Pairing:Harry/Astoria, Draco/Astoria, some Harry/Luna
Warnings:language, mentions of prostitution and infidelity, possible character death, ambiguous ending
Lyricsfrom The Band Perry's "If I Die Young"
Excerpt from SirOrfeo, a Middle English Verse Romance
Twelfth in the Enchantment Series
Background: AU. ChamberofSecrets never happened because Lucius Malfoy never slipped the diary into Ginny Weasley's books. Instead, it remained in his library, half forgotten. Voldemort gained a body, as per canon, in GobletofFire, and believed that this Horcrux was as safe as any of the others …
The Beginning …
"And I'll be wearing white when I come into your kingdom, I'm as green as the ring on my little cold finger."
The newspaper lay open across the coffee table, half discarded most likely in disgust. Astoria glanced at it briefly as she lounged across the chaiselounge, a cup of tea halfway to her lips. Draco was off somewhere again, per usual. He really was the worst host. She honestly wasn't quite certain why he bothered to have them over. He and Daphne were always at each other's throats for one reason or another—so there appeared to be no purpose to the invitations, especially as it seemed he didn't even invite the Parkinson girl over, who was his official girlfriend. The entire scenario reeked of some sort of Slytherin plot that Astoria, as a Ravenclaw, had no interest in uncovering.
The two had left her all alone again and now all she had to amuse herself was a tossed away copy of that morning's DailyProphet. She looked at it, the face of the handsome yet battle-weary wizard on the cover being a familiar sight. Even if she hadn't gone to Hogwarts and seen Potter about the halls in between classes and in the Great Hall for meals, she would know his face as well as her own given the recent media coverage attached to him. It turned out that he and a group of his vigilante friends—the gods knew what Lovegood was thinking, going along with the Gryffindors' half-baked scheme to break into the Ministry of Magic in the middle of the night; Lovegood was a Ravenclaw, no matter how peculiar, and should have looked at the situation reasonably before throwing herself into it head first—had gone and thwarted one of He Who Must Not Be Named's plans, and Potter was now revealed to be The Chosen One of prophecy.
Astoria sighed as she visually took in the high, chiseled Pureblood cheekbones that even Potter's Muggleborn mother could not breed out of him. Blood will out, they always said. Clearly it did in Potter's case and his strange, bright green Muggle eyes just made the rest of his innate (though untrained) Pureblood presence all the more intriguing. He would never look at her, though, she knew. As a Ravenclaw, she refused to deceive herself. Potter collected strays—Mudbloods, blood-traitors, downtrodden purebloods (just look at that Longbottom fellow who was afraid of his own shadow and, well, there was Lovegood). She would never fit into that, and she refused to play the damsel in distress as it was rumored the Weaslette did.
Still, Astoria could wonder, she could dream—but only for a little while longer. She was getting too old for fairy stories at nearly fifteen, for princes to come riding up on their white steeds. All she had to look forward to, in the very near future, was Draco and Daphne bickering—again. If she strained her ears, she could even hear them now.
Sighing, she carefully put her teacup and saucer down on the coffee table, unconsciously covering up the article while leaving the moving picture of Potter undisturbed. The printed eyes unfocused from the flashing cameras momentarily and locked with her gaze, sending a shiver down her spine. There was such life in Potter's eyes that were normally so dead, startled at the never ending flash of lights that could be seen reflected back to the reader.
"Oh, Harry," escaped her lips, just a whisper on half a breath—and the moment was past, the printed image resuming its saddened listless gaze toward the unseen reporters.
Astoria shook herself mentally, trying to convince herself it had only been in her mind.
"Then you shouldn't have asked us here—again!" Daphne's angry voice filtered into the room, causing Astoria to look up toward the door. "This is absolutely ridiculous. You can't stand me when we're at school—why would you want me here?"
An excellent question, Astoria thought, as she moved away from the door, toward the only other exit that led somewhere else in the great manor.
"Greengrass," Draco drawled as the footsteps came closer. "I did not just invite you. Figure it out—"
And then Astoria was through the door, slipping through without even touching the handle. It was odd that it was left half open like that, especially as she would not have noticed it if she had not been casting her eyes about for a means of escape. Flitting down the corridor, the voices of her sister and her housemate receded until finally all Astoria could hear was the whisper of her pale blue houserobe against the polished floor.
Her hand trailing against the corridor wall, she got lost along the hallways, having never been to this part of the manor. She assumed it must have been part of the private family corridors, but her stubborn spirit refused to turn back and Astoria found herself getting more and more lost until finally, she found a door and slipped into a room. Looking about, she took in the masculine feel to the small library. A single armchair rested near the fire, a decanter of a dark red liquid placed beside it. A sanctuary of the Lord Malfoy, then, perhaps—not that it mattered. She shouldn't be there regardless, and yet Astoria felt the compulsion to stay, to look at the books on the many shelves, and she found herself studying them, her fingers resting against spines as she squinted to see past the dust or read the faded characters.
Still, Astoria felt a call, something whispering almost in the back of her mind and, as if under some enchantment, she moved to the end of the shelf to find a small, nondescript black book beneath her fingertips. Taking it out, she flipped open the cover to see only a few words written in faded ink standing out proudly for any to read—TheDiaryofT.M.R.
A noise from the corridor brought her back to her senses, as if from a dream, and without realizing it, she slipped the diary into her pocket, flitting back to the door before slipping out of the abandoned library, in search of her sister and their host.
"I've never known the loving of man, but it sure felt nice when he was holding my hand."
Harry opened his eyes, taking in the sight of the strange grafted tree in front of him and although he was sleeping he somehow knew, in the back of his mind, that he'd dreamed this dream before somehow.
The air was full of magic, tangible, flitting, electric almost. It was almost a shock to his system. Yes, he'd spent five years in the wizarding world and magic was wondrous, magic was everything—and yet the magic of his waking hours almost seemed tame, passive, timid compared to this raw feast of the senses, making him want to come back for more, to go to bed earlier every night, just so he could experience this strange, haunting place, that he knew had to be more than just his unconscious mind—it had to be real, surely, otherwise he thought his heart might break.
This strange glade, no matter the sinister wind that sometimes ripped through it or the lost girl he sometimes saw resting beneath the tree, was his only comfort after Sirius's death. Whenever he awoke here in his dreams, he knew that he couldn't turn his back on magic, on the war, on Dumbledore and the Order and the fight against Voldemort—not when something so beautiful yet so strange and sinister had the possibility of existing. This was what magic should be about, this raw energy that he could feel humming through the air, not Expeliarmus and counting how many times to stir counter-clockwise.
Was this what magic was like before it became so formalized, so full of rules and restrictions?
He breathed in the air and felt it slither down his throat, comforting him, welcoming him to this foreign glade. A large tree stood imperiously in front of him, gnarled and ancient. The trunk was solid maple, but the lower branch, now strong and old, had clearly been stripped in half, another branch of willow tied onto it until the two pieces began to nourish each other, growing into this almost monstrous arm, reminding Harry almost of Frankenstein's monster. Another branch had similarly been hacked through and grafted with cherry blossom, a third with birch, a fourth with pine, to create this beautiful, magical tree that somehow frightened and comforted him at the same time.
It was a tree of dreams, of possibilities, of the ancient magics that Harry now feared had been lost after the Founders built Hogwarts.
Where had it gone? Had the Statute of Secrecy stifled magic so much that it forgot such ancient wisdom and power? Or had it been dark lords like Voldemort who had smothered it until all that was left was this dualism of good and bad—light and dark—simple and treacherous?
"No." The word was soft, so much so that at first Harry thought it was the wind, until a glimpse of gossamer caught his eye.
"It's you," he breathed out, a smile playing on his lips, as the sight of a young girl about his age revealed itself from behind the tree. He knew her, he realized, his sluggish, sleeping mind slowly making connections as he took in her form. She was petite, gold gossamer flowing about her like a loose dressing gown worn to bed, a calve showing as she moved about, her feet bare when she walked through the grass. Expressive brown eyes shone out of her face and her strawberry blonde curls fell to the middle of her back, unbrushed yet enticing, making her seem a creature purely of magic and more than simply human.
The girl smiled at him sadly, and nodded once, showing she'd heard him. Her hand rested against the trunk of the tree as if she drew strength from it, and then she looked at him, her dark eyes searching for some answer he couldn't quite comprehend.
Carefully, as if afraid to frighten her, he moved forward, the magic in the air crackling about him. What was she, really? Not a Veela, that much was certain, given her brown eyes and golden-red hair that really defied description. She seemed familiar almost, as if he had seen her from the corner of his eye, but he knew that he wouldn't be able to forget the upturn of her nose, the rose petal softness of her lips, the arch of her neck, her elegant and almost too long fingers that were covered in—
"Have you been writing?" Harry asked cautiously, coming up beside the tree as he looked down at her. The girl had settled herself in the roots of the tree when Harry was observing her, and her eyes flashed upwards in confusion before she looked down at her left hand, which was almost black with ink stains.
"I think I must have been, before I went to bed," she sighed, her lips unmoving and yet the words, the knowledge hung between them. The magic seemed to pull them from her throat, giving them voice so that Harry could understand the sad and confused look in her half-lowered eyes. The stained fingers settled on the tree and for a moment it changed so that Harry thought that instead of seeing the grafted tree he was somehow looking at hurried words flying across a page in the shape of the great trunk before, once again, the vision of the grafted tree appeared before him.
He swallowed, afraid and yet entranced, as he looked at the great tree that sheltered them, holding them prisoner within this world of magic.
"What's it called?" Harry heard himself asking although the thought hadn't crossed his mind and no words had been spoken.
The wind sighed in place of the girl and it wrapped itself around Harry in tentative affection and a sense of longing that surprised him. He looked away from the tree to see the girl's brown eyes glistening with tears, as if the wind's emotions were her own. Tentatively, he reached out toward her, wishing to give her comfort, but she was just beyond his reach although he could see her individual eyelashes, so close were they to one another.
"An Ympe Tree," she answered quietly, her stained hand fluttering against her cheek as if to wipe away the tears that had yet to fall. "A tree of Fairy, of enchantment, and the darkest of magic."
And then, with a deep breath, the vision faded and Harry found himself blinking, waking up in a bright orange room that he knew to be Ron's and wondering, once again, if it had only been a dream or something more—something real—something perfect.
The Diary …
"There's a boy here in town who says he'll love me forever, Who would have thought forever could be severed?"
It was a strange, small, insignificant black book, but whenever anyone would come into the room, Astoria found herself slipping it beneath parchments of homework assignments or stuffing it under her pillow or behind her desk. She didn't know why, but somehow she felt that no one should see it, should find it, should take it. Whenever she wrote in it, her words disappeared as if they had never been on the page, but still she found herself drawn to the book again and again, sometimes jotting down poetry, other times remarking on articles she read in the DailyProphet. Often she would complain about Draco and Daphne, bickering all the time, or even Parkinson when she found out just how often the Greengrass sisters were invited to Malfoy Manor.
"What, am I not good enough to warrant a visit during the summer? Does Lady Malfoy find me unsuitable for her son?" Parkinson had screamed at Daphne one lazy Tuesday afternoon when she had been visiting and an owl from Malfoy Manor had unfortunately arrived. "Does she think you are suitable? Is it because I'm a brunette?"
Astoria had only rolled her eyes at the comment. It might be true that both Lord and Lady Malfoy had blond hair, but it did not necessarily follow that this was a trend in the Malfoy line. Although she had seen very little of Draco's parents' interactions, she could say this—they held a mutual respect for one another and appeared to be a very loving family. She doubted Lord Malfoy would have never thought of marrying Lady Malfoy if she had followed her sisters in the typical Black coloring. Malfoys tended to get what they wanted, and Draco Malfoy seemed to be no different. What exactly Draco wanted was a mystery, but she didn't care enough to put any effort into figuring it out.
Still, she would mention her frustration at the entire situation whenever she wrote in the diary. Astoria would much rather be left alone for the summer, to study what was forbidden at Hogwarts, specifically legends about the Fairy King and his court.
At least visiting Malfoy Manor had been helpful in some small way. When Draco and Daphne were busy bickering or left her to her own devices—why was she invited when she spent most of the time attempting to amuse herself or having Draco staring at her for some unknown reason, as if he were displeased with her in some way?—she would slip into the library and peruse the books. The house elves must have noticed her presence, as now there was always a warm fire welcoming her, as the room was cool despite it being summer.
She had come across a Middle English tale of the Fairy King whisking away a mortal queen as she slept underneath an Ympe Tree, and later that night she had found herself unconsciously drawing the scene in the diary, and drew herself sleeping beneath the grafted branches. Astoria was startled when she was finished and realized what she had done and, thinking nothing more of it, had put the book away for the night.
That is when the dreams had begun, strangely enough, and she would fall asleep only to find herself waking beneath a grafted tree, often alone but sometimes with the company of a dark presence she could not quite see or comprehend. No matter how much sleep she got, she never found rest within these dreams, as if they drained her of her life, and she began to wish, to hope that someone would come and help her, save her from these strange nightmares that plagued her in the night.
Still, all she had to look forward to during her exhaustion filled days was a cup of tea in a quiet corner of Malfoy Manor. Whenever an invitation would arrive, she would beg her mother not to make her go ("What could Draco Malfoy possibly say to me? He has barely spoken a word to me except in greeting or farewell"), but her parents would only share a knowing look and that would be the end of it.
The library at least was a consolation to her and every day that passed brought her closer to September, closer to beginning her fourth year at Hogwarts, closer to Potter, who still didn't know she existed, and probably never would. She was an insignificant (in his eyes) pureblooded Ravenclaw, who while not a blood purist in the extreme sense, still thought that blood and tradition was important. The only reason she hadn't ended up in Slytherin was because she wasn't cunning or sly, preferring instead to never seek greatness as it would be too much of a bother to put up with. She'd much rather stay at home with her books and learn, keeping the secrets of old books where they were meant to be, not a cause for her to be universally celebrated. Daphne, for all that Astoria loved her sister, had the ambition but nothing to drive her, no natural talent for anything apart from getting on everyone's nerves—Draco and Astoria included.
Astoria sighed. She supposed that was one thing both she and Draco Malfoy had in common. Why he would place all three of them in a position where this would be obvious was another matter entirely. Sometimes she wondered if he secretly fancied Daphne, but he ignored her completely whenever politeness permitted him to do so. For all the tales of his boasting, he didn't appear to speak except when Daphne forced him into some insignificant argument, which Astoria would forget the details of within a fortnight.
The diary lay open on her desk, calling to her, and without knowing why she found a quill and dunked it into purple ink. Without a thought, she opened up the first page which, as always, was blank. Words fell away from her and she hoped that tonight, at least, she would find rest in her sleep, or at least a friendly face to help keep the misery of the dreams away.
Just Harry …
"So put on your best boys and I'll wear my pearls."
Harry sat on the train, almost completely ignoring his friends as he poured over the strange book he had found in Knockturn Alley the week before. He, Ron and Hermione had followed Malfoy toward Borgin and Burkes but afterwards—afterwards—
Harry really couldn't explain it. He'd remained when both Ron and Hermione had drifted back toward Diagon Alley, hiding in shadows until Malfoy and the Death Eaters had left Borgin and Burkes and had slipped inside the store, looking about, wondering what exactly had drawn him there. The proprietor had looked at him with strange, large eyes, which flicked up to the scar not quite hidden beneath his fringe.
"What can I do for you, Lord Potter?" he'd asked, his voice raspy and dusty, just like the junk in his shop.
Harry had visibly startled at the strange form of address, but hadn't commented on it. Lord Potter—it was something to look up later—perhaps this shop would have something … ?
No, he'd thought. No, not here. Flourish and Blotts. He was here for a different reason.
The flitting memory of a recurring dream, of a girl with strawberry blonde curls beneath the strange grafted tree, sometimes sleeping peacefully, otherwise awake and looking as if her worst nightmares were haunting her. He had opened his mouth as if to speak of her, but he found that he couldn't—that he wouldn't—
She was too dear to him, somehow in the dream, almost as if she were the dreamer and calling him to her, for some reason he couldn't quite fathom. His eyes had flickered over to the books, and the proprietor's eyes had widened in partial enlightenment.
"Ah, I see, Lord Potter," he'd murmured, licking his lips grotesquely. "Perhaps I can be of some assistance. The titles you see before you are those that are generally of well-repute, though we of course have others in the back or, even, if you are searching for something in particular …"
Harry had only glanced at the man, at his strange velvet robes that were immaculate unlike the rest of the store. He had understood the proprietor's meaning well enough. Other books could be gotten if Harry had so desired, most likely because of the fact that he was somehow 'Lord Potter.' He had shivered at the thought, despite himself—a half forgotten conversation with Sirius coming back to his mind sluggishly, but there would be more time to think on that later, to try and understand this half-knowing feeling.
Clearing his throat, his eyes had turned back to the books. "I'm after information on a tree—a type of tree," he had elaborated as soon as he realized that without asking for what he needed to know, he probably would never find the information he was seeking. He could always go to the library and research as intensely as Hermione often did, but he had a feeling that the tree, in all of its grotesque wonder, was hardly a light subject or one for children.
"A tree?" the man—Borgin or Burke, Harry had not been certain, but he was most probably one of them.
"I dream of it. It's full of dark magic and it's unlike any tree…" his voice trailed off in frustration, before he had discovered that he was describing the feeling in the air, the strange branches from other trees, the magic that was so electric that anything he had learned before at Hogwarts just paled in comparison.
"An Ympe Tree," the wizard had sighed at long last, bustling forward toward the back room. "One moment, Lord Potter."
And he had brought back this book—manuscript really—that now rested on Harry's lap on the Hogwarts Express.
"An old, half forgotten magic," the proprietor had whispered. "No one has written of it since the Middle Ages, I'm afraid, and no studies were made of it, not really. Of course, private libraries would have more information, but such information is guarded so religiously—if you forgive the Muggle euphemism, my Lord."
Harry had only shrugged, accepting the manuscript and opening it to see in beautiful faded letters the title of SirOrfeo.
"This is all we have at present but, with your Lord's permission, if you wish for me to be on the look out…?"
Harry must have nodded and, after a great deal of money had passed hands, Harry had walked out of Borgin and Burkes with the manuscript and an old primer that taught young wizards how to read Middle English and Anglo-Saxon, which Harry had realized he would need as soon as he tried to read the first few lines.
We redeth oft and findeth y-write,
And this clerkes wele it wite,
Layes that ben in harping
Ben y-founde of ferli thing:
Sum bethe of wer and sum of wo,
And sum of joie and mirthe also,
And sum of trecherie and of gile,
Of old aventours that fel while;
And sum of bourdes and ribaudy,
And mani ther beth of fairy.
And this clerkes wele it wite,
Layes that ben in harping
Ben y-founde of ferli thing:
Sum bethe of wer and sum of wo,
And sum of joie and mirthe also,
And sum of trecherie and of gile,
Of old aventours that fel while;
And sum of bourdes and ribaudy,
And mani ther beth of fairy.
Fairy—that was his possible answer for the strange, unearthly, beautiful girl who sometimes slept beneath the Ympe Tree. It was painstaking work, trying to read the entire manuscript, but Harry had studied it in all of his free moments since that strange afternoon in Diagon Alley, and he couldn't decide whether the girl was a mortal like Heurodis who was trapped in between waking and sleeping, called to the fairy world where she would be trapped in the state of a continual death, or the one calling him toward such a fate.
He sighed, wondering and not knowing. He hadn't dreamt of the strange, magical tree or the ethereal girl since that last time, but he knew he would again soon and then he would ask, ask her what—
"Harry," Ron whined, drawing Harry's attention from the book in his lap. "Come on, mate. Hermione and I only have half an hour left before our next patrol, and you're reading a ruddy book."
"Ronald," Hermione sighed, closing her own large book that had been on her lap. "Let Harry study. At least he understands the important of N.E.W.T.s and how we must begin to study immediately."
Of course, Harry thought mentally. Hermione and her obsession with N.E.W.T.s. He'd thought that there might be some form of reprieve after the insanity of O.W.L.s, but apparently not. Life sometimes was a little too cruel, he decided, a half-smirk tugging at the corner of his lips, as he ignored his bickering friends and turned back to the manuscript, his fingers lightly tracing an illumination on a page, showing a horrible tree that was similar to the one he dreamed about.
No, he decided as his eyes skimmed back to the figure of Queen Heurodis sleeping beneath the fairy branches. The girl in the wisps of gossamer could not possibly be the Fairy King or one of his minions, come to trap him, as she sometimes slept beneath the tree herself. She must be between the two worlds, the mortal and the fairy which Harry, with every passing day, was beginning to believe actually existed with more and more certainty. He'd have to write to Borgin and Burkes and request any information they might have on the Fairy King, any sightings had of him, any legends, stories—the fairy world he ruled over.
Why didn't they learn about such strange possibilities at Hogwarts? Harry idly wondered, only looking up when Luna came into the compartment and offered him a strange, half-knowing smile. She'd gone off briefly somewhere to look for something, but he had been immersed in his reading then, and so had only nodded his head in recognition of her leaving.
The information he learned from his book was certainly dark—darker than anything truly human, darker than Voldemort and his cruel magic although so very different. It was inherently dark, cleansed in shadows, calling, seductive, but not necessarily malicious or meant to be harmful. No, that came later, with the presence of the Fairy King who would whisk away mortals at the very moments of their deaths, preserving them in their misery far away in his fairy castle in a realm that was like humanity's and yet so different. Harry only wished he could understand it more.
"Where did he even get the blasted thing from?" Ron's annoyed voice asked, once again pulling him from his musings. "That's not a normal book. It's too old. It doesn't even have a binding like all of your dictionaries do, Hermione."
Attention fell on Harry again, and he blushed a little, closing his manuscript carefully and pulling out the bag that he kept it in to keep it protected. Although it was a magical manuscript and had many mystical protections on it, SirOrfeo was not invulnerable.
"Where did you pick it up, Harry?" Hermione asked, leaning over to try to read the cover, which was blank except for the depiction of a grafted tree in faded ink. "Flourish and Blotts?"
"Hmm," Harry hummed, hoping that she would take it as confirmation, and when Hermione looked away, he knew that she had.
"Yeah, what was up with that, mate? Getting all those books on Lordships and what-not and wizard politics?"
"Just curious," Harry responded, shrugging. He'd packed those books away in his trunk and hadn't really gotten them out yet, as he'd been too caught up with trying to learn as much as he could about the Ympe Tree. "Someone said something, so I thought I'd look it up."
"As bad as Hermione," Ron griped, but fortunately that seemed to be an end to the conversation. Harry began to relax, accepting Neville's offer to a game of exploding snap, and allowed his mind to turn to simpler pursuits. Harry knew that perhaps that night the dream might come again and he might see the strange, unearthly girl who he was desperate to find during his waking hours.
At one point, Harry had caught the sight of strawberry-blonde hair through the compartment window, and without bothering to say a word to his friends, he'd hurried out to the corridor, only to see Parkinson following another witch from their year down the hall. He sighed, leaning against the half open compartment door, his eyes trained on the familiar but not-quite-right hair. The curl was a bit too tame and the color darker than that of the girl's—more of a ginger-gold than a ginger-blonde. He sighed again; it was all wrong.
Turning back to his compartment, he heard a laugh, unaware that Parkinson's friend had stopped, turning, her eyes lingering on his broadening shoulders for a moment before turning back to her friend.
The Malfoy Heir …
"What I never did is done."
Draco was aware, almost from the beginning of October, that Potter was following him—or at least attempting to. Potter was rather a failure at it, Draco thought smugly, before going about his business as usual, which was a rather daunting task of smuggling Death Eaters into Hogwarts. The Dark Lord—the thought of such a frightening wizard sent actual shivers down Draco's spine—had demanded that he complete this task as well as the almost impossible one of killing Dumbledore. He hadn't managed it over all these years and somehow, magically, he expected Draco to do it.
He knew it was a death trap. The Dark Lord meant for Draco to fail—but Draco had to—he must—for his mother's continued safety if nothing else. Father could take care of himself and had for years—if it hadn't been for that wretch Potter he wouldn't be in Azkaban and Draco wouldn't find himself in this predicament—Potter; Potter; Potter! It was all his damned fault, not that his precious Gryffindors or even Astoria realized this.
Sighing, Draco rested on his bed, staring at the green canopy. He saw so little of her here, and despite his best efforts, they were little more than strangers. "Greetings," "farewell," a kiss not quite placed on her hand as he bid her welcome to Malfoy Manor, refusing to put his life on hold despite the fact that Father was in gaol and the threat of his death as well as his mother's was over Draco's head. He knew it was only a matter of time before someone else realized how intelligent she was, how beautiful—Astoria wasn't the eldest daughter, but compared to Daphne and her shrewish ways, anyone would prefer Astoria if they were only looking at her surname and so many others would just want Astoria for herself, regardless of bloodlines or ideas of political marriages—she was incandescent. Draco had recognized this in her when she was little more than a second year and had almost asked her to the Yule Ball instead of his actual girlfriend, until he'd heard Parkinson tell Daphne that she would make any witch's life a living hell if Draco decided to take one of them instead.
Little Astoria hadn't needed that—not then; she didn't need it now. So, he conducted his courtship in partial secrecy and under the guise of a potential friendship or alliance with Daphne—but he had not quite been bold enough for he doubted Astoria knew or suspected his real reason for her continuing visits. Propriety stated that she must accept the invitations unless she had a prior engagement and she doubted if the Greengrasses, despite whatever shame had fallen on the Malfoy family of late, would think of snubbing them, especially when such a fortuitous marriage between Draco and one of their daughters might take place.
Daphne at least had been partially fooled, calling Malfoy a simpleton for the continuing invitations, demanding that he stand up to his mother 'to stop all this nonsense' as they both knew that Parkinson would kill her if she thought for a moment that Daphne had any interest in him. As if!
No, it was all for Astoria, and yet he had been unable to pay her any particular attention, although he was glad when he noticed that she was exploring the manor and even that she had found one of the family studies and had made herself at home in it, as if she belonged there—which certainly she did. The elves had informed him of her movements and he'd made certain that the room was always unlocked, a fire burning brightly if her fancy took her there, which it did, again and again. Astoria would love to pour over the full Malfoy library over the many decades of their marriage, Draco thought happily, if only he were able to make it through this year alive—which he was determined to do, with the hope of properly courting Astoria as an incentive to not only survive but to succeed in the near-impossible task that the Dark Lord had set him.
Still, Astoria barely noticed him and he had no way to seek her out. Potter of all people was his shadow and he certainly wouldn't lead him to her. Saint Potter was many things, but given that Pavarti had been his date to the Yule Ball and he'd been linked to the Ravenclaw Chaser the year before, he certainly knew how to pick them. Astoria, as far as he knew, wasn't even on his radar—she'd been intelligent enough to stay away from his little vigilante group the year before so they hadn't even met as far as he could tell, and he wanted to keep it that way. With his blasted fame and fumbling charm, Potter could probably finagle an introduction to any witch and because he was the fucking Chosen One, his lack of social grace or knowledge was often overlooked and Astoria would be far too polite to cut him completely at the very beginning. Potter had enough of that idiotic charm to get him through and Astoria, well, sometimes Draco caught her looking at Potter a little too long in the Great Hall.
Her eyes betrayed nothing, not even a passing interest in his fame or whether or not the rumors about him were true, and that frightened Draco more than he cared to admit. She was deliberately hiding any emotion she felt regarding the Boy Savior when, if he had been unimportant as Draco clearly was to her, she wouldn't bother to do so. No, instead, she chose to hide her thoughts, keep them veiled, which meant that she felt something—and whether that was good or bad for Draco was a mystery.
Everything about her thoughts was enigmatic to Draco, making her all the more intriguing as well as desirable. And he would marry her. He was determined to.
When he had, he would make sure that she was better taken care of than she was now. Most of the time she seemed to walk about as if in a half-sleep, bags under her eyes that she sometimes forgot to glamor, and even when she did—well—she moved as if she had barely slept. He knew Astoria, or knew her well enough to know that she didn't take after the Mudblood Granger who studied for exams two years in advance and fell asleep while reading dusty old tomes that helped no one with anything, so long had it been since they were last read. Astoria always was pristine, presentable, and while occasionally over the summer he would see a smudge of ink against her index figure, that was the only sign to show that she was studious and craved knowledge. She didn't let it disrupt her sleep, far too organized for that sort of study, whether independent or for Hogwarts.
So why wasn't she sleeping?
What made it worse was that Daphne either didn't notice or didn't care. Instead, she would be thick as thieves with Parkinson or gossiping with some of the other Slytherin girls. Was there any family affection she felt for her sister—or was she so self involved that she'd rather hurl pert remarks at him than notice that her own sister was wasting away before her eyes?
And Potter's blasted presence meant that Draco could only run into Astoria by chance, and urge her to eat more in a way that wouldn't make her self-conscious, which was nearly impossible.
Still, Draco watched Astoria every moment he could, knowing full well that Potter was watching him. On her fifteenth birthday he had presented her with a small healing stone, hoping that it would restore the natural blush to her cheeks. There was some improvement, but little, showing how much Astoria really needed sleep and food. Was the Dark Lord, perhaps, pressuring her like he was him?
But that was ridiculous! Draco thought angrily as he ducked down another corridor, aware that someone unseen was on his trail—again. The Greengrasses, while gray, weren't Death Eaters and, well, if they were, if Greengrass Sr. had fallen into disfavor Draco would have heard of it and any assignment given to a Greengrass child would be given to the eldest, and Daphne was puffed up with health and one too many sweets in comparison with her younger sister.
Or he was becoming jaded—or a little too emotionally involved with Astoria given that he hadn't spoken a word to her in weeks, and that was only to say "JoyeuxAnniversaire" in her ear before anyone could notice—especially Pothead with his stupid scar and I Just Shagged You hair.
One day Draco hoped Potter would fall off a broom and be permanently disabled, drooling like a Muggle and incapable of higher thoughts apart from what Bertie Botts Every Flavor Bean someone would shove lovingly down his throat.
Well, Draco could always dream, and dream he did.
Still, he watched Astoria, praying that she would start to sleep, hoping that the Yule gift of magical lavender would be appreciated and helpful—all he could do was wait, so wait he did.
Of Grass so Green …
"A penny for my thoughts, oh no, I'll sell them for a dollar…"
Astoria knew she was sleeping, except every morning when she awoke she felt as if she hadn't slept at all. She'd look in the mirror and see that her eyes were red and puffy, dark circles beneath them. Once November arrived, she stopped looking in the mirror completely, relying on habit to get ready for the day.
At least her marks didn't suffer, Astoria thought bitterly. She had to study harder, a bit longer, than she knew she normally would have, but Astoria refused to relinquish her hard-earned reputation as receiving first place in her year in every single subject she took—even Arithmancy which she found to be painful and confusing. It was only her stubbornness and tenacity that got her through that class, not actual talent. She was only afraid that come time for N.E.W.T.s her lack of talent would become even more of a disadvantage than it already was. That was, however, if she had time to think of such things, instead of the continued monotony of her waking existence.
Then, every day at Undrentide, the time of fairies, she had to fight to keep awake, sometimes going so far as stabbing herself with a quill during class. The pain kept her from falling to unconsciousness. Astoria would glamor away the hurts or would cover them up with her uniform, but with every passing week it became more and more difficult to stop the call from enveloping her completely.
It was torture, and she could not understand how her dreams had such power over her. She'd read of grafted trees, researched them meticulously. Astoria knew that unless there was a physical Ympe Tree then a link between the two worlds could not be formed and she could not be carried off to the land of Unknowing, from which no human had ever returned, except for the queen of legend.
She wrote of her fears and troubles in the strange, blank book she had found, but it brought her little comfort, which strangely only came in her horrible nightmares.
Sometimes Astoria was not alone. There was often a shadow, perhaps that of the Fairy King, that called to her to give in, and a snake would slither through the grass as if it would bite her like it did Heurodis, and she would be forced to climb the grafted tree to escape its venomous bite and a complete surrender to the power that was holding her captive.
Then occasionally there would be another figure, at first indistinct and then full formed—Potter. The thought of him brought a slight smile to her lips. He would always be on the edge of her vision, watching her, breathing in the magic of the ancient haunting that tortured her so. Astoria would will him closer and yet he was always just out of her reach, or at least she thought he was.
Yet, when she awoke, Astoria would remember snippets of conversation. Whoareyou?Whatisthisplace?You'resobeautiful.
I don't know. Help me. Take me from here.
She tried to convince herself that it was mere fancy on her part, a comfort her unconscious mind offered her in those unearthly nightmares, until she caught Harry looking at her sister intently, a confused look on his face as his eyes raked over Daphne's hair and he studied her eyes. If Astoria hadn't been looking at Harry so closely she never would have noticed; her addled brain would stare at him too long, so much so that her close friend Caitlyn occasionally teased her about it, but she found the sight of him comforting.
Astoria knew he didn't know her name, never would—and yet he spoke to her in her nightmares, bringing a ray of hope to the strange, powerful, earthy magic that haunted the Ympe Tree.
The night of Halloween the image of Potter—Harry—Potter—of him came to her, draped in shades of midnight blue and burning green, and he held her as they nestled among the roots of the great tree that brought them together, even if it wasn't truly reality.
"What's this?" he had asked, his fingers playing with the ends of her hair, but his eyes focusing on the diary that had somehow made it into the dream.
"Nothing," she had murmured, turning toward him and burying her face in his chest, breathing in the heady scent of magic and masculine protection that she was not afforded in reality.
Harry had moved forward and picked the diary up, thumbing to the title page with one hand. "T.M.R." he had read before tossing it back on the grassy ground. "Who's that?"
"No one, a stranger," Astoria had answered, and for a moment she had thought that there had been another figure there, the outline of a boy who was sitting in the branches of the willow, a grin on his handsome face as he watched the life slowly being drained from her. The Fairy Prince, her mind supplied, before Harry had grabbed her attention again.
The seasons did not affect the liminal space of the Ympe Tree. The grass remained green as Hogwarts was covered in snow. Every night Astoria was dressed as a queen of myth, in gold or red silks, silver velvet, plum velvet, her feet bare but never cold as her toes wriggled in the magical grass of this place between two worlds.
"Shouldn't you be playing the harp?" Astoria had asked the image of Potter as she thought of snow that wouldn't fall here. "Orfeo played the harp. It's how he freed his queen from the clutches of the Fairy King."
Potter's eyes had flashed green, but he had shaken his head in the negative. "Are you Heurodis, then, instead of an emissary from Fairyland?"
Astoria had looked up at him in surprise, wondering why even a mere image of Potter would think such a thing. "The tree grows without me knowing why," she had confessed. "Sometimes there is someone—an imp—a prince of shade and words—" She looked up into the unearthly branches of maple and elm to see the shadowy figure grinning down at her, little more than shade although she could make out his deep blue eyes and his black hair. Potter's eyes didn't follow hers, almost as if there was an enchantment that prevented him from noticing the Fairy Prince who wanted to steal her soul for his own enjoyment or gain.
Then it was almost as if she had not spoken, and she was several feet away, now in Potter's arms, dancing beneath the sun of three in the afternoon, Undrentide, as if this were a fairy ritual. A snake had hissed from somewhere in the grass, but Harry kept dancing with her, keeping her laughing and happy although she felt the grafted tree and the dark figure draining her life from her slowly—and if Potter had occasionally hissed at the snake so that it would keep away from her bare feet, then she had hardly noticed, knowing that at least in her dreams, Potter—Harry was her friend and that he would keep her safe.
She would awake, her hands covered in ink although she hadn't written a single word all night, and a little bit more tired than she had been the day before. Her entire existence now was filled with exhaustion. Astoria watched with detached horror as her eyes became more and more bloodshot in the few reflections she saw of herself, as her lips became bloodless and almost white, her hair limp and dull even though she was certain the Hogwarts house elves were slipping her nutrition potions.
In horror, just before Yule, she noticed that without her habitual glamours, she looked like a Vampire, almost dead and yet not remotely otherworldly or beautiful. She wondered if Po—Harry would notice in her dreams, if she appeared as she did in actuality or as she had once been.
Her clothes hung off of her as if they were several sizes too big, and she tiredly had to pack them away, pulling out older uniforms that she had worn the year before and then, surprisingly, from her second year. No one, though, noticed, except for Malfoy who she would occasionally catch watching her. He had approached her in the halls on her fifteenth birthday and given her a healing stone which, for a few weeks, seemed to have some affect, and yet she continued to find no rest in her sleep, being haunted by dreams of the Ympe Tree.
Soon after she suspended all research into the grafted trees and their legends, wondering if that's where her nightmares came from, but it was for nothing. Still she dreamed of willow-maple-oak-elm and of a shadowed figure who was watching her slowly die in her dreams, as if he needed her death for some strange purpose more than his malevolent amusement—something more than the Fairy King of legend—but she did not understand. All she could hope for, now, was the end of the dreams and, barring that, that Harry would at least be there to hold her and bring her some soft comfort, even if he never looked her way in her waking hours.
The Boy Who Lived…
"… They're worth so much more after I'm a goner."
Harry was lost in himself. His trunk was full of books on everything connected to fairies, Fairyland, and Ympe Trees that he could find. He'd even branched out a bit and tried to research dreams that weren't quite dreams—for how could these be dreams? The girl—the witch—she must be a witch to be imbued with so much natural magic—she must be real. Certainly she had to be more than a figment of his imagination. The entire dreamscape had to be more than that.
He knew, with all the certainty he possessed, that he had never heard of anything remotely connected to the Ympe Tree before he began dreaming of it. The closest he came was learning of the fairies his fourth year at Hogwarts that were used as Christmas lights—but this, this was different. The Fairy King that occasionally he half-thought the girl would mention must be lurking somewhere beyond where they could sense him and was more sinister than the fairies who were little more than Christmas decorations. And the girl, the beautiful girl, she seemed genuinely frightened before she had realized he had arrived.
The Ympe Tree, at least, was real for her—or, rather, that's the closest he could come to some kind of answer. She was the maiden who slept beneath it and he, somehow in these dreams, was cast as her savior.
This thought should have angered Harry. Wasn't he playing hero too much? First as the Boy Who Lived, then as the child who kept Voldemort from stealing the Philosopher's Stone, and then rescuing Ginny, and over and over again, only to learn that there was a prophecy proclaiming him the Chosen One. It was all too much. Witches threw themselves at him, wanting him because he was the Chosen One. Little Ginny Weasley had been almost worse back in his second year when she fancied him because he was a bedtime story, and now there were witches like Romilda Vane (who was unfortunately in his own house) who were trying to slip him Amortentia if the rumors were true—though he doubted it would work on him.
Still, Harry somehow knew in his very being that he was this girl's savior. If she was Heurodis then he was King Orfeo, although he not even remotely musically inclined. She was trapped between the two worlds and Harry appeared to be the only person keeping her sane within this limbo and he knew, without a shadow of the doubt, that if the Fairy King ever claimed her he would wander for ten years like the king of legend until he was able to free her from the Fairy King's clutches. He could not abandon her, not after they had shared each other's dreams—
She simplymust be real. Harry could not conjure such detail in his dreams, the exact ethereal shade of her hair, her green eyes that were catlike almost in their coloring, her long fingers that should have made her long arms look awkward but instead gave her a grace that he had never quite witnessed, even when he watched Daphne Greengrass, who bore a strange similarity to the dream-girl.
He smiled at the thought. Dream-girl. That's what the girl was to him, not only the girl he dreamt about, but the girl of his dreams. He—well—fancied seemed to be too little of a word. Certainly he felt more for her than that? Harry had never felt this way with Cho, and that was the only experience he ever had with girls and, well, he'd never follow in Ron's footsteps and start snogging someone like Lavender Brown because of jealousy. No, the dream-girl was real, he knew it, he simply had to find her. For some reason,though, even if Harry asked her name, she never was able to answer or he couldn't remember it in the morning.
Harry had looked across Hogwarts for her, but still she remained elusive. So he studied Daphne Greengrass, looking for similarities and noticing the subtle differences. The fact that Greengrass existed—she was the witch, he now knew, who he had glimpsed with Parkinson on the Hogwarts Express back in September—and yet the girl in his dreams was not a carbon copy of her, somehow seemed to prove to him that the girl must exist, otherwise there would not be such differences between the two and yet such a marked similarity.
There was, however, a problem—he could not ask anyone about Greengrass for fear that it would get around that he was asking—and he did not want any of the Slytherins aware that he was canvasing one of them. That would be absolutely horrifying on far too many levels and, well, his friends would get the wrong impression (that he held some grudge against Greengrass like he did with Malfoy) or think that he fancied her. So all he could do was look, read, order books, and dream of the girl who needed him so desperately yet never asked him for assistance, although he would give her anything her heart desired.
Slughorn's Christmas Party, unfortunately, was drawing closer, and Harry thought that he had the entire problem of a date figured out when the argument between Hermione and Ron had yet to be settled. He would go with Hermione; she wouldn't have to deal with being dateless and could enjoy herself for an evening without watching Ron snog Lavender or hear her call him "Won-Won," the worst nickname of all time, and Harry would be free to try and search the crowd for the dream-girl, his dream-girl. Unfortunately, Hermione had accepted McLaggen's request that she accompany him for some unfathomable reason, and Harry was left trying to find someone else to attend with.
For a moment he thought of asking Greengrass so that he could interrogate her, but decided against it. The latter rumor would start and, well, surely some Slytherin would try to kill him. Harry wasn't blind. Greengrass was beautiful, if not a bit of an ice queen, and certainly had a boyfriend or at least an admirer (or ten). He wasn't suicidal. Well, not always.
So, instead, he found himself inviting Luna at the last minute—though wishing with all his might that instead of his friend, it was her instead.
"You dream too much," Luna commented when they arrived at the party and Harry had brought her some punch. Fortunately, she had not dyed her eyebrows as she had threatened to do earlier in the day when Harry had asked her to the party. She took a sip of her drink and looked about the room.
"Dream. Dreaming, Harry. You dream."
"Yes," he answered carefully, looking about the room. There was McLaggen snogging Hermione under the mistletoe, Zabini with some Sltyerhin or Ravenclaw he didn't recognize, and Ginny arguing with Dean.
"Even now, dreaming." She pierced him with her strange, almost-yet-not-quite perceptive gaze. "You've been looking in the wrong place."
"Sorry?" he asked, startled and almost spilling his punch as Ginny rushed behind him, Dean a few paces behind. It seemed like all of the Weasleys at Hogwarts were having—interesting—romantic lives at the moment, not that he paid particular attention when he could just notthink about it. Ginny was just—Ginny—and was she staring at him over her glass of mead as Dean was whispering in her ear?
Harry shook his head and Ginny was now looking at someone somewhere to his left. Harry let out a breath. He had just imagined it then, fortunately.
"Daddy's quite fond of dreams," Luna was now saying, and Harry turned to her expectantly, trying to be attentive. "He has this theory about the sands that cause dreams—did you know that sometimes people can share dreams? Daddy and I have tried a few times, but it has never worked, but then again, we soon might. We thought it would be a good way to share information about his research on the Erumpent—it's my favorite, you know."
"Really?" Harry replied, wondering momentarily why Luna was wearing her bottlecap necklace given that it clashed horribly with her eccentric dress. This was Luna, though, so he shouldn't be surprised.
"Oh, yes, Harry," she added, smiling up at him. "There was a gleam in her eyes."
Someone else brushed past Harry and with a quick look he noticed it was Hermione who was attempting to escape McLaggen.
Luna sighed, grabbing his wrist and pulling him toward a dark corner, which wouldn't be a thoroughfare like their earlier position. "There now," she murmured, standing strangely close to him. "Thanks ever so much for inviting me, Harry. You're just like a friend."
"I am your friend," Harry replied, startled, and Luna smiled sadly at him.
"I thought you might be, once—Mum and Dad were friends, you know, before she died."
Harry's eyebrows furrowed in confusion, not quite understanding exactly what Luna meant by that.
"You know, special friends," she elaborated, stepping slightly closer so as to set down her now empty glass of punch on a nearby ledge. "Thanks ever so much for the punch."
"Er—you're welcome," Harry answered, fearing that he had lost the flow of the conversation. It was rather easy to do with Luna, after all, but he felt like he really should be trying to follow her meaning as it was somehow important.
"Do you not like your punch?" she asked him innocently, and he looked down at his cup and saw that he had hardly touched it.
"Er," he began to respond, but then she had taken it out of his hand and reached behind him to set it on the same ledge. She brushed up against him and Harry felt a little too hot, the room too crowded with moving bodies, and Luna a little too close, not that he blamed her. This wasn't like Cho last Christmas, he mentally reminded himself, thankful that he'd had little contact with her this year.
"Oh, look," Luna mused, still standing far too closely, her breasts brushing against his chest as she looked up, her dishwater blonde hair flowing down her back. "Mistletoe."
Then, before Harry quite realized what was happening, Luna had rocked forward on her toes and her lips carefully brushed his in a kiss. Her hands reached out and she steadied herself on his shoulders, the kiss lingering as Harry stood there in shock, not certain what to do, and not wanting to hurt his friend's feelings.
A moment later and Luna had moved away again, though barely. Her large, watery-blue eyes were just inches from his and a smile lit across her lips.
"I can make it so you no longer dream," she promised. "We could be friends, like they were—you've now seen what others haven't—just like I have."
"How did you—?" Harry wondered, and then Luna was kissing him again, a little harder, leaning into him so that he had to snake an arm around her waist so that he could balance both of them and not fall backward into a window or Christmas tree. The kiss was sweet, far too sweet, and just the press of lips against lips at first, until Luna gasped at Harry unwittingly pulling her closer.
Then Harry was pulling away and he saw the acceptance in Luna's eyes. She knew the answer. Harry would continue to dream, dream until his dying day if he had to, of the dream-girl and not the fun, eccentric witch in his arms who had fallen for him without him noticing.
The Fairy King …
"And maybe then you'll hear the words I been singing…"
Astoria shivered in her dreams, feeling all alone. She was sitting in the branches, watching as a snake slivered closer and closer to her, but never reaching the trunk. It couldn't find her here anyway. She was safe as long as she stayed awake in her dream, as long as she didn't fall. It could not bite her here as it did Heurodis.
"Welcome," a voice, quiet and as dark as the wind, whispered and Astoria looked up, startled to see a shadow among the maple leaves.
"It's you," she murmured, glancing back down toward the snake, hoping that it would soon slither away.
The shadow hissed and the snake came closer, closer, and Astoria felt her heart grip with fear. Harry, her Harry, as she now thought, spoke to snakes, but he was the exception apart from the Dark Lord, so—
"Very good," the shadow laughed. "I'm not quite the Fairy Prince you imagined, after all."
"How?" she asked, her voice betraying her fear. Astoria clutched the branch painfully, feeling the rough bark scrape against her sensitive skin, but not caring. She could not fall, certainly that would mean her capture, possibly her death, and she could not allowhim to come any closer. "You're too young," she noticed with a gasp, but the shadow only laughed.
"I wasn't always an adult," he mused, leaning forward so that she could see the deep blue of his eyes, only partially obscured by leaves. "Certainly I was once a child like you, little Astoria Greengrass."
The sound of her name was like the persistent, enraging drip of water from a faucet that haunted insomniacs in the early hours of the morning, but no, no, this was not night, with the sun shining above, signaling the time of the fay, Undrentide.
"How did you get here?" she found herself asking, tears forming in her eyes, and one unfortunately slipping from her lashes.
"You brought me here," was the seductive answer, and there was no way she could deny it. This was her dream, she had known that for months, even though it was now February in her waking hours. She brought Harry here because she longed for him to notice her when she was awake, though only Malfoy did. And somehow, somehow, she had also brought the Dark Lord, although he was but a shadow of his younger self.
The Dark Lord chuckled and Astoria unconsciously leaned away from him, wanting to be as far from the evil wizard as possible. He had power here in her dreams, controlling the snake that would take her to the otherworld that most wizards had now forgotten about, much to their detriment as clearly it was real given the presence of the Ympe Tree here, at least, in her dreams.
"Just give in," the Dark Lord whispered seductively, but Astoria shook her head desperately, not wanting to give in. Not yet, not yet. Harry, Harry, Harry, save me, she thought desperately.
Suddenly, quicker than wind, the shadow was beside her and a hand that certainly must be flesh and blood curled around her throat, cutting off her air.
"No, little girl," the Dark Lord growled, and Astoria could see each of his individual eyelashes, betraying his beauty. He had the high cheekbones of a pureblood and he was handsome, so handsome, but surely this could not be the Dark Lord, she desperately thought as she struggled to breathe in the enchanted, heavy, dusky air of her dream. She'd heard of He Who Must Not Be Named. They said he had the face and grace of a snake, and the deadly power of one too. This boy, while powerful and more terrifying than anyone Astoria had ever known, was too beautiful, too humanlooking—
The thought, which somehow the Dark Lord was able to know, brought a twisted and vindictive smile to his lips as he leaned in closer, though his fingers momentarily fluttered against her throat, loosening just enough so that she could suck in a deep breath. She was tottering on the tree branch, almost falling, only the Dark Lord anchoring her to the tree as well as her now bleeding hands that grasped the willow branch desperately.
"I am more beautiful than this Potter you so want to notice you," the Dark Lord cooed as his face got closer, closer to hers, and she felt dread settle in the pit of her stomach. Her mind froze as his fingers began to stroke her bruised throat, and she desperately tried not to lean away as his lips claimed hers in a punishing kiss knowing that if she did, she would certainly fall—and she couldn't fall—couldn't fall—the snake—no—no—Harry—
The kiss continued, confusing her, and with excruciating pain, the shadowed form of the Dark Lord pried her lips apart, only to plunder her mouth painfully. Astoria wondered somewhere in the back of her frightened mind, if maybe she should let go, maybe she should fall down to the punishing ground, to the venomous snake, just to get away from him, from this kiss, for certainly it must end—
I'm sorry, her mind begged again and again, and then one hand of hers was pushing against the Dark Lord's chest, wanting to get away, but he only grasped her throat tightly, holding her in place. Now there was no hope for air, no hope for escape. He was holding her too tightly, cutting off her breath, kissing her as if it were his right to do so simply because she was defying him and he had the inclination to do so, as if it were his right. With her last bit of strength she pushed him hard with both hands, releasing her grip from the tree branch and then—then—she was falling, falling down toward the ground, and her eyes closed as she accepted her fate.
A Riddle …
"Funny when you're dead how people start listening."
A Riddle, a diary—it had been so long since he had felt sunlight that when the writing first began, he had been tempted to write back, as was his initial intention. If Astoria as she called herself poured out her heart to him specifically, he could grow stronger, take her life force, open the Chamber of Secrets again as he had when he was at Hogwarts.
But she hadn't poured her heart out—not quite—not at first. It was strange. Admirable almost. Originally there were notes, half-ideas of some vague form of magic, an intellectual interest—a pursuit—something which Tom could almost respect. In the margins there would be questions that Astoria would ask herself, something to remind herself about later, but Tom, no matter how long and hard he studied her words, could not quite understand them.
He'd never heard of the Ympe Tree, of the Fairy King, of a realm that was so secluded from human magic that mortals had to be stolen from liminal planes to reach it…and then it was through vile kidnapping and death. Tom, despite himself, became intrigued. The more he read, the more he soaked up the knowledge, and he wanted more—more—more…
There was never quite enough.
Then he realized the truth, the horrible awful truth that somehow, all these weeks—months—years—centuries, perhaps, he had strangely forgotten. He had been Tom, once upon a midnight dark and dank. Now, though, now.
What a horrible thought. The present—a concept he almost could not comprehend. He had not had a now in so very long.
He was Tom Marvolo Riddle and yet he was not. Tom was merely a shade, and he came to the knowledge that he was trapped within a diary—a horcrux—and the truth broke him almost completely.
Yearning for more information, he could not change what he was: the soul fragment of an ambitious youth and an object designed specifically to soak up all of a wizard's secrets, feeding him desperately until he sucked up their entire strength and gave himself life, or a horrifying parody of it. This was his purpose, his function, and while Tom would have denied anyone or anything that claimed that he did not have mastery over his destiny, he had no free will in this draining exercise. No choice could he make and so, with this secret knowledge that this Astoria seemed to be privy to, that even he had not found even though he had been a full two years older than she when this disastrous diary had been given its awful power, he did what he was designedto do.
Tom sucked the life from Astoria through her secrets.
He did not feed on her heartbreak, her childish woes, did not coax the whisperings of her soul from her through words. Instead, almost horrorstruck, he absorbed her knowledge and soon—somehow—magically, if that were even possible—he began to haunt her dreams with the very otherworldly occurrence she was researching. He made her the human queen and found himself cast in the part of the Fairy King.
A grafted tree grew from the seedlings in her mind and with every nightmare, it grew stronger, bringing the world of the diary (instead of the land of the fairies) closer and closer to her reality, until he would freeze her in death and steal all of her strength, stepping onto the mortal plane of existence, strong and whole and hale.
And he gloriedin it.
Still, part of him could not bear to let her wondrous mind go quite yet and so the tree grew slowly, her death even slower, and then the unthinkable happened—they were no longer alone.
A name appeared in the margins of the diary—just once—so small, so insignificant, and Astoria had blotted it out almost immediately so that if he had not been looking at that exact moment, he should never have known—and yet Tom saw—
And then the name came into the dream, the magic of the diary and the dream and Astoria's written words calling him forth.
He kept Astoria alive, slightly happy, and Tom would watch, strangely unhurrying with the death of a girl he had never written to, whom he haunted, whom he was murdering without any sense of guilt, for wasn't this what he was meant for?
With the sick fascination of one who had never known true affection, Tom watched as the witch fell more and more into a fancy with the wizard who did not even know her name, and a jealousy seized his heart. Still, he just watched, just out of sight, taking pains that this boy would never see him, never know the sinister nature of these dreams, that they were real, that this was murder, magical death so horrible that not even a wand could channel its horrific purpose…
No need for this Harry Potter to know—until Astoria whispered to him that someone else was here, and the living boy saw.
Fear gripped Tom, an emotion that he had not known since he was a small boy in an orphanage so very long ago, or maybe just yesterday—when he was alive—
So, Tom refused to wait. He called serpents forth and Astoria, so weak, had difficulty escaping their venomous bites in the Undrentide—this magical and terrible hour—in her dreams. Still, she did not die, Tom did not step forth into this world, and with all of his strength he kept the living boy from entering this strange new world of his and Astoria's creation.
Tom did not even say goodbye when he finally committed the deed he was created to fulfill. He watched Astoria fall, dispassionate curiosity in his eyes as her strawberry blonde curls were stained with her blood as she hit the gnarled roots of the grafted tree. And yet—emotion—so small that at first Tom was uncertain he was feeling at all. There was glee that the boy would never again disturb them, satisfaction in a task completed, smug glory at the thought that at moment he would live and yet—yet—there was something else that he could not quite, at first, understand, but—perhaps—maybe—
Was this regret?
The Chosen One …
"If I die young, bury me in satin, Lay me down on a bed of roses."
Harry had not dreamed of her in weeks. He had noticed that she had become withdrawn after Slughorn's Yule Party, almost as if she knew that he had kissed Luna, or rather that Luna had kissed him, making him wonder if perhaps—just perhaps—she was at Hogwarts.
Or a simple figment of his imagination. He knew that about the kiss—the kisses—and so the dream-girl seemed to as well.
Part of him hated the uncertainty of it all. And he disliked the guilt he felt, the fact that in actions largely out of his control, he had betrayed her, betrayed them… and still he did not even know her name. The entire situation was infuriating. If only he knew that bit of information, he could watch her on the Marauders' Map as he obsessively stalked Malfoy—know that she was safe, that she had not been taken.
Malfoy no longer was disappearing in the seventh floor corridor as he had been doing all year, which was strange, but at least satisfying. The idea of Malfoy using the Room of Requirement brought a sick, twisted feeling to his stomach, but Harry always pushed it quickly aside. There was always something more important to consider—such as his continued lessons with Dumbledore about Voldemort—a boy who Harry now learned had been named Tom Marvolo Riddle—a half-blood, strangely enough, who had a history similar to Harry's.
When Harry watched Voldemort in memories, it was almost as if he was looking at himself. They had the same dark hair, similar green (or were they blue?) eyes, the same height, wands with twin cores. Riddle carried himself with perhaps more arrogance, but Harry recognized it for the affectation of an orphan who was bullied his entire childhood and who expected to be struck down at any moment.
Sometimes Harry wondered if he walked in such a way without realizing it, but he was too afraid to contemplate the possibility.
There was something familiar—other than their near likeness to each other—about Riddle, though, that haunted Harry when he wasn't contemplating Malfoy's strange behavior or day-dreaming about the girl who flitted along the border to Faerie. It was almost as if Harry had dreamed of Riddle and yet could not quite remember it, which frightened him although he never spoke of it.
Still, he looked for the dream-girl, and yet Harry could not find her.
Late at night, when Harry lay in bed staring at the blood-red canopy of his bed, he wondered if he had invented her in his dreams—if she was truly unattainable—if he loved a figment of his own imagination. Over the months, he had been able to study her movements, the line of freckles on her nose that betrayed that she was human, the flick of her left hand as if she wished that she were holding a wand, belying her heritage as a witch. Her high cheekbones meant that she was probably a pureblood or at least had one parent from an old, established line. She also spoke English—he was certain of it, although he often could not remember their conversations upon waking.
She must be from Britain, maybe Ireland—she should be attending Hogwarts, unless she were homeschooled, but then how would he ever find her? He would never be able to dry her tears with the pad of his thumb as he did when he slept, never hold her, never whisper the words he had been too afraid to whisper in case it really was just a dream that was so beautiful that it could never come true…
Words never spoken by him to another human being, but which Harry desperately desired to say to her, the girl without a name, the witch who slept beneath the Ympe Tree at Undrentide.
As the weeks passed and Harry still had not dreamt of her, his sleep became restless and his waking hours were filled with exhaustion. Soon his reflection showed a boy with paling skin and dark bags under his eyes. His hair was even more of an owl's nest than usual, if that was even possible, but he hardly cared.
Hermione tutted at him. Ginny stared at him with a dark look that he couldn't quite understand and didn't care to. Dean glared at him, but then again, he glared at everyone since Ginny had broken up with him. Luna—Luna would walk beside him in the hallway and would try to slip her small, warm hand into his and yet Harry would never grasp it in return. She nattered on about Nargles and a fellow Ravenclaw who had been sleeping too much recently, but he wasn't really listening. He never did anymore, far too preoccupied with thoughts of her to worry about the Abominable Snowman or whatever new conspiracy theory she'd come up with that involved his now dead godfather.
Lavender, in April, asked him if Loony Lovegood was his girlfriend, and he stared at her as if she had suddenly asked him if he fancied the boggart in the closet on the third floor.
That's when he began to take long walks, often at Undrentide, even skipping class so that he could be out in the Forbidden Forest during the time when the veils between worlds thinned. The sun high in the sky, Harry would slip between the trees, not particularly going in any direction, although he did actively avoid the clearing where Hagrid kept the Thestrals, in case Luna happened to be there…
It was perhaps cowardly, but Luna would not understand that he did not wish to be with her, that he was in love with a nameless face which, with each day, became more indistinct in his mind's eye. It was almost as if the dream-girl were slipping away from him, even though he had never held her in his arms when awake.
The deeper he got into the forest, the darker it became, not even the sun of three in the afternoon penetrating the dense foliage of the twisting trees, all beautifully haunting and yet horrible. Occasionally, Harry would feel the crackle of magic in the air, something raw, powerful, different, and yet so familiar that his heart ached.
Still, he found nothing on his long walks, only loneliness and the knowledge that he was no closer to finding her or the Fairy Realm than he had been when he set out into the woods the first time.
When he caught the Golden Snitch the final game of the season, his eyes swept across the stands, hoping to find her gaze—see her smile—
Even if she did not remember the dreams (perhaps that was why she had not sought him out over these long, torturous months?), he would fly to her, hold out the Snitch, and smile. A small token of his love that he wouldn't speak of yet, not if she did not know him except for whatever people whispered at Hogwarts or wrote in the rag that passed itself off as a newspaper. It would be romantic, the beginning of their future together in the land of the living, of the waking, but the dream-girl was not there. The only flash of strawberry blonde he saw was the too gold copy in the friend of Parkinson, which made him hate her for giving him false hope when it had first caught his eye and he'd thought that maybe—just maybe—
He held the Snitch in his hand when he left the Locker Rooms, heading away from the castle and the party he knew would be raging in Gryffindor, and walked again into the Forest.
It was darker now, past three, but he didn't care. As twilight fell, a smile crooked the side of his mouth at the thought that Muggles thought that evening and midnight were the times of the supernatural. How wrong they were, as in everything else, he supposed.
Harry was uncertain how long he walked, but the trees got denser and denser. After awhile, he wasn't even certain if night had fallen or if he'd gotten so far into the forest that it was almost night.
A snap of a twig ahead had him squinting in the gloom, and then there was a thinning of trees, a ray of light, and Harry wondered if he hadn't been walking as long as he thought he had been. The air hummed with magic and his steps quickened, hurry, hurrying, faster. He broke into a jog, and there was more light, and then the sinister magic licked his senses, welcoming him home. He came into a clearing that, despite the time of day, was bright as if the midafternoon sun were shining down upon it, and a smile graced his face when he saw a tree in front of him that was part willow, part maple, a bit of oak, a shred of yew.
The grafted tree was real and it was here, so close to Hogwarts and yet so well hidden, surely the girl in the dreams must be real as well.
Then he saw it, a shade of a boy, with dark hair and blue eyes and arrogance leaning against the trunk of the magical tree, an smug look in his eye and yet fear gripping the line of his jaw. Harry was staring into the face of Tom Marvolo Riddle and yet this was not a memory—this was here, now—but Riddle wasn't full corporeal. Gray still tinged his skin, and Harry could see the bark of the tree through Riddle's necktie, the lines of his trousers blurred as if he were drawn in charcoal.
"What? Who?" The words fell from his lips in horror, and then he saw the diary open at Riddle's feet. He'd seen the girl with it; once she had even been writing in it when he happened into the grove once upon a dream…
With sickening horror, Harry watched as Riddle pushed himself away from the tree trunk, his steps creating footprints in the grass as if he had weight and was more than a ghost or a memory or a thought.
"You're too late," Riddle whispered, and Harry, horror-struck, turned around and ran as quickly as he could back to the castle, somehow knowing that he would find the dream-girl in the infirmary if she were still alive—although he was certain that Riddle was right.
Harry was too late to save her.
The Youngest Daughter …
"Sink me in the river at down, Send me away with the words of a love song."
When Astoria had been a little girl, no more than seven or eight, she had found a strange little book hidden in her mother's boudoir. It was well worn, loved. Someone had flipped through it often as if it were a precious possession. On the inside cover was a message that she could not completely read, something about Muggles and a god she'd never heard mention of before.
She'd taken it and secreted it away in her room under a loose floorboard and at night, when her mother thought her in bed, she would light a candle and take it out, reading about floods and angels and a man who said that love was important. It was a strange book, but when she went to Hogwarts she had brought it with her, and she felt guilt whenever she read the now legible inscription. A Muggle-born had loved her mother and given her this strange book, a piece of his history and culture, he claimed, and her mother had kept it hidden although she had married Astoria's father, a pureblood wizard of impeccable bloodline.
Sometimes, Astoria wondered what had happened to the man who had given her mother the book, especially when she realized when she was thirteen that there was not even a hint of love between her parents.
That memory, though, was sad, and so Astoria put it away and went to another one. She had time now, all the time in the world in this strange land of dreams. Or at least she thought she had.
When Astoria was five, her mother had given birth to a beautiful little boy. He had wide brown eyes and black curls. Astoria had sneaked into the nursery to look at him, wondering what his name would be. Father chose the names of the children in the family, she knew. Years later she would realize that Daphne was the name of a lady of the night she heard some of the seventh years whisper about in Slytherin. The lady was aging, and yet they still talked about her, about her sinful kisses, how she could make any wizard forget the world in her arms. Her cunt was so sweet that they used their allowances to go back again and again, sneaking out of Hogsmeade and going to wherever her lair was, coming back looking ragged but well fucked. She wasn't so innocent that she didn't understand.
Her name—well—her mother and father had had a fight a week after her little brother had been found dead in his crib, less than a day old, as if struck down by the Killing Curse. Father had blond hair, the color of straw, and Astoria's mother shared the strawberry tints of her two daughters. Her father had raged and raged and raged against her mother, and they had forgotten to put up silencing spells so that Daphne and Astoria wouldn't hear them. The boy had dark hair, dark like a Black—
Then her mother had wailed, "And what about that Muggle whore Astoria? Don't think I don't know about the Countess who now wears my jewels. A filthy American Muggle wearing pureblood stones mined from by the goblins centuries ago!"
A witch prostitute and an American Muggle socialite…that is who the Greengrass daughters were named for.
Another sad memory, one not worth thinking about.
Astoria folded it like a blanket and set it in a drawer, although she didn't close it completely as if the drawer were stuck. She wandered away from it and then pulled out another childhood memory, this one not as sad as the others she could not help but unwrap and look at, trying to remember where she came from, the pain she had been through—she had survived that, she could survive this strange waiting inside her own mind—
She was at a Christmas party, in pretty robes of white lace. Her mother had given her a bow for her hair that the elf had put tied for her and she felt pretty and proud and new, just like a present.
There had been whispers, stories of a boy born before she was, a boy who was a prince. The other children said he was called the Boy Who Lived and he could do anything—he'd defeated a great wizard even though he had been younger than they were now.
She might have been four, maybe five, but as she sat listening to the tales and rumors and the other children, Astoria had thought that maybe, maybe when she went to Hogwarts, she would meet this boy, and he could defeat her father, and then she might be happy.
As the years passed, the hope still lingered in a hidden corner of her heart, and then—a new memory—She was eleven now, wearing her Hogwarts robes, proud to finally be at school.
No more house elves, no more fights and broken vases, she'd be here with her sister and maybe Harry Potter would smile at her. But she didn't see him—he wasn't there—and although she begged the hat to put her in Gryffindor, the hat had laughed in her ear and told her that was not the way to win the love of that particular wizard, and promptly sorted her into Ravenclaw instead.
That memory, then, was bittersweet, Astoria thought as she pulled it out and looked at it, allowing the emotions to wash over her as it replayed again and again as if she really were eleven, nearly twelve, just arriving at Hogwarts for the first time.
A leaf of maple fell from somewhere, and she plucked it from her hair, setting it down before closing the memory carefully, as if it were a box, and putting it in its proper place.
The branch of a willow tickled the end of her nose and she batted it away, smiling sadly to herself.
This memory was recent, and she had almost forgotten it. Astoria wasn't certain if it was a memory of sadness or happiness—certainly of consolation and compassion.
It was shortly before the Christmas holiday and, when she had heard her sister tell her of what happened at Slughorn's Party, Astoria had slipped away to Moaning Myrtle's toilet and let herself cry, wondering how she had gotten so close only to lose Harry to her fellow Ravenclaw, Loony Lovegood, of all witches! She was so strange and looked at Astoria with her wide, watery eyes, as if she knew what was happening in Astoria's dreams but had decided that she wouldn't let her be saved, wouldn't whisper the right words in someone's ear, wouldn't let them know that she understood what Astoria could not grasp—the reason behind the fear and terror she felt every night before she went to sleep, although Astoria knew that Harry might come—
Malfoy had found her, looking little more than a ghost himself. His skin almost looked gray and his perfectly tailored clothes hung off him as if he, too, hadn't been eating and had worries far greater than studying and the war that was slowly building in the background of her life.
He'd held her as she cried, wiped away her tears, and then asked her if she liked to dance. Astoria had stared at him at confusion, and he'd remarked that he noticed she hadn't been at Slughorn's "little party" and that perhaps she missed the chance to dance.
Before she had known what was happening, Malfoy had held his hand out to her, pulling her from the floor and into his arms.
There had been no music, only the soft strains of half-forgotten melodies in their minds, and slowly the two had danced in the toilet, no one to see them but a ghost who was fortunately absent.
She hadn't laughed, she hadn't smiled, but Astoria had rested her head against Malfoy's shoulder, and a small part of her mind wondered if this was why she had Daphne had been invited to Malfoy Manor that summer. Perhaps Malfoy had wanted to dance with her, and now was finally getting the chance.
Astoria smiled sadly at the memory, wondering if she would ever dance again, ever feel safe as she had for a few blissful moments all those months ago.
Ivy crept slowly toward her, circling her ankle, but she barely noticed, as she held the memory in her hands. A dogwood flower fell into her hair and this time she didn't brush it away.
She didn't go to where she held memories of the grafted tree and instead stayed sitting there, the shedding bark of a birch tree fluttering down to land near her knee.
Somewhere, as if from far away, she thought she heard someone whisper "I love you"—the voice familiar as if she'd heard it a million times before, whether in reality or in her mind—and finally, she set down the memory although she continued to watch her last dance.
Suddenly tired, she lay down in the bed of leaves and flowers that had gathered around her, and Astoria fell into a slumber, a smile on her lips.