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for the good life is out there somewhere,
so stay on my arm, you little charmer…
- The Smiths, Hand in Glove
It was a cold day when he first saw her.
In years to come, it surprised him that that was the only thing he remembered about their first meeting – if it could even be called as such. Working in a second-hand bookshop had given him an odd sort of habit of blurring the days together in his mind, simply because each seemed to fit the exact pattern of the one before. There were no real important events that marked the passage of time apart from the occasional spell of unusual weather, which, from his vantage point near the wide bay window at the front of the shop, he had a tendency to watch. Weather was infinitely more interesting than the usual stuffy clientele that visited, which was why his first sighting of her was the back of her head disappearing out of the shop door. He wouldn’t even have remembered her if it wasn’t for the boxy tweed jacket that sat upon her shoulders as if they were made of wire, scuffed elbow patches almost torn from wear, and the glint of a heavy silver watch beneath the sleeve – glinting off the winter sun, and that momentary flash was the only reason he looked anyway.
All else that remained in his memory of that day was the cold. A horribly bitter Monday in January, when the sky was an icy mix of blues, with the stale sun shining weakly in the midst of it all, making the compacted snow on the streets shimmer like diamonds. He remembered not being able to move his fingers for a good few hours for want of a good pair of gloves, and the horrible feeling of realising that he’d caught a cold halfway through the day (and subsequently spending his afternoon in the shop ripping tissues from a tattered box to deal with it). That was all; the girl with the oddly masculine jacket and silver watch had the simplest of walk-on parts in the great scheme of things. He might not even have remembered her later, anyway, if it hadn’t been for that damned jacket. (It never suited her, but she stubbornly put it on every day anyway. Mostly, he thought, because she didn’t actually own another jacket.)
It was still cold when he first talked to her. Colder, if that was even possible. She stood in front of his desk at the front, book in hand, and cleared her throat to take his eyes away from the window, where Diagon Alley was drowning under a blizzard.
‘Six sickles for that.’ he told her, nodding to the book.
‘Alright.’ She answered, and dug in a pocket for the money. In a moment, the silver coins were rattling on the counter, and she was already pushing her way out of the door, her new book tucked under one arm. He went back to watching the weather, noticing vaguely how the blizzard swallowed her up in seconds. In the months that followed, he found he couldn’t even recall what book she’d bought, although she insisted repeatedly that it was a copy of Defences of the Mind: A study of Occlumency, and she’d only really bought it because she liked the particular typeface they’d used on the front cover.
And that was all he could really remember.
January escaped him in a miserable slush of half-melted snow and watery sunsets, leaving him, as a final parting gift, a particularly bad bout of flu. February started badly, with the ghost of a cough still in his lungs and the vague smudges of blue-black haunting around his eyes, but he cheered up considerably when his month’s pay and Pansy arrived all in one week, the latter returning from visiting her parents up North.
‘Honestly,’ she told him, while they waited inside the pub for Daphne and Blaise to turn up. ‘You look a mess; you’d think they made you fight wars at that bloody bookshop you insist on working in.’
‘I’ve got the flu, and besides, I don’t insist,’ he told her, for perhaps the hundredth time since he’d taken the job. ‘It’s just that it’s impossible to get work elsewhere.’
‘Tell me about it.’ she muttered (for perhaps the hundredth time).
A few days later, she turned up at their regular table fifteen minutes late, her eyes bloodshot, and a mangled tissue stuffed up one sleeve.
‘I hate you, Draco,’ she said, miserably. ‘You’ve gone and made me ill.’
And those were the only really interesting things that happened in February. Of course, there was work (the usual languid trickle of customers, dusty as the books they perused) and life in his miserable little flat (a far cry from the mansion, but he’d had to give that up when nobody would give him a reasonable job), plus those two of three perfunctory trysts with Pansy that he barely even gave thought to, let alone regretted (he wasn’t entirely sure where their relationship stood between friendship and romance, but no harm seemed to come of it, so he left it alone).
It was just a routine. Breaking it would have been interesting, but he wasn’t even in a position to consider doing something out-of-the-ordinary and causing a fuss, because he had money to earn and friendships to keep.
(In months to come, he told her that she was the tweed-clad thing that broke up his little regime into tiny pieces, but the truth was that she didn’t; she was just another customer. Just one that he talked to a little more than usual, that was all.)
The girl came back in late February. Three times in one week. He recognised the (stupid) tweed jacket with the (even stupider) elbow patches, and remembered that in that week he’d sold her five different books, the most recent being a thick tome of a novel called The Elegance of the Lame Duck, which was a title so ludicrous that he couldn’t help but remember it.
On the twenty-ninth of February (it was a Leap Year) they had what he might have called their first sustained conversation.
‘Hello,’ she said. ‘Can I get this?’
A battered copy of Magenta Comstock*: A Retrospective hit the desk in front of him.
‘Three sickles.’ he said.
Tweed girl dug deep in her pockets, rummaging for coins. Draco looked past her towards a suspicious-looking warlock who was edging his way behind an overstuffed bookshelf, and frowned.
After a few moments, the girl slammed down a handful of coins onto the counter and began to sort through them hurriedly, finally extracting three of the dullest silver sickles from the mess of Knuts and lint from her pocket, pushing them forward towards Draco.
‘There.’ she said, proudly.
Draco slid the coins into the till. ‘You’re in here a lot.’ he said, idly.
‘Yeah, I suppose…’
Scribbling off a receipt, Draco slid the book towards her. She was wearing a pair of ungainly glasses that gave her an inquisitive, owlish look; as if sensing him watching her, she pushed them further up the bridge of her nose, the slightest hint of colour rising in her cheeks.
‘I get through books really quickly, so I always have to come back and buy more.’ she said, in a rush, almost tripping over the words in her haste to say them.
‘Understandable.’ he handed her the receipt, but she didn’t move.
‘Sorry,’ she blurted out, ‘but I think I recognise you from somewhere, were you in Slytherin?’
‘Yes.’ he told her, although it came out sounding more like a question than a statement.
‘Ah. Oh, okay. Did you…did you know someone called Daphne?’
Tweed girl nodded.
‘Yeah, I did.’
‘Ah,’ she said, her eyes lighting up. ‘She’s my sister.’
Tweed girl (or the youngest Greengrass sister, to give her a more proper name) took up her book and hugged one-armed it to her chest, stuffing the receipt into her pocket with her spare hand.
‘She talks about you a lot,’ Tweed-younger-Greengrass-sister girl said. ‘Well, okay, not a lot, but she’s mentioned you a few times. I mean,’ she added, hurriedly. ‘If you’re who I think you are, but if you aren’t, then she probably doesn’t, but, erm…’ she trailed off. Her spectacles slipped a little further down her nose, and she pushed them back up again.
‘Really?’ he said. ‘Er…truth be told, I didn’t know Daphne had a sister.’
(Pansy later told him that this was a rather tactless thing to say.)
Tweed-younger-Greengrass-sister girl let out a short, forced laugh. The suspicious warlock looked up, startled, abandoned the book he was holding in a nearby bookcase, and then left the shop, casting a dirty look in the girl’s direction.
‘Ah. Right. Well, I don’t see all that much of her, so…that makes sense.’
(Daphne later confessed that she avoided her sister on principle.)
‘Busy,’ she answered. ‘I work in the Muggle Liason Office (Draco mentally filed her under the ‘weird’ category in his mind) and even though it’s really interesting, (he filed her under the ‘severely deluded’ sub-division) all the overtime I do (he now placed her into the ‘avoid at all costs’ folder) means that I don’t get to see people often.’
‘I guess working in a second-hand bookshop isn’t really fun either, yeah?’
‘Ah, well…okay,’ she took a step backwards from the counter, effectively terminating the conversation. ‘Erm, see you soon, I suppose…sorry, what did you say your name was?’
‘Draco.’ he told her, already looking out of the window at the slate-grey, moody sky.
But whatever she’d said then had been forgotten, because she was already halfway out the door and a thunderclap chose that moment to interrupt her. For a week or so until her next visit, she remained in his mind as ‘Weird-and-severely-deluded-avoid-at-all-costs-tweed-younger-Greengrass-sister-girl’.
Pansy visited the shop later that day, with only a few minutes left before closing time.
‘Can I turn the sign on the door to ‘Closed’?’ was the first thing she said. He let her. ‘I feel very important.’ she admitted, giggling, as she flipped the sun-bleached old sign over.
‘It’s just a sign.’
‘You’re just very boring.’
‘It’s raining.’ he observed, as if this was an adequate answer to her statement. Pansy hoisted herself up onto the counter and stared into the rain lashing down outside, while Draco began to count out the day’s takings from the till.
‘Fifteen galleons,’ he said, after five minutes or so. ‘How pathetic.’
‘Slow day?’ Pansy said, politely. ‘It was for us too at the Apothecary, it’s all this rain, it-’
But whatever the rain did he never found out, because he gave the till an almighty slam at that point to get it shut, and Pansy almost toppled off the counter in surprise.
‘You prat.’ she accused, steadying herself. He glowered at her, sliding the meagre fifteen galleons into an empty money-bag, mentally calculating his cut of the wages and the likelihood of going another week without Floo Powder.
‘Coming out for a drink tonight?’ she asked.
‘No.’ his voice was deadpan; he was used to this conversation by now. ‘No money.’
‘I’ll pay for you…’
He shot her an incredulous look.
‘…I’ll club together with Daphne and Blaise to pay for you.’
He shrugged. ‘You owe me, anyway.’
The next day was spent drawn close to the window with his forehead on the cold glass, trying to soothe the irritated thrumming of a headache inside his skull. Tweed girl reappeared at five, her appearance signalled by the loud, shrill ringing of the bell that made Draco wince and cover his ears.
(The excuse for his fragile head was this: Firewhiskey was far too cheap, and Pansy was far too persuasive.)
Eventually Tweed girl returned, her skinny arms exposed from under thickly rolled-up tweed sleeves. She hoisted another heavy book onto the counter (Regression and Revolution: A Brief History of the Wizengamot) displaying, for a slight moment, a stark, black regiment of numbers in line across her wrist. Draco thought, involuntarily, of his own tattoo, and tugged his sleeve down a little more.
‘Five sickles.’ he told her.
She frowned. ‘The label says three.’
‘I say five.’ the headache made him spit out. Tweed girl wrinkled her nose.
‘Forget it,’ she said, miserably. ‘I don’t have enough.’
In a moment she was out of the door and Pansy was entering, yawning widely.
‘Wasn’t that Daphne’s sister?’ she said.
‘Dunno, probably.’ he let his head fall against the glass again, thinking of the pittance of coins in the till; the day’s takings had been the worst in a week.
(Draco Malfoy’s money problems were as follows: chucked out of the Wiltshire mansion at eighteen after the Ministry had repossessed it, he’d gone to his parents in Azkaban, pleading access to those hallowed inheritance accounts that might save his reputation, but they’d simply shaken their heads and told them there was nothing left. At least he got a good price for his Nimbus 2001. Pansy had gone through something similar with her parents, but at least it was only a house she’d lost, not a whole bloody mansion.)
Pansy idly flicked at the book Tweed girl had left on the counter, her fingers dog-earing the pages.
‘Coming out again tonight?’
‘Take that as a no, then?’
The conversation broke off for a minute as Draco served a nervous-looking young man buying a heavy spell dictionary.
‘Come over to mine, then?’ she asked, flipping through the book again.
‘If you’re inviting me.’
She pushed the book aside and put her chin in her hands, staring at him with her tired, red-rimmed eyes.
‘Maybe we’ll go out next week, yeah? When I get paid?’
‘That’d be good.’
And then later that evening they were walking back to hers, idling along a silent road in the north of London, the cold air making clouds of their breath (like dandelion clocks taking flight, like scraps of silk in a breeze, like smoke from a fire, whatever, Pansy was more of a poet than he was.)
‘Oh!’ Pansy exclaimed, furiously rubbing her glove-less hands together. ‘Merlin, it’s f-f-f-freezing!’
‘Do you want my scarf?’ he offered. She took it, wrapping the over-stretched, over-worn wool around her neck with a shiver.
‘Thanks, Draco.’ she stammered, through her chattering teeth. ‘Much warmer now…’
Then they were in her flat, where the warmth pressed upon his numb limbs like a cloak, and tiredness made his eyes flutter shut every few seconds, and Pansy swan before his eyes like a ghost, desperately trying to coax the fire into lighting.
‘What are we going to do, Draco?’ she said, desperately. ‘What are we going to do?’
He told her that, honestly, he didn’t really know.
* Magenta Comstock is an artist in the HP canon; she was featured on JKR's website in the 'famous wizard/witch of the month' section, I believe.
Got to be good-looking 'cause she's so hard to see
-The Beatles, Come Together
‘Which book do you think I should get?’
Tweed girl was standing in front of him, holding out a book in each hand. Draco wanted to laugh, but the sombre expression on her face told him that her reading choices were no laughing matter.
‘You pick.’ he dismissed her. After all, it was not his job to choose the books, but to sell them.
‘No,’ she said. ‘I can’t decide, so I’m asking you.’
He looked closely at the two: The Case for Autocracy and The Silent Glance were polar opposites as far as books were concerned. He remembered reading The Silent Glance three months ago and immediately picked out The Case for Autocracy.
‘Thanks,’ she said. ‘How much?’
‘Two sickles.’ he told her, remembering pricing it the previous week. Tweed girl grinned, pushed her glasses a little further up her nose (he could have sworn she’d not worn glasses before) and then buried a hand in her pocket for the money. In a moment, she’d paid and left.
He watched her out of the corner of his eye. It was raining outside, and she threw her hands over her head and ran haphazardly along the road, almost upsetting a display barrel of cut-price Potions outside the Apothecary opposite. A moment later, Pansy came out, scowling, to re-adjust the sign. Draco waved at her; she rolled her eyes, gave an exaggerated yawn, and then straightened up, hands on hips.
I’m so bored! she mouthed, through the rain.
Draco pointed at his watch; it was half past four.
Not long now, he mouthed. Pansy shrugged and scuffed her shoes all the way back into the Apothecary, her hair like sodden rats’ tails against her shoulders.
The minute hand of his watch dragged itself towards the twelve. At five to, Draco tapped it impatiently, but the hand stubbornly remained hovering over the eleven, opposite the hour hand at five. Together they formed a thick black line across the watch face, stark as ink and pointed at either end like arrows, but then the minute hand grudgingly ticked on again and it was four to five.
Annoyed, Draco stalked over to the door and flipped the sign over to ‘Closed’. Time didn’t quite move fast enough for his liking these days. With an imperious sweep of his wand the shop began to sort itself, with books that had been picked up and misplaced soaring onto their rightful shelves. The Silent Glance flew close to his eyes and became a blur; he noticed a squat spell dictionary throwing itself through the air and caught it in one hand, knowing that seconds later it would have been a mess of glass and ripped paper on the Alley outside.
All that was left to do was to count the day’s takings. Wrenching open the till with white-knuckled fingers, he swept out a jumble of coins onto the counter. Deft fingers sorted them in little under a minute. Sixteen Galleons gleamed next to a small pile of Sickles and a cluster of Knuts. Twenty Galleons in total. As routine dictated, he swept it into an empty moneybag, mentally crossing out Floo Powder from that weeks’ list of luxuries.
Pansy was just emerging from the Apothecary when he locked the shop up, wiping her hands on her Apothecary-issued apron with a grimace.
‘Woman comes in at five, expects me to shovel her a whole bloody sack of beetle eyes,’ she moaned, wrenching off the apron and shoving it into her bag. ‘Had to brew up a cough potion too, I probably stink.’
Draco chose not to respond, instead jamming his fingers into his pockets, where a lonely Sickle knocked against his cold fingers miserably.
‘Daphne’s expecting us at the pub for seven,’ Pansy said, glancing at her watch. ‘I’m going to go home and get these stinking robes off.’
They reached the entrance to Diagon Alley. Pansy brought her wand out from her bag and tapped at the brickwork; in a moment they were in the warmth of The Leaky Cauldron.
‘Not flooing home, then?’ Pansy asked as Draco made for the door.
‘Can’t afford it.’
‘I might have a spare pinch,’ she said, kindly. ‘Hold on a second.’
Draco stood by, arms crossed, as she rummaged deep into her bag. A witch at a nearby table stared with beady eyes.
‘Got some,’ Pansy held out a closed fist. Draco extended a palm and she dropped a tiny handful of Floo powder into it. ‘Buy me a drink tonight to make up for it.’
In a moment, she had been swallowed up by the green flames. Following her example, he stepped in, opened his closed fist, and spoke his address to the fireplace. Three minutes later with the bitter taste of soot on his lips, he clambered out of the tower block’s communal fireplace and headed for the stairs.
(Can’t apparate? What a shame. A lot of people expressed this sympathy. His usual response was to say that what with the war and all... He neglected to mention the court documents in his desk drawer that expressly forbade him from apparition and certain spells, even if there was only a year or so left before it expired. At least he’d avoided prison, that much was good.)
Seven o’clock – raining still – found Draco crossing the threshold of the usual pub, shaking raindrops from his sleeves. His eyes scanned the room; bright after the dark haze of a storm outside, it stung his eyes. Daphne was seated at their usual corner. Her blonde hair had been scraped back from her face in a fiercely tight bun, her hand holding out a compact mirror at arm’s length so that she might scrutinise her face. Draco had always been of the opinion that she was one of those girls.
‘Hiya,’ she said, breathlessly, snapping the mirror shut. There was a tiny smudge of lipstick on her teeth. ‘How was work?’
‘Same old,’ he answered, truthfully. ‘Funny, though, your sister was in today.’
‘Oh, no, not her,’ Daphne grimaced. ‘Merlin, I haven’t seen her in months…kind of avoid her on principle, you know?’
Draco had to admit that he understood this perfectly. He didn’t tell her this though. A distraction had just arrived in the shape of Pansy, wearing fresh robes, her shoulders thrown back as if a weight had been taken off them. Customary greetings were exchanged; she took the seat next to him.
‘Draco was saying my sister’s been in the bookshop,’ Daphne said. ‘You seen her around, Pansy?’
‘Don’t get me started on her.’ Pansy glowered.
‘Honestly, she needs a slap. Never met someone so dishonest in my life.’
‘What do you mean by that?’ Draco asked. He was duly ignored by both girls, who merely tutted. ‘Honestly, though, Daphne,’ he said, hastily. ‘I didn’t even know you had a sister.’
‘She’s an embarrassment to the family. I try not to talk about her in public.’
‘I didn’t really believe her at first, I told her I didn’t even know you had a sister-’
‘You told her that?’ Pansy butted in. ‘Oh, Draco, you’re so tactless.’
‘I thought you two didn’t like her?’
‘Yeah, but, still, you’ve got to show some tact to your customers, that’s just rude.’
‘Are we insulting Draco now?’ Blaise joined in, arriving at the side of the table. ‘Oh, good, I like doing that.’
‘Oh, shut it-’
‘We’re talking about how he has no tact, Blaise.’
‘What, tact as well? Along with everything else? No tact, no money, no proper job, no girlfriend…’
Pansy looked a little hurt at this last statement, but neither Blaise or Daphne seemed to notice. Draco merely glared at them until Pansy offered to go up and get their drinks, and he got up to join her.
‘Blaise is looking well.’ she said, casually, as the landlord pulled their pints.
He looked at her out of the corner of his eye. She was tight-lipped, clutching her purse to her chest, staring determinedly ahead. Draco wanted to say something, like dunno what Blaise is talking about, I’ve got a job and a girlfriend, maybe not the money, but… but the words didn’t quite make it off his tongue, and he resorted to simply carrying the drinks in a futile attempt at gallantry.
Draco hardly paid attention to the rest of that evening’s conversation. He didn’t know whether it was how tired he was, or simply the way he was turning over thoughts about Pansy in his mind, afraid to ask where they really stood for fear he would offend her. She was the type of girl who did not take offence lightly, and he supposed he wasn’t exactly the type of boy to be upfront. Not that he supposed he was a type of anything at all. He thought of himself, a little pessimistically, as a prat who probably got what he deserved.
He was still lost in this thought when Tweed girl returned at two the next day, picked out a book called The Passage to Dusk and dropped two sickles on top of it, smiling expectantly.
‘Thanks.’ he said, scooping the coins into his hand. He was about to add ‘-Tweed girl.’ to the end when he realised that he had no idea what her name was, and that it would be a good deal more tactless to call her Tweed girl to her face.
‘Sorry,’ he said, handing her five Knuts’ change. ‘I know you’re Daphne’s sister, but what did you say your name was again?’
‘See you soon, I suppose.’ she said, stuffing the book into her bag. ‘I read fast.’
Astoria, he thought, trying to force himself to remember her name. Her name’s Astoria. Not Tweed girl at all.
But he forgot her name as he expected he would. Sitting up awake by the window in Pansy’s dark flat, he went over the day in his head (Had he locked the shop up? Had he counted the money? Had he signed off that delivery of books with missing covers from Flourish & Blott’s?) and suddenly remembered the girl and how she’d evaded his mind entirely up to that point. What had her name been? It was unusual, one he hadn’t recognised…it began with an A, he was sure of that…Alyss? Ariadne? Adelaide? But then again, it might have ended with that effortless ia sound, it might have even been Olivia…
The thought was only fleeting. Pansy was standing over him, her skin faintly illuminated, the rest of her dissolving into darkness, her eyes merely black shadows. A pale flash of red signalled her unsmiling lips.
Tweed A-ia girl took off out of his mind as if the memory of her had dissaparated.
‘Come back to sleep,’ Pansy’s voice was faint. ‘It’s two in the morning, Draco, we both have work tomorrow.’
He did not move – he was thinking again of the tight-lipped way she’d carefully reacted to Blaise’s jibe in the pub.
‘Pansy,’ he asked. She was tired, it was early in the morning, it was fair to ask her now, wasn’t it? ‘What exactly is going on?’
‘I’m tired and you’re being a prat, that’s what’s going on.’
He did not bother to correct her. He bring himself to ask through breakfast, nor through the walk to work, not even when she abandoned him outside the Apothecary, when he’d gone in to kiss her on the cheek and she’d dodged away and sworn at him before dashing inside.
He explained that away by remembering that she was always a one for violent mood swings. At the precise moment Pansy disappeared into the Apothecary, Tweed girl walked past, holding up a hand in friendly recognition. He waved back, but she did not stop to talk. She hurried away into the distance, evidently late for work.
Time dragged its feet as the day went on. Draco swore that the clock was ticking so slowly as to spite him, the hands yawning their way past minutes and eventually past hours. It rained on and off all day. By Noon Diagon Alley was drenched, multicoloured shop-lights shining on the pavements like an oil slick.
His eyes were heavy, half-closed and tired as if they’d both been blackened in a fight. Business was slower than usual. He was sure it was the wettest February in living memory. At three he sold an old Lockhart book to a nervous-looking witch then stretched, staring out of the window at the storm-blackened skies. Only two hours left to go, only two hours left and then it was the weekend…
The next thing he knew it was dark outside. The solitary, flickering oil-lamp on the desk had almost burned itself into darkness, and his forehead was resting on top of a pile of old maps a warlock had deposited at Noon, the smell of old, musty paper almost too much to bear. Someone was nudging him. A familiar wave of nausea rolled over him as he sat up – his head was sore, his eyes felt dry, and his throat felt like it had been scratched raw with sandpaper. Another cold, he thought, miserably.
‘Hello,’ a small voice said. ‘I think you fell asleep.’
Stating the obvious or what?
A familiar tweed cuff drifted in the tiny pool of light cast by the dying lamp. Tweed girl whispered, and then the flame rose again, brilliant orange and painful to Draco’s eyes.
‘It’s eight,’ she said. ‘All the shops are shut. I saw the light and came in…’
‘Oh. Thanks,’ he told her, although, truth be told, he didn’t feel very thankful. What was her name again? He couldn’t remember, he could never remember… ‘er, thanks…Alice?’
‘Astoria.’ she said, with one eyebrow raised. She’d taken her glasses off; they were neatly tucked inside her top pocket.
‘Sorry. I’ve got a terrible memory.’
‘Quite alright.’ she cast her eyes around the shop at the piles of old books stacked on tables and shelves, towers of paperbacks making fortresses on the carpeted floor with buttresses of spell dictionaries and old biographies. Draco swept the old maps from his desk into a cardboard box that lay waiting by his side. A cloud of dust billowed from them as he fell. Astoria – he was sure he would remember her name this time – coughed feebly.
‘Thanks for waking me up,’ he squinted through the front window at the dark shape of the Apothecary opposite. Pansy had obviously left him there out of spite. His fists curled involuntarily, although he wasn’t even sure it was anger or annoyance that made him draw breath so suddenly or cause Astoria to look up inquisitively from the map she’d idly pulled from the box. He felt oddly helpless, self-pitying, annoyed at himself, even, for sleeping on the job, for taking such an unspeakably tedious job in the first place, for letting the Ministry just take his mansion and his inheritance –
‘It’s okay, seriously.’ Astoria put the map back into the box. ‘I better be off, I’ll see you around.’
He kicked the box aside the moment she was out the door. Maps! he thought. What sort of weird people bring in maps? They were all out of date, showing tiny towns that had since grown to leviathans of cities. He’d never sell these in a million years, not unless Astoria in her tweed and glasses took a fancy to them.
It was Pansy’s fault he’d fallen asleep. He decided, on the spur of the moment, to cancel their arrangement to meet in their usual pub that night. No, not even to cancel, but to stand them up, to simply not turn up. An act of defiance. If Pansy really was his girlfriend, then it’d be payback, wouldn’t it?
No, he thought. No, it wouldn’t mean a thing. Pansy would laugh in his face. She wasn’t his girlfriend anyway. Blaise didn’t think so. Evidently Daphne didn’t think so. They were just straggling on some sort of line between friends-with-benefits and something a bit more serious – what did he care, anyway? He kicked the box of maps under the desk. Saturday, the next day, was his day off. Someone else would sort them out. Someone else could sort Pansy out. He couldn’t quite be bothered anymore.
Draco left the shop ten minutes later, locking the door and enchanting the shutters to fall over it as he always did. Diagon Alley was silent.
A/N: Sorry for the long wait on this one! I'd be delighted to hear what you think - please feel free to drop me a review (:
You left your girlfriend on the platform
with this really ragged notion that you'll return...
- The Smiths, London
Draco had never liked Sundays. He would happily admit it, strange a dislike as it was. Sunday was a wasteland, a horrible stretch between work on Friday and work on Monday with only a sliver of Saturday to split them. He liked Saturdays – Saturdays usually involved staying out until the light came up and then sleeping until the afternoon. Like a teenager. Not that he’d ever really been one.
Friday evening was spent, as usual, in the pub. With Pansy. He’d always been a coward like that. He’d arrived fifteen minutes late, sour-faced and bleary-eyed, half angry at himself for sleeping on the job and half angry for giving in.
I can’t quite be bothered with this anymore.
Yet he went anyway.
It was one of the worst Sundays yet, he thought. As days went, it wasn’t bad – he could think of thousands of bad things that had happened on weekdays, Saturdays; thousands of curses and arguments, and about two years’ worth of bad days between the ages of sixteen and eighteen. Days and years he wasn’t inclined to forget, but didn’t particularly enjoy remembering. Sundays were an exception though. Nothing exciting happened on Sundays. Sunday was a blank of a day, an empty twenty-four hour yawn of nothing.
This Sunday was as boring as ever. The cold he’d though he was catching on Friday hadn’t quite made an appearance yet, but his head had persisted to trouble him over the weekend. A dull, sticky, swollen headache – he could not think of any other way to describe it. His eyes felt sore. On Friday, Pansy reckoned it was from too many sleepless nights, even joked that he was turning into a regular insomniac. And she would know, wouldn’t she? Blaise had joked. She your personal Healer or something?
Maybe. He’d tried to be diplomatic. (We’ve always been best friends/friends-with-benefits/going out, his mind added, but he didn’t have the courage to say it aloud.)
‘You look like you could use a drink, you insomniac.’ Pansy had told him, her voice kind again, any annoyance of the morning forgotten.
‘I could.’ he’d replied. ‘Could indeed use a drink.’ Or a hundred of them. Or a thousand.
‘You’re a misery to spend time with.’ she’d said, much later on, when the table was crowded with a battalion of empty glasses. She’d said this before, but he could tell from her scowl that this time it wasn’t such a joke.
‘No I’m not.’
‘You are. You’ve spent the last-’ she’d glanced at her watch ‘-two hours complaining. If you hate your job so much, why not ditch it?’
‘You don’t understand.’
‘I do, Draco, and you forget that. Look, my house got taken off me too, I’ve got naff all in my Gringott’s vault, my job pays me about a knut a week for having to shovel beetle eyes all day, and I don’t complain half as much as you do.’
‘It’s not the same.’
‘Honestly,’ her voice had, at that point, become louder. Daphne had stared at them pointedly over the top of her glass. ‘You think you’re some sort of Saint or something, just ‘cause you had to do all that stuff in the war, and you think everyone in the world is against you – don’t bother denying it, you act like the world has a vendetta against you, and if you could take a second to drag yourself out of your self-pity you’d see that things aren’t actually that bad for us, yeah?’
‘Pansy, you’re shouting.’ (She wasn’t, but even two days later he was yet to think of a better comeback.)
‘You’re honestly the biggest killjoy I’ve ever met,’ she’d scowled. ‘I’m going home. See you all soon.’
He’d gone home a few hours later – or, rather, he’d let Daphne lead him home, her shrill voice permeating through his drink-fogged mind, although he couldn’t actually remember what she’d been telling him off. She’d left a note on his kitchen table, even though he had no recollection of her writing it.
Learn to hold your drink. You’re a prat. Love Daphne.
(He saved that note for years, putting it in his speech when she married – of all people – Theodore Nott. Daphne, do you remember this note you left? Am I still a prat these days?)
He didn’t see much of Saturday, given that he woke at two in the afternoon. Hungry, but sick at the thought of eating, he ended up leaning out of the window, breathing in fresh air to soothe his tender head. Fresh air until the traffic lights on the road below changed, and instead his lungs were flooded with soot and smog. That’s London! he thought, cheerfully, then his head reminded him of the previous night and the thought changed to screw this, I’m going back to bed.
He was up and dressed at seven that evening, remembering, rather guiltily, how his mother had always hated it when he slept in late and wasted the day. Pansy rang the door half an hour later, causing him to drop the headache potion he was midway through mixing.
‘What do you want?’ he asked, when she stepped into his flat.
‘How are you feeling?’
‘Kind of alcoholic, why?’
She narrowed her eyes at him. ‘Daphne told me to come over and check that you hadn’t set fire to your flat or anything.’
‘Daphne’s a wise girl.’
‘Well, I’m here, and you’re obviously alright, except it looks like you’ve just thrown up all over yourself-’
‘That’s a potion for my head, Pansy-’
‘Not much use on your robes, is it?’
‘No, you made me drop it when you rang the door.’
‘Of course.’ she rolled her eyes. ‘Blame me.’
‘I’m not – oh, forget it. Cup of tea?’
‘I’d love one.’
She left at ten, Draco having firmly relegated her back to the ‘friends’ category in his mind. He though. He supposed. He wasn’t even sure. She’d done nothing more than perch on the edge of the sofa with a stone-cold cup of tea in her hands, talking. It was like being a fifth year all over again in the common room, only with a notable lack of Daphne, Crabbe, Goyle, Theodore, Blaise…Although, he supposed, they were nothing like the fifth years they were then. When he was actually just friends with Pansy and not…not…whatever he was.
You’re a prat. You’re a killjoy. Can’t see beyond the end of your own nose. Pansy and Daphne had said this much. They were the only women in his life – well, apart from Astoria and her tweed – and they were bound to know these things.
Stop wallowing in self-pity and get a proper job, if you hate the bookshop so much. Tomorrow. Look at the Prophet Classifieds, see what’s on offer.
He ignored Pansy’s advice and went for a walk instead. It was a Sunday. Hyde Park was deserted. It was late already by the time he left, dressed like a muggle so as not to be seen, trying desperately not to think of how his father would kill him for such behaviour. It was better than the alternative, though. Donning robes and walking through Diagon Alley always seemed to attract people from his past, and he hated the inevitable small talk he always had to make. It was the constant lying through gritted teeth, the forced Hellos that he despised so much. He didn’t have to see those Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors with their smug smiles to know that they were all doing better than him, and they knew it.
Bloody hell, they knew it. It was almost as if in the split second of awkward eye contact and muttered greetings they saw his mind open like a book, his soul laid bare. Nothing more than a sneer to hide behind. Yeah, my parents are in prison, what’s it to you?
Almost everyone else from Hogwarts had a high-ranking job, a marriage, kids on the way, nicer robes than him, nicer houses, nicer salaries…
It’s farther to fall when you fall from the top, Draco. Pansy had told him this a long time ago, back when they were nineteen and both ebbing along in the wake of the Trials. Remember that and stop being such a miserable bastard. Swear to Salazar I could kill you sometimes.
She was right. It was farther to fall, especially when you were pushed.
So he ended up walking in Hyde Park instead. Thinking about how much he hated Sundays. The day was already dimming; the sun was low, orange, the ripples of the Serpentine effervescent with colour. He passed only five people as he crossed the park, three of them out jogging. The other two were a young couple, clutching hands and dribbling sweet nothings to each other, voices lazy as the sun’s glow.
His head still felt dangerous. The fresh air was good; it was crisp, sharp as a knife, cutting through his choked thoughts with ease. It felt good to breathe in. He inhaled – one, two, three, four – and then exhaled for the count of nine.
Draco didn’t actually notice Astoria until she almost ran into him. He was too busy being blinded by the sun, and she, turning right from a path at a right-angle to his, had been hidden by an overgrown tree. At the sight of him she cursed and jumped backwards, hand over her Tweed-coated heart.
Swearing several times, she cast him a half-angry, half-amused look.
‘Nearly scared the life out of me,’ she laughed. ‘Sorry.’
‘Sorry.’ he said, automatically, a split second after she had. ‘Wasn’t looking where I was going.’
‘What brings you here?’ she asked. He could tell by the way she was looking at him that she was genuinely bemused – after all, she’d only ever seen him behind a desk before, in proper robes. He felt like her, masquerading as a muggle…except he hoped that he had a better dress sense than Tweed jackets with elbow patches.
‘Dunno,’ he shrugged. ‘Needed to clear my head.’
‘Nothing like a walk for that.’
‘What about you?’
‘Had to post a letter,’ she said. ‘I don’t own an owl, you see.’
‘Yeah. Er, Draco, could I ask you something?’
‘Have you seen my sister lately? Because, well, the letter I was posting was for her. We haven’t seen each other in ages, and she’s never in when I call round…’
‘I saw her on Friday night, actually.’
Draco distinctly remembered Daphne telling him that she avoided her sister on principle – a sister who was, in her words, dishonest, an embarrassment to the family. For the first time, he felt the slightest sympathy for Astoria – there was nothing outwardly strange about her, once you got past the Tweed and the overtime at the Muggle Liaison Office.
‘As well, I was thinking about that book I bought off you the first time I went into the bookshop…it’s not all that good, I might bring it back.’
‘Can’t remember which book it was.’
‘Defences of the Mind: A study of Occlumency.’ she recited, schoolgirl-like. ‘I only really bought it because I liked the typeface on the cover, to be honest…’
‘Oh. It’s alright if you bring it back…might make a few sickles more if I sell it on.’
They stood in silence for a moment. Astoria brushed a strand of hair from where it had fallen over her glasses.
‘Where are you headed?’ he asked.
‘That way.’ she pointed ahead of him.
‘May as well just walk with you then.’
They started to walk. Squinting, Astoria took off her glasses and stuck them in her top pocket. The lenses were filthy with finger marks.
‘I’m short-sighted,’ she explained, at Draco’s quizzical look. ‘Can’t see a thing in the distance for the life of me.’
‘My father used to wear glasses too, for reading.’
‘That’s the other one. Long sighted.’
‘Expensive, aren’t they?’
‘What, glasses?’ she asked, fingers going to her glasses again. ‘Yeah, thirty Galleons or something. Bit of a dent out of my salary. It’s cold, isn’t it?’ she added, suddenly, rubbing her hands together.
‘Best weather we’ve had all year, I think,’ she stared ahead at the sky. ‘And it is March already. February was rubbish. All that rain.’
She was speaking as if he was an amnesiac, as if he’d forgotten last month’s weather. He nodded again, unable to think of anything else to say.
‘At least they’re forecasting a nice summer,’ she said. ‘But, then again…’
‘This being England, we’ll be lucky to get one dry day.’
‘I’ll make sure I’m out on that one day then. I’m getting a bit fed up of the rain.’
They were almost at the gate of the park. ‘Heading home?’ Draco asked, casually, almost half-wishing that she had a house in Kensington and would leave him at the gate. His headache was returning. But, he thought, a jacket that worn doesn’t suggest a Kensington lifestyle.
‘Yeah. Suppose you’re off round there somewhere.’ she gestured to their left. He wanted to laugh; she was thinking exactly the same thing, possibly wishing that he would leave and go home to Kensington. Instead, he shook his head, mustering the politest smile possible.
‘No, I’m down by Stockwell. Over the river.’
‘Clapham South,’ she said, in a flash. ‘You’re not that far away from me.’
They carried on walking. Astoria tucked her hands into her pockets, complaining that they were numb with cold. Her eyes were scrunched up, squinting against the full glare of the sun, her lips curved in a frown.
‘Daphne was asking after you on Friday,’ he lied. ‘She wondered how you were.’
‘Oh,’ Astoria’s hand shielded her face from the sun. Draco could see that her smile didn’t quite reach her eyes. ‘That was nice of her.’
‘Yeah,’ he said, hastily thinking of something else to say. ‘She said…she said she felt bad for not seeing you more often and she was talking about seeing you sometime soon.’
He felt proud of himself for a split second – what was a lie like that when it could make someone happier? But then Astoria shook her head, laughing.
‘You don’t have to lie. I know she’s avoiding me.’
‘Then why were you asking after her?’
Astoria looked as if she was about to answer, but then she shook her head. ‘You wouldn’t understand.’ she said, finally. ‘Daphne hasn’t made an effort to contact me for about a year.’
A police car shot past them, sirens blaring. Astoria watched it idly, stuffing her hands back into her pockets. They passed underneath the shadow of a building and she relaxed her eyes. Following her example, Draco tugged his sleeves down over his stiff fingers.
‘Do you ever wonder where all these muggles are headed?’ she asked, out of the blue. ‘I mean, not like the police, I know they’re off to an emergency, but just…ordinary ones. In cars. Seems like an awful lot of effort to travel.’
‘That’s coming from someone who can apparate, though.’
‘I can’t, actually,’ she said, wearily. ‘Everyone assumes I can, but…anyway, the muggles have it good – they’ve got buses and trains, haven’t they? More efficient than those things they insist on driving.’
‘I dunno. Never really thought about it.’
She laughed again. ‘I get paid to think about this sort of stuff. Muggles. It’s all a bit silly, really.’
‘What do you actually do with work?’ he asked, suspiciously.
‘Tell people off for using magic in front of muggles. Obliviate muggles. The first part’s dead dull, but the memory charms are fun.’
‘Ah. Your overtime.’
‘Yeah, that. Sometimes I wish people would be cooperative and break the law during office hours; it’d make everything so much more convenient.’
‘In an ideal world, perhaps.’ he smirked.
‘Wishful thinking, I know,’ she laughed. ‘How come you ended up in a bookshop?’
‘I’ve still got time,’ she said, consulting her watch. ‘Plus we’re still ages away from my flat. Go on, tell me.’
‘It’s not important.’
‘It’s not something I talk about.’
‘Can’t be worse than my story.’
‘Why, what’s that?’
‘Well, that’s fair, isn’t it?’ he said, the sarcasm in his voice a touch too biting for the light-hearted mood of the conversation. Astoria grinned and shook her head.
‘Nah, It’s not that interesting. Just an overwhelming lack of graduate jobs, that’s all. Suppose that got you too.’
‘Yeah, that and the Ministry.’
‘They’re a load of twats.’
‘Can’t you apparate either?’ she asked, changing subject again. ‘I’ve seen you Flooing home every night.’
‘No. Never passed my test.’ he lied.
‘Me neither. Never really got the hang of it.’ her comment was perfectly innocent, but there was a faraway look in her eyes, a nervous, impulsive jerk of her left wrist. He couldn’t help it; he almost thought he felt the Dark Mark burn again, but it was only a phantom pain, a fleeting ghost of a memory.
‘Yeah. Everyone else can just disappear like that,’ she clicked her fingers. ‘And I’ve got to Floo home, or walk if I’m not coming from work. Irritating, but, well, got to look on the bright side – at least I’ll never splinch myself across half the country.’
She’s a strange girl, Draco thought, as they lapsed into silence again. One minute she seemed like a bumbling, bookwormish apparition in a boxy tweed jacket, the next she was easygoing, mouthing off about the Ministry and an inability to apparate. He remembered her tattoo, the flat line of letters and numbers inscribed in the pale skin across her wrist. Girls who wear tweed aren’t the sort of girls to get tattoos. Girls who wear tweed don’t call the Ministry ‘a load of twats’. Girls who wear tweed don’t stop ex-Death Eaters in the street and- he stopped his thoughts, suddenly aware that Astoria was looking at him as if she could hear every word.
‘What’s your tattoo about?’ he asked, quickly. ‘The one on your wrist, I mean.’
‘Oh,’ she gave a forced laugh. ‘Stupid joke with a friend. Supposed to be a unique tattoo, you know, specific combination of digits and numbers…’ she shook her arm so that the sleeve fell down over her hand. ‘Doesn’t really make sense, I know, It’s pretty dull. Anyway, you were talking about how you got your job…’
The conversation veered off again. By the time they reached Stockwell tube station, the sky was ink-blue. Astoria was shivering, shoulders hunched inside her jacket to keep warm.
‘Gosh, it’s f-f-f-f-freezing!’ she stammered, voice broken with the cold. Her heavy fringed had fallen into her eyes, but she stubbornly dug her hands deeper into her pockets and refused to brush it away. The thought of it annoyed Draco, although he couldn’t quite bring himself to tuck it to the side himself. She was halfway through a lengthy tirade about the Auror Department (‘A bunch of effing idiots ‘) and her colleagues (‘Can’t see the wood for the trees, any of them’) when he interrupted, pointing over his shoulder.
‘That’s my stop,’ he said. Astoria squinted, pulling her glasses from her pocket. ‘It’s invisible to muggles,’ he explained, wearily. ‘Takes a while to get used to, I know, the spells really screw with your mind.’
‘Oh,’ she sounded impressed. Her eyes shifted over the dark sky behind them, and then widened. ‘Oh.’ she repeated. ‘I see it now. Impressive magic.’
‘Yeah, supposedly this was once a Wizarding community back in the day, but when London expanded a long time ago and the Statue of Secrecy was signed…it’s all very boring.’
‘No, go on.’ she said. Her eyes were taking in the tower block that rose out of the gardens of the houses behind. Sixteen storey’s worth of windows glimmered down at the street below, turning the building into a pillar of light. In the dark, it was difficult to make out the pollution-stained concrete and the obscene words scrawled on the front door. Three storeys above, Draco could pick out his flat. He had lived there for four years and wasn’t optimistic about the chance of moving somewhere nicer.
‘It’s not that interesting,’ he told her. ‘It’s basically a vertical hell that muggles can’t see.’
‘I live in a tower too,’ she said. ‘Sounds romantic, but the lift never works, the walls are thin and the couple in the flat next to me have a very active love life.’
‘Ministry housing program?’
‘You bet.’ she shivered again. ‘Although mine isn’t so swanky; muggles can see it.’
‘Dunno if it makes a difference,’ Draco said. ‘Doubt we’d get any trouble from muggles anyway.’
‘Aside from having a tower growing out of their back garden.’ she pointed out. Drawing her tweed jacket closer around her, she shivered again. ‘Well, best be off.’
‘I can’t make you walk home in the cold,’ he said. (‘It was an obvious attempt at chivalry,’ she added, much later on. ‘You weren’t fooling me for a second.’) ‘Would you like some tea?’
‘I probably shouldn’t.’
‘You’re freezing. I’ll lend you a scarf or something.’
‘Alright,’ she said. ‘Ten minutes, then I’ll go home.’
An hour later she was still in his flat, leaning against the wall in the narrow hallway with a mug in one hand, her other hand deftly picking out books from the shelf before her.
‘Read that one,’ she said, pulling out a popular thriller Draco had taken from the bookshop and forgotten to read. ‘It’s terrible. Now, this one is better, but parts of the plot are simply awful…’
Astoria had taken off the tweed jacket; it now lay folded over the back of a chair in the kitchen. She looked oddly bland without it. Her outfit seemed to be mostly grey, and her wrist looked thin and fragile under the bulky weight of her heavy silver watch. Her black hair was not dissimilar to Pansy’s, but her face seemed kinder, her movements almost silent, her voice softer.
Thinking about Pansy already? A snide voice in the back of his mind said. You’re desperate.
‘What about this one?’ she held up a book called Starlight; Draco vaguely remembered reading it some three years ago. ‘Won an award, although I think it’s quite pretentious. Centaurs and elves and such. Kid’s stuff, although my sister harped on about it for weeks.’
‘Don’t remember it.’ he answered, truthfully.
‘I’ll remind you.’ she said, tucking it under one arm. He followed her into the kitchen, rubbing his tired eyes. She was already flipping through the book, falling backwards onto the sofa with a heavy sigh, kicking off her shoes towards the corner of the room. He sat on the other end, watching us she hoisted her legs up onto the cushion, nestling into the worn fabric as if it were her flat they were in and not his.
‘Listen to this - As he stared above, the sky was reflected perfectly in his eyes. Like mirrors, the twin orbs showed the blanket of stars sprinkled across the vast expanse of the sky. She even thought she could see the glimmering spectrum of nebulae reflected there, but he blinked, and the colours were lost. She too turned her head upwards, and gazed, not for the first time, into the heavens. The stars were inestimably tiny, so far away, so cold to her...I mean, isn’t that ridiculous? It’s an obvious attempt to be deep about the whole thing. You can’t even see nebulae with the naked eye! Oh, but, whatever, they’re centaurs, so I suppose that explains it.’ She shut the book with a defiant snap. Draco stayed silent, unwilling to tell Astoria that he had actually quite enjoyed the book.
‘Anyway.’ She continued. ‘Much better stuff to choose from. Like this-’ she reached for a book that had been tossed onto the low table nearby, a dog-eared political thriller Draco was in the midst of reading. ‘This is a proper book. Really liked it.’
‘Only halfway through.’ He told her.
‘You wait until the end,’ she said, grinning. ‘Hell of a twist.’
The evening continued in much of the same way. Astoria took several books to pieces, dissecting plot, characters and dialogue just as her sister dissected gossip. It was one in the morning when she ran out of steam and yawned, her bleary eyes flickering shut of their own accord. Her head rested on his shoulder like a dead weight.
‘It’s been a nice evening,’ she mumbled. ‘Thanks...for the tea.’
The tea, stone cold and hardly touched, was still sitting on the kitchen table.
‘It’s no problem.’
He supposed that he must have fallen asleep around them, with his headache still raging quietly in a corner of his mind, his joints stiff from being curled up in the sofa at awkward angles to accommodate Astoria. The next time he looked at the clock it was three in the morning and she was hopping on one foot, two fingers jammed down the back of her shoe as she tried to pull it on.
‘Must be off,’ she said, hurriedly, shrugging her tweed jacket on, shoes scuffing on the floor. ‘See you around.’
‘Yeah, see you.’ He told her. She let herself out of the flat; by the time that Draco had gathered his wits and stood up the door had already clicked shut and her footsteps were echoing away down the corridor. He crossed the room and stood by the window, pushing shut a drawer in the desk that was open, thinking nothing of it. Drawing back the curtain, he stared out into the starless night.
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.
Daylight licked me into shape
I must have been asleep for days
- The Cure, Just like Heaven
‘She’s lovely, she really is…you should see her smile, it’s slightly crooked at one side, as if she heard a joke she’s trying not to laugh at. Even her knees are nice…’
Draco and Blaise sat opposite one another at their usual table in their usual pub in mid-April, three weeks after Astoria’s daring escape from the cupboard.
‘Knees, Draco?’ Blaise almost sounded disgusted. ‘Didn’t know you were a guy for knees.’
‘Well, I’m not, I just thought they were decent. And she’s very funny and clever, isn’t squeamish about stuff, she’s full of all these politically incorrect jokes I haven’t heard since I left Hogwarts…she’s wonderful, Blaise, she really is.’
‘Didn’t have you cut out as a romantic either.’
‘No, I’m not, but if you met her…you’d feel the same. She’s got a great personality. Never met anyone like her.’
‘Yeah, there’s all that, but is she a good shag?’
Draco gave him an inquisitive look. ‘That’s neither here or there, Blaise, it’s all about-’
‘What, it’s all about kneecaps? Come off it, Draco.’
‘Why do you want to know anyway?’
‘Well, you know, just wondering where my mate’s gone – the usual grumpy, woe-is-me Draco, more like a doormat than most doormats.’
‘Yeah, and all the time you went out with Pansy the only things you used to tell me about happened in the bedroom, but she was going all fuzzy about kneecaps on you, that’s what girls do, yeah?’
‘So what’s this Astoria like, anyway?’ Blaise said, casually changing the subject. ‘Never heard much about her except Daphne thought she was weird.’
‘She’s lovely, very witty-’
‘Give it a rest, what about the important stuff?’
‘Oh, I dunno, bra size-’
‘Blaise, that’s awful!’
‘Don’t deny it,’ he smirked. ‘You definitely checked it out-’
‘Of course I haven’t!’
‘Hey, you two,’ Daphne said, sliding into the seat beside Blaise. ‘What are you talking about?’
‘Your sister’s bra size.’
‘No we weren’t!’ Draco protested, as Daphne turned to face him with a raised eyebrow.
‘Really?’ she said. ‘Because if you want to know, I’ll tell you.’
‘How do you know?’ Blaise demanded.
‘You’re forgetting I lived with her for eighteen years.’
‘Yeah, but – what, did you, like-’
‘I did the washing a lot,’ she smiled. ‘We weren’t privileged enough to have a house elf, remember.’
Daphne turned to Draco, mouthing can you believe him?
‘Must you corrupt everything, Blaise?’ Draco asked, trying to ignore the hot feeling in his face.
‘What can I say?’ Blaise held his hands up as if in surrender. ‘My mind’s in the gutter.’
‘We know that,’ Daphne rolled her eyes. ‘Look, Draco, whatever you’ve got going on with my sister, I want you to stop it.’
‘Oh, not you too,’ Draco felt he’d heard the same argument a thousand times before. ‘Why do you all think she’s so weird? Honestly, she’s fine, if you were human enough to give her the time of day you’d see that, I’m not going to send her into some sort of spiralling breakdown or anything-’
‘Not for her benefit, for yours.’ Daphne leaned forward, her voice low and deadly serious. ‘Draco, I don’t want you to get hurt.’
‘So what if she was a bit out of control as a teenager?’ he accused. ‘She’s changed since then, that much is obvious!’
‘She’s a compulsive liar and a thief, Draco. She’s going to break you into little pieces. I bet you she’s only in it to take all your money off you.’
‘Well, bit late, isn’t she? The Ministry got there first-’
‘We know, Draco,’ Blaise cautioned.
‘I’m just saying, watch out.’
‘What do you mean she’s a liar and a thief?’ he demanded. ‘On what evidence?’
Daphne leaned closer. ‘Her tattoo. What did she tell you? Her postcode, a phone number?
Worker reference number? In-joke with a friend?’
‘She said it was something she did with a close friend.’
‘Yeah, which friend was that?’
Draco thought about it. ‘I don’t know. She didn’t say.’
‘Obviously not that close then.’
‘Well, you know, people grow apart…look at me and Pansy!’
‘Oh, yeah, about that,’ Daphne said, quickly. ‘She told me to tell you that she doesn’t care how sorry you are, you’re an arse and she’s got another boyfriend.’
‘Well then,’ he placed his hands flat on the table. ‘That’s sorted.’
‘Don’t you want to speak to her?’
‘Not really,’ he said indifferently.
‘Draco, she’s been your friend for years! Even in sixth year, when you were-’
He held up a hand to stop her. ‘Give it a rest, Daphne.’
Even Blaise looked mildly affronted. ‘I think you owe it to her. She’s been there for you a lot.’
‘She’s a stuck-up bitch! When’s the last time she did something good for me?’
‘Well, you know, Daphne grinned. ‘I’m not going to lie, Draco, you’re a bit of a misery guts. She’s been through a lot of whinging.’
‘So? I’ve had to put up with years of ooh, so and so did this the other day with whatshisname down the park, ooh, isn’t that scandalous, and I really don’t care!’
Daphne leaned back again, shrugging. ‘You’ve got to take the good with the bad. She’s only human.’
‘Yeah, and so am I!’
‘Oh, no way, I reckoned you were an elf all these years,’ Blaise laughed, but at Draco and Daphne’s murderous glares fell silent again.
‘Look, just give her another shot, she’s still really into you, whatever she says.’
‘I’m not doing anything,’ Draco folded his arms. ‘If she really wants me then she can come to me, and that’s final. You can tell her that.’
There was a short pause.
‘Don’t tell her all the other stuff I said…you know, all the swearing and rude jokes…’ he said, uncomfortably remembering the previous three weeks’ worth of arguments.
‘Too late,’ Daphne said, mildly. ‘So, anyway, back to my original point. My sister. Be careful.’
‘Daphne! Give it a rest! We’re going out, and you can’t do anything about it!’
‘Give it up,’ Blaise echoed. ‘Or we’re just going to keep on going round in circles.’
Daphne rested her chin on her hand and stared off into the distance, accepting defeat. ‘Alright,’ she said, after a silence. ‘For all that grief, Draco, you can buy the first round. I’ll take a Whisky and Ginger Ale.’
‘The usual for me, mate,’ Blaise said, as Draco, rolling his eyes, slipped out of his seat.
It seemed that Draco was not entirely forgiven. Even after buying Daphne her third drink that evening, she still treated him with cold indifference, staring at him over the top of her drink whenever he touched on a topic too close to the subjects of Pansy and Astoria. At nine she said she could only stay for half an hour more, pleading an early start at work the next morning and a headache. Blaise left to get her a glass of water at quarter past, at which point Daphne leaned forward and said, enigmatically, ‘she likes sunflowers.’
‘Who?’ Draco asked, his thoughts a little fuzzy after multiple helpings of the pub’s signature beer.
‘My sister. She’s partial to sunflowers. She doesn’t really like chocolates, but I’m sure if you want to buy her over then plenty of alcohol will do. She isn’t a lightweight either, unlike you, so if you go out, don’t try asserting your masculinity by drinking double what she has.’
‘Too late,’ he grimaced.
‘Wow,’ Daphne said. ‘That must have been embarrassing. Oh, and don’t provoke her into an argument, she’s good at throwing punches. She can bear a grudge, too, she doesn’t forget like most people can. Can be a bit tough, actually. Don’t get on her wrong side.’
‘Does this mean you approve?’ Draco said, slowly.
‘I suppose I have to,’ Daphne shrugged. ‘But it’s mostly so that, when she beats you up and runs off with your money at three in the morning, I can say I told you so.’
She remained silent until Blaise returned, at which point she took up her glass of sparkling water and resumed her icy stare. Right on the dot of half past she left, kissing Blaise on the cheek and staring daggers in Draco’s direction. He presumed she was off to meet up with Pansy.
‘You’re a real winner with the girls,’ Blaise said, pushing aside Daphne’s empty glass. ‘You can’t seem to move an inch without offending one.’
Draco ignored him. ‘Where do I even get sunflowers at this time of year?’
‘Sunflowers. Apparently Astoria likes sunflowers.’
‘Aren’t they summer flowers?’
‘Yeah, that’s my point. Where do I get them?’
‘You could conjure them up.’
‘What, and risk blowing my flat up?’ Draco scoffed. ‘You know I hated charms.’
Blaise raised an eyebrow. ‘Flowers are dead easy,’ he said, pulling out his wand. ‘Like this.’
A rose materialised in Daphne’s empty glass. Disbelieving, Draco lifted it and winced as a thorn bit into his finger.
‘See?’ Blaise said. ‘You just have to adapt it for sunflowers. Don’t you work in a bookshop? Ever get a spell dictionary to flog?’
‘There’ll be one lying around,’ Draco put the rose down and Blaise vanished it, tucking his wand back into his pocket.
Draco walked back to his flat alone, the evening mild enough that he rolled his sleeves back. London was quiet for a change. Nobody paid him the slightest bit of attention. He dawdled through the park, passing couples holding hands beneath the trees, and for once didn’t scowl. Astoria was working late that evening, but had promised to meet him in the park the next day after work.
There was a letter on his doormat when he let himself into the flat. The handwriting was Pansy’s. He burned it without even opening it, tossing the ashes out of the window as if it were a final, defiant rejection. He was much better off without her.
At work the next day he scanned the shelves for a spell dictionary. Choosing the newest and least dog-eared looking one, he spent a good hour studying the charms section, occasionally breaking off to sell a book to a customer. By midday he thought he’d mastered it, and conjured a bunch of sunflowers onto his desk, much to the amusement of a witch perusing the fiction section.
‘Take them home, if you want,’ he said, pressing them into her hands. He had no vase to put them in and, besides, he didn’t fancy carrying a bunch of flowers all the way to the park. The witch took them with a wide smile. As she left the shop, Draco glanced over to the Apothecary in case Pansy was watching, but the street outside was crowded and he couldn’t tell. Idly, he wondered who her new boyfriend was. Strangely, he could only imagine Theodore Nott. The thought was bizarre; it was almost like imagining her with Crabbe or Goyle.
The memory of Daphne’s words lingered in his mind as well. It was not the first time she’d said them, nor was it the first time they’d come to blows over his relationship with Astoria, yet the words seemed to stick to him more this time. A compulsive liar. A thief.
She’s going to break you into little pieces.
That thought seemed to have been tattooed onto the backs of his eyelids. It was there every time he shut his eyes, every time he caught a glance of himself in the mirror by the door, every time he passed the kitchen table, where the vague smell of flowers seemed to linger on his abandoned robes.
They were ‘slumming it’, as Astoria put it. Daphne and Pansy called it ‘going native’. Draco thought of it as ‘dressing up’. Blaise simply called it ‘dressing muggle.’ It didn’t bother him. Unusually, Astoria was the first witch he’d met who didn’t really suit robes. They made her look as if she was only pretending that she could perform magic, as if she was only pretending that there was a little Obliviator Licence with her name on it somewhere in the Ministry. He supposed that he was biased, though, given that most of his memories of her were distinctly woven in Harris Tweed.
Anyway, he preferred to say he was slumming it, simply for the (admittedly sentimental) reason that it was her phrase, a little memento of her he could carry in his mind, like the tweed and the glasses. So, slumming it at seven, he gathered his things and made his way to the statue they’d agreed to meet at, face turned towards the sun as if to drink it in. He half expected it to rain the next day.
Astoria stood next to the statue, laden down with thick folders of parchment, glasses perched on the top of her head, looking uncomfortable in her tweed suit. She didn’t notice Draco at first, but seemed to realise someone was watching her, because she reached down and tugged at the hem of her skirt, which already fell well below her knees.
‘Hello,’ she said, jostling the folders in her arms as she tried to embrace him. ‘Just come from work, I’m a bit of a bag lady right now.’
‘It’s alright,’ he said. ‘Er, I met up with Daphne, and…well, Helianthideous.’
Astoria grinned as a bunch of sunflowers appeared out of thin air. Feeling chivalrous, Draco took the folders from her and let her hold the flowers instead, amused by the way the bright yellow clashed with her tweed suit. After thanking him, she tied the stems together with a spare elastic band and tucked them into the crook of her elbow, still smiling.
‘So it’s a truce then?’ she asked, as they walked further into the park, Draco’s arms aching with the weight of the folders.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Is Daphne okay with the…arrangement?’
‘Yes, she’s fine.’
‘How fine? On a scale of one to ten, one being not all that bothered and ten peachy keen?’
‘Probably a one. I think the less I mention you the happier she gets.’
‘Hmm, I’ve found that too,’ Astoria said, wrinkling her nose at a cloud that had just covered the sun. ‘We went out for our obligatory annual drink the other day, and I had so much fun telling her about what we’ve been up to this past fortnight. I think she especially liked last Thursday, I thought she was going to slap me.’
Draco’s smile dropped slightly. ‘She better not tell anyone about that.’
‘What, Thursday? No, it’ll be fine. It’s pretty harmless anyway.’
‘Harmless? If word gets around I’ll lose my job.’
‘I still maintain that it was a good idea,’ she said, smartly. ‘You’ll never be able to look at the military history section again without thinking of me. Ah, this looks like a nice spot. I’ve got some drinks in my bag, that hopefully explains the folders.’
She chose a patch of grass a few metres away from the path, half-hidden behind a clump of bushes and a tall, thin tree. This extended out into a larger clearing, circled by more of the thin trees, and two fiercely gnarled oak trees further away into the park, stooped with age so that their branches almost touched the ground. The area was deserted.
‘Take a seat,’ she said, patting the grass next to her. Her other hand was rummaging in her bag, from which the clinking of bottles could clearly be heard.
‘You’re an expert on muggles,’ he said, as they toasted a three-week anniversary a moment later. ‘How legal is this drinking in public?’
‘Probably not very,’ she said, after taking a hearty swig. ‘But, you know, license to Obliviate and all that. They’re quite forgetful when you want them to be.’
‘How’d you get into Obliviating anyway? I hear it’s pretty hard, you must have a heap of N.E.W.T.S.’
‘Not exactly,’ she said, sipping at her drink. ‘It’s not too hard. You just need defence, really, charms and transfiguration preferred, potions and herbology not even needed. Muggle studies required – oh, no, I didn’t do that at Hogwarts, unless you count the Carrows,’ she added, as Draco gave her an inquisitive look. ‘Took an evening class when I left school and fancied Obliviating. How did you get into working in a stuffy bookshop? I would have put you down as something more glamorous.’
‘Yeah, with all that sun-deprived skin and those dark shadows you look like an unspeakable, all that’s missing is the gormless stare all those Department of Mysteries people have. Anyway, what’s so attractive about a bookshop?’
‘Nobody notices you,’ he grinned, shielding his eyes as the sun emerged from behind the cloud again. ‘After Hogwarts and the war and everything, I wanted to pretend I didn’t exist, seeing as Saint Potter’s face was everywhere and my parents and all their friends were getting banged up in prison. Plus the pigs at the Ministry took all my inheritance-’
‘Watch it, I work for them.’
‘Astoria, you were the one who started calling them pigs. You also call them the filth-’
She put a finger to his lips to silence him. ‘True, but, you never know, I could be a double agent.’
‘You’re too pretty and angry to be a Ministry girl. See, you might not have put me down as a bookshop person, but I certainly didn’t put you down as an Obliviator. At first I thought you were some doddery old lady trapped in a young body, practically stalking me-’
‘-and I thought you were a sensitive, tortured poet-type bohemian chap, so I stalked you.’
‘Sensitive poets?’ he grimaced. ‘Is that really your type?’
‘Of course,’ she said, trying hard to smother a laugh. ‘One day I’m going to abandon you and run off with a boy called Tarquin who will write me poetry and call me his muse. I’m joking, Draco, I’m yours. For now,’ she added, hastily. ‘Don’t try and write poetry, by the way, you’d be terrible at it.’
‘How do you know?’ he demanded.
‘Hardly a romantic bone in your body,’ she grinned.
‘And yet here we are.’
‘Yes, the sunflowers were nice surprise. You’re also in a very good mood.’
‘Noticeably so,’ she said. They lapsed into silence, turned towards the setting sun. Astoria began to drum her fingers along the side of her glass restlessly. Her sleeve had slid back, and there was that tattoo again, the one that Daphne always mentioned, the one that seemed to be the source of so much of her suspicion.
‘That’s a strange tattoo,’ he said, hoping Astoria didn’t remember he’d asked about it only a
month or so previously. ‘What’s it for?’
‘Joke with a friend,’ she said, bluntly. ‘I dare you to climb a tree.’
‘The word is pardon, Draco. You’ve complained about your lost childhood before, so why not make up for it now?’
‘No I haven’t.’
‘You have. You’re a psychoanalyst’s dream. Climbing trees does wonders for getting rid of stress.’
‘I’m not stressed.’
‘I took a level one Healing course a few years ago,’ she said, grabbing his wrist and pretending to check his pulse. ‘And I say you are – don’t argue, I’m qualified!’
‘I took a level one Healing course too and all I figured out was how to put an arm in a sling, you’re not fooling me.’
‘Well then,’ she pulled him upright. ‘You can put that skill to use when you fall out of this tree you’re about to climb, then.’
‘I’m not climbing a tree.’
‘Yes you are!’ she pulled him across the clearing, bringing them out into the full glare of the sun again. ‘Come on, I’ve been cooped up in an office all day, humour me!’
‘And I’ve been shut up in a bookshop and – argh!’
He had no choice but to break into an awkward jog. She had started running, but kept an iron grip on his wrist.
‘What about our stuff?’ he shouted, torn between shaking her off and trying to race her.
‘We’ll be fine!’
‘Not if you’re so hell-bent on-’
His sentence was cut short as Astoria stopped abruptly near one of the gnarled trees. Caught unawares, he staggered forward, saw what looked like the sky where his feet should be, and then ended up sprawled on the floor in a rather ungainly manner, Astoria’s breathless laughter in his ear.
‘Never again,’ he muttered, staring up at the branches above.
‘Live a little,’ she murmured back.
‘Don’t make me climb a tree, please.’
‘There are better ways to spend time together,’ she whispered, lowering her head to his. The branches and the sky above vanished. She kissed him, and in spite of the tree root that dug into his back and the fact that she’d kissed him countless times before, he still felt a little lift in his stomach.
‘When we get home,’ she said, running the collar of his shirt between her fingers. ‘I’m going to take this off and-’
A polite cough interrupted her. The two of them turned. A couple and their two children stood a little to the left, expressions a mix of disgust and amusement.
‘…hello.’ Astoria said. The family hurried off, evidently embarrassed. As soon as they vanished out of sight, both Draco and Astoria burst out laughing, unable to suppress it any longer.
‘That was well timed,’ she said, helping him up. A businessman emerged on a path a little further away; Astoria self-consciously rearranged her skirt and brushed leaves and loose mud from her tights.
(A week earlier, he’d told Blaise that one thing he loved about Astoria was her sense of humour. Two months later he could barely say her name.)
‘People seem intent on disrupting our time together.’
‘Maybe we just pick bad places,’ he said, dusting down his jacket.
‘Yeah…time for another drink?’
Hands clasped together, they made their way back across the clearing, unable to hide their sun-bright smiles.
Sorry for the long wait on this chapter! Hopefully it's a little happier than the others, but I must warn you that chapter six is a bit of a Mount Everest of angst and misery in comparison. The character of Draco is just made for tortuous angst (:
Oh naïve little me,
asking what things you have seen.
You're vulnerable in your head,
you'll scream and you'll wail till you're dead.
-Laura Marling, Rambling Man
In the days, weeks, months and even years to come he tried to reassure himself that there was nothing he could have done. Even if he had been able to do the impossible – running faster than light, apparition – there was no way he could have changed what happened that night and, of course, the Ministry didn’t hand out time-turners to the common man. Countless people reminded him that the past was the past, that there was nothing to be done and it was not his fault. To live and let live. He couldn’t. There was no way he could, just like there was no way he could run like light in his dreams, reach out a little further, fingertips brushing tweed…
Of course nothing could be changed. He wanted to change it all. No more dreams of the collar of her jacket haunting him, no more memories of the feel of her small hand in his in Hyde Park. To go all the way back to the start, to wish that on that cold day she’d carried on walking straight past the bookshop and bothered some lesser soul, fallen for someone with tougher skin and a shrewder mind. Someone who had the sense to see a liar for what she truly was, to see the story beneath the skin.
His flat became a fortress until the end of June. Pansy politely knocked on his door and fought her way through the stacks of old newspapers and the cut of his words. The closer she came, the more he felt he hated her, but when she finally took a seat opposite him and folded her hands on her lap, he gave in. She was there for sympathy, not for scorn. Blaise had been right; he would never have been able to strike her out of his life. He felt like a teenager all over again, burning with secrets.
The night stuck with him most vividly. All I wanted was to forget, she’d said. Was that too much to ask at the expense of his sanity? It went like this. The story had been unpicked and retold countless times, but he still thought he had a very good grasp on it. He clutched onto their last meeting as a sole survivor might to the wreck of a ship, fearful of the waves.
He’d closed his eyes, sick of her words. All I wanted was to forget. He remembered her voice distinctly, then his. Oh, just go and manipulate someone else for a change. The poor retort still stung; it was the last thing he’d said. It was muffled by the shield charm. Even so, he heard her impatient sigh and the smart click of her boots on the pavement as she walked away. He opened his eyes and let the charm drop, but it was already too late. The dark machine was powering through the orange-lit London night, engine growling, screaming along with the sirens in the distance. The city’s cacophony seemed a perfect soundtrack for the moment. He could not shout. She was stuck in the middle of the road, like a moth pinned by the wings in a glass case. Statue-still and white with fear. He couldn’t watch. It had always been a flaw of his. A moment later there was a hollow noise and then the screech of brakes, and when he dared to look again her eyes stared straight into his, glassy, mere marbles.
Little remained of the next day. Blue sirens screamed her away. At one she was in St Mungo’s, and at three he was certain of passing out in the stuffy, nauseating white of the hospital corridor. Daphne’s hands danced at the curtains around a sash window. Her eyes were red. A Healer hurried out, the white apron over her purple robes flecked with red. Blaise could not be reached and Daphne’s grandparents were out of the country. At five Draco and Daphne sat side-by-side in the corridor, silent and staring, somehow unable to look at each other. He was waiting for her to say I told you so.
At six a Healer took Daphne into the ward. At seven Draco had stretched across the row of hard wooden chairs and fallen into shallow sleep. At nine Daphne nudged him awake, and when he left at quarter past she was crying, wiping her eyes on the curtain, which would have been funny if it wasn’t for the question of her sister’s glassy marble-eyes in the next room.
Daphne had been the trigger. Fed up of it all, she’d marched into the bookshop at midday, folder in her hands, slamming the door so hard the glass shook in its frame. The shop was empty, a vase of sunflowers wilting on the windowsill. Draco was slumped at his desk in front of a newspaper, finger tracing the small print of an article about inheritance tax.
‘I’ve had enough. This ends now,’ Daphne said, flipping the sign on the door to ‘Closed’.
‘What the hell are you doing?’ Draco rose from his seat, but she silenced him with a glare. Stalking over to the desk, she dumped her back next to the Millitary History section – he inexplicably thought of Astoria – and placed the folder on the desk before him.
‘When are you next seeing Astoria?’ she demanded.
‘Not this again, Daphne-’
Reluctantly, he told her. ‘Half eight tonight. Look, whatever you’ve got to say now isn’t going to change my mind-’
‘I want you to end it with her.’
‘For crying out loud!’ he pushed the folder to one side and occupied himself in folding up his newspaper. ‘Fix the sign on the door and get out of my shop, I’ve had enough of this.’
‘This is for your benefit, not for mine! Tell me, Draco, do you ever notice anything missing? Anything out of place?’
‘Your sanity, perhaps.’
She snatched the newspaper from his hands, crumpled it into a ball and burnt it with a spell. She looked livid. ‘I’m not kidding, Draco. This isn’t funny. I’m trying to help you.’
‘Fine. No, I haven’t noticed anything.’
‘Things that don’t make sense? Days that when you look back seem absurd, even fake?’
She pulled the folder over again and opened it. It was full of newspaper clippings and dog-eared pieces of parchment. The first sheet was a page from the Daily Prophet, largely dominated by a group of photographs.
‘Photograph seven, Draco. Look.’
He bent closer to the page. They were prison photographs, each numbered and captioned. Photograph seven showed a girl with a heart-shaped face, framed by black hair that was matted and hung lank over her pale face. Her eyes were smudged with shadows and a graze on her cheek looked angry even in monochrome, but her mouth was twisted in a dark smile, barely discernible. You would have had to know the girl to judge her emotions; her soft features usually looked bright. She blinked at the camera, smile never leaving her face. He knew the name beneath her photo. It ran like ice through his veins; he was numb.
‘Her tattoo. That odd mix of letters and numbers. You’ve seen it before. Just think. You went to visit your parents a month ago, when they held a visiting day – you saw it then, didn’t you? Stamped on the wrist of every piece of scum in this country.’
He didn’t think to retort. The headline above the photographs read Delinquents leave victim for dead in brutal attack. Below, in smaller print, Ministry inspects the involvements of dark forces.
‘A joke with a friend? A postcode? Convincing, not at all…she’s just as rotten as the rest, Draco, and if you’re not careful she’s going to drag you down and down. She said she did it for our parents, but it’s not what they would have wanted, I’m glad they were gone before they had to see this.’
‘What if you’re lying?’
Daphne sat up straighter and fixed her fierce glare on him. ‘I’m not a liar,’ she said, firmly. ‘I am your friend and I’m keeping you safe.’
The two of them fell into silence. A lone bluebottle buzzed at the window. As if on impulse, Draco and Daphne turned towards it, and by chance caught sight of Pansy across the road, straightening an outdoor display with a smile on her face and the sun on her skin, blissfully unaware of them.
‘So you see why I gave you all that grief,’ Daphne said, closing the file as if she couldn’t bear to look at it anymore. ‘It’s a burden I’ve been carrying for years. She’s a dead weight on me and I can’t get rid of her. I didn’t want you to get sucked into all the misery.’
‘You shouldn’t – you shouldn’t have told me.’ The Astoria in his mind was too fragile and polite, too bookwormish, too quaint, too perfect. The Astoria that had raced with him in Hyde Park was not a criminal. In his mind she was not capable of violence, too brittle for prison. In his mind she was thin glass, yet he knew it was true; he recognised the stamp of Azkaban on her wrist. He remembered the story now, he remembered following the case in the newspapers. Somehow it had slipped his mind.
‘She would have done something serious sooner or later.’
‘She’s changed. She’s not…she’s not a criminal, Daphne, she’s far too-’
‘But you’ve never met her,’ she said, patiently. ‘Not the full version of her, anyway. I met up with her a while ago for a drink, and despite all the promises of change she was just the same. Boasting, brash – when we parted ways she only went deeper into town and, I tell you, not a scrap of tweed on her. She’s been using you to get at me, I swear.’
‘And yet…’ Daphne gathered the folder in her arms. ‘I said the same thing before she gave me ten stitches a few years back. I said the same thing before she started sleeping her way around her year at school. I said the same thing to Snape in his office when he told me she’d been caught stealing and they were about to bring our parents in. A fundamental rule of life is that people don’t change, Draco, not one bit.’
He didn’t bother to argue. His heart was sinking. He felt tired, more than he’d done in months, as if he was back to his humdrum January regime again. The city outside seemed cold, suddenly frightening, as if it was tainted in some way by the image of Astoria walking alone with victory singing in every step.
‘Tonight,’ he said. ‘I’ll…’
‘You can come over tomorrow if you want,’ Daphne said, pushing open the door. ‘I’m really sorry about this. I’ll invite Blaise and everyone. We’ll cheer you up. Just forget about her. See you.’
The door was closed before he could respond. He felt angry now, sick at the thought of being deceived, sick at being lied to, sick at being messed around – he wanted to do something symbolic, wanted to burn the sunflowers or trash the Military History section or rip to shreds every book she’d thought to pick up, everything that seemed to in some way hold the memory of her-
Instead he felt tired. The sign on the door still said closed. He eased the blinds shut and put his head on the desk, unsure of what to do. In his mind, he ran, and ran, and ran.
‘You need to put the past few months behind you. Just forget it even happened. The world’s still going round, everyone’s still going on with their lives – you can’t just drink yourself into a stupor every night and then sit in that bookshop staring out the window as if you’re dead, it didn’t happen to you. You’re still here with your health and your family – no listen to me, your Mum’s appeal was successful and she’ll be out in a month or two. I know you know that. There’s only a few months until they lift your suspended sentence too. Pull yourself together, Draco, there are people out there in far worse situations than you. Nobody died. You’re being childish.’
Pansy took a deep breath at the end of her monologue. She’d been speaking to stony silence for ten minutes. She bit her lip and shifted in the seat opposite him, rolling an empty bottle between her fingers. The nails were bitten and ragged.
‘I don’t mean to sound blunt,’ she added, ‘but someone had to tell you. I know that by nature you’re a grumpy guy, Draco, but this is beyond belief.’
‘In what way?’ It felt strange to use his voice.
‘At the end of the day,’ she said, with a weak smile, ‘nobody died. Daphne says she’s getting better every day-’
‘Of course someone died!’ he exploded. Pansy flinched. ‘She’s dead, she’s gone, of course there’s nothing alright about this-’
‘I didn’t mean it in that way-’
‘Well what way did you mean it in? You know it’s not her, you know it’s all wrong!’
‘Daphne says the Healers are working hard and she could be back-’
‘Yeah, in twenty years, in thirty-’ his voice had risen in volume. ‘In twenty years she’ll be forty, Pansy, that’s no life for anyone.’
‘You’re missing the point.’ She placed the bottle back on the table, the click of glass an audible full stop at the end of her sentence.
‘Stop being such a twat,’ she snapped. ‘She’s still very much alive and breathing, and if you really do feel so strongly about her you should have the sense to keep back and give her time to recover.’
‘I don’t…feel, or whatever. It’s not her.’
‘Do you need me to spell it out for you? It’s her. It will be her by the time the treatment is over, and whether that takes twenty or thirty years it doesn’t matter, because eventually you’ll have your freaky girlfriend back. But right now she’s confused and she can barely even write her own name, and I’ve been with Daphne to see her and, honestly, she’s like someone’s lost child, but she’s still there. She knows who Daphne is and she’ll probably know who you are too soon, but right now she’s not dead and you should show some bloody respect for Daphne and all she’s going through, because right now you’re being rude and selfish, and, frankly, you disgust me.’
She said the last sentence so quickly that he barely caught it. Her breath had become short with the effort of saying it all. ‘You completely forgot about Daphne,’ she added. ‘Some friend you are.’
‘Am I not allowed to grieve?’
‘What grieving is there to be done, for heaven’s sake? Daphne’s struggling. She didn’t lose her parents that long ago and now what with Astoria and all she’s really at her wits end.’
Draco merely shrugged, mind blank. Pansy clenched her fists as if ready to punch him, but then stood up, snatching her bag to her chest.
‘You make me sick sometimes,’ her voice trembled. ‘I’m going, I said to Theodore I’d meet him at eight.’
‘Nott?’ Draco exploded. ‘He’s not – you’re not serious-’
‘Yes, Draco,’ Pansy sounded exasperated. ‘And you can hardly talk. I’ll be back tomorrow, by the way, and if this mess isn’t cleared up I’m going to throw every curse I know at you and then some. Look at this place,’ she gestured around the room, from the bottles and old newspapers littering the table to the copy of Defences of the Mind: A Study of Occlumency hurled against a wall, spine snapped and a loose page crumpled on the floor beside it. ‘It’s a tip. So get cracking.’
She was halfway to the door when he broke his silence. ‘I can wait,’ he said, aware of the half-hearted resignation in his voice. ‘I’ll wait twenty years, even thirty, and then when she’s back to normal I’ll ask her out again, it won’t matter if we’re forty or fifty, I’ll still love her.’
When Pansy replied she sounded patient, as if she spoke to a child.
‘I don’t think you will, though, Draco. Really, you only went out with her for two months or so. You’ll have moved on by August and in twenty years’ time you’ll have married someone else and won’t spare her a single thought, and to her you’ll just be someone she knew a very, very long time ago. Don’t try and act like a hero, Draco, because there’s really nothing heroic about this.’
She stood silent for a moment as if waiting for him to reply. He couldn’t think of a single word. She was right as usual. Sighing, she let herself out, and as her heels clicked down the corridor he stood and started to stack the bottles in his flat, resolving to start again.
This was how he had argued with Astoria.
‘You don’t understand,’ she spat, staring defiantly up at him. ‘I picked you, I’d heard about you from Daphne, all that stuff about the war and your parents and I thought you’d get it, right from the moment you saw this,’ she jabbed a finger at her wrist. ‘But you didn’t, and I kept dropping all these hints and I even told you-’
‘You told me?’
‘Of course I did, hardly a secret you can keep, is it?’
‘When? How?’ he demanded. Her eyes glittered with the orange light in the darkness and in the street beyond a siren began to wail.
‘Don’t you get it? I’m an Obliviator. I’m damn good at memory charms, it’s my job,’ she said, rolling her eyes. ‘You’re just to wrapped up in your own cynical little world to notice that things keep going missing, and you’re far too trusting. Didn’t you ever notice anything? Either you’re a bloody idiot or I deserve a promotion-’
‘Don’t be absurd,’ he said. ‘You can’t just toss around memory charms like that, the Ministry would-’
‘I have a licence to Obliviate, don’t I? Look, what happened that first night I went back to your flat?’
‘You were reading stuff…we ended up falling asleep,’ he said, slowly. The night was so long ago he couldn’t quite remember. Astoria shook her head impatiently, crooked smile in place as if trying not to laugh. He recoiled; that crooked smile was now inextricably linked with prison photographs and violence. Before it had been a sign of a joke, a sign of laughter – now it had a dark, disturbing quality he couldn’t quite believe.
‘No, it wasn’t anything like that, not like that at all…you see, I just planned to get you blind drunk and have a rummage round your flat, but you insisted on mindless talk about books and the Ministry, and then it got to one in the morning and you finally dozed off, slept like the dead…so I started going through your cupboards, looking…found some interesting court documents. I saw you couldn’t apparate, like me, you couldn’t get certain jobs, like me, and you had to sign on with the Ministry every month…well, a little bit like me. And then you caught me – got me with a stinging hex here,’ she pulled aside the collar of her shirt and showed him a patch of red skin on her collarbone. ‘And there was really nothing I could do except Obliviate all the pain away.’
‘Yes, I know, I’m a liar,’ she snapped. ‘You’d never think it, would you? Staggering around in tweed like some senile old woman, practically throwing myself at bookshop boys in vain hope of getting some sort of normal life – I keep telling you, Draco, I want to be honest, but you always overreact, you never give me a chance to explain it.’
‘Why shouldn’t I overreact?’ he demanded. ‘I saw the headline, the story-’
‘You’ve said that before. Funny how stale this argument feels. Will you give me a chance to explain myself? Will you listen this time? We’re in public, you can’t fight back. You can’t hurt me this time.’
‘Hurt you?’ he exploded. ‘Why would I hurt you? Just – stop it. Just go, I don’t care.’
‘You do care,’ she said, meeting his eye for the first time. ‘And that’s why you’re here. You care so much you can hardly think straight. I can tell. I’m good with minds. It’s all in the training. But you don’t want to know how I did it, you know, you’ve done it yourself.’
‘Not like that,’ he said, blood turning cold. ‘That was different, I had no choice-’
‘Everyone has a choice. You know the theory of it, you probably heard it all broken down for you in court, but the how isn’t important, it’s the why.’
‘I don’t – I don’t care-’
‘My parents were like yours, Draco.’
‘They were nothing like mine!’ he shouted. Astoria pressed her fingers to his mouth, continuing in a hushed voice.
‘They may not have had the mark but they were in the war, Draco, they did stuff too, and the Order of the Phoenix got them in the end like they got everyone and they died in the fight – don’t try and pretend you didn’t know, I bet you read it in the paper like everyone else, I bet you didn’t give a damn like everyone else-’
‘Of course I cared, they were my father’s friends!’
She ignored him. ‘Nobody cared, Draco, nobody offered to help me and Daphne out, nobody thought to bring their case to the authorities, and everywhere I went there were posters in shop windows screaming at me, wanted posters, people I recognised, people I knew as friends. And of course when Daphne tried to take the Order to court our pictures went in the paper, and people started to recognise me – I got spat at in the street, didn’t I, just like the others? There was one man who kept a shop near the end of Diagon Alley, he used to sit outside with a copy of the Prophet in his hand, spitting at us when we went past, telling us our parents deserved all they got, but they didn’t! They were decent people, good parents. All along through my life my Dad had taught me that muggles were scum and mudbloods were worse but in those years I finally saw he’d been wrong, I finally got it. It’s the purebloods themselves that are scum, the ones who’ll spit at orphans in the street and put two sisters out of their home and into a crummy flat claiming benefits, the ones who’ll support the Dark Lord one day and the Ministry the next, the ones who’ll sacrifice their own kind to save their own skin. They’re the worse. I was sixteen and I saw the truth at last; muggles were just ignorant, and it was the Ministry that was the worse. Bureaucrats, millionaires and hypocrites, the lot of them…did you know the man in his shop who spat at us was a pureblood after all?’
Her breath was shallow. With a shaking hand she swept loose hair back from her face, ready to continue her tirade. ‘I went back for him, you know, when I was eighteen. Never forget his face as long as I’ll live. I had others with me. We were all the same. Cheated. We found his little shop, full of Ministry propaganda rags like the Prophet and those last remaining wanted posters. Wasn’t very kind when I showed up. He remembered me too. Called me all sorts of names, leering at me, must have been about fifty and there was a little wedding ring jammed on his fat finger, but that didn’t stop him saying that half an hour in the back of his shop with me would fix things good and proper, he always made exceptions for pretty young girls. Half an hour to stop it all for good.’
‘No,’ she shook her head. ‘It was always about pride. I broke two of his fingers, one for me and one for my sister.’
‘I don’t regret it, you would have done the same. The others came in to finish him off, and I meant to leave then, I honestly did, and it would have ended if he hadn’t started throwing spells everywhere…I had my arm in a sling for ages, nasty break, the Ministry told me it was fair – an eye for an eye, you see? Oh, grow up,’ she said, as he tried to interrupt her. ‘You’ve done the same, I’m sure. I cursed him, used the Cruciatus. They say that’s what got us caught. They say if my arm hadn’t been so broken the curse would have been five times as powerful and I would have gone in for life. You know what it’s like, don’t you?’ she grabbed his wrist and he tried to shake her off, disgusted. ‘It’s exhausting, physically and mentally, you feel like you never want to do magic again. Your bones shake, your mind feels like it’s going to burst…you’ve known that too, and I know you have, I’ve seen all the reports.’
‘It wasn’t like that at all, I was forced, I didn’t have a choice-’
‘Don’t you see, though? I chose you because we had common ground. You were the only other person in the entire world I could think of who’d lost a family, a reputation, a life to the war, who’d been put on trial and restricted like I had, who’d done things all out of war and pride – I love you, I do, honestly, even with all your faults, but I can’t be with you unless you know all this.’
‘I can’t trust you,’ he spat, taking a step back. ‘You’ve just been lying to me for ages and screwing with my mind whenever you feel like it – that’s not love, that’s just a lack of bloody respect! I can’t be with you because I can’t trust you – what if one day you lose your temper and break my fingers?’
‘It was once,’ she said, patiently. ‘And in very different times.’
‘I’ve heard things!’ he blurted out. ‘At school when you gave Daphne ten stitches, how you always seemed to be sleeping your way around or something, and you were set on rebelling at everything-’
Astoria’s face had turned pale. She struggled to speak for a moment, and then said ‘that was a long time ago, Draco.’
‘You’re a liar. How many others have you done this to? Bet you’ve got a whole little chain of boyfriends you’ve screwed over and Obliviated out of your life, all deluded into thinking you’re some normal person-’
‘There’s only ever been you.’
‘-and I bet you go home and chuck your pretend life off and sit and count your winnings – the tweed thing was all an act, right? A big, fat lie about understanding so you could just get my money like Daphne said you would, but you’re thicker than you look, there’s none left!’
‘It was never about that.’
‘And to think I let you into my flat, to think I risked my job for you, and you were just lying all along!’
‘It’s not like that!’ she said, desperately. Her eyes brimmed with tears; the fight had gone from her. ‘I only used the memory charms because I couldn’t stand the thought of losing you if you found out! I didn’t want you to leave me because of my past, things are different now! Please, just listen-’ she grabbed for his arm, but quick as lightning his wand was in his hand and he’d blocked her with a shield charm. Her hand pressed against the invisible barrier, magic sparking against her fingertips.
‘I just wanted to put it all behind me,’ she pleaded, voice deadened by the charm. ‘All I wanted was to forget.’
He heard the break in the middle of her sentence. Even that did nothing to kill his anger; all he could feel was hatred, humiliation at the pain her lies at caused, shame at being tricked so easily.
‘Liar,’ he said.
Her eyes shut for a moment and she breathed in deeply, as if contemplating something. A second too late, he realised she was giving him the chance to pull the charm down and to settle the argument.
‘I’m sorry,’ her voice was barely audible. ‘This always ends with shield charms on your part. But you don’t appreciate that, essentially, I’m better at magic than you are, and I’ll always find a way of modifying your memory of this evening.’
‘Oh, just go and manipulate someone else for a change.’
She gave him one last defiant stare, but he looked away. She turned on her heel, sighing, and stormed off into the night. He didn’t think that in all his life, no matter how many times he tried, he would forget the next moment. The way she’d been pinned statue-solid in the middle of the road. The bad timing. A word on her lips, the last few seconds of her life as she knew it crushing it out of her so that it was never said. A hollow sound. Her eyes, glassy, staring into his.
She lived like you do, a dozen slack rope-ends
in each dream hand, tugging uselessly on memory
or hope. Frayed.
- Liar, Carol Ann Duffy
He had a headache already. It was only nine o’clock. Pansy’s flat was stuffy, even in the cool September evening. The noise of the party in the flat was oppressive. He clutched onto the cold drink in his hands tighter as if the chill would spread through his body. Opposite him, Pansy was trying to force a window open, swearing fluently under her breath.
‘I might go home in a bit,’ Daphne said beside him. ‘I’m too tired to think properly.’
‘Yeah, you need the rest.’
They spoke without looking at each other these days. Side-by-side, they would sit in the park or in a friend’s flat and swap news, exchange updates. Nobody else was interested. Blaise tried his best, but he knew nothing of the accident or the days that followed and gave up, preferring to turn and talk to Pansy whenever Draco and Daphne began one of their other obsessive conversations about Ward forty eight on the fourth floor of St Mungo’s.
‘I might go home too,’ he said, after a silence. ‘Head hurts.’
‘I’m not surprised. How was your job interview, by the way?’
‘Oh, fine,’ he said, dismissively, although he felt sick at the thought of it. ‘It went really well until I had to bring up the whole criminal record thing. They were very polite. Said sorry but they can’t hire someone like me.’
‘That’s a shame,’ she said. ‘Better luck next time, I’m sure you’ll find someone to hire you. The Ministry are usually good, they’re into all these rehabilitation things, that’s what…well, Astoria got a job through that.’
A shadow crossed his face; he frowned at the mention of her. ‘I don’t want to work for the Ministry,’ he said, darkly, then added, ‘how is she?’
‘Getting there,’ Daphne sipped at her drink. ‘The Healers are doing a great job.’
Next he asked the question he always asked. Daphne seemed to anticipate it and answered before he was finished.
‘Not that much yet. She remembers who I am at least, but she thinks our parents are still alive and we still live in Cambridge.’
Pansy finally wrenched the window open with a loud snap. The chatter of the assembled guests around them faltered for a second, and then Pansy turned to face them with a wide grin and the party resumed.
‘How far back is that?’ he asked, tentatively. Daphne gave a weak smile.
‘Too far. We moved out of Cambridge when I was eight and she was six. Still, six years’ worth in only a couple of months is remarkable. Mind, she keeps forgetting things. They think that this bit,’ she lifted a hand and pointed to the nape of her neck, right at the base of her head, ‘was damaged, that bit of her mind, and that’s the bit you make new memories with.’
‘Oh,’ he said. ‘I see.’
‘They’re working on it though. They reckon in six months or so she’ll be able to move back in with me again, which is good news, I suppose.’
‘I’m hoping,’ Daphne said, ‘that she’ll start gathering all her old memories but she’ll be a different person, see, because she’s basically growing up again but in a completely different environment, we get on better this time and she doesn’t have my Dad spewing all of his anti-muggle stuff. So hopefully, maybe…’
‘You want her to change.’
‘Of course I do. She was a nightmare to deal with. I want to put the past behind us.’
The conversation died. Daphne stood, placing her half-empty glass on a nearby bookshelf. ‘Well. See you tomorrow,’ she said. ‘Good luck with the interview.’
At the mention of it he felt sick again. ‘Thanks,’ he said. ‘Goodnight.’
He watched as Daphne made her excuses to Pansy and left the party. Ten minutes later he followed, apparating home from the doorstep straight into his flat. The suspended sentence had only lifted a few weeks before; the first thing he’d done was take his apparition test. Inside the flat it was dark and cool, the sky outside a dusky royal blue mixed with the stale orange of street lights. Through the open window the sound of a car’s brakes screeching perforated the night air; he slammed it shut, pulling the curtain over it. A drawer in the desk stood open. He meant to shut it, but was caught remembering a night that felt like a century ago and was sure that if he opened the curtain again, he would catch sight of a girl in a tweed jacket dodging traffic to cross the road.
But that was an impossibility.
The darkness of the flat dimmed around him, his eyes growing used to the dark. He stood there for a while, thinking – it was hard not to get too caught up in thoughts. He thought of books, the box of maps that still sat unsold on the floor of the shop, a broken pair of spectacles Daphne kept secretly in her handbag (he’d caught sight of them when, quite by accident, Daphne stumbled and the contents of her bag went spilling to the pavement like a flood) – and something his mind often dwelled on: a single image. Her, sitting up in her hospital bed at St Mungo’s. Cross-legged. Noting things in a small book. Names of Healers. The date. The colour of the curtains. Trivial things that anchored her to the present, and not a hint of the past or him on her mind.
The thing about Astoria’s kind of memory loss, as Daphne had said, was that it was indiscriminate. Everything simply went. The healing process was no different; everything simply came back chronologically. You grew up all over again in a matter of months. And even then, when the past returned, they said she’d still have trouble. A short term memory shot to hell. The irony of a Muggle Liason worker being knocked down by a muggle was not lost on him. Nor was the irony of an Obliviator losing her own memory entirely.
Pansy had put it well, however. There was no real tragedy. Nobody died, nobody was hurt in a way that couldn’t be fixed. After all, Astoria would be Astoria again in a few decades’ time. An old saying came to him, one he’d heard repeated in songs and books alike over the years – If you love her, let her go. It never seemed to apply more than now. She needed space to heal. He needed to find a job. He needed to find a life. The world moved on, and he resolved to move with it.
It was an unseasonably cold day. February. The weatherwitch had promised sunny spells, but the sky outside glowered a moody grey, threatening rain. A bitter wind chased old newspapers up and down Diagon Alley; he had a perfect vantage point for watching them at his desk in the bookshop. It was his last day working there – the day after tomorrow he would start training as an archivist in the Department of Mysteries. He had sworn not to take a job at the Ministry, but job prospects were slim elsewhere. The Ministry were good at rehabilitation schemes. The general thinking was that if the Ministry were to keep tabs on ex-criminals, where else better than their own headquarters? Anyway, it was difficult to resist a salary so good when times were so hard.
He shivered, tugging his sleeves down over his hands. Try as hard as he might, he couldn’t quite find the perfect heating spell for the shop. He had a party to look forward to that night, though, an end-of-job celebration. He would meet Cathy at eight. Pansy had introduced them nearly a year ago; she was apparently a close friend of Theodore. Catherine March, although she preferred Cathy, just like he knew she preferred two sugars in her tea and staying in to going out, which is why he didn’t think he’d be staying at his own celebration party for too long. Pansy was already hinting marriage, but then again Pansy had been hinting at marriage between herself and her own partner, Tom, for over a year now and nothing had come good of it. She was one for reading a little deeply into things sometimes.
He was just pricing a new copy of The Passage to Dusk when the door opened, the new bell over it ringing smartly in the silence. The girl who entered had her hood up, a shadow cast across her face, specks of rain on the shoulders of her jacket. She made her way straight to the back of the shop, disappearing behind a bookshelf stuffed with crime thrillers. Seeing he wasn’t needed, Draco turned back to the book in front of him, pencilling in the price of five sickles on the frontispiece. Then, as he usually did, he held the book up by a cover, waiting for a bookmark or forgotten slip of parchment to fall out – people always left them and they were bizarrely fascinating – but nothing fell. Waving his wand over it, the book rose into the air and drifted over to the fiction section, finding an empty space between two battered paperbacks.
He continued with his pricing duties, looking up every so often to check on the girl at the back of the shop. She seemed intent on studying the shelves, however, hood still up, hands tucked into her pockets. Five minutes had passed when he thought of clearing his throat and asking her if she needed any help – but then she stretched up to take a book from the top shelf and her hood fell back, exposing long, tangled black hair.
His breath caught in his throat. His hands tightened into fists on the desktop. There was something suddenly distinctive about her skinny wrists, something about the way she stood with her weight on one leg, head cocked to the side as she studied the blurb of the book. Something far too distinctive. At once he thought it had to be Astoria, it just had to be, memory back at last – but then the girl turned and he saw that her jaw was too square, her eyes were too narrow. Makeup caked her face so thick that he could see it from his position on the desk. She held up the book, calling in a heavily accented voice, ‘how much is this?’
He was too relieved to check. ‘Three sickles,’ he said, making up the price on the spot. The girl seemed satisfied, digging in her pockets and making her way to the door. As she passed, she dropped three silver coins on the counter. He bent his head back to the list of stock he was in the midst of checking through, heart in his throat. He was so sure, so certain it had been her…he didn’t know whether he should be upset or happy. He simply felt relieved.
The bell over the door rang again as the girl left. It was close to closing time, and he felt like turning the sign on the door over a little early, a sort of celebration for his final day – but then someone new stepped over the threshold. He ignored them, only registering a pair of feet as they went past on their way to the fiction section. His mind was buried in the stock list.
A minute or so passed. Absolute silence apart from the scratching of his quill on the parchment. Then, a shadow fell over him, a small voice said ‘excuse me’ – and he looked up and found himself looking at Astoria.
‘Just these, thanks,’ she said, putting a stack of books on the desk before him. She did not meet his eye. A little numb, he lifted the first book on the pile, mechanically checking for the price. He couldn’t look at her either. His mouth was suddenly dry.
‘It might take me a while to put these through,’ he said, aware of how monotonous his voice sounded.
Her fingers gripped at the strap of her bag as if scared it might be torn from her side. Every book she had chosen was a collection of short stories. He supposed she didn’t have the memory to read anything longer.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said, breaking the silence. ‘But could I trouble you for the date?’
‘The date?’ he echoed. ‘February twenty-seventh.’
Minutes passed in silence. She shifted from foot to foot uneasily, rubbing her eyes from time to time with an ink-stained finger. He looked up briefly; the back of her hand was almost blue with writing. An address. A date. A time. A name. Then, at the bottom of this collection of facts, a single word. Amnesia
Reminders, he thought. In case she gets lost.
The thought of it made him strangely sad. Astoria didn’t notice him looking. She checked her watch, then seemed to freeze, staring at the clock face. After a moment her gaze flickered to the back of her hand, scanning the words. Tears were welling in her eyes; she looked like a little girl who’d lost a parent.
He couldn’t stop himself. He had to talk to her. ‘Are you alright?’
‘I’m fine,’ she said, sounding distant. Then, she shook her hair back and straightened up, wiping the tears from her eyes on the pretext of adjusting her glasses. ‘Sorry, I just…I’ve got memory loss, sometimes I forget where I am, but I remember now, it’s alright. I’m buying these books.’
She said the last sentence more like a question than a statement. He nodded, ringing up the price on the till. ‘A Galleon exactly,’ he said.
She reached into her pockets for the change, looking at him curiously. She drew out a single gold coin and held it with her hand drawn to her chest, as if reluctant to give it to him.
‘I hope you don’t mind me asking,’ she said. ‘But do I know you from somewhere?’
In that moment everything seemed to hang in the air, a wealth of memories between them that only one of them knew of. He thought of one answer, the truthful answer: yes.
Instead, he said ‘no…I don’t think so.’
‘I thought I recognised you…I just…saw something, I thought, but…it’s nothing,’ she trailed off, finally passing him the Galleon. He took his time dropping it into the till, unsure of what to say.
The till slammed shut; an audible punctuation mark. She put the books into her bag one by one, deliberately. They were both stalling.
Eventually, he spoke: ‘What did you see?’
‘It’s stupid,’ she permitted a small smile to cross her lips. ‘Nothing, really…just thought I remembered seeing you somewhere. The park. I don’t know, it’s silly, it’s probably someone who just looks a lot like you.’
She put the final book in her bag, but didn’t turn to leave.
‘It must be difficult,’ he said, finding it hard to keep his voice from breaking in the middle, knowing that somehow she had pinned down a vague memory of Hyde Park in the cage of her mind. ‘Having memory loss, I mean.’
‘It is, quite.’
‘How did it happen?’
He felt he could tell the story better than she could, but wanted to hear it anyway. ‘I was hit by a car, apparently,’ she said. ‘Not that I remember, of course. I get treatment at St Mungo’s…actually, I’m about to go now.’ She indicated the time and date on the back of her hand. ‘Top-ups.’
‘What’s it like?’
She thought about her answer for a minute. ‘What, having memory loss? It’s hard. The Healers do a great job, though, I do remember a lot now. It all comes back in little bits, I never get anything fully at once – just pieces of it. Like a puzzle. It takes a while for everything to connect. Honestly, I swear I know you from somewhere.’
‘You’ve probably been in here before. I’ve worked here for ages.’
‘To tell the truth,’ she said, still gripping the strap of her bag. ‘I think I came in her because – well, apart from getting some more books – I’ve been coming past here most days, and…well, my memories, they come back in little pieces, like I said, and I swore I recognised you, when I kept seeing you through the window – just this memory, in a park somewhere, and I thought…well, I thought if I came in and talked to you the rest might come back, maybe I’d remember something else. I feel like I’m missing something…’
You’re missing you, he was about to say. Also, seeing you again feels like watching you get hit by a car all over again.
Instead, he handed her the receipt. ‘Well. I hope you remember.’
‘Me too. Thanks anyway.’
With that she was gone. Still reeling a little from the shock of seeing her – and still, he thought, a little in love with her – he turned back to the bookshop; dusty shelves, frayed carpet, and a shelf of military history where a vague memory of her old self still lingered.
Outside she was stalking the shadows of Diagon Alley, head bent against the rain that now drummed on the streets. It caught her face anyway, soaking her fringe to her forehead, freezing cold, mixing with hot tears that leaked from the corners of her eyes. She couldn’t help it. It was a bit of a hazard of being her these days, not that she had the vaguest idea who she was supposed to be. Everything led to a dead end, just like the vague memory of a kiss in a park had led nowhere. She hadn’t bothered to tell the man in the bookshop that extra detail; it was probably nothing. She’d followed various leads, some to unsavoury parts of the city, some to places like that dusty bookshop – nothing seemed to work. The ink on her hand was bleeding with the rain, watery blue running into little tributaries over her wrist, over a tattoo she couldn’t recall the meaning or origin of. A bag that she couldn’t remember buying swung from her shoulder, full of books she would probably forget to read. It was worth a shot. Maybe she would walk past again tomorrow and see if anything-
A noise from up ahead distracted her. Blankness. Her thoughts vanished like candles that had been blown out. Dead ends. Her pace slowed. The rain soaked her hair. She knew this was Diagon Alley, but had no idea why she’d come there, no idea why her hand was covered in blue ink or why she was crying. Only the rain, only the bag at her shoulder. She rubbed her eyes and thought hard, harder, wishing her thoughts back into existence, wishing the rain to fall on someone else.
Memories came back in flashes, bursts of light, momentary illuminations. She took them in. Passed a man with blonde hair on the street and wondered if he was the one that eluded her thoughts. Visited a shop in Diagon Alley where a strange memory of pain made her wince. Asked her sister to take her to the country so that she might try skipping stones as she thought she’d once done, perhaps to unlock some further fleeting moment. She wondered, sitting at her desk with a blank page in front of her, who it was in her mind she could remember holding her hand, who it was who kissed her in the park. The pages tended to stay blank.
She passed him in the street once. They both turned back at the same time for a second glance. Her brow furrowed, but then she turned away again, muttering an apology below her breath. Cathy demanded to know who she was; he said nobody.
In April it rained for a week straight; she sat and thought at her desk with the radio on full blast, ignoring Daphne’s pleas to come out and be sociable. Another blank page lay before her. She headed it the facts. Below: blonde. Kiss in the park. It stayed like that for a week before she filed it away with all of her other papers, dismissing it as a false lead.
He turned twenty-four in June. Pansy warned him, a week later, about Cathy. ‘I think she wants to marry you,’ she said, ignoring his incredulous look.
‘First I’ve heard of it.’
‘It’s funny,’ Pansy said, cracking a smile. ‘When you’re not there, you should here her. Always talking about who’s getting engaged to who, who’s having kids – she even asked to try on my ring, did you know that?’ Her fingers twisted absently at the silver band with its single emerald she wore on her fourth finger. ‘And, well, I put her on the team to help me organise my wedding, and she’s being a bit…well…over-enthusiastic. She came dress shopping with me last week, and it was fun, but the more I think about it all…’
‘I dunno,’ Draco said, toying with an abandoned teaspoon on the table before them. ‘I’m only just twenty-four, it feels a bit soon or something.’
‘She’s twenty-five. She has also casually hinted to me and Daphne a few times how cute she thinks babies are. I think, overall, the biggest hint was when we went to check out the venue for my wedding last week, and she stood there and sighed and said Oh, I wish Draco would hurry up and propose to me.’
‘You’re making that up.’
‘I absolutely am not.’
He didn’t saying anything, instead sipping at his tea.
‘I’m just saying, Draco, you should probably do something.’
‘I can’t marry her yet,’ he said, now folding up an empty sugar packet into a tiny square. ‘It’s far too soon. I mean, I do love Cathy, but I just…I don’t know, not that much.’
‘Fine by me,’ Pansy shrugged. ‘I’m just warning you. I put her as your plus one on the wedding guest list by the way, and at the actual reception you’re with Daphne and Blaise and their plus ones on the same table. I engineered it so Cathy can sit next to Daphne, so hopefully she won’t bring up the whole marriage thing too much…’
‘Thank you,’ he said, unfolding the sugar packet again, smoothing out the creases in the paper. ‘I can always count on you, honestly, you’re a great help.’
Pansy smiled. ‘I try my best.’
She was still sure there was a gap in her memory. On her request, Daphne took down a box of trinkets from the top of her wardrobe.
‘I don’t know how these could help,’ she said. ‘But I suppose we could try.’
The box was made of old tin. A jumble of objects had been tossed in carelessly. Astoria picked them out one by one – a thimble, an empty bottle of perfume, a crumpled ticket – but nothing brought her the promised flash of a memory returning. Then, at the bottom of the box, she found a scrap of fabric. Tweed.
‘It was yours,’ Daphne said, turning the fabric between her hands. ‘They had to cut the jacket off you when you had your accident, but I salvaged this bit. You used to wear it everywhere.’
He stood outside a jewellery shop in Diagon Alley, hands stuffed in his pockets to keep them warm, head still aching from a stag night of sorts the night before. A glance at the bookshop he used to work in made him smile. In reality, the ministry job was not much better – it paid a little more, but it was just as dusty and twice as monotonous. He was scanning the cheaper selection of rings, wondering idly how far he could stretch that month’s pay.
In November, Draco visited Daphne for the first time in months – partly to check up on her and see she was still alright in her job as resident carer for her sister, and also partly to ask her if he’d made the right decision in buying a ring that was silver, set with three tiny sapphires.
‘It’s lovely,’ Daphne said, turning it between her fingers. ‘Really lovely, but Cathy’s more of a ruby girl, I guess. She wears a lot of red.’
‘I guess I thought…I don’t know,’ he said, taking it back and placing it in the box. ‘Something different. I thought it looked the nicest. And, er, don’t tell her this, but my budget didn’t stretch as far as I hoped it would.’
‘I won’t,’ Daphne said, with a knowing smile. ‘When are you going to ask her?’
‘No idea. Absolutely no idea. I was kind of just going to spring it on her, maybe when we’re out for dinner together or something.’
‘Whatever the situation I guess she’ll be delighted, she’s always going on about-’
‘Yeah, Pansy told me.’
The front door slammed, interrupting them. Daphne’s hands tensed on her lap. Footsteps came down the hallway, then a pale half-moon of a face appeared at the door. A pair of blue eyes widened as they fell on Draco, then narrowed in disdain.
‘Hello, Astoria,’ Daphne said, sounding timid. But Astoria had already left the doorway; they heard her footsteps on the stairs, then a door above slamming. Daphne shrugged apologetically.
‘Probably just had a bad turn somewhere. It happens sometimes; she forgets where she is, and people don’t really understand.’
‘It’s a shame,’ Draco said, pocketing the ring.
He was halfway down the street when he heard a small popping noise from behind him, then footsteps drawing close at a quick pace. He stopped and turned, expecting it to be Daphne, chasing after him with something he’d forgotten, but instead it was Astoria, striding along the road, a tiny scrap of tweed fabric clutched in one hand.
‘You liar!’ she shouted. ‘You lied to me!’
He dug his hands into his pockets, standing his ground. ‘So did you.’
She reached him finally, out of breath, stuffing the tweed into her pocket. Her eyes glinted like ice. ‘In the bookshop,’ she said, her voice broken. ‘You lied to me, you said you didn’t recognise me, but you did, of course you did-’
He stared down at her. ‘What, do you remember now?’
‘Don’t be stupid, you knew I’d get it all back someday-’
‘I really don’t think I should be talking to you.’
‘Why not? You’re a complete-’
‘You’re forgetting that you lied to me too,’ he shot, refusing to look her in the eye. ‘Consider it an eye for an eye.’
She crossed her arms, staring up at him defiantly. ‘Really? Really? What, you’d happily feed lies to a girl with memory loss just for – for what, revenge? You’re sick-’
‘And what about you? Covering up a whole criminal record and living a lie just so you could get-’
‘It’s not the same!’
‘But isn’t it obvious? What, would you rather remember me and all that horrible stuff that happened? I thought it’d be better if you didn’t remember-’
‘I was bound to remember some day, wasn’t I? You didn’t have to lie and set me back by, what, a year? I spent a whole year convinced I was going mad, chasing after bits of memories – you complete bastard, I can’t believe you’d-’
Somewhere further down the lane a front door slammed shut. Astoria’s head turned to the source of the noise, and then, at once, her face turned blank. Her eyes widened. After a moment she turned back to Draco, her expression hungry, as if searching for an answer that had eluded her for far too long – and then hardened again.
‘You liar!’ she spat. ‘You lied to me!’
‘I know,’ he said, turning on the spot and disapparating.
At Pansy’s wedding, he was embarrassed to find that Daphne had brought Astoria as her plus one. They sat on opposite sides of the table, fiddling with cutlery and trying not to make eye contact, both refusing to engage in conversation like the others. Cathy, sat on Draco’s left, seemed to take this as a deliberate snub and turned to talk to Blaise instead.
At dusk there were fireworks. They gathered outside, in the dark, faces lit up by the occasional flash of bright light from above. Clouds of breath hung in the air, frost coating the trees and grass around.
A bright green firework exploded above; Cathy squeezed his hand, forgetting her earlier frostiness. The ring in his pocket seemed to be burning. Pansy had hinted that this would be a prime time to pop the question, so to speak, but he wasn’t quite sure he could do it.
Another firework. Bright blue. The crowd cheered. His eye was caught by Astoria, further along, her pale face illuminated by the fireworks, clapping absently, Daphne at her side. As if she knew she was being watched Astoria turned and caught his eye with a blank, far-away look. Then Cathy stood on tip-toe to whisper something in his ear and he turned away.
He didn’t hear a word she said. He was thinking about the ring in his pocket. Sapphires for a girl who lived in red. Silver when the girl in question only wore gold.
It was snowing outside. Through the window she idly watched the street drown under a torrent of snowflakes, passers-by battling on with their robes soaked up to the knees. Her fingers drummed against the tabletop, lifted an empty packet of sugar from the bowl and began to fold it, almost without her looking. She folded it into eight then unfolded it again, smoothing out the creases in the waxy paper. Leftover granules of sugar coated her fingers. She was becoming tired of waiting. Absently, she brushed the sugar off her fingers and checked the clock on the wall again. Quarter past two. He was late.
He wasn’t sure how it had all progressed from the café – he was half an hour late to start with, too indecisive about whether to go or not – and then somehow it had gone from her obsessively folding empty sugar packets between her fingers to a walk in Hyde Park, then back to his new flat, where she spent a good ten minutes staring at the bookshelves trying to remember which books she’s actually read.
‘Definitely this one,’ she said, holding up Starlight. ‘I remember the cover. I think it was pretty good.’
‘You hated it.’
‘One of the disadvantages of memory loss, of which there are many,’ she said, cramming the book back onto the shelf. ‘I know I’ve read it, but I can’t remember for the life of me what the plot was. I think-’
‘Centaurs and elves, kids’ stuff – that’s what you said at the time, anyway.’
‘Couldn’t hurt to read it again.’
‘I think I’ll pass,’ she said. ‘I’ll get distracted halfway through and forget the plot.’
‘That’s why you read so many short stories.’
She nodded, head still tilted upwards towards the shelves. Her hair was obviously due for a cut; her heavy fringe hung into her eyes. She’d spent most of the day brushing it off of her face, only for it to fall again. This irritated him to the point that he was almost driven mad whenever she did it. As he expected, her nodding dislodged the fringe that was carefully tucked to one side, and it hung into her eyes again. Hardly thinking about what he was doing, he swept it back to the side for her.
It seemed like the perfect moment. The months apart, the lies, the accident – it all seemed to have vanished, brushed away as easily as if it were all dust. He took her pale face in his hands, ready to forget as she had and start afresh – but then saw that her eyes had gone blank, her brow furrowed with confusion. Distracted.
A January day, a frozen sky, the city beneath cloaked in grey fog-
-only ten minutes out of work, he stood against the cold stone of the Ministry walls. A confrontation with Cathy still stung in the bruise on his jaw. In his pocket, his fingers brushed against a small box. An engagement ring. For someone else.
a/n: funnily, I originally ended the story with Astoria leaving the shop all miserable. Then I thought that particualr ending probably wasn't definite enough, hence the new section. Probably fairly hastily written, but I hope it satisifes all the Draco/Astoria shippers (er...mostly including me.) The final section is written in a slightly different way for a reason; did it work? I'd love to hear what anyone thinks, so if you've got any comments please feel free to drop me a review. Otherwise, thank you for reading this to the end! I hope you enjoyed it (: