Chapter 1 : of fairy tales and sunset sails.
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Author's Note: This was written in response to Bella’s Titled Inspiration Challenge. Story title by Crystaline Vase at the forums. Dedicated to GubraithianFire (who has done an amazing job editing this for me and for always finding ways to make me smile). You are the best!
vii. the end of the beginning.
The sun beyond the window is slowly setting, a disc of fire, painting the skies the colours pink, gold and violet. The river in the distance reflects it, glitters like diamonds and stirs restlessly. The winds are growing impatient and fiercer by the minute, making the house moan eerily. The scenery is magical, but the mood is crestfallen. As though there is no sun, no flowers blooming on the flowerbed, no birds chirping merrily among the trees. It is solemn, the cause of the silence that resides in the room. It is tangible.
He is holding her hand, his head resting on the quilts that are keeping her warm, and will keep her warm till the very end. She has her eyes closed, her hand limp in his, and her chest is barely rising any longer. I can tell that her time has come by the fact that the colour in her face is leaving every minute. By how she struggles to draw a breath with each second. I’m not sure if he can tell how life is slowly leaving her. Perhaps he can feel it inside himself. But those are feelings I cannot feel, however much I like to imagine them. I see how she opens her mouth, words upon her tongue. I know she’s aware of my presence. They are all aware of me when their time has come. When a life has reached its end. The words stumble out of her mouth, past her lips, and her voice is calm and ancient.
“Not yet,” she says and I hear her clearly. The man beside her – her husband – hasn’t heard a thing though. He is just holding her hand, his face upon the bed, his eyes closed and his mind far away. He probably knows she won’t leave him anytime soon. It puzzles me.
“It’s not time just yet.”
I know she’s addressing me. I know I shouldn’t listen to her, but she intrigues me. I wonder how she knows it’s not her time. How can she know and not I? I observe her wrinkled face and I can see that she was once very, very beautiful. Behind her thin and purple lids, eyes of deepest blue exist. She has frail, wispy white hair. It seems powdery, like snow. She is stubbornly holding onto the thin string that is her life. I know I should carry on with my mission, my obligation, but something is stopping me. Perhaps she does know better than me. So instead of engulfing her with my veil of relief – a relief she will not feel if I decide to take her with me now – I draw back, standing idly by the wall, waiting for her to accept me.
The disc of fire is stubbornly lingering by the horizon. The golden beams lit up the dormitory and shine across her delicate figure. I’m waiting. And she is reminiscing.
“It’s amazing how we ever doubted Harry Potter. And look at ‘im now! Auror and all.”
“Speak for yourself old man! We had every reason to doubt him back then! A boy of seventeen years, to defeat He Who Must Not Be Named?! It sounds like madness, it does! ‘Course we doubted! If Dumbledore never made it – may he rest in peace, wherever he is – how could we have thought that he would?”
“Aye, ‘tis true. But – let’s forget this already! It’s been two years... We have all pretty much rebuilt our lives as they were before it all happened. But here’s to Harry Potter!”
She covered her ears then. She had heard enough of the conversation and even though it had reached its end, she could not stand hearing their praising voices. The respect she felt for Harry did not matter any longer. He had saved them all, yes, but in the process, her father had been captured. In a way, justice had to be served and the consequences had to be faced. But however little she’d approved of her father’s loyalties, she could not deny that she missed him dearly. How could she not? The aftermath of his capture – and the sentence of being locked away for life – was that her mother had gone mad. She had lost them both and she felt hollow.
Astoria Greengrass grabbed the glass and downed the amber liquid that had at long last numbed her tongue. She did not give a damn’s arse about her unladylike manners, feeling that they did no longer matter. The society was in uproar. Her name was nothing now. Just a name, its significance locked away with her father in Azkaban.
Her eyes burned with tears that would not appear and her chest was heavy with the weeks of being alone. There was so much to share but no one to share it with. Daphne was who-knew-where and her mother was lying on her bed, too absorbed with her own thoughts to even pay her any notice. Never before in her life had she felt as alone as she felt on that second. The discussions of the people that were present in The Leaky Cauldron filled her ears, but she could not distinguish any particular voices and she could not hear of what they were discussing. Her mind was racing with thoughts and emotions and she couldn’t keep track of anything. Her eyes were blurry, but she didn’t know with what. The stench of sweat and alcohol burned her nostrils.
She remained seated and leaned her head against the wall, closing her eyes, the tiredness creeping from all places and clouding her mind. She was warm and knew her cheeks showed the rosiness that always marked them when she drank a drop of alcohol. Astoria didn’t even want to guess how rosy they were, with all the alcohol she’d mixed with her blood that evening. She wanted someone to get her home. She wanted someone who cared.
After what felt like an eternity, the drowsiness began to ebb away. There was nothing in her that would make her want to giggle, and she was content with the fact that she hadn’t made a scene in the middle of the pub. She couldn’t normally handle public embarrassment, so she thanked herself for having drank so much that she hadn’t have the energy to even utter a word.
In time, she rose from her seat and stood for some seconds to steady her legs and regain her sense of balance. She also tried to gather her other senses together and her thoughts and everything that had slipped away from her as she had sat there, befuddled by her own existence. No one paid her any attention, and for once, she found that she didn’t want the attention. She did not even want to think what her mother would say if she would see her intoxicated in such a public place and at such unstable times.
At long last, she grabbed her cloak and slung it over her shoulders, feeling cold and tired. For still being rather drunk, she walked out of the Cauldron with as much dignity as she still possessed and with her head held high. Her name might not matter, but she did. Regardless of what anyone would ever tell her.
Two years. It had been two years since the night the Battle of Hogwarts had taken its place. She remembered as though it’d been yesterday, running down the corridors, looking for Daphne, feeling such fear in her body. Had everyone seen what the warriors had seen, had everyone in the world felt the fear that the people had felt that night, she was sure war would cease to exist.
She tapped the brick wall three times and an archway appeared in front of her. The fresh May air hit her face pleasantly and she drew three, long breaths before heading anywhere. Air had been just what she’d needed. It filled her lungs, mouth, nose, ears – everything – and made her foggy mind clear by the minute. Dusk was settling and the early stars were now making their existence known. Astoria’s mouth curled upward, without any reason. She felt... hollow, but free. She liked being seventeen. Or perhaps she liked having a mother that just couldn’t keep track on her. She didn’t know herself which of the two options she really preferred. Perhaps both or perhaps neither.
She began her stroll down the cobbled street of Diagon Alley, her head heavy and her legs weak. But she ordered herself to take a step, to think – as long as she thought she was alive and about – and to take another step and to keep thinking. She thought of the stones’ different colours and different shapes; then she thought that the street was rather empty, and then she realized that perhaps it was closing time and that everybody still found a reason not to be in Diagon Alley when the skies darkened. Irrelevant things she thought about, but things that kept her walking all the same.
Her wild, fair hair danced along her back and would occasionally whip her face, but she didn’t really care. Her eyes were red with lack of sleep and her lips were parched. She was a natural beauty, but something about her air kept people at distance. Perhaps they could see the pure blood that dwelled in her veins and they thought that they knew better than to meddle with bad blood. It was absurd that within her veins bad blood had their haven, but it was true nonetheless.
She was walking lost in thought down the street when she first laid her eyes on his face for after two years. He was standing by a corner, seemingly waiting for somebody and she could tell this from the way he changed his weight from one leg to another and how he kept looking around, as though the wind was what told him where to look. Astoria couldn’t help but stop in her tracks. She didn’t have a place in her body where shame could reside, at least not in that moment. She just glanced at him openly, the night closing in, shadowing the street and its residents. He was nothing like she remembered him. His face had, if possible, become thinner, his cheekbones as clear as ever. His jaw line had become more noticeable too – sharper. His gray eyes were as red as she reckoned hers were; but she didn’t know if it was with lack of sleep or something else. His white-blond hair was ruffled – something she had never seen before – and it really did look as if he hadn’t slept for days. His robes were of fine quality, but they were ragged and worn and she wondered if she did not hallucinate. Draco Malfoy in tattered robes? Where had the world gone off to? Appearance, which had been so important to him... But perhaps that didn’t matter to him any longer. Merlin knew war changed you.
It took a couple of minutes for him to realize that he was observed. She saw how he furrowed his brow toward her direction, wondering where he’d seen her. When his eyes widened ever so slightly, she knew he’d recalled her from all the family dinners and balls they had attended together in their younger years. She wondered how she looked in his eyes; how much the war had changed her. If there were creases under her eyes that hadn’t existed before everything. If her skin had lost its natural glow because of the darkness it had had to endure. She wondered if her eyes were as lifeless as his were.
“Astoria?” he asked incredulously and she barely heard him above the wind that swept by them in that instant. Her hair danced wildly and shimmered inexplicably in the semi-darkness.
“Draco,” she acknowledged in a rusty voice, her throat as parched as her lips. She reckoned she was free to approach him. He didn’t make any sign that told her to stop when she took that first step, so she walked toward him in a calm pace, ignoring the speed her heart raced in. She didn’t know what to say or how to behave – how to be interesting. She didn’t even know why she felt the need to be interesting.
What a heck of a night , she thought and almost laughed inside. Almost, because it wasn’t that funny and because she didn’t want to crack up inside in case her lips revealed a smile whose meaning he might’ve misunderstood. After what felt like an eternity, she stood in front of him and neither knew what to say. They barely knew each other. They had never known each other. So what do you say to someone you would occasionally come across in Hogwarts and someone you’d sometimes meet at highly respected pure-blood gatherings?
“Umm... You wouldn’t mind if I stood with you here for a while, would you? I’ve got nowhere to go.”
His slender and broad hands found their way inside her shirt and she looked at him with bewildered eyes, but she didn’t push him away. He locked her eyes with his and she saw the lust visible in them. She didn’t know what had happened, how she’d ended up on that battered old settee, but she loved the heat radiating from his body and found herself longing for his lips, to feel more of his skin against hers. She raised her hand and cupped his face. To him, this was her way of consenting, so with his hands on her hips, he drew nearer and kissed her.
She didn’t know what she’d expected from her first kiss, the first feel of the rouse that appeared as soon as he touched her, acknowledged her. But it was a tentative kiss, filled with repressed passion, and he took his time to savour her lips and she did the same. Her hands grabbed fistful of his blonde hair and she pulled him towards her until he lay on top of her. His weight was comforting and she released his hair, in want of more skin and more passion.
He was careful, but she could tell that he had to control himself, not in want to hurt her. It was in vain, because it hurt in the end. He stopped and she whimpered.
“Did I hurt you?” His voice was full of concern and she had never known him to be one who cared.
“It... hurt," was all she said, not knowing how to put it for it to tell that it was not his fault.
“I’m sorry,” he sighed, almost with an air of frustration, and she couldn't tell if it was because of her, or the thought that perhaps he had failed her or had failed himself somehow. Astoria didn't dwell on it. Draco sat up and the comfort his weight upon her had brought vanished and she wondered if it'd been there at all. The room was dimly lit, but she could see his figure clearly. She sat up too and put her hand on his shoulder. She didn’t know what to say, because he really looked sorry, almost shameful, and she didn’t want him to feel like that. She wanted him to know that she wanted his presence, wanted him. She kissed his bare arm and he turned his head to look at her. His eyes were worried, but she calmed him by placing a tender kiss by the corner of his mouth.
“Come, let’s sleep,” she said and he nodded, with his eyes forlorn.
And with that said, they huddled together in that not so broad couch and lay in each others embrace, feeling comfort and safety. Feeling like there was some place they belonged to as well.
Her head spun and her heart raced and her eyes couldn’t distinguish a thing of her surroundings. She didn’t know when she had become sick, having felt perfectly fine just the previous week. She sat crouched over the brim of the toilet, waiting for her breakfast to come up. She didn’t know how long she sat on the bathroom floor, knowing that if she stood up, she would just return to sit on her bum.
And then it hit her. From nowhere, it hit her. She remembered her mother, how she would go all day feeling sick and moan about her backache and her swollen feet until the very day she had the miscarriage. And Astoria felt hopeless, because how could she take care of someone else if she could barely take care of herself? She didn’t know how it had happened, because she had been careful – or as far as she could recall.
I’m fucked, she thought ruthlessly and then lay down on her back, glancing up at the once white ceiling. Life was certainly not turning out the way she wanted it to. But then again, did it ever?
“Astoria? I’m back,” she heard distinctively from somewhere to her left minutes later. Or was it hours later? She could not tell. She had apparently fallen asleep on the cold, marble bathroom floor – or more like on top of the very fluffy rug that she had bought not so long ago to spice up Draco’s flat – and she sat up, stiff as a board, not wanting him to find her on the bathroom, her vomit in the toilet. Yes, she had not flushed. Had the pure-blood society seen her now they would’ve disowned her; the whole lot of them.
She ignored her spinning head, rose from the now rather warm spot on the floor, and flushed. Then she got the crane running with ice cold water, water which she seconds later drank and washed her face with. She knew he’d heard her and waited for him to reach her, as she knew he would. As thought, he knocked and then pushed the door open. She was drying her face with a towel just then and he looked at her with warmth.
“Oh, you’re back!” she said perhaps a bit too eagerly and walked over to give him a peck on his cheek. Astoria knew he had feelings for her, but she didn’t know of their strength and she didn’t know how he would react if she told him of her newly found revelation. Would he leave her? She didn’t even want to think the thought.
Draco looked surprised, but hid it well. At times, he reminded her so much of the person she’d known of, but other times, he was nowhere near the boy who had once had to prove himself to so many people. She had not asked about those times, and he had not shown any signs that he was going to tell her. She didn’t even dare ask of his family. She knew he would’ve mentioned them early if there had been anything to be said. She hadn’t even asked of Pansy – Daphne’s partner in crime – and of what had happened between the two of them, seeing as she was very much aware of her schoolgirl infatuation with him. There had been so many changes, so many things of the past that neither thought would be wise to relive and she sometimes felt like what they lived was all a lie, something taken from somebody else’s life. It was so uncertain, unbalanced; like they lived for the present only, ignoring their past and not considering the future. Perhaps a child was just what they needed to get them back to earth.
“How was your day?” she asked conversationally and swept past him, heading for the kitchen, not really knowing what to do or say.
“As good as ever. The boss is a prick, the customers rare and I have to bloody write all the time. Had I known it included so much writing, I would never have applied to that bloody job,” he finished lazily and she sighed.
“A job is a job, Draco,” she said with worry in her voice. If things would keep going the way they were, they would'nt even afford the flat. Draco was still spoiled and he didn’t like to be told what to do, even though he ended up doing it. The only reason he had the job left was because he was a hard worker when he wanted to. Astoria worked herself occasionally at Flourish and Blotts, and despite the fact that she’d seen books to last her a lifetime, she did what she was told and kept working. They were both as good as disowned she realised then.
Draco did not answer her and she knew she had caught him off guard. He rarely liked it when she told him off, but he needed her and didn’t want to screw it up. That fact did lift her spirits.
“Want some tea?” she said to break the silence and he hummed as a response. She was much too caught up in her own thoughts and missions to pay him any real attention, but she felt she had to get it out with, because if she didn’t soon she would end up crying on the kitchen floor instead. And he would freak. Draco was no exception when one said men couldn’t handle crying women. She saw from the corner of her eye how he took his seat by the window and waited for her. When she heated the water with a wave of her wand and didn’t pour two cups immediately, instead holding onto the counter and breathing heavily, he realised there was something on her chest she needed to share.
“What is it?” he asked, his voice drawn but with a tinge of concern beneath the surface of the sound. You could hear all different emotions beneath his known, drawing voice. She loved that fact. He wasn’t a cold-hearted bastard. At least not entirely. She turned to face him and fixed her gaze with his.
She hesitated, but knew it would do no good to postpone it. “I think I’m pregnant.”
He didn’t say anything, just stared with what she thought resembled cold eyes at her face. What reaction had she expected really?
“When... when are you sure?” he asked then and lowered his gaze. He didn’t begin fidgeting with the sleeve of his robe and she was glad that he could hide the anxiety.
“I have to go to St. Mungo's and check with them. I have no idea about any maternal spells. So far, I can tell from the symptoms. My period is late, I’ve been sick, my breasts are... sore. Draco, I’m sorry,” she said then and wanted him to know that she hadn’t wanted this. A mother at eighteen? It was downright outrageous.
“Sorry? Why are you sorry? You didn’t really get pregnant on your own you know. I had as much responsibility,” he said and she was taken aback. No accusation in his voice, just sheepishness. They were two to blame, if there was anyone to really blame, and she couldn’t help to feel grateful toward him.
“But... what are we going to do?” The final rays of the sun had broken through the mass of clouds and lit up the room. His hair shimmered like gold in the sunlight. He ran a hand through it and thought hard. The creasing of lines upon his forehead said so.
“We’re gonna try,” he said after a while and she thought she really loved him in that instant.
She was in pain and didn’t know how to stop it. The baby within her was agitated, kept kicking its tiny legs all over her and it felt like her entire abdomen would split open. She almost wished it would, wished her baby would come, even though it had barely been six months and the protruding stomach wasn’t that big. She was sweating profusely, moaning and turning in her light state of sleep. She wasn’t aware of Draco’s voice, trying to shake her awake, didn’t see his anxious expression. If she saw him she would love him even more.
Something was not right, but she was too absorbed in her pain to realise anything. She awoke from the sleep, allowed him to carry her, didn’t feel the suffocating feeling you get when you Apparate. It was nothing when you had something in you that wanted out, wanted to leave you. Astoria was crying, but she didn’t realise it. She was whimpering, but somewhere in the distance, she heard a very soothing voice. She wanted to cling onto that voice, wanted it to sing her to sleep, to sing her to a place where there was no pain.
There were people surrounding her, but she was in no state to recognise anything. Next thing she knew, she was screaming, trying to push, trying to give birth to her child. She felt feverish and tired and didn’t know if she would survive this. At long last, she would, because she felt how her baby had left her, felt empty but relieved. She waited for the cries but there were no cries. There was no baby crying and screaming. Would there ever be?
And then, not being able to take it no more, she fainted and knew nothing else.
She stirred restlessly and whispered incoherent words. She was warm, but she was no longer in pain. She opened an eye and took in her surroundings that were a dimly lit room. The walls were white and bleak, the smell was of sickness and the bed felt like marble. She was about to stretch her stiff body when she felt that her hand was in someone else’s hand. She recognised the feeling of his skin and glanced over at him where he lay with his head on the mattress, his eyes closed, and his breathing heavy. He had purple bags beneath his eyes and she wondered when he had gotten some sleep since last. She didn’t want to wake him, but as if on cue, as if his unconscious state of mind knew she had woken, he opened his eyes and looked at her with eyes full of sorrow.
She knew what it meant but didn’t find the strength to cry within her, so instead, she ran her free hand in his hair and hoped he would feel calm. He kissed the hand he held and she wondered how they ever would pick up the fallen pieces; how they ever would get over this. She felt as if she’d known him for years.
“Draco,” she said and he nodded his head, his lips still upon her hand.
“Draco, I want you to talk to your parents,” she requested and he hadn’t the heart to tell her no. She continued with a whisper, “I don’t know what’s happened between you, but whatever it is, has to stop. They were about to become grandparents and they didn’t even know. You need to tell them about you and of me. Things will be fine, that I can promise you,” she said and she believed in her own words. He looked up, locked his gaze with hers as they so often did when there weren’t words to be shared. He squeezed her hand as a sign of his belief in her.
“Marry me first,” said Draco spontaneously and caught her off guard. She didn’t know if she was to take him seriously or laugh at the joke. The latter seemed a bit off considering the current circumstances. So she took him seriously and consented from the bottom of her heart.
It was not a very big ceremony, but neither wished it to be. There weren’t even any witnesses, but neither cared. It was them and the ministry employee in one of the many hundreds of chambers at the Ministry, four months after the proposal. She was clad in a plain white dress, while he wore the finest robes he possessed. They had both been filled with jitters and he had had to suppress the urge to grin widely as he had seen her walk down the non-existent aisle and as she had walked toward him and the non-existent altar. Neither knew where the feeling of such utter gratification had appeared from; three months ago they had had to bury their child – their daughter – but they were together and their baby, they reckoned, would always be with them, as they would be with her. No matter how much they missed her, they had to move on, had to find the will to move on.
Right after the delivery, Astoria had sunk rather deeply into a state of depression, but Draco had kept her sane. She didn’t know how he had managed to remain by her side, but it meant only one thing and she didn’t know how it all had happened. One day they had met, then the next she’d become pregnant and now, they had buried a child and were about to marry. It had all happened so quickly, and it didn’t feel as if one and a half years had gone by. But she knew that there was no other place she would rather be than by his side. That was enough to her. To know he was there and would always be there.
“... then I declare you bonded for life.”
And with a kiss, the promise of eternity was sealed.
“Thank you for inviting me, Mrs. Malfoy,” said Astoria as she was herded over to the drawing room of Malfoy Manor. It had been years it seemed since she’d seen such splendour in decor and space. She had gotten used to the tiny flat she shared with Draco and frankly, she was quite happy with it. But it was soon time to move into a more respectable house, due to the reconcilement between Draco and his mother (his father was safely tucked in Azkaban once again); his inheritance was now his to have.
Astoria had never really understood what had happened between them and hadn’t been taken over by such curiosity that she dared ask. Not ever, since the beginning of the end. They had been married for less than six months now, but there were still places that were safely put away in the darkest corners of their minds.
It had taken Narcissa Malfoy six months to ask her over for tea. She had no idea if to take it personally, or if there was something else that had prevented her from meeting her mother-in-law. Perhaps it was Draco himself who had not wanted them to meet. She didn’t know and probably would never know. It was better for her to not know, she concluded.
“It’s my pleasure, Astoria dear. And please, call me Narcissa,” she said politely and Astoria ignored the urge to shrug in confusion. There was no tension in the air, and after having dread this very moment for weeks, she felt grateful that Mrs. Malfoy – or Narcissa – wasn’t acting all hideous and being on her constant guard.
“I’m very sorry for not having invited you earlier. I would have, had it not been for personal reasons. You might be aware of the family’s state. It’s been taken its toll on me,” she explained and she gestured Astoria to take her seat. She gladly sat down on the rather stout armchair and watched as Narcissa took her seat across her.
“I cannot imagine how it must have felt for you, but my sympathies lie with you,” Astoria said formally, but with sincerity in her voice. Narcissa was surprised and her eyes widened. She then smiled approvingly.
“And mine with yours. I know you haven’t faced the simplest of times either. How are you getting by?”
Astoria blushed. She didn’t like to remember that horrible night.
“By simply living and thinking. I’ve been keeping myself busy, in other words. Have been spending some time with my poor mother, and I dare say it helps me to clear my head since she demands so much attention from me,” she revealed and Narcissa gasped a bit dramatically at this.
“Pray, how is your mother?”
“She’s now in St. Mungo's. She was not getting any better and the house-elves had been freed by the time I went to see her. She is not in a right state of mind, so she did it unconsciously. I’m unsure whether or not she has that much time left,” Astoria shared and felt a tug at her heartstrings. There wasn’t much else to do for her mother, since her sanity and her life seemed to be leaving her. The woman had always been weak at heart and Astoria knew that the outcome of her father’s imprisonment couldn’t have been anything but the result of her mother losing her mind.
“I am very sorry to hear this, Astoria. Had I not have been so consumed by my own complicated life, I would’ve taken my time to visit her. But indeed, I did not know that she was in such a state. I’m very sorry that you’ve had to endure so much pain, child. Merlin knows it’s not that healthy,” she said and Astoria didn’t know how to react. She took in Narcissa’s appearance and sure enough, beneath the ageless beauty, she had lost much of the natural glow that had possessed her in the previous years. Wrinkles of loss were plainly visible upon her face.
“The aftermath of the battle wasn’t as pleasant as one would’ve thought,” she thought aloud and Narcissa nodded in response.
“Indeed it was not,” said Draco’s mother just as a tiny house-elf entered with a tray and two cups of steaming tea upon it. As it reached her, she grabbed her own cup, in need of the warm liquid and its soothing effects. They drank a while under silence, but then resumed conversation. It was, in a way, very formal small-talk, but there was no doubt that Narcissa Malfoy and Astoria Malfoy would get along just fine. Knowing this, Astoria’s heart smiled.
“So, what did she say?”
“I told you, we were just speaking about nothing in particular, formal things. You know how these things work. It was nothing of importance.”
“Knowing my mother, she probably mentioned stuff that oughtn’t to be mentioned.”
“You really don’t trust her?”
“I don’t. Not any longer,” he said and after seconds of silence, Draco left Astoria to herself. She was packing, waving her wand right and left, sometimes gracefully, other times resolutely. She was left with an ominous feeling, like she was trespassing on something that still wasn’t hers to know of. It was very difficult, seeing as she now was a Malfoy herself. What was it Draco blamed their parents for? She ignored the urge to ask and began to speculate. That did not go very far, however, seeing as Draco intruded on her reverie once again.
“I’m sorry for not trusting you. It’s just... It’s better not knowing.” His lips curled at his sides, but the smile didn’t reach his eyes and therefore, it didn’t mean so much to her.
“Draco, whatever it is, it’s your business. I have nothing to do with it, and I won’t pry. You just have to trust me,” Astoria explained soothingly and Draco glanced into her endless deep-blue eyes. She wondered if he was ransacking her mind. If he was, it didn’t matter. She was more curious about who’d taught him.
“I believe you.”
Three words, very significant words and Astoria’s face were lit up by a bright smile.
“Good. And you’ll have to trust your mother too. Because, let’s face it, she’s your mother. Whatever she’s done, it was for your best,” she continued and Draco nodded his head as a response. That was what she wanted. Him to listen. With that said, she walked over to him and buried her face in his chest. He kissed the top of her and embraced her. It felt wonderful.
Time passed them by. Seasons changed, the clouds swept past them, the rain washed away their sorrows, the sun promised them brighter days. Because it was a common fact that after the storm, the sun would always appear. Astoria would sporadically miss the flat in which there were so many moments she had shared with Draco, but she liked the countryside and loved the cottage they now inhabited. Draco had wanted something bigger and even Mrs. Malfoy had said that they would need something more spacious for when they decided to build a family, but at that comment, Astoria would turned red and look away, tears gathering in her eyes. The thought of having another child was something she feared. She didn’t want to relive the painful memories and remember the raw wounds the loss had left behind. It’d been years, but she would from time to time remember. And no matter how much she tried to shut her memories out, they came back and found ways to slip past cracks in her walls.
So, after much persuasion, she had convinced Draco to buy the smaller estate. And of course, he could not resist the urge – the need – to make her happy. It made her feel significant and loved. Above all, she felt loved. Astoria often sat thinking back on that day when she’d seen him look so incredibly lost in Diagon Alley. She remembered the exchange of words. Not because she had such a good memory, but because they had barely said anything. There hadn’t been much to say back then, and she hated to admit that they rarely said much to each other nowadays too. But they needn’t words. That was what she loved. That his eyes could hold so many emotions and truths she found that she understood what he wanted to say. She knew it sounded cliché, but it was the truth.
He had changed. That was for sure. She had changed too. It happened. Nothing stayed the same. Especially not after a war, after you’d seen your friend die before your eyes, experienced your father to be imprisoned, seen what it did to your mother. It was the way of life. Life – death – such confusing phenomenon. And both granted.
Thoughts swirled round and round her head, sometimes dizzying her, but she had to confess to herself, that she liked thinking. Since everything that had occurred, there were many things to be dealt with and she reckoned it was what she needed. She had not been much of a thinker as a young girl, being spoiled and naïve. When everything was handed to her, what was there to think of? She had everything she ever needed then, no need to fight for nothing. Yes, things had definitely changed. For the better, she realised.
She was curled up in a ball, Draco’s arm on top of her protectively, his breath warm against her neck. She felt goosebumps appear all over her, and she relished in the moment of happiness. Astoria was somewhere between sleep and awareness, in limbo, drifting in and out of dreams that she would not really remember later. She loved the feel of him against her, the hairs on his body always tingling hers. She often smiled without even knowing.
It had happened on a morning like all others, when Draco wasn’t at home, when she had the sudden urge to throw up the croissant she’d eaten for breakfast. She didn’t think much of it, because she had been sick before and besides, there was a flu wandering amongst the people. But that was when she’d realised the date and found that her menstrual period was late. She didn’t know how to react to the fact. Astoria was sitting in the sitting room, reading. She put the book down and cupped her breasts in her hands. They were a bit sore and felt resilient. A lump had begun to build in her chest. Was it the agitation or was the food about to come? She ran to the bathroom and threw up. Definitely the food.
One morning, she awoke and found Draco standing by the window, lost in thought, remembering moments she would never take any part in. She still hadn’t decided it if bothered her or not. Wasn’t true loved based on honesty? Was their love – love? – based on nothing but lies, on false hope that they could be happy too? This was a thought she avoided. But they had each other and she knew that they always would. No matter how much or little love they felt for the other.
“Draco?” she asked groggily, sitting up in bed, her hair a tangled mess upon her heart-shaped face. He turned and she saw bags under his eyes. He had barely slept that night, she could tell.
“I couldn’t sleep,” he said a bit apologetically and she smiled timidly at him.
“That’s fine,” she said. “But come back to bed; I’m cold,” she said in a rather teasing voice and he lowered his head as he chuckled and hid an amused smile. He returned his gaze to look at her and saw that she was patting her hand on where he slept. He couldn’t resist it – her and the warmth she held for him – so he walked over to the bed and lowered the quilts she had held up for him to snuck in under.
“Your feet are cold,” she giggled and he kissed her lips as a response. She placed her arms round his waist as he held her entire frame in his embrace. She lay her head upon his chest and kissed him.
“You’re happy, aren’t you?” she asked then and he replied after a while.
“Yeah, I am,” he said and Astoria’s heart swelled.
“Good, because I have something to tell you,” she continued and Draco stiffened. She had to smile at his reaction. She was nervous, afraid even, but she was hopeful all the same. Things would turn out just fine.
“What is it?” he asked and she heard the worry in his voice. She wondered if he even suspected what she was about to reveal.
“I’m pregnant, Draco,” she said and her voice became small as she uttered those words. She knew the risks, knew that the chance of burying another child of theirs was possible, but something told her that the baby that was growing inside of her would live. Something comforted her to no end and she knew that life would only become better.
“A baby?” he said after a while, dazed. She looked up to peek at his face. His eyes were off, but there was happiness in them. She wanted to lie there forever.
The pain was familiar but it did not mean that it became less endurable. She was screaming, sweating, and pushing and it was exhausting, she didn’t want to keep going, wanted to sleep, wanted to close her eyes and never wake again –
“You’re doing great, Astoria, just one more time and it will be over! We see the head, it’s coming, come one, keep pushing!”
“Draco, please, I can’t -”
“You can, come on, I love you. You can do it.” He looked calm, but he was as pale as a ghost and if Astoria had not been giving birth she might have laughed merrily at his shocked face.
“I” – breath – “can’t” – another breath, another scream, another push – “do it!”
Her face was red with determination, wrinkled with pain and glistened by drops of sweat. Her short, fair hair was plastered to it and her eyes were filled with tears. She pushed one final time and felt how the child she’d been carrying for nine months (to the day) left her body. She exhaled in exhaustion and relief but became anxious the second she realized there was no baby screaming. Everything froze while her brain exploded with thoughts, with the weight of her memories.
No, no, no!
And then it came, a child’s ear-splitting cry and the tears in her eyes fell down her cheeks.
“It’s a boy!” the Medi-Witches announced happily to the parents.
It seemed as if the entire room exhaled a breath in outmost relief. Astoria had to chuckle, she was so happy, so complete, filled with love to give. The Medi-Witches were talking about something, but Astoria was oblivious. She was looking at how they were rinsing him off the blood and the slime as the baby cried. It was done in a second and then he was handed over to her in a white blanket and she could not describe the feeling of fulfilment that overtook her in that moment.
“Draco, look, look at him,” she kept muttering under her breath and Draco just nodded stupidly, in daze. The boy silenced as he heard their whispering voices.
“He has no hair,” he laughed and touched the baby’s head with the tip of his fingers. “And he’s so soft,” he concluded and Astoria chuckled.
“He’s very soft. He looks like us,” she said fondly, although it was very early to tell. The newborn’s cheeks were rosy from warmth and from screaming. But she knew because he was their child.
“He does,” Draco said after a moment of silence. They were both lost in thought, having drifted off to a place where no harm would ever find them. The three of them. Astoria awoke from her thoughts and turned her head to look at Draco with a smile on her face. She had never seen him look so happy.
“I love you, Draco.”
He looked over at her and smiled, his face tired but overwhelmed. “And I love you. I love you both,” he added and then grabbed his son’s hand carefully and bent down to plant a kiss upon his forehead.
The wind howls outside. The sun shines. She has remembered... but it is drawing to a close. Her life is drawing to a close. I’m standing by the wall and haven’t moved since I took my place there. She knows I’m there, but she’s waiting for something... Not death. Something else. The man beside her knows this too, because he begins to speak, words I cannot distinguish. His words are nothing to me, and it pains me, because I can tell that the words, which are falling from his mouth, the sentences he’s been building in his head, are something she’s been waiting for, something that gives her peace.
She realises things, she’s learning of secrets that she’s been waiting a lifetime to hear, things he’s been trying to keep from her, not having wanted for her to take part in the dark moments of his life. But now, he’s recounting his story without effort and she is clinging to every word with the strength she has left. He’s asking for forgiveness I think, because she says, “I forgave you a very long time ago, Draco. For something that had no need to be forgiven for,” and I wonder what it can be. But it is not my place to know the secrets of these humans, to know more of their life than the part she has shown me this eve with the pink, gold and violet skies above us, soon to be sailed.
“You tried to protect her and that has to count for something,” she continues and I wonder. Then I feel something tugging the hem of my robe and I know I’m being called elsewhere. I realise I’ve been here for far longer than I’ll ever have time for otherwise, so I move and she can tell, because her eyes widen slightly. Then she exhales and I know she’s accepted me. She squeezes the man’s hand, says to him to tell her son she loves him and will always be with him. The man nods his head fervently, he is crying tears he’s held inside him for a long time and the gray eyes are filled with regret and longing. Any time soon, I will probably take part of his life too, if only for some minutes. The old woman smiles at him and tells him to kiss her. The man does so gladly and it stabs my heart to be a witness of this intimacy, this love. It’s private and I feel very much out of place.
He returns to his seat and holds her hand in his. The woman turns her face from him, glances up toward the ceiling, closes her eyes and says, while waiting for relief to enclose her:
“It’s a good day to die on.”
And so, she embarks on the journey toward the horizon, sailing the sunbeams, holding my hand and gazing back toward the house where she has left her husband, her friend, her lover.
the beginning of the end.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of morning to where the crickets sing.
- W.B Yeats
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