Chapter 7 : An Unexpected Puppeteer
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I nod, silent, at Lucian’s confirmation of Pansy’s statement. Children. They want children. Of the pair, Lucian is the only one that sincerely wants to be a parent; Pansy is merely letting him wander down his own dream road.
Just as Pansy opens her mouth again, I stand. I will not hear more of this. I need to get away – I must not participate in her game any further. “I am going to make sure that Astoria is alright,” I say. “Inky, our house elf, should have dinner ready soon. Feel free to look around, but if Inky complains of you –” I shoot Pansy what I hope is a stern look – “I will have you both thrown out of the house.”
A heavy silence spreads itself over the room, dripping from the ceiling and down the walls, as the three of us look at one another, all of us waiting for someone to move. I am first; I head for Astoria’s bedroom door, open it on squeaking, burdened hinges, and close it as softly as I can manage behind me.
I am alone now, except for the quiet, sleeping breaths of Astoria. Breathing deeply, I lean back against the door and slide my fingers across the dark, cold wood. The doors in this house are heavy; they are not like those stupid hollow doors that Muggles have in their houses. One cannot hear through the doors in this house. These are made from the finest ebony that could be found in Africa – my father had them imported as a gift for my mother, who has always adored the warmth that wood can bring out in the architecture of even the coldest home. Of course, when one imports an incredibly dark hardwood, one will most likely find that it does not add much warmth to a home.
My mother. I sigh. I have inherited so many things from her – her love of wood, her tendency to play with fire, her secret hatred of the Dark Lord. Even her hidden feisty side once belonged to me, though now it is much less obvious.
But I never inherited her loathing of the Greengrasses, not even in part.
When we were children, Astoria and I were “married”, as all children are when they are that age. We even had a little playhouse to call our own. By the time I told my mother that I had been “married” to Astoria for a few days, I was already telling the other children that I was too old for little kid games. I told Astoria that I wanted a divorce – I’d expected her to at least cry at this horrendous news. Instead, a fire had burned bright in her eyes. She grabbed the front of my shirt, shoved me out of the playhouse in to the driving rain, and shut the door behind me. Only, of course, to open it and tell me that we were divorced before slamming it once more in my face.
I can feel a tired smirk tugging at the corner of my mouth.
I had been the one to cry that day.
Nearby, Astoria groans in her sleep. I look up from studying the whorls in the floor – I can never tell what kind of wood it is – to cast a glance in her direction. She has rolled to face the window; light is shining dimly through the sheer silver and emerald curtains. Her raven-colored hair is wrapped in tangles about her shoulders, and her pale skin shocking with hair that dark laid against it. I know that her eyes are of the iciest blue and that, when they are open, they display her state of mind to the world.
Tiptoeing as quietly as is possible on a hardwood floor with dress shoes, I make my way to the opposite side of the room. I can see her face, now – her eyelids flutter, frantic, as she dreams. I hope her dreams are good ones; from here, I cannot tell what she is dreaming about.
I turn away from her. I am watching her sleep – that seems like an invasion of her privacy, now that she has her own room in my house. It should be wrong for me to be in here.
Looking out the window, I can see that autumn arrived while I was imprisoned. All of Inky’s herb plants have been removed from the outside garden; she probably potted them and put them in the greenhouse, like she has every year for the past… long while.
To our credit, after Dobby was set free, we waited a while before finding another elf. And it took a while to find one that was willing to work for us, the infamous Malfoys. Inky actually showed up before we even knew she was looking for work. She is much more pleasant than Dobby was – always smiley and happy and glad to serve. She can keep her mouth shut and heart open at the same time. And she never tries to beat herself for doing something wrong, either – but that’s mostly due to the face that I am fairly sure that she has done nothing wrong while she has been here. In any case, we are glad to have her here, and Mother loves her to bits.
Outside, a peacock – one of those ridiculous albino ones that my father loved so much – struts over to the birdbath and takes a sip of the rainwater that has gathered there, drinking his share.
Without warning, there is a gasp and a frenzied rustling of sheets behind me. Whipping around, I find that Astoria is sitting bolt upright in her bed, breathing like she has just run a marathon. Her cerulean eyes are wide and bright with terror, and staring at me. I cannot help but approach her warily. “Astoria?”
Closing her eyes, she takes a long, hissing breath inward before opening them again. They are calmer now, less fearful and more focused. She reaches toward me and takes my hand; she pulls me toward her and I am forced to sit on the edge of the bed or risk toppling into her lap. “Draco?” she whispers. Her voice shakes and her spare hand brushes the hair away from my eyes. Her delicate hand is cold and clammy, and I notice that her fingernails are bitten down to the quick.
"I’m here, Tori,” I murmur back. If I can coax her into telling me what is wrong, maybe I can fix it.
“It was horrifying, Draco,” she blurts, still in low, hoarse tones. Like she once did when she was five and I was seven, she balls her hands in the fabric of my shirt – only this time, she pulls me closer and weeps into my chest rather than pushing me away.
Something is wrong. Something is very, very wrong. Astoria does not cry often – granted, she has had quite a few reasons to cry in the last few days, but Astoria, as a general rule, cries less often than I do.
“What, Astoria?” I ask. “What did you see?”
She shakes her head, leaving wet streaks on my shirt. “Please, I don’t want to tell you, my love.”
At that, she looks up at me. Eyes streaming and red, she exhales, wipes her eyes with the back of her hand, and looks me some more, as if she is weighing how much I can bear.
Whatever it is, I can take it, as long as Astoria doesn’t have to hold up a great burden by herself – last time that happened, she almost died.
“Tell me, please. It could be important. I do not want you to feel threatened or sad here.”
Astoria takes a shuddering breath. “I don’t even know whether it will happen. It was just a nightmare,” she says, false confidence lacing her voice.
“Well, let us hope it was just a nightmare.”
A breathless little laugh escapes her lips, and suddenly I am as breathless as she seems, heart a-thunder. I look away from her, wondering what is wrong with me.
She takes the opportunity of my turned head to whisper eight simple words in my ear, her warm breath tickling my skin.
I sit back and look at her just to stare at her. It would be an understatement to say that, with her words, Astoria has shocked me. In truth, she has utterly bewildered, astonished, puzzled, and, perhaps, even addled my brains a bit.
Silently, I pray to whatever divine body is out there to save us, help us, or at least improve any chances we have.
Pansy Parkinson and Lucian Bole are not here to visit temporarily. My mother will allow them to stay for however long they would like.
This game that Pansy is playing is more complicated than just Lucian and me – Astoria is a part of it as well.
And, just above the stage, my mother laughs as she is pulling all of the strings.
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