Chapter 19 : Denial
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Astoria basked in the warmth of Blaise's arms around her, the sensation sinking into her bones and causing her to drift away. There seemed to be nothing else quite like this feeling and a very selfish part of her refused to let him go, even though she knew that she had to in order to keep him safe, alive and whole.
“Have they hurt you?” Blaise asked worriedly against her ear, his voice softer than silk. A shiver worked into her system at the feel his mouth so close and she angled her head weakly, unwilling to release him, “I've been worried that I wouldn't be able to see you again or that they had locked you away.”
The scent of him was overwhelming and Astoria inhaled greedily for a moment or two, taking in the spice of sandalwood and fresh spring leaves. “No...no, I'm not hurt.” She managed to respond, closing her eyes tightly against the flood of tears, “at least, I'm better than I was.”
Blaise's body stiffened at the words and she was afraid of what she might see lurking in his dark eyes. “Your brother shot that curse so quickly and there was so much blood that I thought....” he trailed away furiously as he pressed one gentle finger to her shoulder, making her flinch, “I couldn't help you, I'm sorry.”
An apology from him would have been the last thing that she would have expected and Astoria's cheeks flushed with shame and guilt. If it hadn't have been for her, he would never have gotten hurt in the first place and she gently pushed his hand away, feeling her throat tightening, “There was nothing you could do, I thought...”
The words trailed away in a haunted whisper and Blaise said nothing for a minute as he pulled her closer to him, heat vibrating from his body to hers. A flush worked into her cheeks and she felt his mouth moving lightly along her forehead in a kiss that was so soft that it may not have been there at all, “I thought the worst,” his words echoed her unspoken ones and she felt her heart tighten in reaction.
“I-I'm all right, you're the one...” Astoria hastily said, placing her hand to his chest and feeling his heart beating in a rapid tempo. It was the only sign that he may have been nervous or afraid and she wished that she could comfort him, “you're the one that was in such bad shape,”
There was the faint flick of his mouth twisting up in a smile and Astoria felt him take a deep breath. All of the suffering that he had gone through without her only twisted at her like a knife, “I wasn't going to die and leave you here.” Blaise said fiercely and at the look on her face, he said gently, “you were always on my mind and not being allowed to see you after I was well only made me worry for you more.”
Astoria felt a flush of anger at her sister and mother, knowing that they had been deliberately keeping his progress from her for the past three days. It felt strange after everything that she had experienced to feel a moment of deep betrayal, “You look so much better, now though.”
“I would have tried to come to you sooner but I wasn't able to break out of that room they'd put me into.” Blaise said comfortingly, though there was a hard edge to his voice that wasn't directed at her.
Astoria felt the faintest of smiles coming into her face. Having him near her like this felt like the most natural thing in the world, “I heard that you were giving Aradelle some trouble?”
At the sound of her name, the indignant house-elf looked up from the carpeted sitting room floor. There was a look of disgust on her features as she wrung her gnarled hands together, “Filthy pureblood tried to destroy Master Leo's room! He is a very bad boy, Mistress Stori!” she said angrily at Blaise, glaring at him.
Astoria found the fact that Blaise had been settled into her dead brother Leo's room more than a tad ironic. But her father tended to have a dark sense of humor and the room had been his prison for the past three days while he had recovered, “That's enough, Aradelle!” she heard her mother snap furiously to the creature, trying to keep her voice level.
“I was well-behaved during your sister's bloody sponge baths but found myself growing far too impatient when they told me I wouldn't be allowed to see you. You'll have to forgive me,” Blaise said dryly and Astoria saw that, despite it, he was blushing a little.
Astoria nodded jerkily and felt her fingertips brushing lightly over the front of his robes, more than relieved that he was all right. Tingles of delight shot up her arm and she felt his thumb caress a sensitive place along her throat, “I-its fine, just as long as you're not hurting anymore, I thought that I would lose you for a moment.”
But she would lose him and after what she had bargained with her father for, Astoria found it cruel that the two of them would never be able to speak this way again. Her arms tightened around him reflexively at the thought and he gave a low laugh, “You'll crush me if you're not careful,” Blaise teased and she blushed. “I'll let you hold me as long as you like after I settle a few things with your father,”
Astoria had no idea what he could mean by that and she knew that whatever her father wanted to discuss with him would by no means leave him at an advantage. But before she could ask what was on his mind, her mother's voice snapped from the other side of the sitting room. “You are being presumptuous, Zabini! And I think it would be more than wise if you would get your hands off of my daughter this instant before I have you permanently removed!” hissed like a deranged beast in the small room.
Complete serenity was broken with the threatening words and Astoria jumped a little and started to pull away from Blaise. His arms only tightened around her and she felt her skin heating at the way he looked at her, as if he wanted her secure in a place with just the two of them, “I think you've done more than enough if you don't mind me saying Mrs. Greengrass.” Blaise replied in the softest of voices, his eyes still holding hers.
“You're forgetting who you're talking to, Zabini.” Emily's voice sounded so cold and heartless and Astoria felt something in her die at the words. Her sister, who she thought of more like a mother than the woman who had raised them, meant the world to her and to see her like this only twisted at her heart, “get away from my sister.”
Blaise's face tightened and Astoria ran her eyes over him worriedly, even though her heart felt as if it were about to burst. Gently, he reached up and ran his fingertips lightly along her jaw and she closed her eyes, hearing him say to them, “I'll do no such thing. After today, Astoria will be staying with me.”
“Have you lost your bloody mind? As if I would allow such a thing!” her mother practically screamed as Astoria's mind tried to catch up. Blaise's fingertips were still dancing lightly along her jaw and it made her shiver, “Astoria, get away from him this instant before I get your father!”
The threat of having her father enter the room caused Astoria's entire body to stiffen with fear and hatred. Reluctantly, she turned her face away from Blaise's touch, only to have him turn her face back to his gently, “What are you up to?” she whispered, flushed and confused.
Blaise's dark eyes were calculating and worried as he replied calmly, as if there was no one else in the room. Her mother and sister and their house-elf seemed to vanish entirely for just a minute or two, “I'm going to take you away from this place and you're going to stay with me at the Estate.”
“Blaise, that's...that's crazy!” Astoria cried, stunned. There was no place in the world that would make her as happy as staying with him at the Estate but the thought was impossible, especially when she had given everything she was back to her father. To ensure that he stayed alive, “I couldn't—do you know what they could do to you?”
A very bleak expression filtered over his face and Astoria felt guilt twisting and eating its way in her stomach. It tasted like bile, “What more can they do to me that your brother hasn't tried already?” Blaise asked her in a dark voice and she flinched. Looking away from her, he said stiffly, “I told you that I wouldn't let them take you and I'm not going to allow that to happen.”
Astoria felt as if she could have cried right then and there, overwhelmed. The fact that he was even so happy to see her after everything that had happened between them made her head swim with both delight and shame, “That isn't up to you—I've taken care of everything,” she said unthinkingly.
“What do you mean you've taken care of everything? Astoria,” Blaise's voice had gone slightly high with what sounded distinctly like panic. When she refused to look at him, once again trying to free herself from his hold, he only tightened his arms around her, earning a gasp of outrage from her sister and mother, “what have you done?”
Given up everything, Astoria thought feverishly. What she had agreed to do in order to protect Blaise, his mother and herself would come back to haunt her in more ways than one, the Greengrass family business suddenly thrust upon her, “I just needed to keep you safe.” She said brokenly, feeling her eyes flood.
Blaise's face took on a look of true concern, anger and horror as he turned her face back to his. It was only then that she saw the fear in his eyes and the sight of it twisted in her heart like a knife, “What have you done?” Astoria remained silent, refusing to voice what she had agreed to out loud. “I'm not going to allow you to sacrifice yourself for me.”
“I had no choice!” Astoria cried desperately. “They were going to kill you and your mother—what should I have done?” she asked him bitterly, pushing at his chest and desperate for a moment of clarity.
Blaise looked thunderous with fury and Astoria wasn't certain if he were angry at her or something else. Instead of allowing her to free herself from his embrace, he only angled her to his side, where he kept a hand on her waist, “You people should be ashamed of yourselves. Its disgusting what you've done to her,” he said to her mother and Emily coldly, revenge rumbling in his throat.
Both her mother and sister had been watching their display with mixtures of shock and revulsion. Now, though, Emily was the first to recover and her green eyes narrowed into very dangerous slits, “What would you know about our life? You're nothing but a silly, pampered little pureblood—you're to blame for everything, not us!” she accused, pointing a finger at him.
“I have no idea what you're even beginning to claim. You've hoarded her away at Hogwarts like she's some sort of mistake and tainted her mind with nothing but your beliefs and your hatred,” Blaise snarled back and Emily's face flooded with anger. Their mother had gone slack and pale-faced, as if she were several miles away, “you could care less about her!”
Astoria's face flooded with color at the allegations, even though she knew in her heart that they were true. “How dare you say that, you bastard! If it weren't for you, my sister would never have decided that her family meant so little to her, she never would have risked it all over a pureblood that she barely knows!” Emily hissed, her voice rising into a near scream that made her ears nearly bleed.
The entire state of the Greengrass family seemed to have wilted away the instant that Astoria had decided to think for herself. She saw the blame echoing in Emily's eyes and the hatred for Zabini and her own sister that she could never be able to hide, “Our way of life and the way we have our children is none of your concern, boy.” Their mother finally said, walking down to them stiffly. “You should count yourself lucky that my husband has agreed to keep you alive.”
“In exchange for what?” Blaise asked her icily, his eyes narrowed into slits. Astoria felt a flash of shame and anger and watched as he angled her away from her own mother, as if she were some contaminated thing, “your way of life is revolting and after everything that I've been through with your daughter, I'm not going to allow her to suffer for a minute longer.”
Astoria stared up at him in amazement and confusion while a tinge of fear started to blossom under her skin. Her father had only agreed to keep Blaise and his mother alive if she had given up her own dreams and happiness and there was no way that she could go back on her word without their blood on her hands.
“Blaise, what are you doing?” Astoria demanded, hating how shrill her voice was. She clung to his arm to drag his attention away from the vicious glare that her mother was sending him and he grunted a response, “I can't have you being hurt again because of me!”
There was a small pause in the room and Emily let out a shocked little gasp that made her grit her teeth. “Stori, why are you continually being so foolish? He's nothing but a pureblood—a pureblood that's taken you away from us and changed you!” she cried, flinging her arm out as if to emphasize her point.
Astoria's violet eyes narrowed, desperate to hide the hatred and betrayal that were bubbling up in her. Emily would never be able to understand how caged and trapped she had felt being in the family, of having her own dreams smothered by what their parents wanted and needing her own.
Her sister may have never really thought of the unfairness of being pushed into the arms of some pureblood man for the sake of their money but she was different...she deserved her own. But now, after the bargains that she had made with their father, her dreams of discovering her own life and being with someone that she had chosen....that she loved were long gone.
And yet, something silly and rebellious rose in her and she could only find herself pitying her sister and the way she seemed so content to live things as they were. Astoria had already fought with her once about this but Emily would rather obey their father than ever risk breaking free, “I've never wanted this life and you know it, Emily! Its not Blaise's fault that I hate this!”
“You make it sound as if you have things so rough here, Astoria. Your father and I have tried to give you and your siblings the best that we could while training you to hold onto the family values!” her mother snapped furiously, interrupting Emily's response. “Never trust a pureblood and always keep it a secret!”
Keep murder a secret, Astoria clarified in her stunned mind. The Greengrass family murdered people for money and her father had been intent on ruining various pureblood lives for years, hating their wealth and status more than anything, “Why can't you understand that you were hurting me?!” she asked.
Adele Greengrass laughed coldly, one blonde brow rising in a superior flick. There was something very much like her husband in the way that she spoke, as if undermining whatever sadness that Astoria had always carried with her, “Why would doing as you were told upset you? Why would trying to preserve our business turn you into this rebellious little fool?”
The insulting question hung in the air and Astoria felt her knees weakening from the shock of it. While it had been known to her more than once that her parents could have cared less...hearing it from her mother who was supposed to be on her side, who had begged her to stay only created a deep wound.
“You're heartless!” Astoria found herself screaming regardless, making a move forward and being pushed back by Blaise, who looked as if he were barely able to control his own rage. She was startled by her words and the ferocity behind them and saw Emily's eyes widen as if she had been mortally wounded, “how can you say something like that?”
Emily placed a hand on their mother's arm to stop her from moving swiftly forward and perhaps smacking the life from her. “Stori, would you please stop this and see some reason? We're only trying to protect you.” She said softly and Astoria had to look away from the hurt in her eyes, thinking it extremely ironic, “we're your family.”
“I find that highly debatable.” Blaise replied coldly before Astoria could open her mouth, his dark eyes flashing with hatred. Emily shot him a glare, “you just want her locked up and kept out of the way because you've never wanted her to be free from you.”
Astoria found herself going numb with the truth of his words and shook her head, willing it to go away for now. Her parents had wanted all three of their children to marry a pureblood and bring back the dwindled family fortune, all while their father kept a firm hold on their lives and hopes.
Everything that she had ever wanted for herself had faded away abruptly with her need to protect Blaise but she knew that her troubles weren't over, the the real pain was only just beginning to form. There was a cold laugh from her mother just then and Astoria watched as she placed a hand to her throat.
A very dark look had entered her mother's green eyes and it seemed to bring a deathly chill into the room. When she spoke, her voice stung slightly, like a bug bite, “Aradelle, alert my husband that Zabini will be late, this discussion is becoming far longer than it should be,” she said to their cowering house-elf.
Astoria had nearly forgotten that the poor creature had been in the room and felt dread coiling around her stomach as she nodded hastily. Her large blue eyes centered on her for just a moment before she vanished a slight pop that rang in her ears, “You don't have to bring Dad into this, Mum! I've had enough of him for one day,” she snapped angrily, knowing that her father still needed to talk with Blaise only spiking her fear.
“I'll do as I please! Your father has a lot to discuss with that boy that you've foolishly gotten yourself involved with—it has addled your mind,” her mother said furiously, looking a tad pale. Astoria watched as she lowered her hand from her throat and clenched it into a tight fist, “its as if you've forgotten where you come from.”
Emily's face scrunched for just a moment as if she might cry and Astoria watched her warily, unnerved by the concern she felt. “And you've forgotten about your family, you never would have done something like this if we truly mattered to you.”
The accusations made Astoria dizzy with how hurtful and untrue they were and she felt her anger rising. Blaise shot her a reassuring look, though the lines of his mouth were tight and hard, “I ran away because I couldn't take it any longer! I...” Astoria felt her throat close, the words feeling as if they were being ripped from her throat. “I didn't want to just obey orders and do as I was told like I was some sort of animal!”
“You're not an animal, Stori! How can you even think something so ridiculous?” Emily asked her, looking stricken. She made a step forward and Blaise's expression turned murderous before she could move closer, “has he put these thoughts into your head?” she demanded angrily.
Blaise shook his head in exasperation and dislike, the room feeling as if it were being drenched in ice water. Astoria's fingers were growing numb and her wand felt as if it were about to be snapped in two, “I haven't done anything but be a friend to your daughter, no spell or potion was needed.”
“I refuse to believe it!” her mother cried furiously, face flushing into an ugly red color that reminded her of a bloody sunset. “Astoria may be willful, true, but she would never have risked our well-being and put us into such a predicament if she weren't pressured!”
Astoria stared at her mother in disbelief, seeing nothing but a selfish longing for the way things had been. Her father had asked her to do something that she could never have seen herself lowering for and it hardly mattered what they thought now, “He didn't pressure me into anything! I left on my own!” she cried, furious.
That caused her mother's face to pale drastically and Blaise ran his eyes over her quickly, as if he were weighing his options. Two enraged witches were in the small sitting room with them and Astoria knew that if wands were drawn that it would be a deadly battle that she might not win.
“You left and ruined everything! And for what, Astoria?” her mother asked her, sounding mad as she flung an arm out at Blaise, who stiffened at her rudeness. There was a hellish fire in her mother's eyes that she had never seen before and for a moment she was stunned with how much it scared her, “For a pureblood that announced himself as a blood traitor?”
Blaise's face had gone dark with anger and she watched as his lips turned down in a scowl. It would be something she knew would frighten children someday if his dream of becoming Potions Master ever became reality, “I would rather be a traitor and despise the Dark Lord's plans than willingly accept it,”
That night at the Malfoy's dinner party felt like eons ago and Astoria could still see him rising up from the dining table and stalking from the room right in the middle of Lucius Malfoy's speech. His bravery that night had started her fascination, her own beliefs having been the same for years.
“What the Dark Lord intends to do with the world isn't our concern.” Her mother said with a dismissive wave of her hand. They could hardly care about the atrocities being committed daily, not when they were safe, being purebloods themselves even though Astoria's life wouldn't be any easier.
Blaise's upper lip rose in revulsion. “How appropriately awful of you,” he said dryly and Astoria watched her mother's face flush, a snarl working into her mouth that made her think of a twisted statue. “You haven't given a thought to what would happen to Astoria in such a world have you?”
Emily looked outraged that he would even assume such a thing but Astoria knew that being half-blood would only earn her more jeers than she already received. “We think about Stori's well-being more than you could understand! Scorpious and I, we would do anything for her!”
Astoria let out a slight sound at the mention of their brother, who had yet to return from business in Knockturn Alley. Gently, she raised a hand to her shoulder, where her brother's own curse had shot her...thinking of how mad he had appeared with Blaise's blood on his face, “....Even hurt me just to keep me safe?” she whispered.
The words were said softly but they appeared to hover and echo in the room as if she had rang bells. Emily swallowed hard, blinking back tears that tore at some place in Astoria that she willed to go away, “What Scorpious did to bring you home was wrong...he wasn't supposed to hurt you—if you would just talk to him I know that you could work out some sort of understanding.”
“I don't want anything to do with him!” Astoria screamed and Blaise's arm around her waist tightened as she suddenly swayed on her feet. Everything seemed to be overpowering her and for one small second she thought that she might be going mad with it, “not after what he did!”
Scorpious had conspired with men in Knockturn Alley to kill Blaise and the memory of what he had looked like, beaten and battered flashed in her mind. There had been blood everywhere and her brother, whom she had loved more than anything and thought would have stayed by her side, had shifted into a monster, “He's your brother!” her mother shouted, as if the horror of what her son had done evaded her.
“No, he isn't! That thing that hurt me and nearly killed Blaise is not my brother!” Astoria screamed and she felt a sob working its way in her throat, clenching her fist so tightly that her nails cut into her skin.
Emily placed a hand over her mouth before lowering it, green eyes watering. It had always been the three of them and Astoria had never believed that anything could tear them apart until now, “How can you say that, Stori?” her sister gasped weakly.
The fact that her brother hated her now and hadn't laid eyes on her in three days caused a heartache that she didn't would ever truly heal. Every happy moment and secret conversation only brought her pain and Astoria clipped tightly, “Scorpious...Scorpious would have never hurt me! He would have never done those things if he loved me!”
A heavy, almost poisonous silence flooded the room and Astoria felt as if the world were teetering. It was almost painful to breathe and she was so focused on her misery that she barely felt Blaise's body stiffen, his own horrors replaying themselves, “But he does love you, Stori! He...he was only disappointed, he would never do something like that again if you would just stop this!” Emily said pleadingly.
The bargains that she had made to their father flared unspoken between them and Astoria felt herself flooding with shame. Once more, she tried to push herself away from Blaise but he held onto her tightly, looking into her face and causing her breath to become lodged in her throat, “Do not run from me. Whatever you've done to protect me can be worked around, I promise,” he said fiercely.
“You don't understand,” Astoria started just as fiercely, concerned for the sake of both their lives. She wanted to run as far from this place as she could but she knew that it would be impossible and that it would do nothing, “Blaise, I'm not doing this because I want to—”
Blaise's black brows rose up in surprise and she frowned, knowing that he found her family's hold on her sickening. “What do you want then?” he asked gently, surprising her by the earnestness in his eyes, “you have to fight them and do what will make you happy.”
Astoria wanted nothing more than to be with him. She wanted to rap herself around him and sink into his marrow but...it wasn't meant to be, not when their lives were being held in the hands of her father, “Blaise—”
The icy sound of her mother's voice interrupted whatever she had been about to say and Astoria tore her gaze away from Blaise, heart pounding so hard that she feared it would burst. “That is enough!” her mother snapped. “I won't have my daughter heading down the wrong path with someone who will only bring her misery!”
“Now you're just being deliberately cruel.” Blaise said lightly, enraging her mother by the arrogance seeping from his pores. He ran a hand down the front of his robes and for a moment he appeared just like any other prideful pureblood and Astoria was amazed by the change, “I consider myself quite the catch.”
Emily looked as if she were having a hard time trying not to either laugh at the ridiculousness of the words or vomit. Astoria glared up at Blaise, even though she had to smother down a laugh, “Oddity,” she said, staring at him in confusion, “I'm convinced that Scorpious's men beat whatever sense you had from your mind.”
Blaise shot her a venomously nasty look that Astoria felt chill her and she knew that what he had experienced at the hands of Scorpious's men would remain locked up in a place too dark for her to shine a light. “And you're brainwashed and content to wallow in this diseased atmosphere.” He raised his head and looked around, as if he were scenting something in the air, “the madness is nearly overpowering in this house.”
Astoria flinched at the words and snapped harshly at him, eyes looking as if they would soon pop out of her skull. “Blaise, stop it!” the Greengrass family was insane and she wouldn't even begin to deny it but some part of her wined at what he might think of her, if she fell in line with her family.
Blaise's face seemed to clear itself of his own rage and he looked down at her, lips parted as if he meant to apologize. Astoria looked away and felt, for just the faintest moment, his thumb rub comfortingly along her hip, “Forgive me, I'm not trying to upset you.” He whispered, head bent near her flushed ear, “my prickly little thing,” she heard him say fondly, in a voice that he thought she couldn't hear.
Shivers danced along her skin but Astoria forced herself not to let it erase her mind, aware that these moments with him couldn't last. Blaise's mouth was so close that she could barely inhale but she managed to speak, “W-whispering in my ear like this isn't going to distract me!” Astoria murmured, the heat of his mouth making her flush.
“I'm not trying to distract you,” Blaise said softly and she shivered again. She thought that she caught him smiling but he lifted his head away and regarded her stunned mother and sister, “I'm trying to rescue you.”
Astoria's heart lurched and she heard her mother give an exasperated laugh that only made her teeth gnash together. “How very noble of you, Zabini.” She sneered nastily, her upper lip rising, “but my daughter doesn't need any rescuing, especially from someone who's caused her so much misery in the past few days.”
“The only thing making me miserable is all of you!” Astoria snapped suddenly, ignoring Emily's wounded flinch. “This entire place is driving me insane and you stand there and act like nothing is wrong!”
“Astoria Leona, how dare you talk to your mother that way! Have you lost what little of your mind you had?” her mother shouted, outraged. Astoria felt her eyes threatening to swell with tears and she dashed them away violently, refusing to cry, “this business that you had with this...pureblood boy ends here and now!”
Blaise angled his head at her curiously just then as Astoria fought to hold onto her rage, knowing that just one hex from her wand would soothe her immensely. “Not if I have anything to do with it. I'll make all of the proper arrangements with her father shortly,”
An exasperated laugh bubbled out from her mother's mouth and Astoria watched as she and Emily exchanged a glance. Astoria found herself moving in front of Blaise, knowing that they would kill him “accidentally” if they had to, “And what do you think you can do, young man?” her mother asked him acidly. “Unless you're telling me that you're going to marry my daughter, you have no power in this house.”
Astoria's face flooded with heat and she glared at her mother, knowing that it was impossible for such a thing to happen. Blaise was a pureblood and though his family fortune wasn't as vast as it had been, she knew that he had lived in a world where a half blood like herself would never be accepted. “That's exactly what I intend to do.” Blaise replied calmly and the silence that followed seemed to swallow the entire earth.
“I have to say that you leave me speechless, Zabini. I never would have considered that you would actually have the audacity of demanding my daughter's hand in marriage after the unusual circumstances,” Astoria heard Maximus Greengrass say calmly as she and Blaise sat side by side on a living room sofa an hour later, the room deathly silent.
Although her mind was spinning wildly, she was dumbfounded with disbelief and couldn't quite wrap her heart around what was happening. Blaise, when he smiled at her father, was perhaps the true example of a gentleman but Astoria shot him a wary glance, sensing his anger more than the man who sat across from them. “I'm merely proposing a solution in order to spare your daughter anymore pain.” Blaise replied easily.
After the bold announcement in the sitting room, Astoria's mother and sister had promptly lost their minds, threatening to disembowel him immediately. Their shrill voices, coupled with her own confusion and shock at the words had been too much and for a moment the world had swayed dangerously in little black spots.
Upon noticing her nearly sinking to her knees, Blaise had politely interrupted her mother's panicked tirade and drawn her out of the room. Astoria had barely noticed her relatives storming after them, shrieking for Aradelle to gather her father so that he could put a stop to this, “I will not have it!” her mother had screamed.
Emily had stared at Astoria as if she had never seen her before but telling her sister that she hadn't planned Blaise's proposal was irrelevant. The damage that she had given her family had been too deep by that point and Astoria had barely noticed as she was somehow seated comfortably on their living room sofa, blood pounding.
By the time her father had arrived, looking impatient and oddly curious by the sight of Blaise standing like a guardian angel by her side, Astoria had felt ill. Emily and their mother had tried to bombard him but Maximus Greengrass had ignored them, eyes settling on her coldly as her skin broke out in a horrible nervous sweat.
Had Blaise lost his mind? He couldn't be serious! Astoria had never been more shocked in her life and couldn't quite find the right emotions to focus on, her head was spinning around wildly and nothing seemed to make sense.
How was it possible that things could suddenly go so wrong? Astoria had made certain that there would be no way that Blaise would ever be in danger again from her family, only to have him turn to her and delve deeply into the horror of her relatives with ease.
There was no way that this could work, not when she had already sacrificed everything for his sake. They had known each other for only a few days and while the events leading up to this moment would have changed everything for anyone else, Astoria felt that he must be insane.
Surely, no one else would want to marry her or want to be around her after everything that they had been through! He should want to run away from her as quickly as he could and go on with his life while Astoria suffered alone but she had underestimated Blaise Zabini for the last time.
That fearlessness about him was only matched by how stubborn he was and Astoria had no idea what he could be thinking or what he thought that he could do. Her father was not the type of man that could be easily swayed. Bargains and threats spoke to him more than any earnest confession and Astoria worried that he might just ask something of Blaise that would require his body dumped in the nearest river.
Astoria had already given so much and she had no idea what the future would hold for her and why Blaise thought that marrying her would make anything better. Something strange happened to her heart at the thought of marriage, she had never imagined finding herself in this situation before now.
Her mind swam and a strange dizziness invaded her and she hated that it felt like some sort of twisted version of the brightest joy. The thought of being married to someone that cared about her and spending her life being adored had felt far away and with what she had agreed to with her father, it had faded away completely.
What sort of life could she have with Blaise?
The feelings that she had for him were strange and so delicately centered in her heart that she knew it would be devastating if they were taken away from her—or worse, rebuffed or spurned. But...that was impossible. Astoria Greengrass could not and would not allow herself to feel more for Blaise than was necessary, she had to remind herself that she was a half-blood.
And despite what she wanted to believe, there was still that unsettling possibility that there might be someone else. The thought of Blaise's love for some mysterious girl at Hogwarts flared in her mind along with her unbelievable jealousy. Astoria had to bow her head, feeling the ugly emotion pulsing in her blood with a sadness that made her fingers shake...Blaise wasn't doing this because he loved her.
He was only doing what he thought was best without consulting her, without asking and it was painful. “Have you spoken to my darling daughter about your offer, Zabini? She looks understandably shocked.” Maximus Greengrass replied carefully just then, his blue eyes boring into Astoria's pale face.
“Considering that I was locked up for three days and had no way to speak with her, you'll have to forgive me for not only shocking you all with this news but her as well.” Blaise replied calmly and Astoria felt her heart twist and nearly shatter. He was facing her father so casually, as if there had not been any hatred or near death in the past few days and she had to commend him for that.
Astoria shot him a look from the corner of her eye and saw him nod at her a bit, as if he were willing her not to argue with him. Emily and her mother had been confined to wait in the sitting room while their father had his say and she was relieved that they weren't here to witness this, “Yes, I would have rather have known about this instead of being completely unaware...” she mumbled.
“I believe everyone feels that way, pet. Your mother and sister experienced a moment of hysteria that I haven't seen in a very long time,” Maximus Greengrass replied with a stiff smile that made her skin prick with unease. He appeared far more curious than she would have expected but she knew that anger and cunning were simmering just beneath his calm facade.
Blaise sent her a warning look from the corner of his eye and Astoria opened her mouth to say something, only to have him reach over and take her hand. There was the firm, warm pressure of his fingers and she felt an immediate reaction to his skin against hers, frowning at the skillful manipulation, “I can be sure that's highly debatable considering that I was nearly beaten to death and taken such good care of for three days.”
The sarcasm in the words wasn't lost on Astoria and she watched her father's face morph into an amicable smile, although his blue eyes had turned to ice. “You'll have to forgive me for saying this but you caused us quite a lot of trouble, we were under the impression that you had killed our daughter.” Maximus Greengrass replied coolly.
“I'm sure Astoria's welfare was the least of your concerns.” Blaise replied just as coolly, his eyes flashing. Maximus's face was briefly surprised by his bluntness while Astoria looked between them warily, wondering just what would come of this meeting, “she ran away from home because she felt that she had no choice and I'm sure that her well-being was far from your minds.”
Astoria knew that it was the truth and she watched as her father's face darkened, his mind recalculating how quickly he could gain the upper hand. But if Maximus considered Blaise some sort of threat, she saw no visible sign of it and knew that her father's arrogance was something to be feared.
“Rather bold of you to say, Zabini. Even if that is the truth when it comes to how I felt about the situation.” Maximus replied calmly, ignoring the vicious glare she sent him.
Blaise's hand was tightened with anger around her own and she let out a slight gasp that he quickly apologized for. Carefully, he eased his grip and ran his thumb along her skin, soothing away the hurt, “If you have such a lack of regard for your daughter then it won't be so difficult for you to understand where I'm coming from.”
“True, but I could care less about your supposedly heroic need for Astoria. Why you want to marry her and what sort of plots you have working in your mind are far more interesting to me,” Maximus Greengrass replied as he laced his fingers together and rested them lazily on his lap, surveying Blaise through cunning, curious eyes.
That caused Astoria's mind to shift in a different direction as well and she turned her head to stare at Blaise more carefully. Could he only be using her for his own purposes? Had he only taken her into his home, made her smile and laugh just to get something he needed? The very thought was devastating.
Blaise's faced shifted to one of disgust and genuine surprise. Astoria felt her hand being squeezed again and felt the faintest tremor in his own that seemed to bury her fears, she wanted to have more faith in him, he deserved nothing less. “I'm sure you would find it far more interesting if I told you that I'm not asking to marry your daughter for what you may believe.”
Maximus Greengrass appeared amused by the declaration and shot Astoria a dark look from the corner of his eye. It created a bite of fear, “My daughter told me earlier today that your relationship was by no means romantic and that I had no reason to, say, use that against her in any way.”
“Of course she would have wanted to deny our feelings for one another to spare me any pain. But because of what has happened, I believe that she would be far better cared for if I were to make things between us clear,” Blaise said with such sincerity that Astoria would have been a fool not to believe him.
What on earth was running through his mind? Astoria felt betrayed that he would do this to her without making any attempt to discuss it with her first. It seemed incredibly unlikely that her father would believe this, “Blaise, you don't know what you're doing,” she whispered to him softly.
Maximus ran his eyes between the two of them with growing interest and she could hear the gears and wires shifting in his head. A contemplative frown was working between his brows as he regarded them and Astoria felt very much like a bug, “Is a marriage between the two of you so unsavory, pet?” he asked her suddenly.
The question startled Astoria and she looked away from Blaise long enough to see the slow, eerily serene smile form on her father's face. It was more frightening than anything she had seen, somehow worse than any nightmare, “No...no of course not,” a blush worked into her cheeks and she fumbled, “but you know that it can't happen!”
Blaise gave a low laugh that seemed to settle in his chest before he raised her hand and tenderly kissed the back of her fingers. The public display caused her father's upper lip to rise in disgust and her own face to flood with heat, every ounce of her body tingling with longing for someone she couldn't have, “You're not being very flattering to me, darling.”
Astoria was certain that the spark of anger for the endearment was beaten down by the furious need she suddenly felt. Affection, both dizzying and terrible flooded into her system and her heart nearly stopped at the look in his eyes, “Would you stop this?” she asked after catching her breath.
“Not when it comes to you,” Blaise replied gently, breath warm against her knuckles. It caused more heat and painful longing in her chest and Astoria had to jerk her hand back, overcome, “my intentions to have an intention with the intention of marrying your daughter aren't a lie, as you can see.” He said to her father with the calmest of smiles.
Maximus had watched the display with a sickening patience that caused Astoria's spine to tingle with unease. She had already faced off against him once today and was more than certain that if she had to again, she would, “Questionable really when the two of you know nothing about one another.”
Blaise tilted his head curiously at the words and Astoria felt his fingers lacing with hers very briefly before letting them go. “I know quite a bit about Astoria,” he said and at her father's disbelieving look, he went on with a faint smile, “after knowing her for just these few days I know that she is passionate and trustworthy and far more courageous than anyone I've ever known.”
Astoria's eyes widened in surprise at the words and the way Blaise seemed to look at her just then, as if he valued her so strongly that he couldn't imagine a day without her. That feeling seemed to stay between them for a few minutes, a surprising flare of love flashing in the depths of his eyes before he looked away, “...How touching.” Maximus Greengrass replied dryly, breaking the moment.
“I'd like to believe so.” Blaise replied with a swift smile. There was a strange silence between the two men just then and Astoria felt as if they were coming to some wordless agreement, “I'm coming to you as a gentleman and asking for her hand instead of doing what I would rather do.”
Maximus's blue eyes flared with anger at his nerve and Astoria wondered what sort of plot he had had working in his mind. “And that would have been...?” he asked lightly, as if he found the thought of them escaping alive highly doubtful.
Blaise's dark eyes had narrowed into slits and Astoria sensed then the anger and hatred that he had been keeping carefully in check. “To simply send in an owl to the Aurors and have them investigate very thoroughly what it is you and your family do for a living.”
“You wouldn't dare.” Maximus said with a warning snarl, his black brows coming down in a furious line. “If you even think that such an idea would have gone by without my notice, you would have been dead by now. The Ministry is not at all like it used to be and I have connections in places that you couldn't even begin to imagine,”
Astoria heard the smugness and pure arrogance in the words and knew that despite what Blaise could threaten, there was little he could do. But she found herself speaking up before she could rethink her words, “You told me earlier that no pureblood would even welcome this family back into society after what happened at the Malfoy's party, you told me that not even you had the right bribes to—”
Maximus cut her off suddenly with a sharp wave of his hand, dismissing the words with a carelessness that surprised her. “You're forgetting exactly who I am, pet. I have quite a few contacts in Knockturn Alley and while the family business may be slow, my other investments are holding fairly strong.”
This was the first time that Astoria had really allowed herself to think about what her father could truly be up to. With clients coming to her family and paying them to kill, there were other, darker things that she knew that they were involved in that she had promptly ignored, “Other investments?” she asked him warily.
“Yes, pet. You didn't think that all of what we had came from your brother and sister's assignments did you?” Maximus Greengrass asked her with a slight sneer. Blaise was staring at him in rapt, if not revolted fascination, “this family has been involved with the darker nature of things for a very long time.”
Astoria was horrified by the words but had known the truth of them for a very long time, finding it terrible of herself for ignoring it. “But if that were true, why hasn't our family prospered well in the last few years?” she demanded, this one thing flaring in her mind like a red flag.
Maximus's blue eyes narrowed slightly and Astoria watched his lips thin slightly, as if he were holding back a snarl. Wretched memories swirled in the blue depths of the glare that he sent her, “There are expenses to be paid for, things that you will never begin to understand, so long as you never question the truth that I know.”
Astoria found herself flinching slightly at the way he phrased the words, leaving them to hang hauntingly in the air. The truth of where she came from was implied and the threat of having them revealed here and now to Blaise was too much to bear, “Do Mum and the others know about the other things that you dabble in?”
“Of course not, don't be ridiculous. Your mother is privy to this information because she is as much a part of it as I am but your siblings? Asking questions resulted in the absence of one brother already,” Maximus replied coolly and Astoria felt her blood chill and she squeezed Blaise's hand tightly.
Leo. Why did he have to mention him here and now? Why did he have to remind her of his death? Did he think that it would scare her? Astoria had never known her oldest brother, she had come into the family after he had passed away and even the particulars of his death were a mystery to her.
Emily and Scorpious had always refused to say, only that he had begun to question and try things that no Greengrass had a right to. “How long have you been threatening them with that?” Astoria asked Maximus in a tense whisper, hatred flaring.
“Until they understood that there would be no defiance and yet, I believe I've spoiled you, Astoria. You've grown up far more headstrong than I could have ever imagined,” a slightly bitter smile flickered across Maximus's mouth at that. “Though you may not have gotten that from me.”
The implication caused Astoria's skin to pale drastically and Blaise squeezed her hand comfortingly in his own. It was impossible for him to understand what her father was saying but she could feel his eyes scanning, assessing and weighing what could be done next, “I believe you've tried to traumatize your daughter enough for one day.” Blaise said harshly, breaking up what might have turned into an unveiling of buried secrets best left in the dark.
“Charming, aren't you?” Maximus Greengrass asked him with what looked like an amused smile. It chilled Astoria to the bone at how cold it appeared, “there are a lot of things that you are yet unaware of when it comes to this girl and I hope that when she dares to reveal them to you, that you'll show a tad more respect.”
Blaise stiffened at the words and Astoria knew that despite what they had been through that there were things that she refused to reveal. Where she really came from and what she really meant to the Greengrass family...all the secrets that were still heavily packed inside would frighten him away from her for certain.
“I've never shown much respect for anyone, not even my own mother at times so you'll be waiting a very long time.”Blaise replied dryly, an icy tinge forming in his eyes. It was a terrifying look that spoke of how damaged her family had made him, “trying to scare your daughter away from my proposal is a low move, even for you.”
Maximus Greengrass studied him for a short moment before roaring with laughter and the sound caused Astoria to jump. It had been very rare that she had seen her father so caught off guard and when he finally settled down, his cheeks were flushed and a strange light had entered his eyes, “You'll have to pardon me but I'm only being the overprotective father that my darling daughter deserves just now.”
“I highly doubt it,” Blaise said through a tight smile. Astoria looked between them warily, trying to guess what their next move would be but only succeeded in making her mind jumble with uncertainty, “you seem to enjoy games and threats far more than the comfort of any of your children.”
Maximus's face hardened at the words and Astoria wondered what could be swarming in his thoughts. No one had ever dared to openly question the way they were being raised or the way the family business held them in a cage and if anyone had, even in private, she was certain that they were no longer living. “You're treading on very dangerous waters with me, Zabini.” Her father warned, “you should be more careful.”
Blaise's mouth tightened slightly at the words and Astoria watched an almost indifferent expression come onto his features. “I'm a Slytherin, I don't believe in being careful when there's something I need.”
“And you need my daughter so desperately that you would risk having yourself killed at any moment?” Maximus asked him skeptically. Astoria had gone pink at the words but now saw that calculating pressure in the room as her father spoke, “rather noble of you, I must say.”
Blaise was quiet for a moment but he replied easily and with such arrogance that it robbed Astoria of breath. “There's no need to speak to me like a child, I know what I need and your daughter fulfills exactly that. If you're willing to deny me, I'll merely take her and be done with this,” he said lightly, raising his brows.
While Astoria's heart nearly exploded at the bold declaration, Maximus merely stared at Blaise for a moment longer before giving a slight chuckle. If she hadn't known any better, she would say that he was reluctantly impressed, “You have far more courage than I would have thought, I have to say that.” He said, face returning to stone. “Taking my daughter won't be an easy task.”
“The chances of someone asking to marry me has always been low, I'm not a pureblood and I've never been like Emily.” Astoria found herself saying and while Blaise opened his mouth to intervene, she said tightly. “It was never a life that I wanted for myself.”
Maximus tilted his head curiously at that, although he looked as if he had already made up his mind about something. “And yet you don't find the thought of being tied together with a blood traitor and his insufficient fortune beneath you?”
“No need for rudeness of any kind, sir. By the time I turn seventeen later this year, I'll have my inheritance and I'll have more than enough to see that your daughter is taken care of,” Blaise replied, sounding highly offended.
Astoria knew from being at the Estate that the Zabini family had fallen on hard times and that their fortune was far greater than her own but still nowhere near the grandeur that would please her parents. “I don't care about how much money he has, Dad or any of those other things. If you knew me at all you would understand that I'm not nearly that much of a snob,” she said bitterly, glaring into her father's eyes.
“....How bold of you, Astoria.” Maximus murmured darkly and Astoria's skin paled drastically. There was a warning in his voice that made waves of fear dance over her soul but she held his glare for as long as she was able until he turned his attention to Blaise with a smirk, “you are aware of what this family does by now...aren't you?”
Blaise stiffened at the light laugh her father gave and Astoria felt a spark of rage and found herself nearly standing. Every fiber of her being wanted to hurt and maim him to pieces but felt his hand tug her back, “I have a slight idea, though I've been piecing the truth together for quite some time on my own.”
Astoria shouldn't have found herself surprised by the words but fear crept up regardless and she had to swallow hard. “What exactly do you know?” she whispered to him, worried that the information would get him killed if her father realized how much that she had willingly told him.
“I'm sure that it hardly matters now, we'll discuss that later.” Blaise said to her kindly, giving her a warm smile. It held no malice or disgust and Astoria stared at him in wonder, thinking that he had to be some surreal creature, “my prickly little thing is more of a mystery than I would have thought possible, apparently.”
The endearment caused her cheeks to flush as Maximus studied Blaise curiously from the tip of his head down to his toes. There was a very cunning, calculating look to his features that worried her, “There are a lot of things in this family that you aren't aware of, Astoria being one of them. If you marry her, the truth of that might eventually kill you.”
“I'm sure her temper will be the death of me sooner than any secret.” Blaise said in all seriousness and Astoria frowned at him as he gave a brief laugh. When the last of his laughter vanished, his voice grew hard and cold, “though from what I've noticed, everyone in this house has a secret they're willing to kill for.”
Maximus gave a slow smile at the words and Astoria wasn't certain if he were more amused by Blaise's calm attitude or aggravated by how at ease he appeared. When he spoke though, his tone held a dark intent that made her ill, “Rather observant aren't you, Zabini? I could use a man like you in my field of work.”
“No!” Astoria burst out strongly, a wave of pure fear flooding into her heart. If this was what her father wanted in exchange than she would rather risk fighting to the death herself than subjecting Blaise to the Greengrass life and its insanity, “I'm not going to let you do this!”
Maximus raised his black brows calmly at the words, his teeth clenched tightly as he regarded her. “There is very little that you can even attempt to do and it would be wise of you to remember that, Astoria.” He murmured silkily and Astoria was unsettled by the madness that she saw growing in her father's eyes and felt her skin chill.
“That hardly matters, this is Blaise's life, not yours!” Astoria screamed, hearing her voice echoing wildly in the room like thunder. “He means too much to me and I won't stand by and let you control him—I won't let it happen!”
Blaise's eyes widened at the words and she felt his hand grip hers hard. When Astoria looked at him to see if he were all right, the intensity in his eyes nearly caused the fury in her body to wash away, “Then will you have me?” he asked her almost harshly. “Will you marry me?”
Astoria felt her face flushing and a need to possess him...have him for her own overwhelmed her. It was so horribly wrong to feel this way right now but she was unable to hold her emotions in and her speechlessness spoke for her, “...I...” the words felt lodged and unbearably tight.
Before she could even begin to answer him, Maximus Greengrass interrupted with a hard laugh that forced the pair to meet his eyes. He appeared raptly fascinated by something that they couldn't see, “I do believe that I have my answer on something.” He said calmly.
“What do you mean?” Astoria demanded, horrified that she might have given her father some other reason to hold his will over her. She had already given up so much and cursed under her breath, overwhelmed once again by how much Blaise meant to her, “what are you planning?!”
Blaise seemed to shake off his own memories and gently squeezed her hand, though she resisted at first. “Astoria, stop. You're only going to give him what he wants by exploding this way, he's manipulating you,” he said with fierce warning, eyes flashing.
The fact hadn't been lost on her and Astoria felt her face flooding red with anger and she tensed, suddenly ready for the worst. Instead, the eerily serene smile on her father's face only grew and he stood from his chair gracefully, “I think I'll leave the two of you to discuss this privately, I will only agree to an engagement between you if Astoria agrees and afterward, I would like to have a word with both of you separately.”
It was almost as if he were giving them a death sentence. Astoria watched as her father bowed his head at the two of them before retreating the living room and heading for his office, where she knew it was only a matter of time, “Dad, no matter what this family has done, you can't bend and break everyone to what you want them to be!” she shouted at his retreating back.
Maximus Greengrass stiffened at the words and she watched as his fists clenched at his sides, as if he were fighting something within himself. Or fighting the urge to retrieve his wand and hex them both into nothing but ash, “You have no idea what sort of person your father truly is, Astoria because that's exactly what I intend to do.”
The words were said so calmly, so hauntingly that when he was gone and Astoria was left alone with Blaise at her side, she barely felt his arms around her. When a scream threatened to rise from the depths of her soul, he merely turned her face into his chest and allowed her to scream until she could no longer make a sound.
Thanks for reading this monster! I'm having internet difficulty so those waiting on Albus will have to wait a while longer...D':
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