You walk by the second floor hallway and stop at the top of the stairs. Did you just see something out of the corner of your eye? One of those dark flitting movements that you’re never too sure if it was your hair or if it was someone actually standing there. Your hand rests lightly on the banister, your body half-turned to go back. You’re standing there for ten seconds, a little longer than necessary to make such a simple decision and yet, for some reason, you hesitate and you’re afraid. You can feel the goose bumps on your skin, see the little hairs of the back of your hand standing up, feel a prickling on the back of your neck.
You tell yourself that it’s probably nothing and remind yourself that you’re always a little jumpy when Draco’s out of town, especially now that you’re pregnant with your first child. Your growing motherly instinct is making itself known. Feeling a little more rational and steady on your feet, you step away from the staircase and glance down the hallway. Seeing that there’s nothing there, you expel the breath you just realized you were holding. All that’s there is a quiet arrangement of flowers on an antique side table.
You write it off as nothing more than the nerves of being the only one in the house aside from house elves. But you can’t shake off that feeling of foreboding nor ignore the fingers of anxiety that trace your spine.
That night when you go to sleep alone in your bed, you’re aware of how large it feels without your husband there. You smile at your silliness because even with him absent, you stick to one side of the mattress, leaving room for him to slip in should he come home two days early. You’re turned on your side, the closest you’ll get to sleeping on your stomach for the next six months. You’re absently rubbing the slight swell of your belly, seeking to comfort and receive comfort from your daughter. You’re facing the window, the curtains parted enough for you to see the black sky, faint glimmers of starlight making their way to earth. There is no moon tonight.
You always have a hard time sleeping without his extra warmth, add to that the fact that your baby is making herself known in small fits against the walls of her confinement. So you catch your sleep in light dozes off and on throughout the night. It’s during one of these moments when you’re not quite asleep but you’re also not really awake when you sense someone is watching you.
You’re eyes snap open and you dare not move, whether it’s out of fear or because you don’t want to scare them away, you’re not entirely sure. By this time, you’ve turned on your side facing the wall, your back towards the window and that presence is behind you, standing at the edge of the bed. You think you can hear someone’s breathing or maybe it’s just the slight breeze of the night moving through the curtains. In any case, you’re certain you don’t want to turn around but know you have to if only just to verify that there’s no one there.
Your hand creeps under your pillow, your fingers closing around the reassuring wood of your wand, your thumb moving over the grain, gaining confidence. As quick as you can, you sit up and twist to face the silent yet oppressive presence.
And find you are about to cast a spell at your own reflection in the glass of your window.
A little deflated but with your adrenaline still running high, you just look at yourself, your wide green eyes set in a too pale face. With your blood pounding through your veins, you think you can almost hear echoes in the room of your heartbeat as it slams against your chest. The only breathing you hear now is your own, the short pants indicative of having just jogged a short distance though you haven’t moved a foot out of your bed. Other than that, it is silent in this room and in your house.
Glancing at the clock near your door, you see it’s 3am. It’s too late and too early for any house elves to be about. You scoot yourself back until you’re sitting up against the headboard, a pillow wedged under your back for support, your wand still clutched in your right hand. You’re wide awake and not going to sleep anytime soon.
But you do manage to drift off.
You wake up to warm sunlight filtering through your eyelids and an almost-silent double knock on your door. You slowly straighten your neck, wincing a little at the pain from the awkwardness of a night spent sleeping sitting up. Calling out for the house elf to enter, the door opens and Fainie walks in with your breakfast tray. You smile at her, a strange feeling of relief running through you, a feeling of just having survived some trying experience when all that had been there were your own silly fears and imaginings.
Your morning passes by without further incident, your imagination seeming to be keeping itself in check. In the light of the day and the routine of keeping house, you can have a laugh at your own expense for your flights of fancy. You’re happy to relegate the happenings of the day before to the back of your mind.
That is until shortly after lunch when you find yourself in the baby’s room, surrounded by the pretty pink and white wallpaper and little girl toys that she will be able to enjoy and hear a crash outside the door. You freeze mid folding a small dress, your hands suddenly feeling damp and your heart going double time. There’s no further movement outside and you try to tell yourself it’s just one of the house elves, having just dropped something in the corridor.
But then no one comes to the open doorway to apologize for disturbing the mistress, like any good house elf would do. One minute passes and then another and you realize that the hallway outside is carpeted. If someone were to drop something and break it, it would’ve had to be thrown to the ground with significant force.
You drop the dress and move slowly towards the door, pulling your wand out of your pocket. “Fainie? Krecklin?” you call out, hoping one of them will answer and you can again laugh at yourself for being ridiculous. There is no reply.
You’re now in front of the doorway and you’re cursing at yourself for being afraid to move further than that. You can’t hear anything else except your own movements. You step into the hallway, wand held out in front of you, a Stunning spell ready to spring from your lips but you only see the broken remnants of one of the family antiques lying against the wall. There is no one else around.
You step closer to the wall and see the marks of impact against it where the vase must’ve been thrown. The silence around you is almost too much, the air feeling thick and solid and closing in around you. You don’t know what’s happening to you but you just know that you have to get out of the house, you can’t be there any longer by yourself. You want to surround yourself with family and feel safe and that everything is going to be okay.
Your decision made you run into your room next door and grab the first coat you can find before flying down the stairs to the front door, pulling your arms through the sleeves as you go. You want to be out of here and you want to be able to breathe clean, fresh air and feel the sun on your face and just have certainty that you’re going to be alive the next day because somehow in the past twenty-four hours, you’ve lost that certainty, that right to life that every human being has. You don’t care any longer that it might just be your hormones or loneliness or delusions. You just want to escape.
Your hand closes around the handle of the front door and you’re almost elated at the thought of freedom but as you pull, the door refuses to budge. Cold dread floods through you, replacing the blood in your veins with ice. You feel almost frozen, your hand on the handle, your eyes widened in shock. Moving as if fighting against a tide, you pull one more time, with your full weight behind it, hoping that the door is just stuck and feeling that hope die as the door very much doesn’t move.
You can feel tears rising from the back of your throat and you’re swallowing against it, knowing just knowing deep inside that you aren’t safe right now and that someone is in the house who wants you dead. You raise your wand to unlock, blast, set fire to the door when it flies out of your grasp and an unwitting scream is torn from your throat. You whip around almost hoping that this silent monster, this invisible ghost will reveal themselves but again, there is nothing and no one but you and your gasping breaths and the loud and innate reaction to run.
You take off down the hallway, coat flying behind you, your dress slapping against the back of your legs, animal instinct taking over. The back door, the back door, the back door, runs through your head, a mantra of safety, a spell of its own. Bursting through the swinging kitchen doors, you stop short, your hands fly to your mouth, an unsuccessful attempt to stifle the crying gasp that escapes. Your two loyal house elves are dead, their blood running green against the white tile.
Pushing down the bile that rises as your stomach turns over, you step over them to get to the back door, only to find that it, too, is sealed shut. Your hands are shaking and you’re crying now. You weren’t built for war and battle and overriding fear. You were too young to fight in the War and there has been no need since to learn how to wage a battle.
You hear a sound in the hallway, your sobs coming to an abrupt stop as all attention is pulled to that footstep, the click-clack of a shoe against hard floor. You listen and listen hard, with rapt attention that teachers all over the world wish they were able to get from their students. The footsteps are moving away, down the hall towards the front of the house. You don’t understand. You know they know that you are here, in the kitchen so why aren’t they coming here to get you?
The answer comes on its own: they want you to follow them out, to go where they want you to be.
And all at once you’re angry. Who the hell is doing this to you? You’ve never been antagonistic enough to make enemies and you don’t have many friends. You’ve kept to yourself and your family and Merlin knows, no one is concerned with them anymore. Not these days. Your baby is being threatened and you won’t stand for it.
But your thoughts move past that and that awful desperation and mind-numbing terror is back. You’re standing in your kitchen wandless, with two dead house elves and no one else in the house other than the killer. And you have no way out. And the tears start running again and you can’t hold back your cries and all you want to do is collapse on the floor and sob and hope that this malicious entity will go away. But you know that that isn’t going to happen.
The kitchen door abruptly swings open and you jump against the backdoor, your shoulder blades hitting the wood. No one is in the doorway, you can only see the darkened hallway and the empty foyer. “Astoria,” a voice calls out, filling the corridor in front of you. You can’t tell if it’s male or female and though it says your name with sweetness, there’s an edge of negativity to it, like the bitter bite of vinegar.
You hate the feeling of helplessness. You hate the certainty that you’re going to die and you’re baby will never have the opportunity to live. You hate whoever is out there, playing sick games and obviously enjoying it. You hate the fact that you know you’re going to have to step out of the kitchen and face death, that it’s the only direction you can go in.
You run your hands over your face, erasing as much as possible the tears you’ve just cried because if you’re going to be murdered, you’ll do it as a Malfoy and you’re not going to let some criminal have the satisfaction of seeing you broken.
You move out of the kitchen and down the hallway, your steps deliberate and measured but your heart is beating like a loud drum in your head, the tempo erratic. Your throat is dry and you can’t seem to swallow. Your eyes flit back and forth and up and down, looking, looking, looking for this devil, this demon come to punish you for your sins.
As you step past the stairs and into the foyer, a movement from the shadowed doorway of the living room catches your attention, a strange déjà vu of the incident that started this madness the day before. But this time, when you do look in that direction, the shadow becomes a solidity and you can finally see who has been your tormentor.
The dark eyes gleam with violent satisfaction, framed by dark hair in a severe cut, accenting the angles and planes that make up her hard face. “Pansy,” you breathe, because honestly there isn’t enough air in your lungs to do much else. Her smile tightens and her arm twitches, bringing your attention to her wand being held in her hand, fingers moving eagerly over it.
“You little slut,” she greets you back, hatred wrapped around every word and you flinch back, unable to help yourself. You’re not used to such loathing. Her eyes move down to your belly, your pregnant condition obvious, and her top lip curls in disgust.
“Merlin, how I hate you. Panting after Draco, stealing him away, impregnating yourself.” Her wand moves to punctuate each point she makes, your eyes are locked onto it, never knowing which flick is going to be your doom.
“I’ve watched and I’ve waited and I’ve planned. Oh, how I’ve planned!” She laughs, throws her head back and laughs, white teeth sparkling in the dim lighting and your skin crawls because behind that laugh, that sound normally associated with joy and happiness, has a tinge of evil and insanity and vindictiveness.
“When I found out you were breeding,” she throws the word out with a sneer, “I wanted you to die. But I also wanted you to suffer. So I waited. And now you will know what I have saved just for you.” Her smile is too pleased for your liking.
You realize you’ve been staring at her in morbid fascination as she’s delivered her monologue and you remember that you left your bedroom window open a crack this morning and that maybe, just maybe, you could escape through it. You slowly edge towards the stairs, not knowing how in the world you’ll ever make it up all of them before she kills you but willing to try all the same, for the sake of your daughter at least. She’s too wrapped up in her gloating to pay too much attention to you.
Or so you thought. As you turn on your heel and make a break for the stairs, you hear Pansy’s angry scream behind you and a spell cast that completely horrifies you.
You’re not even aware of screaming in agony and falling down the stairs to the foyer, hitting your side hard enough to bruise. All you can focus upon is the ripping and tearing and gnashing at your insides, in your womb, your baby being ripped away from you, blood everywhere and you’re sobbing and crying and your throat is raw and you’re trying to stop it, stop it, stop it, and the wood is turning red and your hands are red and all you see is red. And she’s laughing, just laughing and you don’t care anymore if she kills you, your baby is dead and you lose control and dive into insanity.
The only thing you’re aware of is leaping at the bitch and wanting her blood on your hands, wanting to see it mix with the blood of your child’s. You’re screaming like a wounded animal and you’re frenzied and completely caught up in your blood lust. And you’re barely aware of her collapsing beneath you, her eyes suddenly rolling up into her head as your hands are around her throat, your nails are digging into her skin and you’re shaking her, shaking, shaking, shaking, wanting her dead.
And the last thing you remember is a pair of black polished boots and the sound of a familiar and loved voice, anguished, calling your name as the dark pit of despair and madness engulfs you.
“Astoria. Astoria!” You wake up with a gasp, your heart racing for some unnamed reason as you sit up in bed and take in your surroundings. You’re in your bedroom and Draco’s warm hands are grasping your shoulders, steadying you in the face of a nightmare which even now, the shadows of which are slipping off and back into the recesses of your mind. All you remember of it is screaming and maniacal laughter.
Draco’s gray eyes are on yours, concern in them as he puts his hand on your face, a tender and familiar gesture that makes you smile. Assured, he smiles back and drops his hand, grabbing yours from your lap and pulling you up out of bed. “Come on, sleepyhead! My parents are downstairs and we wanted to go out for breakfast, remember?”
There’s a stutter in your thoughts because you don’t really remember those plans but you smile and nod and head to the bathroom to get ready. It feels a little wrong that Draco is here, as if he isn’t supposed to be but you don’t pay attention to it as you shower and change. While you’re soaping yourself, your hand moves over your flat stomach and you pause, feeling like something isn’t quite how it’s supposed to be but not knowing what it is exactly.
Once you’re dressed, Draco puts down the newspaper he was reading in the chair near the window and stands up to go with you downstairs. He takes your hand with a loving smile and you lean into him, happy that he is here, as always. As you step into the hallway, your footsteps hesitate and your head turns to the door next to your bedroom. It’s shut and something rattles in the back of your mind, like the heavy chains of a prisoner. And then Draco is speaking about what he wants to eat for breakfast and leads you down the stairs where his parents are waiting. Distracted, your thoughts move away from investigating that clatter of scrambled images and words.
You stumble a bit on the stairs and his arms are already there steadying you. You wonder why you feel weak, as if you’ve been recovering from an illness. “Look how hungry you are!” Draco laughs it off, seeming at ease but there’s an emotion in his eyes you want to define but it’s gone before you get more than a glimpse. He gives you his easy smile and you give yourself a mental shake, wondering why you’re being off this morning.
Lucius and Narcissa come out of the sitting room and you flinch back, for a moment, seeing a dark shadow come out of the same doorway. Draco’s hand tightens infinitesimally on your hip. You feel a bit blank, another life trying to imprint itself upon you and then Narcissa coughs and you come alive to greet your in-laws with kisses and hugs. As a group, you’re ushered to the front door and just as you’re leaving, you turn back to say something to Narcissa when your eye catches on a dark stain on the hardwood floor, most of it hidden beneath a rug you realize hadn’t been there before. Then Lucius’ foot shifts and the stain is covered and you look up to meet his eyes and he gives you a kind smile. You try not to think of it as strange.
As you exit your home, you have a feeling of overwhelmed relief as if it’s the first time you’ve been in out in the open air in a long time. You feel as if you’ve just escaped an impossible situation.
And you have no idea why.
Author's Note: This is my experiment in 2nd person POV. What did you think of it?
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