She turned her teacup into what?”
“I don't even know! It was, like, a spider made out of bones. It was all yellow and chipping apart, and it ran across the desk. Gwendolyn screamed her head off,” Janet said complacently.
“Like you wouldn't have! It practically climbed up my arm!” Gwendolyn retorted hotly, amid general laughter. “It was the weirdest thing I ever saw -- it was like a skull with all these legs, and it was clattering at me! Everybody was screaming.”
“What did McGonagall do?”
“Just waved her wand at it and turned it back into a teacup. Then made Tori do it again, in front of the whole class. But it was a perfect tortoise the next time,” Janet said.
“I think McGonagall was just as weirded out as everybody else, though,” Flora said, brow creasing. “It's not exactly a mistake that happens every day, is it?”
“It wasn't a mistake at all! If you'd seen the way she was looking at me, with those creepy gray eyes --”
“Oh, stop being such a sissy.” This came from Millicent, who'd been sitting on the outskirts of the conversation with her bulk balanced unsteadily in the chair she was leaning back on two legs, and who seemed more preoccupied with petting her cat than with the details of the scene Astoria had made in the fifth-year Transfiguration class.
“You weren't there. I'm telling you, there's no way that was an accident. I'm sorry, Daphne, but Tori is really weird.”
Daphne made a dismissive noise. “Please. You guys have no idea how weird she can actually get. At home I just try to stay out of her way. I think Mum and Dad are afraid of her too. You can never catch her doing magic, but things go missing, all these bizarre creepy-crawly things show up out of nowhere... She's too good at magic to be normal, I swear.”
“Not sure that means much coming from you, Daph,” Janet said, prompting a bout of sniggers from the girls around her.
Daphne flushed. “Fine. Next time she comes after me with some crazy spell to turn my hair into leeches or something, I'll send her after you instead and you can deal with her.”
“She turned your hair into leeches?”
“Not that it matters anyway,” Millicent threw out, lazily. “At school she spends all her time following Pansy around, trying to catch her and Draco having sex in the prefect bathroom.” The room roared; Draco had told that story to anyone who'd listen last year, proud of his studmuffin status. In her chair by the fire, Pansy stiffened, but nobody seemed to notice.
“Maybe she thinks he's sneaking back and forth like he did last year --”
“Or maybe she's hoping Pansy'll tell her how big Draco's dick is!”
“She already knows that!”
“You think she wants a threesome?”
“If that's what she wants, she should've just asked the last time!”
The hilarity was rent by a sudden crash and a burst of flame and smoke. Pansy had jumped up and fled the room, so quickly that her chair had tipped over and had landed in the fireplace behind her. The others stared, shocked, at the space where she’d been, and the line of fire creeping along a leg of the chair. “Aguamenti,” Flora cried hastily, and the rush of smoke left the girls coughing and choking. When the room had cleared they went back to gossiping, with even more energy than before -- but quietly this time. Pansy had gone strange lately, but everyone knew she was dating the school’s only Death Eater. And everyone knew what nobody said: the idea of having Pansy mad at you, these days, was a little bit scary.
In a moment the door of the common room creaked open, and soft footsteps made their way down the corridor to the fifth-years' bedroom. A shadow fell across the curtain, then hesitated a moment.
Then a hand reached in and pulled the curtain aside. Pansy stood in the opening, color high in her cheeks. Her expression was defiant but her fingers were playing nervously with the hem of her robes.
Astoria smiled. Threads of silver had begun to wind through her hair.
Six months ago Pansy would not have imagined this. Six months ago Pansy and Draco were a brand-new item, the power couple of the school, and Pansy liked to flaunt to her less experienced friends her knowledge of what sex was all about. What sex was about then was simple: it was about how Draco could empty the sixth-year boys' sleeping space with a smile and a twist of the arm to show his Dark Mark. Sex was about lying back in Draco's bed, letting him pound into her and keeping her eyes fixed on the Mark as he used his arms to brace himself over her in the bed. Sex was about sneaking into prefects' bathrooms and hidden passageways and other semi-public places, then bragging about it in the morning. Draco had never taken her to the Room of Requirement. He hadn't wanted her to know about it. He considered it his secret.
When Astoria had walked in on them in the prefects' bathroom, Draco had assumed she was there for him, and he'd told the story often enough and loudly enough that the rest of the school had taken it for granted too. Pansy was the only one who'd seen the way Astoria's eyes had flickered over her, seeming to X-ray straight through the steam and bubbles. She was the only one who'd seen where Astoria's eyes had lingered and for how long. Draco had made lewd remarks to Astoria every time he'd passed her in the hallways from then on -- half of Slytherin had -- but he'd never gotten any more reaction than that small, unreadable half-smile. It was Pansy who'd caught Astoria looking at her in the hallways though -- standing behind an empty suit of armor and watching as she and Draco passed, following a few steps behind as they walked between classes. Pansy thought she knew more than Draco did, but she kept it quiet, though she wasn't sure why. Over time, her silence began to feel like a kind of collusion. Sometimes when she caught Astoria staring at her in the hallways, she found herself meeting the girl's eyes directly. She learned to expect their split-second change from steel-gray to mercury.
But Pansy liked being with Draco. She liked the purity of his heritage, liked that he could trace his bloodlines back thousands of years without the taint of a single Mudblood. (There was a branch of Pansy's family tree that was not talked about, ancestors whose names weren't known and who were buried in unknown graves. Pansy kept her secret safe, and it was safer still when she walked hand-in-hand with Draco; everyone knew only the purest of blood was good enough for him.) She liked his quick ambition and the casual cruelty with which he treated those who would get in his way. She liked the way the younger Slytherins' eyes widened when they saw him walk by, Pansy on his arm. Most of all she liked that he was the only Death Eater at the school -- the youngest Death Eater there'd ever been, come to that. Draco was a man of power, and when she was with him, Pansy shared in that power.
Draco was right for Pansy in every way, and she knew it. She was happy strutting down the hallways with him, happy with quick furtive thrusts in rooms that wouldn't be empty for long. And when she caught sight of Astoria out of the corner of her eye or felt her presence behind them in the corridors, she laughed along with Draco as he cracked wise about Astoria's obsession with him.
Then Dumbledore was dead and Draco was gone, the school left in disarray. He’d been back and forth since then, always taciturn and distracted when he was at Hogwarts, never offering explanation when he wasn’t.
It was during one of the times that he was gone that Pansy had found Astoria in her bed. And in the span of that moment, before she’d even known what was happening, Pansy’s world had lurched off its axis, then resumed spinning around a new center.
She’d pulled aside the curtain around her bed and found herself staring at a slender figure with a cap of brilliant silver-blond hair. The figure’s back was turned to her, head bowed, and after a quick second of disbelief she’d moved forward eagerly, thrilled that he’d taken time away from the Death Eaters to see her, ready to pull him on top of her without a word –
Then the figure had turned towards her a bit, and she’d caught a flash of a silver-veiled glance in her direction. And she knew.
“But… you…” It was Astoria, of course it was Astoria – the olive undertone tinging her pallid skin, the high forehead, the oddly dented snub nose. And the smile – thin-lipped, knowing, absolutely unreadable. But her hair --
Astoria said nothing, tilting her head slightly to let a few more silky white-blonde tendrils fall over her face, obscuring one eye. Pansy’s mouth had gone dry.
“You’re a Met – a Meth…” She couldn’t remember the word.
“A Metamorphmagus,” Astoria whispered, her gaze steady. The silence unspooled between them. Pansy wanted to ask what Astoria was doing in her bed; she wanted to ask why she’d been following them all this time, what she thought she was up to; she wanted to ask why she’d gone five years with greasy hair the color of seaweed hanging in her face if she could change it, and why she’d chosen to change it here, now –
“Duro,” Astoria murmured, with a flick of her wand, and Pansy felt the curtain turn solid behind her. The room was sealed.
She took a step towards the bed, her eyes fixed on Astoria’s, all thought suspended. Astoria’s tongue flicked over her lips, once. Pansy could have sworn it forked in two at the tip, and her knees weakened.
Then Astoria raised one arm and pulled back her sleeve. The Dark Mark shone there, charcoal-black against her skin.
It was the last blow; Pansy moaned and fell to her knees by the bedside, unable to tear her eyes from the Mark. Above her on the bed, Astoria parted her robes and slid forward, until her legs dangled on either side of Pansy’s head. Slowly, keeping the Mark exposed, she moved her hand to Pansy’s head and guided her forward. Pansy closed her eyes, inhaling the heavy scent wafting towards her, the image of the Mark still burning against her closed eyelids as she dipped her head.
Pansy should have known. Draco was the youngest Death Eater there’d ever been; she knew that, he’d told her so. Astoria was two years younger, a girl who hadn’t even passed her O.W.L.s yet, untrained, useless to the Dark Lord. The Dark Mark on her arm had been put there by her own hand, burned there by the Incendio charm. Astoria had shown Pansy the small blackened circles that made up the pattern. With Pansy sitting before her, she’d pressed the wand to her arm and murmured the charm again, darkening the hollows of the skull’s eyes, Pansy staring in horrified fascination. As Astoria’s wand burned red on her arm and the breath hissed out between her teeth, Pansy watched her hair shift in color once again, the silver changing to a grayish-ivory with a bare yellowish cast. It made Pansy think of old bones, rotted clean of flesh. Then, as the wand tip faded and Astoria’s jaw unclenched, Pansy saw the hair shading back to its old color: the same greenish-black Pansy had known for five years, drawing out all the olive tones to her skin, making her look drab and washed-out and entirely dull. It was the look that allowed her to fade into the background. Only the flat glitter of her eyes remained unchanged.
Pansy knew that that was all for the night.
And over time, she came to learn that this would always be her signal. They would meet when Astoria wanted them to meet. In between meetings Pansy might tell herself that she’d never let it happen again, that as Draco’s girlfriend she certainly wasn’t going to let herself be held at the beck and call of some weird outcast of a fifth-year, risking her relationship and her reputation for a poseur to Death Eater status with a self-inflicted burn on her arm. But it took no more than a quirk of Astoria’s eyebrow or the slightest pressure of her fingers encircling Pansy’s wrist, and she’d find herself reduced to following Astoria around, waiting to see where she would bring Pansy, waiting to see what she would do.
It was generally the Room of Requirement. As Astoria required it, it was bare and echoing, sparsely lit by guttering torches, one single flat table rising in the center of the room, like a sacrificial altar. It was Pansy who lay on the table, pinning her arms to her sides and spreading her legs obediently, her robes stripped from her by one flick of Astoria’s wand. Sometimes the table sprouted chains to bind her; sometimes Petrificus Totalus was used to fix her in place; sometimes Astoria left her to fight to hold herself still, apparently enjoying watching Pansy struggle to subdue herself. In any case, after a moment Pansy would see the silver threads winding through Astoria’s hair. It was inevitable and Pansy didn’t know whether she was deliberately imitating Draco’s appearance or if it was, like so many other things, something Astoria did for her own reasons that Pansy would never understand. Whichever it was, Pansy could never hold onto the question for long.
Mainly, Astoria fucked her with spells. Her hands rarely touched Pansy, though the room occasionally conjured a few toys or tools for their use. But her spells… Pansy couldn’t imagine where she could have learned all of them and couldn’t have cared less. She could never have imagined the things Astoria could do with her wand, and sometimes she was almost disgusted with herself – the ugly, strangled cries that forced their way past her lips, the way she could be reduced to begging any time Astoria had the whim to make her. In those moments she knew that if Astoria demanded she leave Draco, she’d do it in a heartbeat. If Astoria made her swear the Unbreakable Vow before she’d finish what she’d started, Pansy would swear it. In those moments there was nothing Astoria could demand that Pansy would not give.
Astoria had proven this plenty of times, once she’d let Pansy up from the table. Once again, Pansy could never have imagined the things Astoria told her to do. But she did them. When she could, she kept her eyes fixed on the Dark Mark – the fake Dark Mark that she could have touched without fear of the Dark Lord, and yet which she almost feared more than Draco’s Mark, though she could never have explained why.
In between meetings, they didn’t speak.
But Pansy was always aware of Astoria, a low-level, jittering awareness that flared up in an all-over flush and a thudding heartbeat whenever she caught a glimpse of that lank seaweed hair wending through the crowds in the hallways. Astoria had her hooked and nowadays, when she was with Draco, she couldn’t keep her mind off Astoria no matter what they were doing. She often thought back to the time that Astoria had barged in on them in the bathroom. She listened when Draco told the story and felt a warm tingle begin between her legs, sometimes tried to lead him into talking about it just so she could listen. Sex with Draco felt almost pointless now, just something she had to do if she wanted to keep him. She prized her relationship with him still, still swept through the hallways in a heady rush when she was on his arm, still laid her head in his lap in the common room and felt him swelling against her in satisfaction. She expected that they would stay this way. She would fawn over him and stroke his vanity in every way she knew how, she would be the perfect girlfriend, and after Hogwarts they would marry and she would become Pansy Malfoy, wife of the Dark Lord’s right-hand man, foremost among the Wizarding world’s elite.
She didn’t think about Astoria in her future because she didn’t let herself think about her. Draco was Pansy’s investment in the future. Whatever happened with Astoria happened in the moment; it would always exist apart from the rest of reality, in a Room of Requirement where the torches flickered wildly and no clocks were ever set. She and Draco lived in one world, Astoria in another. She expected that when they emerged from Hogwarts, Draco’s would be the world she took with her, the world in which she made her home.
She can remember a few of them, and though she never gets them quite right, they're almost always worth an extra five or ten Galleons – quite a boost these days, when she keeps having to lower her base rate just to get them in the door. Sometimes she can work a whole day without breaking thirty Galleons. Astoria’s spells are for a special clientele, the sort of clientele Pansy had always assumed she’d have – her looks, her experience – but the men these days are looking for something younger or flightier, she supposed. She’d tried to charm her wrinkles away last year, but the spell had gone awry and she’d wound up with a spray of scars across her cheek, which she hadn’t been able to cure. Still, at seven Galleons a throw the johns ought to be lined up around the corner, scars or no scars.
But she doesn’t remember enough of them, and she can see at a glance that while the ones she can remember usually works well enough, there’s never been a man yet who’d flown into bits of ecstasy the way Pansy used to in her Hogwarts years. Maybe they weren’t intended for use on men, but Pansy suspects that they’d have worked fine with Astoria holding the wand. Still, she keeps working at it, letting the men hammer into her until she’s all but numb, then whispering a suggestion in their ear to make things a bit more… interesting. Times when it works, she’ll have a few more drafts of mead at the end of the day. If it doesn’t (and that had only happened once or twice, really) St. Mungo’s can take care of him and no questions asked. She’s never had any trouble with the Obliviate spell, so she’s got no worry that rumors would spread that could damage her business. Such as it is.
In objective moments she’d have to confess that she’s not terribly happy with her life these days. Draco’s leaving her fresh out of Hogwarts, that had been a blow. She’d thought she’d be in Malfoy Manor by now, a personal house-elf at her beck and call, standing on Platform Nine and Three-Quarters each year to kiss goodbye to a couple of kids with a blend of hers and Draco’s features. Parties with the beau monde, cut-crystal glasses full of the finest elf-made wine.
She doesn’t know how it happened, doesn’t know when or how Astoria and Draco came together. She tries not to think about it too much. The engagement notice in the paper six weeks after she and Draco broke up, when Astoria was still in high school, barely even of age. He would have gone to visit Astoria on weekends, or she would have visited him. Pansy does not imagine them together in the Room of Requirement. She does not imagine Astoria sitting in Malfoy Manor, ringing the bell for her house-elf. She does not picture Astoria occupying Pansy’s place on Draco’s arm. She never imagines any of those things. Not at all.
She never thinks about Astoria in any way, really. If she occasionally has to rake her memory over those times they spent together in the Room of Requirement, the heat and the shrieks and the wetness and the hoarse pleas, it’s strictly a business matter. She needs the spells, that’s all. How did she ever lose them?
She doesn’t think about Astoria and she doesn’t think about Draco but then, one day, she looks up for her next customer and feels her eyes widen uncontrollably as she takes in the white-blond hair, the aristocratic features, the dry, sardonic glance. It’s Draco. She knew he’d be back someday; she knew she was the one he wanted, that Astoria was a mere trifle with a pure-blood family tree. Pansy sees her around every now and again, her appearance wholly different from what she’d looked like at Hogwarts; her hair’s a rich auburn these days, nothing like any of the colors Pansy had ever seen while she was at Hogwarts. Her nose longer, her lips fuller, her cheekbones higher. Pansy wonders if she has to focus on keeping herself Metamorphosed at all times, or whether her true appearance is anything she wants it to be, neither what she’d seemed at Hogwarts nor what she seems now, and changing her appearance as easy as changing her clothes. Whatever she looks like, it’s false, nothing but an empty mask, and Draco knows that, or why would he have come to Pansy? He wants someone real. He wants her.
Wordlessly, she opens her arms to him.
When they’re finished and he’s straightening his clothes, an awkwardness descends between them. Pansy realizes that they haven’t spoken at all since he came in. Something about the silence between them, the way she’d known from a glance what he wanted from her and how she’d given it without a word, tugs at her memory, but there’s no time to wonder about that. “The usual rate’s seven Galleons, stranger,” she says, slipping into the throaty voice she uses with all her clients, “but seeing as it’s you, we might be able to come to an… arrangement? Maybe a repeat visit, the first one’s on the house?”
He turns to her and gives her a slow smile. A chill steals down Pansy’s back, although she can’t say why. Something about that smile – something –
Something is happening to his hair. It’s not quite the silvery-blond shade it was – there’s a gray tone to it, a yellowish cast –
His eyes suddenly flare mercury-bright at her, and she screams.
With a wink, Astoria casts seven Galleons on the table and walks out the door.