Chapter 1 : Chapter One
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Disclaimer: I don't own the world of Harry Potter, and anything that is recognizable belongs to JK Rowling.
Blaring rays from the sun baked the spectators outside of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. They sat, waiting uncomfortably in metal folding chairs for someone, anyone, to get the program started. In the very back row Astoria Greengrass waited with her family, sweat springing up on her brow.
“Do they not realize we’re burning out here?” her mother whined in a nasally voice.
A woman in the row in front of them turned halfway around, her shaggy blonde hair hiding most of her face. “I heard one of those Weasleys went into labor about ten minutes ago,” Narcissa Malfoy whispered conspiratorially to the Greengrasses. To Narcissa’s right, her son gave a small chuckle.
“Merlin, they’ve begun breeding again,” spat Astoria’s father. “By the time my grandchildren start school it’ll be overrun with those… Mongrels.”
The word grandchildren caused Astoria and her sister, Daphne, to exchange pointed looks. Their father made no secret about wanting his daughters to begin looking for proper husbands. The thought made Astoria’s stomach twist into knots; she was only just finishing her seventh year at Hogwarts, after all.
“Mongrels?” Narcissa’s husband sneered from her left. “Strong words for a man who took his wife and fled the country last year. Were you afraid you might be pressed into service, Acastus?” Lucius spoke this in a bored tone without ever turning around, but he might as well have jumped to his feet and cursed the family behind him.
Astoria’s parents gasped at the implication and Daphne’s face flushed, but Astoria remained staring ahead impassively. Lucius spoke the truth, and the abandonment was still a sore subject with her. Being pureblood Slytherins they were never in harms way with the Carrows or Snape, in fact they were treated preferentially, but none of that mattered to Astoria. Her parents had exposed themselves to be the cowards they’d always secretly been, and she’d never quite recovered from it.
A snide remark was on Acastus’s lips when Minerva McGonagall, interim Headmistress of the school, appeared on the platform raised before the lake. Thus began the memorial service for the fallen witches and wizards of the Second Wizarding War, held exactly one year from the date it had ended.
The speeches and emotional remembrances were over, and the guests were allowed to mingle together near snack tables set up beside the lake. Astoria’s father had whispered fiercely in Daphne’s ear, “Make the rounds, then be ready to go. We’re only here for appearances,” then he and his wife were off to shake hands with everyone who was anyone.
“See you later,” Daphne muttered before she, too, was drifting through the crowd.
Suddenly feeling very alone despite the throng of people, Astoria wandered to the refreshments and fixed a glass of punch just for something to do.
“Excuse me,” some said very quietly as he skirted around her to reach the goblets.
Astoria apologized and sidestepped. “Oh, hello,” she said conversationally when she realized who the person was. “Theodore, right? I think you were in my sister’s year?”
Theodore Nott glanced at her for barely a second before turning his attention back to the fragrant red punch he was dipping from a large crystal bowl. “Your sister… Daphne, right? I always had trouble associating the two of you.” He motioned toward her pale blonde hair and sharp features. “You look nothing alike.”
“Uh… Yeah, we get that a lot,” Astoria mumbled distractedly. Something about him was tickling the back of her mind, but she couldn’t quite place it. Whatever it was it had impressed her at the time, though she couldn’t really see why. Nothing about the skinny, pallid boy next to her seemed overtly striking, until she met his darkly brooding eyes, and it all came back to her.
“Hey… You fought that night, didn’t you?” she gasped. That night Harry Potter had come back to Hogwarts to fight the battle they’d just gathered to remember had been one of the most frenzied nights of her life. Naturally, she’d fled the school with the rest of the Slytherins, but she distinctly remembered Theodore Nott breaking from the line of retreating students.
He studied her face intensely, trying to judge her reaction. “I guess you’re going to call me a traitor now?” he demanded angrily, the hand holding the punch visibly shaking. “The one time in my life I do something courageous, and everyone I know turns their back on-”
“Wait a minute,” Astoria cut him off, a little angry herself. “Way to jump to conclusions! The word traitor was the furthest thing from my mind, actually.”
Confusion was easily read on Theodore’s face, but when he opened his mouth to reply someone tapped Astoria roughly on the shoulder, diverting her attention away.
It was Daphne, who wore a look of disgust and disapproval. “We’re leaving, Astoria. Would you like to escort us out?”
“Oh, sure…” She turned to tell Theodore goodbye, but when she did Daphne grabbed her arm and dragged her away.
“What were you thinking?” her older sister demanded as they cut through the people surrounding them. Genuinely confused, Astoria wrenched her arm out of Daphne’s grip and didn’t answer. “You don’t want to be seen getting too friendly with people like him,” she warned with an exasperated tone much like an impatient adult would use on a child.
“What? He’s from a ‘respectable, Pureblooded family.’ I thought you’d be thrilled to see me making ‘the right kind of friends.’”
“Oh, come on, don’t be so naďve!” Daphne lowered her voice when the Hogwarts gates and their parents came into view. “He’s worse than the muggle-borns, Astoria.”
“And how is that,” she hissed, making as thought to stop walking.
Daphne grabbed her arm again and tugged on it relentlessly so that Astoria was forced to keep walking or be pulled off balance. “Don’t make a scene, little sister. True, he is a Pureblood, but he turned his back on that when he fought against his own father. He’s a…”
Both girls muttered ‘traitor’ at the same time, but Astoria’s voice was filled with a different kind of disgust.
Astoria’s school days came to an end, and she found herself back at home with her parents and sister. The novelty of being around her family every day wore off and she began finding excuses to get out of the house, so when her mother complained about running low on ‘spending money’, Astoria immediately volunteered to go to Gringotts for her.
Walking through the giant front doors, the bustle of activity reminded her of stopping by the bank before school shopping every year, and the wave of nostalgia that hit her caught her quite off guard. Sure, she’d miss certain things about Hogwarts, but Astoria had never really gotten that attached to the place.
“Hello again,” someone said politely as they approached her slowly.
“Theodore,” Astoria replied with a smile. Daphne’s ‘warning’ about the boy had already been pushed from her mind.
“Um… How have you been?” he asked after an awkward silence had settled between them.
“Fine, I guess… So, er, what are you doing here?” she asked, then immediately felt stupid. It’s a bank! What do people do at a bank?
“My shift just ended, actually. I’m a night guard here,” he replied with a slightly embarrassed smile. “Hey you just finished up at Hogwarts, right? Any big plans for the future? We’re hiring, if you want a really glamorous job,” he joked self-consciously, clearly trying to make light of his sudden discomfort.
Astoria shrugged and rolled her eyes before saying, “I want to write for the Prophet, but father says that is ‘incredibly unseemly for a woman of my stature.’ Honestly, to him, anything other than a stay-at-home mother that pops out his grandchildren is unseemly.”
Laughing, Theodore replied, “You should follow your own dreams. Don’t let your parents dictate your future.” His laugh faded at the last sentence and his deep-set, nearly black eyes seemed to begin smoldering a little. Astoria noticed his skin was just as lifeless and pale as when she’d last saw him, and she suddenly felt very sorry for the troubled man in front of her.
“I wish it were that easy,” she sighed.
“Well, I really need to be going. It was a long night,” he said curtly. Theodore gave her a nervous sort of smile and fell back into the crowd.
As he was walking away Astoria nearly shouted, “Hey! Nott!” He glanced over his shoulder and slowed, so she said, “You work too hard. Take a vacation.” He looked at her quizzically, then strode away.
“Why did I say that?” Astoria berated herself under her breath. He just looks so unhealthy, she decided. She couldn’t imagine being his age and already alone in the world, how much he surely had to fight to make ends meet, but that was probably because she’d been rather spoiled her entire life.
That night, when the Greengrass country home had fallen silent, Astoria sat at the ornate writing desk in her dark bedroom. She wrote one final sentence on the parchment in front of her, then promptly balled it up and flung it across the room. It landed next to a second clump of paper that contained a short story about a small flower that, after weathering the roughest of winters, was trampled on the first day of Spring.
Acastus’s harsh words and patronizing laughter rang in her ears.
“A writer? And for The Daily Prophet, no less,” he sneered. Astoria turned to leave the study. “You girls should have been sent to Beauxbatons. At least there they teach you a little class!”
But a second voice interrupted her father’s hateful tone, “Don’t let your parents dictate your future.” With her wand, Astoria summoned the newly written editorial on the tightening of Gringotts security and carefully flattened it back out on the desk.