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Chapter 7 : Ginger Tea
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The meeting hadn’t gone on long after Astoria and Draco’s impromptu exit, and nobody had really stuck around afterwards. Pansy, Tracey and Blaise had remained the longest, standing around in the porch making vindictive remarks and ill-concealed threats while the others left, until even they saw fit to fade into the sky. Afterwards, Daphne had gone unashamedly straight into the kitchen, and brewed two large mugs of tea, added copious amounts of milk and a biscuit with each one, before returning.
She found Theo peering out the pane of glass in the door, craning his neck to see one way, then the other.
“What on Earth are you doing?” she asked curiously.
“Checking they’ve gone,” Theo replied, looking a little embarrassed. They both giggled.
“I made you tea,” she told him, proffering the steaming mug. Theo looked happy, moving quickly towards her to take it.
“Bliss,” he informed her as he took his first sip. She gave him an anxious half-smile.
As Daphne surveyed what Pansy had done to her cosy café, she couldn’t help but feel a little depressed. The Pink Hippogriff was usually so beautiful, so warm and welcoming, and seeing it so deadened made Daphne feel a little deadened too.
“We have got to sort this place out,” she said to Theo, with more confidence than she felt.
It didn’t take long. Once the blinds had been pulled back up, the early evening light streamed into the room, and that by itself made the whole mess look a little better. Theo Vanished the black tablecloth, and after that it was only a matter of dragging the tables and chairs back to their original places. And considering that Daphne liked to think of the café’s layout as “flexible,” the job was quickly done.
“Feel better?” asked Theo kindly, as they took seats at a table near the kitchen. Daphne nodded. Better would do for now. The bad feelings that Pansy had managed to drag to the surface in her were not gone away, but at least they were banished for the time being.
“Good,” said Theo, smiling, “Shall we just finish our drinks before we go to the Ministry?”
Daphne felt a sudden swooping sensation in her stomach. Her momentary feelings of comfort and contentment seemed to vanish.
“What?” she asked unsteadily, “What do you mean?”
“Before we report Pansy to the Ministry,” he answered matter-of-factly, looking slightly perplexed by Daphne’s expression of horror.
“But we can’t!” she protested. The words broke free of her mouth before she’d had time to think them through, filled with force and drama.
Theo frowned: “Why ever not?”
“Because... because it’s not fair...” she replied, sounding less certain.
Theo raised his eyebrows. When he spoke, he sounded annoyed.
“Daphne, this isn’t school, you know,” he said roughly, “We’re all much more than messed up teenagers these days. You heard what she’s planning! Are you really going to let her get away with it a second time?”
“But it’s like before, isn’t it?” broke in Daphne, “When we got her letters- she hasn’t actually done anything, has she? So there’s no point in telling the Ministry.”
“God, Daphne, don’t be so naive!”exclaimed Theo hotly, and Daphne acquired a sudden new sympathy with the less talented interns who were occasionally posted to his office.
With a loud chink of china, he set his mug down crookedly onto its saucer.
“Before, all we knew was that she was conducting an- albeit slightly suspicious- meeting with a group of old school friends. Now we know that she’s trying to patch together a criminal gang to take revenge on the people who she perceives have wronged her! There’s a world of difference!”
“I know,” said Daphne, “but-“
“Plus,” he interrupted, “The Ministry are going to need a good head start on her, because from the performance she gave today, she’s pretty sure of herself!”
The words made Daphne’s stomach turn.
“Daphne, think what a risk she took tonight!” Theo exclaimed, “Inviting a roomful of unknown quantities to witness the re-launch of her criminal career was hardly the most subtle way of going about things, was it? In which case, she must be pretty sure that even if someone informs on her, she’s not going to get caught. Therefore, the Ministry are going to have their hands full, and the sooner we tell them, the sooner they can get onto her.”
“You seemed to have thought this through,” muttered Daphne sulkily.
“I work with criminals, Daphne, it’s my job,” he said sharply, “I’m paid to make sure people like Miss Parkinson can’t carry out their threats.”
The criminals thing stung.
“The idea of your office is that by the time people get there, they’re not criminals anymore!”
“To which Pansy is obviously the exception, as she still seems as hell-bent on her principles as she was when they first sent her to Azkaban!”
“I know, I know!”
Daphne put her head in her hands. These things were so hard to admit to Theo- he was so damned independent: that was the problem. He’d always fought his own corner, formed his own opinions, shaped his own future... unlike Daphne. Theo saw things so clearly- in black and white, and he had always been brave, even when they had only been teenagers. How was he then to understand the fear that shadowed Daphne like a malevolent Grim? How could he appreciate the tangled web she and Pansy had weaved throughout their years of friendship and enmity?
“I’m going home,” Daphne said, abruptly, loudly. It was too much too take tonight... she wanted her own space, her own kitchen, her own bed. Internally, she cursed Pansy Parkinson- if she only could have stayed in Azkaban! It would have saved Daphne so much: the fear, the choices, the unwelcome memories, and now all these complications with Theo.
“I won’t come to the Ministry with you... I can’t... I don’t know how to explain, not to you...” Daphne ran a hand through her hair, distractedly.
“I’m sorry,” she said, feeling wretched, “Pansy... she...” It was no good. She couldn’t say it, not with Theo’s eyes pressing down on her with all their notions about morality and courage. The past had never felt so heavy. “I have to go,” Daphne finished, lamely.
She regarded Theo anxiously, waiting for his reaction. She expected him to be angry, to yell maybe, to accuse her of sympathising with their old friend. What he did was worse.
“Go then,” said Theo flatly, “Run away like you always do.”
His words cut deep.
“I’m not running away!” cried Daphne shrilly, standing up unsteadily as she reached for her cloak.
“Then what are you doing?” asked Theo harshly, “What have you always been doing?”
“I’m going home,” repeated Daphne, doggedly. Tears sparked in her eyes and she brushed them away furiously. Without another word, she pulled her cloak tightly around her shoulder and stumbled out of the café, leaving Theo alone in the darkening room.
By the time Daphne stumbled into her flat, her tears were flowing freely. How could she have let all of this happen?
She fumbled for the light-switch, and paused for a moment, leaning against the wall and feeling wretched. Trust her to mess up with Theo on top of everything else! Daphne kicked off her shoes and headed for the kitchen. Blindly, she pulled a mug from her cupboard and set the kettle boiling with a wave of her wand. She wished she could have done what Theo had asked, she really did... but she couldn’t escape her conviction that something wasn’t right.
She felt a little better as she rummaged through a box of teabags to find the ginger ones she liked to drink in times of stress. The simple actions of making the tea were comforting- now pouring the water, now finding a spoon, now stirring the brew. Leaning back against the kitchen counter, she inhaled deeply the comforting, gingery scent of the tea and began to gather her thoughts. She would owl Theo in the morning to apologise, and try to make up. Everything would feel better when morning came.
It was easier to clear her mind in the safety of her own kitchen- Pansy’s threats seemed less corporeal, and her own feelings were less difficult to reconcile. Daphne sat comfortably for a while, slowly sipping her hot drink, and letting her thoughts settle.
By the time the mug was empty, she felt herself reasonably recovered. Slipping through to the living room, she unearthed the book Theo had brought when he’d come for dinner and settled herself down in an armchair to begin it.
The book was good- she was glad that she had asked to borrow it- and, best of all, it kept her mind fully occupied, leaving no room for less pleasant thoughts slip in. It was only when she heard the rattle of the door knocker that she was jerked unpleasantly back to reality.
Pansy, she thought in a terrified flash of realisation. This must be her way of making sure Daphne didn’t forget her ultimatum! Sinking lower into her armchair, Daphne was desperately trying to remember the incantation for a Shield Charm when a high voice wafted through to where she was cowering.
“Daphne! Can you let me in please? I’m sorry it’s so late!”
Daphne almost wept with relief as she recognised the unmistakable tones of her younger sister.
“Of course!” she called back and hurried to open the door.
Astoria was standing on the doorstep looking radiant and cold. She was still wearing the clothes she’d been waitressing in earlier in the day, and although there was a dark-coloured cloak draped over her shoulders, her cheeks and nose were pink from the chill.
“I’m sorry it’s so late,” Astoria began dramatically, “I honestly didn’t realise the time... We were just talking and talking and I suppose I was so caught up in it all... It was only when I looked at the clock... And then you know how much I hate Apparating, so I had to get the Knight Bus back here and...”
Daphne chuckled. “I’m your sister, not your Mum!” she exclaimed, teasingly, “You can stay out as late as you want.”
Astoria looked taken aback. “Of course,” she murmured to herself, not looking at Daphne, “No more Adrian...”
The women moved through to the living room and sat down. Astoria was already looking warmer, but Daphne made a fuss nonetheless, wrapping her in a blanket and delivering a hot drink into her hands.
Finally, they settled down, and Daphne was able to ask the question that had been burning in her mouth since Astoria had arrived home.
“Well?” she asked keenly.
Astoria turned to her with a coy smile. “Well what?”
“Well what were you thinking?” exclaimed Daphne, “What was Adrian doing there? Why did you have to take on Pansy and what the hell is the deal between you and Malfoy?”
Astoria laughed. “You ever considered a career as a lawyer, Daphne?” she teased.
“I’m serious, Astoria,” insisted Daphne, “Those are dangerous people. This isn’t a game.”
A more sober expression came across Astoria’s face.
“I know, Daphne, I know,” she promised, “It was seeing Adrian there that did it... I just felt so... Like I had to do something. To show him. To show them all.”
“Did you know he was going to be there?” asked Daphne, “Why didn’t you tell me he was mixed up in all of this?”
Astoria shook her head.
“I didn’t know that Pansy was coming here until this morning, remember?” Astoria reminded her sister. “And even then... I didn’t know that...”
She wriggled uncomfortably, twisting in her chair, but Daphne was not going to let her off the hook.
Astoria looked up, meeting Daphne’s eyes.
“All I know is this,” she said honestly, “And this isn’t what broke me and Adrian up, by the way. Things were wrong way before any of this happened, and I don’t think that either of us could have fixed them. That said, this may have been the final straw”
Daphne nodded. “Go on,” she said.
Astoria took a deep breath.
“Pansy and a few others- Blaise and Tracey, I think- came to our house the day before I left him,” she began, “They must have come almost straight from Azkaban, now I think about it. I didn’t hear anything of what they said- I was out shopping and happened to come home early to find them all talking- so secretively. And they all shut right up the minute I came in...”
“I didn’t like it, Daphne,” Astoria admitted, shrugging, “I didn’t know what was going on, but I didn’t like it... I got angry, and Adrian and I fought. He wouldn’t tell me why they’d been there; he just said it was for my own good. That was it.”
She sighed, and gave a hollow laugh.
“Of course, I understand a lot more about what was going on now,” she said darkly.
Daphne didn’t know what to say- she’d never been good at giving comfort. Awkwardly, she patted her sister’s arm, but Astoria seemed barely to notice.
“I don’t like fighting,” she said quietly, almost forlornly, “All it does is mess people up. I don’t care who runs the damn world, if they can keep people safe- people like Dad.”
“I knew that I wasn’t going to get involved with any plan of Adrian or Pansy’s. Family honour or no family honour, with Shacklebolt’s lot in charge, nobody seems to get killed. And I’m happy with that.”
Daphne had to agree. She supposed that a lot of people probably felt that way.
“When the two of them arrived here today, I was angry. And- I suppose- I was jealous of him and Pansy, so I wanted to make him jealous of me.”
She shook her head.
“It was crazy. I know that. Even at the time I thought I was mental.”
“I thought you were mental too,” added Daphne, and Astoria shot her a fleeting smile.
“What did you and Malfoy do?” asked Daphne, “After you left, I mean.”
“We just kept walking for a while,” said Astoria, “I wasn’t even thinking. I was just so angry, and I needed to get away...” she trailed off and it took an expectant look from Daphne to motivate her to talk again.
“In the end, we ended up in this little Muggle restaurant place. I paid, and we talked.”
“You talked?” Daphne found it hard to keep the incredulity from her voice. It was difficult to imagine the hollow, cynical young man she’d seen earlier engaging in a cosy conversation with her little sister.
“Don’t sound so surprised!” chided Astoria, with a faint smile, “He had a lot to say once I’d drawn him out a bit!”
“What on Earth did you talk about, though?” Daphne wondered out loud. Astoria shrugged.
“Pansy. Slytherin. Quidditch. Our families. Just stuff.”
Daphne shook her head in disbelief.
“You are impossible,” she said.
“You’re wrong,” said Astoria with a smile, “He needs someone like me.”
“You sound sure of yourself.”
There was an awkward pause, broken by Astoria.
“How about you?” she asked, “What happened after we left?”
Daphne sighed. “Pansy cleared off pretty quickly after some very pleasant threats,” she said briefly, “Then me and Theo cleared up the café and I came back here.”
Astoria nodded. “Why did you argue?” she asked casually. Daphne stared.
“How do you know we argued?” she blurted out.
“The way you said his name...” replied Astoria thoughtfully, “It was just a hunch. What did you fight about?”
None of your business, thought Daphne irritably.
“Nothing much,” she said out loud.
Astoria looked at her slightly sceptically.
“Are you sure?” she asked.
Daphne exhaled sharply.
“About Pansy,” she said shortly. In a way it was a relief to tell her. “He wants to tell the Ministry about her.”
“And you don’t?”
“Oh don’t you start on me too!” snapped Daphne, “You weren’t there! You didn’t know her like I did! You have no idea what it was like!”
The expression in Astoria’s eyes was hard to read.
“That’s because you never talk about it, Daphne,” she said. Her voice didn’t sound accusing exactly, but there was something hard in her tone nonetheless. Daphne shot her a strange glance.
“Would you talk about it? If you’d been through... everything... would you?”
Astoria considered, staring thoughtfully into her mug.
“You know,” she said slowly, “I think I would.”
Daphne felt stung.
“Thanks,” she said sarcastically.
Silence fell. The two sisters sat awkwardly together, Daphne turning over thoughts in her head like cards in a fortune teller’s deck. She was just about to rise to go to bed, when Astoria spoke.
“You can tell me, you know, Daphne,” she said softly.
Daphne played dumb: “What?”
Astoria smiled crookedly, not fooled for a moment. Daphne regarded her, frowning. In their youth, the sisters had been close, but as Daphne’s world had grown darker and stranger, they had talked less and fought more; suspicions had waxed as confidences had waned. Astoria had told Daphne a lot that night. Was now the time to return the gesture...?
“I’m afraid,” said Daphne. Her voice was tiny, timid. And yet she knew that she could say to Astoria what she could not explain to Theo. Theo was brave, and independent, but Astoria was like Daphne. Astoria did stupid, impulsive things. Astoria ran away.
“What?” said her sister, leaning forward.
“I’m afraid,” repeated Daphne, her voice barely above a whisper, “I’m afraid of her. I’ve always been afraid of her. I’m afraid of what she can do, and even more than that I’m afraid of what she can make me do.”
She was talking quickly now, almost gabbling, as if anxious to expel the words. Pausing for breath, she looked up at Astoria.
“There,” said Daphne defiantly, “I’ve said it. You can call me a coward now. I am a coward. Pansy could be trying to hurt people, or even kill people right now because of me. Just like before. And I’m too scared to tell the Aurors...”
Daphne buried her face in her hands, and Astoria moved quickly to comfort her.
“I’m different when I’m around Pansy,” the older woman murmured, “I can feel it... we’ve always been that way... all tangled up...”
Astoria said nothing, letting Daphne take the time she needed to compose herself. It was only then that she spoke.
“Tell me,” Astoria said. It was an invitation, not a demand.
Daphne turned to her, red-eyed. “Tell you what?”
Astoria shrugged. Her eyes were light and open.
“What happened,” she replied.
And so Daphne began...
A/N: Hello everyone! And thank you for reading... I'd love to hear any feedback, predictions, or opinions you may have, even if it's just a line! <3 I'd also like to say a huge thank you to Lululuna who's reviewed every chapter of this so far- you're the best! :)
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