Chapter 11 : Risks
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It was cold.
Astoria pulled the hood of her cloak farther over her head to protect her ears from the blistering wind that suddenly exploded around them. She felt her fingers slipping from Blaise’s numbly, as if she couldn’t bear to hold on any longer.
The streets of London were riddled with noise and she heard the distant sounds of voices and strange Muggle things that she didn’t know the name to as the glamor of The Leaky Cauldron loomed into view. Muggles of course wouldn’t be able to see it but she was able to take in the pub with cautious eyes, searching for anything peculiar amongst the debris of various Daily Prophets and heaping piles of trash.
Lights were flashing inside and she could hear and smell the rowdy customers on the inside and felt her breath catch on a shrill sound, hoping that she wouldn’t let out some sort of horrible shriek. It had taken more energy than she would have liked to agree with Blaise and Disapparate from the Estate to this part of London. The risk that they were putting themselves into was so great that her heart was refusing to pound normally and a nasty sweat had broken out along her upper lip and forehead like a rash.
“Astoria, take my arm.” Blaise’s voice soothed out of the shadows and dark corners and she hastily gripped his proffered arm and they finally moved off the sidewalk they’d whisked onto with a pop. Muggles were few in this area but a few were drunkenly walking around, singing songs and Astoria knew that they appeared strange to them, in their cloaks and Blaise in his robes carrying not only his things, but her trunk as well.
She had offered to carry her own things but he had refused to let her even though she knew it must be heavy. Something like a smile crossed her features though because there was no way that Blaise Zabini would be called anything other than a perfect gentleman. “I’ve rented a room here once or twice and I already sent Tom an owl about our arrival,” Blaise was saying as they entered the pub, scanning corners and the customers slumped over tables.
It was a very spacious place with old brickwork and a large fireplace that was ablaze with a menacing red and orange flame. Waiters and trembling waitresses were attending to customers and the sound of glasses and plates clinking somewhere far in the back made her realize just how late it was for them. They had taken more time getting out of the Estate than she would have liked and her nerves were tense, ready to spring at the slightest mishap…the slightest sign of danger that threatened to attack them both.
Upstairs, she knew that there would be rooms aplenty for guests staying overnight and Astoria wondered what Blaise had had to say to get them each a room when it would be so costly.
Neither of them had that sort of money and she gnawed on her lower lip and continued to look around, feeling a wave of sickly feeling grip her like a vise. The floor was messy and littered and candles were lit in varying places, armchairs and tables flooded with distorted human shapes and the sickly smell of meat and ale made her nose burn.
Astoria had never liked coming here and her mother had refused to allow her to stay long, saying that it was a house for deplorable characters. Ironic when her father held Knockturn Alley in the palm of his hand and ruled it with malice and cunning worthy of any former Slytherin, “It smells,” she whispered.
The thick scents of cigar smoke, various liquors and body odor was nearly overwhelming and there was a nasty heaviness in the air. Many of the customers were men in dark hoods and leering faces and she felt a bolt of alarm—it was filled with Death Eaters? Death Eaters of course were minions to the Dark Lord and she shouldn’t have felt surprised that they had hoarded into The Leaky Cauldron but she felt a sick twist in her stomach.
Diagon Alley must be in shambles and the danger of her decision to bring Blaise along spiked exponentially. “Astoria, keep your head down.” Blaise commanded tightly but he was being rather bold himself as he flung his hood back imperiously, surveying the others in the pub with haughty disdain.
Some glanced away with disinterest but others held his stare with nasty glances that made her itch for her wand, which Blaise had refused to let her carry. “Do you think they know who you are? Do you think they know you’re…?” Astoria trailed off, unwilling to say the word “traitor” in such a place.
“Mr. Zabini, I’m glad that you were able to find your way to us without any problems?” the voice belonged to Tom, the barkeep and Astoria would never know what Blaise would have said back to her. He had been awfully silent as he had packed up his belongings from the Estate, left a perfunctory note for his mother and written ahead of time to let Tom know that they would be coming, “It’s a pleasure to, ah, have you here.” The man said nervously, his eyes darting around at the unwelcome guests littering his pub.
His obvious distaste caused Astoria to sweat all the more but she watched as most of the Death Eaters turned their attention elsewhere. Candles continued to flicker and dance and the thick, oppressive smells continued to clog her senses, “I’m sure.” Blaise replied blandly, as if he would much rather be anywhere else. “Is the room I asked for ready or are you hoping to make us wait?”
Tom looked a bit taken aback by his words and Astoria glanced up at him in confusion, wondering why he was being so rude. It wasn’t like him at all but he didn’t bother looking at her and kept his dark eyes trained on the other man, as if he were a worm, “Yes, yes of course. At the last minute another couple decided to change their minds,”
Astoria felt something along her skin at the words and she felt her cheeks turning pink but Blaise replied thoughtfully. “I can’t imagine why they would want to do such a thing.” He said this in a sneering way that made the back of her neck prickle. It was the sort of comment that someone like Malfoy or his minions would have said, “we’ll need to go up immediately and rest. My fiancé is tired and I would rather not have her out for much longer,”
There was a short intake of breath from her and she felt her hand digging into his arm with enough force to cause him to wince ever so slightly. His fiancé? Had he lost his mind? Astoria kept her head down to hide her furious blush but Tom merely stared at the two of them with genuine pleasure, his unease briefly leaving him. “It’s so nice to see young couples. Times are much harder than I would have anticipated,” Tom said with a startlingly hopeful expression for times gone by and Blaise made a soft, derisive sound.
Instantly, Tom snapped out of his thoughts and reached compulsively for their bags, which Blaise handed over to him with a superior tilt to his chin. “I’ll take your right up to your room, Mr. Zabini. I had all the sheets washed and pressed and considering that it was at the last minute, I would be more than generous to gather anything you and your lovely friend might need,” he was prattling on happily and the other patrons turned away, going back to their drinks and conversation.
Astoria’s feet moved mechanically in front of her and she tried not to flinch away from the Death Eaters that were lounging about as they walked past tables and chairs. A flight of old, cracked stairs came into view, almost hidden from sight and she swallowed hard as they were led up them, her face paling with each step.
Her fingers were digging into Blaise’s arm but she refused to look at him just now as she evaluated their chances of scraping through the night without any problems—risky when he had showed his face so boldly.
A shiver of unease went through her but they were now walking slowly down a curving hallway, doors pressing awkwardly around them and leaking strange sounds from within. Her thoughts and weak hope that they were going to their own, separate bedrooms evaporated as Tom finally stopped at a door that was labeled with old brass numbers that glared down at her.
371…Astoria wondered why they felt so ominous. “I would have rather gotten you a more romantic room but the honeymoon rooms have been renovated recently to house some of our other…uhm, guests,” Tom said uncomfortably.
It must be more than difficult to have Death Eaters prowling and living here and she thought it strange that she knew for a fact that her family was much, much worse. The fact that she hadn’t seen some small sign of her brother, father or some shifty character staring too close made her fingers tremble with unease.
But then again, her family wasn’t known in Knockturn Alley for being impatient and many a person had been caught unawares and was now without some limb, finger or other body part due to bad business transactions. Astoria knew that they were looking for her and if her brother had his way, he had never given up on the hope that he would break someone’s neck to find her in one piece; there were too many enemies of her family to think otherwise.
“This will be fine.” Blaise said crisply now and she was brought out of her thoughts sharply and realized that Tom had opened the door for them and her host had led her inside. Someone had lit a few candles for them but the room was bigger than she would have thought and she felt a flash of outrage that Blaise had conducted to spend so much money without telling her.
He wouldn’t have taken her money and she bit down on her lower lip to stop herself from letting out a nasty slew of curses. “Would you like anything to eat?” Tom asked while surveying Blaise’s reaction to the spacious surroundings, the brick fireplace, freshly washed windows and though Astoria dared not look at it for long, the largely dominant bed with its crisp white sheets.
A bathroom door was crooked open as if someone had forgot to shut it properly and she wondered if there was a window inside that she could, if necessary sneak out of if she had to with Blaise following suit. “This will have to do. Darling,” Blaise turned his attention down to her with a sweetness that was almost overwhelming and she jerked her face up to his, “are you hungry?”
Darling? A foolish, ridiculous blush threatened to flood her face but Astoria managed to shake her head. She was too nervous to eat a thing, “…No, I’m—”
“Some bread and cheese and a bit of wine would be sufficient.” Blaise interrupted her snidely and Astoria reeled back, her mouth opening to fire a retort but Tom was already leaving, having set their trunks down with a noiseless clatter. “After our meal I don’t expect to be bothered and we already discussed any unwanted guests. They’re to be distracted.”
Tom’s face appeared strangely blank and Astoria’s eyes narrowed but he said nothing, only gave them a polite nod and left them, the door shutting. When she heard his shuffling footsteps receding, Astoria released Blaise and stepped away as he sighed wearily, “Would you mind telling me what you’ve done?”
“Where would you like to start?” Blaise asked as he scanned her face, knowing from the sharp glare in her violet eyes that she wasn’t pleased. Astoria pushed the hood back and he flicked his eyes distractedly over her tumbled brown hair and she felt her stomach quiver, “I’m sorry that I had to be so rude.”
“Why were you acting that way?” Astoria demanded.
Blaise shrugged his shoulders and there was something distasteful running through his mind that he would probably never share with her. Astoria wondered more and more what had caused him to change so drastically, to become a traitor and leave his way of life behind but that was a part of him she didn’t think he would ever show her. “I was merely trying to keep Tom’s interest elsewhere. Purebloods are expected to act and talk a certain way around others and I would have rather pretended than have him sniffing around.”
If he had behaved any differently, it certainly would have caused them to get more unwanted attention. But watching him that way hadn’t been at all pleasant and she stared at him warily, not quite sure if he would continue on with the act that reminded her so eerily of Malfoy, “You contacted him before we came here didn’t you? And bribed him not to say anything?” she asked now, her tone sharper than she would have liked.
He hadn’t discussed the bribes with her, perhaps finding it distasteful and she wished that he would confide in her. But that was doubly ironic when she couldn’t dare reveal all of her secrets and the few that she had made her wince with worry and dread, “I did. I’m not proud to say that I’m familiar with getting what I want. The couple that was here before us didn’t just leave, I had Tom make them.”
Astoria felt a shiver of unease. “How much…how much money did you give him?”
“Irrelevant. You’re safe now, and,” Blaise said with a smug satisfaction that she instantly disliked. “There’s no way that you can back out of that many Galleons.” Astoria swallowed hard, “he was even kind enough to have our school things from Diagon Alley transferred to this room tomorrow. There won’t be any need for us to step outside and risk someone recognizing you.”
He had done all of this without consulting her in the least.
Astoria was amazed and frightened by how easily he was able to do so and without that much time on their side and she wondered just what sort of person Blaise was underneath it all. Fascinating, peculiar delight that he was, there was something about him that she couldn’t quite name but it wasn’t anything kind, “Couldn’t you have at least told me about this? I was so afraid that we were going to be caught,” she said.
Blaise tilted his head at her, studying and staring as if he wanted to read her mind and she flushed uncomfortably. He knew too much already. He knew about Leo but not how he had died and he knew about her dorm but not the reason someone would want to hurt her and Astoria felt like nothing but a web of lies and deceit. “I’m sorry but I wasn’t able to tell you what I’d planned without—”
“Did you do it on purpose? Not telling me?” Astoria demanded and he opened his mouth to deny it but she saw the truth in his eyes. “You’re the one that says trust works both ways.” Having the words thrown back at him didn’t sit well and his lips tightened with a warning.
“Of course it does but I would rather not have you as worried as you have been. You almost ran from my home, you ran away from yours and if you had left and gone back to that family of yours I may have never saw you again!” Blaise countered back and she saw a flash of true, hard anger radiating around him.
Astoria had known that it would have angered him but she was stunned to witness his rage for the second time. It was nearly as bad as when she had gone into his father’s study without his permission but defiance curved around her bones, “I was only trying to protect you! After all that you’ve done, I couldn’t have something happening—” she cut herself off, not willing to face the terror of something truly awful happening to him.
Blaise muttered something foul underneath his breath and she felt the hairs on the back of her neck standing on end. That voice, in that tone would frighten children in the future and some part of her felt truly sorry for them, “Running away from me wouldn’t have solved anything. Perhaps you shouldn’t have run in the first place—”
“Shut the hell up! You have no idea what my dad wanted me to do! I would never, ever sacrifice myself for the family business!” Astoria shouted, furious. “You don’ know what it’s like, living in my house, knowing that you can never be what you want.”
“I think I have an idea.” Blaise retorted and his voice was chilling. It was a warning to stop but she glared up at him fiercely, holding her ground, “being a pureblood isn’t nearly as glamorous as some people like to think it is. Especially when your family is rich or had been,” he said with a distasteful sound.
Astoria knew that her own family would know more about this than she cared to admit and she felt an ugly flush coming into her cheeks. They wanted to sleaze and worm their way back into the pureblood circle for disgusting, foul reasons—to be rich and held highly would mean, of course, more customers, more clients and more chances to bend their assignments to her father’s will. He wanted to crush them all, “I’m sure it was hard for you, getting whatever you wanted and being entitled to everything.” She said nastily.
Blaise’s face seemed to morph into something so monstrous and furious that Astoria felt herself taking a step away. He reached out and gripped her arm, not tightly, just a warning pressure that went all the way down to her toes, “It’s a cage. A pretty, gilded cage that I was drowning in so don’t you dare stand here and tell me what the hell I felt—you have no fucking idea.”
The harsh words, spoken from his mouth sent her reeling and she wrenched free of his grip and he forced his arm down to his side, the lids of his eyes shielding truthful, dangerous thoughts. A repulsive silence pressed down on them until she felt as if it were crushing them, “…I have an idea.” She finally whispered after a stilted silence that caused her throat to ache. “I’ll never get what I want, no matter how much I’ll fight for it.”
“If you keep running away, then of course you won’t.” Was Blaise’s cryptic reply and she felt her eyes flashing, glaring a hole into his taut face, “running from Malfoy, from your family. From me,” he said with delicate venom, “won’t solve everything.”
Astoria felt as if he had slapped her. He couldn’t possibly understand what it was like of course, having Malfoy stalking her every step at Hogwarts, knowing that her family was involved in something so horrible and disastrous that there was no escape. The words she spoke next felt wrenched from some terrible, aching part of her heart, “You’ll never understand. I’m not anything I say I am.” And though they never said anything, her family would hold that against her.
“What do you mean by that?” Blaise demanded; his anger diminishing as he stared into her face, which she averted. “What are you? Why won’t you tell me?” his voice was slightly hurt, but more for the fact that he hadn’t found out the answer himself.
Astoria shook her head at him, not able to continue and hating herself for even letting the words come out in the first place. “This is…this isn’t something that we can play around with, my family—” she couldn’t even get the words out. Dangerous and possibly insane were too close to the truth and she refused to look at those things that were probably too close to her own character.
Blaise’s shoulders stiffened a little at the words and he ran a hand over his face and she saw, for the first time, that he was very tired. The anger was returning by slow degrees, “I’m not saying that I don’t trust you but…” he trailed away and she felt a guilty, nasty flush grip her as she recalled that not too long ago she had been planning on leaving him for his own safety. “I don’t want you to run away thinking that it’s for my own good ever again.”
Astoria looked away from him but he startled her by reaching out and gently turning her face back to his. The shock of his skin, though briefly, brushing her own nearly caused her to crumple into a pool of nothing but she pushed his hand away, “You should have asked me about what we should do. I don’t like that we came in the front, we could have gone through the back of the pub so no one would see us.”
“I’m not sure if you’ve noticed Astoria but there are Death Eaters downstairs and sneaking into a pub at this hour? Highly suspicious,” Blaise replied calmly, his hand lowering and curling into a fist by his side. She felt a brief flick of irritation because he was right. “Someone would have wondered perhaps what we thought we were doing, sleazing in that way and I didn’t want the risk.”
There was a slight silence afterwards and she gritted her teeth against the fear that was clawing through her. It felt like her throat was tightening, tightening… “But you showed your face, Blaise,”
Blaise tilted his head curiously, staring at her so intently that she felt her fingers begin to tremble. He was a tall, dark shape in a large room but she felt as if it were suddenly small and that there was no one else in the entire pub but the two of them, “I showed it. Even if someone has recognized me, I’m still a pureblood and you’re half-blood and what we do together is really none of their concern when the new laws have nothing truly against it. Or so they say,” he said with an eye roll, as if he found the Dark Lord’s regime nothing but a silly, conjured game.
“But at the Malfoy’s party—”
“I didn’t recognize any of those Death Eaters from the party and even still, Harry Potter and his two friends are still on the loose. Why waste their time worrying about some silly little rumor? I don’t have anything on my head,” Blaise said tightly but Astoria wanted to remind him that he had used magic underage and that, probably, would have some sort of consequence.
Just like everything else.
Astoria thought his logic was flawed. She had learned from her family that people noticed everything, saw everything and with the way the world was turning, it was highly doubtful that they would go unnoticed. “We still should have been more careful. Even though I had the hood up, they were staring and…”
Blaise appeared a little concerned himself about this but he said gently, for her benefit. “I’m sure no one recognized you underneath your hood. If either of us had been good at Transfiguration we might have been able to change a few of your features but—”
“And have more underage magic eventually catching up to us? Blaise,” Astoria said wearily, staring up at him with burgeoning fear and exasperation. His eyes narrowed a little and she stared up at him unblinkingly, “it’s not like I don’t appreciate what you’re doing, you don’t have to do it—you didn’t have to come with me.”
“You asked and so I came.” Blaise said dismissively and he turned away from her and began walking towards the fireplace. Astoria watched him as he took out his wand from the depths of his robes and flicked them into the grate and wood, which instantly caught aflame, “and I wouldn’t leave you alone to face this.”
A moment passed as she watched him removing his cloak and setting it over his arm, a frown beginning to form over his features. “Blaise, I’m not angry with you.” She found herself saying but he angled is head at her and sent her a dry expression that made her flush, “I just want you to be safe. I did something that’s going to get me into more trouble than I think you can imagine,”
Blaise’s mouth tightened just a fraction but she sensed that she had insulted him just a little and her eyes lowered uncomfortably. “You make it sound as if I don’t understand that. I have no idea what your family does but you have to trust me when I say that no one is going to take you.”
Something unsaid passed over the air around them and she heard them, as faintly as a whisper in her ear. He’d wanted to say it but he’d refused to voice out the words take you from me, no one is going to take you from me… “I’m sorry then,” Astoria found herself whispering, overcome.
“It’s fine, Astoria,” Blaise replied stiffly but she knew that it wasn’t fine. He was risking his own life and his mothers’ for her sake, for saying that he was her friend and she felt that there was more to him than he would ever tell her at this point but it felt irrelevant now.
Any secrets that he carried were tame compared to what she was, what her family did and how she had come to be a Greengrass in the first place. The thought of him finding out made her suddenly ill and she stared at him; unable to voice any of it out loud or express how grateful she was to him for what he was doing, even if she couldn’t ever understand all of the reasons.
Before he could turn away, Astoria crossed over to him, inhaled and, even though everything that she had been taught recoiled in disgust, wrapped her arms around his waist and pressed her cheek against his chest. Her head barely came up to his chin but holding him was like heaven, simply glorious and she tightened her arms around him unthinkingly.
Every inch of him was harder, taller and stronger than she was but there was the faintest, faintest of tremors going through him and she realized that he was afraid. Afraid for her or for them both, Astoria couldn’t be certain but she wordlessly offered him as much comfort that she could physically give him. The pound of his heartbeat seemed to brand itself to her own and she realized, with a sort of panic that she couldn’t imagine letting him go.
She was making a bold move and expected him to push her away, perhaps thinking that this level of affection was highly inappropriate but he stunned her by wrapping an arm around her waist and anchoring her to him. “We should get mad at each other more often if you’ll hug me for it.” He whispered soothingly against her ear and she flushed, her skin turning brilliantly red.
“T-this is only a once in a lifetime thing,” Astoria managed to choke out and she felt him smiling against the fragile skin of her throat and nearly collapsed. “When I let you go, this never happened and I might not even mention you telling Tom that I was your fiancé.” That caused him to laugh a little, “I don’t exactly remember you proposing to me.”
“Given the circumstances, you can’t blame me.” Blaise replied and she wasn’t sure if he were smiling any longer. There was a grimness to his voice that made her stiffen slightly until she felt his hand going down her back in a soothing pressure, “I couldn’t risk you being in a separate room. I wanted to keep my eyes on you,” Astoria wondered if she’d imagined that he’d whispered this so gently in her ear and swallowed hard as he continued, his tone amused. “Curious little thing that you are, you probably would have hopped out of the nearest window to get away from me.”
Astoria was unsettled that he had thought this through and she didn’t know if she liked the thought he knew her. Dangerous things, having friends, she thought dazedly, “I wouldn’t have,” she protested.
“I’m sure that’s a lie.” Blaise teased and she wasn’t sure if he did it or not but she thought she might have felt his lips hovering along her pulse. A bolt of fear went through her and she pushed at him insistently until he released her, his expression instantly becoming guarded as she tried not to think about Malfoy…and his disgusting advances.
It hadn’t been too long ago that he had done the same thing, trailed his mouth along her throat, kissed her and whispered lurid promises in her ears. Even after all this time of not being subjected to him and looking over her shoulder for his shape behind her, she was still afraid.
Astoria knew that Blaise was right and that no matter how hard she would try to fight it, she was terrified of him. She hated herself for it but being alone in a room with Malfoy was simply the most horrifying thing she could imagine.
It only paled slightly in comparison to her family finding her and she placed a bit of distance between herself and Blaise, who was eyeing her curiously, warily and he opened his mouth to say something but she quickly interrupted. “I won’t run away from you. I’ll stay, so don’t think that you’ll have to tie me up,” she muttered.
“I’m considering it.” Blaise said in a very odd way and she glanced up at him and saw that, to her surprise, he might have actually been blushing. It was an odd thing to see Blaise Zabini blush about anything and she started to ask what was wrong but he overrode her question easily, composing himself, “we’ll be all right, Astoria. Just stay in this room until tomorrow and before you know it, we’ll be on the Express.”
Astoria wanted to believe that but something was nagging at her and she couldn’t quite get Tom’s behavior out of her mind just now. “Tom didn’t say anything about who you were coming here with, did he?” she asked him.
Blaise tore his eyes away from her hair quickly, coming out of his thoughts and regarding her soberly. “He didn’t ask.” When she opened her mouth to ask why, she then thought of all the girls that he had had in the past and she flushed with both envy and distaste. “There were some moments when I had come here before with Malfoy and his gang if I didn’t take the girls home—”
“I would rather not hear about that.” Astoria said crisply as she turned away and headed towards her Hogwarts trunk. Something was nagging at her and she wanted to make sure that all of her books and her wand were intact and she chanced a glance at Blaise but he had gone to the window and was staring out of it intently. “Is something wrong?”
Blaise took a moment to reply and when he did, his tone was calm. “No, I just thought I saw something. It was only someone’s shadow,” he whispered but Astoria felt her blood chilling at the words because even a shadow could be revealed to be something far more dangerous.
Okay, after this I'm going back to Albus Potter and the Dark Lord's Prince and I may or may not see some of you there! So, until then!
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