A/N: Ah, I guess the first sign that I haven't updated in a while is that I don't know if I haven't updated in a while, being unable to remember the date of my last update, but uh, ahem. Now for my gushy thanks and hysterically grateful ramblings...I so need to thank, in addition to anyone I've already mentioned, HarryGinny465, Angelique Aurealis, Ravenhaired2, Twilightparamorepenguin, and OurLoveIsForever for their heartbreakingly beautiful reviews. As well as ToxicRainfall for her very hilarious and insightful descriptions of Draco worship lol. And on to the chapter...
September 9, 1997.
Part of the benefits that came with being appointed by Prefect (even if it probably was just by Snape and not Dumbledore, like it should have been, thought Asteria bitterly) was being permitted to hold and use an especially reserved and particularly lavish bathroom on the fifth floor of the school. Truth be told, it wasn't even that big of a deal in her life, what with all the demanding class work requiring hours of additional research and study (it wasn't as if she owned a handy textbook about the Dark Arts, for Merlin's sake), but the bathrooms were a fabled wonder among the Prefects, and Asteria had never reallyseen inside them anyway.
She would have gone sooner to explore them, but ever since there had been a rumor going on that perverted seventh-year boys knew Charms that could penetrate enchanted bathroom walls and used it to watch their fill (Daphne later confirmed this story false) from outside, Asteria had been more than nervous of warming up to all her new Prefect privileges.
But as it turned out, there were problems concerning intruders. Just not the kind she expected.
Asteria carefully pushed open the unfamiliar door and drew back, impressed at the spacious, utterly luxurious golden cups of floating multicolored candles, elegant silver sweep of empty pool-sized bathtub, and exquisitely placed marine-related paintings all looking as welcoming and warm as anything could. She beamed involuntarily, feeling spoiled. Of course, it wasn't as if Greengrass Estate didn't have better, it was just that here at Hogwarts, this kind of thing was hardly likely…
Still admiring the softly lit aquatic-themed room, Asteria firmly locked the door (multiple times) and eagerly peered into the forest of faucets, soon filling the bathing ring with pleasantly scented bubbles and water of all varieties. Variety was good. She even felt kind enough to spare poor Daphne the non-Prefect a second thought. Imagine never being able to use this place, she thought indulgently as she hastily turned off a hysterically green-bubble-gushing tap.
Asteria unhurriedly disrobed, placing a nice clean towel on the tiled surface for afterwards, and took a warm, soft bathroom off a nearby pile. Now the only thing she had to worry about was whether she might splash her robes wet, the fact that she might crash painfully into the other far side since she could barely see through all the foam for even a few inches, and-
"Draco!" squealed an excited voice from the edge of the pool.
Asteria fumbled and stumbled, almost having a heart attack. Hastily, she racked her brains, which was hard to do in this particular instant. What was that spell thing again…
"Homenum revelio!" she shouted, grabbing her wand from the pocket of her school robes and waving it desperately through the air, as if slicing something. "Homenum rev-"
And suddenly something was forming, taking strange shape at the brink of the pool. Something that resembled a girl with a scowling, gloomy face and thick outdated and oversized spectacles. Something that reminded her unbelievably of Moaning Myrtle. But that wasn't possible, was it? Since when did she come into other bathrooms? And since when did she get on first-name terms with Malfoy…? Not even Daphne was-
"Oh, you had to do that, didn't you?" the ghost ranted passionately, swerving her transparent self alarmingly close to Asteria. "Poor Myrtle makes one mistake and you just have to persecute her and humiliate her just because she wanted a friend to visit her more often! Just because she made one error because both your stupid robes have to be all black and green! Just because you're a living human you have to make fun of me-"
Good Merlin, thought Asteria exasperatedly, her wand hand falling to her side again. Won't she shut up?
"-and rub it in, don't you? You couldn't just let it go, could you? You could have waited for me to float down through the drains and pipes back to my toilet, but nooo, you had to catch me and remind me that I-I ca-can't do magic like you, and I'm only a ghost, and not even an actual human, but I still get dragged out here t-to see you laugh at me…ohhh…" she moaned.
"I think you're overreacting a little," said Asteria irritably, feeling rather stupid as she stuffed her wand back into her pockets. "I'm not going to laugh at you, and you can go back and rot in your precious little toilet all you want, just stop spying on me when I'm-"
"You?" shrilled Myrtle, jabbing a finger at Asteria as she dived forward. "You? Who'd want to spy on you?!"
Asteria was rather offended to have had her physical appearance degraded by a ghost, a Muggle-born ghost, too, at that, whose robes were…well…She allowed her gaze to trail disdainfully over Myrtle. "Plenty of people, I assume," she answered loftily, secretly hoping there were none. "Although I'm pretty sure I can't say the same about you-"
At this point something weird happened. Moaning Myrtle began to smile dreamily, looking very secretive indeed, and it widened into a conspiratorial grin. "Draco did," she giggled, clutching her heart as if someone special dwelt in there. "He lets me. Whenever he takes his baths here, he lets me stay here, although he never lets me too near him because I would see him-" The ghost looked extremely put out. "-but we talk. Or at least we used to. It's not even fair!" Myrtle suddenly began whining very piteously. "The only time I ever got to talk with him while he was bathing in here was the first time when he actually tried to kick me out…" Her face changed, and Asteria's felt a bit nauseated. "…but oh, I persuaded Draco to let me stay for the rest of the five minutes. But it was sad, because he finished rather quickly, and he made me close my eyes too…just like he did, almost like they're secretly ganging up against me…" The last words were muttered under Moaning Myrtle's breath in a disappointed and irked tone.
"Wait, so did you actually do it? Or did you just watch him…ah, get out anyway?" asked Asteria carefully, looking down and clearing her head just in case a mental image sprang to her mind most unpleasantly.
The glum-looking girl looked even more depressed, if that was possible. "Yes," she replied in a surly voice, apparently forgetting that Asteria had been supposedly rude to her. "I had to, didn't I? He Charmed out this Blinding Fog…must have known…" And thankfully for Asteria, the rest trailed off.
"I see," she said loudly, hoping that Myrtle would take the hint to leave. Now.
"…he's so clever too," she was continuing to say with an adoring expression. "And so wonderful. But he has so many things going against him…so many troubles…or at least he did last year, since now he never comes to find me anymore…" She shot Asteria a look that implied Asteria was begging her to reveal Malfoy's secrets. "And no, I won't tell you what those are. I wasn't even going to tell you anything. Just because I thought he came again. Oh, but then I find it's just you…"
Asteria glanced around in exasperation. "Can you just leave? Please?" she asked coolly, folding her arms and narrowing her eyes. "Because I've enjoyed your company and all, but I really need-"
"Oh, fine, fine," answered Myrtle sourly, and she whizzed off to some distant water source, disappearing from the room with a huge splash.
There was a moment of silence. Then finally, Asteria raised her wand again, searching the entire bathroom for signs of other human life…well, or death. It was beautifully clear of both, to her relief.
December 18, 1997.
Everything after that incident did not exactly flow either. The Carrows, unfortunately, were cracking down the whips (sometimes, literally, it was rumored in hushed voices) on the classes, perhaps not as hard on some groups as others, but this hardly seemed to matter to the students.
"You should have seen her today in Muggle Studies," whispered Cora distastefully to them on their way to Transfiguration that Thursday. She took Muggle Studies, unlike all her other classmates. "She was completely rabid…raving about how filthy the animals were and stuff…as if we wouldn't know after her first day here." Her tone was dry. "It's hardly what you'd call educational."
"Defense against the Dark Arts was even worse," piped up Helen, who was determined to prove that she had gotten the worse blow. "I don't get how they expect us to not fail our O.W.L.S. completely this year."
"I think that's the point," said Nadine solemnly, fingering the ring Trent had given her half-heartedly seriously as she pondered. "They're jealous of how smart we are, so they try to sabotage us."
The girls laughed, but only anxiously and with furtive glances all around the halls. Asteria herself could feel the Transfiguration wand-movements slipping from her mind unconsciously as Alecto Carrow wheezed by them, jerking an indignant pink-faced boy by the ear.
Students gaped and stopped where they stood, people ramming into each other's unmoving forms to stare. Asteria's eyes widened slowly; she recognized the boy from somewhere a long time ago. She had seen him everywhere around the halls, true, but somewhere back, she had stopped, maybe to talk to him, maybe it was just someone else-
Then she got it. "The Yule Ball," she said quietly, recalling when Malfoy had steered them at insanely uncomfortable speeds around the Christmas-decorated Great Hall when she had only been in fourth year. He had also stopped them to sneer at Neville Longbottom and a redheaded girl, Ginny-
"And Weasley," said Nadine in a sort of strangled voice as they watched a girl storm through the corridors and demand some sort of "justice". Asteria could have laughed; how thick did you have to be? Although it was sort of clever for Genevra Weasley to stage her courageous and martyring confrontation in public, she had to admit…even though that probably hadn't been the girl's plan, but-
"We're going to be late," said Helen nervously, plucking on the others' sleeves as they watched cautiously from afar. "It's not like we care about some measly Gryffindors trying to show off, right? Come on…" Her voice rose slightly.
"Coming," answered Asteria guiltily, straightening fluidly in an effort to regain her composure. She half-wanted to witness the confrontation, and half-wanted to escape the scene. Funnily enough, being late to class hardly counted as one of the things she was worried about right now.
Well, not that much. She quickly gathered her things and left before anything could turn even nastier. No point in being available for blame.
But Transfiguration didn't go so well. Halfway through, a sort of wild screaming erupted from a classroom apparently two floors down, and Asteria's quill jerked to a stop on the second paragraph of her explanation on why Transfigured items were more theoretically more unstable in form than the originals of that shape.
Professor McGonagall looked up sharply from her lesson plan parchment, her glasses quivering in rage on the bridge of her nose. Asteria tensed, ready for an outburst. But that didn't happen. Instead, McGonagall calmly shut her book and set aside her papers, stood curtly from her desk, and imperiously announced to the class, "I will be back shortly, and I expect you to behave yourselves as always in my absence." And then she left the room.
Asteria frowned, staring after the suddenly teacher-less Transfiguration classroom's door, feeling anxious of what the professor was aiming to do. No doubt the Carrows had done something to someone, but what was McGonagall going to do about it? The thought made her nervous for the old teacher.
Ten minutes of dreaded silence passed, and the entire room breathed out in unspoken and pure relief when Professor McGonagall returned just as calmly, although a vein in her neck was pulsing a bit more.
"Very well," she said brusquely, sitting back down as if nothing had happened. "Ten points to Slytherin for excellent classroom behavior without a teacher's presence. Continue with your essays. I expect them by the end of class."
And so class went on.
But over time these strange screams in the middle of classes became more and more frequent, and more than once Asteria could have sworn she had heard an uncontrolled and gleeful cackling outburst following these moments, but they didn't happen each day, and she did not experience firsthand what these were until about two months later. The Carrows had really gotten daring by then.
"I hate Herbology," breathed Nadine mutinously as they sat in dread at the greenhouse table, watching as Professor Sprout, with her back turned, arranged some sort of creeping black plant that kept shooting out splotchy green ooze.
"You just suck at it," retorted Bailey, who had received all zeroes in Herbology just the past week.
The other girls snickered, but quickly sobered up when Sprout triumphantly raised two large pots, setting the black plant before them.
"You know the procedure by now!" she called out, folding her hands. "Sort out the reusable seeds and separate the different-"
"Sprouty, is it?" snarled a sudden voice, as the door to the greenhouses abruptly slammed violently open.
All eyes turned to look, and Asteria stiffened when she saw Amycus Carrow, a maniacal gleam in his eyes and a student clutched tightly in his right hand. She recognized the Hufflepuff boy who she had always clashed with over teacher flattery and for a moment felt perplexed. His fellow Housemates gasped in terror and rage, but no one got up to openly protest.
Professor Sprout started, but compensated by wiping her trembling hands on a rage very slowly. "Yes?" she answered, looking appalled and even a bit disgusted. The boy Amycus Carrow was grabbing winced at something painful.
Carrow grinned, showing sharp, yellowing teeth. "This fella…" He shook the student, who cried out before gritting his teeth. "He decided to be late to this class, Professor. Wanted to play hooky, see…I just took him over-"
The boy made a sort of fearful and hateful noise, and Carrow jerked him even more as Professor Sprout motioned wildly for her wand.
"I was just released from the hospital wing!" he shouted, attempting to break for it. "Don't believe me, ask Madame Pomfrey, she let me go herself just no-"
And suddenly Asteria felt sure that her eyes were showing something different. Because for the first time she had ever seen, there was openly illegal magic being conducted in front of her. In front of a Hogwarts teacher and a dozen other students, which couldn't be right, could it-
Carrow's face had contorted in rage for a second, and now he was grabbing for his wand, aiming it without hesitation at the bewildered and stricken Hufflepuff boy, and now he was shouting something, although the shouts and screams from the girls around Asteria made it hard to hear what it could be-
"That enough for filth?" he was wheezing in a high voice over the panicked commotion of the watching students, who were now trying to scramble as far away from the scene as possible, slicing his wand all over the place. "Teach ya to never talk back to us Carrows, eh? Crucio! Ya hear that, see what I can do to misbehavin' kids like you? Crucio! Cruci-"
"Enough, Amycus!" Professor Sprout was commanding, striding forward and disarming the lumpy man with a nonverbal choice. "We don't do-do-" Her voice shook. "No-no torture here at Hogwarts. We are a civil school. Let us hear Mister Riley out, shall we?" She bent down to meet the groaning boy's eye level. He was still convulsing in agony on the floor, and Asteria felt a bit faint.
They began to mutter something, and gradually Carrow joined in, looking more and more furious by the second.
"Detention?" he spat, looking murderous as he approached the Herbology teacher, and for a moment Asteria had the terrible feeling that Professor Sprout would be knocked dead to the floor. "What good is detention for stupid wandering kids like this? He was-he was…I dunno, wandering the grounds without a teacher's excuse, how was I supposed to know where he was up from-"
"It was in my p-pocket," choked the Hufflepuff boy, who had subsided a little.
Carrow completely ignored him, choosing to continue ranting at a determinedly untouched Professor Sprout. "And I've seen enough of this school to know what I don't like around here, Sprouty. All ya stupid ways of punishing kids, now I say we give them a good dose of what the world out there is really like, real consequences that are going to be coming, if you know what I mean."
"No, I'm afraid I don't know what you mean," said Sprout defiantly, to Asteria's horror.
"Don't you?" Amycus Carrow grinned wickedly, approaching the table where Sarah Baker sat with only the round-faced boy from her House; the majority of her other Housemates had been Muggle-born. "Well, you'll get to know soon enough, eh, Sprouty? Me and my sis, us around here…we're going to be making some changes here. And Snape's going to help us," he added on further reflection. "And the Dark Lord…well, I don't want to ruin any spoilers, but when he's done with what he's doing outside this place…well, let's just say there's going to be no more filth." And still grinning, he turned slowly to face Asteria and Nadine where they sat. "Little Greengrass knows what I mean, don't you?"
All other eyes turned to Asteria, and she felt her breath begin to trickle away from her throat bit by bit. "Um, well, I, I don't know what to say," she stammered, hoping it was a safe answer for everyone.
To her relief, there were no murderous glares from anyone in the greenhouse. Carrow plodded on with his raggedy, crude speech as if she hadn't responded at all, which she took as a relatively good sign, considering what could have happened.
"Her daddy works in the Ministry," he informed a steadily angering Professor Spout with a malicious cackle. "Doing pretty well in our family tree 'spection unit, though don't see why he won't accept the credit, since the Dark Lord's gonna be huge soon. We're doing great stuff, here, weeding out trash like this." He spat at the Hufflepuff boy still huddled on the ground. "Don't see why you teachers are so touchy about dumb stock like this…just a little half-blood, if you ask me."
There was a huge pause as Amycus Carrow stood hunched there, panting from his talk, and as Professor Sprout surveyed her surroundings, looking miserable.
"He'll…he'll need the hospital wing," she finally said, looking around the room. "May I…Miss…Miss Baker? I'd like you to take Mr. Riley here to visit the hospital wing just in case-"
"Sorry?" cackled Carrow disbelievingly, sounding anything but apologetic. "And wander off again who-knows-where? What d'you think we are, stupid? We're not going to buy none of your rebellion plots. Dolores had the right idea, separating the troublesome from the troublesome, f'you ask me…Greengrass, right there. Take this filth up there for poor Sprouty."
Asteria flushed, not liking the attention this was creating. She avoided Sarah Baker, who was still half-standing with her mouth open, Professor Sprout, who looked frantic, and Amycus Carrow, who was leering at her. "I'd be delighted to," she said clearly, feeling something nasty swell up inside her. Not as if she could say anything else…
Carefully, she rose from her bench, heard her friends' distraught gasps distinctly behind her which made her feel slightly better, and made her way over to a suspicious-looking Riley who had now gotten up but was still staggering against the wall. His eyes were narrowed.
"Well?" she heard herself say contemptuously. "The door's right there." Asteria watched Riley slink out, and she followed, not feeling any better when the door closed behind them; greenhouses were made of glass, after all.
Neither of them spoke a word until they were safe inside the walls of the castle, and Asteria's shoulders fell slightly in relief. Riley, however, was reaching for his wand.
"Get away from me," he shot at her, scrambling back.
"Put your wand away," she said with disgust.
Riley laughed. "You really think I'd do that?" he said. "That's a bit daft of you, isn't it? Oh wait…that is your name. Daphne or something?"
Asteria threw her chin up haughtily. "That's my sister's name," she said coldly. "I'm Asteria. It's too bad you can't make some dumb pun off of that, hm?"
The boy looked lost for a moment. Then he looked incredulous again. "What a stupid name," he sneered, but Riley did lower his wand to his side.
Asteria couldn't believe this. She had almost just been cursed by a Hufflepuff, and now she was having her name being made fun of in the next. There was a bit of difference between the two. She decided to take advantage of the less of two evils, the attack of her name; besides, it was a topic she was used to defending, courtesy of small mean children. "It's the name of a Titaness in ancient Greek mythology," she said delicately.
"Yeah?" taunted Riley. "What did she do, get blown up?"
"No, actually," said Asteria seriously, thinking. "She turned into a quail, see."
Riley was frowning as if he wasn't sure what to think. Apparently he had not studied the ancient stories. "Why?" And to Asteria's glee, he sounded genuinely curious and had seemingly forgotten about his earlier urge to curse her.
Asteria smiled casually and strolled in the direction of the hospital wing, pleased when she heard footsteps following her. "Oh, well," she said vaguely. "Zeus tried to rape her so she had to get away, didn't she?" Before he could seize that, Asteria continued hastily. "My sister Daphne was named after a nymph who turned into a laurel tree to escape Apollo. Apparently our parents found it highly amusing to name us after these kind of characters…"
"Ah." Riley plodded along, silent now. "Well," he said awkwardly after a while. "My first name is Eric, in case, you know, since you've introduced your first name, and well, I thought we might as well be on even ground, kind of, you know."
"Yeah?" said Asteria snidely, unsure of what to make of this former nasty person who was now offering to be "friends" after the simple introduction of first names. Apparently that could do a lot, she pondered. "Thank you. I…appreciate it."
They walked on for a bit after that, gradually approaching the hospital wing. Then Riley spoke up again.
"Oh, and I'm sorry for calling your name stupid," he coughed pointedly, not looking at her. "It actually has a bit of interesting stuff behind it. And uh, I never was actually going to curse you or anything. I just felt…sort of embarrassed, I guess, having to be guarded by you and stuff."
The girl nodded sagaciously in understanding, but Riley plowed on.
"And I never really meant that you were a bad suck-up," he was saying sulkily. "I was just, you know, finding an excuse to say mean stuff to a Slytherin. In fact," he went on. "I'm also sorry that I ever said your House was stinking. I should befriend some more people there…like Draco Malfoy," he said before Asteria could react. "He shouldn't be so bad if you weren't-"
"Malfoy?" said Asteria haughtily, folding her arms. Why did Malfoy always have to crop up everywhere? She couldn't enjoy her first ride on the Hogwarts Express without having him accompany Daphne into the compartment, couldn't experience her first year without hearing him moaning to his fan club around every corner, she couldn't just go on with everything without him always either getting injured or tragically hurt, she couldn't even take a bath the other day, for Merlin's sake, without another of his nonliving fan club disturbing her about him…and now she couldn't even make peace with her first rival without him turning up in the conversation.
"Who cares about him?" she said in irritation, gliding a little faster. "I get it. Truce, agreement, no more hard feelings, I understand. Leave Malfoy out of it, will you? I've already got him everywhere in my life without you of all people having to mention him too. But thank you for offering…" Asteria shook her head to clear it a little. "Come on, we're almost there now anyway…"
A/N: So, my friends (and haters), apparently last time FF was encountering technical difficulties for, like, two entire days and I just happened to update right before it happened (lucky me). So obviously no one could review for ages and well, the strange thing is that no one reviewed for ages after that thingy was cleared up (funny...). Okay, okay, so maybe I just sucked in the last update and that was why ( yeah right). But I (as the author) doubt it. And I as an author obviously (obviously), in an attempt to know what readers (I realize I'm being a bit liberal with the plural term...judging from the barely plural number of reviews...) think of how the plot is running, (and sooo totally not just to just bulk up on reviews or anything) would encourage (Imperio) you to give this as well as the previous (neglected...sob, sob, sob) chapter a random little review. Just a quick click (you hear that, you lazy bums?) does it, so of course I'd worship you like Pansy worships Malfoy is you did just that. Or heck, even if you did just this chapter! But I mean, hey, I know I've been really (oh, yeah) er, passionate about this review thing, but I mean, we're all friends (and haters) here, right? I mean, if you actually got this far in the story, right? So even if you just decide to not review (CRUCIO!!!), I completely understand (not.), so again, if you happen to decide to (sign your own death contract) not review, you can just (go screw yourself) take my blessing to live a long, productive, and reviewful life. Thank you.