So this Astoria is far different than others I've done, but I hope you like her anyway. She's one of my favorite characters, and she's never even mentioned in the books, so I'm a bit miffed about that, but that gives me the chance to play around with her character. ^^
If you spot any inconsistencies or typos, please point them out to me, and I'd be more than happy to fix them. As of yet I have no beta, and since I posted this at one in the morning, I wasn't lucid enough to make my own corrections. Thanks for your help!
DISCLAIMER: I do not own any aspect of the Harry Potter franchise. Please do not sue me.
by Shu of the Wind
Later on, Draco Malfoy realized the first time he noticed Astoria Greengrass – really noticed her, instead of exchanging casual greetings in the common room or recognizing her out of the corner of his eye while Pansy chatted with Daphne – was over the Christmas holidays of his seventh year.
He had been lying on his four poster bed, staring up at the stone ceiling as the screams of a student crept through the cracks in the walls, teasingly faint but somehow keeping him awake. Crabbe and Goyle weren't there; they were with Alecto Carrow, trying their hand at a new kind of detention for a new kind of Deputy Headmistress. The shrieks, the begging for mercy, the egging-on of Alecto: he could hear all of it, despite the fact that these damn stone walls were supposed to block out those sorts of noises.
Gritting his teeth, Draco rolled onto his side, turning his back to the dungeon where the chains clattered against the walls, and wished he could block out the sound without smashing a pillow over his skull. Doing something like that would not only be childish, it would be next to pointless; he'd always had good hearing, and screams seemed to worm their way into his ears like nothing else. He didn't even know if he was imagining them or not anymore.
The screams paused, then began again in earnest. Seconds later, they dwindled down to nothing, and the door to the detention dungeon opened and slammed. Crabbe and Goyle would be returning soon.
Draco sat up slowly, automatically running a hand through his pale blonde hair, before standing and beginning to pace. He'd fallen back onto the bed hours ago, without even changing clothes, and most definitely not planning on falling asleep. He'd dozed anyway, dreaming wild, half-real nightmares about things he would rather forget. It was past midnight, he knew that much; Theodore and Blaise were asleep, unaware of what was going on only a few dungeons over.
Something clattered in the common room. Draco paused by the door to the dormitories; he'd meant to just wait until morning, unable to sleep any longer, but someone was out there; someone was awake and thinking, just like he was, and it wasn't Crabbe or Goyle. They would be going to the office with Alecto; none of the other Slytherins should be awake.
It was the work of the moment to leave the room and slide through the shadows to survey the common room. Only a single figure was silhouetted against the firelight: a lanky, long haired fifth-year girl whose profile looked vaguely familiar.
He must have made a noise; two books fell from her arms as she yanked a wand from her sleeve, pointing it straight at his face. The firelight was preventing him from identifying her, though from her profile he was sure he'd seen her somewhere before.
"You." Her voice was husky with hatred, breaking from sadness; with a shock, Draco realized she'd been crying. Was still crying, from the way she was mangling words. "What are you doing here? Don't you go home for Christmas?
Draco edged over slightly, trying to find someplace where he could see her face, but a shadow was cast over it. Finally, he jerked his head noncommittally. "Why are you still awake?"
She said nothing, but the way she started to turn towards the door and suddenly stopped herself said everything. He couldn't stop himself from saying it.
"You listen to them."
"Yes." She wiped her cheeks with the sleeve of her cloak. "You do too, I know you do." Her words were filled with malice, hatred, disgust. There was a slight pause; then, trembling with fury: "I don't come out here when you're listening."
There. He'd finally moved enough for the firelight to throw her face into sharp relief. The pale skin of her face and neck was flushed crab red from her tears and her fury; her long, strawberry-blonde hair was tied back. Her eyes, a sort of grayish blue, were narrowed dangerously, the lashes still dusted with teardrops. The amount of dislike in them made him start, and he quickly looked away, slightly repulsed by the amount of loathing there, not to mention that she was out here crying for a blood traitor.
She moved fast, he had to give her that. One moment she was standing in front of the fire; the next, she was far too close, and the carved tip of her wand was digging into the side of his neck, against the pulse that beat there.
"What gives you the right to listen to them?" She whispered, too softly to be calm; the tip of the wand dug deeper. "What gives you the right to feel pity for them when it's your fault the Carrows are here in the first place?" Another pause; then a twist of revulsion enhanced the hate on her face. "Or are you like them? Does the pain of others give you pleasure, Malfoy?"
"No." Draco stared over her head, eyes flickering around the room rather than meet the accusing gaze of this insolent witch who was unknowingly swimming into far more dangerous waters than she knew, because she was too caught up in her own anger to notice anything else. "It does not."
"Then do you deny that this is your fault?" She laughed, a bitter, mirthless sound. For some reason, a vague memory that she never laughed was prodding at him; trying to catch that memory, knowing that her name was in it, he replied automatically for the second time that night.
"Then, pray." The girl stepped back, jerking her wand away as she bowed; with a flick of the wrist, a shower of yellow and green sparks spilled from the end of her wand to burst like fireworks against the flagged-stone floor. He studied the starbursts of soot against the stone instead of looking at her; it was far easier. "Enlighten me, Malfoy. What gives you the right to listen to them?"
He bristled; he couldn't help it. She had spoken his family name as though it was something dead and disgusting she had run into while walking through a dump; as though it was something unworthy of her notice unless it was being forced into her face; something she would not even think about because she despised it and everything it stood for. He had never imagined that a Slytherin would talk about his family that way, and he stood in silence for a long moment, throwing that around in his mind for a few seconds before the question sank through.
Why should I tell her that? Draco thought furiously, clenching a fist; it was hidden by the folds of his cloak. How dare she think that I would explain myself to her when she's out here listening and sobbing at the scream of blood traitors! Memory flickered. She's the one who always pukes her guts out after her turn to do the detentions. The traitor.
But you were listening, too, whispered a niggling voice at the back of his mind. Draco scowled; instead of answering, he turned, staring at the flames as he thought.
What would be the point of explaining himself? She obviously despised him, just as the rest of the school did. There was no benefit to him to justify his reasons to someone who hated him, especially to this nosy, naïve, snotty child who had no idea what it meant to be threatened with her parents' lives if she failed.
The Dark Mark on his arm seemed to burn at the thought, and he would have covered it with his hand if that wouldn't have betrayed his thoughts. The girl was still staring at him, her wand upraised, eyes accusing and disdainful with a trace of curiosity mixed in.
It was the eyes that did it. Those eyes and the sudden, traitorous realization that she was waiting, a triumphant wait, because she knew he wouldn't answer her question and that would cement every mistruth she had ever heard about him, everything she had ever guessed about what had happened in the Astronomy Tower. That simple, waiting look, sparked a thought – what would happen if he told her? It would wipe the smirk off her face, that insufferable look that, if he'd seen it at the beginning of last year, he would have docked points for it; the look he'd seen on the face of almost every student, Gryffindors and Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs alike, the one that screamed that they thought him to be, knew him to be, a coward.
For an instant, he was reminded of Snape during their flight from Hogwarts the previous year, and that was what decided him. He would see the effect his words had on this slip of a witch, and imagine that look on the faces of all those he despised – and those who despised him in return.
She had just begun to turn away when he spoke, watching, waiting for the horror to steal over her face at his answer.
"He would have killed them." His voice still went hoarse when he talked about it; he cursed himself inwardly. "If I hadn't done it, he would have killed them – or had them killed."
All the color bled from the fifth-year's face as she lowered her wand, tripping backwards onto the couch. The thrill of victory sped through him – there's one of them convinced, one hateful face to forget – but that emotion flared and died as tears filled the girl's eyes again. She didn't even seem to notice them as they threaded down her cheeks, backed silver by the firelight. In that instant, he snatched her name out of thin air. Or, at least, what he thought was her name.
"You're Daphne Greengrass' sister." Draco said, narrowing his eyes to study her more closely. "Astraea."
"Astoria." She corrected sharply, without looking at him. It sounded like he'd touched a nerve. "Yes. That's me." She laughed bitterly. "Daphne Greengrass' sister."
She didn't look or sound anything like a Greengrass, not in the way she carried herself or in the way she spoke. The Greengrass women had been famed for their green eyes, their superb bearing, their black hair. This girl was too tall, too fair, too clumsy; the air around her seemed to be frozen rock hard, simultaneously crystal clear and foggy, like a warped mixture of opals and diamonds compared to the peridots and obsidian of her older sister. Not strong enough, or sly enough, or pretty enough – though he supposed that strangely exotic, angular face and low voice had their own, albeit rough, appeal.
For someone else, perhaps.
Draco straightened, slightly startled by the look on her face – not the pity, he ignored the pity, but the sudden gleam of fear in her eyes. He'd seen an expression like that only once before. For a second, he couldn't understand it; then he remembered: the last time he had seen that look, it had not been on a girl: it had been in a dark room, hidden deep in the eyes of a huge blonde man, writhing on the floor –
He closed his eyes for a moment, throwing the memory forcibly from his head. Bellatrix Lestrange might not have done many good things for him as an aunt, but teachign him Occlumency had been one of them. Might have been the only one.
Draco opened his eyes again, staring at the girl. She had her hands clasped in her lap, the tears already drying on her face. Her wand was up her sleeve again as she struggled to keep her breathing under control. That look was still there; her eyes were closed, but he could see it in her too-pale skin. It wasn't just fear that had shut her up. It was absolute terror.
Of him? No, she'd just threatened him with her wand, she certainly wasn't scared of him. Perhaps of what he'd said.
He couldn't explain it, but he couldn't leave. Crabbe and Goyle would be back any minute, he knew that perfectly well; if he wasn't at least pretending to be asleep in the dormitory before that time then he would most likely be dragged into a conversation with a Carrow, which, despite their so-called "bond," thanks to what he had become, was something he wanted to avoid.
Hesitantly – she seemed to have calmed down a bit, but one never knew with women – Draco moved towards the other couch and perched on the edge. He hadn't meant to; he'd meant to turn around and stalk straight back into the dormitory, but his feet had had a different idea, and now he was stuck here.
"Here to laugh at the stupid fifth-year, are you?" She snapped, without opening her eyes. "Shove off, Malfoy. I don't need your pity."
He was definitely going to take revenge on his feet for this.
"Pity's the last thing I'd think about applying to you, Greengrass." He said snidely.
"What, you going to kill me now that you've told me your big important secret?" Her eyes popped open, so calm they was unsettling. Her hands, however, were trembling. "Fine. Go ahead. Draw your wand on an innocent, Malfoy. It's what I would expect of you."
That was the third time he'd slipped up, let words slide out his mouth without thinking about it. It was like he couldn't control anything anymore.
It was this girl. She'd caught him off guard, somehow, forcing him to say things he didn't mean to. He would have to deal with this.
"Of course I am." Greengrass replied, without even flinching. Her eyes were boring into his face in a way that he did not like at all. There was no less loathing in that face, but it was different, somehow; calculating. It was like somewhere inside her diabolical little mind, a critical opinion was being edited, a new piece of information being added to a collage. "Aren't you?"
He couldn't answer. Greengrass sighed, swiped the tears away from her eyes with her fingertips, and stood, collecting her things and walked slowly and deliberately towards the dormitories. She was leaving her back completely open to someone she'd threatened only a few minutes before, but she didn't seem to care, and it was that nonchalance – or that deeply-set grief – that sparked the fourth and final episode of loss-of-mouth-control:
"Why do you listen?"
Greengrass turned. One pale eyebrow arched, disappearing under her long bangs as her eyes widened the slightest bit. Her smile was hostile, cynical.
"You really want to know?" She asked, cocking her head slightly to one side. "Are you sure you're asking the right question here, Malfoy? Shouldn't it be, 'Are you completely mental, Greengrass?' or maybe, 'What curse do you want to die by?'"
Draco said nothing. He simply looked at her. Finally, Greengrass tilted her head back, looking down her nose at him in such a way that he wanted to strangle her; she had perfected the art of McGonagall's darkest looks, and added a tang of superiority and hatred that settled uneasily in his gut. Thankfully, he managed to regain control over that particular emotion before it escaped his clutches; as delighted as the Carrows would be to learn that he'd strangled someone, dealing with the repercussions was not on his list of things to do.
"It's guilt that's bringing you out here, Malfoy. You can't deny it. That's why you listen. You might feel guilt. You should feel guilt. What you did was unspeakable and I can honestly say I despise you for it." Her eyes were burning in her pale face again, spitting hate. "I never groveled at your feet before what happened last year, and I'm certainly not going to do so now. I don't care what you and your gaggle of admirers think of me. I listen to those people so that when this war is over – if it's ever over, if it ever changes from the way it is now – I won't ever forget what a tyrant does to those who refuse to follow his commands." She jerked her head in a challenge. "Can you say honestly that you feel the same way?"
Then the door clicked shut, leaving Draco Malfoy to stare into the fire, the words echoing over and over again in his mind. When Crabbe and Goyle returned to the common room, he was back in the dormitory, pretending to be asleep, still thinking.
It was nearly dawn before he realized three things.
The first was that somehow, some way, she'd bested him in a subtle, barely defined argument. Frankly, he suspected she didn't even realize there had been an argument, but there had been one and he had lost and that rankled.
The second was that in order to best her, to prove her victory had merely been a fluke, he would have to talk to her again, and frankly, he despised that idea almost as much as she seemed to despise him. He could think of a whole host of things he would rather be doing, rather than satisfying his own pride about winning an argument his opponent wasn't even aware of.
And the third was the deep, unerring sense that an important door somewhere had just been opened, and he had stepped through it. Reluctantly, unwillingly, practically had been dragged to the doorstep and shoved through, but he had gone, and now it was shut behind him, and there was no going back.
While he wasn't certain what that meant, exactly, those three things combined to create only one conclusion.
This meeting with Astoria Greengrass was not something that he could forget.
So that's it. It's super late now, and I have so much stuff to do tomorrow it's not even funny.
I've also gonet through it and changed some things, so if you noticed some differences, that's why. I was half-asleep when I first posted this, and it feels like every time I glance over it, I find a new typo/inconsistency that I have to fix. Thanks for tolerating my perfectionisim. ^^
Cookies to those who review! If I get enough, I might make this into a one-shot trio. Depends on how I feel about it.