Astoria Greengrass hugged her sister and then left Daphne Greengrass's dormitory with a fond farewell.
“Be safe, Astoria.”
Curfew wasn't for a few hours yet, but Astoria still needed to finish her essay for Charms. Professor Flitwick expected the best from her and she was determined to give it. Only part of that was Ravenclaw pride; the rest was pride in her own intelligence and hard work—not that Astoria bragged about such things.
Praising oneself was a crass activity indeed.
Just as she reached the corner of the corridor that would lead into the Slytherin common room, a supercilious voice reached her ears. It was immediately identifiable as Draco Malfoy.
"Her sister is much prettier."
Astoria rolled her eyes; she wasn't interested in listening to Malfoy's lustful thoughts. She pitied whoever had managed to catch the prat's fancy. All the pure blood in his veins couldn’t wash away the Dark Mark on his left arm or the stench of cowardice that hung about him like a cloak.
Before Astoria could take one step, a deep voice—likely Gregory Goyle, she decided—said, "You really think so? Daphne's got great legs."
Nausea rolled in Astoria's stomach as she realized that Draco Malfoy was talking about her. Without conscious thought, her arms folded across her chest as if she could hide from the Death Eater by doing so. Just because Malfoy had evaded Azkaban didn't mean he wasn't a monster. He had let Fenrir Greyback into Hogwarts! What if the vicious werewolf had gotten into Ravenclaw Tower?
"But Astoria's a pretty, little thing. Her eyes give me chills," Malfoy said, his tone of voice clearly speaking of the lewd direction his thoughts had taken.
Astoria trembled and squeezed her eyes shut. The knowledge that Malfoy wanted to touch her made her physically ill. Her lunch, eaten hours ago, roiled in her stomach and threatened to make another appearance. She could all too easily imagine how he would enjoy putting his wife in her place. Any pureblood lady foolish enough to bond with him would lose every freedom. All the pretty manners in the world couldn’t hide the type of wizard he was—controlling and condescending.
She had no desire to be chattel.
"So offer for her," Goyle said.
"I already have. Father sent a preliminary offer today. I expect her parents and mine will have hashed out an unbreakable betrothal contract by Yule. Then she'll be mine," Malfoy said, sounding absurdly pleased with himself.
Astoria took shallow breaths as she pressed the back of her head against the cold wall. Her parents were purebloods and betrothal contracts were a part of life; however, she had never thought she would have to deal with one. She was always sure of her cleverness and ability to wiggle out of any situation.
Astoria knew that her parents cared about her, but that didn't mean a contract with the Malfoy family wouldn't appeal to them. Despite Lucius Malfoy's actions and Draco Malfoy's stupidity, Narcissa Malfoy had been smart enough to save Harry Potter's life.
That gave them a lot of leeway in the trials and chaos following the war.
"Maybe I'll ask for her sister then, and we can compare notes."
Crude, masculine laughter followed the comment.
Frustrated tears came to Astoria's eyes, but she refused to let them fall. She had her pureblood pride. And, more importantly, she had an indomitable will. Somehow, someway, she would thwart Malfoy's plans. She would rather bond with a Muggle-born than that filthy, cowardly Death Eater. She might even go as far as to say that she would rather bond with a Muggle. . . .
The thought shocked her with its audacity and she brushed it aside.
It wouldn't come to that. She wouldn't let it.
Astoria straightened her shoulders and lifted her head. A few wisps of strawberry-blonde hair tumbled out of her updo and brushed against her cheeks in tight curls.
"Don't let him win," she whispered.
Her fists uncurled and she smoothed her hands down her robes, ensuring she didn't look the least bit like she had been eavesdropping. She stepped around the corner and out into the open. Astoria ignored the feel of Malfoy's eyes roaming her body as best she could. She might not have the power to keep his gaze off her, but she would find a way to guarantee his hands never went where his eyes did. She nodded regally to everyone present and then left.
Once the wall closed behind her, Astoria began walking faster; she was determined to put as much distance between Malfoy and herself as she possibly could while in the same castle. She walked gracefully up the stairs, as she had been taught, though every bone in her body wanted to stalk.
Mother would be proud, Astoria thought as she ignored the urge to stamp her feet.
“Most anyone would be better than him.”
Her left hand itched to grasp her birch wand, turn around, and curse Malfoy until he begged her forgiveness. She wasn't a toy or a broodmare or a pet to be coddled. Astoria Greengrass was a powerful pureblood witch—only a blind fool would treat her as anything less.
The sounds of students heading to the Great Hall for dinner echoed down the staircase, and Astoria realized she must have spent more time with her sister than she first thought. Astoria reached the main floor just as the voices of several Slytherins came from behind her.
Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley were following Neville Longbottom and Hannah Abbot into the Great Hall. Each couple's arms were linked and they were so busy making lovesick eyes at each other that they kept tripping over their own feet.
“I want that,” she whispered.
Astoria wanted a relationship so distracting that walking became a chore.
A tingling of magic across her own caused her head to snap to the right. Her eyes narrowed as they locked on Harry Potter, who was descending a moving staircase to the main floor. She was too far away to see his eyes, but she knew they were a deeper green than her own. Harry's eyes were closer to emerald; she had been informed many times that her eyes were jade.
She absently whispered a line from one of her favorite wizarding ballads, "A jewel for your heart, my king."
In the poem, a pureblood witch offered the Veela Monarch an emerald the size of his head if he would make her his queen. The king refused. Astoria always cried when she read it, not at the witch's rejection, but because the witch had been foolish enough to believe—as so many others did—that money could buy love.
No jewel was equal in value to a human heart.
The strength and power of Harry's magic teased along hers once more, and she observed his every move as thoughts cascaded through her mind.
Harry was similar to the Veela King: powerful, rich, handsome, and much sought after. And the people who wanted him were shallow and willing to offer nothing but their beauty for a chance to be the next Lady Potter—royalty in every way that mattered.
Astoria had lost count of how often she had heard some variation of 'I want to be Lady Potter' or 'Everyone would listen to me' or 'Think of the prestige' since she entered Hogwarts as a first year. The witches tittered about his power and wealth and name and victories, but never about the man himself in any tangible way. His physical appearance was greatly praised, but nothing was said about his personality, his dreams, his hopes, or what could be given to him.
It was always about what Lord Potter would gift to his bride.
"How sad. He deserves better.”
Harry Potter wasn't a man to be pitied; she knew he wouldn't tolerate that. However, the way his magic reached out and caressed others' magic told her more than he likely knew, having grown up with Muggles as he did. His wayward magic fairly shouted his loneliness and despair to Mother Magic herself.
The Slytherins were now right behind her, and Astoria could hear Malfoy bragging about something or other. He wasn't worth her time; he wasn't the type of wizard who would appreciate a partner. In fact, he was nothing at all like Harry Potter. It was something she had always distantly acknowledged, but the comparison was never clearer or greater to her than in that moment.
Malfoy's jabbering halted, and then he said, "Miss Greengrass, I'm—"
Astoria walked away from him, not caring how rude it might be.
Her feet carried her across the entrance hall to the foot of the staircase that Harry was on. Even if he hadn't been a step above her, she still would have needed to tilt her neck back; he was taller than her. Harry’s eyes didn't rove over her body as if she were something for sale, which heightened her esteem for him. He simply stared at her face, waiting for her to announce why she had chosen to approach him.
“May I help you?”
Astoria thought they might be able to help each other.
Daringly, she stretched out a tendril of her magic and wrapped it around Harry. She imbued it with warmth, happy memories, and the knowledge that her parents loved her. A wide grin appeared on his face as a light blush suffused his cheeks. His eyes sparkled like living emeralds. This was what all those ignorant witches should've offered a wizard as rare in personality as Harry.
Nerves aflutter in her stomach, Astoria lifted the hem of her robes and sank into a deep curtsey of genuine respect.
"Forgive my impropriety, my lord. I couldn't bear the pain of your magic—not when I know I can assuage that pain."
Harry's rough fingers grasped her chin and raised her head; a curl of her hair danced along his skin. He said, "I've seen you before, but I'm afraid I've never learned your name."
A small smile curved her lips as she said, "Miss Astoria Greengrass."
Harry folded one of her hands in his larger one and lifted her out of her curtsey.
"It's a pleasure, Miss Greengrass. I'm Lord Potter."
When she didn't offer an inane “I know,” his smile widened.
"And there's nothing to forgive," he replied as her magic blanketed his own.
When Harry kissed the back of her hand, Astoria was only vaguely aware of Malfoy's magic seething behind her. The sound of blood pounding in her ears drowned out almost everything else. Harry’s magic touching hers was divine. She felt the heat in her cheeks, but didn't avert her eyes coyly. Astoria wasn't the type of witch to lower herself to playing flirting games, and Harry wasn't the type of wizard who deserved to be treated like a fool.
"Would you join me for dinner, Miss Greengrass?" Harry asked.
"It would be my pleasure."
Once he took the final step down and was level with her, Astoria looped her arm through his and let him escort her to dinner.
As they passed the Slytherins, her eyes lingered on Malfoy's enraged countenance for only a moment before skipping to her sister. Daphne's gaze was calculating, but not disapproving in the least. Astoria knew her sister would write home of these events, destroying Malfoy's plans to secure her as his bride. However, that was merely a distant, pleasurable thought.
The tingling sensation caused by Harry's magic entwining with hers secured the majority of her attention, though she did notice when he bypassed the Great Hall and led her down a side corridor.
If he were any male but a Potter, Astoria would’ve questioned his intentions. However, Potter honor was indisputable. Pureblood witches could even have a Potter male as a best friend and never have to fear that their reputations would be ruined, because no one would be stupid enough to suggest a Potter had compromised his friend in any way.
“I hope you don’t mind, Miss Greengrass, but I’m not really in the mood to be on display tonight. I’ve had my fill of autograph requests for the next century.”
Harry smiled wryly.
“I don’t mind at all,” Astoria said.
The scrutiny and harassment he received had only increased after the end of the war. With how Weasley and Granger acted with each other, she wondered if they had been sparing any time at all to support and shield him.
“And please call me by my name.”
“Thank you, Miss Astoria.”
He didn’t offer his first name in return, but she wasn’t expecting him to do that. Too many people had tried to take advantage of him over the years. She would happily wait until he realized she wasn’t one of them.
Harry stopped beside a portrait of fruit and said, “I hope you don’t mind dining in the kitchens.”
Wanting to put a smile on his face, Astoria made a big show of glancing both ways. She mimed unlocking her lips. Then she leaned in and whispered, “I’m the Bandit Queen of Ravenclaw. I sneak out almost every night to filch sweets from the kitchens. Don’t tell. My parents would be most annoyed if they heard. They’ve been trying to break me of that habit since I was four and got sent to bed without treacle tart.”
Harry laughed, deep and strong. He tickled the pear, causing the portrait to open. Excited house-elf voices spilled into the hallway.
“As long as you don’t steal my treacle tart, I don’t think there will be a problem.”
Astoria grinned at him mischievously, and then leaned into his personal space, saying, “I make no promises when it comes to treacle tart, Lord Potter. If there’s only one left, you’ll have to duel me for it.”
He needed more fun and humor in his life. Yet, she was being entirely serious.
Harry grinned back at her and said, “And you think you stand a chance at beating me, Miss Astoria?”
He was teasing her! She adored it. Was this what Harry was like around people he cared about and trusted? If so, Astoria knew they would be good for each other.
She stuck her nose so high in the air that she was staring at the ceiling and said, “I happen to be the Reigning Welsh Underground Dueling Champion. It was a fierce competition. I had to fight three ten-year-olds with wooden sticks for the title.”
Astoria grinned when he snorted.
“Are you serious?”
As soon as Harry asked the question, a shadow passed over his face and his magic drowned with grief.
Astoria hugged her magic around him and sighed. It had been going so well. This was to be expected, though. His life wasn’t rainbows and unicorns; his life was lightning scars and thestrals.
“Lord Black was a good man. You can tell me all about him as we eat, if you want. I promise I’ll keep your confidences, Lord Potter,” she whispered.
Her magic sealed the vow with his.
Harry studied her for a very long time, and then offered her a gentle smile. “All right. I’d like that. Sirius would want to be remembered.”
He gestured her into the kitchens.
As they ate, and she learned about the escapades of the Marauders, Astoria felt more relaxed and at home than she ever had outside Greengrass Manor. Though she assumed she would soon be given leave to call him “Harry,” if he was enjoying their evening as much as she was, Astoria could only hope to one day address him and say, “A jewel for your heart, my king.”
The jewel Astoria Greengrass would offer Harry Potter wouldn't be an emerald the size of his head. No. She would offer her own heart—herself.