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A Force Of Wills by Gabriella Hunter
Chapter 18 : Bargains
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 1


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A/N: Sorry for the long wait! Anyway, this entire chapter is dedicated to the lovely CassiePotter for being my constant reviewer (And sometimes only reviewer) and being simply amazing. :)

“Although your mother would have wanted me to wait for you to rest for a while longer, I feel that the two of you have much to discuss and will wait no longer. You will have to forgive your father for his lack of patience, pet.” Maximus Greengrass said calmly to Astoria as she sat across from him in his office, her heart pounding so hard that she swore he could hear the rhythm. His dark blue eyes were focused unflinchingly on her face, as if he were intent on learning the inner workings of her mind and she merely stared back at him, revealing nothing, “you look well, despite what I would have thought.”

It had been more than three days since Astoria had found herself returned to her family, three days of plotting, worrying and healing. The wound that Scorpious had given to her shoulder had healed up nicely, though there was a nasty scar, like the shape of a twisted hole on her pale skin the color of dark, old blood, “I'm feeling much better thanks to Mum and Emily.” She informed him tonelessly.

The words caused her father to smile at her strangely, as if he found the blank state of her face amusing. To him, she may as well have been nothing but a wailing child that he had to put back in its place and Astoria stiffened slightly in the hard leather chair, careful not to fidget too badly, “Yes, your mother was telling me that you've been quiet cooperative these last few days. I found that to be a nice change.”

Astoria heard the slight sneer in the words and looked briefly away from him, uncomfortable to be in his personal domain. Though she had always known where it had been, she had never stepped foot inside of his office due to her fear of disturbing his things or discovering something best left alone, “I tried to be.” She said to him, taking in the dark paneled walls, untouched bookshelf and portraits on the wall behind him, where he sat with a casualness that instantly deceived.

This office was the place where Emily and Scorpious received the latest assignments before heading off to take care of them. Astoria had always found it eerie standing outside the door and waiting for them to step back aside, some part of her thinking that they wouldn't sooner or later, “Your mother was practically glowing when she told me how well-behaved you've been.” Her father said to her slowly, as if he found this highly suspicion.

Astoria knew that he should be suspicious but she flicked her gaze back to his with the faintest of smiles. One of his black brows quirked curiously, studying her so intently that it made her skin prickle underneath her dress, “I was trying not to upset her like I did the few days that I was gone.”

Maximus Greengrass reacted to the words with a scoffing laugh as he leaned back in his chair, fingers laced in front of him. His desk was piled with neat stacks of paperwork, either from the Ministry or for the family business, Astoria could never be certain and she felt a nasty knot form in her throat, “Upset her would be saying it very lightly, my dear. We all feared the worst.”

Though the words would have caused her to feel some amount of guilt had she not known better, Astoria merely tossed them aside. She knew that his only concern had been whether or not she had compromised the family business by speaking of it to Blaise, which she had never even dared to do, “I was quite fine at the Zabini Estate.” Astoria said reassuringly, as if the thought of them suffering with worry meant little to her.

That merely caused her father's lips, which had been turned up in an amicable smile, tighten into ugly twin lines. A menacing air radiated from his body and even behind fine robes, Astoria knew that his true nature was threatening to burst from the strictly applied confines, “Quite fine indeed.” He said softly, the words so soft that she felt a strange chill.

These past three days had nearly been unbearable but Astoria had made certain long before now, that when she finally came to speak to her father that she would be unafraid. For Blaise's sake and for her own, she would stay strong and allow him not even an ounce of fear, “What do you want to do with me now that I'm hear, Dad? You don't have to use pretty words or waste time,” Astoria found herself saying, enjoying the brief flicker of surprise in his blue eyes.

They were so blue that they could have been black, Scorpious's eyes nearly the same but always having possessed a measure of kindness. Their father's eyes could adopt that warmth if he chose to but they were mostly calculating...cruel or hard and whatever warmth Astoria had seen in them as a child may have been a lie.

“I must say that you continue to stun me, Astoria. You have shaped up to be a fine young woman, though your past and recent actions have caused me to reconsider certain little aspects of the future your mother and I had decided for you.” Her father said after a moment of silence, the air in the room nearly poisonous.

While her mother and sister had been more than worried, Emily having begged her this morning to lie for all she was worth, Astoria had run through every bargaining chip in her mind. It would be unwise not to tell the truth to her father when so much was resting on her shoulders and she would do and say anything if it would finally get Blaise out of this house once and or all.

Her dear friend was still in Leo's old bedroom, healing slowly and still in minor pain from what Emily had reluctantly revealed but Astoria was now concerned for various other reasons. What had her father told the staff at Hogwarts about she and Blaise's absences?

What had Helena Zabini been told about her son? Was she worried? Had her family hurt her in some way? Astoria knew that the more he stayed in this house, the longer his risk of being disposed of grew and because she hadn't seen Scorpious in the flesh, she wasn't sure if it were coming close or not.

Her brother had avoided her like the plague, even though she had heard his footsteps pause outside of her bedroom door more than once before he had walked stiffly away. There was no way that she would be able to face him just now and the thought of ever speaking to him again made bile rise in her throat, he probably knew what their father intended on doing with her and she felt that it was wrong of him not to have told Emily or their mother. But she supposed in his own sick way that he was sparing them and if they ever spoke again or if she dared to look into his blue eyes, the blame and hatred here would rip her to pieces.

Astoria willed herself not to be heartbroken by the truth. Scorpious had claimed that she had ruined everything...and she knew that it couldn't be a lie, not when the blame was so thickly pulsing in her chest. “What do you mean?” she demanded, feeling her violet eyes narrowing into slits onto his impassive face, “are you going to kill me?”

Maximus Greengrass gave a dark laugh at the words and she found it eerie, the sound wrapping around her like rope. Astoria felt her chest tightening and fear bolted through her but she refused to allow him to see it and kept her eyes level with his as he considered her, blue eyes narrowed slightly, “No, no, my dear. You may have tested my patience in a way that I won't even begin to describe but no, I won't have you wind up like Leo.”

That was the news that Astoria had been waiting three days to hear but the joy that she thought it would bring her didn't come. Emily and their mother were waiting anxiously out in the sitting room, perhaps taking tea to calm their nerves but she didn't think that anything would, her mother had looked faint when she had told her that her father wished to speak with her this morning.

Astoria had been expecting it but Emily had gone as pale as a ghost and had quickly rushed out of the room, sobs echoing in the hall but she tried to block out those haunting noises. “Like Leo...” she said to herself.

The mystery surrounding her dead older brother only seemed to deepen but even while Astoria knew some details of his death and the warning behind them, the full story had never been told. “Yes, like Leo. Your mother wouldn't allow anything like that to happen again, I took her feelings into account, ” Maximus Greengrass said after a while, having heard the whispered words and startling her slightly at the wistful expression that flashed over his face.

Astoria knew that her mother had been worried on whether or not she would have been able to sway his temper. It wasn't impossible to think that she hadn't but she knew from the slight smile on her father's face that he had had other plans all along, though some of them she knew could be just as terrible, “I'm...glad to hear that.”

But what now?

And what about Blaise, what was he intending to do with him? How long would he have to be here, in pain with her sister and their house-elf tending to him? She hadn't been allowed out of her room and it was locked each time her mother or sister came to visit her...seeing him was near impossible.

Maximus Greengrass bowed his black head slightly, as if he had given her the greatest of favors. Astoria had to stop herself from raising her upper lip, “I have decided to work around that and discuss all of your faults in grave detail before giving you my ultimatum...”

Something ominous, thick and nasty flooded into Astoria's mouth and she glanced quickly away. On the wall beside his head were three aged portraits of people that she had never seen and she was surprised to see them there, knowing that her mother had made him dispose of his family portraits years ago.

Though she didn't know why and some part of her didn't want to know, she knew that her father's parents had died mysteriously and that his three other siblings were out of their lives. “Who are those people?” Astoria asked, surprising them both. She raised one hand to point behind his head at them, curious to know why they were being displayed so blatantly like trophies.

A spark had entered the depths of her father's blue eyes and she found it haunting and unnerving. Carefully, as if he were afraid to frightening her off even more than he would later on, he stood from his chair to stand beneath the portraits, pointing at each one in turn as Astoria tried to take them in. “These are my brothers and sister.” He said, a cold smile forming that disturbed her greatly, “you may have believed at some point that I was an only child.”

There was very little details that she did know about her father's family, aside from his grandfather starting the family business. Scorpious had always told her that the less she knew about their family history, the more sane you would be and Astoria now wondered if that were true...or a warning not to push too far.

“I did believe that. Mum was an only child and her parents died years ago, she said,” Astoria replied, wondering how they would feel to know what their daughter had settled down with.

“Yes, she was devastated. They never wanted her to be with me once I started seeing your mother in school, they found me too poor, my family name no longer holding any value.” Maximus said to her with a flare of bitterness in his eyes. Apparently that bothered him more than winning over her mother's love, “I eventually convinced them that their daughter would be properly cared for,” he said with a faint smile that was almost, almost warm.

Astoria nodded idly before looking at the three portraits above his head more curiously. If she didn't know any better, the brother on the far right appeared to be rolling his heavy lidded eyes, his black hair tied back with a bit of string as he smoothed over clothes that were at least twenty years out of date.

He was very handsome even with that irritated expression on his face while the other brother, slightly chubbier with a dimpled grin appeared more amused. There was a big difference between them but Astoria couldn't detect what it was as she flicked her gaze back and forth, noticing that the other brother's blue eyes were wide and slightly dazed, as if he were not quite seeing the world clearly.

 

It made her skin prickle but she flicked her eyes away to stare at what could only be her aunt. If there was any resemblance between the three siblings and her father, they were less defined in the woman's pale face, her eyes resembling brown flecks of fire as she tilted her head.

Astoria wasn't certain what could have brought on the expression but her aunt's face was rather hard even while the pink dress she wore was something that would have made Emily swoon. No amount of frills and lace, curled hair or heavy make up would erase the loathing in her aunt's face though and she watched her tuck a lock of thick black hair behind a bejeweled ear.

“They don't look very happy, except for the one in the middle.” Astoria found herself saying dryly to her father, thinking that the portraits were simply the most depressing things on earth.

Something almost like a smile flashed across the planes of her father's face as he glanced up at the portraits, tapping at the frames. “Your mother said the exact same thing, which is one reason why she had me take them off the walls.” He said, sounding slightly amused.

Astoria knew that her parents, if it were even possible to comprehend, cared for one another. Sometimes though, despite herself, she wondered if her mother considered it more of a business arrangement, as it had been rare for her to see them glance at one another with the intimacy of other parents, “Who is who? Do Emily and Scorpious know about them?”

“They do but they've never been too curious.” Maximus said with a slightly icy glint in his eye. Astoria felt her bones stiffen as he turned away from her, still tapping the frames of the portraits, “this is your Uncle Tiberius, the oldest out of the four of us.” He said, finger knocking on the portrait of the annoyed, long-haired brother.

Tiberius...Astoria ran the name through her mind for a few moments, liking the way it sounded. “If he's the oldest out of the four of you, are you the youngest?” she asked, curious to know if he had ever been somewhat bullied by his older brother as much as Scorpious had teased Emily.

There was a scoff from her father, as if he found the words simply amusing or, Astoria suspected, ridiculous. “I'm the second oldest, Tiberius and I got along decently enough but we were never very close.” He said and there was something in his tone that made her narrow her eyes slightly but he didn't elaborate, “he had...different tastes.”

“And what does that mean?” Astoria asked carefully.

“Never you mind, you have your own problems to face, now don't you?” Maximus asked her idly, black brows raised. Astoria forced herself not to scowl and her fingers not to tremble as he tapped lightly on the middle portrait, a grin spreading over his face and nearly making him seem normal, “this is your Uncle Caligula, he was the youngest out of the boys.”

Astoria took in her Uncle Caligula's dimpled, chubby face and the strange look in his eyes with a worried look. There was something about the glow in his eyes that was extremely unsettling, “Did he always have that expression?”

“Why yes of course. Caligula enjoyed the family business and his assignments far more than Tiberius or I did at the time.” Maximus said after a moment, looking up at his brother with vacant blue eyes, perhaps lost in what Astoria could only guess were disturbing memories.

Astoria would have never thought that he wouldn't have enjoyed the family business from a young age. Then again, he may have just been biding his time for his own opportunity like the proper Slytherin he had been, “Was there something...not quite right with him?”

There was a slight pause after the question and she was surprised when her father gave a slight nod. “After a while, doing what we have to do takes a certain toll on a person at the mots unexpected times. You can see the insanity in his eyes, can't you?” her father asked, not even bothering to spare words. Astoria flinched slightly at the accepted sigh he gave, as if madness were an everyday occurrence, “such an odd one.”

If her father had considered his own brother strange, Astoria could only imagine what he thought of himself. “And what about your sister?” she asked, somehow not wanting to know anymore but curious despite herself, “was she the youngest out of the three of you?”

Maximus nodded, black hair gleaming as he did so. The short strands shifted slightly along his forehead like India ink, “That's Hera, she was the youngest but the meanest out of the four of us,” Astoria picked up on the use of past tense to describe his sister and felt something nasty flood into her system.

“Why does she look so upset in this picture?” Astoria forced herself to ask, glancing back and forth between the portraits. Tiberius was rolling his heavy lidded eyes again while Caligula continued grinning madly, “they look...troubled.”

That caused her father to give a bark of a laugh. “Hera was always upset about one thing or another, she and your mother despised one another.” He said with a swift smile at some memory or another, “I do believe you may have gotten that temper from her, she never enjoyed sitting for portraits, though during this time when we had these done, no one was especially pleased.” He said, looking at the three portraits.

Astoria was finding herself more than a little curious now but she bit down on the unease that was spreading. “Why?” she pressed, wondering what life had been like for her father when he had been young despite herself.

“...There was a disagreement. Tiberius had considered changing a few things and he had the most absurd argument with our father that day and because of it, all four of us were punished to sit through this,” Maximus said with a suffering sigh at the portraits, grinning at his sister's furious expression.

Astoria had a feeling that there was a lot that he was leaving out but something warned her that pressing the issue wouldn't be wise. “....Where's your portrait?” she asked , unable not to picture it in a dark, dank basement somewhere frightening off rats or mice.

Maximus was silent for a moment, studying his siblings with a detached expression. His eyes had flicked to Tiberius for a moment longer than necessary, as if he were having some sort of inner battle with him before he replied, resuming his seat behind his desk, “I'm not completely arrogant to have my own portrait in my office. I do believe Tiberius burned it years and years later.”

Something about the way he said the words made Astoria tense a little and she watched his blue eyes flickering with what could only be hate. The room felt suddenly colder and they stayed silent, her father lost in his strange thoughts and her mind whirring as she wondered what had happened to her aunt and uncles.

Although she knew why she was in this house, it felt strange to know that she had no other family to turn to when she might have needed them recently. “Now that I know who they are, would you mind telling me what you plan on doing with me?” Astoria asked, no longer able to stand the smothering silence in the room.

It was as if she had snapped her father back to life and he instantly became all business again. Talking about her life and what he planned on doing with it suddenly became his most pressing concern, an eerie glow in his eyes returning as he observed her for a few long, uncomfortable beats. “You are under the impression that you have nearly ruined all that this family stands for, are you not, Astoria?” he asked calmly.

That calm tone was driving her mad but Astoria managed to nod, even though the action made her pinned up hair to dig into her scalp. Though it had been torturous, she had allowed her mother to primp her until she resembled a freshly plucked rose, even while it had nearly taken three hours, “Yes, I'm aware of that.”

“Are you certain?” Maximus questioned her carefully, his blue eyes hardening into pools of ice. He laced his fingers together slowly and Astoria couldn't help but wonder if he were thinking of wringing he neck just as easily, “I don't believe you realize the full extent of your selfish decisions.”

Astoria winced inwardly at the words but forced herself not to show both the confusion and fierce hate that were threatening to show. The fear was locked down and she would give anything for it to fade completely in the face of this man, “I know that running away and ignoring what you told me to do...using Aradelle to help me leave and going to Zabini were wrong.”

Maximus was silent for a long time but caused her to jump as he gave a loud, terrifying shout of a laugh. It suddenly felt so cold here in his office and she tried not to burrow into her chair out of pure fear, “That is hardly any consequence in comparison to how you've ruined everything that I had worked for months to build!”

“What do you mean?” Astoria whispered faintly. This wasn't solely about leaving and running with Blaise? She didn't understand... “I'm not sure what you mean.”

A dangerous glint entered her father's blue eyes and Astoria recoiled from the sight, seeing her brother's fury in him. Images of Scorpious's bloody face flashed through her mind and she paled considerably, sickened to the core and there was the most horrible of silences as the memories overwhelmed her.

Never in her life would she be able to forget the sight of Scorpious holding up a blade to Blaise's throat. Or hating her so intensely that it would leave a stinging hole in her chest forever and their father's voice made it no better as he began speaking, so slowly that he might have thought she was still a small child.

“I have worked in the Ministry for a very long time, even doing as your mother wanted and occasionally helping the Order bring unsavory purebloods to justice, for appearances sake, mind you,” Maximus said dryly, as if he found the thought disgusting when murder was simply more acceptable, “after countless plans and plots to have Lucius Malfoy and his family brought to their knees, its all taken away from me in one night because of you.”

Astoria's jaw dropped at the cruel accusation and fumbled for something to say, hating how shocked he had made her. The Malfoy's had been his prime target for a very long time and she had known, truly known what he had had planned by revealing Lucius Malfoy as the snake he really was to the Order. She had known but.... “How can that possibly be my fault?” she demanded angrily.

The sound of her anger only seemed to darken her father's mood and Astoria felt her skin flooding with color. Maximus looked simply enraged, “By consorting with that pureblood in a pantry, whether or not its true or not has stopped every single calling card or invitation from coming into this house. And that means less clients, Astoria, less chances for me to bring Lucius Malfoy and his filthy pureblood family down,”

Astoria knew that that rumor that Malfoy had started about her and Blaise would come back to haunt her. But so deeply, she never could have imagined, “What do you mean? I thought that the Malfoy's had forgiven us, that our chances of being invited to another pureblood event would be high,”

“Do you honestly think that, even with all of my connections and bribes that I could tempt any respected pureblood into letting us into their homes?” Maximus asked her snidely and Astoria flinched at the look in his eyes. As she tried to think of something to say, he said furiously, “and to make matters worse, my sources have told me that the Order has been disbanded. Mad-Eye is dead and my main chance has slipped from my fingers...”

Astoria knew that he couldn't blame the death of the old Auror on her head but she could feel his blame. He had missed his opportunity to taste the sweetness of revenge because of a rumor that Malfoy had started...stupid, odious Malfoy that couldn't stop chasing her to save his life.

Something nagged at her then and she was suddenly reminded of her encounter with the beast in Diagon Alley, though she kept her face blank before her panic could show. If Malfoy had followed her into Knockturn Alley—no, it was impossible, not even he was that stupid. That was a dangerous place and pampered little princes like Malfoy would be dead in a matter of minutes..there was no way that he had followed her and seen anything but still....

“And to make matters worse, darling, the Malfoys are practically prisoners in their home. Its all the talk of the Ministry that Lucius Malfoy and his family have lost favor with the Dark Lord, that any chance of crushing him myself has faded away,” Maximus said thunderously, snapping her out of her thoughts violently.

There was no amount of apologies that Astoria could make but she knew that her father wanted them, perhaps expected them from her. As she opened her mouth, there was a loud thump from upstairs that caused both of them to look up briefly at the ceiling before focusing on one another again, “...I had no idea that that rumor would ruin your chances of hurting the Malfoys.”

Maximus looked up at the ceiling again as another thump erupted before sighing wearily at his family's lack of coordination. He shot her a venomous look that made any childhood memory of him that was even remotely tender vanish, “Of course not but that is only a small, slight thing. In the past week, because of that little incident, our invitations to pureblood events have dropped considerably and your sister's chances of being married off along with that brother of yours is in jeopardy.”

Astoria knew that he wouldn't say, that having a “loose” sister such as herself reflected badly on everyone. Emily hadn't said anything but she now knew what Scorpious had meant, though she couldn't imagine that he had been particularly upset about not being married off to some pureblood girl. “You haven't tried to...?”

“I've kept Emily and Scorpious under more careful observation instead of wasting my time begging to be allowed into a purebloods home.” Maximus said with a look of pure, honest revulsion. “A man has his pride. I will not allow your siblings to be foolish enough to make your mistakes and have made it impossible, especially for Scorpious to sneak away like he tends to.”

To see Diana, his Muggle girlfriend, Astoria thought with a pang of hurt at the realization. Their parents and Emily had no idea about the girl of course, she was the only one that he had told and she had met her on more than one occasion in the strangely fascinating Muggle world but... “you ran away from home, you derailed everything that Dad had planned for us! For me!”

Those words suddenly made sense to her now and Astoria felt her eyes stinging with tears at what she had done to him. Scorpious loved Diana and now there was less of a chance that he would see her...he was more bound to the family than ever and there was nothing she could do to—

“What in the bloody hell is that noise?” Maximus asked furiously as another thump from upstairs caught his attention. He had been studying her face with a nasty, satisfied look but now barked, “Aradelle!”

Astoria jumped in her seat as their bruised and frightened house-elf appeared beside his desk. The poor creature took one look at her and cowered a little, as if she were afraid that she would ask another foolish request and she had to dab at her eyes discreetly, thinking that guilt was a horrible emotions, “Y-yes, Master Greengrass?” Aradelle asked to her father, head bent low in case he meant to hit her.

Although he hadn't made it apparent that he had his wand, Astoria was unsurprised to see him dig into his robes for it. Carelessly, he toyed with the weapon, making sure that the poor creature saw it and the dark intent in his eyes if she dared to lie to him, “What is that commotion upstairs?” he asked furiously.

Aradelle jumped at the anger in his voice and stepped away, trembling from head to foot like a leaf. Astoria wanted to reach out and touch her but she held back, knowing that it would be unwise right now, “I-its the Z-Zabini boy. He's a bad, bad boy, sir,”

Joy, shock and horror flooded into Astoria's system at the words that she hadn't been expected. Blaise was up and moving? He was well enough to move? Emily hadn't updated her on his progress over the last three days and Astoria knew that she had done it on purpose, finding him unworthy of her attention.

“Really, now?” Maximus's face turned slightly amused and Astoria wondered if he were thinking of going up to investigate this himself. Panic flooded her system and she wished that she knew where her own wand was and flicked her gaze to the one in her father's hand...sensing that it wasn't very far off, “why on earth is he making so much noise?” he asked icily to the house-elf.

Aradelle's eyes shifted slightly and landed on Astoria for a moment or two before she said to her father with revulsion. “The pureblood wants to see Mistress Stori and grew angry with me when I said that he couldn't. H-he said the most awful things and is trying to break out of Master Leo's room,” as if it were too horrible to even comprehend, she added in a shocked whisper, “he is not even properly dressed,”

Astoria felt her cheeks foolishly flooding with color at the image that spread in her mind before she banished it. Blaise was risking his life yet again and if he kept this up, it wouldn't take long for her father to finish this himself or worse, call on Scorpious from wherever assignment he was currently handling to kill him.

“Run a bath for him and bring him his things that we hid, I would like to speak with the boy,” Maximus stunned Astoria by commanding to a trembling Aradelle. He looked strangely amused, “of course, I would like to speak to Astoria for a moment longer so keep him entertained,”

Astoria's throat was closing with panic and she gripped the arm of her chair in stiff, whitening fingers. “What are you planning? Blaise had nothing at all to do with this, don't hurt him!” she cried furiously, threatening to rise and startling Aradelle. “I'll take responsibility for everything—just don't...”

The words trailed away at the smug look in her father's eyes and she realized that she had, despite having created a plan, fallen into his carefully laid trap. Aradelle trembled violently from the expression on his face, “I had wanted to begin talking to you about that particular problem another time but since you're willing to risk it all, I do believe that I will now.” Dismissively, he flicked his head at their house-elf. “Aradelle, go do as your told and bring him down after he's properly dressed and with his belongings,”

With a very low and trembling bow, Aradelle vanished with a loud pop that rang disturbingly in Astoria's ears. Maximus continued to stare at her, the smugness in his eyes simply infuriating and her voice was far more fierce than she would have thought, “You don't need to use Blaise against me, I was planning on taking responsibility for everything that I did.”

“Rather noble thing of you, dear. More of a Gryffindor trait I believe but nonetheless, I still find myself very pleased by the turn of events,” Maximus replied with genuine, calculating interest. There was a cold quality to his voice though and Astoria sensed that he hadn't appreciated the flare of defiance, “I had rather mixed feelings on how to properly get rid of that boy.”

Astoria felt her fingers trembling but she somehow managed to lift her hand from the arm of the chair. The blood rushed back into each tip slowly and she panicked on the inside, knowing that her eyes had widened, “You don't have to hurt him and you know it, you've just been toying with me this entire time.”

There may have a brief look of true, unabashed embarrassment on her father's face and Astoria found it unsettling. “You honestly are beginning to know me far better than I would have ever thought. I have never been able to bend you the way I have Emily and Scorpious but that, I'm afraid is about to change,” Maximus murmured, his eyes flooding with the darkest of intents.

It felt as if a hole were opening beneath her feet but Astoria refused to look away from him. There was no way that she would show him any amount of fear, even if her heart felt as if it would burst at any moment, “I went to Blaise and told him nothing about the family business so there's no need to hurt him. Anything that you have planned for me is...is fine so long as he and his mother are left alone, memories intact,”

Bargaining with Maximus Greengrass was a very dangerous and reckless thing and she sensed from the surprised expression on his face that it didn't happen often. Or at all unless grave sacrifices were willing to be made, “Though I could easily find out the truth for myself, I now believe that you're not as foolish as I might have thought to speak about the family business to a stranger.”

Astoria's shoulders sank with relief. “However,” her father said with that same maddening calm. “You have also put yourself into the most vulnerable position, as I can tell that your feelings regarding the boy are not as simple as I or your mother may have hoped.”

Astoria opened her mouth to deny this, as she couldn't understand her feelings for Blaise herself but he cut her off with a sharp look. Instead of keeping her mouth closed, she forced a few words out, “It isn't like that, its never been like that.” And never will be, her mind hissed in the back of her mind.

Maximus's face flooded with true anger at her nerve to back talk him but Astoria kept her back straight, eyeing him with barely hidden hate. “You truly believe this but no matter, he's still merely a blood traitor with a dwindling fortune. Tsk, tsk...” the words made something nasty flare in her chest, “I have no use for such a boy.”

But you do, Astoria didn't hear him say. This was the moment that she knew would have come and she stared into his eyes, hoping that the fear and panic in her own couldn't easily be seen, “I'm willing to do anything to see that Blaise and his mother are left alive and taken care of.”

“And what are you willing to give?” Maximus asked her curiously, as if he were playing with a mildly fascinating toy. Astoria stayed silent, knowing that bargaining with him would rest mostly on his decision, “I believe you owe me so much but the thought of merely keeping you has lost all its appeal.”

Which meant that he might have been thinking of disposing her after all, Astoria found herself thinking with terrifying clarity. A swift smile played across his lips before they settled into a dark and foreboding line that was even more threatening than the wand he continued to hold so idly between his fingers, “Anything.”

Maximus's smile, when he did truly smile was simply ghoulish and Astoria forced herself not to recoil into her chair. It was horrifying to know that her father would now be able to use Blaise's life and safety against her at any time to bend and break her to his will but she forced herself to grit her teeth, nearly hearing them crack, “No need to look so melodramatic, pet. There's only one thing that I need from you and you must agree or I will take away whatever is left of that boy's life.”

Astoria swallowed hard, knowing that she was making the greatest of risks but gave a curt nod. There were more than a few things that she wanted to express, more demands that she knew that he would have never considered at any other time but she knew that he would have no choice. If he wanted her obedience, he would agree to anything and she felt her fingers tightening into a fist before saying to him fiercely, “I'll do whatever you say.”

….

By the time Astoria walked out of her father's office and into the sitting room with her mother and sister, whatever had been left of her courage had evaporated. It had taken quite a while for the two of them to haggle over their separate demands but she now knew that the ultimate sacrifice might not be in losing Blaise, but herself.

“Stori, I...I'm shocked that you agreed to such things,” Emily said with a constricted throat, breaking the tense silence in the room. Their mother had gone a bit slack on the small, velvet sofa but Astoria could sense that she was near fainting with relief.

While some part of her hadn't wanted to reveal what she had done to spare her family, Blaise and whatever small bits of a future she might have, there had been no reason to. Despite her misgivings, she would be a Greengrass to the end and it felt like the worst possible death, “I had to do what was necessary,” Astoria said hollowly, unsure how she was even standing. Emily reached out to touch her, having stood up to allow some form of comfort but she hadn't been able to stand the pitying hue in her eyes, “I told you that I would...do what I had to.”

Emily's green eyes were red around the edges and their mother placed a hand to her throat, as if she were trying hard not to burst into sobs. Astoria couldn't look at either of them and the pretty, decorative sitting room, while not in the same league as any wealthy purebloods, made her sick to her stomach, “You did the right thing.”

“Did I?” Astoria murmured softly to herself, feeling her eyes flooding with tears that stung and hurt. When Emily said nothing, she ignored the pleading sound her mother made and started for the door, feeling smothered and powerless even though her father had given her back her wand.

Maximus had informed her that, per their agreement that the school things that Blaise had bought for the two of them would be delivered at Hogwarts the following day from The Leaky Cauldron. When Astoria had asked why they had still been there at the pub, he had simply said that he wasn't certain to have Tom burn them or have some slime in Knockturn Alley sell them.

Astoria had also asked him to have one of his men at the Misuse of Magic office to wipe clean their records from all the underage magic that they had used. It was already terrible to know that she had ruined Blaise's life enough and she was more than certain that he wouldn't be able to pay a fine.

The Ministry was such a corrupt place now but her father had surprised her during their talk by letting her know that he had informed Headmaster Snape that she had fallen ill and would return to school shortly. As for Blaise, Maximus had contacted Tom the night before, giving him specific instructions to send a letter to Helena Zabini, to know of her son's supposed “enjoyable” time at The Leaky Cauldron.

“Last minute shopping kept Zabini delayed from the train and returning to school these last few days. I made certain that if Tom lied or hinted at the true nature of what had transpired that he would be dead before he hit the floor,” her father had said to her with a cold, satisfied sneer.

They would both be returning to Hogwarts the next day and Astoria knew that it would be a vicious battle. There was the little issue with Malfoy and his friends, the revolting sight of Death Eaters roaming the corridors, “Where is Blaise's wand?” Astoria had asked him towards the end of their meeting, feeling as if her soul had been removed.

“I am not at all sure, my dear. Scorpious informed me that when he and his men captured the boy that he didn't have one,” Maximus had said with a curious little smile as Astoria had pondered this, wondering why Blaise hadn't listened to her and brought a weapon along.

Perhaps he had known that fighting back with magic would have resulted in a faster, nastier death. Astoria felt her eyes stinging all the more, knowing that she was the cause for all of his pain and wiped the hideous moisture from her eyes, “Where are you going, Astoria? Would you like us to get you something?” her mother asked, the sound of her sliding off the sofa grating to her ears.

“No, I'm fine. I'm going to rest...” Astoria said over her shoulder to the woman, hoping that all of her hatred and disappointment showed. Adele Greengrass blanched and placed a hand over her chest, outraged by the display, “don't bother me. I don't want to see any of you until I have to.”

The cold words caused her mother to gasp, a flush coming into her cheeks and it took her a moment to speak. Emily made no attempt to draw her back and Astoria tried with all her might not to cry in front of them, “Astoria Leona Greengrass, how inconsiderate of you! How dare you speak to your mother this way?”

Astoria clenched her fists, feeling her wand pulsing with rage. If her father had decided to get rid of her, she wondered if he would have kept it as some sort of prize, like he did the portraits of his siblings in his office, “I'll speak to you any way I damn well please Mum! I've taken responsibility, I've given up everything that makes me happy and you can either fucking accept it or leave me the hell alone!” she screamed.

The words echoed in the sitting room like lightning, Emily and their mother staring at her with shocked expressions. Tears were flooding like a vicious tide and the rage that was boiling in her was going out of control and sparks were flashing from her wand...furious, violent sparks and Astoria suddenly wanted to destroy anything and everything—

“Careful, she'll hit you, it may be best to get out of the way.” Blaise's wearily amused voice seemed to come out of nowhere and Astoria whipped her head around to see him stepping casually into the sitting room as if he belonged there, a furious Aradelle trailing after him.

Emily and their mother were spluttering, their faces devoid of color. It was as if a small, slimy insect had slithered into their midst and Astoria saw her sister's upper lip curl in disgust, though Blaise hardly spared her more than a glance, “Wh..what are you doing out of bed?” she asked him bitingly.

Blaise ignored her but Aradelle was the one to speak. Astoria's entire body was trembling, shaking and falling apart and she wanted to touch him...she wanted to touch and hold him to her so strongly that no one would ever tear them apart, “Master Greengrass wishes to speak with the filthy pureblood.”

“The entire lot of you are rude and we haven't even been properly introduced, though you should know my entire body so well.” Blaise said flippantly to Emily, something like a pitying look entering his eyes as she fumed with barely controlled rage and disgust, “I hope you enjoyed what you saw, as you'll never see it again.”

Astoria heard Emily make some sort of remark that sounded both cutting and highly embarrassed. “How dare you! You speak to my daughter with the amount of respect that she deserves—you are an unwanted guest, a problem if I would be so bold in this home you stupid boy!” her mother cried viciously, causing Blaise to raise his brows at her in mild surprise.

“Lovely, simply lovely. Are you aware of the unsettling fact that you and my mother would get along supremely well?” Blaise asked with all the charm of a coming storm, his voice lowering into a snarl. Emily and their mother flushed, “I heard Astoria's voice and needed to see her. Don't be mistaken, I'm as eager to be away from you despicable people as you are to be away from me.”

Every other sound was fading...fading and there was only Blaise and her world was threatening to reform, shape—hope was flaring into her chest. He was dressed so perfectly and so well in his own set of robes that anyone looking at him would have made the impression that he was going out on a pleasant stroll and not walking into the den of a demon.

Astoria's throat was tightening and she knew that she must look like the biggest of fools after all that she had sacrificed. But the sight of him was too much, she couldn't stand the distance between them, he was simply the most amazing, fearless person and she said his name so softly that she barely heard it herself.

During the past few days, any sign that Blaise had been inflicted with bruises, cuts and a broken arm had been disturbingly erased by Emily and Aradelle's proper care. But there was a hardness to his face that transformed him from simply a boy but to a man that sensed and perhaps even feared the darker nature of things that he couldn't control.

And a determination to fight and bend it. “How is my prickly little thing?” Blaise suddenly asked, turning his full attention to her and giving her the softest, most wonderful of smiles.

Whatever control that she had had over her tears collapsed, fell and evaporated and Astoria, ignoring the stunned looks on her relatives faces, crossed the space between them at a near run. This was the last time that she would be able to look at him...touch him and she wrapped her arms around his waist tightly, hearing him laugh even as her relatives gasped in revulsion.

It was heaven. Blaise was alive and Astoria couldn't have asked for anything more, knowing that after what she had bargained for would never compare to the feel of him in her arms. For just the briefest of seconds, the entire world had settled into place and he was pulling her close...so close that they could have melted into one another, perhaps going to a place where no nightmares swam.

“Nothing like this will ever happen to you again, I swear on my life,” Blaise promised gently against her tear stained face, lips brushing on her skin like the softest of sighs. Astoria wanted to tell him that there was no need, that she had done all that she could in order to ensure his own life but he stunned her further by murmuring, “I'm going to make you part of mine.”

I will be having a long haitus after this so updates will be very slow but I'll never forget you all. :D Much love from Gabbie.
 


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A Force Of Wills: Bargains

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