Author's Note: Written for Werewolf Vampire Mistress's 'H' Challenge. My word was 'Henceforth'…

Breaking Free

(More Than Just A Beautiful Girl)

It rained the day Astoria Tamara Greengrass was born. Herbert Greengrass traced her smooth, newborn skin with one rough finger and forgot about the bestselling pureblood classic The Trouble With Daughters for one more day. His little wife, Siena, couldn't stop smiling. Maybe it wasn't very pureblood-high-society-heir-conscious of her, but she was just glad to have two healthy, gorgeous daughters.

"She is beautiful, isn't she?" Herbert asked. He held Astoria as though she were extremely fragile.

Siena laughed joyously. "She's the most beautiful baby I've ever seen."

---

"Careful, girls!" Mrs. Greengrass called, as her two daughters raced around the kitchen. Daphne, age four, caught her left ankle on a chair leg. The ankle twisted painfully and audibly.

Daphne screamed. Astoria, only a year old, danced forward gracefully, peering at her sister out of narrowed, fearful eyes. Daphne cried out in pain, and Mrs. Greengrass hurried forward.

When she got there, however, she saw that Daphne's ankle was entirely healed. Daphne grinned up at her, got to her feet, and ran up the stairs two at a time, looking for a less dangerous game.

It was Astoria's first use of wandless magic.

---

"I'm going over to play at Pansy's house," Daphne said importantly. At age seven, she was filled with self-righteousness. She could do whatever she pleased, because she was nearly a grown-up without all the troublesome, boring conversations grown-ups had about money and The Name going to some sort of second cousin, because without a male heir…

Astoria, age four, heard the adults whisper too, but she was much more interested in her own latest discovery: books. They were magical repositories of knowledge she couldn't have imagined—stories of dragons and beautiful princesses and brave knights, and other stories of witches who could transform into animals and a fountain that made you lucky forever and ever.

She put the finishing touches on her drawing: it depicted a princess, with brown, curly hair like hers, and she and a blonde knight were fighting a fiery dragon together. Her crayons lay in a scattered heap on the floor, but she didn't care about that. Eventually she would remember and want them again, for the next picture, and the next—but now, all she wanted was approval.

She held out the drawing to her mother, grinning happily, and waited. "Yes, yes, sweetheart," said her mother distractedly. "Oh, and Daphne, if you're going to the Parkinsons,' why don't you take your sister with you?"

"Mother," complained Daphne. Astoria crumpled up the drawing and threw it toward the stairs, toward the room she shared with Daphne. It soared in a magnificent, perfectly executed arc.

Her mother, wrestling with the finances, didn't see.

---

Astoria tagged along behind her parents, her busy father and her worried mother, and her skipping, joyful sister, along the bricks of Diagon Alley. Daphne was going away to school, leaving Astoria all alone, with nothing but her books to comfort her, and distract her from her parents' ceaseless quarrels.

Daphne was so excited, skipping along and beaming every time they passed anyone who looked about her age. Pansy was there, too, with her parents, and the two girls giggled and laughed together while they waited for Madame Malkin to finish their fittings. Astoria waited as well, silent and calm. She had no place in this moment, Daphne was glad to be leaving her, but she wouldn't lose her composure. Her mother had raised her according to the principle that children should be seen and not heard.

Still, she would have liked to say hello to the blonde boy with the pointed chin who they passed staring at the windows of the broom store. He looked so confident, and Astoria was jealous of the ease with which he seemed to get what he wanted. He wasn't just for decoration—never had been, she expected.

---

Astoria was going to Hogwarts, at last! She was relieved to escape her parents and their ideals of what a pureblood witch should be, even if she knew such an escape was purely illusionary. She was excited at the prospect of putting into practice all that she'd learnt in her father's library over the years, and thrilled to be going where Daphne spent her days.

"Greengrass, Astoria!" said the tall lady with the thin, disapproving mouth. Astoria sat down on the stool, and the old, frayed hat was plopped onto her head.

Interesting, said a voice in her ear. She waited in silence. Yes, indeed…plenty of courage, lots of faith in the world…you always believe the best of people. That's quite the gift.

Astoria gave the hat a mental shrug, content to allow it its say.

Yes...you could be great, but you're no warrior. Where do you belong?

My family has always been in Slytherin, Astoria commented mildly. Part of her wanted to be in the same House as Daphne, but she had to admit she probably wouldn't see her older sister much, anyway. Daphne was a fourth-year, now. No time for an eleven-year-old baby sister—she was already talking about boys at home.

Slytherin…it's not quite right…with your thirst for knowledge, you belong in "RAVENCLAW!" The hat shouted the last word, and Astoria took it off, set it primly back on the stool, and walked serenely toward her grinning Housemates.

Daphne complained, of course—she was a Slytherin purist. Astoria's parents conferred quietly about her new House, and to whom she ought to be betrothed if she were going to persist in this unladylike love of books.

Luckily for Astoria, she was quite busy with her own new life, a whirlwind of learning that left her scarcely any time for her favorite hobby of sketching. Suddenly, everything seemed to be happening so fast.

---

Astoria's second year, the whispers were louder and more urgent, all of a sudden. At home, her parents talked about duty and honor and choices, and at school people whispered about Harry Potter, and Dumbledore's ridiculous faith in him, and how there was only one explanation: they were both off their rockers.

Or were they?

Astoria hadn't the faintest idea if the rumors were true, but it was rather unsettling being told not to join any clubs on account of Educational Decree Number Twenty-Four, or whichever one they were on by now.

Daphne joined the Inquisitorial Squad, and she also made the mistake of writing home about an older boy she liked. The elder Greengrasses were very disapproving, because he wasn't on their list of acceptable future husbands for Daphne.

Astoria didn't think Harry Potter was crazy, or Dumbledore an old fool. But she never said anything about it. It was simpler, so much simpler, just to focus on her studies.

She really was learning a lot.

---

In her third year, Professor Snape taught Defense Against the Dark Arts. She learned more from him than she ever had in any one class before. That was the year she found the Patronus Charm, and instructions on casting of same, in the Restricted Section of the library. Professor Snape gave her a note to check the book out, and she practiced alone for months. Each time, the silver vapor she created seemed more substantial.

---

The funeral was well attended—everyone Astoria had ever met from school was present, along with almost all her parents' friends. She cried for Professor Dumbledore that night. It seemed so tragic, after all.

Still, she was convinced You-Know-Who-slash-the-Dark-Lord couldn't really be as black as he was painted.

---

It was about a month later that the Greengrasses hosted Daphne's betrothal ball to Miles Bletchley. Ornate, and opulent, and costing so much more than the family could afford.

---

Her fourth year, the whispers had stopped cold, except in the places where they'd turned into shouts. She was still too young to care about politics, but old enough to know trouble was brewing.

It was latent in the way the other teachers didn't quite meet Professor Snape's eyes, and how miserable he looked the night she saw him walking back to the castle in the snow.

It was there in the way the Professors Carrow smirked and crowed over every missed question, or their monomania about 'filthy Muggles and Mudbloods.'

The first-years had the most trouble. They huddled together for protection, but it wasn't quite enough, and Daphne told Astoria over and over again to leave them to their own devices, to forget about the titchy little things and think about herself for once.

Astoria would have been furious if she hadn't known her sister wasn't following her own advice. These days, she followed Seamus Finnigan around, and got herself in trouble for his sake.

That was the year Astoria completed her first full size, full color painting. It was highly subversive, but it would have taken a Ravenclaw or an art critic to see the fact. The Carrows thought it was brilliant, and hung it in the Great Hall as an example to potential wrong-doers. The other Ravenclaws exchanged secret smiles when they passed it.

"Most…illuminating, Miss Greengrass," Professor Snape told her. She went around in circles for a good five weeks on whether he'd meant it as praise or censure.

"What does it mean?" Ernie MacMillan asked her in early April.

"It means…" she leaned in close to whisper, and told him her original inspiration as obscurely as she could, so as to confuse any eavesdroppers.

"What?" he asked, and, exasperated, she traced four letters onto his palm with the tip of her index finger. G-O,-D.-A.! She waited.

He beamed. "You are amazing," he told her. "Listen, when this is over, maybe you and I could be, well, you-and-I…"

He never finished, because the Carrows appeared just then, but Astoria remembered the offer.

---

The night everything changed, for good this time, she was sure…May 1. Exams were coming up, and she ought to be more worried, she knew. She studied for Transfiguration during dinner, with her roommates.

Then came Professor McGonagall, looking less grim for once, and saying the Slytherins should get out before things got ugly. Astoria glanced anxiously at Daphne's worried face, and the pale, pointed one of the blonde boy she secretly rather admired. She admired his looks, of course, but mostly she admired his courage—he stood up for himself, didn't let others dictate where his life would lead…

The Slytherins all left, with a great scraping of benches, but not before Pansy Parkinson doomed their cause further by suggesting they barter Harry Potter for peace. Next Professor McGonagall sent away everyone who wasn't of age. Astoria left gratefully, desperate to find Daphne so the two of them could get the hell out of there.

She couldn't find Daphne or the blonde boy anywhere. In fact, the seventh-year Slytherins were rather scantily represented. Pansy grabbed her upper arm, pinching her skin (she winced) and hissed, "Come on, now, Astoria, it's not safe!"

"Yes, you ought to be careful, a pretty girl like you," Professor Slughorn said distractedly. Astoria winced again.

Pansy found her parents, by the simple expedient of Apparating to their home, and deposited Astoria there without a backward look. Astoria wondered if she were going back into the fray. She hoped not, for Pansy's sake, and she hoped so, for Daphne's: if Daphne was still at school, she was going to need a friend.

---

The Aurors came to the house a few days later. Astoria was surprised they got there so quickly—surely there were others in the war of greater interest and priority.

It seemed Herbert Greengrass had used his connections with Gringotts Bank to make the Death Eaters' finances easy. He had to go to the Ministry for trial, and was sentenced with a heavy fine.

Daphne got an owl from Miles Bletchley; all it said, on pristine white parchment, was

Daphne—

The betrothal's off. No hard feelings.

Miles

---

Astoria's fifth year the castle was in ruins. The lower levels were flooded to such an extent that the Slytherin dormitories were completely unusable, so for about a semester, the Slytherins, including the ones who'd come back for an eighth year, were quartered in Azkaban Prison (mercifully sans Dementors) under the dubious patronage of their new Head of House, Pansy Parkinson. Eventually, Hermione Granger, back for her own eighth year, convinced the Ministry to adopt an alternate plan.

Astoria's family was in ruins, too: her parents were now too tired to bicker over money, since they hadn't any. There was hardly enough for Astoria's fifth year, and none at all for Daphne's eighth. Daphne studied on her own for a few months, then took her N.E.W.T.s at a Ministry-sponsored location.

Astoria wasn't too fond of that year, all things considered. She studied and studied, though, took her O.W.L.s, and dreamed of the day when she would be a queen of queens and Daphne wouldn't have to work in a little, dilapidated diner all night.

---

There was just enough money left for Astoria's sixth year, so she went. She started seeing Ernie on weekends, whenever she was free. He told her she was beautiful every time he saw her.

"You are the perfect girl," he told her one night near the end of term. "Will you marry me?" He got down on his knees in Madame Puddifoot's and produced a huge, ornate, honestly rather ugly diamond ring.

Astoria blinked. She thought about Ernie's earnest devotion to her, and her own approaching seventeenth birthday, in October, and her family's complete and total lack of money or prestige, and the fact that she honestly didn't know what else she was going to do. The thought of what her parents would say if she turned down this opportunity clinched the matter. "Very well," she told him, and watched him slide the ugly diamond and gold ring onto her finger.

---

The only thing she regretted, Astoria told herself firmly, was that she wouldn't get to take her N.E.W.T.s. She did enjoy a good exam.

---

"You're such a doll!" Mrs. MacMillan cooed at the engagement ball. Luckily, Ernie's parents were hosting it this time, since the Greengrasses simply could never have afforded it.

"I should have known you'd make a better match than your sister!" Mrs. Greengrass had said earlier, getting teary over Astoria's gown and elaborate coiffure. Mrs. Greengrass had put the outfit together herself, while Astoria waited, just like a doll, on a stand. "You were always so beautiful! And beauty, as you know, my dear, is just so crucial to a witch's success!"

Now, Mr. MacMillan grinned down at Astoria, 'all dolled up,' and insisted she save him a dance.

Astoria whirled around the ballroom in Ernie's arms, and tried not to think how insufferably boring he would become in a few years time. Would all their children have his cocky grin and pompous manner?

"May I cut in?" asked a low, cultured voice, and the next thing Astoria knew she was dancing in the arms of a master. For a moment, she let herself relax, simply enjoying the sensation of dancing seamlessly with such an accomplished partner.

Then she looked into his grey eyes, and felt herself melt a little at the knees. There was something so…so powerful and sleek and forlorn about him, all at once. It tugged at her heartstrings and made her feel hot and swoony at the same time.

They danced in silence for a few minutes, before Ernie reclaimed her with an angry word and a proprietary hand on her elbow. Her eyes tracked the blonde man with the fascinating eyes for the rest of the evening.

---

Astoria didn't need to ask anyone who her mysterious dance partner was. She could read his name and life history the next day in the Daily Prophet, along with a description of him as a dangerous predatory dragon (Draco, dragon, hah hah) and herself as a beautiful damsel in distress.

She remembered him from school, of course—Draco Malfoy, a Slytherin in her sister's year. She'd caught glimpses of him over the years, making loud and raucous fun of the Gryffindors, or staring down dejectedly at his plate and hardly eating a morsel. She could cook for him, she could make him enjoy life again, she knew it—

But those were only daydreams. He'd danced with her, but that didn't mean he was interested, and wasn't she betrothed to another man, anyway? Astoria scolded herself.

Still, there were those haunted grey eyes…They reappeared in her dreams night after night.

At last she sent him a note—an invitation to have tea with her at a Muggle shop she knew, and had investigated thoroughly for both its quality and its lack of paparazzi.

He accepted.

---

Tea went wonderfully, and terribly, at the same time; wonderfully because of the instant rapport she felt with Draco, and terribly because what on earth was she doing to poor Ernie, who claimed to love her more than anything in the world?

They almost-kissed for about half an hour, and then Astoria dragged herself away.

It was time to make a choice.

---

Astoria had always pretty much gone along with what everyone else wanted her to do. Most of the time, she simply didn't care enough not to, which sounded odd, perhaps, but that was the way things were.

Everywhere she went, she was praised not for her brilliance, or her rather extraordinary artistic talent, or even her cooking, which was inspired, if uneven in its execution—always, always, it was her beauty.

Draco had yet to tell her she was beautiful—perhaps because he knew she knew it already.

Astoria firmly put aside various fantasies concerning Draco and the almost-kiss, and the dream life together she'd already thought up for them—she'd named their children, she was that thorough—and focused on the situation at hand.

This wasn't about Draco, after all, or anyone else. It was about her.

She'd known she didn't love Ernie when she accepted his proposal, but he was handsome and brave and rich and a hero of the Battle of Hogwarts, and anyway, she hadn't thought it would matter so much.

Now she knew it did matter. She couldn't marry Ernie under false pretences like this—it was either come clean about her true feelings, or break it off and suffer whatever retribution the press and her family chose to subject her to.

Still, a part of her argued, it would be simpler just to marry Ernie, wouldn't it? You know nothing about Draco, not really, and how likely is it that whatever happens between the two of you will be worth losing the support of your family, your society…remember what Mother said about not losing any more standing at this juncture…you have no money, and no marketable skills: if you don't marry Ernie, you'll be destitute. Beauty isn't everything…

On the other hand, it would be wrong to marry Ernie knowing that she didn't love him, that she was in love with D—someone else.

It was time to stop being merely a decoration.

---

She gave Ernie back his ring. He stomped around and yelled at her for a while, but she didn't listen. She was indulging in another fantasy. This time, she and Draco were living in an-honest-to-goodness castle, complete with turrets and a spacious painting studio for her.

After Ernie left, the fantasy collapsed and she realized, for the first time, that she had no practical plan for the future. No job, no money, now no fiancée.

She spent the next several days moping in her room, not bothering to get dressed, and eating dessert for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

---

It figured, Astoria thought later, that Draco would come to see her after she hadn't showered or exercised in a week, and she was wearing an old Quidditch t-shirt Daphne had won in another lifetime, at the annual Tanith Darnell Memorial Club for Witches of Quality picnic.

He was immaculately dressed, of course.

He looked at her, and she looked at him, and then he held out the ring.

She gasped involuntarily, because it was just so beautiful and perfect—blue sapphires offset by tiny, tiny diamonds—and then she remembered. She gestured around at her room and her outfit fatalistically—as if to say, see? This is the wreck of my life!

Then he drew her into his arms and kissed her, and she was engulfed in sensation—forgetting restraint, her fingers curled around his coat, crushing the fabric—she'd never been kissed like this, never

--and he pulled away and knelt before her, holding out the ring again, and she thought, to hell with society's expectations, and so-called family duty—

She held out her hand, he slid the ring onto her finger and stood, and she curled her fingers around the ring, feeling the weight of it, and how right it felt against her skin—

At last, she was doing something for herself, and it felt good. She was free. Free to be her own person, free to be with the man she loved—and wasn't that what everything was all about?

She knew Daphne and her parents were going to hate this—maybe they would scream at her, or maybe they just wouldn't speak to her for a while, and they certainly weren't going to pay for the wedding—but she didn't care. She was tired of being just beautiful.

Draco stood there, smirking at her adorably, and she grinned back. Henceforth, Astoria Tamara Greengrass, soon-to-be-Malfoy, was nobody's doll.

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Note: loosely inspired by Lady Altair's Chase This Light, only from Astoria's point of view.

I spell it Astoria because the name sounds like 'story' and because it's the feminine form of 'Astor' which means hawk. I think it's time the Malfoys moved away from the 'star' thing.