Draco's eyes are pale and colorless, empty as an abandoned mirror. All she can see in them is something broken, something jagged and sharp, fractured into a thousand pieces. They hold nothing, no warmth or love or emotion, unless....
Unless she forgets to have his brandy beside his chair by seven o'clock precisely. Unless she forgets to light the fire in the drawing room. Unless she forgets to be there, waiting, kneeling on the floor with her head lowered and her hands on the dark stain in the carpet.
She tries desperately not to forget. When she forgets, when she disobeys, his eyes fill with heat. They turn to a storm, dark and violent. She can see lightning in their depths, can see fire burning within him. Then, and only then, there is a passion in him. It has nothing to do with love and everything to do with pain. Astoria fears that passion, and strives every night to fulfill his orders. She fights to remember what he demands.
No matter what he demands. No matter what he does. She must remember.
Every night. Hands on the carpet, head bowed, eyes down. Legs spread.
If she forgets, it's worse.
Tonight, she remembers. Tonight, she is on time. When Draco strides into the room, his robes yanked from his shoulders and thrown over the back of his chair, Astoria is waiting. Her long, dark hair sweeps the floor in front of her, curling around her fingers as she presses them to the carpet. She doesn't look up. She doesn't move. She holds her position as the chair creaks and the glass tumbler rattles on the inlaid table.
She can feel him watching her, staring at her. The heat from the fire, warming her naked side, is nothing compared to the heat she can feel from his gaze. The glass rattles again as Draco finishes his drink, and Astoria's fingers tense in the threads of the carpet. "Wife," Draco says, his voice thick with the brandy.
She holds still, but the tips of her hair stir with her exhale. He rarely uses her name to address her, and she fights not to shiver with relief that tonight she is 'wife'. Not whore, not slut, not any of the others. None of the harsh words that say he is displeased.
Tonight, she is 'wife'.
Tonight, she thinks, she won't hurt as much.
"Wife," Draco says again, and his voice is almost a caress. A long, slow drawl that slips down her spine and spreads over her skin. It gives her hope. Faint and weak and broken, but hope. Draco is not displeased, and she clings to the warmth of his voice.
"Sit up," he says.
Astoria flings her hair back as she rises to her knees, the long curls sweeping through the air like the roll of a wave. Draco likes her hair, and always treats it with fond consideration, no matter the disgraces he visits upon her body. She encourages those attentions as much as she dares, praying night after night that he will exhaust himself with only that.
He never has yet, but she prays nevertheless.
She sits back on her heels, her knees spread wide, her hands resting loose on her thighs with her palms facing up. Draco sits with his knees spread as well, but she recognizes the differences in their positions. He is displaying power; she is simply on display. Astoria keeps her eyes on the dark stain in the carpet, on the ragged outline of old blood. She listens to her heart racing and she prays.
"You've done well," he says, and Astoria's heart pounds against her ribs, beating like the wings of a caged bird. She doesn't move, doesn't lift her eyes from the carpet. Draco has not yet given her permission. Moving without that permission will only lead to pain. She knows. She knows too well the punishment he will mete out if she is disobedient. She learned that lesson early in their marriage.
"You've done well," he says again, then his voice shifts. It hardens and chills and Astoria wishes she dared to glance up at his face, to see what is filling his empty eyes.
"But you should have done better."
The last word cracks like ice breaking on a lake. Astoria feels herself falling, feels the cold surrounding her. Her lungs are frozen; her limbs are stiff. She was wrong. Draco is not pleased, and she is going to hurt.
Draco stands and walks to her, heavy boots silent on the carpet. Astoria fights not to move, not to twitch, but she can't stop her body's reaction. The closer he walks, the more she trembles. The more she shakes. When he stops in front of her, she's shivering in dreadful apprehension.
His fingers slide through her hair, lifting the heavy curls and dropping them against her shoulders and breasts. She thinks for a moment he might indulge in play, might distract himself with her hair, but he grips her chin and wrenches her head up. Astoria stifles a gasp. Draco's eyes are hard and his wand is clenched in his fist. "You should have done better," he says as he prods her throat with its tip.
The tears start to fall before she knows they have begun. Her lips move, silent apologies forming, desperate and unvoiced pleas. She doesn't know what he means, what else she could have done, but she will beg his forgiveness. She poured the brandy, lit the fire, knelt on the carpet. She did everything he's demanded in the past and she can't think of one thing she's missed. Still she will apologize, still she will plead for clemency. If he says she should have done better, then she should have. She has missed something.
She shapes her apologies in silence, tears streaking her cheeks, and she waits for him to grant her permission to speak aloud. She waits for permission to beg for mercy.
"Well?" he says, shaking her by the chin. "What do you have to say for yourself?"
There. That is what she needed to hear, what she needed to be granted. Draco speaks and it loosens her tongue. As tears slide down her face and spatter onto her breasts, she wails in apology.
I'm sorry, forgive me, Draco, I will do better, I swear to do better, I won't disappoint you again, Draco.
He watches her without moving, without speaking. Astoria racks her mind for anything that might give a hint as to why he is displeased. Draco's blank expression and empty eyes are no help to her frantic thoughts.
Draco, please. Draco, please tell me what I did wrong, please forgive me. I'll do it right, I swear to you, but I don't know what I did wrong!
His wand digs into the pulse beating wild in her throat and his fingers tighten on her chin. She can feel the bruises forming already around the pressing points of his grip, feel the strength of his hand grinding down to her bones. Astoria screams as he grips her harder, and the pain forces her to pull away from his hand.
She falls back on her hands and realizes her mistake. Realizes what she's done. Broken away from him, disobeyed him. Defied him. Whatever she'd done to disappoint him before, it was nothing compared to this. There will be no forgiveness from him now, no matter how much she pleads.
Draco's face lights with a fire she wishes she'd never seen, a blaze of heat that could burn away stone in one blast. His pale eyes darken, his pale skin reddens. He straightens up, his wand held along his side. "Oh, Astoria," he says.
She shudders. Her name in his mouth is a curse. The smile that curves his lips is a blade. He lifts his wand and taps it against his jaw. "Oh, Astoria," he says again. "Now you've done it."
She cowers on the floor, a keen stuck in her throat. She tries to beg again, but her words are trapped. There is nothing there, nothing she can give him to halt what is about to come. She sees the flames in his eyes and she screams, terrified.
Draco laughs, brutal and wild and charged with wicked intent, with Dark and violent magic. His wand flicks out like lightning.