The evacuation order had been given. Astoria knew that she had to leave.
She just didn’t want to.
A loud buzz had filled the Great Hall, and there was a steady stream of students rushing for the doors. She allowed her friend Celeste to pull her halfway down the Ravenclaw table before she stopped and slipped out of Celeste’s grasp.
Celeste paused and looked back. “Astoria, come on.”
Astoria glanced up at the High Table, where several of their professors were looking especially grim, and then over at the Gryffindor table. Professor McGonagall was already striding along the table, snapping at various underage Gryffindors who did not seem at all inclined to leave.
She refocused on Celeste. Her friend was clearly torn; she didn’t want to leave Astoria, but the fear that had been clouding her eyes for the past hour was starting to blossom across her entire face. Her dark hair accented just how pale her face had become, and beads of sweat were pooling on her forehead.
Even if they had been of age, Celeste would have left. She didn’t have the strength to fight anyone. She had always been more focused on books than war. Astoria rather thought that Celeste saw the war as a deep inconvenience to her studies rather than the serious struggle it really was.
She forced herself to follow her friend toward the great double doors of the Great Hall. She felt the eyes of everyone who had remained at their tables on them, and she couldn’t help but feel like they were watching her.
That was ridiculous, of course. Unfortunately, knowing that logically didn’t stop her from feeling that way.
In the congestion, several students passed and got between her and Celeste. Celeste did not look back. She probably didn’t want to know whether Astoria was still with her, so she wouldn’t feel guilty about not going back.
Astoria paused on her way to the stairs. As students who were far more eager to leave streamed by her, she felt a pit beginning to grow in her stomach.
She was underage. She was supposed to leave. She had an excuse for not staying, for not fighting, no matter who won this battle. No one would judge her. No one would blame her.
But no one would care about her, either. No one would be helped by her.
Besides, leaving now... leaving now would be like closing a book just as you got to the best part, and having your friend spoil the ending before you could pick it up again. If she left now, she would never know the real ending of this struggle, just the bits and pieces that managed to surface through the spin the winners put on this.
And if there was one thing Astoria Greengrass couldn’t stand, it was a sanitised ending.
She took a deep breath, brushed her dark blond hair back from her eyes, and followed her classmates toward the staircase. When she reached it, however, she slipped by the stairs leading upstairs and safety and down the stairs to the dungeons.
She hadn’t gotten very far, however, when she heard footsteps behind her. They echoed off the stone walls, and she felt a shiver run down her spine.
She had never liked the dungeons.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
She forced herself to turn to face the one person she least wanted to see right then. “That’s a stupid question.”
“And you’re a stupid person.” Her sister’s arms were crossed, and she was surveying Astoria with pursed lips.
“Don’t you want to know?” Astoria asked. Desperation she hadn’t been conscious of feeling filled her voice. “Don’t you want to know what happens?”
Her sister’s expression didn’t change, but when she spoke, her voice was full of scorn. “What do you think is going to happen? That they’re just going to sit there and let you take notes if you just say, ‘I’m not on anyone’s side, please don’t hurt me?’”
Astoria stared at her. “Of course I’m on a side,” she said. “Aren’t you?”
To her surprise, her sister didn’t speak. Astoria had assumed that her sister had agreed with her, but maybe she shouldn’t have. Daphne had always been more reticent, less eager to get involved, less willing to commit to anything than either Astoria or their brother ever had been.
Astoria tried a different tack. “You know he’s going to be here,” she said softly. “You know he’ll be coming.”
This time, Daphne flinched. “Brandon can do what he wants,” she responded. Her voice wavered a little, and she swallowed hard. “I certainly can’t stop him, and neither can you.”
“Why would I want to?”
Daphne’s eyebrows rose slightly. “Because he’s on the wrong side.”
Astoria’s heart began to beat more quickly, and she had to clench her robes in her hands to control the tremor in her hands. For the first time in her life, she was afraid of her sister. “But-”
Daphne shifted slightly. “And so are you. I can see it in your face. You don’t want to stay here because you’re curious. You want to stay here to fight.”
Astoria began to move her hand slowly toward her wand, which was currently stowed in her back pocket. “What of it?” she asked defensively. “So will Brandon.”
“I can’t do anything about our brother.” Daphne's eyes gleamed in the darkness as she smiled. “But I can do something about you.” She raised her wand, and before Astoria could retrieve her wand from her pocket, Daphne said, ”Imperio.”