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A Force Of Wills by Gabriella Hunter
Chapter 22 : Secrets
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 1

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A/N: Hello, everyone! Sorry for the long wait but I hope you guys enjoy this chapter! I tried really, really hard to make this one great and well...there's a great ending to this that I hope won't make you guys hate me. Hhehehehehe.


Astoria thought that the powerful rush of blood going through her veins was so loud that it easily managed to block out the rest of the world. For a few horrible minutes every sound, shape and color had somehow lost all form and she had to steady her ragged breathing, each race of her heart like a painful act that tossed her back into a nightmare she had long forgotten.


It was impossible to get the flash of those grey eyes from her mind and she felt a terrible sense of duty and horror coil around her neck like the smoothest snake. Draco Malfoy caused every inch of her skin to go cold with fear and revulsion, though she wasn't certain if it were from what Maximus had demanded of her or her own internal fright that the boy might devour her whole.


The very thought made the slightest of tremors begin in her fingertips and Astoria was hopelessly reminded that every bargain that she had made with Maximus Greengrass had an unholy price. “By any means necessary, Astoria. I don't need to remind you of what may happen if you fail,” the cryptic message seemed to spread through her body like fine wine and she had to suppress a shiver of deepest fear.


In order to spare Blaise and his mother from her father's wrath, she had sacrificed everything that she had ever held dear. Her freedom and the promise of her own life, every single dream and her own will were now gone but even though the thought made some part of her soul weep, none of it was worth losing the one person that had ever risked everything to keep her safe.


It had been one of the most horrible moments that she had ever experienced, finding Blaise so bloody and torn in that shack in Knockturn Alley. Astoria had never felt such terror before, the thought of him being taken away from her because of the mess that she had brought on him had been too much—never seeing him smile or hearing his voice again had plagued her.


Blaise meant more to her than she could ever quite say and the fact that he was willing to marry her, after everything that had happened between them still made her speechless. He was a curious, wonderful person but Astoria hoped that the love she felt for him would never be rejected, especially if he somehow learned the truth about her origins and what she had given her father in return for his life.


Astoria's cheeks paled slightly as she drifted mechanically into the living room, her father's footsteps looming after her. Emily and their mother's sobs echoed hauntingly from the sitting room and were enough to have her heart aching and she didn't want to dwell on what Scorpious had to be telling them or remember the hate that had been in his eyes.


The foundations of their family had been destroyed the moment she had decided to run away that fateful night to the Zabini Estate. Every bit of pain that her siblings and mother were drowning in was completely her fault and Astoria's heart twisted, “Aren't you going to tell them that I'm leaving?” she asked her father sharply.


Maximus gave a soft sort of laugh as if he found that to be completely ridiculous and she felt her soul quiver. A cruel little smile formed on his mouth and she had to stop herself from moving away from him, intent on not showing any fear, “I was under the impression that you were willing to spare them the pain, my dear,” he said idly, his tone mocking and beyond cruel.


“They're my family,” Astoria found herself saying, flinching slightly. The engagement ring on her finger seemed to pulse and throb and she found herself staring down at the thing with a look of barely suppressed revulsion, knowing that it had once belonged to her great-grandmother only doubling her distaste, “...I don't want to just leave without saying goodbye.”


There was a curious gleam in Maximus's blue eyes at the words but he remained silent and simply observed her, his eyes a thousand miles away. She had the very unsettling thought that he was bitterly comparing her to someone else, perhaps his older brother Tiberius, who had also turned away from the family for the sake of love to a pureblood woman many years before.


Astoria had been stunned to learn that someone else in her twisted family had had the courage to fight for their own life and felt a wash of pride go into her, hoping that she could steal some of her uncle's strength. Tiberius Greengrass had been a very brave man to put his own desires first instead of bending to his own father's will and that fact seemed to chase away a bit of her fear, the tension leaving her shoulders.


The sight of Blaise only intensified the feeling as her eyes drifted over the living room, immediately spotting him as he stood near the fireplace. Astoria's blood pounded with delight at the formidable presence he seemed to give and sent him a small smile that did little to wipe the worried expression on his face, they may have found a way to loosen her father's hold but there were still many things they would have to face.


Dozens of unspoken words, emotions and desires hovered between them the instant their eyes met and Astoria's blood pounded harder, overwhelmed with how much she loved him. It was a vulnerable sensation to be completely at her heart's mercy where he was concerned and she watched helplessly as his dark eyes ran over her knowingly, appearing to somehow read every fear, horror and longing in her heart.


I care too much about you, Astoria to let you go,” Blaise's voice echoed in her head now, reminding her of that brief moment that they had spent in her rose garden, his sincerity and affection for her too powerful to ignore. Astoria knew that he had allowed himself to reveal a part of himself that he had never dared show anyone else before and the fact that he carried her so closely to his heart only made her seethe with guilt.


It felt disgusting to hide so much from him after everything that they had been through but she couldn't fathom how revolted he would be if he learned the truth. Would all the things that he had told her in the garden turn out to be nothing but lies? Astoria had feared that his proposal had lacked any genuine love for her before but she couldn't quite feel the same after she had witnessed such vulnerability and compassion in his eyes.


Blaise cared about her deeply but it wasn't quite the same as having his love and Astoria forced herself to accept it. That might be all she had left and if he stayed by her side...married her and somehow found himself loving her back, it was more than worth feeling this powerful ache, “Is Mistress Stori ready?” Aradelle's squeaky voice tore her out of her thoughts.


The old house-elf was standing a few inches away from Blaise near the fireplace, her hands cradling a bowl of gritty Floo powder. Astoria noticed that she was shooting very dirty looks up at her fiance and saw that he hardly cared, his dark eyes running over her for a moment before settling on her father, “You're not going to let the others know that we're leaving?” he asked.


Maximus gave another one of those amused smiles and Astoria felt shivers going up her back before she moved towards Blaise, ignoring the look her father gave. Their bargain weighed heavily between them, smothering the air until she thought that it might somehow suffocate them all, “We don't have time for their mindless theatrics, Zabini and I'm unsure if Astoria is willing to suffer either,” he drawled.


“It would be the right thing to do, how do you think they'll react when they come out of that sitting room to see that she's truly gone?” Blaise asked her father with barely hidden venom, his eyes narrowed with hatred. Astoria knew that he was worried about her and appreciated that he was willing to do so much, “it won't be pleasant for you either once they find out.”


Maximus gave a slight nod of agreement at that but she sensed that he was growing vastly annoyed by how emotional the others were becoming. He probably found it to be nothing more than a nuisance, “I'm not leaving until I say good-bye, Dad. You can give me that at least,” Astoria found herself saying angrily, her heart in a knot.


“You left once before without saying goodbye so I'm not sure why it suddenly matters to you now,” Scorpious's dark voice drifted out of some unpleasant place, their father's response drowned out by the ferocity in it. The sound of his footsteps may as well have been the hooves of the Devil himself, “but I suppose you have to make yourself feel better somehow, right?”


Astoria turned rigidly to see that her brother, sister and mother were stepping into the living room and she felt her entire body stiffen. Emily looked as if she would never have an ounce of color in her cheeks again while their mother's face was drawn and wan, her green eyes glassy, “That isn't fair, Scorpious.” Her voice came out far stronger than she had thought possible.


Scorpious's brows merely raised at the words and she watched his blue eyes narrowing slightly as he took her in. The brief flash of tears in his eyes that she had seen earlier were long gone but he appeared haunted in a way that tore her open, “Isn't it? I don't think you have the right to look upset after all the trouble that you gave us the night you ran away with your precious pureblood the first time.”


Blaise stiffened at the insinuation but Astoria shook her head at him until his lips were nothing but thin lines, his anger pulsing hotly in the air. “I didn't run away for the reasons you think, he didn't kidnap me or trick me,” she replied, foolishly trying to reason with her brother even though she knew that it was pointless as rage burned in his blue eyes, “ wouldn't understand.”


“What wouldn't I understand, Stori? All you had to do was tell me what the hell was going through your mind to actually put him before the rest of us,” Scorpious thundered angrily, his face blanching as he caught the demonically cool glance their father sent his way, a bit of fear going into his face. “You're the one that needs to understand—”


“Scorpious, please...” Emily murmured weakly, looking between them with an expression that suggested she could cry no more. Their mother's knees seemed to give out just then and she placed her gently onto the sofa with a worried frown, strands of her blonde hair appearing like sunlight, “can't you see that everyone's had enough?”


Their older brother merely shot her a venomously nasty look before focusing on Astoria once more, his eyes narrowed into slits. She couldn't help but glance at their father but Maximus was merely watching the interaction with cool interest, though she could feel his temper sparking, “Don't try to put the blame all on me, Scorpious. You have no idea why I left in the first place.” Astoria gritted out.


Emily flinched slightly and avoided her eyes as she ran a consoling hand down their mother's arm, though it didn't seem to register. The two of them had argued over her position in the family not too long ago and she knew very well why she had run away that night, she had refused to give in to what their father had wanted out of her.


Instead of rallying in her defense, her older sister had acted outraged and taken aback that she hadn't obediently done as she was told. Astoria still couldn't quite get that vicious conversation out of her mind, it had truly showed what route that they had been willing to take in regards to their own lives and she would never be able to understand why Emily wouldn't try to fight for hers.


But then again, Maximus Greengrass could put the fear of God into a person just by breathing and Astoria wasn't certain if she felt pity or sorrow for her sister. It was foolish of her to even feel so much disdain for Emily's decision to remain in their father's clutches when she had given away so much, the lives of Blaise and his mother hanging threateningly over her head with each step.


Astoria swallowed hard with the bitter taste of truth going down her throat but she still couldn't believe how Emily had treated her, how easily she had pushed aside what would have made her happy. “Stori, we don't live in that sort of world! I want the best for you, I do, but you have to look at the fact that he controls everything,” the words suddenly rang through her skull in a shrill echo, more painful now than any other wound.


Despite everything that had changed, Astoria still felt the strong rush of betrayal and hatred go down her back again almost as if it had just happened. Emily and Scorpious had been under their father's overbearing rule for far longer than she had but it was impossible for her to give up hope that they would somehow find some way out, that they could have a chance at normality.


Emily had always wanted to be married but that dream seemed to have been taken away from her the moment Draco Malfoy had spread such cruel rumors about her that night at Malfoy Manor. Astoria wasn't certain if her family would ever be allowed in a pureblood home again and even if they were, what parent would allow their son to marry a girl that they considered possessing such “loose” morals?


Guilt wormed its way into her stomach and she had to fight off the urge to run to her older sister and apologize profusely, knowing that there was nothing to be done. Astoria felt the painful sting of tears rising with the force of a small storm and tried to force them away for another time, praying that there might be something to salvage in the future.


“If you would just talk to me and explain, Stori then we could probably find some way for things to go back to normal.” Scorpious's voice brought her out of her thoughts but it was the pleading note in it that truly stunned her, the breath sticking nastily in her lungs like tar. “We could pretend that none of this ever happened,”


Astoria couldn't bear the sorrow in his eyes and found herself looking away until she was confronted with the painful expression on Blaise's face. It seemed to tear her into pieces and some part of her wondered if he feared the day she would think of him as a just another pureblood that had uprooted her from the life that she had always known and dreaded.


“No, I don't want that, Scorpious. I could never want that,” Astoria managed to say softly, meeting her brother's desperate eyes. Blaise stared at her in obvious amazement but it was difficult to pinpoint what other emotions were lurking beneath the surface until he managed to force his face into a smooth, unreadable mask.


Emily made a strangled sound at the words and although she said nothing, it was clear that she had hoped for the same, her eyes flooding with bitterness. Their mother seemed to briefly come out of her own haze of grief long enough to give her a look filled with shame and Astoria felt it like a slap to her face, “You're just like Tiberius, you have no sense of family or duty!” she accused.


“M-Mum, that isn't true,” Astoria started, shaken.


Blaise suddenly let out a slew of vicious curses that reminded her of the darkest boom of thunder and she knew that his own temper was beginning to crumble. “That's enough! I'm not going to stand here and let you treat her like this, you have absolutely no right!” he shouted, the ferocity in it making Aradelle jump nearly three feet in the air as every member of her family turned their eyes to him.


Scorpious's eyes darkened until they were almost the same shade of violet as her own but Astoria was experiencing the worst sort of pain. Her mind was swimming, her emotions tumbling and making her weak at the knees,“You have no right to speak—you're not a member of this family, you're nothing but the pureblood bastard that caused this entire mess to begin with!” her brother roared.




“I don't care what you think of me but you can't even begin to grasp what I'd do for Astoria.” Blaise's voice had lowered into such a deadly tone that it caused gooseflesh to sprinkle along her arms. “She's not a pet or a plaything and deserves better than to be treated like one by people who are supposed to love her.”


Emily's eyes widened and she gave a mirthless laugh, even though Astoria knew that the words were painfully true, they had always considered her as some sort of pet. A replacement, “How dare you!” her sister cried viciously, drawing her wand, “you have a lot of nerve—”


“Don't!” Astoria cried desperately as she withdrew her wand with a terrified gasp, her entire body trembling as she faced off against her sister. Emily faltered slightly but the need to kill was pulsing violently, Scorpious's wand already drawn, “stop this, please! I don't want to fight with either of you, I don't want to do this!”


Scorpious's face turned into an ugly mask and Emily gave a soft curse before she lowered her wand, their mother bursting into mortified sobs. “Get out of the way, Stori,” her brother commanded as he turned his weapon on Blaise, his anger so palpable that Astoria felt ill from the force of it, “I can't stand another fucking minute of this. Once he's gone, you'll see sense and we can go back to the way things were before.”


Blaise stiffened but he didn't appear frightened by the sight of her brother's wand being trained upon him and merely held his ground, Astoria shivering with horror. “Enough,” Maximus's calm voice was enough to stop what may have been a bloodbath and the rage that was crossing his features was so terrifying that Scorpious's skin turned grey. “You all have tested my patience to the limit,”


Astoria's thought that she may have let out a sob as her violet eyes met Scorpious's blue ones, unable to understand why things had to be this way. There was so much grief and hatred in his gaze that she knew that any hope of having either of her siblings back was hopeless, “Please, Scorpious. For me,” she whispered, unsure what she may have been asking him for.


Scorpious's blue eyes flickered with indecision as he stared at her before he lowered his wand, his lips drawn tight. Their father heaved a sigh that made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up and Astoria knew that both of her siblings would pay for defying him once again, especially now that she would be truly leaving them...the business of her engagement already sealed.


Although the wound had healed and was nothing more than a scar, Astoria felt her fingertips reaching up to touch the mark on her shoulder that Scorpious had inflicted, the pain of it suddenly fresh. “Daddy, you'll have to forgive us...this hasn't been something easy for us to accept,” Emily finally said after an unbearable silence, her arms now wrapped around their sobbing mother.


“We'll discuss it some other time, when the two of you have decided to remember who has control over this family.” Their father replied with cool indifference, his blue eyes leaving tracks of ice over them all. He ignored the glare that he received from his wife's bloodshot eyes and glanced at Scorpious with a warning look that should have flayed him alive, “we will have a long discussion, in private.”


Scorpious's body tensed but he said nothing as he gripped the handle of his wand tightly, not even bothering to look at Astoria again. Every smile, laugh and memory was tarnished and rotten now because the older brother that she had adored would never have resorted to such violence, “Fine,” was all that he said, his tone devoid of emotion.


Astoria stared at him, feeling broken before she finally lowered her wand and glanced back at Blaise, hoping that the despair wasn't written on her face. There was nothing but understanding in his eyes but it was nearly as painful and she avoided the gentle grasp of his fingertips and moved away, so ashamed that she couldn't see, “I'm sorry,” she thought he whispered, nearly too low for her to hear.


A shiver worked its way down her spine but she was too fractured to manage some sort of reply, her eyes on her brother. There was nothing really left between them now but pain and regret, their relationship would never be the same and her heart twisted painfully as she tried to block out the wave of memories that swept through her mind.


After everything that had happened today, she wasn't certain if they would ever even see each other again after this. That thought made her knees weak and before the world started to spin and loom in front of her, Blaise's arm was suddenly around her waist and anchoring her to his side, his presence beyond comforting, “Its all right,” he whispered gently, lips brushing briefly against her temple.


Astoria's heart nearly leapt out of her chest at having him so near again but she forced the sensation down as she looked up at him with a grateful smile, her shame diminishing. It was impossible to determine how long he had been watching the color leak out of her face and she felt his lips press against her temple again before he drew away, the action drawing nothing but pure revulsion from her relatives.


Blaise's lips were warm and she could hear the faint sound of his heartbeat, strong and confident. The scent of him was making her slightly dizzy but Astoria wondered if it were merely her own nerves being stretched, pulled and broken into pieces, “If you had fainted again, it would have brought back very pleasant memories.” He whispered against her ear, eliciting a blush from her.


It seemed as if that night at Malfoy Manor had happened centuries ago and Astoria sent him a small smile at the reminder. That night had changed the course of her life and those brief moments hat she'd had with him made her chest ache, if she had somehow made the wrong decision and allowed Malfoy to have his way, Blaise never would have become as essential to her as he was now.


Astoria couldn't even fathom not having him by her side and she allowed that worrying thought to push aside her own unease. Even after being threatened by her family and coming so bravely to her defense, here he was...offering comfort and care instead of the horror or disgust that any sane man would have displayed, “Thank you,” she murmured, the words holding more than one meaning.


“I'm not going to leave you, don't even begin to think that I will.” Blaise assured her softly, reading her mind so easily that it made her both vastly uncomfortable and wary. It felt so strange to be tied to someone like this, especially when there had been nothing but dark, horrible things shrouding their friendship from the beginning, “..everything will be just fine.”


Tremors worked down her back but Astoria forced herself to remain quiet as she realized where they were and who was watching. They were in a room with wolves and she didn't want to become a meal, “You don't have to say things like that just because I got a little dizzy, Blaise,” she murmured, feeling only the slightest bit of embarrassment as he took her hand, his worry enough to make even her own fears seem paltry in comparison.


“I meant what I said but with everything that's happened in the past few days I can't blame you for becoming stressed.” Blaise replied gently, though she could hear the slight amount of anger in his tone. His dark eyes strayed over her family with such disdain that it was like having her soul ripped out and stomped on, “...its despicable,”


Maximus's brows rose slightly as if he'd somehow overheard but Astoria knew that his mind was merely spinning, dancing and calculating once more. There was an expression of deepest disgust on his features before he looked away, the faintest of smiles playing across his mouth, “Stori, are you all right?” Emily managed to ask after an unbearable silence had fallen into the room, her throat tight.


“It was nothing, just a dizzy spell.” Astoria replied calmly as she allowed Blaise to pull her back against him more firmly, thinking that she had no right to ask. Her mother was staring blankly ahead, a tear rolling down her cheek that didn't elicit the same emotion in her any longer, “its been an exhausting day.”


Emily's face pinched slightly at the carefully laden sarcasm in the words and jerked her gaze away, appearing as if a careful wind would blow her away. “There isn't much time for anymore of this foolishness, we've wasted enough as it is,” Maximus's controlled voice was enough to douse a bucket of ice down Astoria's back and she watched her siblings and mother flinch. “say what needs to be said now before the two of them are shipped back to Hogwarts.”


The journey back to school had seemed to lose all of its depth in the last few minutes and Astoria found herself jerking back to reality. Hogwarts awaited and there were more than a few challenges there that she would have to face and her heart constricted as she was once again blinded by the flash of those penetrating grey eyes, “I think everything has been said, we're probably running late and the Headmaster is expecting us,” she said coolly.


“Then by all means...” Maximus swept his arm gallantly towards the fireplace, her siblings and mother staring at her with mixtures of pain and desperation. Astoria wasn't certain if she could stand another moment with any of them but somehow managed to push the grief down as she slipped away from Blaise, “I'm not sure if you'll be stepping through the Headmaster's personal fireplace but just in case, remember to behave,”


There was a mocking quality to the words and Astoria couldn't help but send him a look filled with loathing that merely made him chuckle. Aradelle had been struck silent with fear but now moved towards the fireplace with the two of them, Blaise bending down to lift her suitcase easily with one hand, “Stori, wait.” Emily's plaintive voice came as a shock and she turned to see her sister approaching them.


Astoria tensed slightly and saw that their father was watching with an exasperated look of irritation on his face, as if he were suffering some horrible death. Scorpious was refusing to even hold her gaze and their mother was staring dismally into space, the sight so pathetic that it immediately distracted him, “What is it?” she found herself asking her sister, swallowing hard.


“I just...” Emily started uneasily, her voice holding more regret than she could have thought possible, her shoulders slumped. It gave her the strangest feeling that she was watching a ghost fading in and out of sight, “despite everything that I've said and done, you're still my sister, even though I could never understand or approve,” she replied, glancing briefly at Blaise.


Those weren't the words that she had expected to hear and Astoria stared at her in silence for a moment before giving a short nod. It hurt her too deeply to leave things so broken between them and she tried to give her sister a smile, “Nothing is ever going to change that, Emily. I love you, you know I do,” she managed to choke out before her sister pulled her into a tight embrace. “W-we'll see each other soon, I promise,” her voice came out as a choke, some part of her unable to let her sister go.


Emily gave a wordless reply against her hair before finally releasing her and kissing her softly on the cheek. Her green eyes were becoming glassy, “Of course, darling. When things quiet down, I'll help you prepare for your wedding, I wouldn't miss it for the world,” she whispered carefully, giving her chin a playful little pinch that made her feel half her age.


Astoria could only nod jerkily in reply before her sister squeezed her hands in her warm, soft ones, offering her strength. The entire world would come crashing down if they never got to see one another again and she prayed that she would somehow have the power to take her away, offer her something better, “Please be safe until then, Emily.” She murmured.


“The same for you, Stori. You know what to do if you're ever in trouble, nothing would stop me from coming to help,” Emily replied with a weak smile as she shot a glance at Blaise. He had watched the entire exchange with polite expression, giving no indication that he had heard a thing and she watched as her sister's face took on a curious look before she stepped away, Astoria clinging tightly to her fingers for one final, painful beat.


The room seemed to become flooded with an unbearable silence before Astoria took one last look at her mother, Scorpious's hand resting comfortingly on her shoulder. Neither of them made an attempt to look or acknowledge her and she felt the pain of it seep into some ugly part of her being that she would never want to feel again, “...I'm ready when you are,” she said with a false smile at Blaise.


“You don't have to pretend that you're all right,” Blaise whispered softly to her before he returned her smile, his eyes worried and filled with compassion. Astoria hated to make him feel this way but he merely started towards the fireplace, his hand sliding into her own with gentle pressure, “I would be a liar if I said that its been a pleasure,” he said idly to her father.


Maximus's blue eyes narrowed slightly at the words but he gave a humorless laugh that made her think of devils and demons. Emily was dabbing weakly at her eyes with labored breaths but he seemed not to notice the tension that had crept into the room as the pair stepped into the spacious confines of the fireplace, Aradelle following on trembling legs.


“Zabini, I do find you curious, though more than a little foolish.” Her father responded with a warning look, his eyes narrowed slightly. For a moment he appeared nearly human but any emotion Astoria saw on his face was merely an illusion, she could practically hear his mind humming, spinning and whirring, “it could cost you if you're not watching your step.”


Blaise responded with nothing more than a cool smile as Astoria tried to stop the slow, painful urge to burst into tears. His hand tightened around hers and for the first time she felt the tremor going through him, “We're going to be late if we don't hurry,” she found herself saying even as she sought out Scorpious, a silly part of her hoping that he would say goodbye.


Emily was now tending to their mother but Scorpious was staring at anything but her, his breathing ragged and shallow as he made no effort to notice that it took all her might not to rush back to him. Astoria thought that it was truly impossible for every bone in her body to feel as if it were breaking but she felt it just then before forcing the emotions aside, the memories of the way things used to be the only pieces she would have left of her brother.


Maximus stepped fluidly aside as Aradelle tremulously stepped towards them, her hands cradling the bowl of Floo powder. “Before you go, my dear, I have something else that you might need to start your night off with pleasant memories of home,” he stunned Astoria by saying as he reached into his robes and withdrew a small, brown envelope and held it out to her.


“What is this?” Astoria demanded after she had taken it, feeling the slight weight of thick parchment inside. Their bargain burned between them and she knew that he wouldn't go so far as to put his demands on paper, not when he had scorched them into her soul, “I can't believe that you're deciding to spoil me with more wedding presents,” she remarked dryly.


Blaise had already reached his hand into the bowl of Floo powder and drew his hand back as if he had been burned somehow. A wary expression crossed his features as Aradelle shifted away from the fireplace as if she were expecting an explosion, “Those, my sweet are the new directions to your private dorm. We can never be too careful, can we? I have far too many enemies, even at a place that feels safe,” Maximus explained calmly as their eyes locked.


Astoria felt her blood chill as she somehow forced herself to put the envelope into her pocket, uneasy with the thought of being back in that place. It was just an excuse to keep her out of the way, her father thought that she was an embarrassment and it seemed to sting its way down the stiffness of her spine, “I thought you had men working for you at Hogwarts?”


“I do, pet but that doesn't mean that I necessarily put my faith in them and while we're on the subject, do be careful.” Maximus replied with a maddening sort of concern that caused Blaise to stare at him with suppressed rage. Astoria knew that he was really trying to scare them into not speaking of what had transpired at her home, especially when he had so many eyes lurking around in the shadows, watching them.


There were Death Eaters at Hogwarts and Astoria wasn't certain if it could even be considered the safe haven it had once been. That threat didn't seem to bring the same amount of fear into her as being watched by men that worked for her father, “If you're done trying to traumatize your daughter, we really should be on our way,” Blaise said coolly, his voice heavy with distaste.


Maximus gave a brief flash of a smile before he sent her a look that she couldn't quite interpret, his eyes dancing darkly. Astoria looked away from him and found her glance straying over her siblings and mother, Scorpious finally forcing himself to hold her stare as Blaise tossed the bit of Floo powder down and cried, “Hogwarts!” his voice oddly muffled as the green flames burst around them, obscuring everything.


The last thing that she was able to see before the world started spinning around her was Scorpious's broken face and the tears that he hadn't been able to hide. It was perhaps the most terrible thing that she had ever witnessed and Astoria closed her eyes tightly and tried to block out the agony that was trying to immobilize her, those tears holding more power over her than their father's will.




“Mind the carpet, please.” Professor Slughorn's wheezy voice commanded as the universe stopped spinning, turning and flipping abruptly. The sharp scents of candle wax, sugared pineapple and the scratching of a quill announced that they had arrived in his own private office instead of the Headmaster's and Astoria gasped as they were thrust unceremoniously onto an old red carpet.


The meticulously organized room was small and a bit cramped due to the oversized bits of furniture but it was otherwise comfortable. Astoria's limbs felt a bit heavy as Blaise helped her to her feet, his hand steady and strong, “Pardon our intrusion, Professor,” he said politely, the massive fireplace behind them flaring briefly with green flame before settling back with a rumble.


“Its no intrusion, Zabini. I was notified of your arrival by the Headmaster and I'm more than thrilled to see some of the students from my House returning,” Slughorn replied with a laugh that reminded Astoria of a nervous clown, his large girth contained behind a desk that appeared far too small. He hadn't turned to look at them, too distracted by a scrap of correspondence in front of him, “you're running a tad late.”


Blaise ran his thumb soothingly over the backs of her knuckles as a wave of despair went through her, Scorpious's tears flooding into her mind once more. Astoria shot him a reassuring smile but he seemed to know her far too well, his eyes holding hers for a few breathless seconds before he looked away, “There were some slight delays at the last minute, our apologies.”


Slughorn gave a curt nod and the action caused the nearby candle flame to play lovingly over the bald spot on the back of his head. Astoria thought that he seemed almost fidgety in his movements, one hand reaching into an open box of sugared pineapple as if he were willing himself to stay calm, “We would have sent word but there was no time,” she said as truthfully as she could.


The last few encounters with her family spiraled through her mind but Astoria managed to shake them off desperately. As the grief and constricting fear eased away, she couldn't help but take in the new surroundings curiously, having never been inside of the Slytherin common room or anywhere near Snape's office when he had been their Head of House.


Tall, mahogany shelves were built into the walls and laden with priceless jars, samples and texts of various rare ingredients from all over the country. Astoria managed to identify more than a handful of herbs, fungi and poisons as she glanced curiously around the cluttered space, wondering if some of the rarer items had been procured by legal means.


Potions had always been an essential class for her when knowing the antidote to certain poisons could mean life or death in the business that her family was a part of. Astoria felt her stomach lurch unpleasantly before she spotted a small table filled with photographs of previous students, most of them she somehow recognized from Witch Weekly or the Daily Prophet.


Astoria had heard rumors that Slughorn was a collector of famous students and was always looking for his next prize. It made her think of a plump spider reeling in helpless flies and the imagery brought a nasty chill to her skin, “No need to apologize, dear boy, there's no harm done.” Slughorn assured with another one of those strange laughs.


For a moment she wondered what her father and Snape had told him but it was obvious that he found nothing suspicious about their arrival. Astoria could sense that he wasn't even curious on where they had been for the past three days, there was an air of easy indifference wafting off of him like smoke, “I know that we've missed our fair share of classes—” Blaise began carefully as the two of them wandered away from the fireplace and ventured around his desk.


“The year has barely begun so I'm quite confident that the two of you will be able to catch up in no time at all.” Slughorn interrupted with a prideful air that made Astoria feel as if she had been bottled and placed very nicely upon his shelf. He shifted back in his chair, the buttons of his waistcoat straining for freedom before a drawer was opened, “I have your new class schedules here and expect you to be on time.”


With an easy flick of his wand, Slughorn passed the scraps of paper over to them and Astoria took hers after a brief hesitation. It felt so strange to be back at Hogwarts but she was surprised to see that most of her courses were exactly the same as they'd always been, though she had never taken a Muggle Studies class before, “Sir, there seems to be some sort of mistake, I've never taken this class,”


Slughorn heaved a weary sigh and it was obvious that she didn't need to elaborate on what class she meant, Blaise's eyes now scanning his own schedule as if he had somehow read it wrong. “The new...professors here have deemed it mandatory, Ms. Greengrass. I'm sure that it will be a refreshing experience, though I'm not sure what you might be able to learn having come in so late,”


It made little sense to Astoria and she sent Blaise a questioning look before gently folding her schedule and placing it carefully inside of her pocket. “Have our things been taken care of? I know that they arrived a day earlier than we did, I'm eager to be settled in.” Her fiance said with a brilliant smile, the sight seeming to put Slughorn at ease as he drifted out of his own thoughts.


“Oh, yes. A pair of house-elves have probably delivered them about now and I'm sure that the two of you would like to make yourselves comfortable,” Slughorn replied jovially as he ran his eyes over their linked hands, his brows rising. “Though I hope you're aware that romantic rendezvous are frowned upon at this late hour,” he teased, causing Astoria's cheeks to flush at the look Blaise sent her.


There was something in his eyes that made her pulse quicken but she wasn't certain what it was that she saw. Sensual awareness sparked between them for one agonizing minute before Astoria forced herself to speak, “It wouldn't be proper to do such a thing, I'm sure none of our other teachers would make any excuses. Especially since we've already missed so many days,”


“...Very true, Ms. Greengrass, though I was curious on why neither of you arrived that first night.” Slughorn remarked with a keen look, Astoria feeling her chest tighten with panic slightly at the words. “Your blood status's should have given you more than enough security,”


The words seemed to be filled with subtle prejudice and Astoria found herself stiffening with indignation. It was impossible for her to forget that the Muggle-born students wouldn't be allowed to attend this year and the cruelty of it all nearly had her swamped with rage, “Its a shame certain students can't say the same,” she replied coolly, vastly irritated.


Slughorn considered the remark carefully and seemed to really took them in for the first time, unable to ignore her tone. His large mustache gave him the appearance of a walrus past its prime and she watched him hesitate before replying with a forced laugh, “Why, I never meant any disrespect Ms. Greengrass. The late night and all has given me a rather loose tongue,” he replied.


“Is it too late for us to attend dinner?” Blaise asked with the sort of charm that should have put the most accomplished actor to shame. Astoria shot him a look for interrupting what might have been a scathing reply on her part but he gave her hand a warning squeeze, “neither of us have eaten but I'm not sure if suddenly appearing at the Slytherin table would be wise,”


Astoria felt herself tense at the thought of venturing into the Great Hall with nothing but the penetrating stares of their classmates gazing back at them. It would put them both in a position that would only stir unnecessary questions and gossip...Malfoy would probably be sniffing after her within minutes, “Dinner has nearly finished, I'm afraid. I would be there myself but I was told to wait for your arrival,” Slughorn answered, looking sorrowful.


The words put her at ease and she watched as Blaise's body instantly relaxed and she sensed that he hadn't been eager to rejoin their classmates either. It would have been worse than parading naked with bloodthirsty wolves, “Again, I apologize for the interruption but we'll be happy to escort ourselves out so as not to keep you from your work,” he murmured with a calm smile, giving the slightest bow.


“Do come again if you ever need any advice, Zabini. I see a very prosperous future for you if you play your cards right, that charming smile can open connections into any office in the Ministry,” Slughorn replied with a curious spark in his eye. Astoria thought that it made him look almost malicious as they turned to leave and she was suddenly unsettled to see what other changes had occurred at Hogwarts since Dumbledore had been so callously killed.


Astoria could only imagine what the school was like now that the previous Headmaster was gone. The thought oddly made her entire body go numb, “You should try harder to control that prickly temper, Astoria.” Blaise whispered softly against her ear, drawing her out of those maudlin thoughts, “we can't have you ripping anyone to shreds the first few hours of our arrival.”


There was a warning note to his voice that caused Astoria's eyes to narrow and she gave a slight start as she realized that they had wandered into the Slytherin common room. It was far more beautiful and opulent than she would have ever imagined possible, the furniture dark and elegant, the stone floors covered with expensive rugs that appeared plush and ancient with pride and history.


Blaise seemed to be taking in their surroundings with surprising nostalgia and Astoria couldn't help but wonder if he had missed it. There was a haunting green glow coming from one of the windows and she was awed by how lovely it appeared, having heard rumors that the common room was located near the Black Lake. “He made an ignorant comment,” Astoria eventually found herself saying defensively.


The explanation caused Blaise to shoot her a fond look but there was a warning in his eyes when she dared to meet his gaze, her heart thumping. “I'm not certain what may have truly changed since Snape became Headmaster but these are dangerous times, it would be best not to put ourselves in any unnecessary battles,” Astoria flinched, “not after everything that we've been through.”


Astoria remained silent, her brows furrowed with aggravation before he pressed the softest of kisses along her brow. It did very little too soothe her and she pushed Slughorn's ignorance aside as she took in their current predicament, “I have to get my things from the girl's dorm. I'm not going to be able to suffer through a night of being in the same room with Parkinson and Bulstrode,” she grimaced, frowning.


“While I can understand, how exactly are you planning on accomplishing this?” Blaise asked her carefully, though it was apparent that he had already come up with the solution the moment she had. Wariness instantly entered his features, “I'm not certain if that's a wise choice...your house-elf has been known to stray,” he warned, his gaze drifting with his own memories.


“I know but I really have no choice,” Astoria replied cautiously, knowing that summoning Aradelle might prove foolish later. Blaise's dark eyes hardened for a moment before he gave a consenting nod, his jaw tight, “Aradelle,” she called in a sharp whisper, wondering if the creature could even be called to do her bidding now that her father had frightened her with his sheer will.


There was a faint pop after a long, excruciating minute before the house-elf appeared a few inches from them, trembling from head to toe. Aradelle bowed low once she caught sight of Astoria but shot a nasty glance in Blaise's direction that only caused him to bare his teeth in an icy smile, “Y-yes Mistress Stori?” she squeaked, her gnarled hands wringing together.


Astoria hesitated as she took in the pitiful state of the creature, her heart turning with dread as she worried about her siblings and mother. Now that she was gone, it was obvious that Maximus would take out his rage upon them and her heart twisted with agony as she imagined what they might be going through, “...Dear, I need you to go into the girl's dorm and transport my things to my private dorm,” her voice was firm, offering no rebuke.


She knows where your private dorm is?” Blaise asked her in concealed revulsion, as if he found the thought of Aradelle being in the same place with her sickening. Astoria had shared many lonely nights with the house-elf in the past but she refused to dwell on that right now and merely nodded, “...I suppose its only fitting that your father was able to truly keep an eye on you once you were away.”


The words caused her to frown and Astoria shot him a glance that caused him to glance away, his lips drawn tight. It had been too agonizingly close to the truth and she felt foolish for not understanding why Aradelle had been there with her on those nights and felt a rush of hatred for her father, “Not now, Blaise.” She warned as she turned briefly back to the house-elf. “Do you understand?”


Aradelle gave a grave nod as her blue eyes scanned the careless wealth around them with growing distaste. It was apparent that Scorpious and Emily may have called on her for their own chores and being back in a pureblood's domain made the creature almost visibly ill, “Purebloods...” she muttered with disgust before focusing on Astoria. “I will do as you says Mistress Stori.”


“After you're finished setting up my things, go home and tell no one at home that I've called you. That's an order, Aradelle,” Astoria tried to adopt a chilling note to her voice and felt sick as the creature flinched with fear and nodded vigorously. There was another faint pop before she heard the distant sound of rummaging, banging and another pop before the creature vanished entirely.


The house-elf had been involved with her family for many years but Astoria worried that she may have just endangered her life again. Maximus would find nothing wrong with torturing the creature again if he found reason to and her heart thudded painfully as she tried not to allow the horror of that to sink in, “Do you really think that that was the smartest thing to do, Astoria?” Blaise suddenly asked, his tone harsh.


Astoria could hear the brimming hatred in his voice and she swallowed hard, knowing that he was hurting as badly as she was. Neither of them could pretend that they weren't afraid, “Blaise, I know that you hate my family but saying those sort of things don't exactly make me feel good either.” She found herself saying, reaching out to touch his jaw.


The action seemed to surprise him but Blaise reached up to press her palm to his cheek, his eyes closing as he sank into the warmth of her touch. “Forgive me, I'm not trying to hurt you with the things I say, I just can't stand seeing you so upset. You can't understand how furious I was earlier, especially with the way they talked to you,” he said softly, his voice warm despite the anger she felt coming from him.


“It wasn't easy for either of us and we need to talk about what happened, I'm sorry that you had to go through so much because of me.” Astoria whispered tightly, her body becoming overwhelmed with guilt. It didn't feel right to have so many secrets between them and her throat threatened to close, she hadn't thought it was possible to love him so much. “If I had never came to the Estate that night—”


Blaise stiffened slightly and he pressed the softest of kisses in her palm and she felt the heat of it seep into her bones. “Then I wouldn't have you and not having you wouldn't be something I could stand,” she nearly dissolved at the words before he spoke again, his voice gentle. “I've been meaning to ask if you would like company tonight, I'm not comfortable with leaving you alone.”


Astoria's face flamed at both the pressure of his lips on her skin and the question he'd asked, the longing in his voice enough to tear her open. She had never allowed herself to think that she would be able to give the location to her private dorm to anyone, “I...I don't want to be by myself either but you won't be able to stay the entire night,” her cheeks reddened. “It would be too suspicious.”


Blaise pressed one last kiss to her palm before he gently released her with a nod. It would draw too many questions if he was found not to be sleeping in the same dorm that he had occupied for the past few years, “I shouldn't have even suggested such a thing but I didn't like the thought of you being alone without me. We haven't had much time to really be together these last few days,” he replied, sounding embarrassed.


“Its fine, Blaise. I know why you would be worried,” Astoria replied softly as she felt a wild hope going through her body. It had been a long time since they they had been truly alone and she craved how comfortable and intimate those moments had been. Briefly, lurid, scandalous images entered her mind and she mentally hanged herself, “b-but it wouldn't have been proper.”


“What are you thinking?” Blaise asked curiously as some wild part of her continued to fantasize. There was something crackling between them that made her want and desire things that she couldn't contemplate, “I know that showing me where your dorm is goes against everything that you've been taught but I need to be with you, just for tonight.”


Astoria's face flooded embarrassingly at the words even though she wanted him beside her for as long as he was able. It was incredibly risky for her to ever tell anyone where her dorm was but she trusted Blaise even though some part of her was increasingly afraid of allowing him to see the place where her father had locked her away. “You should know, trust works both ways, right?”


Blaise's eyes widened slightly and he seemed to recall his own words from so long ago with a bittersweet smile. Astoria had given away so much of herself to him and he had nearly died because he had wanted to protect her and that wasn't something that she would ever be able to truly make peace with. “True, though we should grow more comfortable talking about our underwear together...I still have no idea what your panties look like,” he whispered teasingly.


Blaise!” Astoria snapped, punching him.


The sight of her aggravation only seemed to amuse Blaise further and he roared with laughter, his dark eyes sparkling in a way that almost caused her to believe that he had seen very little horror recently. Joy swept into her chest, “I'll stay with you until you're able to sleep and be gone by early morning, no one will be the wiser.” He said more seriously, lips twitching.


Astoria shot him an irritable glance as a comfortable silence fell between them before she became aware of their surroundings once more. There was something so incredibly eerie about the common room with nothing but the fire crackling, “We should leave before everyone comes back from dinner. I don't feel safe opening the directions to my dorm here,” she finally said as she gazed warily around, wariness going down her spine.


Blaise gave a nod but he seemed distracted as he began to lead her out of the common room, Astoria giving the eerily beautiful surroundings one last look. They were silent for a moment before he spoke, “I don't trust your house-elf, I have a feeling that her loyalty to your father outweighs anything else.” He finished darkly as they found themselves stepping through what had appeared to be a blank stone wall.


Astoria was amazed at the concealed entrance and thought that it would probably be impossible for her to find her way back alone. The many routes to the other common rooms were almost like carefully guarded secrets and she couldn't imagine any of the other Slytherins offering to help her if she needed to return, “You're right but I don't intend on calling on her after tonight.”


“It would be wise not to,” Blaise advised cautiously, appearing sickened by the poison that was lingering in the Greengrass home. Astoria felt herself flinch, unable not to feel as if he'd somehow wounded her even though she knew that after all that he had seen and heard must have scarred him in a way that she could never understand, “I'm certain that your father will be having her watching us regardless.”


Astoria felt guilt sweep through her again and she prayed that she hadn't involved the house-elf in anymore danger. “I won't call on Aradelle again unless I really have no choice in the future,” for a moment she was overwhelmed with the bargain that she had made with her father and her skin went cold, her mind swimming.


“I know that things are difficult with your siblings but if you're ever in danger and I'm not there to help, will they come to you?” Blaise asked her after a slight hesitation. It was obvious from the look on his face that he didn't like the thought of either of her siblings coming to her aid and Astoria knew that there would be little she could do to convince him of their goodness.


Scorpious's tears flashed through her mind and Astoria's chest tightened painfully, the weight of it settling nastily in her heart. It was so foolish of her to even think that her brother even existed after what he had nearly done to them both but she couldn't stop the childish part of herself from hoping, “Emily will try to help me if I'm ever desperate but I don't want to hurt her anymore than I have either,” she said firmly.


Blaise shot her a worried glance but he nodded in understanding, his thoughts appearing to take him far from her. They remained silent as they walked quietly around a corner, the distant groan of the Bloody Baron bringing shivers up her spine and Astoria couldn't help but glance apprehensively over her shoulder every so often, feeling as if dozens of eyes were on them.


In the past, she had eagerly wandered the silent corridors at night more than once to get away from the suffocating atmosphere of her own dorm but she had never felt such a strong sense of foreboding before. There was nothing welcoming or comforting about Hogwarts now, “I've heard rumors that there are Dementors hovering on the grounds so I'm not sure if going to the Black Lake at night would be the best,” Blaise suddenly said with distaste.


Astoria became aware of that chill once again, it seemed as if all the happiness and joy that had once thrived in Hogwarts had been sucked away. It disturbingly felt like home and for a moment she wondered if she had somehow stumbled into the grim setting of a mausoleum, “Why would you want to go to the Black Lake?” she asked curiously.


“...Just to talk, its rumored to be very romantic.” Blaise answered after a slight hesitation and she sensed that he was blushing. Astoria found herself staring at him in amazement but he quickly continued on before she could comment, “with Dementors on the grounds, I'm sure that a cemetery probably has more cheer,”


The Black Lake had always been very peaceful and relaxing to Astoria at night and she couldn't help but think of how tainted the grounds were now. Hogwarts was more like a prison now than it had ever been and as they walked, it felt as if the ancient stone walls were going to close in on them with a booming crunch while some dark force hovered around the corners, just waiting for the moment they wandered unthinkingly into its clutches.


For one horrible moment Astoria saw nothing but the bright glare of Malfoy's grey eyes and her bargain with her father swarmed through her. Immediately, the weight of secrets between them was unbearable and she wasn't able to go through another minute keeping silent, “Blaise, I-I need to say something before we keep walking and I want you to listen to me,”


The urgency in her voice was enough to have Blaise jerk unceremoniously from his own troubled thoughts and he paused uncertainly beside a window, a splash of moonlight bathing him in a silvery sheen. Astoria wasn't able to meet his eyes as she stepped towards him, sickened by the shame that was clogging her throat, “What is it?” he asked softly, instantly concerned.


Astoria bit roughly on her lower lip and took another step towards him as if she were afraid he would slip away. It was almost difficult to speak but she somehow managed to find her voice, “I know that there are a lot of things you want the answers to...about me and my family,” she started after gaining a bit more courage. “If there's anything that you want to ask..especially after what you've seen, I won't hide anything from you.”


It was impossible to gain any insight into the complex play of emotions that went across Blaise's face just then. There were dozens upon dozens of things that he could have demanded the answers to...he could ask about where she really came from and what she had given away to ensure that he was here, alive and safe but Astoria worried that if he knew the answers, he would leave.


“I'm certain that there are countless things that we need to say to one another...answers that I would like to know.” Blaise's tense voice was enough to drag her out of the whirling pit of her mind and Astoria turned to him in growing despair, “after everything that I've learned and suspect, it would only be the expected thing to do,” he said with a small frown.


Astoria could barely understand how she remained standing. The world didn't seem to spin but it wouldn't take much to make her crumble, “Blaise, I don't want to keep anything from you. You know what sort of people my family are, how I grew up. There are a lot of things about us that's not normal or sane,” she ended bitterly.


Blaise considered the words as if he were on the verge of agreeing or making some sort of playful joke but the seriousness of the situation stopped him. He adopted a tone of politeness that made her feel like a curious insect, “It would take a blind man not to see that your family is...unusual, Astoria but you're not like them.” She shot him a bewildered look of anger for the lie.


“Don't talk to me like you're trying to spare my feelings, Blaise! I'm just as terrible, I have it in my blood,” Astoria thought that the words should have had her being struck down by God but she was left standing, heart turning to lead. “I never gave a damn about who was hurt because of our business if it didn't affect me,” the ugliness of this truth was almost too much.


The confession caused Blaise's eyes to widen but he seemed to shake it off, refusing to believe that she was just as atrocious as the others. There was a fierceness to his voice that scared her, “Even if that's true, you're different now. You can't compare yourselves to them!” his voice seemed to carry and she stared up at him fretfully. “You saved my life,”


Astoria heard the agony in his voice and felt her lips tremble as if she were holding back a scream. There was a brilliant fire in his eyes that nearly scorched her to the core of her heart, “I was like them and some part of me still is but you changed everything, ” she knew that he deserved better and wanted to fight for the right to stand by his side with pride. “You saved me too,”


The words were softly spoken but they seemed to echo around them until the entire world melted and faded away. There was only moonlight and shadows, “Astoria, you're the only person that I've ever truly trusted, the only person that has given me so much in return,” Blaise managed to respond sincerely, each word holding more devotion and sincerity than she could stand.


Astoria saw the same vulnerable expression that she'd witnessed in her rose garden cross his features and she thought it was completely selfish of her to love him more. It had to be wrong with all the darkness in her life to want him completely to herself, “We're the same then, there's never going to be another person like you that I'll risk my life for but you deserve to know the truth,”


“I can wait.” Blaise stunned her by saying, his body stiffening as a strange flush came over his cheeks. Her words seemed to have undid him and she saw that he was having difficulty speaking, his voice gruff and a bit harsh as he stared at her, “I don't care about anything else but seeing you happy...everything else can wait.”


Astoria started in astonishment. “I-I don't understand, what do you—?”


Blaise interrupted her with a disarming smile that made her heart skip a beat and she watched as he closed the space between them, setting the suitcase down. There was nowhere to run as he tilted her face up and brushed the softest of kisses along her jaw, the caress settling heavily into her bones, “I only have one question that I need an answer to right now,” he whispered before his mouth settled on hers.


There was nothing but heat and the desperate need to take as much of him as she could even as the kiss remained deliciously soft, Blaise's mouth capturing hers with unbearable tenderness. One kiss seemed to melt and blend into another before the previous had finished as she became lightheaded and weak as she wrapped her arms tightly around his neck, her blood pounting.


Each kiss seemed to take and give until Astoria was unable to tell how long they stood there wrapped in each other's arms, shrouded in moonlight. It was the sound of approaching footsteps that finally drew them apart and Astoria gasped in protest as Blaise lifted his mouth from hers with a soft curse, “Blaise?” she asked weakly, panting.


There was a rough quality to his breathing that matched her own, his eyes brighter than she had ever seen them. “..We should stop before I forget myself and devour you,” Blaise laughed shakily, kissing her one last time before disentangling her arms from around his neck.


Astoria wanted to cling to him but could only give a weak nod, her mind in a daze as they tried to compose themselves. There was a faint sting to her lips and she felt swollen and hot, wanting more of him in ways that she couldn't even understand, “R..right.” She managed to whisper as Blaise smiled, his eyes absorbing the blush that was spreading like wildfire over her cheeks.


“You have no idea how often I'd wanted to kiss you but it seemed that the timing was never right and whenever it was, we were always interrupted.” Blaise said softly as he reached out to wrap his finger around a stray lock of her brown hair. There was a wryly amused note to his voice that almost brought a smile to her lips, “now that I know about your kisses, you have complete control over me.”


The words only seemed to cause Astoria's blush to deepen and he bent and captured her mouth for one more slow, deep kiss. When they broke apart, it took her several minutes to speak, the fact that they would soon be spotted forcing the words out, “I...I don't think I'm the one with the control in this relationship,” she muttered.


Blaise grinned arrogantly but his eyes hooded slightly as he ran them over her mouth, lingering over the ripe pink color. Shivers of delight danced down her spine, “You'd be mistaken then, I'm completely at the mercy of a vicious cactus,” he teased and Astoria swatted at him laughingly. “We should keep moving until we find a suitable place for you to read the directions to your would be rude of me to ravish you in public,” he purred.


The husky promise only caused Astoria's cheeks to explode in a blush and she frowned as he roared with laughter, his eyes dancing. “Shut up, you know I hate it when you tease me like that!” she snapped furiously, thinking that he had to be simply the most aggravating person on the face of the earth even as she tried not to smile.


After Blaise retrieved her suitcase, their hands found each other's before she was even aware of reaching for him. Her spine tingled and danced as they continued on their way, every inch of her body pulsing so wonderfully that she never saw the flash of red light or the figure that stepped out of the darkness, the spell colliding with Blaise like a lightning strike.


Blaise!” Astoria screamed in shock as he immediately collapsed onto the hard ground, his warm hand falling from hers. Blaise was motionless, her suitcase having slid several feet away but before she could bend down or try to analyze what happened, powerful arms wrapped around her waist and dragged her away down the dark corridor. “Get your hands off of me you son of a bitch!”


Had her father sent a message to someone at Hogwarts to teach her a lesson already? Fear went through her like a chilly wave and Astoria fought viciously, trying desperately to reach into her dress pocket for her wand as her captor held onto her with an unwavering grip, somehow managing to hold onto her despite every kick, punch and ravenous bite.


“Let go of me—oomph!” Astoria gasped as her body was ruthlessly shoved against the unyielding force of a stone wall. Pain exploded through her but she looked up into her captor's face, recognizing the features that had haunted every step for the past six years and before she could scream, a heavy hand settled over her mouth. A pair of grey eyes seemed to deliver the final blow...Draco Malfoy had her completely at his mercy.




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