Chapter 1 : Monsters in the Dark
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The echo of laughter and the whisper of intimate conversation pulsed in Astoria Greengrass's mind like a haunting bell as she walked morosely back into the confines of Hogwarts. A faint blush was scattered across her pale cheeks and her mind was currently in a jumble as the heat from the summer air left her, though it took several minutes for the heat to leave her cheeks, “It must be nice.” Her voice was thick with longing as she recalled the tender scene she had loudly stumbled upon only a few minutes earlier, the encounter only emphasizing how bitterly alone she was.
Astoria had witnessed such things things before but had never seen anything so...sweet and endearing before. Although she had come across dozens of love struck couples, there had been something about this particular pair that would have made a cupid blush with embarrassment. The summer air had been heavy with tenderness and blissful passion but as she walked through the dark corridors of Hogwarts, they appeared far more empty than they ever had before, causing her chest to tighten with misery and wistfulness.
The day had been nothing but a nightmare and Astoria felt her mouth tightening stiffly as she gripped the book in her left hand with far more power than necessary. “Shouldn't you be spending your time in the library where no one can see you?” Pansy Parkinson had sneered when they had briefly crossed paths.
Parkinson was a mean-spirited, insecure bully and there were far more dangerous things that weighed on Astoria's mind, though she had responded with a cutting remark. The words had been beyond crude but her temper was something that she had never been able to control and it had been obvious that the cow hadn't expected her to say anything but Astoria had no tolerance for bullies.
It was bad enough that she lived with the constant threat of her parent's harsh criticisms and she'd held the girl's outraged stare until Parkinson had stomped off in offended rage. That was one small victory for the day but it would probably end up getting her hexed in the next few weeks if Parkinson were bent on scraping up the remainder of her pride.
Slytherin House was filled with devilish girls and it must have been delightful to bully people because of their blood status, which was something that they held in such high regard. It was something that would doom them all, “Half-blood people like Greengrass are nothing better than a mutt or a pile of mud.” Parkinson had often said to her gaggle of fools.
Astoria felt her face flushing with anger and pain, knowing that there would have been no one in her own House who would have dared to stand up for her. Blaise Zabini had lingered nearby but he had appeared disgusted by the cruel words and she had sensed that he had wanted to unleash a few of his own. Parkinson's friends had found it all quite funny but the boy had stared at her curiously, as if he were disappointed that she hadn't hexed the girl into oblivion.
“What an odd one.” She whispered to herself, frowning. Blaise Zabini had never spoken to her and had never acknowledged that she were alive but there had been something in his expression that had caused her to feel puzzled. He didn't quite seem like the rest of them, there was a certain aloofness about him that was both charming and a little strange but there was no point in dwelling on it.
All of the pureblood Slytherins were the same.
Draco Malfoy, Pansy Parkinson and the rest were like a pack of wolves, devouring the weak whenever they had a chance. Astoria had loathed them for years but her skin prickled at the thought of Malfoy...if there was one person that she hated the most, it was him. Haughty, cruel, arrogant, he was everything that she hated about pureblood society.
There was something about him that made her afraid and she had never appreciated the way he used his family's money and power to get what he wanted. “Malfoy's nothing but a stupid little brat.” Her older brother, Scorpious had said to her whenever she managed to send a letter. “Don't let him bother you. I think people like him enjoy feeling important because they know that they're nothing a spineless waste in private,” the observation was probably true and she winced slightly at his harsh words.
It was obvious that the only person Draco Malfoy deemed worthwhile was himself and she had never been so disgusted by the pureblood elite. The two of them would occasionally cross paths at very dull gatherings over the summer and despite the fact that she was a half-blood, the rest of her family were purebloods and they had been allowed to slip into the most “honored” circles.
Astoria hated every minute of it.
The dances, the balls...the soirees...they always made her feel like a plump hog at market and she knew that her parents would always hope for her to make a decent match. “They're only trying to look out for you, dear.” Her older sister, Emily would say whenever she caught her slouching. She was a radiant girl with her blonde hair and green eyes, “there's absolutely nothing wrong with smiling and being pretty for a few hours and you know...it all boils down to making the right connections.”
“That doesn't mean all of us should suffer.” Astoria had said.
Emily's eyes would become sympathetic but she had offered no comfort that day. “Stori, I know how it can feel, knowing that we can't make our own choices but going to those parties is how we survive and those connections keep us fed.” She had paused and added, “try to understand that it's something that Daddy can look forward to with his type of job,” she would remind cryptically and a sense of unease would always go down her spine.
Images of blood would flash through Astoria's mind like flimsy photographs, each one more gruesome than the last. She shook the horrible memories away, unwilling to think about her family's business for too long.
Astoria found her steps slowing and inhaled raggedly before pushing forward, though her ears pricked as she heard a footfall behind her. Panic blossomed almost immediately and she turned around only to see that the expanse of corridor was completely deserted but the air felt charged with a strange energy that made it hard to gather a decent breath, “Stori, I know that you hate this but be a good girl and do as you're told. It'll be over with before you know it,” Scorpious would tell her.
A good girl didn't loathe the life that they were forced into and Astoria knew that a good, dutiful wife would never think of using the most barbaric spells against anyone that challenged her in a fight. That sounded like a silly fantasy. Defense Against the Dark Arts was one of the classes that she had always been moderately successful with but she knew that even an experienced ex-Auror like Mad Eye Moody would cringe if he knew the type of spells she could use.
Most of them were banned for good reason and despite learning how to flay a man alive, Astoria didn't have the stomach for it but sensed that they would probably be necessary before her years at Hogwarts were over. She would be relieved when she graduated but sourly noted that at fourteen, she had quite a few trials to get through and the thought nearly had her spiraling with despair. Hogwarts was not nearly the safe haven that everyone wanted to believe and she dreaded the thought of being stuck in this drafty place for another few months.
A wave of bitterness went through her stiff body at the thought of what her father would say about such cowardice and shook her head, the loose locks of her dark brown hair trailing along her shoulders like a heavy cloud. Maximus Greengrass wasn't the sort of father that put his children before his work and he would have made her feel terrible if he caught wind of how much she hated being here, pretending that smiling was worth the effort.
Even though the thought of being stuck at Hogwarts for a little while longer made her want to scream, things wouldn't be that much different back home. It would be like trading one prison for another. She had spent the remainder of the awful day worrying over it until her head began to throb with a sense of doom so acute that she was amazed when the world was still intact.
Dinner was usually a quiet affair and Astoria didn't have any friends that would have been willing to comfort the pain and crushing anxiety away. “Not that I'm allowed to anyway.” She muttered darkly to herself as she reflected on the merry chatter of the others around her, their conversations pushing her farther and farther away. Malfoy and his group had been very animated about the upcoming Triwizard Tournament, though she had felt him stealing glances at her every so often as if he were willing to sink into the pit of her mind with brutal finesse.
Zabini had been watching him with a look of intense pity before their eyes had locked briefly, a curious little zing going through her that had had nothing at all to do with the excited chatter around them. She had felt a blush erupt over her skin before breaking the connection, “I know you're lonely but don't get involved with purebloods, Stori.” Her brother would have said. “I hate being around them. They're just a waste of time and they're nothing but pure filth.” His voice would be filled with disgust, looking as if he had been offered a plate of writhing cockroaches.
Astoria wrinkled her nose and was certain that she would have preferred the cockroaches over being around a gang of purebloods. It was ironic, considering that her siblings and parents were purebloods like so many of the people that she hated but they were a tad peculiar, they despised their own kind with an intensity that went above and beyond her own. The Greengrass family had a tendency for the bizarre but she decided to put that from her mind as well as she continued walking, recalling why she had been so flustered in the first place and feeling her cheeks go hot.
That strange sense of doom had become unbearable after dinner and when she had been certain that the castle was quiet, she had slipped out of her dorm with a book. Astoria had intended to get some peace by reading under moonlight, knowing that an hour or so to calm her thoughts had been too tempting to resist. A rare moment of peace had flooded her veins but she'd hesitated when she'd spotted a familiar couple talking passionately along the shore of the Black Lake, one of those annoying Weasley twins and a pretty black girl.
Though Astoria had desperately wanted to be anywhere else but where she'd ended up, it had been hard to ignore the love between them and despite her embarrassment, she had watched them for a long time before turning away. Seeing such a blatant show of pure romance under a pretty full moon had put her imagination into a hopeless mess, increasing her own loneliness. Astoria had seen the pair around more than once, causing trouble and she had suspected that there was more to their friendship than either of them wanted to admit, she thought the Weasley boy was awfully lucky to have found a girl that patient.
He was very loud, silly and a little childish but the girl didn't seem to mind and in fact, she appeared to balance him out rather well, which only made stumbling upon them all the more embarrassing. Had they kissed before she had arrived? It was a relief that they hadn't spotted her. Astoria was certain that she would have died on the spot if they had noticed her watching them, “You're more important than anyone else. Haven't I made that obvious?” the Weasley boy had been saying, his voice carrying over the still air.
What could that possibly feel like? Astoria doubted if she would ever have a moment like that, not with all the things that were stacked against her. “It must be really nice,” she whispered to herself and for a moment she felt the ugly sting of tears and dabbed them away before they could fall, she didn't want to make herself feel worse by crying.
Depression hung around her and the heavy Transfiguration book felt like a weight in her arms, causing her to wonder why she'd thought that it would be a good to read at all. Astoria hardly ever read Witch Weekly or other magazines and felt silly for thinking that a few complicated spells would have eased her mind. Transfiguration was a class that demanded her absolute concentration but she would be lucky if she managed to get through her OWLs next year without crumbling, Scorpious had warned her that it wouldn't be easy.
“You'll probably end up going a little crazy but that's not unusual for our family.” Scorpious had teased, though the subliminal message must have stuck with her tonight. It would have been too much of a risk to bring along one of her Muggle novels, especially when there might be someone watching—the echo of someone's heavy feet suddenly exploded in the darkness like a steady boom.
Astoria stiffened visibly and turned around sharply, her forehead beginning to dot with a nervous sweat as she was once again encountered with nothing but darkness, the corridor suddenly eerily silent like a tomb. There was someone there...
“I hope I'm just imagining this.” There was a tremor in her voice and she turned around hastily, picking up her pace. It was going to take a while to get back to her dorm but she was relieved when she didn't hear any ominous footfalls behind her, though she decided to wander for a while as a sense of unease grew.
Although her father tended to handle most his business back at home, there were plenty of people that wanted revenge. It wouldn't have been very shocking to learn that a few of them were lurking around Hogwarts. Astoria swallowed roughly at the disturbing thought, her sister had been kidnapped dozens of times and she was unsure how many men Scorpious had taken care of without creating a few scars of his own.
The footsteps grew closer and she tried to reason with herself, it might just a Prefect trying to catch up to her or even Peeves, who had a bad habit of wearing shoes just to kick unwary students in the back with them. Astoria scowled, the ghost was nothing but a menace and she pursed her lips sourly at her own stupidity before wondering if that Weasley boy was kissing that girl and telling her sweet things.
A blush tore into her cheeks at the thought but she found herself wandering without any real direction for a long time, her body on edge. Peeves would have tried to make a spectacle out of her by now and she sensed another heartbeat...heard the soft inhalation of someone close by, “You know what to do if someone ever bothers you.” Scorpious had said more than once, looking deadly.
Astoria would never be able to slash a person to ribbons but just as she would have rounded a corner, she felt the hairs on the back of her neck rising. Her stomach roiled...there was only one person in the world that could make her feel like this but instead of feeling furious, she was startled when a burst of irritation flashed in the depths of her heart like a firework. How could she have been so stupid? It was obvious who her stalker was.
She should have suspected this from the beginning and felt foolish for becoming so distracted with her own problems without accepting that Hogwarts was filled with far more dangerous things. “Malfoy!” his name was said in a menacing hiss as he silently materialized behind her like some monster from a nightmare and she turned just in time to see him smile tauntingly.
Draco Malfoy was the most ignorant excuse of a man that she had ever known and he tormented her here, stalked her whenever he had the free time. Astoria knew that the pitiful gang that he associated with would never be able to believe that he found a “breed” like her so compelling and knew that if the truth ever came out, he would be humiliated instantly.
The thought of blackmailing him with this information had tempted her more than once but there were certain things that would also be revealed about her and that was something that she couldn't allow. Her family already had its share of secrets, “I knew that it had to be you, following me like this.” Astoria accused furiously, her heart pounding.
Had he been following her since she had entered the castle?
How did he always seem to know where she was?
Astoria's throat felt tight and she felt her exposed skin break out in prickles, Malfoy always stared at her as if he'd devour her whole. She didn't fully know what he wanted but she knew that it wouldn't bode well for her, “How many times do I have to tell you to leave me alone?” her voice was firm but she was inwardly trembling.
Malfoy had the audacity to raise his brows innocently, as if he had simply stumbled upon her by chance and Astoria forced herself not to jerk away from him. He was still dressed in his Slytherin robes and she watched as he ran a hand over them casually, the short strands of his hair gleaming as he tilted his head in mock confusion, “I think that I've lost count over the years.” A smile crept over his face that chilled her to the bone and Astoria felt herself flushing with fear, he had never been able to leave her alone.
They encountered one another every so often outside of the castle and he managed to behave himself, not wanting to bring any shame on his family. Astoria sensed that if he were ever given the opportunity to be alone with her, he would exploit it. She didn't understand what it was about her that fascinated him so much but he had been keenly interested in her ever since their first year, when she had spat in his face after he had called her a breed.
There had been many battles over the years and when she had discovered that he had been stalking her every step, she had been far too disturbed to even tell her family. They would have murdered him in his sleep and they already had too much blood on their hands, “Half and Half, nice to see you again.” He said with a cold, polite smile.
Half and Half was a nasty nickname that he and the rest of his degenerate friends had started calling her since first year, when he had probably told them how she'd spat in his face. Astoria never apologized for it and Malfoy was too arrogant to ever admit that he had been in the wrong, his friends had no idea what kind of person he really was. They flocked around him like ants, never questioning his authority, never daring to say anything and she was certain that Parkinson was far too in love with him to notice that he could have cared less about her.
The thought of being in love with someone like this baffled her and she knew that he would never say sweet things like that Weasley boy. The only person Malfoy cared about was his own reflection...so why couldn't he leave her alone? That was a question that would have to remain a mystery for the time being and she felt her heart thump nervously, “What the hell do you want, sneaking up on me?” she demanded angrily, even though fear tightened around her chest. His grey eyes ran over her curiously for several seconds, lingering on her mouth for far too long, “stay back.”
“What are you doing, sleazing around at night?” Malfoy asked her quietly, though she could feel the impatience thrumming around him. Astoria knew that he was on the verge of making a move towards her and she didn't know if she would be able to reach her wand in time, it had been smart to take it with her. Disaster and death was something that her family was usually prepared for, “you're lucky that a Prefect didn't spot you, you would have gotten into some serious, serious trouble.” He replied with a curious glint in his eyes, his voice nothing more than a low purr.
Shivers went down her spine and Astoria felt her face paling slightly, somehow managing to think that it would be more than miraculous if a Prefect decided to stumble upon them and save her—she didn't care about getting in trouble. The only thing that mattered was getting away from him in one piece, “I can never keep my fingers on you or wrap my mind around where you're always vanishing, you're not like all of the other girls in our House and I know a thing or two about that.” He shrugged when she sent him a revolted stare, he seemed pleased with himself, the leagues of conquests that were under his belt. “You're always slipping away before I can catch you,” he murmured in a whisper that reminded her of a monster soothing its prey.
Astoria wasn't sure what it was about him that terrified her so much but because she had been raised to hate purebloods, she felt nothing but disgust at the moment. There was an odd quality to his face as he drew closer, the yellow cast of a lantern bathing his expression until he appeared ghoulish, “You make it sound like this is some kind of game.” Her voice was taut with emotion. “Where I go isn't any of your damn business, Malfoy.”
It was one of many big secrets that she was currently forced to keep—not sharing a dorm with the other Slytherin girls was just a small price to pay for being in a family like her own. Malfoy pursed his lips at that and took her in, probably smelling the salt from the Black Lake on her skin and the night air on her uniform. “I don't know what your issue is but you need to start minding your own business and stay out of mine,” Astoria snapped angrily.
It would be dangerous if he ever learned the truth about her, her family and the things that forced her to stay awake every single night. The long tumble of her brown hair seemed to capture Malfoy's attention for a moment and he daringly reached forward to brush it back so he could view the vulnerable skin of her throat. Astoria flinched visibly at the brief contact and wanted to step away but the strength in her legs seemed to have deserted her as his eyes turned an odd, eerie blue that diverted from his normal grey.
A curious smile spread over Malfoy's face and Astoria wondered why it was like staring into a pool of nothing. “Really, now? That's not the sort of attitude that you should be giving me, Half and Half.” His voice had lowered into a husky rumble that would have delighted any other girl but made Astoria want to slap him. It was obvious that he was used to getting his way and wondered why anyone found him attractive, “I can't help that you capture my interest and you should really be grateful for it. How many other girls would die to be in your position right now?”
Astoria stared at him darkly.
“I know quite a few who would be more than willing to kill to get a chance to even stand beside me—there's no need to make that face, sweet.” Malfoy snapped irritably when Astoria's upper lip curled with revulsion, “I don't have to deal with this but I'm willing to overlook your nasty attitude for a while...” he trailed away thoughtfully.
“In exchange for what?” Astoria asked warily.
Malfoy's eyes glinted. “How about apologizing on your hands and knees?”
Son of a bitch! Astoria thought furiously.
“You're at a loss for words, that's something new,” Malfoy said, appearing curious.
Astoria fumed and recoiled as he toyed with a few locks of her hair, his fingers wrapping around them with far more care than she would have thought possible. He was standing too close and the scent of him was not nearly as unpleasant as she had always believed, though that did nothing to stop her body from tensing with horror and a building rage, “As if I'd lower myself to getting on my hands and knees for you.” She might have mentioned that he was a stinking, foul pureblood but her father had warned her to watch her sharp mouth.
If anyone found out what they did for a living they would be in danger, it was already bad enough that Malfoy stalked her. How long would she be able to tolerate this? Malfoy was watching her tense face carefully and she had a feeling that he had read the curse in her mind as swiftly as he would have a bit of parchment but it was the amused smirk on his face that annoyed her just then. Astoria scowled and slapped his hand away, “Go eat shit, Malfoy. I wouldn't waste any of my time on a pampered, spoiled little boy like you.”
Malfoy's grey eyes flared with heat and he captured her arm before she could turn away, Astoria bitterly acknowledged that she would have given anything to be in her private dorm. It was her prison and the need for her protection but he never needed to know about it, he would do the most debase things to her in private.
The fact that they were currently alone only made the situation worse and the need to claw him became unbearable. “That's certainly something that I've never been told before by a woman but you never stop surprising me.” He murmured after a while but she could hear the anger in his voice, and a peculiar air of confusion and had a feeling that he had expected her to leap into his arms like an idiot.
“I can't understand why,” Astoria shot back.
Malfoy's eyes glinted. “You need to watch yourself before it's too late.”
“I'm not afraid of you.”
Astoria was dumbfounded by his audacity and thought that Parkinson was a sad case to think that this awful creature would ever be able to offer her something more. “I think you should learn to respect your superiors, Half and Half.” The boy continued after a short moment as he attempted to gather his composure, “that sharp little mouth is going to get you into trouble with me if you're not careful,” he took a threatening step closer until she was bathed in his shadow.
Astoria forced herself not to back away and sensed that it took all of his power not to smile in reluctant admiration, though his grey eyes narrowed. How could it have come to this? She had tried avoiding him for years but it was apparent that his ego had been bruised when she hadn't decided to fawn over his status like the other Slytherin girls.
It would have served no purpose and the thought of being the fuel for their cruel jokes while trying to earn his approval made her want to gag. “Stay away from me, Malfoy.” She warned heavily, locking her eyes onto his with all the fierceness she could muster.
Malfoy's eyes glimmered. “Or?”
“I'll make you regret it.” Astoria snarled.
The threat caused his eyes to widen slightly but instead of backing away, he looked more intrigued and she could hear the wheels in his mind spinning with a new tactic and her spine stiffened. “I don't know what's wrong with you but I'm not the person that you need to be trying to make demands to and if my brother were here, you'd be flat on your ass before you could even blink.” Scorpious would probably bloody him and Malfoy had been around her brother long enough to know that it wasn't a lie, “lay one hand on me and I swear you'll end up regretting it.”
Malfoy was silent for a long time as he weighted his options and she knew that he was recalling all the times that he had seen her brother, all of the anger that rippled off of him. Scorpious had graduated two years ago but he had been a solid presence in her life and it was scary to think that he wasn't here now to protect her when she needed him most, “I'm not afraid of your brother but if you're like this while you're fully clothed, I can only imagine the possibilities when someone manages to strip you bare,” the boy said after he had somehow regained his power of speech.
Astoria was stunned and the fact that he seemed very amused, excited even at the idea, Malfoy's tone was husky and filled with intent. She let out a gasp of outrage as he gripped her wrist and yanked her closer, his lips far too close to her own, “I don't know what it is about you that makes me want you so badly but I think that the two of us would be able to get along splendidly if you weren't so determined to be so mean.”
“Meanness is a part of my charm,” Astoria ground out.
Malfoy roared with laughter and he stared down at her with burgeoning interest, his mind twisting and turning as he thought of another angle. “I don't make propositions like this often, sweet but I'm tired of playing games. Come into my room with me and be a good girl, Half and Half and I may or may not do something you won't like,”
The threat hung in the air like a siren and Astoria wasn't sure what made her do it but she lowered her flashing eyes demurely. Her sister would be quite proud of this tactic and it was difficult not to become flustered with anger as the words left her lips, “I'm sorry, I'm just really nervous and I'm not sure how to act around you, everyone says that you wouldn't even look at someone like me.” Malfoy's grey eyes widened in genuine surprise and his breathing turned ragged, he was risking everything by speaking to her like this but they both knew that he would never admit his need to anyone.
How could she have been unlucky enough to capture his attention?
The prat was far too aware of his social status to dampen it by associating with her in public and that made him even less of a worm to her, even less than the dirt on the bottom of her shoes. Astoria tried not to recoil as she continued, “P-please let me go, Malfoy.” She attempted to sound demure and that intrigued him. “I'll go with you but I'm not very good at this sort of thing.”
“I've noticed.” Malfoy said dryly, eyes dancing.
Astoria giggled and the sound made his cheeks turned faintly pink. “No one has ever been so interested in me before and I'm a little scared so you'll have to take it easy on me...” Malfoy appeared at a loss for words and stared into her face for a moment before releasing her and stepping away as if he had been physically struck. “I'll...I'll try to do whatever you like.”
“I'm eager to see you try,” Malfoy murmured before jerking his head imperiously.
Idiot, Astoria thought viciously.
Malfoy appeared so startled by her change of heart that he didn't sense that it had all been a ruse and Astoria's anger broke free from its cage. Her hand was slick with sweat but before she could lose her nerve, she gripped the Transfiguration textbook tightly, raised her arms and smacked him as hard as she could across his smug face.
Astoria was a little surprised by the force of her arm and even more impressed by the sound, which was like a thunderclap as he stumbled back in shock. “Y-you bitch!” the cruel insult was nothing more than a hiss. “What the hell—are you insane?!” he screamed madly, holding the reddening welt along his pale, pulsing cheek. Tears were threatening to flood his eyes and he stared at her as if she were some kind of horrible beast, the sight giving her far more pleasure than it should have, “I swear to God that I'll kill you for this!”
Astoria raised the book threateningly, ready to give him one more swing and saw his body jerk with an obvious flinch, his hand still cradling his pulsing wound. Merlin! Transfiguration would soon become her favorite class after tonight and she raised her brows at him tauntingly, knowing that standing up to him like this would never have been possible if he hadn't been such a fool.
Malfoy's eyes narrowed into grey slits as he seemed to read her mind and she was grateful to see that the anger in him was being replaced by a fear that only a true coward would be able to feel, “Leave me alone, Malfoy or I'll do it harder next time!” her voice was a harsh crack.
For whatever reason, Malfoy merely snarled a nasty slew of curses before merging into the darkness like a black smudge, his footsteps retreating with such haste that she knew he was running. Panic and fear laced through her but she made sure that he was gone before bolting towards her dorm, finding the entrance and shutting herself inside.
Heart pounding with terror, she sagged against the wall with a shaky sigh of relief, understanding that it wasn't over between them. Astoria knew that there would be darker days ahead and her battle with him was far from over because no matter how thrilling it had been, she had just made the Devil hungry for revenge.
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