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A Force Of Wills by Gabriella Hunter

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Format: Novel
Chapters: 25
Word Count: 191,487
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong violence, Scenes of a sexual nature, Substance abuse, Sensitive topic/issue/theme, Spoilers

Genres: Horror/Dark, Mystery, Romance
Characters: Lucius, Narcissa, Voldemort, Blaise (M), Draco, Goyle Jr., Pansy, Crabbe Jr., OC, OtherCanon
Pairings: Draco/Pansy, Harry/Ginny, Lucius/Narcissa, OC/OC, Other Pairing

First Published: 01/19/2012
Last Chapter: 11/01/2014
Last Updated: 11/01/2014

Summary:



Gorgeous Banner by Vendetta @TDA
Astoria Greengrass comes from a family of very secretive and very dangerous people and those secrets torment and bind her to a life she has never wanted. When the fate of her family is threatened, she must suddenly put aside her own hatred by trusting a pureblood while becoming prey for another.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Chapter 16: Loyalty
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A/N: Sorry that I left you guys on a cliffhanger with the last chapter but here's this fresh one! Hope you enjoy it! Much love from Gabbie.

 

Darkness stayed with her for a long time afterward, sights and sounds fading away as pain overwhelmed and forced her body to retreat. Astoria was only aware of one small thing...the feel of Blaise's fingers tightening on hers before they were snatched away and then nothing more.

Strange shapes danced crazily behind her eyelids, eventually becoming dreams made up of her hopes, fears and sadness. The real terror of waking paled in comparison to the nightmares that she couldn't seem to run from, each one seemingly worse than the last. Most of them seemed to replay the hysteria that she had felt for Blaise and then the terror of seeing him with a knife pressed against his throat, her brother's face morphing into some ghoulish caricature.

Some part of her wanted to forget that that had happened, that Scorpious had hurt Blaise and had hurt her....even in her dreams, she could smell their blood mixing. It was enough to keep the nightmares coming, of seeing her father and brother dragging Blaise away from her, ignoring his screams and her efforts to get to him.

The dreams hardly cared for her feelings. She would be forced to watch as her brother and father dragged Blaise into a dark hole in some forest...some disgusting place where various other assignments rested.

Amidst his screams and Astoria's own heart shattering, they would slash his throat or crack his neck. And in one nightmare, dump his pain riddled body into a den of snakes as she was helpless to stop it, knowing that if she could have, she would have done everything possible to save him.

Witnessing Blaise's one fear in the flesh, even in a dream had made her pale as the snakes had slithered over him.“...No...” that one word seemed to mean nothing as she spoke them. With Blaise's screams ringing in her ears, her body numb and stiff, she would watch, terror stricken as her brother proceeded to bury him alive...in the dark without her.

In other nightmares, she merely stood alone in a vast and empty place that was so achingly cold that the tips of her fingers were blue. Shivers would quack her body and the air would become so cold that she thought that her entire body would crumble and shatter but before it did, the dream would fade.

It felt like days and days as she lingered there in her mind but it may have only been a night as she found herself opening her eyes...feeling nothing but pain. “Oh, thank goodness. I thought the worst!” the cry was one she'd heard before but only made her wince in agony.

Astoria turned her head away from it, noticing how plump her grave was before blearily noting it was a pillow. Strange, but she would have preferred to have been thrown right into a hole instead of being forced to act as if all was well when things had fallen apart, “...Blaise?” she asked groggily, the fog of dreams still hovering behind her eyes and making it hard to think. If she had missed her chance to save him this one last time then she would never forgive herself, “where...?”

“Stori, thank goodness.” Emily said throatily, her voice constricted with sobs as she turned her head. The sound of her voice after these last few days should have delighted her but Astoria felt nothing but guilt and a weak sense of relief that she hadn't awakened to find their father glaring down at her. “Love, you're home,”

Astoria felt little bristles of terror go down her back at the fact that she was, indeed home. She could feel the weak slant of sunlight from the window by her bed, where outside, her rose garden would be wilting and dying until Spring, “....home.” She whispered thickly, her tongue feeling twice its normal size.

Emily's face was blurred and wavered with color as she burst into tears, the shock of it all stunning them both. “Oh, shsh, Stori.” Her sister soothed brokenly at the sight of her sobs, not understanding that this was the last place on earth that she would want to be, “darling, you're all right now. There's no need to be afraid.”

The flash of Blaise's blood adorning Scorpious's face clouded her vision and Astoria tried to sit up, overwhelmed by the horror of it all. Emily gasped in alarm, helping her up into a comfortable enough position before leaning back, taking out her wand from the folds of her gown and magically plumping her pillows.

They situated themselves behind her back, the familiar smell of her sheets and covers making her stomach boil with revulsion and pity for her predicament. “Emily,” Astoria cried, unthinkingly reaching out for her sister.

Emily reacted immediately by pulling her carefully into her embrace and pressing her tear stained face into her chest. The scent of sweet floral perfume and the warmth of her skin was enough to have Astoria sobbing all the harder and despite what she had done, she had missed her sister every day.

The comfort her sister was giving her was worth more than anything and Astoria found herself nearly becoming undone. Emily shushed her with a tad more force, her tone a little firm, “Stori, you're all right now. You have no idea how scared I was for you, I thought that I'd never see you again,” she whispered.

Astoria couldn't even imagine what she had done to her family but she had worried about her mother and sister the most. She'd feared the reactions of her father and Scorpious and she'd already been given a taste of her brother's madness and it made her want to huddle into her sister's arms all the more. “I'm sorry, I didn't mean to, I just...”

Emily brushed tender little kisses on the top of her head, murmuring sweet little nonsense words. Oddly, they made Astoria feel better and she soon quieted, soaking up the warmth of her sister's arms and closing her eyes against the pain that she knew would only be a short while off. “Everything is all right now, dear.”

“Where's Mum?” Astoria mumbled hesitantly. She knew that she had hurt her mother more than she would have wanted to and longed to see her and try to make out some sort of apology. “....is she all right?”

Emily was quiet for a moment or two as she continued giving kisses to the top of her head. After a while, she informed her, “Mum barely left your side this entire time, she was exhausted. I made her go lie down about an hour ago but I'll make sure that she knows you're awake.” There was a hint of a smile in her voice, “you're in for one vicious tongue lashing.”

Astoria's mind desperately tried to find relief in this but she couldn't help but feel a bolt of unease. For the longest, she had expected to find her father looming somewhere in the dark corners of her room but there was no sign of him and the house was so eerily quiet, “Where's...?”

Emily, sensing the trouble it took for her to ask, said grimly above her. “Daddy is taking care of a few things in his office downstairs and Scorpious...” Astoria flinched at the sound of their brother's name and her sister instinctively pulled her closer. It would do little good when she would see Scorpious in the flesh again, “he's not here, Stori. He...he left a while after bringing you here to take care of something.”

Astoria wondered what exactly he was doing at this moment and wondered if he were in Knockturn Alley. A nasty feeling welled up in her throat and she knew in her heart that he was probably paying off the men that had nearly killed Blaise, “Dad let him leave?” she whispered.

“It was...business related. We're not allowed to leave the house after...after what you did. Daddy has been in the worst possible temper,” Emily murmured and Astoria thought she felt her sister shake a little. “Stori, what happened that night? When you left, the last person you had talked to had been Daddy.”

Astoria flinched and her sister pulled her closer but she struggled free from her, even though she didn't want to talk about it. That night at the Malfoy's party had been filled with far too much deceit and sick possibilities and she shuddered at the long ago feeling of Malfoy's mouth on her. “...You wouldn't believe me.” She murmured thickly as Emily wiped her cheeks gently.

“Stori, with what I've been told to do and what I've seen in this house, why would you even think that?” Emily asked with a wry twist to her mouth. “You were upset with me that night, and I didn't think you would want to talk so I left you alone. I feel that if I had tried to talk to you, you wouldn't have ran away.”

Astoria felt a bolt of guilt go through her as she recalled what she had said to her sister that night. “I don't want to be like you!” she'd cried and it had and was true, she didn't want to be a killer in any regard, “Emily, I...”

The thickness in her voice seemed to alarm her sister somewhat and she said soothingly. “Its all right, Stori, you don't have to get yourself into a fit.” Emily's voice was gentle and calm and she allowed it to flow over her pleasantly, wondering when she would hear it again.

Astoria avoided her sister's eyes for a second before fixing her violet eyes on her green ones. The two of them were such a strange contrast, with Emily being so blonde while her hair was brown, her skin perhaps not as clear, her face not as delicate, “Dad...he wanted me to do something that I couldn't. I'm sorry Emily about what I said, I really am,” she whispered throatily.

Emily nodded a little, accepting her apology easier than she would have thought and Astoria realized that it had paled in comparison to her worry. Her sister pulled her back into her arms, running her hand down her back and allowing Astoria to rest her head on her shoulder with a sigh, “Its all right, dear. Its all right.”

The words were nearly enough to have her crying all over again but Astoria somehow managed not to. There were so many things that she would have wanted to tell her sister but the words felt clogged in her chest but one thing that was more important loomed to the surface and she started, “Is Blaise—”

“Hm?” Emily asked softly, having been lost in her own thoughts. She was pulled back, meeting her sister's green eyes and being relieved that she could do it without flinching. “What is it? Are you worried about your shoulder?”

Astoria blinked in surprise, the memories rushing back to her painfully. The sight of Scorpious coming towards her with his wand aimed at her throat would haunt her nightmares forever, “....I...Scorpious...” she started lamely, putting her hand onto where the wound would be.

The soft crunch of her nightgown and the feel of stiff bandages were the only things that she felt. Emily smoothed her fingers over the neckline of her nightgown with a gentle finger, “You don't have to say it.” Her sister whispered gently, the strain in her eyes more noticeable. “Mum and I cleaned you up really well and stopped the bleeding.”

Astoria fingered the bandages a little with numb fingers. Because of the interrogations that her brother and father sometimes did in the house, they needed a heavy arsenal of medical potions and supplies, “Why the bandages?” she asked, dreading the thought of having some sort of gruesome scar.

Emily's eyes drifted away from her and she glanced down at her lap, where Astoria was still bundled heavily in blankets. “You may still be a bit sore and I didn't want to risk your wound opening itself back up.”

There was only the faintest of stings from the wound, now that Astoria was able to properly assess herself. Little twinges and scrapes were gone, perhaps thanks to dittany and she swallowed hard, knowing that Blaise's condition was far worse, “Emily, tell me what happened to Blai—”

Emily interrupted her, shaking of Astoria's words as if they hadn't been spoken at all and she felt a burst of grief and fear. “You might have the tiniest of scars, I'm afraid but they give a person character you know. Scorpious has so many on his back from duels that...that he's like a warrior.”

Or a monster. Astoria forced herself not to say. “....I don't mind having a scar,” she whispered to her sister, who was looking slightly mad with relief.

Emily nodded, briefly touching the bandaged spot. Astoria could feel the slight tremor on her fingertips, “That's...that's good, Stori. Scorpious used a very nasty curse on you, I couldn't believe that he had hurt you the way that he had, I was so scared that the bleeding wouldn't stop...” she murmured brokenly.

Gently, Astoria took her sister's hand and squeezed it, feeling the slightest of trembles either from her own or Emily's, she couldn't be sure. “I don't think Scorpious was in his right mind,”

“Is anyone in this family ever in their right mind?” Emily asked with a shaky laugh and Astoria joined weakly in. “I don't care what was going on but he should have never hurt you the way he did, I lit into him for it but he wasn't exactly listening.”

Astoria could only imagine how her brother had been and the image of him, cheeks spotted with Blaise's blood made every inch of her go numb. “Scorpious...he was going to let those men kill Blaise. Emily, where is he?” she demanded softly, though she was terrified of the answer.

Emily bit softly on her lower lip for a moment before shaking her head, sending blonde tendrils flying. Astoria felt her fingers tightening around hers and she gasped in pain and withdrew them, “Stori, can't we simply put this...this issue with Zabini from our minds? You're here with us now, you're safe and Daddy—”

“I don't care about Dad, he's the reason why I left in the first place!” Astoria cried hoarsely and her sister's green eyes widened in surprise. “Emily, please. Blaise is my friend, I have to know if he's all right.”

Emily once again looked away from her, jaw stiffening in the way that their mother's did when she was desperate to hold in her emotions. Astoria bowed her head a little before looking bleakly around her old room, taking in the pale blue walls, the sturdy furniture and feeling, oddly, as if she were in a stranger's house.

That time at the Zabini Estate had left her far too soft, far too comfortable and some part of her longed to go back there. Some foolish little part demanded that she go back there to her room and sleep in her bed with the knowledge that she was safe.

And that she would see Blaise again, happy to argue and talk and wonder about the day's ahead without the threat of her family suffocating them. “What happened to you, Stori? What happened after you left here?” Emily asked, sounding as if she were both hurt and betrayed.

As much as her sister enjoyed the frilly lifestyle of a pureblood and hoped to be married someday, she had moments of remembering her place. They weren't meant to disobey this family but Astoria felt just the slightest tingle of defiance, “Nothing happened to me, I haven't...I haven't changed.” Astoria denied.

Emily looked very disbelieving and she felt as if she had slapped her across the face a little. A place in her heart seemed to die, “You were never like this before, you never would have risked everything for a pureblood.”

“I had no choice,” Astoria said fiercely. She would risk everything again and again if it meant that Blaise would be alive and safe and that was something that she didn't think her family would understand.

It had already destroyed Scorpious and she didn't think it would take very long for Emily to turn against her if their father demanded her to. “None of us do.” Her sister said after a long moment, a bitter glow entering into the depths of her eyes, “we were thinking that Zabini had convinced you somehow to come stay with him.”

“Why would you—”

Emily interrupted her easily, her tone becoming oddly amused and crisp all at once. Astoria felt a guilty flush creeping into her cheeks, “I had sensed that you and he had some equal interest but not to the extent that you would...leave.” She said uncomfortably, her tone disappointed, “after a moment, I thought that something had happened between you two at the Malfoy's party that night,”

Astoria jerked her head in denial, knowing that, because of Malfoy, that various pureblood families had the wrong idea about her and Blaise. “It wasn't anything like that,”

Emily swallowed hard a little, though there was a doubtful cast to her face that made Astoria wary. She forced her hands into fists, hoping that this would be over with quickly so she could see to Blaise, if he were even still alive, “I thought that a harmless flirtation would be fine to get young Malfoy off your scent.”

“Emily, I wasn't playing any sort of games. Especially not where Malfoy is concerned,” Astoria said tightly, feeling a cold chill at the sound of his name coming from her stiff lips. Somehow, she had the strangest feeling that his thoughts were on her and it made her distinctly uneasy, “there are no games with him.”

The words caused her sister's eyes to widen. She had never thought that there was anything particularly special about Malfoy, though she had teased that he was quite good looking to be such a slimy git...but Astoria's issue with him went past childish dislike.

There was nothing but hate in her veins. Emily took a second to reply and when she did, Astoria wondered if she had heard a word she'd said, “...I can understand that, somewhat, Stori but I never would have guessed that you would go for Zabini. He wasn't exactly the sort that would have been Mum and Daddy's first choice.”

Astoria knew that her parents would never have picked Blaise out of a sea of worthy pureblood boys for her. His family might have some standing but he had blatantly represented himself as a traitor in a time where showing that sort of opposition to the Dark Lord's regime could mean death.

It was why she admired him so deeply, Blaise was, in his own way fearless. It would have taken a person half mad to actually take in a strange girl into their home and yet he had shown her nothing but kindness and friendship.

While there were some things that she would like answered in regards to what he had been thinking to let her stay with him, Astoria was grateful to know him. “No, it wasn't like that. Blaise just gave me his address, he had wanted to write before we went back to school,” she said.

Emily appeared quite startled and pressed her hand briefly over her mouth, looking somewhat younger than her age. “Really? I hadn't thought that you would accept having a pureblood being so close to you.” She said, tucking a lock of her hair behind her ear and making Astoria tun her face away.

Gently, she pushed her sister's hand back. That night had been so strange and that little joy she had gotten from Blaise still made her heart throb, “Not at first. But after a while I thought that it would be nice, I've never had a friend. I was never allowed.” She ended bitterly.

An uncomfortable look passed over Emily's face for a second but she could say nothing to the truth. That lonely little dorm in the east wing of Hogwarts was for her alone, as her siblings hadn't needed to have one and Astoria had always suspected that their father trusted them more.

She, he had said more than once, was too “willful” to be left to her own devices and he would never let the business suffer for even one of her mistakes. The threat of one of his enemies hurting her to get to him had been only a minor concern, though her mother had been manipulated into allowing it.

“I've always felt that that was extremely unfair of Daddy.” Emily said after taking in a few deep breaths but Astoria didn't want to point out to her how she hadn't said or done much about it.

Astoria ignored the comment, knowing that that dorm would perhaps be her only sanctuary when she returned to Hogwarts. “...Don't trouble yourself with thinking about that right now, Emily,” she said bitingly.

Emily's mouth tightened a little at her tone but she eventually asked, sounding as if the question had been nagging painfully at her. “But what could Daddy have asked you to do that would make you leave us, Stori? There have been so many times that I thought that I couldn't take it any longer but I never could bring myself to run.”

It was true though. The two of them had seen horrible things in this house and she swallowed roughly before deciding that her sister had a right to know, that she would somehow understand more than anyone, “He...he wanted me to do something that I couldn't.” Astoria whispered distantly.

Emily was silent, taking in the pale cast to her cheeks and the fury lurking in her violet eyes. “What was it, Stori? Did it...did it have something to do with young Malfoy?” she asked, hesitant and a looking a little afraid to know the truth.

Astoria gave a nod, feeling the back of her eyes stinging. “He noticed that Malfoy was interested in me and didn't want him getting in the way while he tried to ruin his father. He thought that I...he thought that I could distract him,” she said, putting great emphasis on the words and giving her sister a pleading look. “I couldn't do it, Emily, you know that I have never...I couldn't, you have to understand.”

Emily's face had turned a tad pale, making her hair turn into a halo of sorts before it settled into a resigned mask. The whole world seemed to grow still, “...I know that you don't want to be involved in the business the way Scorpious and I are, I know that but, Stori—you shouldn't have,” she said in a panicked way that made Astoria's heart lurch with barely concealed horror.

“Dad wanted me to keep Draco Malfoy distracted, Emily. How was I supposed to react to something like that?” Astoria demanded in both disbelief and deepest hurt, her voice turning sharp and so cold that Emily appeared to flinch in response.

Emily faltered for words, mouth falling open and then closing as she desperately tried to find the right words. When she found them, Astoria couldn't help but stiffen in horror, knowing that this had to be some sort torture of the worst kind, “Why would he...? I was under the impression that you wouldn't be involved in the family business until—”

“How can you say that?!” Astoria cried painfully, knowing that she could have broken down into more sobs if she had had anymore tears to shed. Her shock at her sister's words were enough to have her heart shattering, “I don't want to be involved in the family business, Emily! You know this!”

There was a brief flickering of what looked like pity in the depths of her sister's eyes before she seemed to crack, her eyes flashing like polished emeralds. “I know you, Stori, I do!” her words were filled with anguish, “But what else is there? Do you think that Daddy is going to let you go, even after you're married to do as you please?”

Astoria felt tears threatening to form despite herself and she tried to fight them away but they were flooding in her eyes. “If I can't marry someone I love, I don't want to be married to anyone! I won't let him control me for the rest of my life!” she practically screamed. “I want my own!”

Emily reeled away from her as if she had said the most blasphemous words known to mankind. They had fought and argued about this before but never with this sort of intensity and it made it hard to draw breath even as some bit of relief bloomed in her chest, though it was short lived. “Stori, we don't live in that sort of world! I want the best for you, I do, but you have to look at the fact that he controls everything,”

There was a very stiff and ugly silence after the words and Astoria found herself growing numb. It started from the tips of her toes all the way up to the center of her chest, where her heart threatened to stop beating entirely and she thought that it would be impossible to breathe again.

Emily's words still hung in the air, like poison and the expression on her face as she'd said them had torn her to pieces and Astoria knew that she could never be placed right. “....Please leave, Emily. I can't...I don't want to talk about anything anymore.” Astoria murmured, her tone frightening them both.

“I...Stori, I'm sorry, I didn't mean—” Emily started frantically, trying to touch her face but Astoria smacked her hands away. The sharp crack echoed in the air, causing them both to wince a little, though neither of them dared to show it, “you just don't understand the way this family works and its...its better to do as your told than wind up....”

The words fluttered away into nothing but Astoria knew that she would be lucky if she didn't become just a memory to her siblings and brother. Why they had allowed her to stay alive this long confounded and terrified her, “...What do you all intend to do with me now that I'm back home?” she found herself demanding, not even bothering to mask the hate on her face.

Emily appeared as if she had been struck and her lower lip began to tremble just slightly. Moisture developed in the corners of her green eyes and Astoria allowed herself to breathe shallowly, “I..I can't say, Stori. I don't know what Daddy plans to do but I would be careful if I were you, think of me and mum before you make another rash decision. We can't stand to lose you forever.”

Astoria didn't nod or acknowledge the words but something in her seemed to give way under the pressure. If she weren't careful, if she didn't do as her father said, no matter how it disgusted her, Blaise could be killed and as Emily slipped off the bed and awkwardly ran a gentle hand over her face, she asked again. “Where is he, Emily? Where is Blaise?”

Emily's touch was withdrawn and Astoria watched as her sister smoothed down her gown, erasing invisible wrinkles. “In Leo's old room.” The mention of their dead older brother caused them both to look away from one another and while Astoria had never known him, she did understand the hole his absence had caused. “I'll take you to Zabini but please keep in mind that I shouldn't be doing this...but I love you too much to see you so unhappy.”

….

Leo's old room was shadowy and dark, reminding Astoria of the edges of dreams before they faded away. There were imprints of a boy here and there as she looked around, feeling as if she were trespassing on someone's private sanctuary and knew that Emily would never again step inside.

For as long as she could remember, Leo's room had been locked. More than once her parents had told her to stay away and to give him peace but there was more than enough peace for the dead.

Astoria only knew bits and pieces about this brother from Scorpious and Emily, and even they kept their descriptions brief. The fact that Leo had died long before she had come around making a hollow hole.

There were no pictures of him that she had ever seen and no funny stories that she could imagine him in. Astoria knew, despite what she was willing to think about, that the way Leo had died still left its tainted mark on everyone, including herself.

It smelt like dust, age and lingering sadness in his room. Astoria found herself marveling slightly at the sight of what had been Leo, the brother that she would never, ever know and feeling some place in her chest fill up.

Strangely, everything was a lot messier than she would have thought. Clothes were hanging on the backs of chairs, threadbare and covered in dust and to her delight, she saw an entire shelf of books. Leo had liked to read and even from where she stood, she could see that some of the bindings were bent and wrinkled, as if he had picked them up and read them over and over again.

Unlike the colors in her room, which were bright, the colors here were very dark and almost foreboding. Though Leo had pasted very colorful posters of his favorite Wizarding bands and the latest pretty girl, the heavy colors were smothering. There was a hint of Slytherin pride on the walls in the form of their House banner, but Leo had tacked them up sloppily that it might not have mattered.

Astoria felt a smile tugging the corners of her mouth as she continued to look around, seeing the debris of parchment and ink on a withered desk. It was covered in nothing but junk and old Zonko's products and she had a feeling that perhaps here had been where Leo had spent most of his time.

“Daddy and Mum had the worst possible fight about this, allowing Zabini in Leo's room and it was a good thing that Scorpious had already left.” Emily informed her as Astoria took her eyes away from their dead brother's desk reluctantly, “he would have had such a fit.”

Astoria inhaled slowly, her heart having constricted at the mention of Scorpious and his rage. The sight of him would make her cower but if there was one thing her family fed on, it was fear and she refused to give it to them, “I'm sure he was. He was so intent on having Blaise killed earlier.”

Emily's mouth tightened a little from the harshness in her voice but she pushed a lock of her hair behind her ear. She was still hovering at the threshold, almost as if she were afraid to come in any further, “He was only supposed to beat him up, Daddy had given him specific instructions not to kill him. But in hindsight, I can't blame him.”

Astoria shot her a revolted glare that she felt wasn't justified with all the things that she had seen her family do and say. Losing Blaise had nearly reduced her to nothing and the blame she felt only made it so much worse, “Even so, what he did was wrong.”

Emily's expression was like smooth, polished marble. “Perhaps but you were able to see what you had done, weren't you?” Astoria turned away, gritting her teeth and feeling a painful wave engulf her. “Mum didn't want to allow Zabini in Leo's room either but Daddy eventually convinced her that if she didn't want a pureblood in her own bed that there was no other choice but to give the only available room away,”

Astoria moved towards the bed, spotting it neatly tucked in the corner of the room with freshly done sheets and coverlet. There was the shape of a figure nestled underneath the blankets and on the nightstand, she could see what looked like a bottle of Skelegrow and a basin of water. “I'm sure that she wasn't the one to do all this,” she said while moving forward as quickly as she could.

Emily had hesitated for a few minutes but slowly ventured further into the room, her steps a little stiff. Astoria glanced over her shoulder to see that her sister was avoiding looking at Leo's things, “It was me and Aradelle.” At the sound of their house-elf's name, Astoria smiled, joy breaking out along her face but her sister's was filled with what looked like pity.

Astoria recalled Scorpious's words about how the house-elf had been tortured for information. It made her so ill to think of her in pain, and all because of what she had done, “Where is she? I need to speak to her and say how sorry I am.”

Emily raised her hand to stop her from going any further, looking so much like their mother that Astoria foolishly quieted. “Aradelle is tending to the kitchen and it would be wise not to call on her now,” when she opened her mouth to protest, her sister informed uncomfortably. “Daddy interrogated her about where you were and she hasn't been the same.”

Astoria felt nothing but guilt and hatred for herself at what she had done and worried for the state of the creature. They had had Aradelle for years and the fact that their father had hurt her when he had known her since he had been a boy made bile rise in the center of her stomach. “I told her not to tell, its my fault—is she dead? Did Dad kill her?”

Emily shook her head firmly, her hands smoothing down the invisible wrinkles in her dress. A pained look crossed her features before she said tightly, “No, but he may as well have,” at Astoria's outraged look, her sister snapped, “you have to think about everyone that you've hurt!”

“I did think of everyone.” Astoria said back just as sharply, knowing that the words weren't necessarily true. She had been protecting herself and Emily's face turned cold and hard, the expression one that frightened her, “...but I had to do what I felt was right for me.”

Emily made a nasty sound at the words and there was the ugliest of silences and she felt herself withdrawing. “Yes, I can see that Stori. I can see that this family means absolutely nothing to you and that you've ruined...you've ruined everything that we've built so far.” Astoria's eyes widened with hurt but her sister demanded icily. “And all for what?”

For Blaise. Astoria turned away from her sister, not wanting her to see the defensive look on her face and what else might be lurking there beneath it all, “....How is he?” she asked crisply, coming closer to the bed.

Emily followed and surprised her by taking out her wand from the depths of her dress's pocket and giving it a wave. A delicate little chair appeared and landed with a thunk near Astoria, “I suppose you'll want to be comfortable.” Her sister said dryly, watching as she smoothed her dress before sitting down, “He'll live.”

The words caused a shaky sigh of relief to escape her lips as she watched the covers rising and falling over Blaise's chest. “I was so worried that I wouldn't see him again.” She murmured, feeling the sting of tears in her eyes.

“You should be more concerned for yourself,” Emily tutted disapprovingly as she walked over to the nightstand. She conjured a towel and dipped it into the basin of water with a tense face, “your friend should be the least of your worries, Stori.”

A bit of fear threatened to rise but she pushed it back, already knowing that she would face the worst possible consequences. “I don't care, as long as he's all right. He doesn't deserve this, Emily. He had nothing to do with anything that I've stupidly gotten him into,” Astoria said softly, regret making her voice thick.

Emily made a sound as if she would like to reprimand her and point out just what she had done wrong but she stayed silent. Astoria stole a quick glance at her and watched as she wrung the towel over the basin and bent over Blaise's head, “He was running a slight fever but should be all right now.”

Astoria wanted to be the one to tend to him but her sister ignored her and dabbed Blaise's forehead, cheeks and throat. Her sister would have more experience with this than she after dealing with Scorpious's wounds for years, “Has he said anything?” she asked anxiously.

Emily hesitated for the shortest of minutes before shaking her head. “No..no, he hasn't said a word.” She said while moving back and laying the towel over the rim of the basin with a curled lip, “I can't say that I was taken to him, Stori.”

Of course she wouldn't be when she probably still thought that Blaise had manipulated her into leaving them. It was too hard for her sister to understand and believe that she had ran away on her own and she allowed her denial to swell, thinking that it might be the only relief she would get today. “I wouldn't expect you to be, I just...can't thank you enough for helping him. You didn't have to.”

“Daddy told me and Aradelle to, I had no choice.” Emily said quietly, though she took in her face with a sadly fond expression. “I shouldn't even be doing this but I can't stand seeing you so upset, you and Scorpious are my only weaknesses.”

The words were tenderly said and Astoria sent her sister a soft smile, though Emily looked away. Knowing that the moment was broken, she turned to look at Blaise more carefully, unable to see the damage that Scorpious's men had done to his face without the proper lighting. Though he was sleeping, she could see that it was difficult for him and that he was in a lot of pain, “Thank you Emily.”

There was a sound from her sister then and Astoria looked up in alarm to catch her sister wiping hastily at her eyes. She started to rise but Emily motioned for her to stay seated, a crack in her voice as she said, “I'll give you a moment with him.”

“Emily,” Astoria started worriedly. Blinking rapidly, Emily wiped at her eyes once more, her lips scrunching in an attempt to hold in her tears. The pain that she was causing her sister and the eventual sight of her mother would cause her to nearly break, “I really am sorry, I'll take responsibility for everything, I won't lie or pretend as if I didn't know what I did.”

That only seemed to cause Emily more pain and she stunned Astoria by closing the slight distance between them and bending down. For the most splendid of minutes, she had her sister's arms around her again, though it was a hug that was filled with worry, blame and fear, “I wish you would lie, Stori. I can't imagine losing you and for us, please just stay.”

Astoria couldn't nod or murmur her agreement, too frightened by her sister's fear to do much else but hold her. She wasn't sure what their father would have in store for her but she wouldn't run away again, there was too much blame on her shoulders as it was and too many nightmares to keep her awake. “Don't worry, Emily. I'll make everything right, I swear that I will.”

Emily didn't respond, only held her tighter before releasing her. There was such a wounded look on her face, as if she had been crushed from the inside out and Astoria had to look away, overcome with grief at her actions, “I'll be right outside. You can't talk long but...I'll try to give you more time before I have to tell Mum and Daddy that you're up.”

Astoria felt Blaise's fingers squeezing hers just then and her heart, despite itself, felt a painful dose of relief. He was alive and she had ruined everything but he was alive and after this...after this she would never be able to speak to him again and she felt one solitary tear trail down her cheek.

The grief on Emily's face and the danger and punishment to come made it difficult to breathe and she knew that there was nothing worse than this. So much pain and blame had been caused because of her and the only way to make things right was to admit to the truth, “I understand, you don't have to explain.” Astoria said gently to her sister.

Emily nodded and turned away away from her swiftly, crossing the expanse of Leo's room in quick strides. The sadness in the room only seemed to intensify and Astoria barely heard the door click after she was gone, but she could hear her crying softly in the hall, the sound ripping her to pieces. This was her fault.

Everything was and all for what?

Astoria squeezed Blaise's hand reflexively, taking in the warmth his skin gave the icy chill of her own. It had been worth everything to laugh and smile with the hope of having her own life but in the process she had ruined and destroyed the foundation of her family. Heat flared from his hand onto hers and she smiled faintly knowing that, despite it all that being with him for these few days had been the most precious thing.

Thanks for reading! Hope to see you back again next time!
 


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