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The Hallowe'en Man



Violin Ghost

Astoria is a pirate.

She shouts orders to the crew over the wind, fingers an eye patch and twirls her moustache, dances on blood-swabbed decks that rock with the violence of the prancing waves. She is Barbara Gold-Eye, because underneath her tattered patch lies a hard, cruel, unforgiving gaze, a gold ball in an empty socket. She tosses her dirty bandana out to the sea, and laughs in death's face.

Astoria is a princess.

She glides across the room on silver-shod feet, back straight, chin aloft. Sparkling notes blown from a golden flute coil around her and seem to shine in homage to her beauty—an ethereal dress that floats about her, white pearls nestled in her black hair, rose-red cheeks and dark blue eyes. A prince offers a hand and she consents to take it, and together they dance across a floor inlaid with crystals.

Astoria is a gipsy.

She is all bright cloths, black hair, and clinking coins. She swishes a violet sash to wild, beautiful music, and entrances all who come near. She frolics and laughs and sings, and a bolder member of the audience flicks a gold coin into a chipped bowl.

Astoria is a vampire.

She stalks her victims in the blackest part of night, flitting like a shadow. She is pale and cold and empty, and cares not for the screams of mortals—she sips their blood and dines on their fear, and whirls her black cape as she vanishes into the darkness once more.

Astoria loves Hallowe'en. She dons a disguise every year, and masquerades as an entirely new being—and the best part of it all is that it's make-believe. (She's glad Hallowe'en only happens once a year, no matter how much she loves it, because she wouldn't trade being herself for all the disguises in the world.)

She dances through Hallowe'en and the new characters that come with it, delighting in the charm that novelty brings. There's nothing scary about Hallowe'en at all—it's a holiday of thrills and costumes that can be taken off and put back on a shelf, to lie forgotten and gather dust when November arrives.

She absolutely hates Draco Malfoy for destroying this idea.

Draco is a myriad of Hallowe'en personas, but they aren't masks—they're him. He doesn't wear costumes and discard them—he lives Hallowe'en every day. Sometimes he's a member of the gipsy's audience, distant and contemptuously admiring; at others he's a member of her crew, willing and obedient, hale and hearty, mischievous and cheeky and happy-hearted; sometimes he's her prince, elegant and charming; and sometimes, most chillingly of all, he's cold and careless and he positively enjoys fear, just like a vampire.

It's at times like those when Astoria thinks that Hallowe'en might be frightening, after all.

She's waiting for him in a dark corridor of the Malfoy mansion, glowering at the line of cold, grey Malfoy eyes scrutinising her from their portraits. He had forgotten his cloak when he came to pick her up for a Hallowe'en dinner out, and she's beginning to consider the idea of marching straight back home to spend Hallowe'en on her own—something she's never done—because the eyes staring her down remind her too much—too much—of Draco as a vampire.

"I'm here."

The quiet voice startles her in the process of glaring down an ancestor of his with a particularly malevolent shine in his eye. She turns quickly, and he's eyeing her with his patented sardonic smile.

"You took your time," she answers, though, in actuality, only a few minutes have passed since he entered his bedroom.

Silently, he offers her an arm, and she takes it. The prince.

They disappear in a flurry of expensive lace and dark cloth, and materialise in Hogsmeade. She raises an eyebrow, and he shrugs. "Italiani's, I was thinking?"

She nods her consent, and they begin their desultory stroll towards the pricey restaurant, Astoria stumbling along the cobbled lane in her stilettos. He notices and chuckles unkindly. She would have glared, but she simply doesn't have the energy anymore.

The gipsy's contemptuous admirer.

The silence hanging between them is uncharacteristically uncomfortable, and Astoria—never one for long silences—promptly shatters it by saying, "So, who are you?"

He doesn't bother raising his eyebrows. "What do you mean?"

"It's Hallowe'en, isn't it?" she answers. "Who are you, tonight?" The innocent question she had simply meant as a warm, familiar topic of conversation suddenly echoes forlornly in her head.

Who are you, tonight?

Who are you, tonight?

Who are you, tonight?

After a laden silence, he answers quietly. "I don't know," he says, and Astoria is ready to laugh, to revel in the irony that seems intent on smothering her today. It's the gloominess of the holiday, maybe, or perhaps Astoria's own weariness following a long day—whatever it is, her thoughts are strange and sad tonight.

"And who are you?" he unceremoniously interrupts her thoughts.

She sighs and, deciding she might as well take the irony surrounding her and wring it dry, says, "Whoever you want me to be, Draco."

"Hmm." His smile takes on a decidedly roguish cast (the pirate), and she realises the hundred, no, the million little sullied meanings men could twist from that heartfelt phrase. Hot, molten, righteous anger bubbles within her quite suddenly—for him to take her tenderly-meant declaration and—

"How's your father, Draco?" It's an underhanded move—she knows quite well just how sound (or rather, unsound) Lucius Malfoy's health is at the moment—, but she feels immensely satisfied to see the quiet laughter on his face wiped away, replaced by smooth, white marble.

"He's as well as anyone could expect, Astoria," he says, his voice cold and empty.

His grey eyes have as much life in them as the littered stones she keeps stumbling on, and all at once she's sorry she asked. She shivers when he turns those grey stones on her—she can see the Draco she fears the most, now, and she leans away from the vampire her imagination conjures and suddenly—

A thudding noise, a whimper of pain—Astoria finds herself sitting on her bottom on the cobblestones with a snapped stiletto and a pride very much bruised. What's worse is that Draco is kneeling beside her, and she shies away from the gaze she's sure is full of cruel, triumphant amusement—except that it isn't.

"Astoria, are you hurt?" His voice is full of sincere anxiety, and the eyes that had been so lifeless before are now flickering in consternation.

It's too much.

To Astoria's shame, tears begin filling the corners of her own eyes, and she gulps them down furiously, but he's noticed—

"Astoria, is anything broken? Just tell me—"

"Draco, what are we doing?" she speaks over him, in a voice full of weary finality.

His eyes are narrowed. "Trying to figure out if you're hurt in any way, and it would be a damn lot easier if you told me whether you're feeling any pain."

"I'm not hurt." She nearly smiles at the untruthfulness of her statement. "But Draco, I mean—" the tears are falling thick and fast, now "—what are we doing? This, us? What the hell are we doing?"

"I don't understand." His voice is crisp with worry.

"I feel like… I feel like I don't know you, Draco." She scrubs angrily at the faithless water coursing down her cheeks and ruining her cloak. "Half the time you're an entirely different person from the one I care about, and I don't know if—I don't know."

She turns glimmering eyes upon him, and through her blurring tears, she suddenly sees more clearly than she ever has before—and all she sees is a person who's utterly lost without the disguises he clings to so forcefully.

He leans forward and takes her chin in his hand.

"Astoria," he says, hesitantly, "I'm sorry. I really am. But…" he trails away, and then seems to amass enough courage to continue, "I don't know who Iam most of the time, now. Everything I've ever been through… all my experiences have torn me into so many pieces and now I'm just trying to put myself back together again. But with you… I seem to find a little of myself."

Her fear of Draco—her fear for Draco—and her fear of Hallowe'en silently slip away, and all that's left is a joyful, free sensation tingling in her limbs and a dear face agreeably near hers. She understands and is grateful for the former—her fears had been chains, manacles clamped onto her consideration—and she quickly takes advantage of the latter.

When they pull away, breathless and smiling starrily, he puts a solicitous hand on the side of her face and says, "Are you sure you aren't hurt?"

"If I had any injury to speak of when I first fell," she laughs, "I think it would have slipped my mind by now."

"Well then."

"Well then," she teases, "will you help me up so we can go to Italiani's?"

They make it to the restaurant without further incident, but before they step inside, Astoria takes his hand and softly murmurs into his ear, "Thank you, Draco."

His smile is amused. "For what?"

She kisses him gently on the cheek. "For giving me Hallowe'en back."