Chapter 1 : Monsters in the Dark
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The echo of laughter and the whisper of sweet, 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 stumbled upon only a few minutes before, the encounter only emphasizing how bitterly alone she was. Astoria had witnessed such things things before but she had never seen anything so...sweet and the corridors of Hogwarts appeared far more empty than they ever had in the past, causing her chest to tighten with misery. The day had been nothing but a nightmare and Astoria felt her mouth tightening 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 bully and there were far more dangerous things that weighed on Astoria's mind, though she had responded with a cutting remark until the girl had stomped off in offended rage. Slytherin House was filled with girls like that and it must have been quite a delight to tease someone because of their blood status, which was something that they held in such high regard, “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 appeared merely disgusted by the cruel words but had stared at her curiously, as if he were disappointed that she hadn't hexed Parkinson into oblivion, “What an odd one.” She whispered to herself, frowning. Zabini had never spoken to her, had never acknowledged that she were alive but there had been something in his expression that had caused her to feel puzzled 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 and 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, “He's nothing but a stupid little brat.” Her older brother, Scorpious had said to her whenever she managed to send a letter. “People like him enjoy feeling important because they know that they're nothing but 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 Astoria had never been so disgusted by the pureblood elite. The two of them would occasionally cross paths at 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 glowing green eyes, “there's nothing wrong with smiling and being pretty for a few hours and you know...it all boils down to making the right connections. 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 her mind like flimsy photographs, each one more gruesome than the last and 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, “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 dared to challenge her in a fight. Defense Against the Dark Arts was one of the classes that she was 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 use them to flay a man alive, she didn't have the stomach for it but sensed that they would probably come in handy before her years at Hogwarts were over. Astoria 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 people wanted to believe and she dreaded the thought of being stuck here for another few months. A wave of bitterness went through her body at the thought of what her father would say about such cowardice and she shook her head, the locks of her dark brown hair trailing along her shoulders like a heavy cloud. It would be like trading one prison for another and she had spent the remainder of the awful day worrying over it until her head had been throbbing 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, “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 ease. Zabini had been watching him with a look of intense pity, his dark eyes rolling heavenward before their eyes had locked briefly, a curious little zing going through her that had nothing at all to do with the excited chatter around her. Astoria had felt a blush erupt over her skin before she had broke the connection, “Don't get involved with purebloods, Stori. They're just a waste of time and they're nothing but pure filth.” Scorpious would have said, looking as if he had been offered a plate of 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 hated them 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, intending to get some peace by reading under moonlight. An hour or so to calm her thoughts had been too tempting to resist but she'd hesitated when she'd spotted a couple talking passionately along the shore of the Black Lake, one of those annoying Weasley twins and a pretty black girl. Though she had desperately wanted to be anywhere else but where she'd ended up, it had been hard to ignore the love between them. She'd watched them for a long time before she'd grown embarrassed and turned around.
Seeing such a blatant show of romance under a pretty full moon put her imagination into a hopeless mess, increasing her own loneliness. Astoria had seen them 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 and she now wondered why she'd thought that it would be a good book at all. 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 faint tremor in her voice and she turned around hastily and picked up her pace. It was going to take a while to get back to her dorm from this route but she was relieved when she didn't hear any ominous footfalls behind her, though she decided to wander aimlessly for a while as a sense of unease grew. It was probably 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, knowing that she had to be overreacting 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 herself 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 into ribbons but she did know how to fight and there were plenty of bullies in Hogwarts that had learned it the hard way and 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 entire 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 mind like a firework. Astoria 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 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 been forced to know 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 she knew that if the truth ever came out, he would be humiliated instantly. The thought 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 after her since she had entered the castle? How did he always seem to know where she was? Her throat felt tight with a growing panic 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 may encounter one another every so often outside of the castle but he managed to behave himself, not wanting to bring any shame on his family but she had sensed that if he were ever given the opportunity to be alone with her, he would exploit it. Astoria 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 at Hogwarts, 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, however 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 would never apologize for it and Malfoy was far too arrogant to ever admit that he was wrong, his friends had no idea what kind of person he really was. They flocked around him like mindless ants, never questioning his authority, never daring to say anything wrong 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 he could ever care about was his own reflection...so why couldn't he leave her alone? Was he really this much of a bully? That was a question that would have to remain a mystery for the time being and she felt her heart thumping nervously, “What the hell do you want, sneaking up on me?” she demanded, 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 and she felt herself quivering with the need to run away, “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 a smart thing to take it with her. Disaster 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 said with a curious glint in his eyes, his voice nothing more than a low purr. Shivers went down her spine and she 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 helplessly when she sent him a revolted stare, he seemed very 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 a strange quality to his face as he drew closer, the cast of a lantern pooling his blonde hair in an array of light that made him appear simply ghoulish, “Where I go isn't any of your damn business, Malfoy.” It was one of many big secrets that she currently kept—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 crisp night air on her uniform, he looked like he wanted to slip his hands into every vulnerable place. “I don't know what your issue is but you need to start minding your own business and stay out of mine,” she 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 stare at her throat. Astoria flinched at the brief contact and wanted to step away but the strength in her legs seemed to have deserted her completely as his eyes turned an odd, eerie blue that diverted from his normal grey. A curious smile spread over his face and she wondered why it was like looking into a vast 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 her want to slap him. It was obvious that he was used to getting his way and she wondered why anyone found him attractive, “I can't help that you capture my interest and you should really be more grateful for it. How many other girls would die to be in your position right now? 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.” He said irritably when her upper lip curled with revulsion, “I don't have to stand here and deal with this but I'm willing to overlook your nasty little attitude for a while...” he trailed away thoughtfully. “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. Malfoy was watching her 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. She slapped his hand away, “go eat shit, Malfoy. I wouldn't waste any of my time on a pampered, spoiled little boy like you so you might as well get used to that,”
Malfoy's eyes flared with heat and he captured her arm before she could turn away and vanish into 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, “That's certainly something that I've never heard before, you never stop surprising me.” He said after a while but she could hear the anger in his voice, and a strange air of confusion and she wondered if he had expected her to leap willingly into his arms like a helpless idiot. Astoria thought that Parkinson was a sad case to think that this creature would ever be able to offer her something more, “you should learn to respect your superiors, Half and Half. That sharp little mouth is going to get you into trouble with me if you're not careful,” he took a step closer until she was bathed in his shadow.
Astoria forced herself not to step away and she sensed that it took all of his power not to smile in admiration, though his grey eyes narrowed. Was this what everything between them was about? She had avoided being anywhere near 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 had 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. 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, he was overprotective of her and would probably destroy a small village if it meant making sure she was safe. “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 I knew that he was recalling all the times that he had seen my 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 the most, “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 by the words and the fact that he seemed very amused, excited even at the idea, his 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 have no idea 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 damned mean.” Her face flushed with fury but he didn't seem to mind, his eyes holding her own until she felt imprisoned, “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 dancing siren and Astoria wasn't sure what made her do it but she lowered her eyes demurely. Her sister Emily would be quite proud of this tactic and it was difficult not to vomit 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 eyes widened in genuine surprise and his breathing turned ragged, he was risking everything by even 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, “p-please let me go, Malfoy. I'll go with you but I'm not very good at this sort of thing. 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 intently into her face for a moment before releasing her and stepping away as if he had been physically struck 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. The heavy book in her hand was slick with swept 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 the face and the sound was like a thunderclap as he stumbled back, his eyes going wide pain, “Y-you bitch!” he screamed madly, holding the reddening welt that was brimming like a flood along his pale, pulsing cheek. “I'll kill you!”
Astoria raised the book threateningly, ready to give him one more swing and saw his eyes glance to it with an obvious flinch, his hand cradling his throbbing wound. Transfiguration would soon become her favorite class after tonight and she raised her brows at him challengingly, 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 crack of sound. For whatever reason, Malfoy merely hissed a nasty slew of curses damning her to the pit of Hell before he stalked 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 rushing as fast as she could to her dorm, finding the entrance and locking 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 but knowing, more than anything that she had just made the Devil hungry for revenge.
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