You are viewing a story from harrypotterfanfiction.com
A Force Of Wills by Gabriella Hunter
Chapter 7: The Zabini Estate
A/N: Hello, all! Quite a few of you have read the previous chapter and thank you so much for that! I thought I'd bored you all for a minute because it took a while for me to get this right and please enjoy and leave this annoying old lady a review! Much love.
The Zabini Estate was a sprawling mansion done in a stylish Victorian fashion that Astoria had seen from books that her mother had forced her to read. She’d said that she would need to know more about how purebloods spent their money when she became the wife of one but now Astoria tossed that memory away as she took in her surroundings.
The tinkling of water that she had heard had come from a fountain. She saw a beautiful white marble fixture that depicted a male angel cradling the body of a fallen woman, her tears falling into the pool at their feet.
It was a very beautiful piece of art, though unnerving in its own way and Astoria found herself staring at lifeless white eyes for a long time before she looked away. There was a decent moon out when she looked up but decided that it didn’t matter whether it was nice out or not after what she had just done, what horrible things might happen to her later.
Shuddering, Astoria looked around her again, and was able to see that the mansion was surrounded by small woods and the stone path leading to the front of the house. It was covered in dead leaves. Astoria was reminded of her own life.
Whatever dreams that she had had probably looked similar to those leaves. A wave of depression washed over her before she flung it away into the darkness of her mind and she clenched her Hogwarts trunk.
Aradelle was looking up at her worriedly and Astoria knew that they had been rather lucky that there’d been no Anti-Apparition wards up.
Perhaps house-elf Apparition was different from the sort of magic that witches and wizards used and she said firmly, “Please inform Blaise Zabini that Astoria Greengrass wishes to speak to him Aradelle. Make sure that you’re not seen and don’t come back out until you’ve found him.”
“Mistress, I am not certain if this place is safe.” Aradelle said worriedly and she still held her hand in hers before Astoria gently released it. “Purebloods…” the house-elf murmured in disgust.
Astoria felt the same. Never in her life had she ever thought that she, Astoria Greengrass would be seeking the help and safety from a pureblood that she knew nothing about, “Please, dear, I know what I’m doing.” And this was a complete lie because she had no idea what would happen next.
Aradelle was treated very kindly back at home and her mistress’s fierce expression must have frightened her but she nodded. “Yes Mistress,” before Disapparating with a loud crack.
Astoria was left in the cold with the wind rushing through her. Her traveling cloak was old but it was warm enough as she inhaled deeply, trying to calm herself and not break into a peel of sobs at the thought of what she had just done.
“….You have no guts Greengrass to do what you like. Your family is a real hindrance on you, aren’t they?” Zabini’s words couldn’t have been more true but Astoria could no longer be involved with what they intended for her.
The force of her betrayal made her wince but Astoria couldn’t accept what her father wanted her to do; she just couldn’t be like Emily. She loved her sister dearly but she had grown to accept her life and she liked the way it was, with the parties and dances and men.
Astoria’s mother would be sick with worry but she also knew that she would mostly worry for what she might say or do. They had many enemies from their transactions, from the people that they had been paid to murder but she didn’t need to worry about her daughter telling anyone. She may not want to be a part of their life, but she still loved them.
And yet the only person that she truly worried for was Scorpious, the only brother she had.
Her older brother would tear apart the world until he found her and Astoria gnawed on her lower lip worriedly, he had such a temper. She would send him an owl of course but she worried if that were even a right thing to do, their father controlled their mail and the horrible thought of their father finding out where she was caused her breath to catch.
“…The business will not suffer. I will not allow it.” Her father had said and she felt a surge of hatred for the fact that he could probably care less, very deep down, if she were hurt.
Astoria felt a tear rolling down her cheek and she didn’t bother wiping it away.
“Greengrass?” Zabini’s voice whispered through the dark night and Astoria looked up and found herself watching as he walked down to her, hastily pulling on a coat to protect himself from the chilly air.
Aradelle was beside him and she was wringing her hands nervously and shooting him covert glances of pure disgust, as she had been trained to be polite, but to hate purebloods as strongly as everyone else in Astoria’s household. “I have brought the young Master Zabini, Mistress Stori,” she said to her proudly.
“Thank you so much, dear.” Astoria said to her.
Zabini ignored the exchange as he managed to pull himself into his coat and his voice sounded harsh and filled with concern. “What are you doing here?”
Astoria was mesmerized because even without all of his fancy dress robes, he was still handsome…still managing to fascinate her. Somehow, a blush spread into her cheeks but she declared firmly, “I need you.” Zabini’s brow rose at the words and if she didn’t know any better, she had caught him off guard and he might have actually blushed. “I really need you.”
“You need me to do…what exactly?” Zabini asked while shaking off whatever thoughts had transpired in his mind. He had finally reached her and stood a polite few feet from her though she could hear every word he said, “I have to tell you that this is most unexpected.”
Astoria bowed her head in embarrassment as her nerves threatened to overwhelm her but she found herself saying. “Thank you for what you did back at the Malfoy’s, you didn’t have to lie for me when I know that you wanted to fully become a traitor.”
Zabini hadn’t been expecting this and he tilted his head at her oddly before taking her in and though it was darker and the moonlight was fading, he somehow was able to sense her distress. A frown spread over his face. “You look unwell. Please come inside,” he motioned absently at the imposing structure and Astoria balked. “I’ll take you to the sitting room.”
The thought of being inside of a purebloods home made a burst of revulsion go over her but she fought it down. She didn’t want that to stop her any longer, her life was on the line, “I-I couldn’t.” Astoria murmured thickly. She needed somewhere to hide for a moment and she couldn’t be foolish but she felt such a resistance, “Zabini, please—”
“Please?” Zabini asked in alarm and his dark eyes were wide. “What on earth happened to you, Greengrass? That’s not exactly the sort of thing I’d ever thought would come from your mouth.”
Astoria swallowed hard but more tears fell from her eyes. “I would rather not discuss it.” She said tightly but Zabini was staring at her curiously, finding this much emotion simply astounding.
There was a slight silence while Aradelle fussed over her, asking in low whispers if she needed anything but Astoria shook her head politely.
Zabini watched the interaction with her house-elf in bemusement, apparently used to the poor things being treated cruelly by their owners, “I’m completely fascinated…” he murmured and Astoria gave him a weary look. “I can’t have you standing outside in this cold. Come inside, Greengrass.”
“I-if I come inside with you will you let me stay?” Astoria asked him abruptly. Zabini’s eyes widened and he stared at her, completely at a loss for words to describe how deeply she had shocked him and she felt like such a fool. “I ran away from home. I don’t have anywhere to go and I won’t be a bother to you—I’ll leave in the morning, I promise.”
Zabini was staring hard at her as if she weren’t really there and he took a step forward before reaching out and touching her cheek. It was nothing but a faint touch but Aradelle snapped, “Do not touch Mistress Stori, filthy pureblood!”
Astoria felt his finger jerk but she flushed as he moved a bit closer, until she was forced to stare more deeply into his face. His eyes were darker than the night around them and for a moment she couldn’t breathe before he murmured softly, “You are real, then.”
Aradelle was fuming. “You must not touch my Mistress Stori!”
“It’s all right, Aradelle,” Astoria assured her weakly.
Zabini didn’t respond to Aradelle and merely stared into her face and continued to stare until she turned red and angled her head away. It was embarrassing the way he could make her heart flutter and she longed for it to leave her, she had no time for foolishness now, “For a moment I thought I might have been dreaming.” He said and she waited for a moment before he took his finger away from her skin.
Astoria felt a cold wind blowing and she placed a hand over her hair to keep it from snagging wildly into the air. “You’re not dreaming,” she said firmly.
Zabini seemed to think about that before he murmured softly. “Dreaming…that would be nice.”
There was a thick silence after that and Astoria felt her knees wobbling a bit as other destinations floated through her mind. She could go to the Leaky Cauldron but that would be the first place her father would look and because she had no friends and had been told not to indulge in such dangerous things, there was no one for them to write too.
And they would never assume that she would taint the family name and risk the business by being here, with Zabini…who was, still in her father’s eyes and to the Malfoy’s as a traitor. Though they hadn’t said anything, Astoria had sensed that they hadn’t believed him at all, “And you don’t have to thank me for defending you at Malfoy’s home. I would have done it regardless but I fear that they may have their eyes on me regardless.” Zabini said.
“It’s my fault, I know. But my dad…” Astoria murmured and Zabini muttered something rather foul under his breath that made her wince, “you have to understand that I would never have lied if so much hadn’t been at risk.”
Zabini nodded curtly and logged the words away; perhaps eager to question her on them much later but Astoria would answer nothing. “Why have you run from home? You’re rather brave, I must say, I didn’t think that you would have the guts to defy your family.”
Astoria felt a bit of irritation grasp her and she snapped. “Well, I don’t see you living on your own.” He had already explained the why to her earlier in the pantry but it still caused his lips to twitch with a bit of annoyance.
“Touché,” Zabini said dryly. Astoria licked at her lips nervously and he once again said, “come inside, Greengrass. I’ll take care of you for a while and we’ll see what we can do.”
Aradelle looked scandalized. “Mistress Stori is not going to be staying with a pureblood!” she cried to Astoria, eyes wide with horror.
“Aren’t you going to ask me more questions before you let me into your house?” Astoria demanded out of Zabini even though she was elated. “Aren’t you scared that this might be a trick?”
“No.” Zabini said firmly. “You’re not that foul, Greengrass.” He noted assuredly.
Astoria swallowed hard at this. “But you don’t know me—”
Zabini sighed wearily and she longed to know what went on in his mind, what plagued him and she swallowed nervously. A rock seemed to have clogged in her throat, “I consider myself your friend and while that frightens you for whatever reason, I’m sickeningly loyal.”
“But this could be a trick!” Astoria cried, finding him to be the most confusing creature on the face of the earth. She swallowed again, the rock in her throat sliding down, “I could be handing you over to the Ministry—you could be in Azkaban!”
Zabini seemed to have already thought about this and his eyes scanned around for a moment in the darkness, catching her bluff easily. “Alarms would have gone off if a witch or wizard Apparated onto my property, house-elf magic is different so it wouldn’t have been detected.” Astoria glowered at him for a moment at this truth, still clambering with nerves, “you wouldn’t have risked coming to me if you’re intention was to cause harm.”
Astoria didn’t want to inform him that her very presence here to could cause him harm down the line of her family found out where she was. If her father didn’t kill him based on some sort of misunderstanding, then Scorpious would and he’d make sure that he was awake while it was happening and that terrified her, “…You’re mental.”
“Very true.” Zabini replied lazily and Astoria had a feeling that he was making fun of her or trying to get under her skin. “Anyone can tell that you’re running. Those tears and that rumpled attire reeks of desperation…I respect it and I won’t take no for an answer, Greengrass.” He said stiffly and she felt as if he’d properly handled her, as if she were a naughty child, “its rude to dawdle outside alone with a woman and I am kindly asking you to enter my home.”
Astoria had a feeling that manners were very important to him and she bowed her head a bit, unable to say anything. Aradelle was fretting worriedly but she said to her kindly, “This is goodbye, Aradelle. I won’t be back home and you mustn’t tell anyone where I am or give any clues.”
“But Mistress Stori,” Aradelle said now, looking panicked while sending Zabini a hate filled look that had him blinking in surprise by her boldness. “It’s a pureblood,”
Astoria placed her hand lightly on the creature’s head and said firmly. “Go home, Aradelle and go through your days like you always would. That’s an order.” Aradelle looked as if she might cry and she even felt her throat constricting but her house-elf nodded jerkily before leaving with a pop, Astoria’s hand falling weakly away.
“You’ve even trained the house-elves to despise purebloods. Such a curious family you have, Greengrass.” Zabini murmured and Astoria sent him a sharp look at his tone but he was offering her his arm politely. “Well?”
Astoria felt an inborn shudder at the thought of touching him but she fought back her bile and allowed her arm to be linked with his. Zabini kept a distance between them and his grip was nothing short of polite and respectful even though he had learned his lesson from touching her before, she could sense that his politeness was not so easily ignored. “...I’ll leave in the morning.”
Zabini started walking with her towards the front of the house and he seemed to find her insistence rather amusing. “I want to know why you’ve come to me with a full trunk, Greengrass. You’re putting yourself at such a risk and while I’ll commend you for it, I have to say that it was rather foolish.”
“I know it was.” Astoria hissed between her teeth. “But I need somewhere to stay.”
“And where will you go?” Zabini asked calmly as they walked up ancient stone steps to the front of the door. The wood was beautifully painted and Astoria noticed lanterns ablaze on the wraparound porch that she hadn’t noted before, “do you have money?”
Astoria hadn’t counted the Galleons in her savings but she knew that it wasn’t much and she would be at Hogwarts in a matter of days. A week to be exact and while it was only a few days, there were other things that she had to worry about, like where the path to her dorm would be and she feared that her father’s contact that usually sent the information would divulge too much.
Astoria swallowed hard and hated the thought of sliming into the Slytherin common room and sharing a dorm with pureblood girls…like Parkinson and Travers. But she shook that thought off and decided not to worry for right now because she really had nowhere else to go and staying at the Leaky Cauldron would be very expensive, “…I have enough.”
Zabini took the lie for what it was worth before opening the door to his home and ushering her inside first. He briefly turned to shut the door and Astoria was fascinated by the grandeur of his home, while not being on the scale of the Malfoy’s or some of the other pureblood homes that she had seen, it was still quite nice.
The furniture was more modern in the living room that was adjacent to them, as they stood together in the foyer and was a lot larger than the one she had at home.
When Astoria looked away, she noted a winding staircase leading up to a floor of rooms above and she thought of the four bedroom that they had at her own home and felt like a mouse in a villa.
Uncomfortable, she looked down to see that the floors were of a dark, polished variety and as she looked up, there was a grand candle lit chandelier hanging from the ceiling.
Unlike the gaudiness of the Malfoy Manor, Astoria saw that things in his home were more muted, the colors less intense…less bright. But it all gave her a sense of comfort and ease that may have a few surprises lurking underneath the surface. It suited Zabini very well.
There was a fireplace in the foyer and it was very large, far larger than the one she had been accustomed to at home. They must have used it specifically for traveling by Floo and Astoria swallowed a bit and wondered if her father would somehow find himself there, standing in the grate, “Would you like some tea?” Zabini asked gently.
Astoria blinked in surprise and nodded jerkily at him as he took her Hogwarts trunk with one hand and started leading her out of the foyer. Her eyes searched around and she saw family portraits on the walls of his relatives and they watched her with narrowed eyes, some of them peering more closely and one woman barked at Zabini, “Who is this?”
“None of your concern, Great-Grandmother. Go back to being dead.” Zabini snapped back at the woman, pausing. Astoria noticed that the woman’s eyes were very dark like his own but her skin was a smoky brown, perhaps from many times out in the sun.
Astoria didn’t have family portraits back at her own house.
There were reasons for it of course because her dad had done horrible things to most of his family but because her mother had found it uncomfortable, he had taken them down before she’d come around.
At least, that was what Scorpious had told her a few times. There was a short pause as the woman fanned herself, her robes puffing out over a large chest, “How rude of you! Blaise Thaddeus Zabini you fool!” the old woman hissed.
“I know. I’m the most awful thing on the face of the earth.” Zabini spat back calmly without looking back at it. He continued on walking with the portrait in a huff.
Astoria looked at more of the portraits of his relatives because those were who they had to be…though none of them even looked the same. After passing by a grumpy man that glared at her coldly, she found herself asking, “Are these your family?”
Zabini stiffened at the question but nodded a bit and as they crossed out of an elegant dining room, very small in comparison to the Malfoy’s, he said dryly. “You’re probably wondering how I turned out black, aren’t you?” Astoria made a spluttering noise at his rudeness. “Technically, I suppose I’d be half and if you’ve looked closely at my mother you’d note that she’s Italian.”
Astoria hadn’t really paid much attention to Helena Zabini because those sorts of things had never mattered to her. She’d only noted on occasion that their dark eyes were the same, “I see but I don’t care about that sort of thing, it’s ridiculous.”
“Why, you’re so kind.” Zabini said with a hint of what might have been a laugh and Astoria had a feeling that he was surprised. Perhaps he hadn’t been so well-treated by his supposed friends in the past and she could imagine Malfoy making a rude comment, “my father was French and he was black. I’m not sure what happened to him, though I’m almost certain that he’s buried somewhere in a deep, dark hole.”
Astoria didn’t like the sound of that, or the casual way he said it and she thought of all the people that her father and brother had buried alive. She had never seen it of course but Emily had been kidnapped so many times that she’d grown weary of watching her captors being disposed of and had slipped one evening and had told her too much.
A closeted space had never been Astoria’s friend after that conversation. “And you live alone with your mother?” she asked.
Zabini had a sneer in his voice as they finally walked into a very large, spaciously cleaned kitchen. It still had none of the flair of Muggle inventions but Astoria also no sign of a servant or house-elf, “Not necessarily.” He said tightly and she stood awkwardly at the doorway. “Come inside, Greengrass and take a seat.”
Astoria saw an island and a few barstools and she made her way over to one and sat down awkwardly. Zabini had placed her trunk down by a wall, “Not necessarily. So you must have siblings then?”
“You can call that horrid monster my sibling if you wish, but I’d advise you not to look too deeply in her eyes, as you may die.” Zabini said coldly and Astoria felt a chill as he moved about in the kitchen, taking out a teapot and cups, “are you hungry?”
Just then, her stomach chose to grumble. “…Yes,” Astoria said embarrassingly while wondering idly if he would poison her food. Never trust a pureblood, “but not starving.”
Zabini looked behind her as he filled the teapot with water under the sink and though he didn’t say anything, his lips thinned. “Trust me.” Was all he said and Astoria felt a strange flush overtake her skin before she hastily looked away.
There were a few minutes that they spent saying nothing at all as he prepared their tea. Zabini made an attempt to speak and informed sourly, “My mother is asleep. I gave her something to knock her out for at least two days, her illness keeps her abed.”
Astoria didn’t hear a drop of worry in his tone and she also felt a burst of relief because she wasn’t sure how she would explain her presence here. Two days without his mother appearing if he were being serious and then the next day she could be at Hogwarts but she shook it off, “There’s no need to tell me that. I’m leaving in the morning.”
“You’re going nowhere.” Zabini said firmly as he walked past her calmly and she swiveled around, about to tell him off for his nerve. But he had gone into a back room that she assumed was the larder and came back with a covered dish before he came back over and set it on the island’s surface, “where do you think that you can go without much money?”
Astoria flushed at this truth and he sent her a challenging look that she had to look away from but his dark eyes flickered suspiciously with amusement. “I have some money. I couldn’t think of anyone else to go to…”
That caused another silence and Zabini seemed oddly curious and Astoria wondered if he were blushing again. But Blaise Zabini did not blush, it was beyond him, “You were thinking of me, then?” he whispered teasingly.
“No!” Astoria snapped embarrassingly even though she had been. His handkerchief was neatly folded in her traveling cloak and she turned pink as he continued to stare…and stare… “Merlin, you’re rude. You shouldn’t stare at people!”
Zabini laughed and turned from her to stand on the opposite side of the island. There was a smile on his face as he teased, “So prickly. You’re like a cactus, Greengrass.”
Astoria frowned at him, her cheeks flaming. “I am not a cactus!”
Zabini sent her a look that she couldn’t quite determine but it had butterflies dancing in her stomach before she grumbled and looked away. A chuckle seeped from his mouth and he made himself busy by uncovering the dish.
Astoria saw thick slices of bread, ham and cheese. It all looked very delicious and her stomach growled a bit but she noted that there were quite a few pieces missing from each stack, “You’re going to get fat.” She accused, knowing that he was the culprit.
Zabini burst out laughing and his cheeks turned a bit red, it was apparent that he had heard that before many times. “I work out Greengrass in nothing but my skin.” Astoria instantly blushed and he laughed at her again, “It’s not true, don’t be so embarrassed.” He indicated the food and she saw that he was trying hard not to make fun of her, “I ate most of it when I got back home but this should be enough for you, I suppose. You’re so thin.”
Astoria couldn’t imagine him eating any more than she had seen him eating earlier and it must have shown because he frowned. “I don’t think you’re fat,” she said hastily and Zabini roared with laughter, “shut up! You looked so concerned—”
“I’m merely a growing boy, Greengrass. And I like to eat,” Zabini said sadly and she felt her lips twitching before she looked stubbornly away from him. There was no explaining why there was such ease between them when they had never spoken before tonight, “a lot. But you’ll see what I mean since you’re staying here.”
It was said in a casual way, as if it had been Astoria’s dream come true. But there was an undertone of firmness that made her wary. The idea of her out in the world on her own must have disturbed him deeply and somewhere in the pit of her heart she was relieved and frightened of that sort of connection to another human being.
“Just until Hogwarts,” Astoria heard herself say impulsively.
“Just until Hogwarts… I’ll have you for a week, then.” Zabini said and he sounded as if that were something that he hadn’t really thought about. “I want to know what caused you to run from home, though with the way your family is, I can’t blame you.”
Astoria flushed at his nerve and he quirked his brow at her as if he found her temper amusing and she inhaled shakily. “You don’t know anything about my family.” Zabini looked rather doubtful. “Really, Zabini…what do you think my family does?” she asked dryly.
Zabini seemed to really consider this and she watched his dark eyes narrowing thoughtfully as he contemplated his answer. Astoria nearly sneered at his audacity, “Your family does something foul, of that I’m certain. Why else would you be so frightened? And always thinking someone is going to kill you?”
Astoria felt a pang at his accuracy but he didn’t know the dark, disgusting details of what her family did and what sort of people they were. There were so many dead men under her father’s belt…he had done so many terrible things, “…That may be true but you don’t need to know anything more. It’s for your own safety, as well as mine.” She said firmly.
“….I don’t like secrets, Greengrass even though I have many of my own. But we’ll keep things between us cordial,” Zabini said and she heard a tone in his voice, as if he disapproved of that arrangement and wanted something more. “You may hate this but I am your friend. Trust works both ways”
Astoria’s heart jumped. “Trust is something I can’t afford.”
Zabini frowned darkly. “You could afford me, Greengrass. I want nothing from you,” he said sincerely and her cheeks turned very red, “I could never leave you alone to suffer. I’ll allow you to stay with me at the Estate for as long as you may need.”
“That would go against what your mother—” Astoria started to cry but Zabini’s face fell and he seemed to glower with hatred. Quickly, she murmured, “I couldn’t…”
Zabini waved that away as if he found her excuses tiresome and ridiculous and she wondered what sort of person he was exactly. There was a lot lurking under the surface and it frightened her even while it intrigued, “What will you do on the holiday?” he asked.
Astoria looked away because she would have to stay at the school, no matter how much it disgusted her. She didn’t enjoy being at school, hidden away like some sort of dirty secret but that was exactly what she was, “I’ll stay at Hogwarts. Even my family can’t touch me there,” but she worried that that may not be true.
Zabini seemed to read her face but he asked her nothing more and seemed to think about what else to say. Slowly, he informed, “By then, I’ll have my inheritance and though I told Mother that I would stay in the house after I graduated, I may break my promise.”
Astoria started to feel her skin prickling and she flicked her violet eyes to his dark brown ones and quirked her brow. “And what are you suggesting? That I move in with you permanently?” the thought was scandalous and she couldn’t imagine living with a man, let alone one she barely knew, “you’re mental. You don’t even know what I’m running from and I could never risk your life like that.”
This was very true because if her father or Scorpious found out about this, they would kill him as slowly as possible. Emily would perhaps smother him and her mother would be left to clean up the mangled remains of his corpse, like so many other times before when a client or enemy had gotten a bit too riled up.
“That wasn’t at all what I was suggesting and I can only imagine what you’re running from.” Zabini said dryly, his lips tight. “If you would prefer, I would have nothing against giving you the money that you need to start your own life.”
Astoria was floored into silence by his words and she stared at him in pure astonishment and said with a forced laugh. “But you barely know me! And that’s your money, I could—”
“You’ve never worked a day in your life. No one would hire you at this rate and I’m sorry to say, Greengrass but being a half blood in this sort of ignorant society will deplete your chances.” Zabini said sharply and Astoria winced at this horrid truth. “We’ll both finish with school and perhaps after NEWTs we’ll look for you a job that might satisfy you.”
Astoria couldn’t believe that she was being offered something like this and she felt a prickle of irritation at his nerve to deliver her orders. She wasn’t sure who he thought he was but it rankled her immensely, though he hardly seemed to care, “I don’t have any future plans. My father had thought of my whole life for me.”
Zabini’s eyes narrowed with dislike at the words and scanned her face, perhaps being able to understand more than anyone what it might be like. Though that thought was completely ridiculous because he could never know what it was like to be her, “…Your father doesn’t seem like a pleasant man, I noticed that earlier,” he said.
“You seem to notice too much.” Astoria muttered annoyingly. Zabini’s lips twitched, “what is it with you? Why do you want to know me? We’ve never spoken before tonight and you were part of a gang of people I still despise.”
Zabini was silent for a moment or two before he sighed annoyingly.
His lips were pulled up in a little twist that suggested a hint of impatience in him that she hadn’t seen before now, “I’ve given you my answers, Greengrass. We’re alike in some ways and I find you so very curious… if you’re looking for something more romantic, then I’m afraid that I can’t give you much in that regard.” He said dryly, his eyes rolling, “although you are very cute.” Astoria wasn’t sure what to make of him; he was some sort of creature that she had never encountered before.
“And the other purebloods?” Astoria asked, her lip rising.
“I hate them all. Why else would I give their names away to Malfoy’s father?” Zabini asked with a flicker of something unpleasant in his gaze. Astoria frowned suspiciously, “I don’t want to belong in that group again. I already made that clear.”
Astoria could believe him but she found herself asking. “And me?”
Wariness shot up her back while a blush stole into her cheeks at the odd way that he stared at her before he answered. “I have no intention of having any intention of having an intention of hurting you, Greengrass. Take a risk and trust me.” He watched the expressions passing over her face with obvious amusement.
Astoria had forgotten that he noticed a lot about her and she felt a bit of unease worm into her stomach at what else he might have seen or heard. There was so much about her that he already knew just from being near her in a short amount of time, “…I had a fight with my dad, if that’s what you want to hear, Zabini. He wanted me to do something that I could never do.”
Zabini looked as if he might press her for questions but he saw the mortified look on her face and thought better of it. “…I see. And you ran?”
Astoria knew that he was surprised by this and she herself was stunned by her actions but she could never be what her family wanted her to be.
Mating with Malfoy for her father’s twisted games had been the last straw and while she felt no pity about the Malfoy family being put into the hands of the Order of the Phoenix, she would not be a pawn in the game. “I may be a Greengrass but I don’t have to follow the choices he makes for me.”
Zabini looked very surprised by this and a smile started to flicker across his face before the teapot whistled noisily. Taking his eyes from her, he went back to the stove and poured them each a steaming cup and brought it to her, “Do you take sugar?” his voice was polite and curious. “Lemon?”
Astoria stared at him in confusion for his politeness, his lack of fear. “….Zabini—”
Zabini ignored her a little and he seemed to find her reluctance to accept their arrangement very annoying. With the way the world was, Astoria could know why but she hated being bound to someone, no matter if he was offering her help, “Or do you take cream?”
Astoria thought for a moment or two and said almost embarrassingly at the way that he was looking at her. “Lemon and just one spoonful of sugar.” She answered and when Zabini left her side to retrieve the items after setting the teacups on the island, she flushed, “I can do it myself.”
“You’re my guest and Merlin only knows what you’ll put in my food.” Zabini said as he came back with a sliced lemon, sugar and a jug of cream. The ice box must be situated back there as well and Astoria frowned only to see that he was grinning, “Easy…”
There was no way that she could become used to this sort of situation and Astoria turned away from him as he came back to her and added a lemon to her tea. After extracting a small spoon from the sugar, he added one spoonful before attending to his own drink and she saw that he poured nearly six drops of sugar and cream into his own, “Your teeth will fall out.” Astoria said worriedly.
Zabini snorted over his tea but drank in a practiced way, in slight little sips that almost had her laughing at him. She sipped her own strongly, “Why the rush?” he asked after lowering his cup.
Astoria was surprised that she hadn’t been more careful, as he could have put something into her tea to poison her properly. The fact that she had trusted him brought a lump of something foul into the pit of her stomach but she vainly fought it away, “Why do you need to know?” she bit back and he pretended to be subdued. “I don’t know if this is safe for you, to have me here but I can’t thank you enough.”
“I could care less what might happen to me but I’ll die a gentleman at least. Such a strange little thing you are, Greengrass.” Zabini said with a strange look to his face, as if Astoria were some sort of interesting toy, “now eat. You look as if you haven’t fed in days.”
Astoria noticed how he’d phrased the words and she snapped. “I’m not some sort of magical creature!” Zabini looked as if he were logging that away, “what do you think I am? I’m as human as you are.”
There was a slight pause.
Zabini looked a bit disappointed. “And here I was thinking that I would have a new pet. Animals often die in my home…the lucky bastards,” he said and Astoria could have hit him but she refrained from doing so, no matter how tempting it would have been to wipe that smirk from his face.
It was oddly addictive and she turned to the food he had uncovered for her and started reaching for bread, ham and cheese. After selecting enough, Astoria ate warily, chewing carefully to make sure that nothing had been put into the crust or meat, “This is good.” She said after a while as she nibbled on a particular slice of cheese for a few minutes longer than necessary.
Zabini had been drinking his tea and had refilled her cup for her twice but he now smiled at her ruefully. “There’s nothing in your food, Greengrass.” Astoria sent him a look, “please stop thinking that I’ll poison you when I’ll most likely molest you in your sleep.”
Astoria knew that he was joking but she had an image of Malfoy in all of his blonde perfection and she inwardly shuddered. “You sound like—”
“Malfoy? My, what a compliment,” Zabini muttered darkly and she had a feeling that bringing up that boy in his home would not be wise. “You wouldn’t be hiding from him, would you?” Astoria didn’t respond but the prat was part of her issue, “I may have you stay with me forever if it would keep him from taking a bite out of you.”
“Why would you do something like that?” Astoria asked suspiciously.
Zabini ignored her and after determining that she was done with her food, he covered up the remainder of the bread, cheese and ham. Deftly, he took their empty teacups to the sink and washed them before placing them back, “There’s a spare room upstairs that you can use.”
Astoria knew that whatever issue he had with Malfoy wouldn’t be resolved overnight and she would much rather keep out of it. Swallowing hard, she slipped off the stool and felt her head spinning a bit as weariness gripped her, “…Thank you.”
“I’ll bring your things up for you.” Zabini said calmly after he’d put the food away and had grabbed her Hogwarts trunk. Slowly, he began to lead her out of the kitchen and she followed him weakly through the foyer and then towards the winding staircase and as they ascended, her eyes flicked over his form.
Zabini was just as tall as Malfoy was and Astoria asked while running her eyes uncomfortably down the expanse of his back. He still wore his coat and she had a strange image of him standing near that fountain, looking up at the moon and a flush spread into her cheeks because it was a rather beautiful image in her mind, “Do you play Quidditch Zabini?”
“I do actually.” Zabini said with a trace of surprise. Astoria continued to stare as they walked; her head swimming and before she could ask him, he said. “I play Keeper. Does anyone in your family play?” he asked.
Astoria was reluctant to divulge much but she nodded a bit and flicked her eyes over his shoulders. They were broad and she wondered how she hadn’t noticed this before and a wild blush stirred over her face, like flower petals, “Scorpious played Seeker and my…father played Beater. Emily and I didn’t get the genes but our mum played reserve Keeper.”
Zabini seemed to find that interesting but he didn’t say anything to that, only hummed in his throat and she swallowed hard. Briefly, her eyes flicked downward and he asked casually, “Looking at my butt, Greengrass?”
Astoria spluttered indignantly even though she had been. “No, I was not!” she snapped. Zabini chuckled and put a little swish in his hips that had her laughing into her hands, “stop that! It’s not right at all!”
Zabini only stopped the strange action as they made it to the top of the stairs. “You know, Greengrass, you should take a bit more humor out of life.” Astoria rolled her eyes, beet red.
“I laugh,” Astoria clipped.
Zabini smirked a bit, obviously knowing what had her so embarrassed before he started leading her down a hallway. There were many rooms here and Astoria heard him explain, “Mother used to host quite a few parties when I was young but stopped after her last husband died.”
Astoria had heard rumors that his mother was a murderess but she didn’t know if they were true and given what her own family did, she hardly cared. There was no way that anyone could choose who they were related to, “She doesn’t host anymore?”
“No. She sleazes to various other parties instead,” Zabini said nastily before stopping at a door that looked as if it hadn’t been opened in a while, “you may want to open the window but it should be comfortable enough.”
Astoria stared at the door and knew that this was the start of her being dependent on her family and dependent on someone else. Someone that she may or may not be able to trust, “What about the house-elves or servants?” she asked now, dread going over her.
Zabini thought about this for a moment or two before he answered with a stiff shrug. “There are none. Our budget doesn’t cover for such extravagances any longer,” Astoria was surprised by this but he didn’t elaborate on anything, “I run the household myself and because my mother is indisposed, it may take most of my time so you may not see me often during the day.”
Astoria was stunned by this and she couldn’t imagine being stuck in this large mansion on her own, taking care of responsibilities that were far too advanced for her. “You must be very stressed,” she said to him. There was a moment where he looked as if he might say something but he said nothing, “I won’t bother you during the day. I don’t want to impose.”
“You’re not imposing. You’re my guest and I’ll treat you kindly.” Zabini replied calmly, his dark eyes lost in other, not so pleasant thoughts.
Astoria heard the certainty in his voice and recoiled a bit but he opened the door absently and allowed her to go inside. The room was smaller than the one she’d had at home and there was an aged quality to it but the bed looked comfortable, “You really don’t have to do this.”
Zabini stepped in the doorway and set her trunk down inside and when she turned to look back at him, he stood politely back. “I don’t but I am, Greengrass.” He said firmly and he also advised, “And don’t try to run from me, I find it tiresome to walk around the estate.”
Astoria wondered if he would drag her by her hair but she doubted his, he would find that very rude indeed. She had no intention of leaving though, there was nowhere else for her to go after all and she swallowed nervously, knowing that her heart was hammering, “I’m not going anywhere.”
“That’s very nice to know.” Zabini replied calmly and she quirked her brow at him curiously but said nothing as he explained. “There’s a bathroom in your room and I’ll be making breakfast by eight and dinner is promptly served at six,”
“There’ll be nothing left with the way you eat.” Astoria said dryly and he laughed at this truth before she asked, “do you do all the shopping here?” Zabini nodded. “That has to be a burden on you.”
Zabini looked warily at her, as if sniffing for something more but when he detected nothing else, he nodded in agreement. “Mother is a foolish woman, Greengrass. And she loves to shop far too often but because no one else wants to be bothered with her, it all falls on my shoulders.”
Astoria couldn’t imagine having such a life and she wondered bleakly if her own home life had really been so terrible. Her mother ran the house chores promptly and her father took care of their Galleons and while they weren’t rich and she had no idea what he did with the money they did get from clients…she had never had to really worry for much. “I’ll take some of the burden from you.”
“That’s unnecessary. You’re my guest and that would be asking for far too much.” Zabini said sternly and Astoria felt a bit of irritation, she had to repay him somehow. “Lunch is at noon, Greengrass and I’ll handle all of your laundry. I’m very eager to see what sort of panties you wear.”
Instantly, Astoria wanted to hit him and she cried embarrassingly. “You’re not doing my laundry! And my panties are none of your business!” her cheeks were flaming and he roared with laughter, finding this very amusing. “You’re so annoying!”
Zabini laughed at her for a while longer before conceding to her wishes as he raised his palms to fend her off. “You’re practically foaming at the mouth. Do you want to know what sort of underwear I have on?” Astoria shook her head firmly. “I didn’t think so…” he sighed sadly and her lips almost twitched.
Astoria was silent for a moment and Zabini found nothing odd about staring at her, his eyes flicking over her. She turned redder and redder and his lips twitched and the sight irritated her, she wasn’t sure if he would drive her mad before they went back to Hogwarts, “Why not come inside? You’re irritating me!” she cried, unable to stand it any longer.
Zabini apparently had been waiting for that and he shook his head. “It’s rude to enter a woman’s bedroom at night. Especially when you’re not married.” He explained as she stared at him in confusion, as Scorpious had often just trampled into her bedroom to talk and complain to her, Emily right behind him.
A pang settled into her chest at the thought of them but she shook it away and hoped that they weren’t too worried for her. Scorpious of course would be tearing apart the world at this exact moment but Emily would most likely think that it had been her fault…she was probably crying, “…W-well that makes sense.” She said distractedly to Zabini.
“I really won’t molest you in your sleep, so rest assured.” Zabini said lightly and Astoria sent him a dry stare that had his lips twitching even as she blushed. “Unless…?” he asked in a low purr.
“No,” Astoria snapped firmly and he roared with laughter before bowing his head and making his way back out into the hall. She went after him and said weakly, “goodnight…I suppose.”
Zabini flinched a bit but he turned and made a graceful bow at her that stupidly caused her heart to pound severely. Astoria was more than aware that her cheeks were searing red, “And to you, Ms. Greengrass.” He said in reply before turning and leaving her there, gawping after him.
After she wandered into the room again, her cheeks still hot, Astoria assessed the room and saw that it was very nice despite it being old. The carpet was worn down a bit but the lavender wallpaper and the cream duvet were expensive and so far above her that she almost didn’t dare sit on the bed’s surface but walked over to her Hogwarts trunk.
With a bit of a pang, her hands grappled with it before she unlocked it to check with Aradelle had packed for her and inside she found a small case that held her wand. “Thank you Aradelle.” She said sadly.
Her house-elf would be worried sick for her but Astoria wondered if her family would harm her and knew that Emily and Scorpious wouldn’t allow it. They loved her very much and her mother would be aghast at the discovery of a dead house-elf on the carpet but her father…
Astoria shook that away and the fear that gripped her to rummage through the trunk. There were clothes, her Muggle novels that she had sworn Aradelle never to speak a word about and some of the family variety.
There were quite a few of them neatly stacked underneath her clothes and Astoria picked these up and found her eyes going over books that were outlawed in most of the Wizarding world, “A Guide to Defeating your Enemies” she read brokenly.
These disgusting books were filled with detailed descriptions on the foulest potions, the most evil defensive spells. Scorpious and Emily knew them all and Astoria knew that both of them were very accomplished at the Cruciatus Curse and while she felt ill thinking about it herself, there might come a time when she would have to use it.
There was no telling what her father would do to get her back and Scorpious would start out slowly with Zabini’s body until he was begging to be killed and Astoria felt a wave of terror.
He was so kind.
Suspicious and odd but very kind because he hadn’t needed to allow her to stay here and Astoria picked out something to sleep in, some toiletries and towels and decided that she would spend the next day making the room more comfortable.
After leaving her wand out and taking out a Muggle novel about having too much pride and too much prejudice, she closed her trunk and managed to drag it across the room and under her bed.
Putting the book on the bed, Astoria looked around until she spotted a worn white door that probably led to the bathroom and she walked over and opened it to see nothing but white marble and a deep sunken tub.
It was a very beautiful bathroom but there was an aged quality to it and she worried if it would be bold enough to actually bathe in it. Zabini’s home was so much different form her own and she frowned at the thought of him shouldering so much responsibility on his own while his mother was ill and obviously in need of more help.
Astoria knew more than she would ever know that he hated his mother for whatever reason and that this siblings whom she assumed was a woman had never done much for him either and that angered her.
Emily had always been there for her when she’d needed her and while she was a bit flighty and flirtatious, Astoria had always known that she would do whatever she could for her, no matter if it were illegal or not.
Deciding that she would take a risk and clean the tub, Astoria walked over and ran a bit of water inside and used a moldy old wash towel hanging over the rim to scrub away the caked mildew and grime.
The Zabini Estate seemed to be failing rather severely and she worked furiously on the tub, thinking about how dangerous this would be and how soon she would be able to get herself together.
She hated the thought of Zabini buying her things…offering her money but there was nowhere else to go and until she could find out something to do that would elevate her position, there was nothing more foolish than leaving.
Astoria felt a choking sensation going over her but after she finally cleaned and rinsed out the tub, she was more than relieved to see that it was sparkling, almost brand new and she had to commend herself.
Back at Hogwarts in her personal dorm, she magically cleaned everything herself. But there was something rather nice about scrubbing by hand and even though her fingers ached and her nails were chipped, she could smile.
The smile didn’t last but Astoria ran some hot water, grabbed her wash towel and a bottle of soap that had been from Emily the last time that they’d been together for Christmas.
Clients usually came in with various degrees of foulness on the holidays so they rarely saw each other as both of her siblings and father were out on their assignments but that day there had been none.
Emily had given her this bottle of soap that was a special mixture that she’d made herself and Astoria loved it as it smelt exactly like her white and red roses that had grown outside in their garden.
A tear threatened to form but after a moment she carefully stripped down and added the liquid soap into the tub. Its color was a pretty pale pink and Astoria sank gratefully into the tub before going underneath the surface and holding her breath for a quick moment before coming back up for air and scrubbing her hair.
The rings that she’d worn to the Malfoy’s party were still on each finger but something in her left them there…even while she’d been so upset, something in her had defied at taking something else from home off.
Astoria hated that she missed home after all but spent a long time scrubbing, sitting and lathering herself before rinsing off and stepping out of the tub and letting the water out.
Trying to fight back the annoying wave of homesickness that was threatening to grip her, she dried herself and the wet mass of her hair and dressed hurriedly, desperate for things to fade away for a moment.
After gathering her things, Astoria went back into the bedroom and set her dirty clothes on a rickety nightstand and made a mental note to ask Zabini where the laundry room was before he took it upon himself to look at her panties.
For some reason, a smile started to curve into her mouth as she braided her hair back, unaware that her heart was pounding and that her cheeks were very pink while she replayed their odd conversations. When one last memory flickered away, Astoria picked up her book, flipped back the duvet and sheets and climbed into the bed.
Softness beyond anything that was even remotely describable met her body and for a moment she wondered if she were laying in a cloud before shaking that thought away.
Everything about this room was expensive…ancient and so beyond her understanding. Wondering what she had gotten herself into and worried for the week to come, Astoria read for a while before setting her book on the windowsill and falling into a troubled, yet oddly comforting sleep.
And...there you go! Now, you all will have to wait for the next chapter on this, I'm going to dedicate some more to "Albus Potter and the Dark Lord's Prince" for a minute. The people who read that story wait far too long for chapters! Gah!