Chapter 1 : An Unwelcome Visitor
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Greengrass Hall, Christmas Eve, 1986.
“Remember, little one, secrets are meant to be kept.”
“But you tell secrets, don’t you, Mummy?”
“I tell them to you,” her mother conceded. “And to our benefactors. But you must always keep our secrets.”
The small girl nodded solemnly, but then her brow furrowed.
“But what if I told?”
“Would you tell?”
She shook her head, dark, springy curls bouncing in an echo of her firm, childish negation.
“No. I just like to know.”
Her mother’s frown was a fissure between her eyebrows, a narrow turning-down at the sharp corners of her mouth.
“Bad things happen when you tell people things they ought not to know. You must promise me, darling, never to tell a soul.”
“But what would happen?”
“Bad things, darling.” She patted her daughter’s head, running elegant fingers through the black silk of her hair. “Very bad things.”
Greengrass Hall, Easter Holidays, 1998
Astoria Greengrass was a brilliant actress.
At least, that’s what she continued to tell herself as she made her way through the foyer towards the enormous wooden door. She would have to be brilliant--utterly flawless--to face what lay beyond that door.
Everything depended on it.
She paused for a moment in the entryway, clenching her jaw and forcing a deep breath to clear her head. Her hand reached down to adjust the hem of her simple green dress--the one her mother would have chosen, had she been here to do so. Green for Slytherin. Slytherin for Purebloods. Purebloods for He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.
It was incredible how a dress could be a political statement--how so much subtle meaning could be worked into the threads and knots of colour that she really just wanted to rip off her back and burn. It was a load of rot, the lot of it.
As far as she was concerned, it was green for Greengrass--that was where her loyalties lay. The rest of it could go straight to hell.
She reached out, clenching her fist around the polished brass of the doorknob, and wrenched it open to admit the boy--the man?--the person who loomed on her doorstep. Tall, blonde, thin and sharp as a rapier. Draco Malfoy.
He hovered there on her doorstep, washed-out and pale, as if he might have emerged from the grey mist and spattering April rain.
Astoria waited for him to say something, but he remained quiet.
Her mother would tell her it was her duty to greet him--to make him comfortable--but she refused to break the silence. He was the one who was invading her home, and he was the one who would have to deal with the consequences of that decision.
And her mother was gone.
She stood to the side and opened the door wider, nodding him in. He acquiesced and stepped across the threshold of Greengrass Hall. And now there he was.
He stood there in the foyer. Her foyer. An intruder, a stranger, framed by the antique mahogany breakfront and a tree-shaped coat rack with silver-edged leaves.
This was not the boy she had known at school. His features were sharper, flecked by the dappled green and gold light dimly filtering through the stained glass window that crowned the entryway.
He was thinner, with cheekbones that were too pronounced and circles like purple thumbprints pressed into the pale flesh beneath his eyes. His suit jacket, no doubt of expensive make and initially cut to his precise measurements, now hung loose on his frame. It made him look like a child playing in his father’s clothes, filling a role he was not made to fit.
But Astoria knew that, despite the appearances, he did fit. Draco Malfoy was here to do what he had to do to survive.
And so was she.
She met his eyes with hers, piercing their cloudy-grey depths with bright, clear blue. She raised one eyebrow in a way that she knew would convey arrogance and expectance.
“Miss Greengrass,” he intoned, inclining his head respectfully. “Thank you for your kindness in inviting me into your home.”
“Of course,” she responded, her tone breezy, though she was biting back the urge to tell him that he had most certainly not been ‘invited’ into her home. Nor was he welcome.
“Shall we adjourn to the parlour?” She didn’t wait for his reaction. Rather, she swept out a hand to indicate their intended direction and turned on her heel, leading the way into a formal sitting room.
The room was her least favourite in the house, which made it the perfect place to receive her unwanted guest. His presence would not leave a stain on any place she cared for. If she had her way, her family and her house would remain as untouched by him as possible.
She motioned him towards a couch near the fireplace and took the seat opposite. Astoria had specifically chosen to place him on the enormous sofa, which she had hoped would dwarf him and give her the mental advantage. Unfortunately, she had forgotten just how tall Draco Malfoy was--the sofa didn’t make him seem any less of a presence.
On the bright side, the cushions were like rocks and he sat as stiffly as if he were perched atop a hot poker. Then again, he was fairly stiff to begin with, so perhaps that was less a product of his discomfort than a reflection of his personality.
Astoria folded herself gracefully into her own chair, crossing her legs at the ankles like a proper young lady. “Shall I ring for tea?”
“That would be kind of you,” he confirmed, and she reached out to ring the bell that was set atop the small lacquered table beside her.
Right before her, head bowed low and greyish ears drooping, a House Elf Apparated into existence on the outskirts of the room. Astoria bit back a smile as her eyes darted over to Draco and saw him startle, his composure flickering for barely a second. Many Pureblood families frowned on allowing Elves to Apparate or Disapparate in their presence, but the Greengrasses had always considered it much more convenient to dispose of the formalities.
The small creature lifted it’s saucer-sized eyes and murmured respectfully. “How may Filly serve Mistress Astoria?”
Astoria squared her shoulders and looked down the slope of her nose at the Elf.
“You will bring Mr. Malfoy and I some refreshments. A tea tray, with biscuits as well. Th--” she caught herself before the words ‘thank you’ could slip between her lips. “That will be all.”
Astoria wanted to shudder with revulsion. She had discussed this with Filly ahead of time--knew that the House Elf understood why her young mistress was addressing her in such a way. But she still hated it. Filly had practically raised her, and she never spoke to her with such haughty disrespect.
But she had to keep up appearances, and families whose House Elves were treated with too many liberties were viewed as suspect. She could not afford to be kind in front of Draco Malfoy.
For a long moment, they waited. Silence sat heavy in the atmosphere of the parlour, weighing down the empty air, hovering over the intricate furniture, the green and gold and ivory colour scheme, the gilded Greengrass coat of arms worked into the plaster of the wall. When Filly returned with the tea tray, Astoria had to resist the urge to leap for it, so glad was she to have something to do with her hands to dispel her frenetic energy. She reached for the delicate china cups and poured out the steaming liquid.
“Cream or sugar?”
“Neither, thank you. I prefer it plain.”
Astoria handed him the cup before adding a liberal amount of both products to her own. Austerity in one’s tea additives had never struck her as admirable, but then, a Death Eater like Malfoy would prefer something bitter, wouldn’t he?
As she sipped her tea, she took the opportunity to study him, taking in all the minute details, just as her mother had taught her. His appearance was much changed. He wasn’t eating properly--that much was certain. He had lost a certain vitality, a shine, that he had had when he attended Hogwarts.
Back there, Draco had been popular within Slytherin House. Astoria’s sister Daphne’s so-called friend, Pansy Parkinson, had dated him once, and had been the envy of half the girls in the House. Astoria personally couldn’t see the appeal, but the knowledge that it had once existed made her look harder.
Even though he was now a tad too thin for his frame, his slender build could certainly be considered attractive. His unusual hair colour and smoky eyes were striking and his gaze held a certain penetrating intensity. All these things could come together to form a pleasing whole.
If, of course, his purposes weren’t completely despicable. She took a small spoon and stirred her tea thoughtfully. She had thought to let him begin the conversation, but he wasn’t, and she felt that if she allowed the oppressive silence to continue she would blurt out something she oughtn’t to.
There was nothing for it. She was going to have to speak.
“So, Mr. Malfoy. You have come here for a reason, I think. Shall we discuss it?”
He set down his tea, which, she noted, he had barely sipped, and leaned back, propping his hands on his legs.
“Yes, I expect we should. As you know, I am here to assess your family’s loyalties.” He delivered this information in a weary tone, as if he had done it a million times and it was not a task he much cherished.
“Of course,” Astoria replied, composed. “But are my family’s sympathies in question?”
A misleading question. Her father was in no state to be concerned with such matters; her sister was too easily-led to think twice about them; and her mother...Astoria’s mother had been perfectly devoted--paid the ultimate price for her allegiance--and what had she gotten for it, in the end?
No, it wasn’t Astoria’s family’s loyalties that were divided. It was her own.
“My family remains perfectly loyal,” she assured him, her voice calm--not too fervent to be taken seriously, not flippant enough to be seen as an affront.
He tapped the manila folder against his knees, lining up all the papers before opening it up and spreading the contents out on his lap. With one hand, he reached into his suit jacket’s pocket, pulling a pair of slender, black-framed reading glasses out of their case and setting them on his nose. He lifted the papers closer, scanning them.
“Do they?” he asked. “After the...unfortunate incident with your mother, it is not entirely out of realm of possibility to believe that some amongst you might have felt the urge to defect.”
Astoria felt her face go blank, whiter than a sheet of fine parchment, but no doubt all too easy to read.
“The ‘unfortunate incident’.” she repeated in clipped, hollow tones. “Is that all you have to say about it?”
He gave no immediate response.
The unexpected death of Lavinia Greengrass was a sight more than ‘unfortunate', from the perspective of her daughter.
Thanks so much for reading this first chapter! I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Please review! I would appreciate it greatly. The next chapter should be a good deal longer. I’m just still organizing it, and I thought that this would be enough to get things started. Thanks again!
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