Fear and Loathing, in Less Vagueness.
Looking back, I can say that the beginning of things truly changing began the day after my drunken binge with Glenn. Not just for his idea, but with a number of things, but those of course would come later.
Isn't that the way these things always start, though? Two or more men, talking, planning, railing against life, injustice, and the state of the world over drink? Maybe I'll write a book one day, about how wine and injustice are the fuels of revolution.
No rebellion began in an instant, however. I still had the remnants of a hangover, and a rather hacked off witch to deal with that morning before anything else could be done.
We made an uneasy peace over breakfast, reestablishing our usual roles – I think both of us were more than a little uncomfortable after all the vulnerability tossed about the night before. Unsure what to do with myself after mid morning, as Glenn had yet to make an appearance, I excused myself to the study.
I was only somewhat surprised that Daphne joined me, without comment. With the looming idea of a brewing revolution on our hands, neither of us really knew what to talk about, or for that matter, how to breach the subject. Unsure what else to do, I refined my mental landscape for a few hours. Off and on we spoke of things, trivial and otherwise.
I paid little real attention to this, till Daphne began speaking specifically about her father's ambitions. "I'm not sure how you, regardless of the madness with the Dark Lord and how you always seem to get by, are going to manage a revolution with my father."
Considering what I recalled of the previous night's drunken rambling, I had to agree. Oh, generalities were a given, but the process itself was an unknown. However, a few things stuck in my mind, "I don't think it's going to be something that has a simple solution."
"I'm glad at least you admit that," Daphne snorted, closing the book she was browsing. "If you had suggested simply displacing Fudge and rallying to oppose the Dark Lord, it would have confirmed the madness I suspect you suffer from."
Grinning cheekily, I replied, "I do not suffer, but revel in it." A coughed laugh was her only rebuttal. "But as for how, when, and all that, well... that's Glenn's forte, not mine."
"So, you are sold on the idea?"
Giving the question some thought, I nodded slowly. "Yeah. Yeah, I am. More for my own reasons than just how it can help me with or deal with things after Voldemort though."
I had expected a snide remark about having reasons of my own, but instead that comment seemed to get Daphne's attention. "So, you do have ambitions. Tell me, what are these reasons you mention?"
Perhaps it was opening a can of worms I didn't want to, or showing my thoughts too quickly, but it was fast becoming clear that no matter how I went about things, I was going to be dealing with the Greengrass clan for some time to come. Glenn saw to that, and until such a time as I could turn things more in my favor... "Well, you know I've not really had the best experience with the magical world so far?"
"Rhetoric bores me. The point?"
Glaring, I bit out my reply, "You asked, I just wanted to be clear. Well, I can trace back all that to two issues," I explained. "One, the most difficult to fix I suppose is that the majority of wizarding kind, those I've seen at least, are lazy. They rely on magic for everything, and let themselves get lulled into complacency. If magic can't fix a problem, then they think it's impossible. When faced with someone more powerful, magically, they all but instinctively bow down. I may never get to 'fix' this, but maybe I can do something to shake it up. I don't know.
"The other issue? They're addicted to their entertainments." The last word left my lips with a fierce scowl, as I shook my head. "Don't you find it strange, that so many of the things wizarding society relies on for entertainment either happen to be nothing but lies, and not hard one's to see either, or prone to causing serious injury?"
My companion blinked a moment, her color rising in that warning shade that meant I'd insulted her, either directly or otherwise. "Let me be sure I heard you clearly. Are you saying that our society would willingly put up with a maniac like the Dark Lord, powerful though he may be, because it's more entertaining? Because we're lazy?"
"In a word, yes," I shrugged, checking the spine of the book in my hands. It was a rudimentary spell book, on household charms for the writer, it seemed. Things like ink drying, page sorting, and collating. How curious... "Look at The Prophet," I prompted. "If people really cared about the truth, they'd not read such garbage, when it's so obviously fabricated. But why upset things? The average wizard or witch doesn't care what's printed or what bend it takes – because they aren't the focus!"
Feeling my topic, one I was uniquely suited to speak on I felt, I continued, "They don't care who the paper hurts, as long as it entertains them. They don't care that the lies are just that, as long as the story is juicy enough. It's clear that the wizarding public is addicted to sensationalism. Look at quidditch, the Tri-wizard. It's all the same – but I don't think anyone can change that. Maybe, change how the media is regulated, that would work." Reaching up to run a hand through my hair, I try to put aside my growing anger, thinking on these things. They weren't new issues, or old, dull wounds. Last year really brought it all into focus, and I had Rita Skeeter to hang in effigy for it all. "Articles in The Prophet aren't written to appeal to people's sense of truth, but to get a reaction, and as strong a one as possible. You have read it, correct?"
The same warning color rose further, and I wondered if I pushed her too far that time, "Yes, I grew up with it. Maybe that's why I consider myself a better judge of it."
"I don't think it does," I counter. "You're used to it – desensitized. To you, it's just how things are."
"Then maybe that's the point? That is how things are, why question it? So our newspaper belittled you, exaggerated things, printed suppositions rather than facts. What's so wrong with that?"
Sneering, Daphne sat back, letting her own book fall into her lap, "I suppose you'll compare it to some muggle paper, now?" Her latest declaration stalled me, as I was about to do exactly as she said. "Well, we are not muggles. You can't compare the two cultures so easily. Maybe you'd argue that wizards are archaic, lost in the past. Well, perhaps that's because it works for us. We don't need to be racing forward, taking up and discarding ideas that change the world every decade or three. What's wrong with that?"
The thing I really hated about Daphne sometimes, is how she could sit there, and undo most of my arguments, or at least hold her own when I felt like I was right. I was beginning to understand that unlike Glenn, she was a very solid supporter of wizarding tradition and culture, if not pureblood views, then the sanctity of the framework that it resided within. Oh he wanted change and to still have that to a degree I felt, from our talks, but more often than not, I got the feeling that if it weren't for some pressure the man kept on Daphne, she'd wash her hands of my presence and what it ultimately stood for altogether. For me being muggle-raised, it was frustrating to say the least, and considering my own history of being railroaded into things, the latter didn't make me any more comfortable.
"What's wrong with it?" I asked, a liberal note of incredulity in my voice. "You realize those lies make it possible for an idiot like Fudge to all but hand the country to Voldemort? If those lies targeted your family next, ruining them publicly and causing your parents, sister, entire name to be ostracized, would you see the problem then? How would your vaunted pureblood traditions serve you, as pariahs?" Blue eyes narrowed across from me, but I didn't pause to let her lash out with that acid tongue of her's, "Maybe you don't see the need, but comfortable there or not, the world around you has moved on. You're still human, if not muggle, and that makes you a part of the world's culture, whether you like it or not. Now, I'm not saying, like we talked about, running electricity into Hogwarts. I'm talking about recognizing damaging parts of your oh-so precious culture, and seeing them for what they are."
Visibly reigning in her ire, Daphne leaned forward and regarded me like a very irritating thorn she found in her shoe. "And you plan to do this? Open our eyes?"
"Perhaps," I replied with a shrug. "I probably can't do anything about what it is about wizardkind that makes them all bloodthirsty sycophants," I mutter darkly, as Daphne's eyes widened, but continued, "Here is where I see laziness becoming damning, though. Fudge."
Confusion spread across my companion's face, briefly. "What? Yes, I can understand him being lazy, as an individual, but how does that damn us all?"
"Would you consider him competent? Either in peace or war, knowing that he's little more than a mouthpiece for whoever pads his pockets the most?"
My question may have seemed a misdirection, or evasion, but thankfully Daphne answered regardless. "No. No, he's never been a good leader, if that is where you're aiming this."
I leaned forward then, my smile predatory. "Then tell me – why has no one done anything about it?"
"I'll tell you why," my voice lashed out, cutting her off before she could speak. "Your world is built around the path of least resistance. It would be too much damn effort to do anything about him! Or the system that enables him, and those like him! Looking back through the histories of magic, it's even clearer. Did wizards work harder, to coexist with muggles? No. Do they strive like muggles to progress, to better themselves? No. Do they solve their own problems, when they rise up?
"Tell me, Daphne..." Unused to the venom in my voice, the witch drew back slightly as I stood and started pacing. "How much of a reign would Voldemort have had if Britain – as one – rose up and put him down like the rabid dog he was, the first time? Rather than wait for a random stroke of luck?"
As she blinked in confusion at me, I suppose I could understand her sudden unease. I was questioning some of the most basic things of her world. We argued – yes, but like this? Usually, I was more inclined to listen, observe, then agree... but up till now, few things had arisen that I felt strongly about. My own laziness, perhaps, but also I've learned from my time with the Dursleys, that it's better to be silent and misunderstood, than openly calculating.
Did I feel strongly about this? Yes, I did. I loved magic – since I had been introduced to it, I've loved what it offered. Opportunity, a world built with amazing new things, and a chance to be something great. Not powerful, like some would think I meant by such a phrase, but for myself. I could be great, as a man working a greenhouse. A caretaker, like Hagrid. But even modest hopes like that were ripped away, by the apparent laziness of this culture, and it's fascination with building up and destroying people.
"Back to Fudge, since you initially mentioned him," I growled, pausing in my trek back and forth before a bookcase, "If Fudge weren't in power, then Voldemort would be eye-deep in Aurors right now. The Prophet allowed him that luxury, by being as corrupt as he is, but who empowers it? Wizards do, with their need to have amusements as amazing as magic itself is, and a lack of desire to actually stand on their own."
I paused for a moment, laughing mirthlessly at a thought. "Actually, in a way Fudge truly does represent the people of magical Britain. Oh, he's a pathetic leader, but does he stand as the epitome of the culture?" Another laugh echoed about the room, as I shook my head. I didn't need to answer my own question. "Without Fudge as Minister, there'd be no Malfoy at the back of the throne. My godfather wouldn't have almost lost his life to a man's deep-seated fear of losing his oh-so precious political position." Growling out the last, I stood and slammed the book I held down on the table. "Maybe that's what irks me most about wizards. From Dumbledore to Lockhart, to a one it seems they consider their ideas and the roles, position and power they have above anyone else's opinions and sometimes, even their lives!"
My anger set Daphne back in her seat, which I have to admit, pleased a part of me. Too many times I'd sit back, and let the Greengrass' suppose their own ideas, much like I'd just said, were worth more than my own. Did they do it because of my ignorance? My oh-so gentle allowing of them to spirit me away? My lack of awareness was a handicap I desperately needed to lose, and soon.
I had my mind warded now. It was keen, organized, clear. No more childish notions and flights of fancy. Oh, I wasn't ready to discard all aspects of my childhood yet – I was selfish still – but this wasn't the petty threat of Dudley and his gang. This was real, large, and deadly. Cedric dying before me woke me to that realization.
Daphne was right, some time ago. I was lazy, too. I let that lack of motivation rule me, and embraced it with open arms. Did I work hard to be the best wizard I could? Of course not, I was too concerned with bitching about Snape, the Dursleys, all the constant threats that came up. Too busy thinking quidditch was more important than knowing how to protect myself. I was a child, and as a child, my mind was chaos and disorder. Now, though, I could think how I wanted – and the clarity such organization gave me let me do a lot of thinking.
Unlucky for Daphne, what occupied me now was anger, "Your Minister, the figurehead of the culture you champion so often, would have sacrificed an innocent man just to save face," I reminded her, my voice dripping venom. "Last year, he ignored my warnings, despite the proof of a dead body at his feet, and a Death Eater in the guise of Moody, to bury his head in the sand and again, all to save his precious status quo.
"Tell me, does that not stink of laziness to you?"
Rather than lash out like I'd expected, Daphne tilted her head and seemed to mull over my words for a moment. "Power is a curious thing," she finally said, rising to pace while I sat again, letting our positions reverse. "It has a gravity to it. When you have it, it holds you, grips you. You'll do everything you can to get more, and secure what you have. You're right, though. Some of our most powerful, influential people seem to have little regard for the... well, little people, around them."
Though I didn't like being called 'little people', I understood her meaning, but it didn't surprise me any more than the fact she was conceding a point to me. Usually our arguments were very one-sided, something I had almost grown used to. Blame my history. From the Dursleys, to Dumbledore, harried by my cousin to henpecked by Hermione, I had a history of being wrong, or at least being told I was. I didn't always believe it, but I did learn silence, and what that silence could do to help me, as people exposed themselves trying to get me to react.
"It doesn't answer the question of how this whole thing will happen, but it's a good start on why," I said quietly, watching as the young woman before me paced with a furrowed brow, still obviously thinking on our argument. "Your father may be worried more about Voldemort's force escalation issues, but me? I just want the wizarding world to be a place I can tolerate living in. So far, it's not doing so well."
"And when you two were talking last night, you mentioned this?"
Shaking my head, I leaned back and laughed quietly, reaching up to slide my glasses back in place. "No, I hadn't considered my own reasons when your dad was attempting to convert me to his cause. That happened this morning, as I began imagining the inevitable Prophet headlines."
Daphne snorted out a laugh. "I can see it now, 'Boy Who Lived Calls for Unity With Muggles – Or Else! Resistance if Futile, Surrender and be Assimilated.'"
I raised a brow. "You watch Star Trek?"
"I'm a witch, Potter, and born into the same age you were," she replied, rolling her eyes, "just because I'm not leading the pack for change, doesn't mean I won't take advantage of what's offered, when it suits me. Plus it was, as you seemed fond of going on about, entertaining."
"Right," I sighed, rubbing at my temple. Just when I think I've got this girl figured out... "Headlines aside, what do you think about it all?"
Surprised by my question, Daphne halted mid-step in her pacing. "Me? Well... I don't know, really." Turning, she took a seat and leaned on a hand, eyes distant as she considered. "Putting aside reasons personal and otherwise... As far as the power struggle, I suppose with the Dark Lord active again, there's some inevitability to it all. If he has his way, then there will be revolution, of a sort. If not him, then there would be some change made by the victor," she pointedly didn't say me, I think, just to be contrary. "History is written by the winners, after all. To rework the Ministry, blame it for the Dark Lord's rise, would be an easy thing if done at the proper time."
I hadn't thought of it like that, and felt suddenly like the huge, insurmountable task before me, if I chose to take it up, had gotten significantly less imposing. "Change is inevitable, then? I can see that. But what did you mean by the proper time?"
"Well, consider," she began, looking somewhat pensive, as if the topic of conversation put her ill at ease. "If one waited, for instance, until the Dark Lord usurped the Ministry. I think he'd have to, really. Can you imagine him working through legislation? Dealing with the Wizengamot? No, he won't tolerate a Ministry working counter him, as it is. Why tolerate a bloated body of yes-men, when he can just be a supreme power. Illusions would be useless if he follows his last pattern of terror.
"After that, defeating him would leave a power vacuum," she explained, grimacing. "A person could set up whatever they felt like, in the place of the Ministry, as long as it kept society running somewhat smoothly."
A laugh bubbled up, broke my forced calm. "You don't seem to like this idea much."
Shaking her head, Daphne sighed, "Of course not. Imagine if you started such a process, as you are now. What kind of madness would result..."
"I'm serious," she asserted, almost growling. "You know nothing of our society, of the scope of things that happen in the background, particularly around those of blood status. What about something simple... Floo travel. Do you understand it?
"Surely you were a curious child," she muttered, gesturing vaguely toward the floo what was situated in the room. "Those born within magical families deal with that as well. Children want to know, after all. 'Mother, why does the floo turn green? How does it work?' You can bet almost everyone you know, from pureblood families know answers to things like that, and from a young age too."
Sighing, she leaned against the hearth she'd been speaking of so recently. "Whether you like it or not, your view of our world is that of an outsider looking in. You keep people who are either well-versed in your own world – Granger – or those with little opinion either way by your side, in such things."
I pursed my lips, thinking about what what she'd implied. And it was correct. I would have relied on Hermione a lot given the option, were we to succeed in Greengrass' plans. What did I know about the wizarding world, the basics it was built on? All the little things that people just grew up knowing, asking, learning about as children? Such things sank a seed of disquiet in my chest...
"Most likely you'd rely on Granger's opinions for anything terribly complicated," she continued, voicing my own thoughts. "And we've already spoken on how that would be a nightmare," she groused, rolling her eyes. I was nonplussed. If she wanted to make a point, the doing so by verbally assaulting my friends was not the way to go about it. "Malfoy's poisoning of your opinions are to blame, probably – it's no secret you hate him, and he was the first pureblood you were in contact with." She paused a moment, nose wrinkling, "Well, other than that bore Weasley."
Daphne was treading familiar and dangerous ground, again. "Hold it," I ground out between clenched teeth. "Are you going to have a go at Ron now? I mean, you took a turn at Hermione, I've been somewhat expecting it."
Sniffing, the witch rolled her eyes, "No, not Ron in particular, but his family? Perhaps. Pureblood they may be, but do they act it? No. Do they teach their children the ways of such things? How to speak, how to behave, how to maintain decorum and civility?" Daphne snorted, unamused.
"And I suppose Malfoy has had this training? You could fool me," I shot back nastily. As much as Ron and I may be on the rocks, we tended to bounce back from such things. I had nothing against the Weasleys, really. Compared to anyone else who could wear the pureblood badge, though, they were the most tolerable I felt. It was just Ron's tendency to jump first then think that irked me, especially when it came to running off at the mouth.
Sighing and rubbing at her temple, Daphne looked up, as if begging for patience or understanding. "Yes, he has. Does he use it with you? No – he baits you, pushes your buttons. You've never risen to the challenge, where he feels it necessary to rely on such things.
"Frankly, he treats you like a common mudblood, and you react just like one. So why waste the effort, or give you the compliment?"
"You're saying he thinks I'm not worth the – god damn it," I rose and stomped around the room's perimeter, cursing and muttering to myself. Did Draco really do that? Did he treat me like such a lowbrow commoner? Not that I really was much else, but to have it thrown in my face like that...! Thinking back, I had to admit... since the first few contacts we'd had, his attitude changed completely. He'd initially approached me, like he could help me, but my opinions had been set and turned – and besides, I didn't like the idea then anymore than I did now, of someone making my mind up for me. Then, once I'd scratched my lines in the sand, he'd changed demeanor.
Of course, Daphne was right in something, though she hadn't stated it outright. I had no idea how to act in such a situation, even if presented it. Would it have mattered? I had made an enemy by my beliefs and stance as things stood. I would have made one by mistakes and bumbling ignorance, most likely otherwise.
Regardless, that he didn't consider me worth the effort irked me, "Maybe he does poison my opinions of that side of the wizarding world," I growled out, stopping to look out a window onto the grounds surrounding the manor house. "But, so far, I've seen nothing that redeems it. Only ignorant bigotry, sneering disdain for anyone not in that circle, and a false sense of superiority."
I turned my head at a gasp, to see that my bluntness seemed to have shocked Daphne, as I tried to fathom her reaction to my words. Maybe I'd never been so direct, but the fact remained – I had seen no other side of the pureblood agenda, or viewpoint. The oldest Greengrass daughter stood, face impassive, eyes curiously blank after my statement, a decided change from her usual sharp and calculating demeanor. Finally, she spoke, her voice a cool monotone that matched her face, "And you would be the one to change us. When you hate us so much?"
Then without pause or a second look, she turned and left the room, leaving me to wonder – but not for long.
"So, my daughter and you having your usual row, today?"
I nearly drew my wand at the man's sudden appearance, though I had to admit he was spot on with his guess. Considering how quickly he arrived after Daphne left in her huff, there was even some chance he'd been just waiting outside, listening. All things taken into account, it wasn't something I'd put past Glenn. "Yes. We do that, you know. She insults me or my friends, or my way of thinking, and I retaliate by calling her a small-minded bigot. Par for the course."
Like his daughter, Greengrass is taken somewhat aback by my sudden venom. "Harry... are you feeling alright?"
Reaching up to rub at my temple, I don't immediately reply. Instead, I level a rather flat glare at the man, "Yes. No hangover, no ill-ease at yesterday's revelations or events. Oh, perhaps I'd rather not enter a contract like the one Daphne proposed – some slip up in a Ministry office would see it finalized – but for the time being, it works to both our benefit. Other than all that," I asked with a sardonic bark of a laugh, "Yes. I'm just peachy."
Glenn considered this a moment, before his brow furrowed. "I'll be honest, Harry. I don't see how you benefit from the contract. I had assumed Daphne railroaded you into it."
"In a way, yes, but there's no way she can make me do such a thing," I replied, quietly, a frown openly etched on my features. "You could of course, being my guardian now, but then you'd have a rather unwilling helper in your schemes," I saw the truth in that on his face, in the slip of emotion that crept out from behind his usual mask of congenial pleasantness.
I imagine he was ruing the day he thought to pair Daphne and myself. "True, I think the entire process is stupid and outdated, for many reasons. But why risk myself, for her?"
"It was a question I had asked as well," he admitted quietly, returning my glare with a puzzled look.
I let the heat leave my expression. "Put simply, as far as the contract we agreed on, I won't. That contract will never be finalized, but she'll have her free excuse and safety.
"I on the other hand, will have an ironclad agreement, and be in control of its conditions – and that same safety," I explained, as Glenn's eyes widened slightly. "Did you really think I would just concede to such a thing, out of simple, misplaced chivalry? Whether you intended on it or not so soon, Glenn, I'm learning from you. That poor, ignorant, 'practically-mudblood' Harry Potter got as far as he did by surviving, Greengrass, not being a fool." My name was said with a sneer. I didn't need to look to Greengrass to know he was rapidly reevaluating things. "Well, ignorant I may be, but that can change – and has been."
He had woken something up in me, with his talk of revolution. A sense of righteous fury, a feeling that, "Yes, I could do that," perhaps. The wizarding world had shat on me, and alternately treated me as hero and pariah. Was I fed up? Of course! Greengrass, one of the few family names from Slytherin that I had taken note of. Why did people leave Daphne, considering her rather stark beauty and obviously fine clothes and manner, alone so consistently? There were stories even in Gryffindor about how the girl shut down anyone who tread to heavily near her. I knew some of what was spoken, between us in the car to The Fields, but only secondhand.
Information, even general, was a commodity I didn't have a good supplier for, but needed desperately. Was I in the know, when they came knocking at Privet? Of course not. But I haven't survived each encounter with Voldemort by sheer luck. Cunning, used sparingly and without warning, proved a far keener weapon than blunt courage, after all.
Slytherin would be the source of any threat to me, I had decided some time ago. Be it Snape or Malfoy, but they may have needed or wanted allies. So, I asked around. Everyone knew my family, after all, it stood to rights the same would be true of others, at least to a lesser degree.
Sparing a glance to my host, I see a kind of dawning unease, and thinking it appropriate, continue my thoughts, "You offered a few weeks working your way into my good graces, a few gestures, and you'd have your own personal figurehead. A symbol, to rally people behind, but you'd be the real power behind it."
"I don't know if I like where you're going with this, Harry..."
"Relax, Glenn," I soothed, shooting the man a slight smile. "I haven't lied to you. I had no idea what you were planning in the beginning. At the worst, I was ready to break the underage magic law just to bring down Aurors if needed, but the fact you got me away so cleanly intrigued me.
"You genuinely seem to want my help, though you've proven you'll do what you need to, to get it. I can appreciate that," I mused. "You have control over quite a lot of what power I could bring forward – power I admit I didn't know about – but you aren't invincible.
"The same engine of public opinion that I loathe, can be turned against you, too," I idly pointed out, as the man's face closed down. "Imagine those headlines! But, aside from that, Dumbledore won't put up with me being simply gone, and then take it in stride when I return. You need me to pacify him, don't you?"
I could see my answer in his face, and the man's unwillingness to meet my eyes. "You need me, Glenn... and I need something as well. So far, you've been selling me on your revolution in small steps, and pushing your angles. Now it's time to hear my counter-offer..."
After five minutes explaining myself, he boggled. "But... then why...?"
I replied with a toothy grin. "I like the chase." What Seeker doesn't?
I managed to finish up my meeting with Glenn sometime that afternoon. He'd charmed the doors so we wouldn't be disturbed – other than by what I told him – and for all practical purposes, we'd missed most of the day.
It was a rather harsh surprise when we stumbled on Daphne, dressed to the nines, getting ready to activate the main hall's floo. "Oh. Hello, Father," she greeted inanely, a rather stoic expression on her face.
Apparently, this wasn't an uncommon occurrence – just one I'd not witnessed before. At my side I could practically feel Glenn's irritation and anxiety spike, before leveling out to something akin to a simmering irritation. "Daphne. Perhaps you've forgotten to let me know you were on an errand?"
"No. I'm visiting Paul."
That broke Greengrass from his previous calm, in much the same way dropping a glass frees the water within. "Absolutely not!" The older man roared, causing me to hop away with a frightened yelp. Merlin he had a pair of lungs!
Daphne didn't bother to look my way, to assure my part was played. "We've had this discussion before," she reminded her father in a condescending tone. "I am not going to change my mind."
To my credit, part of my curiosity and befuddlement was genuine. They'd managed to hide this, so far? Perhaps my habitation in the dungeons wasn't quite as innocent as I'd thought.
Gesturing to me, as I knew he would, Glenn pinned the girl with a confused glare, "Why? You have Potter here willing to allow you a safeguard! What's the point of doing this?"
Her sneer and brief condescending laugh drew my eyes. "Really. Father, do you think security is why I'm visiting Paul? You cannot be so naïve."
Reddening in fury and likely embarrassment, and perhaps some worry in what we'd agreed, Glenn advanced on her, "You will not continue this... stupidity! I forbid it!"
The dark haired girl's wand was in her hand before her father had taken two steps. "My life. My choice. Isn't that what you'd decided so long ago? Why Nott's offer was rejected out of hand?" With a triumphant smirk, she turned, tossing her handful of floo powder into the hearth. "Montague Residence!"
"Daphne..." Glenn began in a low growl.
"Don't wait up father," she shot back over her shoulder, stepping into the green flames.
I have to give the girl credit. She was a great actress.
"Who sits at the web's center now?"
I never dealt with being surprised well. After recollecting myself from falling out of the small covered gazebo, I glared at Daphne's little sister as she sat swinging her legs in a content fashion. "Could you possibly be more strange?"
Astoria regarded me and my question with a tilted head, then smiled. "Sister dearest has told you secrets," she noted almost idly. The smile broadened, "Nothing is free, Boy-Who-Lived."
Note to self: Do not tempt fate. "Oh? I'm not sure I know what you mean..."
The little girl tapped her head lightly with a wand. Wait. When the hell did she get my wand?! "You know the cost of knowing. She taught me that quite well.
"Luckily, you won't know for long," She sing-songed, pointing the wand at me with glee. "Obliviate!"
I cringed, knowing there was no way I could dodge in time, or well enough, situated as I was in the corner of the gazebo. After a moment, I blinked my eyes open, to the sound of a young girl laughing merrily.
"Oh, you're so much fun to play with," she chirped, tossing my wand across my way. I snatched it out of the air greedily. "I'm going to enjoy seeing her face when you finally close the web."
I suck in a breath, eyes narrowing. "What are you going on about?"
Astoria leaned close, eyes bright with either intelligence or madness – I can't tell which. "You're not so subtle. Occlude your mind, but your actions betray you. Still your hand, but your eyes are still open." Sitting back, her demeanor returns to one of idle, slight interest. "Daphne is not a fool, but she is not infallible. She plays her games well enough, and for all your riding upon a horse, to her you are just a Pawn.
"Imagine her surprise, when she finds herself not a Queen, but locked up within the Rook's tower..."
Mouth dry, I wonder how the hell this girl knows things I haven't even said yet. Checking my Occlumency shields, I find nothing wrong – but then... "You... the puzzle?"
"Not so hard, for those who've already seen such sights," Astoria replied, in her slightly sing-song voice while climbing up to sit along one of the gazebo's bannisters.
I blanch, knowing that my face is an open book then. When I decided to adapt a horror novel's motif as my mental landscape, the last thing I expected was someone to actually dive through. The Puzzle Box sitting on the table, a single shaft of light picking it out of empty darkness, functioned as the key and door into my mind, but the sentinel it summoned was a combination of everything Voldemort was to me, the Dursleys, and my own fears.
Finding no other way to handle the rebirthed monster's influence on my mind and life, I gave all the negativity, all the anger and hopelessness to that shade to use against anyone who would dare use the puzzle and progress. Everything I was, was locked up behind it, spreading out in a labyrinth like the one I'd walked during the Third Task, only made of shelves. Each shelf held a mist full of images, the walls shifting and moving at my whim to give me access to what I needed.
Mental landscapes were a double-edged blade. You organize, to gain clarity, but if your defenses are breached, then your attacker has even greater access to a mind that responds quickly and ably to their demands. Apparently, Astoria was gifted in such things, but her words till shook me. "Already seen such sights? How? When did you get the chance?"
Leaning back against one of the gazebo's supports, the young witch spared me an amused look. "You actually think my mother would be so chipper after you kept her husband up, drinking, and woke with a hangover?"
Her change in topic is obvious, but Merlin, what a shift. "You? Polyjuice?"
"Not hard to brew. Just time consuming," the girl pointed out, before tossing me a crinkled piece of parchment. "Or, know where to order it."
I glanced at the flier she'd tossed me, scanning the things offered. "This is... how is this legal?"
Astoria laughed quietly, offering me a grin. "How indeed? Tell me, do those things look cheap?"
'Single dose Polyjuice,' the small advertisement declared, 'fifty galleons.' Shaking my head, I scanned other prices, other products. The selection, as well as possible abuse value present staggered me. "No, I suppose not."
Hands behind her head, the youngest Greengrass nodded. "I imagine quite a lot of it goes to the usual charities. Like St. Mungo's, for instance."
The pieces connected easily then. Not that I wasn't seeing it, but the whole surreal situation with Astoria playing as her mother just made it hard to think clearly. "So, they bribe the Ministry."
"Really, it does seem to be the trendy thing to do these days," she pointed out. "Perhaps you should read The Prophet more."
A spike of irritation at the rumor rag's name swept through me. "I'd rather not, thanks."
The young witch shrugged, snatching a firefly from the air. I watched in morbid interest as she delicately picked the insect apart; wings, legs, antennae. "Your loss. Even if it is lies, where do you think they come from?"
"Rita's more than capable of making up her own material," I point out, with some venom.
Smiling, Astoria pinched the firefly's head off, before crushing the still-luminescent insect's abdomen between her fingers, smearing them with the glowing fluid. "But she is a insect, isn't she?" Astoria's question gave me pause as my surprise swelled. Of course, if she'd gotten past my defenses, she'd know about the woman's Animagus form. I continued watching the slight girl, till she resumed her point, "Not her. She's not a spider. Not a fat, lazy spider, who sits in his web, and shakes it now and then just to remind us he's there."
"How do you know about that? If you know about it," I mutter, not at all convinced the young girl before really could be so insightful. What exactly did Daphne do to her? "It's obvious you're talking about Fudge. You're what? Not even twelve? How do you know about that kind of thing?"
"I know how to listen," Astoria replies faintly, staring at her now glowing fingers. The glow had spread from two to three on each hand. With a slight humm, she closed her eyes, swiping the glow across closed lids.
Turning to me with a wide, manic grin, she hold up her fingers, splayed to the sides of her face, and suddenly I'm reminded of Aragog's own glinting eyes, as eight points of faint glowing killing-curse green stare back at me. "And I know how to see," the girl points out in a chilling rasp.
Once again I find myself fleeing Astoria's laugh. I don't know if I'd do better or worse boxing and shipping her off to Voldemort. She'd either drive him utterly mad to the point of suicide or they'd sweep over the world in a tide of madness within a week.
I still consider it. It would at least be a very peaceful week, up to that point.
Daphne was absent at breakfast the next day.
Other than a slight pall of anxiety, irritation, and embarrassment, not much else could really be said. The fact that that I could read these things in the elder Greengrass' bothered me somewhat, as frankly I knew they both were at least passing Occlumens.
Why was obvious of course. Glenn saw her actions as first and foremost, utterly outside the proper decorum for a young witch of her family, blood, and standing. Despite giving both her and Astoria the freedom to make much of their own choices in things, it was obvious to me that he saw her apparent actions as frankly an embarrassment to his name. The second thing I could divine that would explain the near-thundercloud of emotions swirling about the table, was the man's agreement with me. I know he still harbored some interest in cementing a relationship beneficial to his family between us, and this situation with Montague was doing nothing but harming those plans.
Daphne's insinuations before leaving did little to stave off Glenn's anxiety.
Perhaps the last additive to the volatile mix, was one of my own devising. I had to back Daphne up, acting as if I didn't know what her scheme with setting Montague up to counter Nott entailed. Honestly, however, it wasn't much of an effort. "So. She's still out."
Those four words jolted both the elder Greengrass' like they'd just took hold of an exposed electrical wire. I watched Mrs. Greengrass, seeing her reaction, measuring them against those from the other time she and her daughter had fought. Seeing what I expected – a rather upset woman with very little humor about her – I turned my attention to the other Greengrass female present.
Astoria hummed happily, stabbing at her breakfast with a knife I knew didn't originate from the kitchen. I sighed, shaking my head, letting them read into that what they would. Privately, I was berating myself for not seeing the obvious.
Mrs. Greengrass was not bubbly. Ever. Astoria didn't even pretend to act like the woman, when she was tending to me that morning. I really have to work on my observation skills – at least around her. Or she was going to drive me mad.
My afternoon settled in, when Glenn brought a rather large book out and dropped it on a table. "This," he pointed out, waving off some dust, "is a comprehensive guide on wizarding etiquette." I know for a fact my face betrayed me then, because Glenn started laughing as if he'd been hit with a jinx. "Come now, it's not that bad."
"That..." I shook my head hard. "What's that kind of thing got to do with our plans? I thought you wanted..." And I paused. What did he want? He was rather obvious about wanting revolution of a kind, but into what? What was his goal? These things we did not talk about, the other night.
As if reading my thoughts, Glenn raised a brow. "Anarchy? Hardly, Mr. Potter. Like my oldest, I have some pride in our way of life. I enjoy the subtle dance that is decorum and etiquette." Gathering his thoughts, he continued, "I am not a blood purist, but I am also not an advocate of wholly removing or destroying that establishment. Call me nostalgic, but my family history gives me a sense of grounding.
"I am not particularly fond of the corruption and bloat within the Ministry as it is however, and know that whoever changes that, will be the figurehead for a new era for the wizarding world."
"But," my eyes linger on the massive book, easily a quarter my own mass. "What does that have to do with this, and what we talked about?"
Scoffing, the older man shook his head, "Do you expect to walk in, as the Boy-Who-Lived, and just have people who are so mired in their own traditions they can't think of moving any other way listen to you on principal? With the power I'm working to help you obtain, you can't at once be ignorant and lack culture, while trying to sway them. You will fail."
"You don't expect me to learn all that. You can't expect me to. That book is huge."
Shrugging, the elder Greengrass opened the tome to a random point. "Decorum for Wizengamot session. Dancing. Proper table manners. Addressing your peers, bearing, gesture... did you think being a Lord Regent was just about titles, money, and position?
"Our culture is a proud one," the man explained, as I wrenched my eyes off the intimidatingly small print revealed. "You, by your upbringing, are an outsider. You need to change that, or situations like Malfoy disregarding you as a non-threat, The Prophet, and the Minister's own attitudes will undermine and destroy you and what you work for."
I couldn't believe it would make so much of a difference, just... those kinds of things, but he made sense. Something else did, suddenly, as well. "Voldemort. He used his knowledge of the culture to further his campaign the first time, didn't he?"
"That he did. Fear of the muggleborn and muggles themselves, their wars and growing power fed his movement. He knew how to talk, how to provoke our fears." Shrugging, Glenn heaved a sigh. "As I've said, he was a charismatic man. When he spoke of the Inquisitions, the Burnings, the Witch Hunts and our reactions to what caused our fear, people listened. No one wants to admit that we fear muggles, but we do. We simply hide it behind a mask of superiority, and sometimes even hate."
It was no wonder then, really, how he pulled in people like Malfoy, who had so much to loose. Money and political power are fickle things, I was learning. Backing the wrong major player would be death in those arenas. That he survived, and seemingly continued his efforts despite the loss of their own figurehead made me pause for a moment. Riddle must have been amazing, as a politician.
Why the hell did he become a crazed terrorist then? Something didn't add up.
"Harry, you're in a very odd position," the main pointed out, sitting across from me and regaining my attention. "In a few ways, knowing what I do, and seeing what I do, I can understand what Dumbledore was thinking, keeping all this from you."
That indeed got my attention, and not in a good way. "What did you say?"
"Calm down," the man barked, before turning a flat gaze my way. "Your Occlumency still needs work. I hit one button, and you freeze up and out come the knives. Work on it." Properly chagrined, I nod. "Alright, back to topic...
"Think about it. We've talked about what I suspect, and you do too. That something about you interests You-Know-Who. Because you represent his previous failures, or what have you. Regardless, it's obvious Dumbledore has a plan for you. From what you've told me, each year at Hogwarts has been another test or trial. Each involving the Dark Lord in some way. Tell me, where in such a scenario, would being a young boy with a regency come in?"
I really hate it when everything starts making sense. I really do think about it for a minute, and look away from the man before me. If I had grown up with all these responsibilities in mind, would I have dived into such a fanciful adventure, my first year? Sure, Hogwarts was school, but it was also a fairytale come to life. You can't help but want to do something amazing. C'mon, magic!
The thought that my adventures were planned never occurred to me, that they weren't just the odd coincidence, till after the Tournament. That was my wakeup call. If Glenn was right, Dumbledore had been grooming me to fight for some time. The counter to that, I was learning, was the cost involved.
A Harry Potter who had grown up a Lordling and with other familial responsibilities, who had spent as much time learning to accept the society he was a part of like Daphne did, and who may even have gotten along rather well with his peer contemporaries, would not be someone who could fight Voldemort the way I had. That did not mean, however, that was the only way. I'm sure there were other options. Glenn did have a point though, and the sheer size of that book drove it home. There was a lot to being that kind of person, as opposed to who I grew up as. Would I have been a Gryffindor? Would I have befriended Ron and Hermione? Faced a troll? Or even cared about the things I did?
An odd notion caused me to wince. Would I have just been another Malfoy?
It just irked me that now I understood Dumbledore's possible perspective on things. Knowing it almost made me want to forgive, or let go of my anger on everything that was hidden from me. Almost. "Alright. I get it.
"Where do we start," my question set a grin on Glenn's face, as he paged the book back a few sections.
"Not quite the beginning, but close. Addressing, recognizing, and greeting your peers."
I dare Malfoy to think me unworthy of his time after I get through this book. We shall have words, he and I....
An exhaustive evening of drilling on etiquette later, and I hazarded another trip to the grounds and the gazebo. I don't know why I continued to go there, as every time Astoria had either been waiting or showed up, and frankly, my sanity suffered in her presence.
Maybe I didn't want to go back to the dungeons, despite their cool, enclosed security. I certainly didn't want to idle in the den, and be in the middle of another hurricane if Daphne arrived home. Thinking of my dark-haired counterpart while mincing about in wariness of her sister reminded me of what I had to believe, lead to Astoria's unique personality.
It lead me to wonder if all the things Daphne did ended up giving her younger sibling some kind of insanity aura. Her parents seemed unaffected – which in itself really perturbed me – but I just felt more unhinged by the minute, sitting near her.
What the hell was she going to do to Hogwarts, I pondered quietly, scanning the small structure for mad little girls. My survey lightened at the sight laid out before me, however. Afternoon light painted everything around me in reds and golds, the fields around the Greengrass home taking up those colors as they waved much like what I'd imagine the ocean would. Normally, an ocean in red would make someone think blood, but to me it just felt homey. Like seeing the sea at afternoon from the Gryffindor common room. It had that sense of peace to it.
A disturbance in that sea broke my reverie. I'm not sure if I saw her first, but Astoria paused in what she was doing, a few dozen paces from the gazebo, out in the fields. Standing idle she tilted her head, and I had the sudden notion she was waiting on me to come to her. As if she'd been waiting for me.
A little wary but more curious, I pushed through the tall grass to where she stood, only a bit taller than the largest stands of grass and grain. What I found had me wide-eyed and rather disturbed. "What the hell?"
There was blood everywhere, it seemed like. Astoria herself looked to have been splashed from her feet upward more than a few times, while around the... thing, laying dead on the ground, it seemed to pool. "Nogtail," the girl pointed out needlessly. "I've been wondering why the southern greenhouses were doing so badly. Apparently it found a den of wild boar to nest with."
Laying splayed open to the sky above, the dead creature resembled some kind of pig, though only vaguely. It's odd knobby tail, long legs and a pinched, strangely deformed face set it apart from those things it mimicked. "Ugh," I groaned, finally noticing the smell. "What is with that?"
"Curse creatures," Astoria mumbled, and I noticed that the knife from breakfast was in her hand, dripping slowly from the blood that still coated its edge. "They're minor demons. When they die, they decompose quickly." She wasn't joking, and though I remembered most of what we were discussing from Care classes, Hagrid's lessons were rarely so bloody and visceral. By the time she'd finished speaking, the dead thing's skin had shriveled and grayed, and the stench worsened. "I'm sorry you didn't get to see it for long."
Astoria shrugged. "There's no way they could bring a Nogtail to Hogwarts. It would cause havoc to the greenhouses."
I snorted, shaking my head, "If Sprout would look the other way, I'm sure Hagrid would try." Still, she had a point. Years of scooping eyeballs from bugs and dealing with things like Skrewts had desensitized me to what I saw, somewhat. It was more that the eleven year old beside me had slaughtered it that bothered me. "I recall these things being rather fast. How did you catch it?"
The little girl shrugged, walking slowly back toward the white-painted shelter of the gazebo. "Maybe it didn't see me as a threat."
Over the horizon, the sun was setting while I took those last words in. "Hey, Astoria?" My words echoed a bit, back to the gazebo where the girl was staring at her dress with some irritation. While she looked back where I had lingered, I took out my wand, doing a few cleaning charms to remove most of the gore coating her.
Nodding her thanks, the youngest Greengrass tilted her head at me curiously. "What is it, Harry?"
"I'm not going to underestimate you," I stated levelly, grinning as she began to smile, this time without an edge. "I may think you're mad as a hatter, but I get it."
"I'm glad. For all the plans going on, it would be hard on everyone, if we were at odds."
I nodded, leaning back to sit on one of the benches. Idly, I cleaned my shoes, and the footprints I'd left on the white-painted wood. "That does bring up what your goals are. Would they conflict with those of your father?"
Astoria hummed a moment, kicking her feet in a childish way where she sat. "I'm unsure. What are my plans?" Shrugging her slight shoulders, she regarded the sunset with unblinking eyes. "Perhaps I will be a part of father's revolution for now, till I can see them more clearly.
"Father likes you well enough, and my sister, though she is the vilest thing I know, fancies you – secretly. Oh, you didn't know? How delicious. Do tell me, will this make things strange for you?"
There's a laugh trying to bubble its way out of me, but instead I just grin and lean back against the bannister behind me. "Not as much as you hope, I think."
"Oh, bother." Wrinkling her nose, she huffed. "Very well then. What place in your games would a little girl like me play?"
I openly laughed at that. "Why don't you find what games you prefer, and your father and I will see how best to fit them in. Somehow, I don't think either of us could fully understand your reasoning."
"'Mad as a hatter', wasn't it?" Astoria snorted. "Perhaps I just understand better than you."
Standing, I walked over and ruffled her hair, earning me a glare. "I never said you were mad. Just that I thought you were. There is a difference," she blinked at that, and nodded. "So, you aren't terribly fond of your sister, then?"
Sitting back down, closer this time, I watched as a number of emotions played over Astoria's face. I saw everything from anger, to curiosity, to apathy, rage, despair and resignation. "I... it's strange. And terribly complicated. Do you know what I feared most, as a child? When I was very small?"
I hazarded a guess, based on my own youth. "Being alone, cold, hungry?"
She shot me such a look as I knew I'd let something vital, perhaps critical, slip unknowingly. Before I could stutter a denial, she chimed in, "Death. I was terribly afraid of dying. Who isn't, really? But... I would lay in the dark, and fear.
"More than anything, I think it was not knowing what comes after. Here I am, but what will I be after?" Taking a breath, she wrapped her arms tightly around herself. "You saw the Nogtail. The body is fleeting. How are we different? What defines the essential self?" Grinning slightly at my wide eyes, she answered my unasked question. "I have always been a bright child, where Daphne is more outgoing."
"Daphne? Outgoing?" I chuckle at the image. "She is the last person I'd say that about."
With a half smile, Astoria rebuffed my statement, "Yet she is. She is not shy, not demure. She will say what she thinks, what she wants. You cannot force her into things easily. She is outwardly strong. I was her counter, it was said. My parents always thought I'd be the more intellectual of us."
Thinking on it, I saw her point. Daphne was charismatic, had a strength of personality that let her stand somewhat above people. It reinforced the persona she kept forward at Hogwarts, the air of distance and aloofness. "She's no slouch, with academics," I noted, somewhat perturbed at the insinuation that Daphne wasn't the smart child. So far, she seemed rather intelligent.
"Details," the smaller girl shrugged. "Perhaps I should say I was always wondering about the hard questions. That was why I feared death." Back on topic, she continued, "I feared ceasing to be. That death was just an ending."
"I think we've all had that fear," I offered, wondering where she was taking this.
"Yes, but you didn't have Daphne, muddling your mind, erasing you bit by bit," Astoria snapped, calming herself with some effort. "She knew my fear. I came to her, more than once, afraid to sleep, close my eyes thinking I'd never wake.
"Then one day, I didn't," gaze unfocused, Astoria stared out at the fields surrounding the Greengrass home while I digested her words. "She miscast her Obliviate. She erased me."
Brow furrowed, I noted the obvious error, "But you still recall things before it."
She offered me a patient smile. "Daphne was ridden with guilt. So, she told me about myself. Everything she could recall. It... hurt." The admission cost her something, and the little girl before me seemed diminished for it. "I had no memories, but feelings remained. Obliviate is a dangerous skill, for a child to have. She still isn't perfect with it.
"I lost all my sense of self, but all my emotions remained. The first in the line, however, was betrayal. Daphne, my sister, had killed me. She knew my fear, and she was the one that made it a reality."
What could I say to that?
Astoria picked at one of the nearby flowers, finally snapping off a stem with a daffodil atop it. She traced the petals with a finger as she spoke. "I rebuilt myself over a year, with Daphne explaining it all away somehow. My trust in her kept me quiet, as she helped me relearn how to be a person, but some things couldn't be taught. I trusted, because otherwise, I'd be lost without anything to guide me. She held my life hostage against my silence."
"That's why you said she was vile," it wasn't a question, so much as me stating my understanding. "You had to rely on someone who betrayed you, to regain that. How old were you?"
"Still very young," she answered, nodding to my other points as she did. "I had less to recoup, unlike someone your age. But, in the things I couldn't be taught, I found some comfort. There was nothing cluttering my mind anymore. I was, for lack of a better word, pure in my own way." The glaze of memory faded from her eyes, and she smiled her small, secretive smile at me. "I'll help with your revolution. Perhaps we'll see how in time, once you and father figure out how to begin it."
If anything, her insight into people would be more than welcome. I'd never really met anyone quite as sharp on the uptake as Astoria, and frankly, if she could help me from making mistakes with that talent, then all the better. Plus, she was in a different year bracket than Daphne and myself, in case this all flowed over to Hogwarts.
Thinking on it, I suppose having all the clutter of growing up erased, let you see things with different eyes. It certainly seemed like she saw things differently, and I can only imagine how strange I'd be, with only my impulses and instincts intact, but with no memory of why they were there. Recalling her earlier statement, I responded, "I think that'd be great. Provided Glenn doesn't get upset that I'm dragging another daughter into it all."
Astoria scoffed. "We'll all be involved, in time. The wake of what he does will not let us float idly behind. We are either a part of it, or swept up by it."
And there's that insight. "Yeah, isolating you and your mother would be hard. Nothing short of leaving the country would insulate you, I think."
"Pointless," she noted, standing. "We can help. So we will."
Not really knowing what to say to that, I simply nodded. "I'm going to see if Daphne's back." A moment's pause passed, while I thought for a moment. "Do you know-"
"Nott won't survive. But then, neither will Montague," she asked, a Cheshire grin stretching across her face, "Will he?"
Bemused, I shrugged as we walked back to the manor home. "I'm not sure what you mean, really."
"For now," Astoria mused, and at that moment I realized the dagger she'd held earlier was missing, since we returned to the gazebo. I'd not even though to ask about it. Strange little girl...
I walked into the dungeons, intent on working on my mental landscape some more when I noted a dark-haired shadow, sitting in the back with a book before her. Unable to curb myself, I greeted her, "So, how was Paul?"
There was a flash of blue eyes, before the book resumed its place. "Sufficient for his purposes. How was 'Tori?"
Daphne knew the pet name she had for her little sister annoyed her to no end, and perhaps a little of that same irritation showed in my face. Apparently, she noted us talking between arriving home, and my wandering to the dungeons. With a grin, I decided to take a page from the youngest Greengrass' book. "Well enough. She was showing me how to butcher a Nogtail earlier."
Surprise and a little shock played over the girl's features, as she let the tome in her hands slip for a moment. "Oh. Well, I'm glad it's not around to disturb the greenhouses, then."
I sat, taking out my own book, cataloging her reactions. It seemed Astoria's peculiarity still managed to slip past her defenses, which would explain why she didn't spend much time around the younger girl. Guilt, maybe? Good, it gave me an opening to test, "True. Such an unruly, cursed beast isn't at all what you want around cultivated things, for certain." I let the allusion hang, perhaps being direct, perhaps speaking about plans and unknowns revolving around myself. The words weren't important, but Daphne's reaction was.
There it was. My last words ticked something in her mind, and confirmed a thought I was wondering about, if her suspicious gaze was anything to work by. Even if only slightly wary, she suspected me, and my use of Astoria's odd riddling double-talk triggered it.
So, disguising herself as her own mother wasn't the first time Astoria had pulled that trick. I'd have to keep that in mind.
Dropping my act, I yawned and scratched at the back of my head. "Any thoughts on what we're going to do, back in Hogwarts once summer's over?"
The question stilled Daphne's suspicions, and she shrugged. "My best guess is that we'll start expanding a power base. Collect the sons and daughters of my father's peers, and start setting up the foundations for what will remain, once the revolution is over."
"Thinking somewhat ahead, aren't you?"
Daphne snorted, rolling her eyes, "Really? And what do you expect to happen, once the Ministry is shown to be utterly useless, incompetent, or irrecoverably corrupt? Just expect another Minister to make it better? Perhaps the Wizengamot, that suffers the same disease, will be reorganized?
"No. There will need to be massive changes," She murmured, voice going quiet, pensive. "We will need to be careful."
I regarded her with a slight smile, unable to hide it. "So, you think it'll work then? No more doubting me?"
"Hardly," she shot back. "Either way, this half-war, half-terrorist action will end up with a lot of my father's generation dead, or as good as. The historic precedents are obvious. One side will loose, and the losers will get purged.
"Currently, both sides can be said to occupy a lot of those positions." She pointed at me, with a smirk. "You said so yourself, talking about The Prophet, and how the Minister reacted to Diggory's death."
I didn't like the reminder, but let it go with little more than a cold feeling in my gut. "You've got a point. So, it would be best to rally people to our cause, before that point, so they're ready, when the vacuum occurs." Nodding at my point, Daphne looked down, expression clouding. "What is it?"
"Just thinking, 'our cause', and all that," she mused. "What can we do, to unify them? What cause?"
Leaning back, I blew out a sigh. "Good point. Maybe we should get Glenn to help with that."
The two of us lapsed into silence, each taken with our own projects. It was perhaps an hour later that I leaned back, eyes distant. I'd not been able to concentrate on the book before me, for anything other than white noise. My own thoughts were too loud, too erratic. Most of that chaos was centered on Astoria, and deciphering her cryptic comments earlier that day and the day before. I was also trying to rectify her veiled hatred of her own sister and what caused it to the young witch before me.
For a few minutes, I fixed my gaze on Daphne, watching her eyes slowly pan from left to right as she read. The slight twitch of her lips when she encountered an unknown phrase or idea. Idly, I broke the quiet that sat comfortably between Daphne and myself, "You know, your sister is quite insane."
Shaken from her studies, Daphne looked away from me after meeting my eyes. "Yes. Better than you do, I'd imagine."
Returning to my book, I let a smile linger, "thought you ought to know."
AN: More Harry and Daphne next chapter, as well as some heavy steps forward. To the Wizengamot we go, we go...