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Pick a Poison by manno_malfoy
Chapter 1: One
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As varied as the masterpieces of a talented artist are the people in a group of friends. Despite that one common factor that ties them together like a single thread, what really weaves a friendship are the differences that string up as each of them takes on life in a different way. What entertainment would be there if we all followed the instructions of the same book? How else would we laugh about the misfortune of the person seated next to us at the dinner table or have a drink in their honour?
And while we are on the subject of personal differences... Allow me to construct a brief and general psychological profile.
Trying. For one person, that may be the only strategy to conquer the challenges pressed upon us by life. They would go ahead in a rather irrevocable manner and keep their eyes on nothing but the goal. Amongst this group of people, some, after exerting too much effort, after putting all they have got in their lives and losing it all, they decide to idly lounge and let the tides of life throw them upon whichever shore the tides choose to touch. Others decide to form a tide of their own and continue to push in trial, refusing to tire or settle for less than the place they covet.
Now, perhaps we should make it more specified and personal?
Well, for Draco, after the war had been over, he had a choice to make. He had the choice of disappearing, of running away and only appearing very rarely and only if his appearance was necessary. His other choice would be to try to blend in with the rest of the people, to find a new thing to fight for other than the Dark Lord.
And do guess which option he decided to pick out of the basket!
"I have practically removed myself from existence, I sit in the Manor with no one, do nothing, hurt no one, and even when I do come out and try to do one right thing, I'm treated as though I'm a pariah? How dare they?!" Draco ranted angrily as he paced across Astoria's tiny underground office at St. Mungo's. As he ran a hand furiously through his pale blonde hair, his elbow came in contact with something he had not managed to see as it tumbled down, and everything else that was placed on top of it fell as well.
Carefully, Draco dusted off the sleeve of his black dress robes upon which some dust seemed to have found a place to reside, completely disregarding the mess he had just made.
Astoria, who was not really listening to Draco as this was not his first time to barge into her office and say almost the very same thing –and whom should be truly pitied for she put up with a lot of Draco's complaints, looked up from the parchment roll she had been working on for hours to see the jumble of books and medical records that Draco had dropped.
"Damn it, Malfoy," she groaned as she got up to inspect the damage.
If there is one thing I know about Astoria's attitude toward Draco is that she felt as though she had the ability to help him, yet, in reality, she hadn't the patience necessary to tolerate the headaches he often seemed to bring about. Also, she certainly did not admire his negative attitude or his inability to contain his morbid thoughts. She, as she believed, was handling a lot, and she was not too far away from wishing she could just put everything away and give up. And all Draco did was encourage her to do so.
"I hate this office of yours! I don't even understand why you accept to work in this filthy room where there are cobwebs everywhere and mould-infested parchments and probably even dead bodies under the floorboards. It's humiliating," Draco told her as his nose wrinkled in disgust in order to emphasise his point.
Astoria sighed to herself loudly and crossed her arms in front of her chest as she considered her words. "Draco, listen. I put up with all this," Astoria started and waved her hand in the air in a way of saying 'this horrible room that you are standing in', "with this disgusting storage room that's infested with more than just mouldy parchments because this room is my only chance to show those who were on the other side of the war that I could just be as good as any of them, if not even a lot better. They may look down upon me, they may not be offering me the best of offices, they may give girls who have been here for less than half the time I've been a higher rank, one that I very well deserve, just because my family was associated with those who were on the Dark Lord's side and the other girls weren't..."
She paused for a moment to organize her words again and in order to make sure that she remained composed and that she made sense. "But if I put up with this, if I show them that I am not some supercilious elitist, they'll realise that I'm not trying to hurt anyone and that I am only here to start up a life for myself and succeed at something I know I'm good at and something that I enjoy."
"That sounds like a very hard, time-consuming feat to achieve," was Draco's only comment and it was said with some sort of lack of care and even a little bit bitterness.
Once upon a time, as you probably know, Draco had an ambition that could have rivalled Astoria's and perhaps even easily surpassed it. Yet, he may have invested his abilities in things that were meant to fail from their very start –things like killing a professor and an achieved wizard, perhaps – and ever since, he had lost the spark that had, at some point, kept him going ahead.
And Astoria knew that and understood it; she understood that behind the nasty attitude, there were millions of reasons. After all, Draco was the only one of her friends who had been deeply involved in the war. Yet, she believed that there must come a time where he should realise that he had not died in the war and that there were many things that life was still offering.
"Well, I'm ready to die trying. At least if I'm no longer alive, they'll have a good reason to give all the good positions to the goodie-two-shoes girls," Astoria told Draco confidently and walked back to her seat to pick up the parchment roll she had been working on. "And I suggest you do the same," she told him as she rolled the piece of parchment up and picked up her keys from the desk.
"What? Beat all the goodie-two-shoes girls and die doing it?" Draco asked her with an eyebrow quirked in inquisition.
"No!" Astoria responded sharply and walked over to where Draco was standing, stepping on multiple books in the process. "I'm suggesting that you sober up, stop hiding in the Manor and here in my hellhole of an office, get a job, and show them that you could be just as good as they are."
After she said that, she made her way to the office's door, which had a hole in the knob's place. "And pick up those books you've dropped. My office is a mess as is."
A while after Astoria had left, Draco was still sitting in her seat, the books still in disarray, and he mumbled to himself, "I am better than them."
I don't really need to prove anything. Not to them anyway. They’re not worth the effort. Nor is their petty opinion of me.
Astoria, Draco decided, was preaching nonsense. Therefore, he just disapparated to the Manor and decided to get himself what he believed to be a well-deserved nap. Yet, he found himself delving more into thought and less into sleep every time he rolled over in his bed.
What did Astoria want him to do? Pick between being looked at as a failure while getting to rest and enjoying all the luxuries of life, and between going through hell and getting no rest just to gain people's respect? It was as though she was asking him to choose which poison he would use to kill himself – like they did in that muggle movie Zabini insisted to have them all watch with him.
She practically suggested that this is worth dying...
Although he did not see himself doing what Astoria was doing, he felt himself begin to understand why she was doing it. She believed in change. She believed that, at some point, people would stop overlooking her and would start to see her for who she truly is. Astoria believed she had the power to break the walls that separated her from the other people with whom she worked. She believed she could cause a revolution – a very discreet and unpromising revolution.
Just getting to this point, understanding Astoria's point of view and supposing that, perhaps, on some level, she might be right, was great progress for one day. And with that, sleep and comfort seemed easier to reach, and he did not try to keep them away any longer.
"How come Granger is a head of a department now? How long has it been since we have graduated? Three years?" Draco asked the two girls who were crammed side by side on the feeble 'couch' in Astoria's office, and Astoria who was sitting at her 'desk' –which had more of trees' products in the form of parchment than in the form of wood, working on yet another report.
"No, it's more like seven now, Malfoy," Daphne Greengrass responded, sounding greatly disinterested and bored, as she stretched out her words, sounding very drunk –which she probably was.
Daphne was Draco's drinking-mate, even if she did not enjoy his company much. Okay, perhaps she did after five drinks and a lot of chocolate, but still... She would rather spend her drunk-time with Zabini or Flint than spend it with Malfoy and his pungent attitude. Their evenings together were the perfect depiction of a pity party, a competition to sort out who better deserved to play the 'woe is me' part. For an outsider looking from the table across the room, they were equally pathetic and equally woeful.
"Whatever... It takes people seven years to become head of a department now? No wonder our world is in ruins," Draco said with a shrug.
"I don't see what's wrong with that. I have got promoted three times over the past two years, and I haven't saved the world. At a rate like that, in four years, I may have a shot at becoming head of a department as well," Astoria said calmly, her quill still moving over the parchment in a very fast pace that Draco wondered if she knew at all what she was writing down.
"You see, at moments like these, when you're all hopeful and perky, I sort of develop a great dislike for you, Astoria," Draco told her.
"Oh, please! Is that why your face is glued to hers half of the time?" Daphne interrupted, amused, seeming to wake up a little from her drunken stupor.
Draco could not help but call off her attitude with a grunt and a poisonously bitter thought of how childishly she had posed her accusation. Astoria, on the other hand, found the question rather intrusive and that Daphne had no right whatsoever to bring up a subject so private and personal in her workplace, even if no workmates were present.
Then, Draco rolled his eyes and sank in his seat, wondering about how Daphne got to know about that to begin with. Surely enough, Astoria had not told her. Also, he did not remember telling her himself, and he was never too drunk to not remember admitting to something like that to Daphne. He looked up to see Astoria still violently focused on the task at hand, yet quite red at the face. Draco was not sure whether that was embarrassment or pure and targeted anger, but he just looked away and said nothing.
"What? You thought we wouldn't notice?" Daphne asked with a very wide smile and looked at Pansy who was sitting right next to her. It seemed as though Daphne really was enjoying this, and that Pansy was trying her best to not comment on the matter, pretending to be busy with studying her fingernails –perhaps she should paint them purple for the following night's party? Or should she just go with the classic red?
"Just shut up about it, Daphne," Astoria grumbled angrily at Daphne, and, furiously and loudly, she stabbed the parchment with the tip of her quill, breaking it. Draco guessed that she was trying to draw a full stop.
Pansy, after considering leaving the room before a feud was initiated, cleared her throat loudly and tried to lighten the mood up by shifting the attention of her companions to a previously abandoned yet very important subject. "I agree with Astoria about how having a job and trying hard to prove yourself in it brings so much self-satisfaction. The amount of things you could learn..."
"I know, right?" Astoria said in response, a small smile appearing on her face. She was glad that she was finally getting some sort of support.
"When did you get all wise and sweet, Parkinson?" Daphne asked with distaste too hard to miss. "Wait, how do you even call what you have a job?"
"I write for the Daily Prophet!" Pansy argued, quite shocked that Daphne was asking her a question like that.
"Yes, under a pseudonym; how is that earning you, Pansy Parkinson, any respect in our lovely and warm society?" Draco asked her, satire infesting his expression, his tone, and his smug smile.
"Hey, it's a good first step all the same! When I reveal myself, they will recognise me for the talent I have showcased over the past few years and for the pieces I have written, and not my family's past with good old Voldy," Pansy explained calmly and gave Draco a satisfied smile after she was done talking, claiming victory in that round of argument.
As the three girls prattled on about something related to the topic at hand, Draco started to think about it again after he was sure that the girls were just prattling on pointlessly. What Pansy had said had given him a new perspective. He had not done anything very differently ever since the Dark Lord had gone. Yes, his dark mark was fading, he was not sitting in the Room of Requirement trying to orchestrate a way for a group of Death Eaters to break an entry into Hogwarts through a cupboard. Nevertheless, he still did nothing new; he had not given the society, which the scorn of he despised, a new thing to judge him based on.
Yet, could he, ex-Death Eater, manage to change what people thought of him? If he accepted the auror job at the Ministry and started doing good in the world and helped catch criminals, would people stop looking at him as though he was one?
Yes, he once was a criminal, and that was forced upon him, and it was seven years ago. It was a disdainful legacy that he had inherited, in the name of the Malfoy family, in order to save his family... Perhaps, he thought, for once, he could choose his own path.
Nonetheless, in the life he had forced upon him, he always had someone to lead him, someone who told him how to deal with things, whether that had been either of his parents, his Aunt Bellatrix and her husband Rodolphus, or even the Dark Lord himself. He always had a commander in chief.
Draco looked up and his eyes caught onto one face in the room –Astoria's.
At that moment, Astoria looked at Daphne then said, "You know what? Yes, it is satisfying to know that I have the ability to get past all those unnecessary obstacles they plant in my path. Although there are more of them than there is more of us –"
"Then why should we even participate in an unfair game? Why not just play our own private game?" Draco interrupted in epiphany.
Yes, why not just make some sort of private company, manufacture a specific something, sell it, and get over this entire mess? Why did they have to mingle with people they disliked?
He did not want to argue with Astoria or get on her bad side; that was, in fact, the last thing he wanted to do. And more importantly, he didn't want to side with Daphne against Astoria. Nonetheless, he wanted to understand; if he were to operate upon her words of encouragement, he wanted to be completely sure that he had no other options.
"Because we should not be scared of them! We can be their equals and even outdo them! Look at Pansy! Because she has had the advantage of seeing a bit of both sides of the war, she writes about subjects that other writers did not touch and probably can never touch because they have no idea they existed! We shouldn't just let them corner us and win without even giving this game a try."
Astoria, Draco came to realise, was his only shot. Draco came to a new metaphor about life –it is like a game of archery, and you must be careful not to waste your arrows on the wrong targets. And Slazar knew that one arrow was all the bow, which he had just gained rights to, could possibly handle. It was still too frail and Draco was still out of practice. And targets could not be missed; he could not afford that.
She had patched up his broken faith and had given him a push to try and regain his place in the world, or to even find a new place for himself, for a new Draco Malfoy. Yet, all he ended up with was a severed arm. And because she was the one who had led him to getting maimed like that, he decided that he should go wave it in her face and show her the trophy he had received for all the work he had been doing for months, to show her that she was wrong and that she had dragged him into the same faulty plan she was following –trying endlessly.
"What happened?!" Astoria asked in concern and her eyes widened in shock as she finally noticed his bloodied arm. She had just entered the room he had been placed in and, with quick steps, approached his bed.
"What happened is that I listened to you. Two years of working at the Ministry, two bloody years, and they decide that the best use for me is to use me as bate. They track down a sociopath, send me in to face him first and have me, alongside a team of idiots, drag him all the way back to the Ministry. And what do they do? They talk to him while he is chained to a seat! And I'm the one who gets to end up with a bloody disability! Oh, if Father were here to witness this comical show!"
Astoria quirked an eyebrow at Draco, feeling that while he was in frenzy over his injured arm, he failed to notice something very important. She knew that he had been killing himself while trying to prove himself as a worthy auror in the Ministry. If anything, she knew that Draco was one of the most powerful wizards she had ever met. And while he believed that he indeed had power and unique abilities, he also believed that they would never be acknowledged by the Ministry.
Could he really have been that blinded by fear? Was he that badly shaken by what had happened nearly a decade ago? And how had he not recovered yet?
"Here, let me see that arm of yours; I'm sure it's nothing too serious or that you will end up with permanent damage," Astoria said gently as she stood by his bed and lightly held his injured arm to examine it.
"Well...?" Draco asked, demanding information impatiently.
"Well, the good news is that you did not manage to get yourself permanently injured," she said with a smile as she levitated her healing kit, an idea striking her mind.
Draco gave a sigh of relief and allowed himself to relax a little in the bed. Of what use would he be to the world or, more importantly, to himself if he hadn't a functioning arm. He might as well just Avada Kedavra himself or commit a crime that would earn him a place in Azkaban!
"Nonetheless, You do not get to be on bate Ministry missions for a while so you don't risk having it open up again or getting it infected. It may not be grave, but it is certainly not a superficial cut," Astoria added and poured some disinfectant on his arm.
Draco winced slightly then looked up at her in horror, sitting up again to say, "What do you mean I can't go on missions? Do you even have enough experience to dish out such judgments?!"
Astoria glared at him and he quickly apologized and raised his unharmed hand in defeat, "I'm just joking. I know how hard you have worked to earn this position and I do not mean to belittle your efforts in anyway. You are an accomplished healer and I will follow any medical advice you give me."
"Thank you," Astoria said with a smile that showcased her satisfaction and gave him a nod of gratitude. "I thought that you said you don't like the missions though? I thought you would be thrilled that you would have a good excuse to stay out of them... Or have I missed something?"
Sometimes, Draco could not decide if he admired Astoria's wit or if it made it easier for him to dislike her. Certainly enough, she knew how to see right through him. During a certain period, he had suspected that she used Leglimency, but disregarded the idea as soon as he remembered that he was quite skilful with Occulmency and that he would notice if she had been trying to penetrate his mind.
"Come on, why are you fooling yourself? They're not using you as bate! They're sending you on your own missions to catch criminals, sociopaths may they be or not! It took me four years to be allowed to stitch wounds, not entrap a living –and probably dangerous criminal! It's great progress, Draco," Astoria said as she slowly started to move her wand in a slow manner and began to work on healing Draco's sliced open arm.
"You really believe so?" Draco asked as he looked up at her intently, looking a lot like a child seeking approval.
"Two years, Draco; that's all it took you to prove to them that you're responsible and capable enough to handle your own, unsupervised missions. So yes, I really do believe so," she assured him enthusiastically as she steadily continued to work on his arm.
Draco let his head sink into the pillow, which was not nearly as comfortable as the ones he was used to sleeping on, and resumed thinking. Perhaps, as was common, Astoria was right about this. In fact, forget about the Ministry, his co-workers, and the otter Potter and Crimson Weasel... For him, it was fun. He enjoyed the thrill that invaded his mind as he chased a criminal down an alley; he liked to sit in his office with his two workmates and feeling that sting in his brain as they tried to put together the clues and draw out a map for the plan they would have to follow in order to catch the criminal.
At times, when he was doing that, he forgot that he was doing it to earn a place in the society or to gain other people's respect. There was that self-satisfaction Astoria had mentioned a few years ago when she and Daphne got into that verbal quarrel. And she was right about that too, about how passing the tests that were unnecessarily set for him made him feel better about himself.
"Alright, I'm all done here," Astoria announced happily, and instantly, Draco was sitting up in bed.
"Good, I need to work on the report for that case last case I was on. Wizengamot will need it on that bloke's court session, which should be happening very soon," Draco told her as he got off the bed.
"Fine, but you still cannot go on missions; I'm serious about this," Astoria reminded him while she packed up her personal medical kit.
"You can't order me around like that!" Draco told her rather childishly.
"But you said –"
"You had my arm in your hand and you were preparing to magically stitch your way through it; opposing you was not in my health's best interest," Draco told her with a smirk and turned around to leave. "Thanks for taking care of my health, though," he added as he continued to walk towards the room's door.
When he was almost out of the room, Astoria called out for him loudly, "Draco!"
"What?" he stopped and turned around on his heels to look at her, still standing outside the room.
"We've run out of the chocolate yesterday. Bring some on your way home, would you? I need chocolate," Astoria said to him with an innocent smile, one that she wore often when she was requesting something or in need for a favor.
"No, you don't need chocolate; you and that monster child of yours are craving chocolate. I only vowed to bring you what you need, not what you think you desire, even if you really don't," Draco retorted, a satisfied smirk still on his face as he ran a hand through his hair, which, by the way, was starting to fall out at an unnatural speed.
"You don't need chocolate, Astoria, because we're going out for a nice dinner date. And you can buy whichever kind of chocolate on our way back from the restaurant, alright?" Draco told her, quite disappointed that she had ruined the surprise he was planning to make her.
"Thank you," was all she said after a small pause and smiled him again.
This was not just some dinner date, Astoria figured out. They were celebrating Draco's biggest success since the war so far –besides getting married to her then getting her pregnant, of course.
The change has come, and Draco was finally learning how to handle the bow life had handed him.
A/N: Whoa! This was definitely a massive accomplishment for me considering how I used to be quite the Dramoine shipper. Yet, I loved working on it, and I found Astoria/Draco so loveable!
Also, I apologize for any grammatical, spelling, or any other kind of mistakes you may find. This is a part of my Camp Nano work, and the rush does make mistakes easy to make. I will probably get back and edit this afterwards.
Thank you for reading! And reviews -constructive criticism or anything else- are greatly appreciated. :)