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True Deceivers by Khp
Chapter 18: A Family Reunion *
Asterix chapter again! Aren't you lucky?
A Family Reunion
Thinking Of You – Katie Perry
‘Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us,
and sometimes, they win.’
The spinning journey through the Floo network made Stac’s pounding head hurt even more, and she was very glad that someone caught her arm upon arrival. Otherwise there was a strong likelihood that she would have gone sprawling on her face in front of the entire Court.
Which, all things considered, was probably not the best way to make an entrance.
For that was where they were; in her Father’s presence chamber at their French estate. When her vision cleared, she saw she was standing in a long room, about half-full of witches and wizards of various nationalities. After months at school, the rich velvets and satins sported by the crowd looked strange and out of place, and she was nearly blinded by the shining, sparkling jewels worn by so many.
Almost everyone in the room was regarding her with open curiosity, polite courtier’s masks forgotten in their surprise.
Behind her, Anastacia heard the rest of her Guard arrive, joining Creeten and Scorpius, who were standing beside her. Scorpius had been the one to take her arm and steady her when she had stepped out of the fireplace.
Now he led her forward, down the length of the room, to where her parents sat in two raised chairs. Stopping a respectful distance from the two adults, Scorpius and Creeten bowed low and stayed that way, while Anastacia inclined her head and sank into a small curtsey.
Barely a moment passed before they were given permission to rise, and Anastacia found herself facing her Father for the first time in months.
He looked exactly as she remembered – dark blonde hair, pale skin, dark eyes that seemed at odds with his fair complexion. Those eyes were now staring deep into her own, and Anastacia fought to suppress a shudder. She took a breath to steel herself against the familiar feeling that he could see straight into her thoughts.
Behind his chair, Anastacia could see Creeten’s father, looking sharply at his son. She wondered what he was thinking. For such a thing to have happened while two of his sons were in charge…and he being the head of the Court Guards, as well as her father’s personal Guard…he couldn’t be happy at the moment.
With a sudden, liquid movement that drew her attention, her Father rose from his chair and came towards her. Taking her hands in his own, he kissed her first on one cheek, then the other.
‘A chair for our daughter,’ he called over his shoulder, still speaking French, the official language of the Court.
Instantly, a smaller version of his own chair materialized to the left of where he was sitting.
Still doesn’t do his own spell-work, Anastacia noted dully as she allowed her Father to lead her to the chair and help her to be seated. It wasn’t that he couldn’t – he was perfectly capable of casting his own spells. Especially those to do with control and domination.
However, that was simply the way things were done here – he ordered, they obeyed.
She was so glad she’d left. Imagine not being bothered to conjure your own chair?
Her Father resumed his seat and looked out over his Court.
‘Now,’ he initiated in a level voice, ‘who will make clear to us what has happened?’
Creeten stepped forward and bowed again, his hand over his heart.
‘Begging your Grace’s pardon, I will explain.’
The man in the chair nodded regally.
Creeten stood straight, hands behind his back, once again reporting to his superior.
‘Little over a week ago, at the last visit to Hogsmeade village, her Grace was involved in an…altercation. She was visiting the village in the company of Mr Scorpius Malfoy and during the visit she exchanged words with the Hogwarts Head Boy, Marcus Antoniou. They had a brief conversation, during which Antoniou claimed to speak Italian. He then proceeded to insult her Grace in public, unaware that she spoke and understood the language. Her Grace became distressed and made a reply. Antoniou tried to attack her, but was stopped by Mr Malfoy.’
Here Creeten paused to acknowledge Scorpius, who indicated that he should proceed with his story. A slight movement at the corner of her eye caught Anastacia’s attention. When she turned her head slightly to look, she saw Astoria Malfoy clutching her husband’s hand. They were both pale and she looked nervous.
‘The remainder of her Grace’s Guard were summoned and arrived on the scene within minutes. Antoniou was warned and sent on his way. The incident was then reported to the acting Head of her Grace’s Guard.’
A small sound came from somewhere in the room and several heads turned towards the sound. Anastacia’s was one of them. From her vantage point, she saw Trelain, standing on his own amongst the crowd. It seemed that he had been the one to make the noise. His presence was more than a little surprising, as was the fact that he wasn’t standing with the rest of her Guard.
But she had little time to wonder. Creeten was continuing with his story, and so she left thoughts of Trelain for later.
‘We, the Guard, were told that the situation was irrelevant and not worth pursuing. We were effectively ordered not to add to her Grace’s Guard detail and not to follow or pursue Antoniou in any way.’
‘And you were ordered this by the Head of the Guard?’ her Father interjected in his quiet voice.
‘Acting Head, yes, your Grace,’ Creeten confirmed.
‘I see. Continue.’
‘It seemed that Antoniou would let the situation pass, although that went against our expectations. He had been humiliated by both the Guard and her Grace, and we had suspected that he would try to retaliate. Last night, our suspicions were confirmed.’
The burly boy paused for a moment, as if unsure how to go on. Anastacia imagined he was considering his words very carefully. How in Merlin’s name was he supposed to tell her father that his daughter had very nearly been raped on his watch? And in front of the majority of the Court, no less?
‘Last night, Antoniou lay in wait for her Grace as she completed her patrol, then caught her alone in a secluded corridor.’
A ripple of shock ran through the courtiers watching. Many faces turned to glance quickly at Anastacia, before darting their gaze away.
He paused as another murmur, louder this time, went through the room. Anastacia fought to keep her face blank as more eyes came to rest on her form. This time, no one even bothered to pretend they weren’t staring.
‘As you can see,’ Creeten continued, ‘what Antoniou did to her Grace was unforgivable. However, she managed to fight him off and escape.’
‘And you witnessed this?’
Creeten coloured to the roots of his hair.
‘No, your Grace, I did not. But Mr Malfoy,’ and he gestured Scorpius forward, ‘Mr Malfoy was there.’
Scorpius bowed deeply, and raised his head to look directly at the older man.
‘By your leave, your Grace?’
Out of the corner of her eye, Anastacia saw her Father incline his head, giving Scorpius permission to speak. As he began his version of events, she tried to breathe deeply and not let on how nervous she was.
They’d had less than half an hour to come up with this story before her Guard had come swarming into the Hospital wing and started fussing and crowding around her. Scorpius had said he’d be fine with what they had managed to put together, but she wasn’t so sure.
A few minutes later, she found she needn’t have worried. Even though he hadn’t been raised at Court, Scorpius was a born courtier. Honestly, his lies were giving Rose a run for her money.
‘Her Grace and I had agreed to meet after our patrols,’ Scorpius was explaining to her parents and the Court at large, ‘so that I could accompany her back to her room. However, she never arrived at our meeting point. After a few minutes, I began to grow suspicious. I followed the route she would have take on her patrol. At one point, I thought I heard voices coming from further down a deserted corridor, so I went to investigate.’
If the situation weren’t so serious, Anastacia would be fighting back giggles at how Scorpius had managed to capture the attention of the entire Court. Why, the women were positively hanging on his every word!
‘I arrived in time to witness her Grace fighting off a boy who was bigger and stronger than she. He had stolen her wand and backed her against a wall, so that she had nowhere to go. My appearance distracted him momentarily, and in that moment, before I could act, she had taken back her wand, as well as his own, and used them to stun him. Before he could recover, I subdued him physically and moved her Grace to safety. I then threatened him and sent him on his way, with a warning that he was never to come near her Grace again. Then as her Grace was quite severely injured, I helped her back to her rooms and stood guard outside her door overnight.’
The silence in the room after Scorpius had finished his tale was a tangible thing. Every eye was on Anastacia’s father, waiting for his reaction.
After a moment of thought, the man in question turned slightly in his chair to face Anastacia herself.
‘And this is an accurate account?’ he asked in an unreadable tone.
She nodded, hands clasped in her lap.
‘Yes Father. It is just as Creeten and Scorpius have told you. Marcus waited until I had finished my patrol to confront me. We had words, and the situation got out of hand.’
Pausing, she fought against her better nature. As much as she wanted him punished for what he’d done and tried to do, without a few well-placed defending words, Marcus’ life could be forfeit.
‘I don’t believe that he intended for…this, to happen,’ she continued, making a small gesture, indicating her face, ‘I truly believe that he only wanted to frighten me. He wasn’t expecting me to…respond in kind. That made him angry, and he lost control.’
She saw the corners of her father’s mouth firm and tighten, and, accustomed as she was to reading the signs of his anger, hurried on.
‘It is no excuse for his actions, none whatsoever. It is merely an explanation, a way to understand the regrettable situation that occurred.’
Anastacia’s mother reached out and placed a hand on her husband’s arm. Gently, she pressed her fingers, begging him for peace in the only way she could.
Still the breathless silence pervaded the court. Anastacia knew exactly what they were thinking, as clearly as if she could read their minds. This wasn’t over yet. Not by a long way.
Without warning, her father’s gaze snapped up to find the tall young man standing apart from the rest of his daughter’s Guard.
The carrying words were an order, one that Trelain followed immediately. He pushed past his brother to stand before the raised chairs, where he lowered into a deep bow.
‘You have not been attached to my daughter’s Guard for long, have you Trelain?’
‘No, your Grace,’ he replied, still bent from the waist.
‘Remind me again why I put you in the position?’
Now he did raise himself somewhat, his face coloured with confusion.
‘Answer the question, boy,’ came the even reply.
Another ripple of tension ran through the room like a wave. This was not good, not good at all. The whole court knew that voice – it was the calm before the storm.
Trelain seemed to have suddenly become conscious of the same thing. Anastacia saw his throat move as he swallowed, hard. With a shock, she suddenly realised that this young man that she thought of as so…immovable, was afraid of her father. Just like she was.
Just like they all were, in a way.
‘Your Grace, you placed me in the position of Head of her Grace’s Guard because you had concerns about the then current Head. You worried that he was not taking the proper precautions when it came to her Grace’s safety and well-being.’
‘I see. And yet, in all the time that your brother has acted as Head of the Guard, there has never been an incident like this.’
Trelain’s throat worked again.
‘Your Grace speaks the truth. However, your Grace, nothing of this kind occurred during my previous years as Head, either. Though truly regrettable, it was a situation unlike anything we have ever seen, one that could not have been prevented.’
Anastacia pressed her hand to her mouth as she tried to swallow back the word, but it was too late. There it was, out in the open for all to hear. She had interrupted a closed conversation between her father and one of his soldiers. She had interrupted a men’s conversation.
To her far left, her mother had gone very pale under her makeup. Her eyes were wide with fear as she regarded first her daughter, then her husband.
Anastacia too was fearful. What would her father do now? He wouldn’t reprimand her in front of the court, surely, but once they were away from the many eyes…
Instead, to her complete surprise, her father turned to her with a slight smile on his face. He inclined his head and spoke in an astonishingly level and calm tone, with even the smallest hint of warmth.
‘You would speak, daughter?’
Anastacia took a deep breath. She didn’t know how Trelain had managed to swallow – her mouth had gone bone dry.
‘Respectfully, Father, I would.’
Another deep breath. Scorpius looked up in silent support.
‘As you have been told, on the day that I first had words with Marcus Antoniou, myself, Creeten and Scorpius met with Trelain to discuss matters. He dismissed the incident out of hand.’
‘It was of no great importance.’
Trelain’s hard words brought about another gasp from the courtiers. They had never expected anything like this.
Anastacia glanced at her father. He seemed to be almost…enjoying himself. Certainly, he didn’t look as if he were going to stop the conversation anytime soon.
So she turned back to Trelain, who was glaring at her from hooded eyes.
‘Of no great importance? He called me his ridiculous little whore! In the middle of a street full of people!’
She didn’t even hear her audience’s reaction, so focused was she on the argument.
‘People who couldn’t understand a word he said!’
‘He tried to attack me! He would have succeeded too, had Scorpius not been present.’
Both of them standing now, they faced off across the small space. Anastacia had taken a step forward so that she was at the front of the raised floor. Trelain’s face was twisted with rage into an ugly grimace.
‘He was a stupid, angry little boy who had no control over his emotions. He was weak and disgusting.’
‘Perhaps to you. But to me, he was the stronger, larger boy who held me against a wall and tried to force me!’
‘Are you sure? Or did you go willingly?’
Anastacia staggered back as if dealt a physical blow. Her head was reeling. What?
‘Do you have something to say, Zarlow?’ her father asked for them all, his voice silken in the quiet space.
There was a warning in his words, but Trelain was too angry to hear it.
‘Why didn’t she summon help immediately? If she had summoned us in the normal method that has never failed before, the Guard could have found her within minutes. Why did she wait until someone happened upon her? Or did she only pretend to be upset because she was found? Is this all just an elaborate ploy to try and pretend innocence?’
Another voiced came roaring out of nowhere. Suddenly, Trelain was sprawled on the floor, his feet swept out from underneath him.
Standing over him, gazing down with a mixed expression of rage and disgust, was Trelain Zarlow I, the head of the Court Guard.
His own father.
‘Hold your tongue! Idiot boy!’
The older man’s voice was rough and harsh with distaste. Turning from the boy slumped on the floor next to him, he bowed deeply before the dais.
‘Your Graces, I beg forgiveness for my wretched son. I do not know what makes him speak so. I can only beseech your indulgence, and promise that he will be punished appropriately.’
The glare he sent back did not bode well for Trelain, who paled as the enormity of what he’d done seemed to hit him for the first time.
Anastacia’s father gazed coldly down on the scene.
‘Take the boy out of my sight. He is henceforth removed from any active service and will not enter my daughter’s presence again until he has proved himself. Captain,’ he addressed himself to Trelain’s father, who bowed once more, ‘see to it that he re-enters training. It would seem he has forgotten the little he has learnt.’
Trelain Senior nodded his head in acknowledgement, and then bowed firstly to Anastacia and then to her mother. With a final scowl, he seized his oldest son by the arm, yanked him to his feet, and marched him out of the room.
Several men in the uniform of the Court Guard followed him, their faces set and expressionless. The Court parted to let them through, speculative gazes following the small group until they left the room.
Anastacia’s father stood to his feet with the same liquid grace he’d shown before.
‘We will retire now,’ he announced to the room at large, ‘there is much to discuss.’
The courtiers before him bowed and curtseyed, eyes downcast. Anastacia’s father held out his hand and raised her mother from her chair.
‘Come, wife. We will talk in your chambers.’
He turned his head to look at Anastacia.
‘Daughter. Join us.’
And with that, they left the room by a small door behind the dais. Anastacia walked behind her parents, Celeste falling into step beside her. The younger girl brushed her hand, and Anastacia struggled with the urge to reach out and hold on like a child.
As the small group swept into her mother’s presence chamber, the few waiting women who had remained behind rose from their seats around the room and curtsied. Anastacia’s father handed her mother into a chair and beckoned for the chief lady-in-waiting.
Celeste’s mother hurried towards him, studiously not looking at her daughter, her face showing no sign of surprise at her presence.
‘Summon my wife’s healer. Have her join us immediately. My daughter requires her attentions.’
She curtsied and bustled from the room.
‘The rest of you may leave us,’ he continued, speaking to the remaining women, ‘we will call if we have need of anything.’
There was a rustle of silk as the women curtseyed as one. Celeste gave Anastacia one last faint smile as her sister-in-law, Manon, frowned and shepherded her out of the room.
Anastacia grimaced. Manon was Creeten and Trelain’s sister, who was married to Celeste’s older half-brother, Fritz. She too had been one of Anastacia’s watchers while at Hogwarts – she had even been the one to escort Anastacia to the Hogwarts Express on her very first day. Unfortunately, like her brothers, she was a real piece of work.
Her father’s voice broke through her thoughts.
‘Well I must say, this is not quite what I was expecting from your final year of school. Although, granted, you did make quite an impression upon the emissary. So hopefully some good has come of this situation.’
Anastacia struggled to return to her present situation.
‘E-emissary, sir?’ she stuttered, looking to her mother for guidance.
‘From Don Enrique Guerrero y Marquez. You remember him, darling? We spent a summer at their villa. You met his son, Duardo?’
‘Y-es. Yes, I remember. He went to Durmstrang?’
‘Don Marquez has sent an ambassador to stay at court. Officially, he is here to foster good relations between his master’s household and our own.’
Officially? That meant there was…unofficial business caught up in here too.
Her suspicions were confirmed as her father turned back to face them both, a look of smug triumph on his face.
‘However, the Don has also expressed great interest in you, daughter. His son is of age, and heir to one of the largest Muggle-free areas left on this forsaken earth.’
He spat the words like a curse, and Anastacia felt the old anger burn inside of her, directed in part at herself. What had she been thinking, all that time, trying to make friends at school? Friends like Terry, a Muggle born, and Josh, a half-blood. The danger she’d been putting them in…
‘We should be grateful that the emissary took your little…outburst as a show of pride in your virtue. You were lucky.’
His voice was soft. Anastacia sucked in a nervous breath, her eyes locking with her mother’s frightened gaze.
He came to stand in front of her, and her eyes fell to look at the floor, head bowed.
A hand came out of nowhere to grab her chin. Although he was most likely unaware, the grip on her jaw was tight enough that her bruises stung and ached. Anastacia’s face was pulled up so that she looked her father in the eye.
‘It will not happen again.’
The pain in her lips and cheeks made her want to cry out, but she remained silent as he turned her head first one way, then the other. The movement was jerky, and her neck protested as it moved back and forth.
Finally, he let her go, taking a few steps back and turning away. Anastacia rubbed her jaw with a shaking hand, ready to drop it back to her side the moment he seemed about to turn around.
‘How was this allowed to happen?’
‘Sir?’ she asked, uncertain. She’d already explained her part of the tale. Why was he questioning her again?
‘How did he get close enough to do this?’
‘He…surprised me. I wasn’t expecting it.’
‘Is that all it was?’
He swung back to face her, anger shining in his dark eyes, and Anastacia shrank away in fear.
‘Is there truth to what the Zarlow boy says? Is this a lie, to excuse an assignation gone wrong?’
‘No! No, father–’
He took another menacing step towards her, and Anastacia threw herself down, cowering on the floor beneath his sudden wrath.
‘You will tell me the truth! By your name, you will tell me the truth!’
‘Would you dishonour your family?’
The fear coursing through her made her scream out her desperate answer. Her father paused. Behind him, Anastacia could see her mother, still seated in her chair. Although her face was white with fear, her eyes were closed and she was half-turned away from the scene before her, as if she wished not to see.
Anastacia bowed low, crouching on all fours, her forehead touching the cold stone of the floor.
‘Father, I swear to you, I have not dishonoured my name in any way. I would never do so, I swear it!’
She swallowed hard, terrified tears pattering onto the floor.
‘My only wish is to serve my family.’
There was no reply for a long time. Anastacia remained crouched on the floor, expecting any moment to be yanked roughly upright, or cuffed around the head.
Instead, her father’s boots began to move away. She raised her head slightly, enough to see him go to stand by her mother’s chair.
‘Have the healing performed, say what you must, and send her back.’
Raising her hand to his lips, he laid a lingering kiss on her fingers. Then, without a backward glance for his daughter, Guillaume Claude Patrique Sangraal, the last remaining male heir to the Royal European Dynasty, strode from the room.
As the door closed behind him, Antoinette sprang from her chair and flew to her daughter’s side.
‘Oh, my darling, my precious child,’ she sobbed, pulling Anastacia into her arms.
Anastacia clung to her mother, her body shaking uncontrollably. Together they wept, Antoinette pressing kisses on her daughter’s dark hair and rocking them both back and forth. The ladies in waiting stood solemnly by, affected in various ways by the release of such pent up emotion and fear.
When she had cried herself out, Anastacia allowed her mother to help her up. Lady Elena, her mother’s chief waiting woman and Celeste’s mother, hovered nearby, then assisted in helping Anastacia into a chair.
‘The healer is here, your Grace,’ she murmured softly, and Antoinette nodded gratefully.
‘Come,’ she beckoned the slight woman forward.
The lady bowed and came to stand by Anastacia’s chair.
‘Look here, at me, your Grace,’ she ordered, suddenly all business as she examined Anastacia’s battered form.
Celeste came to stand by the side of the chair, clasping one of Anastacia’s hands in both of her own. The healer turned the bruised head this way and that with a touch that was much gentler than her father’s.
Nevertheless, the healing was not at all pleasant. At one point, there was a loud pop as a cracked rib was fitted back into place, and many of the women hissed in sympathy.
Eventually, finally, it was finished. Anastacia touched a finger gently to her eye, relieved to find no trace of the puffy, swollen skin that had been so painful.
‘Thank you,’ Antoinette told the healer warmly, ‘you may leave us.’
The slight woman bowed once more and took her leave.
‘Lady Carnaille, Lady Celeste, Countess Moureu, Lady Abbondanze, you may stay. The rest of you may go.’
The soft order was met with a murmured chorus of your Grace, and the unnamed women took their leave. Anastacia was sure that she saw Manon Zarlow glaring at Celeste as she went and was very glad that the older girl had not been allowed to stay.
When the doors closed yet again, Antoinette nodded to Lady Elena.
‘Raise the wards.’
Taking out her wand, the other woman went to the door and raised the enchantments that safeguarded the room from both attack and unwanted listeners.
Meanwhile, the rest of the waiting women were busying themselves gathering chairs and tables, preparing tea, and laying food before their ladies.
‘How are you feeling?’ Antoinette inquired anxiously of her daughter.
Anastacia nodded, then winced as the movement caused a shot of pain to lance through her head.
‘Better,’ she admitted, ‘although I have a raging headache.’
Celeste handed her a cup of tea and she murmured her thanks. On the other side of the small table, her mother, Lady Elena, did the same for Antoinette, then stood behind her chair.
Anastacia smiled weakly to see them. Celeste’s mother and her own were cousins on their mothers’ side. Antoinette was also related to Celeste’s father, Barnabus Montrose, but on her father’s side.
But their mothers had been friends since childhood, much in the way that Anastacia and Celeste had been close. When Antoinette had married Guillaume, Elena had followed her to join the new household. She had even married into it – married a much older man, a widower with two sons already.
Now, Elena stood ready to give Antoinette support as she needed, just as Celeste stood, ready and waiting, by Anastacia’s side.
‘What did my father mean, when he told you to say what must be said?’ Anastacia demanded, too tired and emotionally wrung-out to even pretend at subtlety.
Antoinette sipped her tea, her eyes inscrutable over the rim of her cup.
‘Things have…changed, since last you were home,’ she replied eventually, ‘it would seem your father no longer intends to wait until you have finished your schooling before he…accepts an offer for your hand.’
Anastacia was so shocked she nearly dropped her teacup.
‘No. No. It can’t be true.’
Antoinette swallowed, controlled herself, and spoke in a pain-filled voice.
‘Your father has only your best interests at heart. When he informs you of his decision, you would do well to…accept it gracefully and thank him.’
Thank him? For bartering away her life as if she were a cow to be haggled over?
Her mother was still speaking.
‘It is my belief that he will allow you to finish your year before the agreement is made binding, but you must know that he has every intention of creating a betrothal contract with the Don in the next month or so.’
She smiled weakly.
‘You liked Duardo, remember? You thought he was…nice.’
No, I didn’t. I thought he was a whiny little mummy’s boy with no backbone and a stick up his behind. He was cruel to me and he treated his servants like dirt. I only pretended to like him because father ordered me to.
‘And you will still be able to go back to school, although why you would want that is beyond me. I tried to have your father transfer you to Beauxbatons for the remainder of the year, but he threatened to have you brought home for good.’
Antoinette had attended Beauxbatons herself, and could never understand Anastacia’s reluctance to make the switch. Guillaume had been educated at home. It had been considered too risky to let the sole heir out into the world for school. In fact, Anastacia was the first ever blood heir to be schooled outside the court.
Hence the Guard.
‘Now darling, it won’t be as bad as you think. Spain isn’t far away, and you can still spend a good percent of your year here.’
Her mother was still trying to make her feel better, but, surprise surprise, it wasn’t working.
‘And we can start planning the wedding just after you graduate. That will be nice, won’t it?’
An arranged marriage, Anastacia thought dully. The one thing you promised yourself you would never allow them to trap you into.
For she had seen what such an arrangement could do. Had watched over the years as her smiling, vibrant mother, once the most beautiful women in the world, had shrunk into a scared, silent little mouse.
And there had been love there, once. Guillaume, for all his faults, had loved her mother. But many years had passed since then, many years filled with neglect and abuse and control. Filled with anything but love.
Something warm and coppery flowed into her mouth. With a start, Anastacia realised that, in an effort to keep calm, she had bitten straight through her lip.
Taking a deep breath, she calmed her rollicking emotions. Hard as it was to stay silent and not voice the thoughts screaming through her head, she said not a word. Instead, she calmly sipped her tea and waited to be sent away, again.
All this because she had caught the hidden meaning in her mother’s words – do not fight this. You can not win.
And the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach told her that her mother was right.
By the time they left Professor Vem’s office later that afternoon, lunch was nearly over. Scorpius offered to walk Anastacia back to her room, and she accepted gratefully. She didn’t know when she’d be able to deal with school again.
Someone called her name loudly from the far end of the corridor. Anastacia turned to see James and Sam making their rapid way towards her.
‘Where have you been?’ James demanded tightly, ‘We’ve been looking for you all day.’
‘You shouldn’t be out here like this,’ Sam continued more gently, ‘you need to rest, recover. You look like you’re going into shock.’
He reached out to tug the robe she was wearing tighter around her body, but a glare from Scorpius stayed his hand. All three of the boys could see the shivers that racked her small frame, but only Scorpius knew that they were not from cold, but from fear.
Fear, because Creeten’s footsteps had not died away when he’d rounded the corner. Both Scorpius and Anastacia knew he was still there, waiting out of sight and listening, hyper-vigilante after the warning he’d been given.
Nevertheless, Scorpius removed his own robe and draped it around Anastacia’s shoulders.
‘While this is no doubt a touching scenario, I fail to see how Miss Sangraal’s wellbeing is any concern of yours.’
James ignored him, of course.
‘Stac, Marcus isn’t here anymore,’ he told her urgently, ‘his parents came and took him away. Neville would’ve expelled him if he stayed, if he’d still been alive to be expelled,’ he added darkly.
‘Thank you for your input, Mr Potter,’ Scorpius countered in a level voice, ‘was there anything else you wished to say?’
‘Yeah, as a matter of fact, there was,’ James addressed him finally, the anger in his voice rising clearly.
Sam put a hand on his arm, murmuring for him to calm down, but James shook it off.
‘Where were you, eh? If you’re so concerned about her safety and you care for her so much, where were you last night when she was being attacked? Where were you when she needed you?’
There was a faint sound from around the corner, a sound that was insignificant to James and Sam, but that held a world of meaning for Anastacia and Scorpius. Panic shot through her at the thought of Creeten coming out and confronting James, especially in his new frame of mind. So she did the first thing she could think of.
‘What are you talking about?’
James started. Stac was staring at him with wide eyes, her brow furrowed in confusion.
‘I…found you, remember…’ he trailed off, suddenly unsure of what was happening.
But she was shaking her head, peering at him blankly.
‘No-o,’ she answered, drawing out the word, ‘Scorpius found me.’
She tightened her grip on the blonde boy’s arm.
‘Scorpius was with me all night. He came to me when Marcus was attacking me, he sent Marcus away, he took me to the Head’s common room, and he stayed with me all night.’
Sam was gobsmacked, and James didn’t look much better. Scorpius couldn’t help shooting the latter a look of pity as he started turning to leave. But James wasn’t finished.
‘Bollocks he was!’
He seized her arm and tugged her away from Scorpius, ignoring her soft gasp of surprise.
‘Stac, it was me! You know it was! I was the one who found you, I was the one who stayed with you all night, yes, all night,’ he emphasised, meeting Scorpius’ cool gaze with a glare.
‘I don’t care if that makes your stupid, pretty-boy mad, because it’s true. I care about you, Stac. I’m not going to let anything happen to you, even if other people forget about you sometimes.’
Far from focusing on his words, Anastacia was doing her best to breathe normally. Creeten was going to round the corner any second, see James holding her, and go on the attack. That wasn’t an option.
‘Unhand me,’ she said in her frostiest tone.
James froze, confusion painted plainly across his face.
‘Wha…but, Stac, I…what?’
Slowly, fingers unclenching one by one, he let her go. Once free, she moved quickly to stand behind Scorpius, refusing to meet James’ gaze.
James stood like a man in a dream, mouth open but issuing no sound.
‘I think it’s time you left,’ Scorpius said quietly, his voice not unkind.
The taller boy made no move to adhere to the suggestion. Instead, it took Sam tugging on his arm and practically dragging him a couple of steps before James moved on his own.
Scorpius and Anastacia watched until the two boys were out of sight, before breathing a sigh of relief. It proved to be a very quick sigh, however, as the next second saw Creeten rejoin them in the corridor.
‘What was that about?’ he queried in a tense voice.
‘The Potter boy obviously thought to take advantage of her Grace’s delicate mental state in order to take liberties.’
Regardless of Anastacia’s ‘delicate mental state’, Creeten questioned her next.
‘Your Grace? Your father doesn’t wish for you to be speaking to those kinds of people, as I’m sure you’re aware.’
Usually, Anastacia would have drawn herself up to her full height (all 5 feet and 4 inches of it), fixed him with a glare and, if she deigned to answer him at all, speak in her snootiest voice.
Now, however, she simply didn’t have it in her. Looking up into Creeten’s scowling face, she was at a loss.
‘I never want to see him again. Please ensure that I don’t have to suffer through his presence at any time for the remainder of the year.’
Creeten was visibly surprised by this, but he bowed and murmured his assent, before allowing Scorpius to lead Anastacia away, down the corridor towards her room.
‘Nice bit of acting there, Nast,’ Scorpius murmured approvingly as they moved out of earshot.
But Anastacia shook her head.
‘It wasn’t acting, Scor. I don’t want to see him again. I can’t. I can’t keep doing this to myself. I should never have let him stay last night. Not only am I putting him in danger every time I go running back to him, but I’m driving myself mad.’
She let out a laugh that was almost a sob.
‘It seems that I spend my days doing nothing but crying and complaining. Well, no more. I won’t have any more of it. It’s time I…accepted my father’s authority and…adhered…to his plan.’
She stopped walking suddenly. Scorpius drew alongside her.
‘I can make it from here, thank you.’
Smiling, she patted his arm.
‘Don’t worry about me. And thank you, for everything you’ve done. Forgive me if I continue with the charade for just a short time longer. I promise it will end, soon.’
There were a hundred, no, a thousand things that he could have said. Your father’s plan is ridiculous. You shouldn’t have to do this. Hold on just a bit longer.
Have you seen the way he looks at you?
But, instead, he said nothing. He merely kissed her lightly on the forehead and walked away, as she had asked.
He hated himself for it, but he walked away.
On the other side of the castle, James was fuming. What had started out as confusion had gradually progressed to hurt, pain, and sorrow. After that, it had only been a small jump to anger and, eventually, rage.
At that current point in time, he was stalking through the corridors, glaring at everyone who dared to cross his path. Sam was jogging along beside him, doing his best to keep up.
‘Mate! Oi, mate, slow down! Mate!’
James rounded on him angrily.
Sam, slightly puffed, reached out and gave his friend a good shake.
‘Look, I know you’re pissed, okay? I get it. But you’ve got to calm down. Everyone’s staring.’
And they were – the corridors were thick with people on their way to classes after lunch. Out of the corner of his eye, James saw a group of fifth year girls, including Sylvia Blackthorn. They were all giggling and glancing his way coquettishly, and James could have sworn he saw Sylvia bat her eyes at him.
Sam was talking again.
‘What?’ James demanded, refocusing on the conversation.
‘I said, have you thought that maybe she had a reason to say the stuff she did?’
‘Like…I don’t know, maybe she was trying to stop Malfoy getting jealous or something. Maybe he actually does have some sort of hold on her, like you said.’
James shook his head as if to clear it.
‘Whatever. I don’t care.’
‘Mate, come on–’
‘No, seriously mate,’ James interrupted him, ‘I don’t care. Before, yeah, we had a fight. She ignored me, but I thought she was just pissed about that. Now? I don’t even know who she is anymore.’
‘Come on, there’s got to be a reason.’
Yeah, there’s a reason, alright, James thought to himself bitterly. I don’t know what it is, but if was that she wants to make me as mad as possible, she’s doing a bloody good job.
The giggling of the fifth years drifted across the corridor to his ears. They hadn’t continued on to class, but were still standing in the same place they had been when he’d first looked. The Blackthorn girl was most definitely giving him the eye.
And that made up his mind for him. Stac might not want to be near him, but other girls did.
‘Oi, Sylvia!’ he called out without warning, leaving Sam and striding down the corridor towards her.
Two could play at that game.
Oye. This does not look good, does it? Anyone else getting a sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach? Any sympathy for Stac? Obviously not a nice home environment, that one...
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