Chapter 21 : Sibling
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A hauntingly beautiful dusk seemed to have fallen like a soothing blanket across the sky, burnishing the land in surreal shades of gold and red. The withered remains of Astoria's rose garden looked especially desolate and abandoned as her gaze wandered over the familiar shapes, a chilly wind snatching the warmth from her cheeks.
“I'm going to marry him, its my decision to make,” an eerie silence seemed to have fallen over the horizon, cloaking them all with secrets and lies. Astoria could hear the faint echo of them in her mind, almost like a mocking hiss that but no matter the risks that it would surely bring, her family's wrath no longer holding the same power it once had.
Maximus Greengrass may want to bind her to them and erase all that she was but Astoria knew that her open defiance wouldn't be taken lightly. They had created a dark bargain between them to ensure that Blaise and his mother would be left alive in exchange for all that she was but she was unsure what path her father would take to remind her.
The fact that she had given away so much to spare Blaise the horror of facing her family and possibly being lost to her forever, hardly surprised Astoria any longer. If there was one thing that she had learned, it was that she loved him too much and would be willing to do whatever possible to make sure that he was happy, even at the cost of her own freedom.
Blaise had nearly died because of her and Astoria would never forgive herself if she allowed him to suffer again. He was wiling to marry her out of feelings that she knew hadn't been easy for him to explain...even if he somehow didn't love her as deeply as she did him, being near him was more than enough.
“I may not be able to give you everything that you've ever wanted but I'll give you as much of myself that I can,” Astoria felt her heart race a little as she recalled his words and how deeply they had touched her. It was impossible to remember ever feeling so connected with anyone else, Blaise had shown her a level of vulnerability that he had never shown anyone else and she would never forget it.
Astoria was aware that the color in her cheeks may have betrayed her thoughts but no one seemed to be able to speak, the silence worse than any graveyard. Blaise still had his arms wrapped loosely around her and she allowed his warmth to seep into her bones, though the action only seemed to disgust her relatives more, judging from their sneers.
Maximus appeared as calculating as ever as he regarded the pair of them and she was certain that her mother may faint at any moment, every ounce of color had been drained from her face. Emily's face was flushed pink and her eyes were shimmering with tears that Astoria knew would flood in seconds, it wasn't hard for her to understand that she had deeply betrayed her.
“You've lost your damn mind,” Scorpious's words were colder than she had ever thought possible but Astoria somehow managed not to shudder. He was the first of her family members to actually regain his voice and although it had always been familiar and warm, it sounded more like a stranger's now, “you can't possibly be thinking of going through with something like this!” he snarled.
The force of his words seemed to bounce all around them like lightning and Astoria heard the cold air carrying them away. They seemed to float and taunt until there was nothing left but the sound of her pounding heart, “I've already made my decision and I'm not going to change it, Scorpious.” Astoria said with as much force as she could.
There was a horrible rage flooding into her brother's face, mixed in with something that was too frosty to be recognized as grief. “I can't believe this...you have really lost your mind, Stori!” he shouted again and it took all of her strength not to jump at the explosion that came from him, though Blaise's arms tightened around her in response.
“We both know that insanity is more like a compliment, considering our family,” Astoria found herself saying dryly. The Greengrass family was perhaps more insane than she could have ever thought possible and she wasn't certain if it were hereditary, though it would be a lie if she said it didn't frighten her.
Scorpious's blue eyes narrowed viciously and he refused to show even a spark of laughter at the words. Their father, however, appeared amused and Astoria knew from the dark spark in his eyes that it wouldn't bode well, “Excellent point, my dear. We all know how that seems to follow us no matter where we go,” he chuckled, though the statement held far more truth than he would elaborate.
Astoria knew that they were far from finding even ground but she kept her face expressionless, refusing to show fear. It would only cause her father to manipulate her once again and she knew that he wouldn't need any encouragement, “Dad, how can you just stand here? Try to talk some sense into her!” Scorpious cried angrily, flinging his arm in her direction.
“I think that the damage has been done, Scorpious.” Maximus replied calmly to his son, though there was a warning laced there as well. Astoria watched her mother's face continue to pale, as if she were withering away on the spot, “no matter how disgusted we are by the change of events, there is nothing more that I can say that will change Astoria's mind.”
Scorpious's face was disbelieving, as if he found that bending Astoria to his will was something that he could have done regardless. A tremor of emotion went through his body and for a moment she was certain that he wouldn't speak but he flicked his gaze to her intently, “Then I'll say it if you won't—” he started.
Emily's green eyes widened in surprise at the words and she gripped his upper arm before he could move forward. Astoria felt Blaise tense and shift her behind him, though the action went unnoticed, “Stop it, Scorpious!” she cried desperately, looking as if she were as afraid as she was just then.
Their mother's face had turned slightly grey and she was staring at Scorpious with an almost wistful expression. Astoria knew that she wouldn't mind it at all if he happened to let his wand “slip” and rid them of Blaise just now, “Emily, you let me go!” their brother snarled down at her, looking mad with rage, “that pureblood did something to her, I know he did!”
Astoria flinched at the insult and stared at her brother in confusion, wondering why he found it so hard to believe that she had changed. But it probably hurt too badly to think that his sister had decided to do something so dangerous and she felt her chest sting painfully, knowing that she couldn't possibly make it right.
“You're not doing any good scaring her, we both know that nothing you do is going to change the fact that she's leaving us,” Emily managed to choke the words out but it was obvious that it pained her to do so. Astoria saw her mother grasp their father's arm as her knees nearly gave out, “I don't want it anymore than you do!” she cried back, flinching at the look he gave her.
Scorpious flung their sister's restraining arm off as if he couldn't stand to have her touch him and Emily's face became stricken. “I don't believe that for one fucking minute because if you cared about Stori even half as much as I do, then you wouldn't be standing here acting like her marrying that piece of shit is all right!” he shouted.
Emily flinched away from the accusation and she seemed to shudder with both anger and some painful wound. The look she gave their brother should have reduced him to nothing but a pile of rags but Scorpious merely stared balefully back, a tick in his jaw the only sign that he wanted to take the words back, “Go to hell, Scorpious.”
“Now, now.” Maximus's voice was both stern and oddly amused, though Astoria sensed that his anger was being carefully held in place. It was the sign that things would be quickly going down a darker path if his children continued to embarrass him and her brother and sister turned to stone, realizing it as well, “enough. This childish bantering will get us nowhere.”
“But Dad, you can't—” Scorpious started, once again reminding Astoria of a naughty child on the brink of a spanking. His eyes turned pleading, “you just can't stand there and pretend like this is okay when we both know that it isn't...” whatever he may have said afterward faded away feebly at their father's expressionless face.
Maximus's blue eyes narrowed into slits and Astoria knew that if he dared to interrupt him, he would pay dearly for it. The blood seemed to drain from her entire body at the thought, “Scorpious, this will be my last warning.” His voice had lowered to a pitch that made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up, “I won't tolerate another minute of you acting like a fool.”
Scorpious's lips compressed into tight lines and he sent Astoria a stare that shattered her heart into pieces. For the first time, she was able to see the grief that he was holding in and a blinding regret that scorched her like fire, “I'm not going to stand another minute of this but Zabini, if you hurt my sister, I'll kill you.”
Blaise's body rippled with fury at the words but Astoria managed to slip beside him and place a hand on his forearm. It did little to erase the tension that was going through him however and she was certain that what her brother had did to him ink Knockturn Alley was flashing through his eyes, “Your sister is in safe hands, Greengrass. But you'll have to forgive me when I say that you have no right to offer up any concern after what you did to her,” he said just as fiercely.
Scorpious's blue eyes widened as if he would love nothing more than to kill Blaise then and there. “Only because she had lost her mind in trying to rescue you,” he hissed, his voice barely above a harsh whisper, “you could have done the honorable thing and simply died, sparing her the pain.”
Blaise's entire body stiffened and she sensed an overwhelming pool of despair go through him. Astoria knew that he hadn't carried his wand with him that day he had been ambushed but had no idea where it might be, “You could have simply protected your sister in the first place from the life your father has forced you all into, instead of accepting it like a coward,” he nearly shouted.
Astoria glanced between the two of them worriedly and felt her free hand clutching her wand tightly. The need to spill blood surged between them and she worried that if Scorpious decided to attack if she would be able to hold him at bay, her brother was a very accomplished wizard.
Though her father had seen to it that all of his children were able to defend themselves, Astoria had seen first hand that Scorpious was deadly. Emily may be known as being a seductress, but she could poison a man as easily as she could wield her wand and it suddenly became sickeningly clear that she wouldn't stand a chance if they dueled.
“No matter what you think, Zabini, I did protect her before you came along.” Scorpious snarled forcefully as he turned away, the hem of his robes clutching at his ankles. He looked like a nightmare fading away, “but if you do anything to her and I find out, I'll make sure you're nothing but a blood smear by the time I'm done with you.”
Astoria watched him walk back the way that he had come and felt her eye stinging painfully, wondering if she would even see him again. Emily had clasped a hand to her face as if she were holding back a scream before she sent her a beseeching look, her entire hand shaking as she lowered it, “I-I think that I've seen more than my share of free will,” she whispered, turning away.
“Emily, darling where are you going—?” their mother cried worriedly, somehow finding her voice again. Astoria was amazed that she had remained quiet throughout the entire exchange but she glanced at her father, knowing that he may have given her some sort of signal to remain silent.
Blaise let out a slow, ragged breath that Astoria could barely hear, though she felt the tremors going through him again. Without thinking, she slipped her hand down to his and felt their fingers lacing together, “Stori can marry that...that pureblood but I won't stand here and watch anymore—I barely recognize her as it is!” Emily shouted at their mother, the words extremely hoarse.
Maximus regarded his daughter's departure with faint surprise but he made no move to stop her from leaving. Emily shot Astoria a wounded look before she stumbled weakly out of the garden, sobbing uncontrollably, “Emily!” their mother called sharply, appearing stricken before she glared at her. “Look at what you've done, Astoria, do you have any heart?”
Astoria felt the words like a knife to her chest and stared at her mother as if she couldn't quite believe that they'd been said. Adele Greengrass looked for the moment, like a statue on the brink of crumbling but she forced herself not to respond and shot Blaise a reproachful look when he opened his mouth furiously.
“Darling, make sure that Emily doesn't collapse in a fit of tears in the hallway.” Maximus surprised her by saying, his tone bland and without any hint of concern. His wife stared up at him with a haughty glare at his nerve, “and have Aradelle bring tea and sandwiches into the sitting room after you're done taking care of her.”
The look that Astoria's mother gave her husband would have been enough to destroy an entire civilization. Their marriage and the rules binding them together were a mystery to her but she knew that their own, personal batter over her decision had only just begun, “I honestly don't see how that will calm anyone's nerves, Maximus,” she started angrily.
Maximus interrupted her with a barely controlled sneer that sent an indignant flush to Astoria's cheeks. They may have their different views but Adele was still her mother and she hated to see that she was being handled like an insignificant pet, “No, but it will give you something to do, other than foaming at the mouth in a fit of hysterics,”
“H-hysterics? This is my daughter, Maximus! You've already decided to allow this engagement without consulting me and I'll be damned if you just push me aside as if my opinion doesn't matter!” Adele shouted up at him furiously, looking like the fierce mother that Astoria had always admired and deeply feared. “I will not have it!”
A faint smile curved Maximus's mouth and if she hadn't known better, it may have been deeply admiring. It was apparent that her father wouldn't have been so easily entertained by a weaker woman...there was no challenge in that, “Adele, my love I have many things that I wish to discuss with Astoria and her betrothed and won't appreciate anymore distractions.” He said softly, the words laced with a warning.
“Fine, Maximus but I have already lost one child to this family business,” Adele breathed raggedly, her chest rising and falling rapidly. Astoria knew that it was far from kind but she suspected that her mother was dancing with madness at the moment, “but if you allow something to happen to Astoria, no matter what she's done, you will regret it.”
Maximus's black brows rose slightly at the threat but Astoria knew that he wouldn't dare go through with hurting her for fear of his own wife's wrath. It was a very strange thought but she had a feeling that Adele Greengrass had him wrapped rather tightly around her finger...or was far more skilled at poison, “I can only hope so,” was all that he said before the woman stomped off.
Astoria watched her mother's retreat with a mixture of surprise and wariness, as if she may have misheard. Her mother had shown no sign that she still cared about her but she felt something in her make peace with the fact that no matter how she may have felt, a mother couldn't completely hate her child. “My God, I was under the impression that my own mother was frightening...” Blaise whispered near her ear, his voice both horrified and oddly curious.
“My apologies for the delay but if the two of you would follow me to my office, there are a few things that I would like to speak to you both about.” Maximus informed calmly, as if nothing bizarre had occurred. There was a very curious smile on his face though when he stared at them and Astoria felt her hackles rise, “I had thought of speaking to you separately but given the circumstances, have decided to kill two birds with one stone.”
Blaise's tone was as dry as parchment while Astoria's blood chilled uncomfortably at the metaphor. “How morbid of you.” Maximus laughed pleasantly. “I can hardly wait to put this behind us and move forward,”
Astoria could hear the wariness in his voice as well and squeezed his hand tightly, trying to give him strength. It was unnecessary though, when she understood that Blaise was now the strongest person that she had ever encountered, “What do you have to tell us that you can't tell us here and now?” she demanded out of her father.
Maximus tilted his head at the words as if his mind were still whirring joyfully over some darkness that she couldn't comprehend. “Quite a few things, actually, pet.” He reached into his coat pocket and withdrew a bit of folded parchment that was slightly singed around the edges, “this came through the fireplace not too long ago from Headmaster Snape, bidding me to have you arrive in the next few hours.”
“But..I thought we wouldn't be leaving until tomorrow.” Astoria replied stupidly, feeling her spine tingling uneasily. The thought of returning to Hogwarts and facing all of the changes there made her feel as if she would be entering an entirely new world but it was nothing compared to what she'd faced here, at her own home.
There was a weary expression on her father's face when he answered and she could see that he was vastly irritated. It seemed as though he couldn't quite stand another person's schedule to have the nerve to interrupt his, “Things have changed, apparently. The Headmaster, I assume will be under...different orders in the next few days and you have missed your fair share,”
Astoria didn't have to know what other orders Snape would be under and she glanced up into Blaise's face. It was unreadable but she sensed that he was just as disgusted as she was by the man's affiliation with the Dark Lord and knowing that he was now Headmaster only made bile rise in her throat. “How soon?”
“In the next three hours, we've already wasted enough time.” Maximus replied impatiently as he motioned for them to follow him. Blaise gave her hand a reassuring squeeze as they started walking, dead rose petals crunching feebly beneath their feet as they passed, “and I have quite a few things to say...and remind.”
The words made Astoria's blood go numb but but she refused to acknowledge it as her father's blue eyes flickered to her face. When he turned away, giving them his back, she couldn't help but say, “I'll have to pack my things...I don't think that I'll be coming home for the holidays or the summer,”
A slight tension in his shoulders was the only indication that her father was furious at the news but when he spoke, his voice was calm enough. “Aradelle is already taking care of this issue and will have your things neatly packed and sorted shortly. Zabini, I'm afraid that you didn't have many belongings for us to store away...not even a wand,” he murmured curiously.
“I'm well aware of that.” Blaise replied calmly and when Astoria stared up at him expectantly, his eyes narrowed in thought. When he leaned down, his breath tickled the rim of her ear and she felt herself blushing, “I hid my wand in a special place the night before your brother and his friends ambushed me—your ears are sensitive.” He said distractedly as her face continued to flame.
Astoria could barely draw in a proper breath even though she was intensely intrigued by where he had hidden his wand. But if the words were true, then he had either known or felt that he might be ambushed the moment he left The Leaky Cauldron and a well of guilt started in the pit of her stomach— “Will you tell me why you....would you stop that?” she snapped furiously.
Blaise had been blowing lightly along the shell of her ear and seemed amused and fascinated as she turned brilliantly red. They had entered the house by now and the warmth from the fireplace teased away the chill from outside, though the look from her father was enough to bring it back, “I'll tell you where I put it some other time, when we're not being watched.”
“A-all right,” Astoria murmured weakly, blushing deeper. Blaise blew in her ear with a chuckle and she turned so red that she was certain she would have been visible from a mile away, “will you stop?” she hissed under her breath, glaring up at him.
There was a strange smile on Blaise's face that she didn't understand and his eyes were caressing...sensual. “So many curious ideas in my mind...” he murmured, more to himself than to her as he leaned away, the look vanishing from his eyes quickly as they continued to follow Maximus through the living room. “I'm detecting a chill.”
Astoria didn't quite understand what he meant by that until she flinched at the sight of her brother descending the stairs. Scorpious ignored her but she saw that his eyes were trained on Blaise as if he were a plump rabbit that had entered a fox's den, and she was terrified of the gleam that had entered his eyes.
“Stop glowering, Scorpious and make yourself useful.” Maximus commanded from up ahead, not even bothering to turn around. Astoria had the eerie thought that he may have had two extra sets of eyes at the back of his head, “and that doesn't mean following me into my office and being a nuisance, I have this situation in control.”
Scorpious had made to move towards them but Astoria shifted closer to Blaise and watched his eyes narrow spitefully at their father's words. He stood there in the center of the living room as if he were on the verge of exploding...she could see him tapping his wand impatiently on his thigh, “Fine, Dad. I won't be a nuisance,” he said coolly before glancing at her.
“Scorpy—” Astoria started.
The nickname only seemed to infuriate Scorpious further and she watched a muscle in his jaw ticking. A flash of something was in his eyes but it was gone too quickly for her to gauge what it might have been, “I left something for you in your room. I told Aradelle to pack it for you, since you're not going to bother and come home again.” He said cruelly.
Astoria flinched but their father let out an impatient sigh that reminded her of a dragon before it spit flame. Blaise's hand in hers held all the comfort in the world but it wasn't the same as having her brother and they both knew it, though Scorpious refused to even acknowledge that he was there, “I never said that I—”
“But you're not, are you?” Scorpious demanded angrily and when she remained silent, flooded with pain, he looked hastily away. There was the first sign of tears in his eyes but he blinked them back until they were nothing more than an illusion, “...I left some things in your room, you'll probably like it. I had Aradelle pack them after she tended to Mum and Emily.”
Maximus seemed to find this amusing but Astoria glanced at him and saw that his face was mostly impassive. He didn't seem curious as to what Scorpious had left her and she sensed that he hardly cared, so long as it didn't interfere with his own plans, “In a fit of hysterics, I imagine?” he asked, referring to his wife and daughter.
Scorpious's gaze was oddly empty when he glanced at their father and Astoria saw that his jaw was clenched tight. “Nearly. Can't you hear them?” distantly, she could hear Emily sobbing and their mother's forceful voice from down the hall and imagined them arguing in the sitting room, both in tears.
“Sadly, I can. Scorpious, instead of foaming at the mouth, go make sure that they don't faint, it would be wise to bring the smelling salts,” their father said dryly and Astoria saw that he was trying desperately not to roll his eyes. Her brother merely gave a grunt of a response, shot Blaise a dark look of promise and stalked away, “if you'll follow me..?” he said blandly.
Astoria's chest felt as if it would collapse and she tried not to imagine the sort of pain that she was giving her family. Emily would probably never be the same again and Scorpious...he would probably hate her forever, “Don't think like that,” Blaise said calmly, seeming to read her mind and startling her. “Everything will be all right.”
“I hope so,” Astoria replied, fighting down the urge to call after her brother like she had in the past. Scorpious would never look at her the same and never want her anywhere near him...she didn't even care that he had left her anything in her room, it wasn't the same as a hug or a smile. “I just love them both so much.”
Blaise's face shifted to one of understanding and pain for her and she thought that he would say something more, but his hand merely tightened around hers. By now, Maximus was opening the office to his door and she foolishly expected foam or mist to seep from the room, like the entrance to some dank dungeon or the welcoming entrance to Hell.
“If the two of you would take your seats, there are a few things that I would like to discuss.” Maximus said tersely as they hesitated outside the room. It was dark inside and she could feel Blaise's hand trembling in hers, ever so slightly before he inhaled and banished his fear, “come now, we don't have a lot of time and I have no intention of harming either of you.”
Astoria narrowed her eyes on her father suspiciously but strode forward after him and heard Blaise shut the door with a faint click. The portraits of her two uncles and aunt stared back from their portraits behind her father's desk, looking caught in their anger from years before, “Do you honestly think I'll believe that?” she asked him.
Maximus shot her a fond look, as if he applauded her for the words that had come from a nasty part of her soul. It was something a daughter of his would have asked and she felt a spark of revulsion and shame as he moved away from them, seeming to dominate the space as if he were a thick, cloying smoke, “Take a seat, Astoria.” He said gently, taking out his wand.
Astoria gripped her wand on reflex and Blaise stiffened but her father merely flicked his wand casually until another chair, leather and formidable, plopped onto the floor. She let out a slow, ragged breath as she shifted away and sat down in the same chair that she had occupied earlier, when they had bargained over Blaise's life, thinking that the irony was unkind.
“When will be expected at Hogwarts?” Blaise asked casually as he took the other seat, his fingers still laced with hers. Astoria felt a flush working into her cheeks as she felt his thumb rubbing along the smoothness of her skin, “I've known Snape for six years and understand more than most that he's an impatient man,”
“You'll be leaving in an hour, though I'm ashamed to say that I'm not at all eager for either of you two to leave so soon.” Maximus answered just as calmly as he sat down, observing them from flashing blue eyes. Astoria couldn't help but look over his head at the portraits of his siblings, wondering if they were listening, “but I have no say in the matter.”
A slight silence fell after the words and Astoria could hear her heart pounding rapidly in her chest. Blaise was flicking his eyes around her father's office with mild curiosity, though she knew he was searching for anything that he might use to harm them, or some way that would lead them to freedom, even though there was none, “I'm not quite sure I believe that.” He finally said.
Maximus angled his blue eyes at him with curious speculation and Astoria was relieved that they had left her face for the moment. It had felt as if her father were intent on reading the very center of her mind, “This may come as a surprise, Zabini but there have been things that aren't in my power to control. Your lovely fiance being one of them, of course,” he replied.
“My marriage to your daughter will have to continue to be something out of your control, I have no intention of letting you interfere.” Blaise replied icily and Astoria glanced at him in wonder, though there was ripple of fear in her as well. They had already sparred once before and she knew that her father's patience was thin, “not now or ever.”
A laugh rumbled from deep in Maximus's chest at the threat and Astoria was wary, sensing that he was genuinely amused. “So young...its strange how recklessly impulsive some people can be when they're in love,” he murmured, his voice holding a sort of disdain that was unnerving, “my brother Tiberius was just as foolish.”
Blaise's cheeks had turned faintly pink at the words and Astoria saw that they had shocked him, his hand gripped hers almost painfully. Quickly, he released his grip but stared defiantly back at her father, giving her time to ask him, “Your brother decided to go against the family for the sake of love?”
“Yes, Tiberius was my oldest and most unusual brother.” Maximus replied with a scoff, turning his head slightly to regard his brother's portrait. The man with the long black hair and heavy lidded eyes merely scowled and turned away in disgust at his stare, “he and my father never quite saw eye to eye when it came to the family business but Tiberius did the unthinkable by breaking away from the family as you are now.”
Astoria found something vibrate in her at the words and she stared at her father with a mixture of surprise and hope. Perhaps Tiberius had thought like her, though she was suddenly reminded of her older brother Leo once more, who had died for daring to question the way their family was run.
“What happened to this man?” Blaise asked tightly, his eyes running over the portrait with admiration and what could only be pity. It was apparent that, while his thoughts of Leo might not have been there, that he sensed where Tiberius had ended up, “I can't imagine your family simply letting him be.”
Maximus's blue eyes narrowed slightly at the words but she saw the echo of memories there, unpleasant and ugly. The scandal of it was perhaps too much for him to think about but the fact that they had happened at all seemed to insult him deeply, “My father didn't have the strength I possess when it comes to defiant children and merely shunned Tiberius, giving him the freedom he chose to marry that...woman.”
Astoria's brows rose slightly at the words and she wondered what it could have been about the woman that angered him so badly. Only one look would cause that sort of disgust on her father's face, “Tiberius married a pureblood woman?” she asked, somehow more shocked by this than she had thought.
A guarded look flashed through her father's eyes and she was aware that she was perhaps asking too much. Maximus's lips thinned nastily, “If you can call that woman anything, never call her something above that filth,” he said bitterly and Blaise's eyes narrowed darkly with hatred at the words, “Tiberius fled with that woman and was never seen again.”
“And what are you trying to say?” Blaise demanded with barely held contempt as her mind spun with shock at the explanation. Tiberius Greengrass had been in her position and instead of being afraid, he had married the person he'd loved regardless...though she sensed that something was missing from the story, like Leo. “You've made it more than clear that you'll never support the decision your daughter is making but to toss her aside because of it is despicable.”
Maximus raised his black brows at the words and although Astoria knew that they were true, she felt a guilty twinge in her chest. They had bargained for his life but she knew that hers belonged exclusively to him, “It truly is, Zabini and for that I'm certain that I'll go down in history as the worst possible father but unlike my father, I hold the family business much closer to my heart.”
“Dad—” Astoria started furiously.
“Which brings me to you, Zabini.” Maximus overrode her as if she hadn't opened her mouth in the first place and she seethed. Blaise appeared simply outraged and she saw a terrifying rage flash over his face that reminded her of dark, empty places, “you have decided to marry my daughter despite the curious things that hold her to us and if you're willing to take her, you take our secrets with you.”
Astoria's eyes widened at the carefully crafted words, knowing that her family truly thought of her like some sort of gift. After all, when she had arrived, Leo had already died and she had been the perfect replacement...but that was something that she didn't want Blaise to ever know, “Dad, what do you mean?” she demanded.
Blaise glanced at her for a moment as if he were weighing what question he would ask her once they were alone and fear pulsed into her blood. Astoria knew that if he understood the truth about her origins and what she really meant to this family, he would be sickened by it and she couldn't fathom the thought of losing him.
“I mean to say, pet that what Zabini has learned here will follow him and you, if you dare to speak one word of it to any, say, higher authority.” Maximus finally answered, his voice unbearably cool. Blaise flicked his gaze to him with a look of mild surprise, “I have men everywhere, including Hogwarts so any slip of the tongue will be reported to me and you may come to regret it.”
The fact that he had spies in Hogwarts despite it being overrun by Death Eaters didn't surprise Astoria in the least. But the fact that he could still instill a bout of fear in them that a Death Eater couldn't was far more horrifying, “I won't be making the mistake of spreading your sordid family business with anyone, sir.” Blaise answered calmly, though his lips were thin.
Maximus looked unconvinced and Astoria remembered uneasily that while the family business was currently slow, he had plenty of other investments and businesses. The bowels of Knockturn Alley were apparently just a small portion of the underworld that her father controlled but she couldn't imagine what he was doing with the profits he gained from it. “And why should I believe that, Zabini?”
Blaise looked offended that he would dare to question his honor and Astoria heard his voice drop into a forbidding chill. It was surely the sound that his future Potions students would run from, “I may be a pureblood but I never break a promise, especially when this may have something precious from me taken away.” His hand tightened around hers. “I would never put Astoria at risk,” he said his tone dripping with scorn.
“How touching.” Maximus remarked dryly, though he gave a slight nod that seemed to settle the matter for now. Astoria watched as he shifted in his chair and leaned back casually, as if he were seeing something that they couldn't, “There are, of course, certain contracts that we'll have to bring up to settle—”
“There's nothing to settle. Because we're still in school, the marriage itself will have to take place some time after we graduate and by then, I should have my inheritance and will talk to my solicitor about any other financial matters that arise,” Blaise replied with such calculating arrogance that she was stunned his head remained proportionately sized.
Astoria stared at him in amazement but shouldn't have been surprised that he would have already thought of every obstacle. But it was uncomfortable knowing that there was so much that he hadn't told her, “Before the wedding takes place, I'll have my own share of contracts that you'll need to sign, Zabini.” Maximus replied just as coolly, appearing reluctantly impressed.
Blaise's tone was forcefully polite and she felt his thumb stroking over her skin again, calming her rabid thoughts. Astoria shot him a look but he merely continued to stare at her father with a confident, though chilling smile, “If you're worried that I'll go back on my word, it would be wise not to bother.”
“And how will you be providing for Astoria? I'm under the impression that the Zabini Estate has fallen under hard times and that the mansion itself is entailed with various debts rising up,” Maximus replied with the cold efficiency of any businessman in the face of a deal.
How he was able to find out so much about the current finances at the Estate caused Astoria to immediately prickle with unease. Apparently, Maximus had wasted no time in sending some of his men to find out as much about Blaise and his family as possible and she saw that there was no hint of regret in his eyes, though they were oddly smug.
Blaise had stiffened at the indelicate reminder but he sobered quickly and returned her father's stare with a smug one of his own. It was one born of pure pride, “As I've already made clear, I'll have come into my inheritance,” he paused importantly. “Which should be enough to cover most of the debts and still leave enough for us to live on.”
Maximus allowed a silence to fall after the bold explanation and he considered Blaise for a few, tense moments before his lips drew up in a slight smile. It was perhaps the most frightening thing that Astoria had ever seen and she gripped his hand tightly, “I'm assuming that you'll find work in case your financial situation turns sour?”
“Of course, your daughter will be well cared for.” Blaise replied calmly and she saw that there was a hard edge to his voice now. Astoria heard the anger and revulsion that he had been carefully bottling away seep through, “she'll never have to want for anything as long as I'm here, though I leave the choice of whether or not she should visit entirely up to her, so long as it doesn't result in spilled blood.”
Astoria doubted if she would ever be welcomed back into their home again but couldn't imagine going through the rest of her life being an outcast. The thought of never seeing Emily or Scorpious again tore at her heart, “I don't want to be treated like some sort of disease just because I decided to marry Blaise, Dad. Emily and Scorpious are my siblings and they're all I have—”
“Yes, I'm aware of that but it all depends on you, Astoria.” Maximus answered calmly, his eyes narrowing slightly. It was almost as if he had traced an icy hand across her soul and she tried not to shiver, “but I'm sure that your heart will guide you in the right place, no matter the trouble it brings the rest of us.” He said with a slight sneer.
It was a skillfully worded slap and Astoria glared at hm intensely, knowing that there was a wordless agreement floating between them. But before anymore could be said, there was a faint pop in the room and Aradelle's quavering voice quickly filled the space, reminding her that they weren't alone, “I-its almost time for Mistress Stori and the filthy pureblood to return to Hogwarts, Master Greengrass.”
Blaise hadn't been able to miss the subtle change in power between Astoria and her father but merely sent her a questionable stare. It made her burn with guilt and she refused to look at him, fearing what he might see in her eyes, “Ah, yes. Thank you Aradelle,” her father murmured absently as he rose from his chair. “Place Astoria's things in the living room and have the Floo powder ready,”
Aradelle's eyes widened slightly but she shot Astoria a look that was filled with condescension and disbelief. It was a decidedly nasty glare from a house-elf that she had always treated with such kindness, “Y-yes, Master Greengrass.” She squeaked dutifully before leaving again with another pop.
“Are we dismissed then?” Blaise asked with all the kindness of a battering ram, his face completely devoid of any emotion. Astoria could sense his kindling rage however and wondered if they would argue later, though she prayed that they wouldn't, “I'd rather not want to be late if Snape is expecting us.”
The Floo network was being carefully monitored but Astoria knew that the corrupt workers at the Ministry didn't need much prodding in keeping secrets. Maximus merely turned his back on them and went to one of his sibling's portraits, “Just a moment, Zabini. I have a wedding present...”
“Isn't it a little early for that, Dad?” Astoria asked warily as Blaise helped her from her chair, his arm draping around her waist. “What sort of wedding present is it?” she questioned, instantly thinking that it might be something that could cause not only a swift death, but a painful one that would linger.
Maximus ignored the suspicious question and tapped his wand to the portrait of his older brother, Tiberius. It shifted aside despite the occupants muttering to reveal a small, silver safe that he unlocked with deft fingers, “This is a priceless family heirloom, Astoria, one that you should feel honored to have.” He said the words lightly but she could hear the faint pride and scorn mixed in.
Astoria watched as he withdrew a square, black lacquered box that appeared both ancient and pulsing with history. After shutting the safe and returning Tiberius's portrait to its rightful place, her father turned to the two of them with a thin smile, the box appearing fragile in his hand, “What is it?” she asked, eyes narrowed.
“We don't have much time to explain the particulars but this is a gift that I'm giving to the two of you and I don't hand them over lightly.” Maximus replied warningly, his blue eyes flickering to her like lightning. She watched as he walked around his desk until he stood in front of them, amused when they stood their ground, “its not some devious poison, though it can be dangerous if used unwisely.”
Blaise's response was flooded with meaning and he seemed to stare her father down until they were locked in some wordless battle. “Poisons have antidotes,” Astoria sensed violence thrumming heavily in the air but stared at her father unwaveringly, her hand sliding down to grip her wand through her pocket.
Maximus smirked mirthlessly at the reply but didn't feel necessary to respond as he held the box forward. “This, Zabini has no cure.” There was a strange quality to his voice but Astoria watched as he used his free hand to pry the box open, revealing two silver rings embedded with green emeralds and gold.
Astoria stared down at them in wonder, seeing that the velvet casing that they rested in was worn and frayed. They looked old but were delicately beautiful, etched with complicated designs that seemed to shift and move under her eyes, “Engagement rings?” she asked faintly, stunned by the gift.
“They belonged to my grandparents and I would like you to treat them with care, as they're the only things left of them.” Maximus replied reverently and she was taken aback by the offer to have something that obviously meant so much to him, even if wearing one of the rings made her recoil. His grandfather had been the one to start the family business, so long ago, “I'm afraid that I have nothing else that would be suitable for a wedding gift.”
Blaise was staring down at the offering with a puzzled expression and he seemed at a loss for words for a few minutes. When he spoke, his voice was heavy with doubt, “Why are you allowing us to have something that belonged to your grandfather? I'm sure that he wouldn't approve of the match.”
Maximus smiled slightly and it was enough to have Astoria's skin prickling with unease, as it was actually quite warm. It had been a long time since she had seen that sort of smile from him, “There hasn't been a wedding in the Greengrass family for a long time and I'm sure that he would understand my reasoning. He passed it on to his own son, my father when he married my mother.”
“Why aren't you wearing it then?” Astoria asked him, confused and wary.
There was a curious gleam in her father's eyes and it made him appear nearly human, though it was gone within moments. “There's no longer any need and your mother has a horrible habit of losing small trinkets and I wouldn't risk her misplacing these. I find them too precious, which is why I'm giving them to you,” he added gently, making her skin crawl.
Blaise glanced at Astoria thoughtfully, as if he were also finding her too precious and she felt her cheeks flaming. When he looked away, his voice was calm, “If you're sure that we should take them, then I see no reason not to.” But he looked at Astoria for confirmation, noticing her inner turmoil.
Astoria knew that Maximus Greengrass wouldn't be offering her something that was both valuable and filled with history just out of the kindness of his heart. But they looked harmless enough and she was sure that even her great-grandfather couldn't have been nearly as ruthless in the beginning, “Its fine, we'll take them.”
“By all means,” Maximus said, indicating the box once more. Astoria took the smaller of the two while Blaise took the other, the weight of the ring seeming to be far heavier than she would have thought, the bands made of silver, instead of gold. “Zabini, this would be ample practice for you.”
Blaise shot him a withering look but Astoria turned red at the offer of having him fit the ring for her, the gesture too intimate for her father's eyes. Amused, he slipped the ring onto his own finger and flexed his hand as if he had felt a slight sting, “There's no reason to be so skittish, Astoria. Here,” gently, he took her left hand and guided the ring smoothly over her finger.
Astoria blushed but she ignored the teasing look in his eyes, wincing slightly as the ring cut into her skin. After a moment, the pain lessened but she had an unnerving sensation that the ring had shifted and settled until it was comfortable on her finger, like a living, breathing monster, “...It moved.”
“It expands to fit its new owner but you'll have to excuse the sting, my father said that the rings had quite the temper.” Maximus chuckled as if he were highly amused by the idea as he shut the lacquered box and set it gently on his desk. Astoria thought the weight on her finger felt unnatural, “I believe we've wasted enough time you don't want to keep the Headmaster waiting...”
Astoria watched as he passed them to open the door to his office, a sigh of relief issuing from her mouth. It had felt as if they were slowly drowning but she took no immediate comfort in being out of the confines of his office, the entire house felt as if it would smother them all with madness.
Maximus remained silent as they walked out, the thud of his footsteps reminding her of glass shattering. The echo of Emily's sobs seemed to seep through nearly every crevice and Astoria felt her chest tightening painfully, knowing that her sister would never be the same after this betrayal. “Such theatrics are unnecessary,” her father murmured, seeming irritated.
Scorpious, Emily and their mother were still in the sitting room and Astoria fought down the urge to go after them, knowing they wouldn't welcome her comfort. It would be like adding salt to an open wound and she rubbed her hand over the ring that pulsed on her finger, “They have every right to be upset,” she said softly. “They'll never understand why I'm doing this.”
Maximus turned his blue eyes to her with a slight frown but as they wandered into the living room, he finally replied coolly. “My brother Tiberius had that same way of thinking, I remember how our mother was never quite the same after he shamed us all for that woman.” There was a note of deepest loathing in his voice. “You're very much like him.”
Although he hadn't meant the words as a compliment, Astoria couldn't help but take them as one, wondering if this Tiberius would be pleased. Blaise wrapped a supportive arm around her waist and she hadn't realized that she had swayed until then, “You never saw your older brother again after he married his wife?” she refused to add even a drop of scorn in her voice.
“Before Tiberius ran off with that woman, we fought rather horribly and he burned my portrait out of spite and we never crossed paths after that. Your Uncle Caligula has sadly passed on and my sister Hera never returned after an assignment, there's no telling what's become of them now,” Maximus replied calmly, though she couldn't ignore the faint hint of pleasure the words brought. “...Time is a bitter thing.”
Astoria felt a shudder go down her back and was aware of Blaise's tense silence as they spotted Aradelle waiting timidly near the fireplace, her hands cradling a bowl of Floo powder. There was a small suitcase at her side and Blaise started forward, removing his arm from her waist just as she felt her father grip her upper arm, “What is it?” she asked irritably, staring into his face.
Maximus bent to whisper against Astoria's hair, his voice a low hiss. “Remember what you gave me in order to keep him alive, my dear. You know what I expect of you when you return to Hogwarts and it would be wise to do as you're told and remember what family you belong to.”
“I haven't forgotten,” Astoria replied furiously, even while some part of her was squirming with panic and horror. The bargains that she had made in order to spare Blaise and his mother swam pulsed between them and for just a second, she saw nothing but the flash of blonde hair and grey eyes in her mind. “...I won't fail.”
A smile curved against her forehead and Maximus placed just the gentlest of kisses there, as if she were still his obedient child before he released her. His voice was still a low rumble of sound when he replied, “By any means necessary, Astoria. I don't need to remind you of what may happen if you fail.”
Astoria, trembling and shaken was unable to reply and she watched as her father gave her that warm, maddening smile. Squaring her shoulders and banishing the thought of grey eyes and blonde hair from her mind, she let out a sigh of relief when he released her and allowed her to leave, the weight of a ring on her finger and his bargain on her shoulders.
Up Next we have "Albus Potter and the Dark Lord's Prince" and then, probably "Transparent", "Abandon" and "This is Audrey Tang: The Bad Taste"
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