Chapter 1 : Astolat
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Author's Note This story is dedicated to Kalina (psychée on the forums, Elesphyl on the archives), for being so effing amazing. ILY!
And yes, this story is based on The Lady of Shalott. OMG, right? Yeah. I thought so.
They called the manse Camelot, for once upon a time, Gawain Greengrass was a romantic, and fancied himself a knight for righteousness and the pureblood ideal, who could flatter politicians and charm their mistresses, and then take over in the blink of an eye, without anyone realizing his power had been usurped. But Gawain Greengrass was dead, and never received the clout he deserved. Like so many others, he passed on unmourned.
They kept the manse called Camelot, for once upon a time it was too beautiful to allow any other family to control it. Camelot remained in the Greengrass’ hands, but only just. Gawain Greengrass’ descendents did not live there anymore, having stolen through perfectly legal but perfectly amoral means the ancient Selwyn palace. The palace had no name when they arrived, and if it did, they ignored it and left the palace unnamed.
They abandoned the manse called Camelot for several years, until Maurice Greengrass, Gawain’s greatest great-great-grandson, hated the palace so much, for it was not his own, that he tried to whisk his branch of the family back to the abandoned manse of Camelot. But several years earlier, he made the mistake of marrying a Selwyn, and when she refused to leave the house that rightfully should have been hers, they decided to divorce over Camelot–he took the manse, she the children. They remained apart an entire autumn, and then a winter, and then it was discovered that Honoria Selwyn was quite insane. She was locked up in a Czech wizarding mental institution, and Maurice regained custody of his children.
They lived in the manse called Camelot, the girls Daphne and Astoria Greengrass, for they preferred the crumbling ruin to the sparkling palace. Maurice never asked what his princesses had gone through, living under a madwoman, but it was clear enough that their mother had greatly disturbed the girls. Maurice and his second wife, a Frenchwoman called Eloise Richelieu, gently tried to ease them into normal living once more. In a carefree, unclouded society, they expected the task would be quick and painful. It was both.
They loved the manse called Camelot, for it was their freedom from the memories of their institutionalized mother, and soon enough it seemed that Maurice and Eloise’s task was complete. Daphne recovered, became a vivacious, sable angel. Astoria improved, became a delicate, fair lady. The Greengrass family was restored in the Interregnum, and all the happier and healthier for it. The girls grew up, went to school, became beautiful princesses. Honoria Selwyn was a distant and deadened memory, resurrected only on the girls’ birthdays, when both girls cried out for their mother to hug them and kiss them and give them a gift.
And then, He came back.
They burned the manse called Camelot, because Maurice Greengrass was fainthearted and would not join The Cause, and they killed Eloise to spite her lily-livered husband. As green flames licked the Cornwall sky and undid everything Maurice had stood for, he ran to the only place he knew, to the unnamed, again abandoned Selwyn palace. And when more and more houses were offered to the bloodthirsty gods of warfare, and more and more grinning serpent-skulls watched their prolonged and painful deaths, he brought his daughters back to the palace and waited for the sky to rain Camelot’s ashes.
They couldn’t return to the manse called Camelot, because it was long gone, a testament to His power and his unforgiving nature. It was lucky that the main branch of the Selwyn family did not care for the palace anymore, for Honoria’s downfall and the unspeakable horrors that the children had probably went through held an unfortunate stigma, and no one cared in particular about that vast expanse of tawdry ruination. There was a lot of rain that winter, and while none of it was ash, there was acid rain. Maurice knew this very well, because his daughters, mostly grown, never went inside the palace of their mother’s doom if they could help it, and set up a fort in the courtyard, where they played in the acid rain like they were children again. Daphne was as effervescent as ever, but became more prone to panic attacks, especially in midwinter. Astoria remained withdrawn as usual, but as she slept under the wailing sky, she thought she felt her mother’s acid tears.
They wanted to go back to the manse called Camelot, but it was now a charred eyesore in Cornwall, where the heart of the Movement beat with increasing vigor, and no matter their pleas, Maurice Greengrass kept his daughters in the palace that was haunted by their mad mother. He wanted them safe from the chaos on the outside, far removed from the Welsh palace, but he had never asked the girls what Honoria Selwyn had done, or been like, and so did not understand what harm he inflicted on them by chaining them here.
By the end, it became too much. One day that spring, precisely eleven years after Honoria Selwyn was sent to that Czech wizarding mental institution, Maurice Greengrass awoke to find Daphne gone. The girl left a note for her enraged, confused father, written in ink and smelling of poppies:
Father, I cannot forgive you for what you have put me through. I vowed when I was six years old that I would never come back, that I would die before coming back here, and yet here you have imprisoned me. You have angered the daughter of a madwoman. You have nearly killed us. To Astoria I leave my love and pity, not to you. Goodbye.
She did not sign her name.
Maurice Greengrass did not tarry in his search for that headstrong first daughter of his. The note that remained, the last connection he had to her, never left the inner pocket of his cloak, just as his wand never left his hand. To relinquish either was madness–madness rather akin to Honoria Selwyn’s, he reflected. But the worst folly he could commit now, on his search to find Daphne, was to leave Astoria unprotected. Maurice did not know how long he had until his other daughter, who was hardly a lady yet, disappeared into the poppy fields, too.
It was the twenty-fifth of April when Maurice Greengrass forced his only daughter into the tower of the unnamed Selwyn palace. He chose this place because he would be able to see a tower easier than a dungeon, and because he was not a cruel man, and wanted to make sure his little girl would at least have light from the lone window. The bedroom at the top of the tower was well furnished, untouched, it seemed, by time and Honoria Selwyn’s madness, and as Astoria watched with uncertainty, Maurice set his wards on the window and the door, and the bed and the cobwebbed mirror, and the palace itself.
“Astoria, my child,” said Maurice Greengrass seriously, “you must stay here while I am away.”
The girl nodded dumbly, too confused and too terrified to do otherwise.
“I am going to bring back your sister,” continued he. “I do not know how long it will take. I do not know if I will find Daphne alive.” He gestured wildly outside the window, but from where she sat on a spindly wooden chair, Astoria could see naught but flowers. “That is the fate that awaits you if you leave, my little one. Death. Do you understand, my love? If you leave this tower, you will die. I do not want my child dead. You do not want to be dead. I will retrieve Daphne, whatever may have happened to her. Until my return, you will stay here. You will stay here or risk death. You will not leave the tower until my return.” Maurice’s face grew splotchy with the vehemence of his speech, with the strength of his passion. “Say it, Astoria.”
She could not.
She still could not say it. She could not fathom being left alone, in a tower in the palace, abandoned first by her mother, then Eloise, and now Daphne and her father. She could not say it, and as his visage blossomed in vitriol, she drew her knees to her chest and started rocking on the chair, shaking her head and crying acid tears because she could not say it.
“ASTORIA, SAY IT! SAY IT! SWEAR IT!”
The never-ending acid tears moistened her lips and still she could not say it.
Maurice gave up. “A CURSE ON YOU!” he bellowed at last.
And the acid tears kept falling, falling, so Maurice Greengrass disappeared in disgust.
Astoria was still young, only fifteen, but in the long winter she spent under the wailing sky, Daphne taught her many things, including Apparition. She attempted it now. She tried several times, but when she spun, nothing happened. She tried to make a Portkey out of an old ledger on the vanity, but she did not know how to do that. She tried to leave the tower and get to the palace proper, but the door was stuck fast, reinforced with iron and magic, and no matter what spell she tried, she could not open it. She tried the window, but when she leaned out, a blue flame suddenly flared into existence. The flame spread over the glass of the window, thus forming an unbreakable seal; through some uncanny sense, she knew that if she leaned out further, she would die.
Astoria was alone, and trapped, and felt like crying again but could not. She was cut off from the entire world. But Astoria vowed to be better than a sobbing damsel in distress, and struggled to get a better stock of her surroundings. Unwillingly, she dived into her poisonous memories to see what she could salvage of those hazy, frightful years she had spent in the palace under her mad mother’s wing.
And then she remembered.
The tower bedroom was her mother’s realm, untouched because she never slept.
About a mile away, a Muggle couple exchanged tired, terrified glances. They had heard strange things about the mansion their farm bordered, and even stranger things from it. Many times they considered leaving to escape that unholy place, but then the noise would die down, and they would hold off for another few months. So when they heard a girl’s screaming from the west, they exchanged a terrified glance, and knew that the lady of Astolat had returned.