Chapter 3 : A Dangerous Revelation
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Astoria cleared her throat. “Mr. Malfoy.”
“Come again?” Draco glanced up from his files, and appeared wary once he noted her smile. She made a note to turn it down a bit. Perhaps after interviewing enough Slytherins for treachery, one grew tired of an excess of charm.
Honestly, though. The man was supposed to be here to determine whether or not a family’s heads would be handed to the Dark Lord--or, more aptly, his snake--on a silver platter, and he wasn’t even paying attention to her questions?
She made a firm line of her mouth, but carefully weeded any bitterness from her voice before asking again.
“How does this work, exactly?”
He eased the papers into alignment and shut the folder, tapping his fingers lightly against the manilla-colored surface.
“I’ll be asking you some questions to determine your family’s innocence. Hopefully I can gain all the information I need from you, and there will be no need to track down the rest of your family members.”
She stiffened, unable to discern whether this was a threat, or just the desire of a spoiled young man to get back to...whatever it was he did that was more enjoyable than this. She nodded her consent.
“Very well. Feel free to begin.”
Draco Malfoy set the folder aside, reaching for his now tepid cup of tea and knocking back the bitter liquid as though it was a different, more invigorating beverage. He cleared his throat.
“Very well, then.” He stared at her with--was that a hint of apprehension?--over the thick black frames of his glasses. “Do the words ‘Epping Forest’ mean anything to you?”
Hogwarts, Autumn 1998, Several Months Earlier
Astoria could not go off and fight with the rebels--it would bring danger to what remained of her family, and while she was willing to risk herself, she would not put them in Voldemort’s clutches. She was a student at Hogwarts, and didn’t have much to offer.
One of the last snippets of intelligence her mother had imparted to her was the date of a planned attack. Information had been found suggesting that there was a group of rebels concealed in Epping Forest, near Essex. They didn’t know that they had been found out, and the Dark Lord’s forces planned to strike on a certain November morning, wiping out every man, woman, and child.
And Astoria was determined to stop it.
No, perhaps it wasn’t what her mother would have wanted--Lavinia had been a Death Eater, though as a spy she had lacked a Dark Mark. But Astoria had had enough of Death Eaters, enough of death altogether, and this was all she had to offer--everything she had to give.
She couldn’t bring her mother back, but she if she could do something--anything--to exact retribution from those who had killed her, then that was what she would do.
Once the decision had been made, there was still the question of whom she could entrust with this information. Astoria herself was a Slytherin, the House with the greatest number of Voldemort-sympathisers, and had been raised almost exclusively amongst fellow Purebloods. No one within her acquaintance was likely to have anti-Voldemort sympathies, let alone be willing to do something about them.
So she wracked her brain, looking at every student she passed, evaluating whether they might be the one who could help her. It seemed ages, though really it had only been a few weeks, before she finally found the perfect candidate--just the person she needed to talk to.
There were a number of reasons why Astoria settled upon Ginny Weasley as the best choice to get a message to the Order of the Phoenix. The Carrows certainly suspected the girl of such connections, as she was among the group of students they tormented with the greatest amount of glee. One of her brothers was close friends with Harry Potter himself, and the family had been known to house him on a number of occasions. Said family was absurdly large, and surely one them must have some connection to the rebellion.
But, most importantly, Ginny would protect Harry Potter, and Merlin only knew where he could be. It was possible that the Chosen One was in that very camp.
Astoria had been paying attention--she was, after all, raised by a spy--and she could not help but notice that last year Ginny had seemed much friendlier with Harry Potter, that the girl’s jaw still clenched and her eyes grew dark with worry whenever his name was mentioned. Apparently no one else had noted the signs of Ginny’s romantic involvement with the Boy Who Lived--else she would hardly be alive and at Hogwarts--but for Astoria, there was little doubt.
If she wanted to offer a clandestine tip to the other side, Ginevra Weasley was the girl to see.
Seeing Ginny, however, had proved to be a feat in of itself. Under the iron thumb of the Carrows, it was difficult to sneak around at night, particularly for Astoria, who had never been much of a rule breaker and who had precious little experience with nighttime wanderings. But for a Pureblood of honourable birth to be seen talking to a Weasley during daylight hours would be considered most irregular. After all, pureblooded though their family might be, the Weasleys were blood traitors through and through.
By the time Astoria managed to sneak into the Gryffindor Sixth year girls’ dormitory under cover of night, it was only four days before the raid. She had ended up with six incensed young witches with drawn wands directed at her upon her intrusion, and barely avoided Ginny’s own infamous Bat-bogey hex, before finally managing to get a word in edgewise.
“I don’t want any trouble.”
“What are you doing here?”
“I need to speak to Ginny,” Astoria replied calmly, despite the eight-and-a quarter inches of oak baring down on her pulse point. Its owner, a spindly witch with light brown hair, looked to the girl in question.
Astoria lifted her chin, extremely aware of the wand tip that was still pressed too-close against her throat. “I’d hardly be here under cover of nightfall if it wasn’t important, would I?”
Ginny eyed her thoughtfully for a moment, measuring her up. She turned to the wand-happy brunette, who looked as though she were cheerfully contemplating what sort of hexes she might attempt on the Slytherin girl in front of her.
“Just...go down to the Common Room for a bit, okay? Give me fifteen minutes.”
“And leave you with her?” the brown-haired girl sneered.
Oh, who was being prejudiced, now?
Ginny cocked a hip and raised an imperious eyebrow. “You don’t think I could take her?”
The brunette’s lips curled into a sour frown, but she said nothing in response.
Privately, Astoria believed that Ginny could take her in a fight, but was untroubled by the thought. She lived by her wits, not by her wand. Just because the Weasley girl could out-spell her didn’t mean that she could outsmart her, if it should come to that.
Though she suspected that the fiery redhead, whose friends followed her lead so willingly, was probably no halfwit, herself.
Reluctantly, with plenty of loaded glances tossed over their shoulders, the other girls slouched out of the room and down the stairwell, leaving the two of them alone.
Ginny gestured to a battered-looking armchair with her wand, and Astoria complied, perching delicately on the edge of the cushion.
The other girl took a moment to ensorcel the gas lamps, brightening the room to get a better look at Astoria’s face. As if that would help. Astoria was perfectly capable of lying, if she so desired--her face would remain equally convincing in dim or glaring light. However, in this case, she had every intention of telling the truth.
Ginny squinted at her, pursing her lips. Finally, she waved over another armchair, which scraped across the floor towards them. Leaning against the chair arm, not quite standing or sitting, she turned that same imperious nod upon Astoria.
Astoria nearly scoffed--she had never been one to take orders. Still, this was what she was here for, after all. So she swallowed her pride and spoke.
She told Ginny of what she knew: The camp at Epping Forest. The men, women, and children whose lives were in danger. The Death Eaters who would strike without mercy four days hence.
For once in her life, she didn’t consider the best way to present the information, didn’t think about which bits might be advantageous to adjust or leave out. For once, she told the bald, unembellished truth, with no attempt to twist it for her own profit.
And, in the end, Astoria wasn’t certain it would be enough.
Finally, having finished her tale, she sat back in her chair, awaiting Ginny Weasley’s verdict.
For the first time, Astoria’s eyes strayed from her audience, taking a moment to properly observe her surroundings. The room was much like her dormitory in Slytherin House, though the walls were of a warmer-coloured stone, and the drapes and trappings were all of crimson and gold. One bed was empty--the Gryffindor girl who hadn’t come back to school this year. Half-blood, Astoria mused grimly. Probably dead.
She looked back to Ginny, who was staring into the glowing embers of a dying fire in the grate. The shifting light played across her features. She was thinner than Astoria had remembered, but not in a way that made her look fragile. If anything, she looked fierce. The half-healed cut on her cheek, a left-over from one of the Carrows’ disciplinary exhibitions, leant her a dangerous air.
Around her neck hung a galleon piece on a chain. Strange. Astoria wondered how many taunts the girl might have received from her fellow Slytherins. She could just imagine--Are you Weasleys so poor that you have to wear your money so you don’t lose it, then, Blood Traitor?
Still, that didn’t seem right. Something about the way that Ginny’s hand reached up to grasp it, fingering the coin thoughtfully as she contemplated Astoria’s tale. She was quite sure there was more to Ginny’s unusual accessory than a need to keep her spare change close.
Her thought process was shattered when Gryffindor finally spoke, her voice ringing with quiet authority.
“You expect me to believe this?”
Astoria considered for a moment, her sharp-eyed gaze dissecting every emotion that fluttered across the other girl’s face.
“I think you already do.”
The redhead took a deep breath, blew it out slowly.
Ginny dropped into the proper seat of her chair, drumming her fingers against her knees, her eyes closed in concentration. When she opened them and leaned forward, her gaze--a much warmer brown than Astoria’s own cold blue stare--bored into the Slytherin as if she could see through to her soul.
“Tell me why.”
“Does it matter?” Astoria countered. Ginny continued to stare her down, and Astoria rolled her eyes. “I have my reasons.”
“Not good enough.”
“Well, why not?” Astoria demanded with great hauteur, pulling a rather masterful impression of Pansy Parkinson. Of course, she could think of plenty of reasons ‘why not’--trust was not exactly a strong component of Astoria’s nature. But she’d get farther if she knew Ginny’s own concerns.
Ginny’s eyes continued to blaze, her voice stony.
“Because,” she retorted, “You’re asking me to trust you with a significant number of lives. If I know any rebels who might be able to evacuate a camp, who I could send a message to,” she qualified, “It would take a qualified team--all their lives would hang in the balance.”
“As do the lives of the people who are in the camp. Right now. So I’m afraid I don’t see the problem.”
Ginny glared at her. “It could be a trap,” she snapped. “You’re not stupid, Astoria. Don’t think I don’t know it. As good as you are at that Pansy Parkinson impression,” she raised an admiring eyebrow, “I know you’re not her. You notice things. You know the score.”
Astoria stayed silent for a moment, to punctuate her next point.
“Exactly,” she replied, raising an eyebrow right back. “I’m not her.”
Ginny leaned back in her chair. She didn’t sigh, exactly--the Weasley girl didn’t seem like the type of girl to give in and accept anything. But she did give a sort of huff.
Astoria continued to watch her. Ginny’s emotions were easily read--the strain of responsibility; the idea of leaving it alone and letting people die; wrestling with the choice of trusting a Slytherin, a Pureblood, or...the alternative.
What was totally absent from Ginny’s face was morbid curiosity--the expression that would be flickering behind the countenance of any of her Housemates, were she to come to them with such a tale. Ginny cared about Astoria’s motives only so much as they might prove she was telling the truth; she didn’t want to dig into someone else’s sob story for her own amusement. She wasn’t that type of girl, either.
Which is why, in the end, Astoria chose to tell her.
“They killed my mother,” she offered quietly, dropping her gaze to stare down at the stiff black fabric of her robes. The words scraped against her throat, but her voice remained composed.
Astoria’s composure slipped, her back teeth grinding together as she spoke. “They think they’re safe--if they’re on his side. If they’re Purebloods. They aren’t,” she spat. “No one is safe. He doesn’t care.
“Think what you want about people like me, but we always look out for our own. The Dark Lord isn’t like that. He’s out for himself. So are the Death Eaters. Whoever gets in their way, they’re...”, she shrugged, working to swallow, “eliminated.”
She tried her usual trick--deep breath, in through the nose, slowly released. She felt some of the chinks in her armour repair themselves.
“Most people do the opposite, you know,” Ginny pointed out. “The last thing they want, after they’ve lost someone, is to get involved.”
Astoria rolled her eyes.
“Don’t make me out to be some kind of hero, Weasley. I’m not out throwing myself at every cause that moves, like a deranged Gryffindor.” She knew it wasn’t wise to toss out insults at a time like this, but she prided herself on her impassivity, and Ginny Weasley had just seen it crack.
“So you’re saying this is about revenge.”
“I don’t buy it.” Ginny shook her head. “I know you’re saying Purebloods are proud, you have to avenge your family, all that.” She waved a hand dismissively. “But you’re not just blindly striking out. You’re trying to help people. That’s more than revenge.”
Astoria blinked, pursed her lips.
For a few moments they remained like that, in a silent stare-down, each sizing the other up, each with her own stake in the game.
“Fine,” Ginny said finally, standing up. Astoria rose gracefully to her feet as well. “I’ll let you know what I’ve decided. Afterwards.”
The Slytherin girl’s dark-blue eyes crinkled at the corners, though her lips remained set in their usual line.
“You’re not going to tell me now?” This time, Astoria’s voice had no false note of affront. Rather, it rang with approbation.
“Of course not. If it’s a trap, I’m hardly going to let you have any more information. I’ll consider what you said, and go from there.”
Astoria let out a very small smile. It fluttered around the edges of her mouth, like the wings of a bird long kept in captivity, newly released. She started for the door.
“Oh, and Weasley,” she tossed over her shoulder as she walked out of the dormitory. “Nobody finds out about this. Ever.”
Ginny raised an eyebrow. “You’re sure? No matter what happens?”
Astoria paused on the threshold. Ginny Weasley was asking her if, against all odds, the Dark Lord were defeated, if she would want to be known as a hero. If she would want people to know what she had done for them.
“No matter what happens,” Astoria affirmed, and exited the room.
Hello lovely readers! Thanks so much for sticking with this story till chapter 3. So, now you know Astoria’s secret (or at least one of them). Still, perhaps you’ll soon learn a few others. Can she keep the truth from Draco and the Death Eaters? Or will Draco prove to be more observant than she suspects?
Please review! It really helps, both as a morale booster (oh, look, people have opinions about my story!) and helping me to construct the rest of it. I like to know what things you like, and what things you don’t. It’s important, so please let me know *cue puppy-dog, review-please eyes*. No, I do not have any shame. I will plead until the Nargles come home. I value your thoughts. You are my favorites!
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