Chapter 7 : A Family Affair
| ||Rating: Mature||Chapter Reviews: 9|
Background: Font color:
The steamer trunk yawned open in Astoria’s room like a hungry mouth, but there was nothing more to feed it. She had finished all the packing--robes and ties and stackable cauldrons, dried valerian and lavender, and an expensive pot of invisible ink. It was funny, a little, how easy it was to pack up the unimportant bits. Her restless mind, however, refused to be stowed away; her cracked and throbbing heart would not be bundled up and stashed safely. Try as she might, she couldn’t stop thinking, couldn’t stop feeling.
And now she was being maudlin, which made it all the worse.
Astoria smoothed her fingers over the soft weave of her black cashmere cardigan as she laid it atop the rest of the carefully packed items. Her trunk seemed unusually empty. Astoria had little use for keepsakes; there weren’t that many things she wanted to remember, anyway.
She reached a hand into the trunk, careful not to disrupt anything as she sorted through the layers, but everything was precisely as it should be. Nothing more to fuss over. Astoria sighed, tapping her fingernails against the brass-plated corners of the wooden chest. She had been trying to distract herself for days, rearranging furniture, packing and repacking, writing essays that wouldn’t be due for weeks. She had even stumbled into the kitchen one night after waking from a nightmare, her head dancing with shadowy skulls wreathed in serpents, their eye sockets glimmering with an inscrutable grey gaze. She had alphabetised half the ingredients in the pantry before Filly had come in, her enormous eyes wide with scandalised surprise, and shooed her away.
But, try as she might, she couldn’t keep her thoughts from straying to him.
Astoria prodded at the memory. Her restless mind was a tongue worrying a sore tooth to soothe it where only a drill would do. She knew she ought to stop thinking about what had happened--tuck the whole affair away and continue on as if it had never occurred, but eyes like storm clouds haunted her hours, dreaming and waking.
In real life, puzzles didn’t have missing pieces. There were only the clues you hadn’t been clever enough to uncover.
What Astoria couldn’t understand was why he had let her get away with it. She had briefly considered the possibility that he was a plant, a secret member of the Resistance who had burrowed his way into the Death Eater elite, but quickly dismissed the idea. He had intended on giving her up--she was sure of it.
So what had changed?
Could it have been her words? She hadn’t truly been trying to convince him to see the Dark Lord differently, but to stall him, when she spoke of the precariousness of his position. However, it was possible he had taken her warning to heart. It seemed unlikely that she had pricked his conscience--wouldn’t one of the so-called “traitors” who were truly innocent be more likely to do that? Astoria was as guilty as they came.
Perhaps he simply tired of being pushed around by Greyback and had used her in a power play. Perhaps there was something he had seen in her mind which had changed his. Perhaps...
It was a proper rabbit hole, to be sure.
Her train of thought was, thankfully, interrupted by a polite tap at the door.
The door swung open on silent hinges and a large pair of pricked, bat-like ears peeked their way around the frame, followed by a pair of luminous, protuberant eyes. Upon seeing the orderly state of the room her tiny elfin nose twitched and she stepped the rest of the way across the threshold.
Filly had been the Greengrasses’ house-elf for longer than Astoria had been alive, and came from a long line of elves loyal to the family. Filly was dressed in a pink babydoll-style dress that had been pieced together from a thin fleece baby blanket and was overlaid with lace doilies. In younger years, it had been a game they had played, with Astoria finding odds and ends to create outfits from, since she couldn’t give the elf actual clothes. Lavinia Greengrass had never seen the point in keeping elves dressed in rags, remarking that it was unsightly and reflected poorly on the house.
Filly propped thin hands on her hips as her bulbous eyes surveyed the impeccably clean space. Astoria had forgotten to leave what Daphne had always called her sister’s “consolation messes”--a few broken quills, crumpled magazine pages and the like. Astoria was always the tidy sort, but there was nothing a house-elf hated more than having nothing to fix.
“Mistress,” the little elf greeted, performing a quick curtsy that Astoria could never convince her to omit. She then watched as Filly homed in on her school trunk. “Mistress’s belongings are already packed?”
Astoria nodded tiredly, standing up and easing the lid of her trunk shut. “All finished,” she announced, brushing imaginary dust off her skirt.
The elf’s nose wrinkled in disapprobation. “Filly would have packed for you, Mistress.”
A wry smile tugged at Astoria’s mouth “I promise I’m quite all right, Filly. I can scarcely imagine how we’d survive without you, but some things I can manage on my own.”
Filly sniffed. “Would Mistress like for me to bring up a tray?”
“A tray? I thought that...”
Astoria trailed off. She had not eaten with her father since she’d been back. Daphne was supposed to come home for the second half of the holiday, but had sent a note saying that she had decided to extend her visit with the Parkinsons. Astoria had read the missive and promptly tossed it into the fire.
She could understand why her sister might not want to return to Greengrass Hall; could understand it, but that didn’t mean she would forgive it.
Astoria had avoided the dining room, with its abandoned place settings that throbbed with their emptiness. But she had thought that maybe, for her last night at home...
“Well then,” she cleared her throat. “I suppose I’ll just pop into the library and make certain he’s...just to check.” She knew that Filly was doing her level best to care for her father in her absence, but he had grown quite thin. Astoria had spent the week creating menus with his favourite foods to tempt him. It was all she could do, since the elf would not allow her to touch so much as a serving spoon.
“Mistress, you may not wish to--”
“It’ll be fine, Filly,” Astoria insisted as she strode out of her room and across the mezzanine that topped the grand staircase, heading towards the library.
She passed bedrooms, drawing rooms, rooms with no real purpose other than to take up space. Astoria knew they were all polished to perfection, as perfectly untouched as museum articles behind glass. She should probably order them sealed off, have sheets spread out to cover the furniture that no one was using. She imagined white linens fluttering in a draft, painting ripples into the sea of dust that would settle over the parquet floors, bleached sheets haunting vacant spaces like spectres drifting through lost memories. She should order it done, but she wouldn’t. This house had enough ghosts.
Astoria paused outside the threshold, squared her shoulders, and reached for the knob, giving the heavy oak door a good push as she marched into the room.
She had always liked the library. She had spent countless childhood days flopped upside down in an armchair, flipping through novels, illuminated myths, and whatever else caught her fancy. Many a summer afternoon had she stayed there until Filly came to call her to dinner, or Daphne came looking for a playmate, or someone wandered in and ordered her to sit like a lady.
It was a magnificent room, with leather-bound spines stretching up to the vaulted ceiling, which danced with frescoes grander and stranger than those in the downstairs parlour. It was furnished not in the cool creams and greens of the rest of the Hall, but with warm browns and rich maroons. The vanilla perfume of old books wafted through the air, mixing with the tobacco of her father’s pipe. Unlike so many of the other rooms in the Hall, the library managed to be grand without really trying. It was a dowager secure in her position, naturally elegant, certain of what it was due, and without a particular need to impress.
And there, at the desk of the far corner he had long-ago designated his study, sat her father.
Astoria pressed her lips together, allowing herself to properly catalogue the alterations in his appearance. Despite Filly’s best efforts, her father had lost a significant amount of weight. Felix Greengrass had always been a stout man, frequently cheating on whatever diet her mother had instated, but now he looked too thin, his skin stretched tight across his cheekbones. Though his suit had obviously been taken in to account for his lost girth, his flesh hung loose on him, as if his form had grown too tired to hold itself up.
When Felix spoke, however, his voice was the same as always: comfortable, with a tone that wrapped around you like a firm handshake and welcomed you warmly Astoria couldn’t quite decide if it was a comfort that he still sounded so much himself. It meant it was that much harder to tell when he was there...and when he wasn’t.
She intentionally stepped on a squeaky floorboard to let him know she was entering the room. She barely breathed. Please please please...
“Lavinia!” he exclaimed cheerfully. Her stomach dropped. “You won’t believe what I have to tell you, darling. The --
He didn’t look up, hunting around on his desk, searching through piles of papers.
“What’s that, dear? No, I haven’t heard from your father. I doubt he has the courage to owl, after--”
“Papa,” Astoria broke in, her voice cracking on the name she had scarcely used since childhood. She cleared her throat and sucked in a sharp breath. “It’s me. Astoria.”
Her father paused. He shook his head, and when he looked up, his gaze seemed a bit clearer. “Ah. Yes, of course.” She breathed out. He set his book down on his desk and motioned for her to take the seat across from him. “What can I do for you, my dear?”
Know who I am. Remember what’s happened. Remember who you are, Astoria thought. But she said none of those things.
“What are you reading?”
Felix turned to pick his book back up. Astoria didn’t recognise the title.
“Hmm, this old thing? It’s a play. An old one at that. Bit dark,” he mused. “Your sister would hate it,” he added, smiling fondly. “You might like it, though, Tori.”
Her heart shuddered at the pet name. It made her feel five again, but without any of the comfort or security of knowing that the grown-ups will take care of the monsters.
“Who’s it by?” she asked, her thumb stroking the leather binding.
A smile played at Felix’s mouth. His hair had gone silver at the temples, but the rest was still the same shade of rich black as her own.
“Fellow from the sixteenth century, by the name of Shakespeare. Muggle, actually, but he was quite brilliant--”
Astoria gasped, cutting him off. She pulled back as if the volume had bitten her.
“You have Muggle books in here?” She turned her head from side to side, scanning all the bookshelves in sight as if she could discern the authors’ bloodlines just by looking at them.
Her father cocked his head, as if surprised at her outburst.
“Of course. I daresay I’ve read everything else by now, and they’re quite good.”
Astoria had no doubt that was true. Not about the quality of the books--she wasn’t concerned with that--but she could believe that her father had read everything in this library. After all, he had scarcely left it for months. However, she could hardly believe what she was hearing.
Felix, taking in her expression, raised an eyebrow.
“What’s wrong with a book?”
“But Papa, it’s...it’s illegal.” She stared him, aghast. What if she had chosen to hold her interview with Draco Malfoy in here? She still didn’t know why he had spared her, but would contraband literature have changed his mind? What if it had been anyone else? What if Greyback had seen?
Anyone could find out. It wasn’t safe.
“Oh, I doubt Rufus would go that far,” her father assured her, tucking his hands into his pockets. “I never noticed that he was particularly against Muggles, himself.”
So he didn’t remember that Rufus Scrimgeour had been ousted from office, killed, that the Dark Lord’s puppet was now Minister. At the moment, she didn’t feel it would be useful to correct him.
Felix shook his head ruefully. He sank down into an armchair and motioned her to come closer.
Astoria was a statue. She did not move.
“Mmm. Don’t let yourself get drawn into all that, Tori. I’m not saying we ought to invite the dregs of Muggle society over for tea,” he chuckled. Chuckled! “But there’s no reason we can’t appreciate art, no matter who makes it. Back when this author was writing, Purebloods were some of the greatest patrons of the stage. In fact, your many-times great-uncle funded a rather infamous production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream*. Same author. The Ministry got a tad upset when an actor wound up with his head Transfigured into that of a donkey! And a few pixies got loose, too. Now that was an interesting business.”
Astoria was too stunned to formulate a proper answer. “I--how?”
“It’s all in The Complete History of Stage and Sorcery. Bottom shelf, there.”
“But...Muggles?” she murmured weakly. Felix gave a small smile, leaned forward, and chucked her under the chin.
“Muggles are just poor creatures without magic. Like...like those hairless cats. They’re really the same as a normal feline, but they must lead quite different lives, on some level. No hair balls, for one thing, but just think how they must shiver when winter comes round.” He leaned back in his chair and tapped his chin thoughtfully.
“You know how some people are concerned with the welfare of endangered species, like the Golden Snidget or Augury birds?” She nodded. “Well, more people ought to be conserved with Muggle conservation, I think. They’ve done astonishingly well for themselves, of course. And perhaps they haven’t got power as we do, and you can attribute that to whatever you wish: a divine hand, a superior level on the evolutionary scale, what have you. But once you read something like this,” he thumped his knuckles against the cover of his book, “you realise that, at their hearts, Muggles aren’t all that different from you and me. Same worries, same feelings, just different ways of operating.” He shrugged. “I’m not saying we should really get involved with them--history will tell you where that leads. But I’m not truly convinced we’re any better, at our cores.”
Astoria gaped. Her father was like this, sometimes, at least nowadays. He would go between bouts of wild energy and lethargy. Foggy and sharp. Long-winded, well-considered speeches and stretches where he stared into the distance and said nothing at all. She wondered if he had always believed this, or if it was the madness speaking.
He sounded sane, mostly, but the cat analogy made her a bit unsure.
She wondered if he’d ever expressed this sentiment to her mother. Not that Lavinia had ever said much about Muggles, but she had been a Death Eater, so Astoria had assumed she must have despised them.
For now, she didn’t know what to think.
“Papa?” she asked. He had trailed off into silent contemplation, but he looked up, his eyes still clear. “Where do you keep your Muggle books?”
He grinned, and it lit up his face. Despite the lost weight and the added wrinkles, this was the father she remembered. “That far bookcase,” he pointed, “just below your great-great-grandmother’s portrait.”
She wandered over. There, a woman’s face stared down at her, powdered lily-white. Her expression was severe, but it seemed to soften once Astoria drew closer to the frame. Her great-grandmother was painted in relative youth, of the same slender build as Astoria and her sister. In her portrait, she wore a pale pink qi pao and her hair was pulled into an elegant knot. Her delicate features reminded Astoria of the ones that stared back at her from the mirror, though the eyes were a deep brown rather than Astoria’s own blue, and they were set with a familiar gleam of shrewdness. Her shoulders, small and curved, seemed braced with determination, as though they could bear whatever was laid upon them. Her great-great grandmother looked like a doll, but the portrait gave Astoria the sense that beneath the porcelain lay a backbone of steel.
She heard her father’s footsteps as he came up behind her. “Do you know much about her?”
“Only a little. She moved the family over from China, didn’t she?” Felix nodded encouragingly. Astoria shrugged. “I don’t know much else.”
He indicated the portrait with a nod. There was something respectful in the gesture. It made Astoria feel as though she, too, should acknowledge her great grandmother. She resisted the urge to bob a Filly-like curtsy, though, because that seemed ridiculous.
Her father’s smile was nostalgic.
“Her name was Xing Li Ming. Cleverest woman I ever knew. And she knew how to use it, too. Ran the whole shipping company, and was a powerful witch, besides.”
“You knew her?”
“That woman had unbelievable longevity, even for a witch,” he said, shaking his head. "She was positively ancient when I was young, but still sharp as a tack--incredible presence of mind. One of the most admirable people I’ve ever known. You remind me of her, actually.”
Astoria felt a sudden pressure building in her throat, and dropped her great-great grandmother’s gaze. Maybe her father believed them to be similar, but she had the feeling her forebear might weigh her and find her wanting.
Astoria wasn’t all that skilled as a witch, at least not in the things that mattered these days. In a war, one was expected to know how to fight, and Astoria’s performance in Defence wasn’t her main selling point. Her mind plunged her back into the memory of Fenrir Greyback standing in her drawing room, her fingers clutching at the wand in her sleeve, knowing that she would try to fight, knowing that it would never be enough.
Her mind was her weapon, but these days she wasn’t even sure how sharply honed that was. She hadn’t been able to stop Draco Malfoy from invading it. She had let her weakness for her family slip out, and he had seen it. She had befriended enemies of the state and put her entire family in danger. No, Astoria wasn’t certain that she was much like her ancestor at all.
She swallowed and looked down, trailing her fingers along the titles, all of which had been penned by Muggle hands.
“Would you like to borrow one?” her father asked eagerly. “I’ve a few suggestions for you.”
Astoria looked up at him, managing just enough of a grin to convince him.
“Maybe next time. I’m a bit bogged down with school reading right now, you know. N.E.W.T.S. next year, and all.”
“Of course, of course. When do you go back?”
“Oh.” His thin eyebrows furrowed in surprise, but he quickly recovered. “Well, we should get you some dinner then, shouldn’t we?”
“We...should?” Astoria repeated tentatively. Then, glutton for punishment that she was, she continued. “Just you and me?”
She pressed her lips together, waiting for him to insist that her mother and sister would join them. She dreaded having to explain once again that her mother was gone, that Daphne couldn’t be bothered to come visit.
But no. Today, she was granted a reprieve. His warm brown eyes didn’t dim, didn’t wander off in search of the house’s ghosts.
“Just you and me.”
Astoria took a deep breath of shocked surprise, or perhaps relief, then straightened.
“That sounds perfect. I’ll meet you in the dining room. I just want to check on something first.”
And, to her astonishment, Felix left the room with no trouble, stepping out of the library doors for perhaps the second time all holiday.
“Fine. But don’t you alphabetise that shelf, young lady. I have it just the way I want it.”
A sudden warmth flared in her heart as her father walked out, leaving the doors open behind her. She walked back to where her father had laid his book down on the arm of his chair, and the warmth sputtered. Macbeth* was spelled out on the spine in golden lettering. Carefully, she flipped it open and glanced down at the page, her fingertips tracing the first words her eyes fell upon.
“Fair is foul, and foul is fair.”*
She felt her brows lift. There was a sentiment she could understand. Lately, she certainly couldn’t tell right from wrong, and as much as she’d always believed that she didn’t much care, she was beginning to think that, maybe, she really did want to do the right thing. If only she had some inkling what that was. If only what seemed “right” wasn’t always such a risk.
She glanced at the bookcase by her great-great grandmother’s portrait, full of contraband literature. How would such a practical, successful woman feel about guarding over these? Those books were dangerous, she knew. But her father enjoyed them. He seemed...better. Astoria didn’t really think the books had anything to do with that, but she was reluctant to upset the delicate balance that her father seemed to have found.
Of course, allowing them to stay was sentimental. They should be taken from the house and burned.
A bit of movement caught her eye. Her great-great grandmother had shifted, slightly. Unlike other portraits, she didn’t speak, but she pursed her lips as she looked at Astoria, as if trying to decide what to make of this offshoot of the family tree.
It was one thing to know your ancestor probably wouldn’t approve of you. It was another thing to be judged by a smear of oil paint and memories.
Astoria tapped her toe against the wooden floor, making a sharp, percussive noise. “Are you going to say something or not?” she challenged. The portrait stared at her serenely. It was very annoying. Astoria was certain it was the same calm look that she herself affected frequently, and she didn’t like to have her own tactics used against her.
No response. Fine. She’d deal with the matter herself.
“Filly.” Astoria didn’t need to raise her voice. She just spoke the name quietly and an instant later the elf Apparated into the room with a crack.
“Mistress.” Filly ducked her head.
“I need you to take care of something for me. This bookcase--” Astoria paused, shifted on her feet, felt her shoulders slump. “If anyone comes here, anyone but me or Daphne, I need you to make this bookcase disappear. Where no one will find it; that’s vital.”
It wasn’t the practical decision. It probably wasn’t an intelligent one, but she had decided. Despite herself, she found her eyes wandering back to the painting hanging above the shelves. The portrait of Xing Li Ming was as serene as ever, but, just before she turned away, she thought she saw the framed figure give her a graceful nod.
Perhaps she had imagined it, but Astoria was rarely fanciful. That touch of warmth blossomed again within her chest as she turned back to Filly.
“Yes, Mistress, of course.”
“And...” she hesitated. “And Papa and I are going to have dinner in the dining room. If you could--”
“But that’s wonderful, Mistress!” the House Elf squeaked, interrupting Astoria for perhaps the first time in her life. Her enormous eyes filled with tears, and her mouth started to wobble. “Filly is just so...so...” she sniffed and wrung her apron, “Filly will see to it immediately!” And she vanished.
Astoria paused. It really was wonderful, wasn’t it? With a real, small smile, she let herself out of the library and headed towards the dining room, where her father was waiting.
Malfoy Manor, Easter Holidays, 1998
“Oh, for God’s sake, Narcissa, get off the ground!” Lucius bellowed, stomping off to kick at a decorative stone urn. It wasn’t the one to break. He grunted in pain and limped out of the room.
Numbly, Draco made his way over to his mother, crunching over fragments of broken crystal as he walked around the chandelier that lay in ruins on the floor. His eyes took in the distorted metal frame, stretched painfully out of shape, the teardrops of leaded glass dotting the scratched floor. A minute ago, he’d been staring across that expanse of floor at a ragged group of wizards, a goblin, and his former house-elf.
And now he wasn’t.
Amazing how quickly everything can fall to ruins, an emotionless voice in his head observed silently.
This place has been in ruins for a while, a sharper voice corrected.
Draco clenched his jaw.
His mother stifled a sob.
Draco was close enough now. He crouched down to look her in the face. His powers of speech felt dusty, strained, but he cleared his throat and reached for her.
“Mum? Come on, you’ve got to get up. It’ll onl--,” his voice cracked a bit, and he avoided making eye contact with his aunt. “It’ll only be worse if He sees you like this.”
Narcissa’s lifted her face out of her hands. There were tear streaks down her pale cheeks, and her eyes were bloodshot, terrified. Leaning forward, she scrabbled for purchase on Draco’s robes, gripping his arm tight as she stared intently into his eyes.
“You have to run,” she whispered, her voice barely more than a dry leaf trembling, clinging to a twig in the midst of a cold, strong wind.
“What?” he asked, glancing uncertainly at his aunt, who was, thankfully, too flustered at the thought of failing the Dark Lord to pay attention to her sister’s quiet pleas.
Narcissa shook her head and gripped him tighter.
“You have to go, Draco.” Her voice was tinted with desperation and, he hated to notice, more than a hint of madness. “He’ll kill you. He’ll kill us all. We’ve failed Him. My boy.” She paused, raising a frail, shaking hand to stroke his cheek. “My only darling boy.”
“Mum--” Draco reached for her arm, hoping to draw her to her feet, but she shook her head sharply and cut him off.
“You have to live, darling. You have to--” She paused to regain her breath. It appeared she was on the cusp of hyperventilating as he rubbed her back soothingly. “You have run.”
Draco continued rubbing his mother’s back with one hand, reaching into his pocket for a handkerchief with the other. He pressed it gently into her hand, and leaned forward to speak quietly in her ear.
“It’s too late for that, Mum.”
They would find him. They would hunt him down. They would use his parents as bait. Draco, as his subconscious reminded him nightly, might be reprehensible, a shameful excuse for a wizard and a man, but even he could never let that happen.
“I’m sorry,” he murmured.
Narcissa looked from her son to the place from which their prisoners had just disappeared and nodded. She allowed Draco to help her to her feet, her breathing raspy as she unfolded his handkerchief and carefully patted away any sign of tears.
Draco followed her gaze to the spot where Harry Potter had vanished. He stepped away, allowing his mother a moment to compose herself.
This was his fault. He was the one who hesitated. First with Astoria--no, first with Albus Dumbledore, then with the Greengrass girl, and now with Harry Potter himself. He couldn’t afford that kind of weakness--not anymore.
For the sake of his family.
He glanced again at his mother, still pressing the handkerchief to her haggard face. His mother. Her handkerchief, soaked in tears; the hem of her robes, soaked in blood.
Next time--next time he would not falter.
Next time, when he aimed his wand, he would shoot to kill.
*A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a work by William Shakespeare.
* Macbeth is also a work by William Shakespeare
*”Fair is foul, and foul is fair,”...is also by William Shakespeare, as it is a line from Macbeth So many props to dear old Will on this one. Felix is obviously something of a fan ;)
Hi everybody! Sorry I’ve been bad! I could give the reasons and excuses, but probably I should just focus on giving you more chapters, huh? :) But I am truly sorry for the delay. And also that my previous snippet wasn’t actually in here. I ended up making some adjustments to some scenes and had to re-cut. I’ll have to go in and change that to something that is in this chapter. But for those of you who wanted to see a Ginny appearance, it should be happening in the next chapter, if nothing changes drastically in edits.
So, you’ve finally met Felix Greengrass, and on a (mostly!) lucid day. And there’s Draco, after the trio’s great Malfoy Manor escape! And a slightly more solid look at the Greengrass family heritage. Tons of thanks to Iellwen for being my consultant for Astoria’s Chinese roots!
Your thoughts, critiques, and insights are always soooo appreciated! Please let me know what you think!
Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Other Similar Stories
The Last Thi...
The Shadows ...