in the rest of the hair bit by bit. The cat on the bed stretched itself and yawned. Seeing Daphne was distracted the cat moved stealthily onto Astoria’s lap where she coiled up and purred as Astoria stroked her. The room smelt of rosewater, light and sweet, but to Astoria it smelt insipid. It made her feel sleepy and stupid.
“What happened in ‘Flourish and Blotts’? I meant to ask earlier but I...” Astoria trailed off.
Daphne sighed, considered her words carefully and spoke, “Pansy bumped into Granger in the shop, by accident, and Granger dropped her books”
Astoria sniffed, “And that was it?”
Daphne pulled out a knot in Astoria’s hair with her fingers and then wove the strand into the plait, “Well no...Granger was with her boyfriend. You know who he is-one of the Weasleys.”
“Ronald? Potter’s friend.”
“That’s right. Anyway he seemed to think she did it on purpose so he got angry, started having a go, and then of course Draco got involved and you know how he feels about Potter and his friends.”
Astoria couldn’t nod because Daphne had a tight grip on her hair and she was forced into a rigid upright position so Daphne continued, “So Draco was arguing with Weasley in the middle of the shop it was very embarrassing. Then Weasley let something slip about Pansy’s family so she slapped him. Pansy and Draco were asked to leave. And you came and paid and we left. That was it.”
“That was it,” repeated Astoria, “you don’t seem very fussed about it.”
“Well it was nothing to do with us was it?” Daphne pulled the ribbon around the end of the plait and let go of it. It swung down to rest on Astoria’s back like a piece of golden rope.
Astoria picked the reluctant cat off her lap and turned to face her sister she lay on her belly and cradled her chin in her hands, and looked up at Daphne, “Are you angry at me?”
Daphne looked suspiciously at her younger sister, “What for?”
Astoria waved her hand vaguely as if it was of little importance, “For shouting in the shop.”
“No,” Daphne paused, “though I think it would be best if we didn’t tell Daddy.”
“No, we shouldn’t tell him. He’d be proud of me.”
Daphne giggled, “Yes, you shouldn’t be encouraged.”
Astoria crawled to the bedstead and flipped over so she was sat against Daphne’s pillows next to her sister, “Do you think we look as awful as Theo, Parkinson and Malfoy?”
“Yes I expect so. To outsiders anyway,” Daphne rubbed the circles under her eyes for emphasis.
Astoria turned to her sister, “And only a week before I have to go back to school.”
“You’ll be fine,”
“I know I will.”
The girls sat in silence as the candles burnt low and night crept across the room.
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