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Chapter 4: IV
Whisper in my ear, a wish
"We could drift away so far"
Your voice inside of my head - Like this.
- The Cure, Underneath the Stars
‘What do you know about twee- er, Astoria Greengrass?’ Draco asked of Pansy as they walked together from work one afternoon.
‘Not much,’ Pansy shrugged. ‘Bit of an enigma wrapped in a puzzle and tied together with a mystery, or something like that. Know nowt about her, really, except that she used to be a bit of a hellraiser and now she’s all weird and dressing like a muggle and Daphne completely hates her.’
‘Speaking of Daphne,’ Pansy continued. ‘Are you going to hers tonight? It’s her birthday party.’
‘Suppose. Am I invited?’
‘I am, therefore you are too.’
‘Yeah, looking forward to it. Why the sudden questions about her weirdo sister?’
‘Dunno, she keeps popping up wherever I go.’
‘Probably stalking you,’ Pansy smirked. ‘Wouldn’t put it past a freak like her.’
‘Yeah,’ he forced a laugh. ‘She’s strange. What do you mean, a hellraiser?’
‘Oh, you know,’ Pansy waved her hand vaguely. ‘Drink, unsuitable boys...I don’t know, I never remember her at all from Hogwarts, but she was in our house, apparently. All I’ve ever heard from Daphne is that she was an embarrassment as a sister, practically disowned by everyone,’ her eyes were dancing with the usual excitement that accompanied juicy gossip. ‘And I did hear, once, that she got chucked of the house one summer after this huge fight, and then she tossed a rock at Daphne’s window...Daphne talked about it for ages, apparently she was standing right by the windowsill when this huge rock smashed the glass all over her face, she took ten stitches, you know...the girl’s totally mad, I’m not surprised everyone hates her.’
‘Hmm, really?’ Draco was hardly listening.
‘Yeah, I really feel sorry for Daphne, she’s had to put up with this freak, imagine being related to someone like Astoria! Gosh, it’d kill me!’
Draco tried to imagine Astoria in her spectacles and tweed smashing a window, but couldn’t. Instead he saw her curled up on his sofa, book in one hand, the other pushing up her glasses.
‘Yeah.’ He said, trying to chase Astoria from his thoughts. The vision of her in tweed proved difficult to get rid of. She stayed there, silent, salient in his mind, flicking a rude hand gesture at Pansy’s words. An invention of his. Somehow, he had doubts that Astoria would be the sort of girl to stick up to someone like Pansy.
‘She’s...oh, I dunno, she’s just weird. I think she’s going tonight, Daphne said something about inviting her out of pity.’
‘Really?’ he asked, only noticing, a second too late, the leap in his voice. Pansy gave him a quizzical look.
‘Yeah, it may be strange, but Daphne is capable of sisterly pity,’ she tittered. ‘What’s the interest in her all of a sudden?’
‘As I said, she keeps turning up. She was over at my flat the other night-’
‘She was over at your flat?’ Pansy slowed her pace. They had drawn close to a small passageway that led through to Diagon Alley.
‘Yeah, we kind of slept together-’
‘YOU DID WHAT?’ Pansy shrieked, causing several passers-by to turn and stare.
‘Not in that way-’
‘You unbelievable- you bastard-’ she stormed away from him, heels hitting the floor so hard he was surprised they didn’t punch holes in the stone.
‘I didn’t mean it!’ Draco shouted after her. She wheeled around, face screwed up in anger, murder spewing from every syllable she spoke.
‘You’re such a twat!’ she yelled. ‘I’m supposed to be your girlfriend!’
‘It’s not what you think!’ he called, desperately, at her retreating back. ‘It’s just that she kind of fell asleep and then I did too-’
‘Don’t try and take back your words, or whatever!’ her eyes were shining. ‘You – you’re just – argh!’
‘Yeah, great comeback!’ he shouted after her. ‘You’re not listening to me!’
His last words were useless; Pansy had dissaparated already, leaving him surrounded by curious bystanders, staring in amusement as he swore and stalked towards the Leaky Cauldron, digging in his pockets for Floo Powder. Nothing. He swore again, fluently, a stream of curses making one nearby witch gasp. He ignored her, cursing the Ministry, Pansy, and his own stupid mouth...
Cursing everything, really.
‘I hate life, I hate life, I hate life,’ he repeated under his breath like a mantra, throwing the Floo powder into the fireplace with such venom that the roaring green flames nearly singed his eyebrows. He hated not being able to apparate, he hated his boring job, he hated Pansy...
Did he? Clambering up the stairs to his flat, he turned the thought over in his mind. She was pretty...mildly pretty. She had nice eyes. Or maybe they were average eyes. Legs that went on for miles, but her voice was a little too grating, a little too harsh. She never dwelled on the past, but she moved forwards with such ferocity that she never really considered her actions, her words. She spoke before she thought, but wasn’t spontaneity a desirable factor?
Astoria, on the other hand, he thought. She liked books. Weird dress sense, but she was down-to-earth enough for his liking. A kind face, bright and lovely, with eyes that seemed to glitter in any light. Overly enthusiastic though. And she interrupted him sometimes. But for all the tweed and strange meetings in Hyde Park, she wasn’t spontaneous or mad. She was actually strangely ordinary.
And she had a lovely smile. And she was going to the party tonight, so at least he had one ally, assuming that Pansy was already holed up in Daphne’s flat and hotly abusing Draco and his slip of the tongue.
Actually, he didn’t think he cared that much. Not at all. This thought spurred him on slightly, putting a spring back into his step as he unlocked his door and let himself into the flat. What was apparition, anyway? Floo powder did the trick just as well. Plus he’d be allowed to take his test in a year. Maybe then he could think about getting a proper job...
Draco stepped out of Daphne’s fireplace at nine that evening, brushing soot from his shoulders as he looked around him, blinking in the bright light. Daphne detached herself from a nearby group of people and strode over to him, smiling. Evidently she hadn’t seen Pansy yet.
‘Evening,’ he said, handing her a book he’d taken from the shop and wrapped earlier as a peace offering. ‘Brought this, hope you like it. Happy birthday.’
‘Thanks,’ she took it with a smile. ‘Oh, have you spoken to Pansy today, by the way?’
‘Er, we kind of had an argument this afternoon and-’
Right on cue, Pansy rushed past, shooting Draco a filthy look.
‘Yeah, she isn’t speaking to me.’
‘Oh,’ Daphne’s face fell. ‘That’s a shame. Do you mind if I...’
‘Sure,’ he shrugged. Daphne dashed off after Pansy, obviously in search of some sliver of gossip about that afternoon’s conversation.
Left alone, Draco scanned the room for a familiar face, but the only person he recognised was Theodore Nott, immersed in deep conversation with an unfamiliar red-haired witch. As he watched, Theodore leaned in closer to the girl, his hand brushing her knee. Draco turned away, conscious for the first time of the fact that he was alone.
A table of drinks stood at the far wall. He made his way over to it, snatching up a glass of what he presumed was Firewhisky. The first sip burned his mouth like flames, confirming his thoughts. He was just about to tip his head back and down the glass in one when Astoria appeared at his side, smiling.
‘Hi,’ she said. ‘Didn’t realise you were coming tonight.’
‘Yeah, I was supposed to come with Pansy...’
‘Haven’t seen her around,’ Astoria sounded curious.
‘We had a fall out,’ he shrugged. ‘She’s one for a grudge.’
‘Hmm, yeah,’ Astoria grabbed her own drink, studying it carefully. ‘What is this anyway?’
‘Thank goodness for that,’ she drained the glass in one. Draco was surprised to see her in proper witch’s robes for the first time, even if they were a little too big for her and a dull grey colour. ‘I’m glad I found you as well, I don’t know anybody here and I feel like a total idiot on my own. I was just on my way to getting absolutely pissed.’
‘Let’s go next door, it’s quieter in there...’
He followed her into what seemed to be the hallway, where it was, indeed, much quieter. He stopped short in his tracks, however, when he saw Pansy and Daphne leaning against the opposite wall, whispering conspiratorially together. Simultaneously, they turned to look at Draco and Astoria, glowering as if the two of them had committed some serious crime.
‘You really did have a fall-out, didn’t you?’ Astoria murmured, as Pansy and Daphne went back to their whispering. ‘Gosh, what about?’
‘She’s not too happy about...well, about the fact you were over at my flat the other night.’
‘I think she’s supposed to be my girlfriend but I’m not really sure-’
‘You don’t actually know if she’s your girlfriend or not? That’s strange.’
‘Well, you know, it’s quite complicated.’
‘We didn’t do anything, what, does she think I’m your girlfriend now or something?’
‘I don’t know. Didn’t hang around to tell me.’
‘She looks quite angry,’ Astoria said, pulling at his sleeve. ‘Come on, we should move on-’
‘Where do you think you’re going?’ Daphne was suddenly at their side, a smile Draco didn’t like the look of fixed on her face. ‘We’re about to start a game.’
‘Yeah, come on,’ Daphne’s voice got louder; people were beginning to stare. ‘Seven minutes in heaven, you ever played it? Back when you were at school I heard you were the queen of it-’
‘Daphne, please,’ Astoria sighed, but Daphne was already dragging her across the room towards an open cupboard door. Draco stared, unsure of what to do, but then Pansy grabbed him by the shoulders and frogmarched him after Astoria.
‘Come on, get in there with your girlfriend,’ she hissed through clenched teeth. ‘It’s what you want, isn’t it? You and the freak-’
The door slammed shut, leaving him to stumble blindly in the dark. But then someone shushed him, a hand fell on his shoulder and a light flared from the tip of Astoria’s wand.
‘Sorry about that...Daphne's a...well...now we're locked in a cupboard.’
Draco flattened himself against a rack of coats, overly aware of how close they were in the claustrophobic space. Astoria took the Firewhisky from his hand and sipped at it, contemplating the door.
‘Neither of us can apparate out, and,’ she transferred her wand and the Firewhisky to her left hand and tugged at the door handle with her right. ‘They’ve locked the door. Oh, what a pair of...’
Swearing fluently, she struggled with the door handle for a moment longer.
‘Nothing for it,’ she said, placing the Firewhisky back in her left hand and holding her wand squarely in her right. ‘Three, two, one...Reducto!’
The next minute Draco found himself blinking in bright light and the stares of half a dozen strangers, not to mention the affronted glares of Pansy and Daphne.
‘Great party, Daphne, but I think we’ll be off now,’ Astoria said, tucking her wand back inside her robes. With a devilish grin in Draco’s direction, she downed the last of the Firewhisky in one and pressed the empty glass into Daphne’s hands. ‘Thanks, but, bye. You coming, Draco?’
A hot, prickling feeling creeping up the back of his neck, he followed Astoria as she let herself out of the front door and burst onto the street outside, head held towards the sky, smiling triumphantly.
‘Astoria,’ he said, falling into step beside her. ‘You’re strutting.’
‘I know,’ she grinned. ‘But that was pretty good, wasn’t it?’
‘I don’t like my sister.’
‘I can see that.’
‘I’m going to get a bus back into town,’ she said, checking her watch. ‘Can’t Floo back from Daphne’s, really.’
‘You’re in robes!’
‘You know...’ their pace died halfway down the road. ‘Statue of Secrecy...keeping things away from Muggles...’
‘If anyone asks we were at a fancy dress party. Well, assuming you’re catching the bus with me...’
‘We’d be better off walking-’
‘Draco, it’s seven miles to town!’
‘Just, you know, people always look at me funny when I wear robes, and I don’t want to risk it-’
‘Why are you so jumpy?’
Because of the court documents! Because of the Dark Mark! His mind shouted, but instead he shrugged, let out a nervous laugh, and made up something about Pansy following him for revenge.
‘You know, better to blend in and...they locked us in a cupboard!’
‘They’re not coming after us, Draco,’ her eyes glittered with laughter. ‘There are better ways to disappear anyway.’
‘Are we going, then?’
‘Yeah,’ she resumed walking again.
‘Home,’ she shrugged. ‘Don’t know, anywhere, really. Well, somewhere.’
‘Here, yeah. I just hate my sister, Draco, I don’t even know why I came tonight...I don’t have any change for the bus...’
‘Then won’t we have to walk?’
‘Nah,’ she waved him away. ‘Confound the driver.’
‘Are you even allowed to do that?’
‘Strictly speaking, no, I’m not, but I have a licence to Obliviate, and there’s a loophole that lets me confound people. Great, isn’t it?’
‘I suppose so.’
‘Licence to Obliviate,’ she repeated. ‘Sounds stupidly cool...licence to Obliviate.’
‘All I’ve got is a licence to sell crummy paperbacks for peanuts.’
‘Yeah, that’s a bit rubbish.’
‘I should really get a better job.’
‘Yeah, specially seeing as you moan about your current one so much…’
They caught a bus after ten minutes of waiting. It was a double-decker, totally empty save for a sleepy-looking man sat near the driver. Obviously thinking this wasn’t privacy enough, Astoria took hold of a handle and swung herself up the stairs just as the bus lurched forwards. Draco, unused to muggle public transport, almost fell into the man’s lap and had to clutch onto one of the several handles that swung from the ceiling, thinking it was a stroke of luck that it wasn’t Pansy he was catching the bus with.
Upstairs, Astoria had gone all the way to the very back, sitting herself in the corner of the back row and swinging her legs up so that she took up four seats to herself. Draco, frowning at the litter of empty drinks bottles and wrappers on the floor, sat in the opposite corner. The window beside him was almost opaque with scratched graffiti.
‘Sometimes I love slumming it,’ Astoria said, picking at a loose thread on the seat in front of her. ‘Have to get on a lot of these, muggle liason and all. The worst is the underground…wish I could apparate.’
She leant her elbow on the top of the seat, resting her head on her hand and staring into the distance. The sleeve of her robes slipped down and her tattoo was visible again. Those stark, regimented numbers…Draco stared for a moment, thinking that they were almost recognisable, as if he’d seen them before, but then a police car screamed past outside and he was momentarily distracted by the flashing lights.
Another police car shrieked its way through Stockwell half an hour later, making Astoria start and nearly walk into Draco.
‘I hate those sirens when they’re up close,’ she admitted, adjusting her pace. ‘Always give me a fright.’
She didn’t talk so much as they walked from the bus stop. He was thinking. She was strange, but only because her reputation was such a contradiction. The escape from the cupboard, the way she’d pressed her drink into Daphne’s hand with such a devilish grin - she reminded him oddly of Pansy. Only Pansy had that love of gossip, that thirst for rumours…and Astoria, well, in place of gossip she had books and tattoos.
Astoria stopped suddenly. Draco stopped beside her, giving her an inquisitive look. With an apologetic smile, she pointed at the tower behind her, where ten storeys of windows glimmered with pale yellow light and graffiti was the only decoration on blank concrete.
‘My stop,’ she said. ‘Fifth floor…’
The lights on half of the fifth floor were indeed out.
‘Thanks for walking me home,’ she said.
Did I? he wanted to ask.
‘It was a pretty good evening, minor cupboard drama aside…’
She was standing very close to him. He was still staring up at the windows of her flat, trying to keep his mind off her. Difficult, with the way she was so consciously next to him. Then her hands were on his shoulders, her lips were on his, and he was still thinking about the windows – trying not to think of her. But then, of course, he couldn’t think of anything else, and there seemed to be nothing else in the world apart from the strange girl in the tweed jacket.
‘Sorry,’ she murmured, head on his shoulder. ‘No time like the present…thought I might as well…’
He didn’t respond. His eyes were still locked on those windows, even while his mind raced and his heart beat faster to catch it.
‘Probably shouldn’t…but, you know, you look daring…sometimes, when your hair sticks up at the back like that…would you like to come in for a cup of tea?’
There was a strange look in her eyes that suggested there might be more than tea involved. Self-consciously flattening his hair, he followed her into the tower block.