Chapter 2 : On the Astronomy Tower
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Chapter Two – On the Astronomy Tower
I thought coming back here would be the wisest decision, figuring it would help me avoid the gruesome, horrifying, and downright inhumane things occurring in my family's home as of late. If I was away completing my education – something that's oh-so-important to my parents – I figured they'd all let me be, at least for this year.
But no. The letter requesting for me to return over the weekend was waiting for me when I arrived in my new dormitory a half hour ago.
And it's not as if I can say no, either. Snape's running the school; I'm sure he'll gladly give me permission to leave school grounds. Not to mention, my father's not exactly on the Dark Lord's good side right now. No… I cannot argue; if I do, it will only make things worse for my family and me. I have to go. And unless I come up with a viable excuse by then, I'll be required to do whatever the bastards tell me.
I came up here to clear my head, or maybe even come up with some sort of a plan to get me out of this mess. I can't go along with what they – the Death Eaters – want. It's too revolting, too sickening. I'm proud to be a pureblood, but I simply cannot sink to the level they're demanding of me. At the same time, there's no place for me with Potter and the Order. What would they want with me?
I'm stuck. There's nowhere for me to turn.
For Merlin's sake, I can't even come up to the damn Astronomy Tower without someone interfering with my lone attempt for solitude, for peace. Considering what happened on this very platform in June, I assumed this would've been the last place anyone ventured.
It is a soft, feminine voice that interrupts not only my thoughts, but my sense of security. This tower has acted as my refuge whenever I felt like being alone; I've never been disturbed before. Naturally, it has to be tonight that my lucky streak is broken.
I don't turn to see who my intruder is, but instead quickly glance out of the corner of my eye. Her. Of course it's her. Emmaleigh Ross. I can't imagine wanting to see anyone less right now. It's not that she's a bad person, but she's just so... strange. She has an odd name. She's in Slytherin but acts as if she's a Gryffindor. She somehow managed to become Head Girl this year despite being Muggleborn. Hell, the fact that she's even here and a Muggleborn is a curiosity itself.
I glance up at the sky. This is what you call help? I think. Thanks for nothing.
"Are you alright?" she asks tentatively.
"Sod off, Ross. I'm busy."
"I'm only tr-"
"I said sod off!" I say a bit louder, turning toward her and giving my best attempt at looking angry. I'm hardly mad at her, but the last thing I need is someone knowing my heart's not in The Cause. It'll blow my cover. They'll kill me for sure. I may not like my side all that much, but if I at least act like I'm with it, I'll be safe.
Emmaleigh looks slightly hurt, but more defiant than anything else. She displays this by taking one, two, three steps toward me, hand cautiously placed over what I can only assume is her wand pocket, just in case – a smart thing to do in these times.
"What is it you don't want to do?" she persists.
"It's none of your bloody business."
"Has he given you another task? You-Know-Who?"
"No, he hasn't gi-" I stop. What am I doing? "Quit meddling. It doesn't concern you."
"Then what is it? Maybe the Order can help."
"Listen here, Ross," I say sternly, "I know perfectly well you're involved with the Order. You've made your choice. I've made mine. We're on different sides."
"It certainly didn't sound like you want to be on your side."
"What difference does it make to you if I want to be on their side or not? The point is I'm there. I'm against you."
Merlin, she's a pain in the arse. She's even starting to give Granger a run for her money.
"Look, I'm no idiot," she continues. "I heard the things you were saying. You can lie to my face all you want, but you weren't lying to yourself just a minute ago. You don't want to be on their side. You know you don't."
"And I suppose you think that means I want to be on your side?"
"No, but if they're making you do things you think are wrong..." Her voiced trails off, but I know where she was going with it. She was about to give me a speech on morals or some shit like that, but quit while she was ahead. Smart girl.
"Allow me to ask you this, then," I counter. "If you're so keen on fighting for the greater good, why the hell have you even come back to Hogwarts? What good will you be to them if you're dead?"
That catches her off guard. She opens her mouth on impulse, but quickly closes it upon realizing she doesn't have an answer at the tip of her tongue. It's a bit of a shame, actually, as there is a small part of me that's wondering what she's doing here. She's a Muggleborn, and it must have taken nerves of steel to return to this place with that status on her shoulders, regardless of how well she was able to conceal her identity. She's here for a reason. I'm sure of it.
"It's complicated," is all she says.
"You're helping Potter?"
"It's irritating when someone pries, isn't it?" I say victoriously.
"I wasn't prying! I was trying to-"
"Yes, trying to help, I know. By prying."
"Well, if you weren't such spoiled, arrogant prat who considers himself too good to talk to anyone but himself, there'd be no need for me to pry!"
She stays rooted on the spot, her stubborn green eyes staring me down. She's not going anywhere until I give her something.
"You can't tell me you've never questioned where your loyalties lie?" I ask. Perhaps turning the focus on her will get her off my back.
"Of course not. Have you forgotten who my friends are? Have you forgotten I'm Muggleborn?"
"I know that, but... you are in Slytherin. Why?"
"I wish I knew."
"There has to be a reason."
"There is. The Sorting Hat made a mistake. It must have."
Emmaleigh continues to glare at me, patiently waiting for me to spill... what, exactly? Does she want me to get emotional or something? Is she seeking information to slip to Potter and the Order? That must be it.
"I'm not giving you any knowledge about You-Know-Who's plans, so if that's why you're here, you can bugger off." It's not as if I actually know all that much of his plans, anyway. Not the important ones, at least.
"That's not why I came up here."
"Then why are you here?"
"Well, I certainly didn't come to see you," She walks until she's standing next to me, though she keeps a fair amount of space between our hands as she, too, leans on the railing. "I'm here for the same reason I suspect you are. I needed to think. Or not think, actually. I had to take my mind off things for a bit."
I nod, but look out at the Black Lake rather than at her. I get it. I have no idea why she's back here, or even how she managed to cover her blood status, but I can only guess she's been given a rather daunting task to complete. Perhaps that ambition is the Slytherin in her.
We're silent for a long time, both of us staring out at the water, the trees, the starlit night sky. This has always been such a beautiful place, so much so that it's almost deceiving. I know better than anyone that beyond those protective wards is an ugly, deplorable world that's rapidly plunging into chaos. I dread being forced back into it.
Emmaleigh is the one who breaks the silence. This comes as no surprise to me.
"I won't tell anyone, you know."
I turn to look at her. She's still staring at the lake.
"Won't tell anyone what?"
"The things you were saying. The fact that you don't want to be on their side... and why."
And why. She still won't let it go.
"Why do you want to know so badly?"
She shrugs, finally turning to face me. "It's not that I want to know, exactly. It's just... I'm alone, too."
The faintest of smiles appears on my face. I hadn't thought of that. She's clearly disguising herself as a half-blood at the very least. If she wants to avoid suspicion, she can't associate with anyone she typically does. I know the Golden Three have vanished, but some of the others have probably come back. The members of that little club they all had when Umbridge was around... surely some of them returned. She can't talk to them if she wants to remain under the radar.
And me... well, who am I to discuss anything with? Crabbe and Goyle are useless. Snape's to report anything and everything that could create a hiccup in The Cause to the Dark Lord. Pansy, Nott, Zabini, and all the others are clamoring to be on one of the Dark Lord's pedestals; they'd rat me out in an instant in exchange for a chance at getting closer to the top.
We're both characters this year, Emmaleigh and I, pretending to be people we're not.
I know I should be repulsed by the sight of her, much less actually be having a civilized conversation with her, but she doesn't seem as irritating as she has in recent years. I still don't like her, but perhaps we have more in common than I thought. Being left no choice but to hide who we really are to keep ourselves safe, being burdened with tasks and sights beyond our years, being forced to grow up far too soon...
"You first," I say.
She raises an eyebrow. "Pardon me?"
"You. Why are you here?"
"I told you, it's complicated."
"It's a long story, alright?"
"So?" I spin so my back is to the railing and plop myself down on the stone floor. "Sit. You'll be more comfortable for this long story."
She sighs and reluctantly sits down beside me. She doesn't say it, but I know she's nervous about talking. Whatever she's hiding has something to do with Potter or the Order, or both, and she's not sure if she trust me with such sensitive information. With the way I've behaved over the past six years, I can't blame her.
I see it in her eyes when she looks at me again. There's apprehension and uncertainty in those green pools, and I can only hope she can read my mind: I won't use anything against her, Potter, or the Order. I have no intention of taking advantage of her trust should she decide to give it to me. Even though she's a Muggleborn and goes against essentially everything I've been raised to believe, I don't want to hurt her. I don't want to hurt anyone, for that matter.
When she finally nods, I know there's a silent, but mutual understanding between us: I'll keep her secret if she keeps mine. I think that's fair. I'd even go so far as to say it's a comfort.
"Okay," she says. "I'm looking for a Horcrux."
"A Horcrux, or something that could help me find one. Harry thinks Hogwarts is the best place to start looking."
"What in heaven's name is a bloody Horcrux?"
"It's something a murderer hides a bit of his soul in. It can be anything."
"Hides his – what?" She's talking nonsense. "How is that even possible?"
Emmaleigh gives me the long, exhaustive history of what these rather disgusting objects are and why she's looking for one. Evidently, this Horcrux thing is the reason Potter hasn't killed the Dark Lord yet. Sneaky bastard. Clever, yes, but sneaky.
"I'm trying to find out anything I can," she concludes. "Anything that could help. Harry, Ron, and Hermione are looking, too. It's the only way this whole thing can end."
"So you need to find one object," I say. "One thing. That shouldn't be too hard. Hogwarts is only so big." When she grimaces and shakes her head, I narrow my eyes. "What?"
"Not one. Four."
"Four? You must be joking!"
"I wish I was. He's split his soul into seven pieces and hid six of them in random objects. Two of them have already been found and destroyed. There's four left."
"Good lord," I mumble. I lean my head back against the railing. "And you all know nothing about where they could be hidden?"
"Well, we know You-Know-Who relished in his magical heritage and loved being a student at Hogwarts, so Harry is certain I'll find some clues here, if not an actual Horcrux. Other than that, no. Any ideas?"
I shrug and shake my head. "Nothing."
"Do you... I mean, is it possible that anyone you know has one, or knows where they are?"
"What are you suggesting?"
"Is there anyone he puts a lot of confidence in, or may be likely to trust with such a secret?"
I know where she's going with this. She's wondering if there's a piece of that wanker's soul in my home. Maybe there was at one point. When I was young, there were always certain things I wasn't allowed to touch, but I always figured it was because they were fragile. Maybe there actually was a Horcrux or two in my parents' care. But after my father was sent to Azkaban... surely Voldemort would have had it moved if there was one there to begin with? And if he hadn't, surely it was confiscated by the Ministry during the raids.
"I'll ask around," I say. "Maybe somebody knows something."
She nods. "Just… don't say 'Horcrux.' If anyone's keeping something hidden for You-Know-Who, I doubt they know its significance, much less what its proper term is."
"Relax, I'm not that daft."
She smiles. "Thanks."
She has quite a pleasant smile. She's not a bad looking girl, to be completely honest. Her dark hair is silky and smooth, and the light, scattered freckles on her ivory face have a certain charm to them.
"So, it's your turn," she says. "Why the change of heart?"
I know what I want to say. I want to say it's because of the vile, repulsive things that are expected of me, and that's definitely part of it. But that might not be all of it.
"I don't think it's as much of a change of heart as much as it is a blatant realization."
"What do you mean?"
"Pureblood mania, hating Mudbl- Muggleborns," I quickly correct myself, "it's all I've ever known. It's all I was taught growing up. I didn't know any different."
"So you're a Mudblood lover now?" My eyes widen at her use of the word, and when I look at her, she's grinning. "What? Isn't that what you've called the Weasleys over the years? Mudblood lovers?"
"Yeah, but, I didn't-"
She chuckles. "The word doesn't bother me anymore. I'm over it."
"Right." I'm not going to argue. "And no, that's not what I meant. What I meant is I don't know if I really am like them or not."
She's silent for a moment before responding. "I think you know the answer to that."
She nods. "The fact that you're even questioning whether you're like them proves that you aren't."
I don't say anything for a while. I don't like thinking that I've been living a lie for the last seventeen years, yet at the same time, I don't like the person I've been. And I certainly don't like where my life is headed if I follow the footsteps of the Death Eaters.
It's as if she can read my mind.
"What is it they want you to do?" She asks this timidly, almost as if she really doesn't want to know, but some unseen force is obliging her to ask.
"They want me to join in their... activities."
"I'm sure you know of the Ministry's latest regulations concerning Mudbl- Muggleborns and blood traitors."
"So you know they're being captured."
"Malfoy, I'm a Muggleborn," she declares with the slightest hint of annoyance in her voice. "I had to have Fred and George forge my documentation so I could get back into school undetected. Do you really think I don't know what sort of danger I'm up against?"
"Sorry," I mutter.
She nods. "Go on."
"Not everyone who gets captured gets brought to the Ministry. Some of them aren't even interrogated." She remains silent, waiting for me to continue. "Some of them get brought straight to the Death Eaters, and…" I pause for a moment. "I'm sure you can figure out what happens."
I say nothing else, but I don't really have to. She stares at me. She doesn't appear surprised by my admission, just sickened, much like I am.
"Why?" It's all she asks. "What's the point?"
"Like I said, it's nothing more than an activity for them. It's fun. It's pleasure. They get off on that shit. They also have some sick, twisted idea that Mud- Muggleborns stole their magical abilities, and that those abilities can somehow be tortured out of them. It's nauseating. As for me, they want me to… to prove myself."
"But haven't you?" she asks quickly. "I mean, you've taken the Mark."
"Yeah, and then I choked on my first assignment. I couldn't do it. I couldn't kill him."
"Because you're not a killer!"
"And they think I'm weak because of it!" I say. "They're questioning my loyalty! So to prove I'm not against them, I'm expected to torture a captive. A woman captive, and not only with a curse!"
I don't want to say any more. If I do, I'll start to hear it all. I'll hear their pleas as they're dragged in by their hair through the front door and down into the basemen, where Dolohov and Rookwood and Rowle and Yaxley and even my pathetic excuse for an uncle are waiting. I'll hear the screams, the curses, and the blood pounding in my ears as I'm not permitted to do a damn thing to stop it.
I look over at Emmaleigh. She's now staring at her feet, and I'm fairly sure everything I just told her is causing her to panic. She is a Muggleborn, after all.
"Look," I say, "you got past the guards to get into school. They bought it. No one's going to come looking for you."
"I'm not worried about me." She doesn't actually say who she's worried about. I don't ask.
I look at her in disbelief. "Of course I haven't! Why the fuck do you think this is upsetting me so much?"
"Well, how was I supposed to know?" she retorts defensively. "The Ministry fell a month ago!"
"What's that got to do with anything?"
"It means you've been avoid these... expectations for a while now. Why is it suddenly an issue?"
"Because I lied to them. I told them I was going out with Pansy." She appears confused, so I explain. "Death Eaters are conservative, in a way. They have this thing about honor. Part of that honor is being faithful, should you have someone to be faithful to. And… well, that… however sadistic, is considered a very intimate thing, and intimacy of any kind with another person is considered unfaithful."
The more I say, the more ridiculous it sounds. How in the world did they come up with these absurd rules?
"So by claiming you were with Pansy, you were off the hook."
"I'm sorry, but I fail to believe that not a single one your Death Eater friends is married, or has a girlfriend."
"First of all, they are not my friends," I say sharply. "Secondly, it's not as if what they want from me is something that happens on a regular basis. I'm not even sure it happens at all. They're just trying to punish me for failing my task. The point is, I chose to claim that I couldn't break my commitment to Pansy. They were disappointed, but they couldn't really argue with it, you know? It's actually deemed a respectable decision."
"Then why not continue to say you're with Pansy? If it's worked so far-"
I cut her off. "Pansy's with Theo now. Like, really with Theo, and everyone knows it."
I nod. "So with my girlfriend out of the picture, I can't play the honor card anymore. I'm screwed. I'm expected home this coming weekend and I know damn well why. Initiation."
I want to puke.
Emmaleigh says nothing. She stares straight ahead and I wish I could tell what's going through her mind. She's probably thinking I'm a sick bastard and a coward for not standing up to them, and she's right. But what am I to do? If I'm disobedient, they'll kill me, and possibly my mother and father, too. If I oblige, I'll be committing one of the most deplorable acts known to humankind. I lose either way.
How the fuck did things get this bad?
"I could help you," she speaks quietly.
I shoot her a look. "Come again?"
She shrugs. "Tell them you're with me."
"No," I retort immediately. "You're mad."
"You're trying to be essentially invisible this year, Ross. Do you really think masquerading as my girlfriend isn't going to earn you some sort of scrutiny?"
"Maybe, but would your family even entertain the idea of you seeing a Muggleborn, much less believe it?"
"Exactly." She shifts her body slightly so she's facing me. "They'll have to assume I'm a half-blood at the very least, which is perfect. It'll help me maintain my cover, and it'll ensure that you don't have to do anything... horrifying."
She does have a point, but there's still a problem.
"They'll ask about your heritage. That's a certainty. They'll want to know where your magical blood is from, and you don't have that."
A thoughtful look appears on her face. "I don't know who my father is. I could say he was a wizard."
I shake my head. "They'll want a name."
"Then we'll do some research. There has to be some pureblood wizard out there who never married or had children. Preferably one who died in the last seventeen years so they can't go asking questions." When I say nothing, she continues. "Look, it's not that big of a deal. It's the school year. It's not as if I'll be seeing your parents every day. This is just a cover for you that I can vouch for if the need arises. It's the least I can do seeing as you're going to learn anything you can about the Horcruxes."
"It is a big deal, Ross. If we're ever found out... we'll both be dead. This is really dangerous territory."
"I know," she concedes. "But what other choice do we have?"
We don't, I think to myself.
Emmaleigh and I have never been friends, and I doubt we ever will, but I still don't like the thought of possibly being the reason her cover gets blown. And then there's the whole trust issue. Can I really be sure she won't screw me over somehow? Is there any way to be sure certain she isn't simply using me?
But there are no certainties in these times. Anything any one of us do, dark side or light, requires a leap of faith. None of us can completely trust anyone. The same applies to Emmaleigh. She's taking a chance with me, too. This is probably the most reliable deal either of us can strike right now.
So I nod.
"Okay," I state. "I'm in."
I expect the dynamic to change between us, but it doesn't. We aren't suddenly best friends, nor do I suddenly feel this overwhelming desire to be with her all the time. I'm still me and she's still her. There is no us. We must be the most unlikely alliance the war has resulted in.
Nonetheless, I'm slightly optimistic.
Author's Note: Thanks so much for reading! :) See you soon for chapter three!
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