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A Force Of Wills by Gabriella Hunter
Chapter 12 : The Dark
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 1


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A/N: Hello, all! I'm back! Please forgive me for taking so long but enjoy this chapter and happy reading!

“Please forgive me for being so late, Mr. Zabini. Some of our, ah, other guests were rather rambunctious and demanded my immediate attention.” Tom’s voice slithered weakly to Astoria’s ears and she angled her head, carefully covered with her cloak in his direction. He was standing outside of the door with Blaise standing imperiously in the room and regarding him with the sort of disdain that wouldn’t even do for the smallest, slimiest worm, “I’ve brought you more than you asked but I do hope you and your young companion enjoy it to the best of your abilities.”

Blaise made an exasperated sound that would have been fitting for a very self-indulgent king and Astoria felt a bit of annoyance grip her. She knew that he was merely playing a role, but for one moment she couldn’t help but wonder if this had been the person he’d been known as not too long ago and it made her deeply troubled. “I’m sure that we’ll find some time to enjoy what you’ve prepared. Please, come inside,” the words were so sneeringly polite that Astoria wasn’t surprised when Tom’s entire face blanched.

The sounds of various feet entering the bedroom alerted her though and she slid out of the chair she’d occupied warily. Her wand was tucked in the folds of her cloak, ready for any attack even though Blaise had assured her in that arrogantly calm way of his that there was nothing to fear and no matter how often she thought it, she knew that it was a lie.

Anything could go wrong and no matter how much she wanted to believe that things would go well for the two of them. Despite her fears and the brief flicker of hope she felt, there was something about Tom’s reaction to the sight of her as he and two other wizards came in that sparked her distrust.

“Pardon me,” one of the wizards said to her and Astoria moved out of his way just as he whipped out his wand and conjured a small round table, complete with white tablecloth, a vase filled with one pink rose and candles.

Keeping her head low, both to avoid meeting the stranger’s eyes and the suddenly curious stare of Tom, Astoria somehow managed to watch as silverware was conjured, covered trays being uncovered with a flourish. She had been so distracted by the suddenly romantic setting and Tom’s unnerving stare that she hadn’t noticed that the other wizard in the room had been carrying their dinner, which looked far more massive than she’d imagined. “This will be enough for the two of you I’m hoping Mr. Zabini and Ms.….?” Tom was saying now and she ducked her head further beneath her cloak.

She didn’t like the way he was surveying her and Blaise, as if sensing her burgeoning unease, calmly replied. “I’m afraid that is none of your concern.” When Tom and the other wizards appeared affronted by his tone, he explained with silkily, his gaze falling on Astoria as if she were the most important being in his world. “We’ve eloped and would much rather keep things secret until our families can handle our affection.”

Astoria’s jaw dropped and she felt her cheeks flaming at the outrageous lie but Tom, appearing mollified for the time being, actually blushed. It was not an attractive sight on such an old, weary man, “I pity them.” He said softly and the other wizards appeared both uncomfortable and slightly entranced. Blaise seemed to have the must unnerving effect on people when he insisted on getting what he wanted and Astoria was oddly jealous when it was the sort of quality that Emily and Scorpious had always possessed.

“Yes, well. Love will pave the way,” Blaise said with a sincere smile that made Astoria’s heart pound foolishly inside of her chest. She wished that he didn’t have to stare at her that way…his dark eyes drinking her in as if he wanted nothing more than the two of them near one another, “I’m afraid that she’s awfully shy but we both appreciate the help that you’ve brought us.”

Astoria could barely hear the scorn and dismissal in the words but Tom, seeming to snap out of his own thoughts, nodded hastily. “Enjoy your dinner, Mr. Zabini.” He nodded his head at her and she felt something unclean go through her system, “someone will come along in a few hours to relieve you of the dishes.”

“Mm,” Blaise replied with utmost boredom, his eyes losing their infatuated glow as he eyed their unwanted guests. Tom and his companions paled at such a look but quickly made their excuses, bowing and smiling weakly before they left and closed the door, leaving them blessedly alone. “My god, I thought they’d never leave.” Astoria heard her strange companion say with an irritable frown.

“Did you have to say all of that?” Astoria found herself asking him uncomfortably as he eyed the food trays on the table hungrily. Hearing the tone in her voice, he angled his head at her, quirking his brow questionably even as she knew he understood what was bothering her and found it all too amusing, “there’s no telling what he and the others are thinking we’re doing up here.”

Blaise regarded her for a moment with a slight smile on his face that made the skin underneath her clothes heat. Embarrassed and needing a distraction from him, she pushed the hood of her cloak back and watched as his eyes took her in carefully, “I’m merely playing the doting fiancé, Astoria. How else would I behave to my betrothed?”

The deliberate huskiness in his voice was enough to have her spluttering in embarrassment and he roared with laughter. “You are such a git!” Astoria managed to choke out as he watched her pale cheeks flaming with color, “you’re lucky that I don’t hex you!”

Blaise placed a gentle finger on his lips and she trace the contours and shape of them unwillingly as he whispered. “Quiet, now. We don’t want  them overhearing us, now do we?” he asked and she flushed all the more even though she knew he was more than right.

Tom and the other wizards had long since walked away but something was nagging at Astoria, like an itch she couldn’t be rid of. “Are you more than positive that we can trust Tom, Blaise?” there was something that she couldn’t quite get rid of when it came to the barkeep and she was certain that no amount of Galleons would ever stop the pure, primal fear that her family could induce into a person.

Galleons wouldn’t be enough to stop them from having their necks snapped or being dumped in some forgotten river and she had to repress a shudder. Blaise’s lips tightened slightly as he lowered his hand, regarding her seriously, “Astoria, I thought we had already settled this.”

“I know, but…” Astoria trailed off quickly, not wanting to get into another heated fight with him again. It had been terrible and the both of them had siasd things that they would never have normally said under such pressure and she felt that she still should apologize even though he hadn’t mentioned it again. “…I’m just worried.”

Blaise made a strange sound under his breath and she watched as he came towards her, the concern in his eyes nearly engulfing her completely. “I’m worried too.” Was what he said as he stopped a few inches from her, the heat from him making her want to wrap as much of herself around him as possible—as if she could. “And if you worry too much, Astoria, you’ll grow old before your time and then where will we be?”

Astoria frowned at his teasing and opened her mouth to say something to that but found herself lightly placing her hand on his arm. For just the briefest of moments, his hand covered hers as she said sincerely, “I’m sorry about what I said earlier—I shouldn’t have assumed that you wouldn’t have understood how I’d been feeling up to now.”

Blaise’s face flickered with something that she wasn’t able to grasp and he quickly hid his expression but lowering his eyes, “It’s all right, Astoria. I was more than a little harsh towards you and I do apologize.” When he took her hand and in his and played ever so lightly with her fingers, her mind went momentarily blank. He was inserting gentle, careful pressure and the feeling seemed to zing all the way up her arm and settle into her heart, “we should be far more careful around one another. After all, friends are supposed to take care of one another aren’t they?”

There was something strange about the way he said the words but Astoria wasn’t able to understand what it might be. His thumb rubbed careful circles on her palm and it was so distracted that she nearly lost her mind completely, “I-It’s all right. I’m not mad anymore…and I’m not going to run from you if you don’t run from me.”

Blaise apparently hadn’t expected her to say anything at all and when she carefully searched his face; his eyes were boring into her own with such intensity that it became hard to breathe. Carefully, as if her skin was far too fragile, he released her hand and smiled, hiding whatever his true thoughts were from her with unsettling skill. “I’m pretty sure that if you caught me, you’d pound my face in.”

Astoria gawped, the moment broken as he appeared pained. “I wouldn’t!” she protested hotly and he laughed at her. She lightly pushed at him and he stepped away, grinning and looking strangely relieved, “and I don’t care what you say but you deserved that punch to your gut.”

“Merlin, you’re cruel. I’m sure the village of cacti from your home world must miss you terribly,” Blaise remarked with deliberate dryness and Astoria glared at him. It only failed to make him roar with laughter though and he gestured to the table and the massive pile of food waiting for them like some nobleman’s feast, “shall we?”

Astoria, still irritated with him and wondering why he seemed to be able to distract her so easily, nodded. Her stomach growled obnoxiously at the same moment and Blaise snorted in amusement even when she shot him a vicious look, “With the way you eat, I’m not sure if I’ll even be able to get anything.”

Blaise looked unforgiving but surprised her by gently taking her cloak from her shoulders, draping it carefully over the back of a chair and said. “I’m afraid that if you want to eat at all, you may want to fill your plate as much as possible,” Astoria opened her mouth to say something but he was pulling out her chair for her and watching as she, baffled and embarrassed, sat down.

“You didn’t have to pull out my chair for me.” Astoria mumbled even as she was flattered beyond belief. Her cheeks were betraying her though as he sat across from her, looking elegant and dark and something she could never have, “I could have done it myself.”

Blaise appeared aghast that she would even suggest such a thing and she watched as he shook his head slowly at her nerve. Astoria felt something tug in her chest and then deliberated over whether or not she was ill with something. “I can’t seem to imagine being anything less than a complete and utter gentleman while in the presence of such a magnificent cactus,”

Astoria glared at him. “You are such a git!” annoyed that he had easily managed to irritate, fascinate and humiliate her more than once tonight, she started to uncover one of the dishes and saw to her delight that it was thick slices of ham. A gravy bowl, vegetables and thick slices of bread accompanied it and her stomach growled, “I hope you starve tonight.”

Blaise appeared amused but merely took a napkin from the table, opened it and removed the silverware and placed it on his lap. “You remind me of a rabid beast,” he said as Astoria helped herself to the meal, “you make me think that I wasn’t feeding you nearly enough at the Estate.”

“I’ve actually gained a bit of weight,” Astoria replied unthinkingly and then she blushed as she thought of where she had gained most of the extra pounds. Blaise appeared thoughtful but his eyes ran over her in a pleasured way, as if she were some sort of vicious pet that he had almost made tame.

Uncovering the second tray and marveling at the sight of delicately prepared salad, roasted chicken and the last of the ham, Blaise replied politely. “I think that the extra weight looks rather nice on you.” Astoria blushed and reached for a pitcher and glass but was beat to it as he placed his napkin on the table, stood and walked to her side and did the duty for her. “You were too skinny when you blew in on my doorstep.”

Astoria knew that she didn’t exactly have the most alluring shape like her sister but his words made her feel strangely glad. If Blaise noticed that she had a figure—why did it matter? She thought hastily as the giddy feeling left her immediately, there was no way that Blaise would ever find her as attractive as his past girlfriend. His deliriously gorgeous and beautiful girlfriend that he still cared for… “Thank you Blaise. But if you continue to eat the way you do, you’ll be as big as a house,” she replied crisply.

Blaise burst out laughing; nearly spilling what Astoria worriedly suspected was champagne in her glass. “Aren’t you so kind, Astoria?” he teased and she flushed. Noticing that she was eyeing her glass warily, he asked carefully, “you’ve never had champagne?”

“Only once or twice and it was watered down.” Astoria replied and he nodded carefully while returning to his seat, setting his napkin down onto his lap with more skill than she would ever have in her life and filling his plate. She noticed that he got far more food than she had and worried about the state of his robes, “have you ever…?” she asked, indicating her glass.

“More than once,” Blaise replied carefully after pouring his own drink and setting it down beside his plate. The candlelight played wonderfully against his dark skin and she was momentarily distracted by it before she started to eat, something in her chest making it more than a little difficult to concentrate on the surprisingly savory flavor. “I rarely ever drink nowadays though. It’s a disgusting habit for fools.”

Astoria eyed her glass of champagne warily before asking. “Tom really does believe that we’re engaged doesn’t he?” she blushed at the look Blaise gave her and hastily plowed on, “he even brought us a rose.”

Blaise’s eyes slanted over to the single rose on the table with open disdain. “I fear he’s a hopeless romantic. The poor, old man,” he said with a shake of his head while watching as Astoria frowned at the words. “Ah, my prickly guest is a romantic herself. Isn’t she?”

“I…wouldn’t mind being married.” Astoria admitted truthfully and suddenly their intimate dinner was decidedly uncomfortable. Blaise appeared truly surprised but spent more than a few minutes eating and appearing as if he were in heaven, which made her smile, “even though my parents want me to marry someone that I would never care for—”

Blaise interrupted her dryly. “Us disgusting, horribly evil purebloods?” Astoria flushed and felt an ugly sting somewhere in the middle of her chest but he surprised her by smiling. It was a comforting sort of smile that made her feel like hot butter, “tell me, Astoria while we’re on the subject…what would your precious future husband be like?”

Astoria felt a wave of embarrassment go through her and she ate more than her fair share of ham, nearly choking herself before swallowing and taking a careful sip out of her glass. The bubbles of the champagne tickled her nose and she wrinkled it, unable to meet Blaise’s curious dark eyes, “I want him to be dark haired and Muggle-born.”

“Oh?” Blaise asked with a grin. “And I suppose he has to sing and dance extremely well?” when Astoria nodded, he laughed. “Go on then, I’m awfully curious.”

Astoria didn’t know why she continued but she found herself saying with a wistful feeling that seemed out of place. “We’ll travel and he’ll buy me more than my fair share of Muggle novels since I love them.” Blaise’s eyes flashed with a curious glint but he said nothing. “And he’ll give me…” she trailed off, wondering more and more why the mental image of her fantasy husband was turning into her host.

“And he’ll give you what? Tender kisses and all of that?” Blaise asked with a darkly amused snort after taking a careful sip of his own drink. Astoria could hear his disbelief and felt her eyes narrowing even as her image of her fantasy scattered, “I’m also assuming that he quotes poetry and will never ask you to do anything…untoward.”

“What do you mean by untoward?” Astoria asked him, narrowing her eyes.

Blaise startled her by saying softly, his eyes hooded as they rested on her face. “I mean to say that he’ll be the sort to always keep his passions bottled up instead of unleashing them on you once you’re alone. And needing one another,” he replied calmly.

Astoria nearly spilt her drink at the words, so softly spoke that they easily stole her breath and she hastily said. “I don’t think this is the best conversation to be having right now.” And that seemed to amuse Blaise for whatever reason but he said nothing, merely watched her with dark eyes that held far more secrets than she would have thought. “It’s rather rude of you to talk about this sort of thing with me you know!”

“I’m merely teasing.” Blaise answered with a strange smile on his face as he sliced up a bit of ham with his knife and fork. He appeared to be lost in his own thoughts and Astoria was unsettled at the sudden heat that seemed to flare in this small, secluded space, “you turn such a pretty shade of pink when you blush. I can’t help myself.”

There was something about the way he phrased the words and with the slightest, most delicate purr that made Astoria squirm uncomfortably in her seat. It wasn’t the same sensation that she would have had if it had been Malfoy but….it was frightening all on its own, “…That’s because despite being a gentleman you’re still a prat underneath it all.” She bit out, still flushed.

Blaise laughed and his smile immediately distracted her before she went to hastily eating the remainder of her food. They had shared meals together of course at the Estate but there had never been this slight pulse between them, as if he would kiss her or worse, hold her and unleash his own passions onto her.

Astoria felt that giddy feeling nearly overwhelm her again before she shook it off, wondering if she were losing her mind. She couldn’t quite imagine what was wrong or why the thought of never letting him go seemed to pull her into the sort of depression that had always made her feel tired, angry and worthless all at once. “You’ve got this horrifying expression on your face again, Astoria. What are you thinking I wonder?” Blaise asked aloud, rapid curiosity somehow annoying her.

“I’m thinking of…going back to Hogwarts.” Astoria found herself lying and the change of topic wasn’t lost on him. A strange little smile flickered across his mouth and the candlelight made his dark eyes glow and burn, “I’m just wondering how things have changed.” This was actually something that she had worried about.

With Dumbledore gone and Death Eaters ruling the school, everything must be completely different from the place that she had been attending for the last few years and it troubled her deeply. She had never particularly cared for school itself but the thought of it being corrupted from the inside and the teachers not being able to say a word about the unfair treatment made her think too strongly of her own home.

It would be no different.

She would go to her solitary dorm and be alone again. As that horrible thought formed and a slight panic settled in as she thought of what Malfoyand his gang of terrors would do to her the moment either of them managed to get her alone (Although she planned on hexing them to pieces if they even dared), Astoria heard Blaise say gently. “Even if it things have changed, I won’t let anything happen to you.”

“There are certain things that you can’t control.” Astoria replied back tensely.

Blaise’s eyebrows shot up in arrogant surprise. “Like your terrible temper?” and when she glowered at him, knowing that it was true and pushing her plate aside as her appetite left her, he surprised her by saying firmly. “You do not ever need to run or hide from me. It would take quite a bit to keep me away from you.”

Astoria felt her heart stir but ignored it and the peculiar sting of longing it brought. She didn’t have time for something so foolish, she would consider what it meant later, much, much later of course, “Blaise, you and I….are…?”

“Are what?” Blaise asked with only the faintest traces of unease. Astoria wondered what he would say and waited patiently, her own skin breaking out in a nervous sweat, “master and pet? I’m aware of that as well.” He said and she gawped at him, nearly flinging her glass of champagne at his smirking face.

Astoria frowned and said heatedly. “You are a prat!” he burst out laughing and she found herself kicking him underneath the table as hard as she could until he winced. His laughter died down as he gasped in pain, eyeing her as if she were some sort of dangerous, fascinating beast from the far corners of Hell. It wouldn’t exactly be a lie, considering who she was related to, “I meant that we’re…friends. Aren’t we?”

Blaise was still wincing but stopped immediately as his body relaxed in that way that oddly annoyed her. She knew that she hadn’t imagined him shaking when she’d held him earlier but how he was able to find the strength to fight his own fear was more than a little admirable, “Of course we are, Astoria. I thought I’d already made this clear?” when she mumbled something, he tilted his head at her, studying and thinking. “After all of this, I gave you my word that when I receive my inheritance, we would make a life for you. Do you doubt me?”

No, she didn’t doubt him. Not completely, anyway but her mind whirred as she wondered if they would even be alive when he received his inheritance— “I just don’t want anything to happen to you before then.”

“Nothing will.” Blaise said with such earnestness that Astoria foolishly wondered if he could be right and eventually allowed the subject to fall. He was incredibly stubborn and there was nothing that she could do to change his mind about anything—he had made it this far with her and she couldn’t imagine him giving up now. “Now, eat the rest of your food unless you want me to devour it for you.”

Astoria felt her lips turning up in a smile as she held out her full plate to him and watching as he tucked in with a gusto that was almost frightening. “Blaise, you really will get fat.” She said worriedly and he nearly choked over his food, “and then how will you get in your fancy Potions robes?” she teased.

Blaise swallowed a bit of salad and bread before saying huskily. “I can just walk around naked.” Astoria didn’t need his laughter to signal that she had turned beet red and he slapped his hand on the table to chortle, “You’ll never get far with your magnificent Muggle-born husband if you can’t stand the sight of a fat man naked.”

“Who says that I’ll marry a fat man?” Astoria demanded hotly, annoyed.

Blaise held out his hands a little, looking simply pleased with himself. “Fate does, Astoria.” When she tossed her napkin at his head and he dodged it smoothly, he went on to say seriously, a twinkle in his eyes that made her want to smack him, “it’s your destiny. I’ve already got this feeling that no matter what you do, you’ll marry a fat man that can take the impact of your blows.”

Astoria tried to hold it in but the image caused her to laugh and she said nothing more while imagining what her own future could hold. If her family didn’t kill them both, she wondered if she would find some sort of job wiling to hire a half-blood in this changing world and if, someday she would have her own home, her own family.

The husband she married, she couldn’t help but fantasize while tracing the lines of Blaise’s face, would he make her laugh like this? Would he really take her traveling to exotic places and would he have a library filled with books just for her?

And would his kisses really make her float into the clouds like she had always imagined? Astoria thought of these things but as she wondered, idly listening to Blaise as he continued to mercilessly tease her, she realized with the sense of impending doom that her imagination had betrayed her.

No longer was there a sweet, Muggle-born man handling her with care but a strangely secretive pureblood who would never in his life consider having a lie such as herself. The remainder of their dinner seemed to pass by in slow, comfortable degrees but that thought weighed on her shoulders and mind and took root uncomfortably in her heart, making it hard to breathe. 

……

Astoria was still feeling strange as she slipped out of the bathroom, her hair freshly scrubbed and her body weakened by the hot water. Blaise had politely stood apart while she’d gathered her Hogwarts trunk and shyly wandered into the bathroom to take her bath but she was slightly startled to see him standing near the bed when she came out. He was still dressed in his own clothes and took in the sight of her in a simple white nightgown with what obviously resembled disappointment, “That is what you wear to bed?” he questioned.

Astoria felt her cheeks heating but managed to lug her Hogwarts trunk and her dirty clothes carefully beside her. There was something very uncomfortable about standing here in her nightgown with a man and she couldn’t understand how Emily could stand in front of them with much less and spluttered embarrassingly. “What are you doing standing by the bed and of course this is what I wear to bed! What were you imagining?”

Blaise reached out a hand to take her trunk but she declined and set it by the nightstand, trying hard not to glance at the pristine white sheets on the massive bed. They hadn’t mentioned their sleeping arrangements at all and Astoria wondered if she would burst into pieces if he suggested that they sleep together—why was she getting giddy at the thought?

It was scandalous! It was…not something she should be thinking about, picturing Blaise in bed with her. Astoria felt her heart racing, even more than it had when Tom and the other wizards had come in to take the remnants of their meal and Vanish the chairs and table. The barkeep had still stared at her, hastily dressed in her cloak with the hood covering her face with far too much curiosity and a bolt of unease had gone through her the same way it did now.

Something was wrong but she couldn’t put her finger on what it might be and had even taken her wand into the bathroom with her and now felt it vibrating in her free hand, as if it too sensed that something was amiss. “I was under the impression that you slept in the nude.” Blaise’s voice startled her out of her thoughts and she gawped at him, her entire body suffused with a pink blush that easily caused him to laugh uproariously.

Astoria tried to gather her thoughts but she could hardly think of what to say to something like that and merely glared at him. It only caused him to laugh harder and she asked bitingly while glancing briefly at the bed, “And is that how you plan to sleep? In the nude?”

Blaise’s laughter died off but there was still a gleam in his eyes that made Astoria take a step away as if he would grab her. Instead, he merely shrugged his shoulders and replied honestly, “I usually do but to preserve your maidenly virtue, I will be fully clothed.”

Images of him without any clothing flashed tantalizingly through her overheated mind and she shook them off hurriedly. “Y…you honestly do sleep in the nude?” Astoria asked him carefully and when he simply nodded, finding this not at all peculiar she demanded, “And you intend on sleeping in that bed without any of your clothes?” she jabbed her wand at the sheets in a panic.

“If you’re worried that I might slip in beside you and keep you awake all night with passionate lovemaking then I’ll have to decline Astoria.” Blaise said; his lips twitching as he watched her jerk away from the bed as if it might bite her. “I’ll make myself comfortable on the floor or settle into a chair.”

Astoria nervously offered while opening her Hogwarts trunk, stuffing her dirty clothes inside and slamming it shut. “You don’t have to do that.” Blaise’s eyes widened slightly but she thought that he was more interested in what sort of underwear she wore since he was looking at her Hogwarts trunk as if he might open it.

“And why not?” Blaise asked carefully, distracted.

Astoria shot him a look but shoved her Hogwarts trunk beside the bed, making sure that the locks were in place. She would know if he had tampered with it and the thought made her completely embarrassed and a little annoyed when she thought that he might if he were bored enough, “I could…sleep on the floor. It wouldn’t be good for you to sleep on the floor. It’s cold and dirty and the fire could go out and—” She trialed off in humiliation.

The fireplace was roaring with renewed flames so that was unlikely but she didn’t like the thought of him sleeping on the cold, hard floor while she was comfortable in a soft, disturbingly serene bed. Blaise was silent for a while but heaved a weary sort of sigh. “I suppose this is awkward isn’t it?” he asked and Astoria grumbled something. It made his lips twitch with a smirk but he forced it down and said seriously, “I will sleep on the floor, Astoria. There’s no need for the two of us to be so distracted.”

“And what is that supposed to mean?” Astoria managed to choke out, knowing that she would have been unable to sleep if he had decided to snuggle beside her. The thought that he didn’t wear any clothes while he slept only made it worse and she felt her mouth go dry and mentally hanged herself.

“I mean to say that it’s a very nice bed and that we’re both very tired.” Blaise said, bursting her own humiliated thoughts effortlessly. Astoria nodded jerkily and there was the slightest of pauses before he replied carefully, “you need to lie down, it’s been a hard night.”

Astoria glanced at the bed as if it might rise up and eat her alive and he laughed at her expression before she asked curiously. “And what will you be doing while I’m asleep?” she wasn’t sure what time it was but the darkness outside the window seemed to have deepened and the candles that Tom had carefully lit for them earlier were flickering weakly.

Blaise gestured for her to climb into the bed but upon seeing her outraged and embarrassed face he said wearily. “I’m not going to molest you, Astoria. My god, I think I have a bit more skill than that,” when Astoria glared at him, flushing and somehow hating that she wished he would go into more detail about that, he said with a grimace, “after all, I’m not Malfoy.”

His name…just his name made Astoria ill. “Please don’t talk about him now.” She managed to choke out and Blaise said nothing, though his eyes sharpened as she forced herself to throw the sheets and thick coverlet back. Glancing at the tall figure standing so close, she asked sharply, “could you not watch me?”

“It’s not as if you’re—fine.” Blaise said wearily while turning his back to her. Astoria hastily set her wand on the opposite pillow and settled herself into the mattress, nearly letting out a content sigh as it softened comfortably under her weight and when she was certain that he wouldn’t, she pulled the covers up to her chin. “Are you tucked in now?” he asked with only the slightest trace of annoyance.

Astoria nodded even though he couldn’t see her. “Yes, you can look now.” She said nervously and when Blaise turned around, his mouth opening on some sort of comment, she nearly expired as he roared with laughter. “Shut up! It isn’t funny!” but it had to be, with her peeking over the tops of the blankets like a toddler as he stood there laughing at her.

“But it is—you’re so cute! Look at you,” Blaise exclaimed with another burst of laughter as he gestured to her bundled shape. Astoria knew that he had probably had his own share of experiences with girls waiting for him in bed and she felt a rush of jealousy and hatred for all of them, especially the one he still held in his heart. “You have no idea what this looks like.”

Astoria frowned at him, the tips of her eyebrows forming a stern line over her eyes, which were blazing like violet fire. Blaise stepped closer and she growled, “You get away from me.” And he laughed all the harder and infuriated her by reaching down and tucking her into the bed the way a father would a bratty child. “Would you stop it?” she cried furiously when he patted her tenderly on the head.

Her hair was still a bit damp from her bath and the brown strands waved a bit over his fingers, which strangely caught his attention. Astoria watched as he tangled one of his long fingers over one bold lock and held it in a tender grip, “Why are you so scared? I would never take advantage of you.” Blaise said with a trace of affront.

Never trust a pureblood…that old family saying seemed to hover nastily on the tip of her tongue but Astoria bit it down. It wasn’t merely that, no matter how hard she fought it but the thought of being in a room with Blaise at night, with only one bed made her so disastrously nervous that she couldn’t even form proper words. “I-I know that. You’re not that sort of person, I’m just…” Astoria trailed off as he sat by her side, his long shape hovering over her own.

Somehow, it was far more nerve-wracking than the thought of sharing the bed with him and she felt her throat going dry. But Blaise barely noticed as he twirled her hair around his finger, watching as it curled beautifully around him the way Astoria almost wished she could, “If you’re afraid that something will happen to me during the night then you’re fretting for nothing. Tomorrow will come and then we’ll put this behind us as we go to Hogwarts.”

To face even more disaster, Astoria couldn’t help but think. But the thought of having him by her side during it all soothed her and she prayed that her family wouldn’t somehow breach the spark of happiness she would feel by killing them both. A chill descended onto her skin at the very image of finding Blaise’s body in some forgotten corridor while her family debated on how best to dispose of him nearly had her crying out. “How can you be so confident?” she asked him now.

“I’m merely confident in my ability to keep you safe.” Blaise replied with what she sensed was far more arrogance than she could ever possess. When she said nothing, he merely twirled her hair around his finger, his thoughts elsewhere before he murmured, “when we return to Hogwarts, Astoria I would like you to tell me, when you’re ready where your dorm is.”

Astoria was more than certain that she would have to use the old route to her dorm in order to even find it. Her Hogwarts letter, along with the usual letter from one of her father’s henchmen had passed her by and she would be on her own, always with the threat that Malfoy would be following her or that her family would be one step ahead. “I’ll…think about it.”

Blaise said nothing but a smile started to form and she eyed him warily before he bent down, his face near her own. “If you’re afraid of being trapped in a small room with me, I’m afraid it’s a bit too late for that.” When Astoria merely gawped at him, blushing and unable to say a word, he tapped her on the nose and rose away, his dark eyes hooded. “I can’t imagine how you’ve been able to stay inside a place without any company for so long.”

“It’s not so bad,” Astoria tried to say but it was a lie and they both sensed it, but said nothing even as the truth made her sick. She hated going inside of that room every year, with the same furnishings, the same feeling that she would be alone while others were becoming acquainted with friends—something that she had never even been allowed. It was an existence she wouldn’t wish on anyone, “I never even thought anyone noticed besides Malfoy that I never shared the Slytherin dorms with the other girls.”

The fact that she had mentioned his name despite her revulsion of just hearing it was enough for Blaise to carefully say. “I noticed but I thought, at the time that it was really none of my business.” Astoria stared at him, wondering how often he had noticed her slipping away after dinner and not commenting about the obvious sight of her never appearing in the Slytherin common room.

“Why didn’t you ask?” Astoria found herself pressing.

“You were never my concern. I was…preoccupied,” Blaise allowed and Astoria flushed a little, envy seething around her heart. He had, of course, been busy with various girls and living in a world that had always hated the sight of her, “I was in a happy place with someone I cared about. I didn’t have time for much else.”

These words surprised her and Astoria knew that he was mentioning the girl that he still cared for, the one he had never told her much about. She imagined her as some sort of devastatingly alluring pureblood girl and wondered how long it would take for her to drown herself— “This girl…this girl that you liked so much. Where is she now?”

Blaise’s face tightened and Astoria knew that she had broached something that he would never willingly tell her and she felt his hand leave her hair. Unsure if he would even say another word about the subject, he simply said, “She’ll be at Hogwarts but I have no intention of speaking or even acknowledging that she’s alive.” The words chilled her but he didn’t expand on the words, merely grew lost in some painful memory before he asked. “Are you tired yet?”

“Are you in some sort of hurry?” Astoria asked him dryly. Blaise said nothing and she desperately searched for something else to say and found herself questioning, “is there anything that you’re afraid of?” she didn’t know why she wanted to know but she couldn’t imagine him running from anything or anyone.

Apparently, it startled Blaise as well and he stared down at her oddly, his brow quirking as if she had asked him something highly inappropriate. “Why would you want to know something like that?” Astoria said nothing, somehow knowing that she had struck a nerve.

Silence stretched between them before she found herself saying. “I really don’t like being in closed off spaces. My sister told me a scary story once when I was still little about…people being tapped underground and I’ve always hated tight spaces because of it,” Astoria admitted weakly, omitting the fact that it hadn’t been a story. Emily had merely been talking, in that overly cheerful way of hers about a client that Scorpious had buried alive for trying to kidnap her but there was no way that she would ever enlighten Blaise about this.

“Your sister sounds as if she enjoys torturing you.” Blaise said with understanding and Astoria waited until he heaved a sigh and said, slowly. “Sabina has never liked me, I must tell you this before I go on,” when Astoria nodded, feeling sympathy for him and hating his sister that would carelessly poison their mother, he went on. “I always tried to avoid her when I was younger because she…scared me.”

Astoria was startled by this and found herself sitting up a bit more, pushing the covers and sheets down so she could have more room. “How so?” she whispered, watching as he glanced at her warily, as if he thought she might have laughed at him, “why would you be afraid of her?”

Blaise hesitated and avoided her eyes as he continued, his fingers idly running over the sleeve of her nightgown. The slight action made her stiffen with undeniable pleasure, “She’s always had the nastiest temper and father always said that she received it from her mother. He wasn’t her father, but he adopted her and treated her like his own, he was a very kind man that way.”

Astoria had heard that his mother had had previous marriages and that they had all ended rather badly. The men would either wind up dying in a suspiciously short time or, like Blaise’s father, leave her and never return, “Did your father love her?” when Blaise nodded shortly, she forced herself to continue on. “When you were born, did she…was she jealous? My brother told me that some siblings can get like that.”

“I’m not certain whether she was jealous or simply mean spirited but she would bully and frighten me until I couldn’t stand being in the same room with her. I avoided her as much as I could but this one day…she tricked me.” Blaise said tightly and his shoulders sagged a little. “She was being unusually nice and told me that she had hidden a present for me somewhere in the garden.”

Astoria felt unsettled, trying to imagine what Blaise must have appeared as a child. She still had fleeting images from the pictures that she’d looked at in his father’s study and the image of him, so young and innocent made something like dread wrap around her heart. “And then?” she asked gently, unable to stop herself.

Blaise’s lips tightened and he swallowed hard, his eyes glancing away from her and settling instead on some distant place that she couldn’t see. The memory apparently was still very fresh and could have happened days before, “Sabina said that they only way I could get it was if I went to the garden at night.”

Astoria felt her eyes narrowing with dislike for his sister, knowing that it couldn’t have been this easy. Emily had never treated her as anything less than what she was and though her sister would often grow annoyed at her, she had never been able to not talk or be near her, not when their own mother rarely listened. “Your sister would have let you wander off into the dark alone?” she demanded.

Blaise chuckled, but it was dry and reminded her of old bones. He returned his gaze to her and even Astoria could sense how much he had tried to let the memory fade away, “She said she would come with me, that it would be like an adventure.” He smiled faintly, “Father used to read me stories about that sort of thing and I was easily fooled.”

“So you left with her,” Astoria said, knowing that it was the truth.

Blaise nodded ever so slowly and said with a stiffening of his shoulders. “I went with her to the back of the garden. She was my older sister, she was supposed to protect me and I’m not sure why I thought that she had stopped hating me but the thought of a present from her especially was enough for me to forgive nearly everything.” He paused for a moment and Astoria thought that he wouldn’t continue but he went on in a hard voice. “In the garden, there was this old tree there that we were told not to play around. It was scary out in the dark but I didn’t want Sabina to think that I was afraid.”

Astoria thought of the trees surrounding the Estate, wondering what sort of memories they had held for him. Some part of her worried that they were not entirely pleasant and she felt a chill going down her spine, “You were supposed to brave, I understand.” She ran her eyes over him in concern but he turned his face away, “what did you do once you were there with her?”

Blaise took a long time to reply but he eventually did and explained with a hollowness in his voice that she had never heard before. “Sabina led me over to it, holding a candle she’d brought along with us and pointed to the center. There was a hole inside large enough to fill someone my size,”

Something about the way he said the words numbed her to the bone. “Your sister told you that your present was inside of it?” Blaise nodded and she felt a wave of disgust go through her but asked him carefully. “And what happened?”

“I climbed inside of it, somehow thinking that she would be following after and she handed me her candle and told me, “Look for your present, Blaise. It’s in there,” and I grew happy even if I was getting a little scared.” Blaise admitted bitterly, “It was darker than I’d thought inside and it smelt badly, like something rotting.”

But Astoria knew that he hadn’t cried out or asked for his sister’s help, wanting her to believe him brave and strong. It hurt her heart to think about it, “How long did you look?” she somehow managed to ask.

“Until the wax was burning my fingers,” Blaise said, looking down at his dark hands as if he could still feel the pain. “I looked and looked but found nothing at all of course and I asked her, “Where is it, Bee?” she laughed at me and said, “You’re the present,” and left me there.” Blaise’s tone had dropped and Astoria reached for his hand, hearing the long ago fear in his voice.

Astoria felt her jaw dropping and had to clap a hand over her mouth to stop herself from letting out a grown of outrage. How could his sister have done such a thing? “She left you?” she asked, lowering her hand and when Blaise merely nodded she hesitated and asked, “…and is that all?”

“Sadly, no, ” Blaise replied icily and she swallowed hard and fisted the sheets in her lap tightly. Her knuckles soon turned white, “I heard a sound, like sliding and hissing. I was scared, so scared but I held the candle low and realized what she had filled the tree with.” He hesitated and Astoria stared at him, wanting him to go on even though it would be terrible to know, “Sabina had filled it with snakes.”

Astoria’s fingers seemed to tighten on the sheets until she thought that they might rip and she pictured him then, a small boy cruelly tricked into such a place. “Did they bite you? Where did they even come from?” she asked in a panic.

Blaise hesitated for a moment but he answered her tightly, his eyes narrowed. “I was never certain where they had come from but my sister, but I know she put them there.” He was silent for a long time and the only sounds seemed to be the crackling of the fire and their hearts, beating and pounding together. “She was always having our parents buy her pets and doing things she had no business.”

“But…did they bite you? Were you hurt?” Astoria demanded frightfully, unable to bear the mental image of his body being covered in gruesome marks.

Blaise shook his head, fighting back the memory but saying ruefully, a cold glimmer entering his eyes and making her slightly fearful. “No, they didn’t bite me. But I could feel them crawling over me and I dropped the candle. It went out and there was nothing but blackness and those hissing sounds,” he trailed away, lost in the memory.

Astoria could only imagine what it must have been like, hidden away in the dark with nothing but the sounds and feeling of snakes wrapping around you. It was a terrible thing to go through as a child and she wished that something more had been done, that he had never believed his sister who hated him enough to scare him so thoroughly. “…They must have been angry,” she whispered.

“I don’t think they were very big but to me they might as well have been the size of giants and I was panicked, thinking they would eat me. But now I know that they were probably more afraid than I was,” Blaise smiled ruefully, his eyes incredibly sad.

Astoria now found herself asking softly. “It must have been uncomfortable for you to be put in Slytherin then, knowing that Salazar had such a fondness for them.” He had, of course, been a Parseltongue like Harry Potter but she knew how distressing it may have been for Blaise, eleven and thrust into his domain.

Blaise nodded, looking startled that she had understood. “It was…unsettling to be honest. I’ve detested snakes and the dark ever since.” He paused slightly before laughing weakly, “but it is rather strange that the Slytherin symbol is a snake, I could almost hear my sister applauding herself.”

Astoria would have never imagined that he would have been afraid of anything but the dark was something she could now understand. “If the snakes had bit you, would you have been poisoned?” she found herself asking, her heart aching for him.

Blaise was studying her face carefully for some sign that she might, if possible, reject him but when she did nothing but stare at him in genuine concern, he smiled faintly. It was a slightly sad smile that hurt her more than his next words, “I don’t think they were poisonous but it was terrifying with them sliding and slipping over me and even while I screamed, no one heard me.”

“No one heard you? No one heard you screaming in the dark?” Astoria asked, outraged. If she had known that her own child had been missing or that she hadn’t checked on him herself she would have searched the entire world for him and would do it now if Blaise were to suddenly vanish for her life.

It was a truthful, but terrifying realization.

Blaise stared at her for a moment, almost as if he had sensed the turn of her thoughts and she was nervous and afraid that he might say something about it but in the end he let it pass. There were so many things between them that she knew were being deliberately left unsaid and she wondered if she would ever know what lingered in the back of his mind. “We had walked very far into the garden, it’s covered in trees and my father never let us wander there alone. And Sabina knew that, the wretch knew it.”

“And you’re certain that no one heard you screaming?” Astoria asked, struck with horror.

Blaise nodded his head slowly, his tone somehow changing into a distant sound that was taking her farther and farther away from this place. “No one did. I was too scared to move and I stayed in that dark hole for the rest of the night, crying and wanting my parents.”

“How long did you stay there?” Astoria asked, stricken by the images in her mind.

Blaise was silent for a short moment before giving her arm the gentlest of squeezes and it effectively calmed her. For just a moment as he replied slowly, “It was only until early morning. I had huddled up in that hole, thinking that no one would come for me, hearing strange sounds and feeling those snakes sliding against me.”

“But your parents found you?” Astoria asked, wanting to reach out and touch him but knowing that he would rather she didn’t. But the need to comfort him in some way was powerful and shse had to fight back the impulse with all her might.

Blaise gave her a reassuring smile that made the pit of her heart sing. Eventually he replied quietly, as if he didn’t want to startle her, “My father found me soon enough. I think Sabina was forced to tell him what she’d done—and led him to me.” Blaise’s voice had gone quiet and Astoria was flushed with rage. “I’m not sure where my mother was but all I remember is my father reaching into that hole and pulling me out. I don’t think I was able to let him go for hours afterward.”

Astoria was so horrified by the story that she didn’t even sense when he had stopped speaking and studied her, his body stiff with what must have been a terrible memory. She couldn’t believe that his sister had done such a thing to him when he was still so young and she felt a fire in her at the thought that she should never meet the wretch. It wouldn’t bode well when various curses were flashing through her mind, wanting to avenge the hurt by that Blaise had been, “I wish that I could have been there for you.” She found herself saying.

Blaise didn’t respond and when she met his eyes, something consuming passed between them and she felt it gathering pleasantly in the center of her chest. “…Thank you, Astoria.” Was all that he said but so much more seemed to pass between them that Astoria felt her cheeks heating, wondering what it could have been but not daring to ask, “I think that, after a story like this that you should be getting as much rest as possible.”

Astoria gathered her sheets and blankets tightly in her hands and slid back down them until she was cocooned in warmth. Blaise watched her and gently tucked her back in and did something bizarre.  

He leaned down and pressed his lips gently across her forehead in what might not have counted as a kiss, more of a flash of heat against her skin before he hurriedly stood, bowed low to her and retreated. It was enough for now but Astoria was unsettled by the fact that some part of her desired more and she tried to force herself to sleep, still thinking of Blaise and the child that he had been.

Thanks for reading! It makes this old lady happy but please be patient when I come back to it! Now, I have to update for Albus Potter and the Dark Lord's Prince. Merlin have mercy. D':

 


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