The darkness of shadow and silence encased him. He feared intensely that one day he would surrender to it; that she would soon decide she did not want him, did not need him the way he did her. It was a fear that plagued him, burrowed deep in the darkest crevices of his mind.
But he refused to accept this possibility. He refused to believe that she could choose someone else.
An image of her burned against his retina, and the pain pressed deeper still, threatening to take him with it, to bury him within the depths of himself.
The salt of tears burned his eyes as a large warm hand raised to encase his head, lest he cave to the fear. He had loved her from afar, tragically. Before she had ever known his name, hers had been his life’s breath, the substance of his very being.
And now she knew. Now she would decide.
A dim shaft of light fell upon pale skin, reflecting brightly in the otherwise darkened space. Slender hands gripped the edges of the ornate mahogany dresser which sat primly at the front of the room. The young woman seated there spared no glances for her opulent surroundings. This room spoke of wealth and of renown.
But she was unconcerned. Other matters plagued her in that moment.
Instead, Astoria gazed at the reflection in her gilt-framed mirror. Her skin was flushed naturally beneath her rouge, her eyes over-bright. The nervousness and desperate anticipation of this night had caused the blood to sing in her veins.
The adrenaline had her hands shaking slightly as she reached for a heavy silver comb. She was stalling unnecessarily now, but she felt she had to calm her nerves for fear that she would betray herself; unpin her innermost thoughts, the most impossible of her desires.
Her heart beat a rhythmical tattoo as she thought of him. He would be there this night. Glancing down at the narrow gold band wrapped around her finger, Astoria knew she should curb such thoughts.
But she could not.
A knock at the door called her attention to the small, odd looking creature, which looked in earnest at her.
‘Yes?’ she asked in her coldest tones, the ones she had acquired through study of her husband’s own behaviour if nothing else.
The creature ducked its head, ‘Master is wanting you in the drawing room, Mistress. The guests is already arriving.’
Flushing slightly, the young woman dismissed the house elf and collected herself before leaving the sanctuary of her room. Her husband always did this when they had guests over. He would summon her to meet him in the drawing room, so that they could enter the party together.
He was all about appearances, Draco Malfoy
It was something she had grown to hate; his need to constantly make her a spectacle with him. She had never told him how intensely she disliked it. She never told him anything like that; things she knew he did not want to hear.
It was a perfectly cultivated façade. Her world, however contrived it may have been, was no different to most women of her situation. As the youngest daughter of a very eligible pureblood family, she had always been intended to marry young, to marry well.
And it was all she had ever wanted, all she had ever known.
When Astoria’s parents had told her of whom they wished for her to marry, she had scarcely managed to contain her delight, her pride. Draco Malfoy had been only two years ahead of her at school, and as all the girls had been, she was enamoured of him.
Not that she had ever spoken a word to him in that time. Draco Malfoy was recognisable in face and name; introductions had never been required. And yet he had always seemed a little out of her reach.
When she had married him, she had been sure that she would be happy. Her life, her world was beautiful; because he was.
The young woman sighed, smoothing the delicate fabric of her dress robes before entering the warmly glowing room that was her husband’s favourite domain. He was standing with his back to her; his pale hair gleamed in the firelight in a way that had once caused her heart to jump. Now it only ached with despair and guilt, though she had committed no crime. Not yet.
Inevitable, the word resonated in her mind, uttered in the rich velvet tones that caused her knees to weaken and her pulse to beat erratically.
Shaking free of the thoughts that made her skin tingle, she closed the door softly behind her, but it was enough to call the man, her husband’s attention to her.
‘Astoria,’ he said the words heavily, as though they held a question she had not yet been asked.
He was beautiful in that perfectly shiny way that had always made her think him a vision, not real, not hers. And even though she knew in reality that he was in name and on paper, she had never felt a claim on him.
Because her heart belonged to another.
‘Yes?’ she felt slightly anxious under the weight of his gaze upon her. Did he know? How could he?
‘Don’t look so anxious, my love. We have guests.’
She smiled falsely, in that way she knew had always satisfied him. He did not really want to know the cause of her anxiety, and she could never tell him. No matter how much she might kid herself that she wanted to.
The piano forte’s haunting melody stirred her blood as she entered the vast room in which they always hosted her husband’s soirees. She smiled her icy smile and graciously welcomed the droves of hovering men and women.
Their words were only a buzz in her ears, yet they provided no distraction.
For he was there now.
She had felt the energy charge in the room the moment he had entered it. She felt assured that no matter how she aged, or how her mind forgot, her body would always remember this feeling and associate it with him.
He was walking steadily toward them now, but Draco had yet to notice. She kept her gaze down as he came closer, but she could feel the sheer intensity of his eyes boring into her, searing her skin, as they always had.
‘Ah… Zabini, so glad you could join us…’ Her husband’s usual drawl had her looking up into the eyes of her tormentor, her saviour.
The two men shook hands, though his gaze never once left hers.
‘I wouldn’t have missed it for the world…’
Her heart stopped. ‘Blaise,’ she said the name shakily as she forced a weak smile to grace her lips. Astoria glanced frantically at her husband only to see that he was already distracted.
‘Astoria,’ he whispered back in his velvet voice. He made no move to kiss her cheek, but chose instead to hold his stance and greedily absorb every inch of her face.
She knew that look, for it mirrored her own.
The urge to reach out and touch the smooth burnt umber of his skin tore at her insides. His full lip curved slightly upward in a knowing expression that she knew uncomfortably well. Every cell and fibre of her being wanted to stroke his hair and taste his mouth.
But she could not. She could not.
Thinking these things and acting them out were entirely different crimes altogether. She could safeguard her thoughts to torture herself later, but her actions would harm more than just herself.
Blaise had watched closely the play of her emotions, evident by the subtle clenching of his jaw. He moved minutely closer to whisper in her ear. Inevitable.
Her heart betrayed her as it always had with him, and the pulsing blood caused her hands to shake intolerably. She made to say something, anything to shield herself from the gaze that left her so exposed, when Draco interrupted.
‘Your sister is here, let’s go say hello shall we?’ The subtly conveyed demand was not new to her; it was the strange gleam in his cold eyes that made her start.
‘Of course,’ she whispered, not daring to look back as she was led away from the source of her turmoil.
When they were safely out of earshot, she spoke again.
‘Daphne told me she would not be coming this evening…’
‘Oh I know that.’ He paused. ‘I just didn’t like the way Zabini was looking at you.’ His piercing gaze bored into hers and she stopped breathing, certain that her ragged attempts to draw breath would give her away.
‘You know he never thought much of your having married me,’ she whispered, looking anywhere but into her husband’s eyes. ‘He never hid that fact.’
‘No,’ said Draco, ‘he never did, did he?’
Silence drew the moment immeasurably long, and when she gazed up at him through the shielding veil of her lashes, she was startled by the fury that lingered beneath the tightly wound surface.
‘I will not have you near him, Astoria. I won’t.’ He looked fiercely at her and she nodded in weakened shock at the force of the command.
Unclenching his jaw; a clear sign of the return of his composure, he turned to walk away. ‘I must return to our guests now. I suggest you sit down for a minute or two – you’re looking rather pale.’ And with that he slipped from the room.
His departure signalled the shattering of her fragile composure. Her hands shook, her bones rattled. But she would not let the shock of his words manifest into tears. She did not cry over things like this. She could not afford to.
Minutes passed and she decided to leave in haste. Her husband would gladly make her excuses, for fear that should she remain she might breakdown in public and that simply would not do.
As she cut through the swath of milling people, a pleasant smile frozen upon her flushed red lips, she instinctively looked around the room for him.
But his hair, as black as night, and his russet skin so distinctive could not been seen anywhere. Berating herself, Astoria tried in vain to block the visions of him that hovered dangerously on the periphery of her thoughts. He was her beacon and he would be her downfall if she did not find a way to forget.
Blaise Zabini had always moved in the same circles as Astoria, and indeed, her husband. There were not many pure blood lines still existing in polite society, and as such they tended to stick together.
Despite this she had never really acknowledged him until she was shortly out of Hogwarts; her youth and beauty held aloft for eligible bachelors to seek her hand.
She had first seen him at an event much like the one she now tried to escape. She had been standing with her elder sister, Daphne, and their mother who at the time had been issuing strict instructions to her daughters to smile coyly and flick their hair.
And Astoria had done a wonderful job.
She had been content to indulge in the many admiring glances, when her eyes had fallen upon the striking man, not so much older than herself. He was beautiful, but not the way her future husband was, not that refined and delicate sort of beauty. He had an exotic, rich beauty; the kind that made the room feel warm and the air thick and luscious.
But he had not sent her an admiring glance. He had merely scrutinised her in a way she was not accustomed to; and she had felt vulnerable beneath that heavy, disparaging gaze.
That was the first night that Draco had approached her; the very beginning of their courtship.
She had been deliciously excited at his attentions, but had not forgotten the darkly disturbing gaze of Blaise Zabini. She should have realised that night just how much his gazes would ruin her.
Astoria had not been exaggerating when she reminded Draco of his friend’s disapproval of their engagement. And she had been offended at the time, not reading his malcontent for what it was.
She had thought him rude and judgemental. Ignorant. Yet she was the one who had been ignorant.
Despite many months of curious glances, they had never properly spoken until a week before her wedding. He had cornered her whilst Draco was having a conference in his study. She had been startled when he approached her; the strength of feeling in his gaze and the unusual edginess had disconcerted her.
‘You cannot marry him.’ He had said, with no preface to the statement.
‘What?!’ She had spluttered in equal parts bewilderment and indignation.
He had stared intensely at her the way he had that first night. But she read something else in his gaze on that occasion – frustration.
‘I don’t understand… I don’t - ’
‘He does not love you, and you’ll get tired of it all soon enough.’
She had frozen in utter shock before reaching her hand out to slap him. She had regretted the action immediately, when his intense gaze flashed with obsidian.
‘You have no idea what you’re talking about. You do not know me, you have never even spoken to me before now!’
‘I know you, Astoria. I know you.’ He had spoken the words with such a quiet confidence that she had been entirely uncertain of who she was in that moment.
He had been right of course.
She had married Draco, and whilst she did not regret her present situation, she could not say she was happy.
He had been right, because somehow he did know her. She need say very little, and yet he seemed to read her in a way her own husband never could. In a way no one ever had.
Inevitable, he had described it as. In two years she had yet to succumb, and yet she knew he was right about that too. Because she loved him, impossibly, she loved him.
Closing her eyes and breathing slowly as she passed through the main entryway, the young woman was headed for her personal rooms. Despite being married to Draco, she had a private sitting area, just as he did, where only she would venture.
Pushing through the door way, she was startled to see him there. He seemed so large in that small room. And yet not wrong.
Even so, she was alarmed at his presence there.
‘What are you doing here? What if Draco - ’
‘Oh I wouldn’t worry about your husband, his guests are fawning and as long as that continues, he will not feel the need to look for you.’ She flinched at his incisive and uncomfortably accurate remark.
‘It doesn’t matter. You should not be here, he knows. I’m sure of it.’
He stood then, and moved closer to her.
‘He knows what, Astoria? What is there to know?’ His probing gaze left her drowning.
‘You know what I mean,’ she whispered.
‘I do,’ he said not a metre before her, ‘I also know that nothing has happened that he should be concerned about. His world is, as yet, untarnished; but mine, mine is out of reach.’ He brushed a warm finger along her jaw, as though to illustrate his point.
Her eyes closed briefly and her voice cracked, ‘but he is my husband.’
‘And yet you do not love him…’ He tilted her head, raising her gaze to his.
‘No,’ she whispered in response, ‘I do not.’
‘And you will never leave him…’
‘No.’ Her words were merely a breath, but he caught them.
‘Then all you have is this. Is it enough for you? Because it will never be enough for me.’
Her heart paused.
‘You must know that if we do this, there is no going back. You are mine, no matter that he thinks he owns you. You. Are. Mine.’
She nodded weakly, her breathing ragged as her skin lit up to his touch, the taste of his breath washed over her. Raising shaking palms to the wall of his chest, she felt his heart beat in response to hers. Warmth vibrated from his very being to thaw the icy chill of her hands.
Her eyes were raised to meet his, so much higher than her own, his very being overwhelmed her and yet she felt a certain protection in his presence. Though there was no greater danger than he.
As his head lowered to hers, she marvelled at his features, their beauty gave her pause even still. The line of his nose and the strength of his jaw were offset only by the full curve of his lips, which as they touched hers wrought feelings she had never known. Except in dreams; when tripping between broken realities and desires that were desperate.
An illusory world that was entirely her own. And she understood now, just how much she needed it.