Daphne Greengrass is five years old when she realises what she would do for her little sister. It is her earliest memory; her governess, a strict matron named Miss Freesia, placed Astoria in Daphne’s arms and said, “Hold her, won’t you?” Astoria was so small – only a year younger than Daphne but six weeks premature. She remembered Astoria crying for mother. She remembered agreeing to that request. She remembered the look on the mediwitch’s face when Daphne led the tiny girl into their mother’s room, the stench of sick and cleaning spells, the way her mother looked at them – looked through them, like they weren’t even there. Dora Greengrass had not spoken a single world in all of Daphne’s memory.
Astoria had run up to their mother on shaky legs, clutched at her skirt to no avail, and began to cry. The mediwitch hissed at Daphne, “Get her out of here!”
Daphne did. She held on to Astoria and listened to her babbled attempts at English, at the description of the feeling she got when she touched Dora’s skin – cold and empty and nothing, nothing, nothing. She listened and she hugged and she swore to never let Astoria get hurt again.
Daphne is seven when they learn what’s wrong with Astoria. The mediwitch – a new one, there have been so many – says it’s not an illness, says it’s nothing to be afraid of, says it’s a gift. Daphne’s father says it must be hidden. He says people would pay a lot of money for someone with Astoria’s talent, and his eyes glint as he rubs at his left forearm. Valuable, he says. Daphne does not leave Astoria alone for three months.
She hears the words Death Eater for the first time in Diagon Alley at nine years old. It is hissed in her father’s direction from a group of men with big black cloaks. Her father sneers. He does not deny it. The men glare at her, too, glare at Astoria, so Daphne glares right back. She bares her teeth like she’s seen her father do when someone tells him ‘no’, and tucks Astoria behind her back.
She is ten when she understands what a Death Eater is, whispered words from friends at parties for the elite that her parents never show up to.
She is ten when she tells a man three times her age to mind his own damn business when he inquires after her mother’s whereabouts.
She is ten when she accidentally-on-purpose kicks a woman in the shin for staring at Astoria too long.
She is ten when she watches money change hands between Miss Freesia and a man she doesn’t know, a man who asks too many questions about Astoria and her talent when her father is away.
She is ten when she fires Miss Freesia.
She does not hire another governess.
She is eleven, and her Hogwarts letter arrives. She throws a fit, hides Astoria in the bathroom while her father yells at her about upholding the family name. She cries when he leaves. Astoria does not – she’s gotten better at controlling her talent, her gift, her curse. Daphne holds her close and swears to do anything to protect her little sister.
There is nothing as important. Not her father’s approval, or her mother’s catatonia, or Hogwarts. Astoria is all that matters.
Daphne is eleven. She is the Greengrass heir. She is her sister’s protector.
She boards the train to Hogwarts, keeps her chin high, and swears to always keep her promises.