Draco dropped his keys on the low coffee table as he entered the living room, still wearing his jacket and shoes. He suddenly felt exhausted. His whole body had tensed up when he had seen her, Hermione, and now he felt his muscles return to where they usually resided, aching.
He heard the sound of soft, melancholic notes, and thought for a moment that he was dreaming, or perhaps that he was still in that part of his mind where there was a world in which Hermione resided. But he knew better than to trust those illusions. He threw his jacket on the couch and kicked off his shoes, then walked softly over to the adjacent sitting room and leaned against the wall, enjoying this sight.
Asteria was playing on the piano, a tune he had already heard before - Chopin's Prelude, he suspected - and the sight of her long, graceful fingers on the cool whiteness of the keys made his heart fill with both happiness and - oddly enough - homesickness. Nobody had ever played in his boyhood home, and yet the sound of that melody made him feel incredibly nostalgic.
He crossed the room very quietly and leaned forwards to kiss Asteria's neck. She stopped playing and smiled, her face lighting up in serene happiness.
'I didn't hear you come home,' she whispered and took a hand off the piano to play with Draco's blonde hair.
'Keep playing,' he requested. Asteria smiled again, then returned to the keys. Draco pulled up a chair and sat next to her, following her hands as she reached the end of the song.
Their story was not a complicated one. Asteria Greengrass was everything Draco had expected to marry; rich, pureblood, beautiful. Unlike Draco's previous wife, Henrietta, she had long, curly blonde hair and eyes that were a very light shade of green. There was nothing very enigmatic about Asteria, and Draco had not felt particularly intrigued when he had met her. That was what he loved about her: everything had always been so easy. He had never had that feeling with women before. Henrietta had been a Muggle, they had been unable to communicate about their different worlds, about Scorpius even. Hermione - Draco clenched his hands despite himself as the aching feeling of his heart grew a little stronger - Hermione had always needed to protect herself from her feelings, it had always been a fight to get her. With Asteria, there was none of that. She loved him, he loved her, they had to be together - it was as simple as that. Her very pale skin and rosy cheeks stood out as she walked over towards him and sat down on his lap, putting her arms around him and kissing him. She was in love, it was so obvious. He was in love too. Asteria was wonderful. Asteria was kind, willing, and, above all, she cared about Scorpius.
She was eight years younger than him and they had never known each other at Hogwarts, but he had known her elder sister, Daphne, and had not been charmed by her. It was why he was so surprised when he met Asteria and found her to be so different from her family. She had obviously been raised a pureblood, and there was
something haughty and spoiled about her manner, but she had been the baby of the family, an unexpected surprise, and perhaps this had made her the carefree woman she was today.
Draco took her hand and kissed her palm, marvelling at the sparkling ring on her finger. It had been a week since he had proposed, after having been with her for two years. Of course she had said yes. And he had never doubted that it was supposed to be this way. Never doubted it until this afternoon. When he had seen her. Hermione.
'Are you all right?' Asteria asked concernedly, running her fingers through his hair. It was soothing and he enjoyed it. 'You look worried.'
'I'm just going to miss Scorpius, that's all.'
'Me too,' smiled Asteria. 'Christmas will be here in no time, don't worry, darling.'
He nodded, trying to smile, but the lie he had just told weighed down on him. Of course his worry had nothing to do with Scorpius. He was a young man now. He could take care of his self. But he couldn't possibly tell Asteria about Hermione.
When they had parted, Draco had grieved. He had isolated himself by travelling all over Europe, hoping to forget about her. The result was, of course, that he hadn't been able to stop thinking about her, and so the best thing he could do was to return to his life. He avoided seeing her at all costs: he never dropped Scorpius off at King's Cross, nor picked him up. He sent other people to the Ministry when he needed something. He managed to convince himself that it was over, and yet the way he devoured even the most boring news of her in The Daily Prophet
was proof enough that he was still smitten. She was a friend of Harry Potter's, she was beautiful, succesful and had been a revolutionary in her youth, so articles about her were frequent and heart-wrenching.
He had not looked twice at other women until he met Asteria at a New Year's party two years ago. Scorpius, at the age of fifteen, had accompanied him to Narcissa's dinnerparty, and there he had made her acquaintance. She took to Scorpius, and he to her, and before they knew it, they had arranged a date.
Things went quickly after that. She moved in. They went out. They got in the society columns of newspapers an awful lot; he was an eligible bachelor, still handsome at the age of 41; she was younger than him at 33, never married, but very famous as a celebrated pianist. All in all, they were a most accomplished couple. Hermione must have read about them in the papers; Draco often used to wonder what she felt, how she reacted. But he never told Asteria about Hermione; he was too afraid of losing her.
'Do you want to take me out to lunch, Mr Malfoy?' Asteria asked, her eyes bright and her arms around him. He smiled, leaning forward to kiss her again.
'I'm tired, baby,' he said. 'Can't you whip us something up?'
She smacked him playfully on the arm and stood up, stretching. Looking at her watch, her brow furrowed.
'I have to be at the theatre at six,' she said. Draco nodded. Asteria was a pianist in an important orchestra of a concert which had got a lot of acclaim. 'You know there's a press conference tomorrow? I was thinking maybe I could announce the engagement there.'
Draco bit his lip. It was not as if he did not want the world to know, but his mind was still full of Hermione. Asteria's face fell.
'If you don't want me to...'
'No, no!' Draco reassured her and stood up, putting his arms around her. 'I want everyone to know about us. I love you.'
She smiled again. 'Me too.' She pressed her lips against his, then, when the kiss was over, walked over to the kitchen to make them an omelette. Draco sighed and sat down on the sofa, wondering how the simple sight of Hermione Granger Weasley could be enough to provoke so much doubt.
Rose recalled a time when she had difficulty boarding the train while struggling with her trunk, dragging it behind her as James, Teddy and Victoire snickered with superiority. Now it was her turn to snicker, and there was a briskness in her step as she hovered the trunk over the heads of first-years, smiling condescendingly at them as she made her way to the Prefects' compartment. Hugo had long since gone to find his friends.
It would be a lie to say that Rose wasn't thinking about Scorpius becoming Head Boy; rather, she was pretending
not to think about it. She had never liked him much, with his swaggering air of being a Malfoy, his boasting about getting in Gryffindor when he could have been in Slytherin. He was a vain little creature, combing his hair so it sat just right whenever the good-looking girls passed, pretending to be intelligent and trying to make good, lively conversation. For that was what Scorpius was all about: pretending. Pretending to be good, when he was in fact evil - what else could he be, coming from a family like the Malfoys? Rose had not forgotten how easily his rotten father had tried to corrupt her mother, how close the Weasleys had come to tear apart, had it not been for Ron, her beloved father.
Though Rose was supposedly a little older and a little wiser, she still had a rather childish way of looking at things. The world was black and white: there were evil people and there were good people, there was bravery and there was cowardice. The only matter which seemed to contradict this perception was love, for to Rose, love was an annoying, trivial thing, neither welcome nor deserved in her world. Love corrupted people, love made individuals do irrational things, love was simply unpredictable - and in Rose's well-organised mind, there could be no place for it. Worst of all, love made one entirely dependant on another person, and what a horrible thing that was! Take her mother, for instance, how much she had been hurt because she had loved Malfoy; take her friends, head over heels in men who did not notice them. No, Rose had long since decided to steer clear of any shape or form of love.
All the prefects were already gathered as Rose flicked her wand and her trunk levitated on to the bagage racks over them. The compartment, despite being larger than the others, still did not offer enough space for twenty-four people, and Rose uncomfortably squeezed herself between a Gryffindor prefect from sixth year, and a Hufflepuff prefect from fifth year, who looked scared out of his wits. Scorpius was lolling in his seat next to the window, gazing out at the landscape with something like boredom on his face. Irritation boiled in Rose's stomach as she cleared her throat loudly.
'Well, I suppose since I'm Head Girl, I should get you started on your duties,' she said in a commanding sort of voice. 'I'm Rose Weasley. The Head Boy lounging lazily in his seat there is Scorpy Malfoy.'
Scorpius sat up properly and narrowed his eyes, anger evident in his face.
'I'm terribly sorry,' continued Rose softly, her words sagging with a sarcastically apologetic tone. 'Scorpius Malfoy.'
'Begging your pardon, Your Royal Big Head Girl,' he mocked, and several fifth years snorted. 'I didn't know it was against the law to relax.'
The nerve of him! How could he, how dare he, mock her in front of the younger students when she had gone this moment over in her mind again and again since she had first received the letter containing the Head Girl badge? How typical of him to ruin it for her, how perverse of him to sit there with triumph in his expression!
'What's expected of you is to patrol the corridors every half hour and report to us - which means me, knowing Malfoy and his sleeping habits - at the end of the journey, where you will help escort first years to the boats and second years to the carriages. You don't have to stay here now, though, you can be with your friends.'
The sixth years yawned comfortably, having heard all of this before, but the fifth years, eager to prove that they were worthy of Prefect status and responsibility, nodded solemnly and stood up, dusting their robes with pride in their stature. As they squeezed their way out of the door, Scorpius stood up and stretched. It appeared clear to Rose that he was on his way out, but Rose majestically raised a hand.
'And where exactly do you think you're going?'
He gave a mocking bow.
'To see my mates.'
'You can't,' Rose hissed angrily and prodded him back down to the seat. 'The Heads have got to stay here in case the Prefects need to come and fetch us.'
Incredulity was apparent on Scorpius' face as he rolled his eyes.
'You're not serious, Weasley.'
'Of course I am,' she answered angrily. 'D'you think I want to be stuck in here with you, Scorpy, instead of finding my friends and having a good laugh about your ridiculous hairdo? Of course not, but I'm doing it because I was made Head Girl.'
Looking mildly taken aback, Scorpius ran a dignified hand through his hair and propped himself back on the seat, surveying the red-head in sudden interest. Rose pulled out a magazine and twirled her wand between her fingers, keeping an eye on Scorpius as he in turn pulled out a book. They sat in silence for ten awful minutes, and Rose finished her magazine just as someone tapped on the door. She looked up and smiled.
Though Rose did not believe in love, she did believe in enjoying herself, and having a boyfriend was one way of making sure that she both had fun and kept love at a distance. With his dark black hair and melancholic brown eyes, specks of orange in them, Gabriel Zabini looked like a hero out of a fairytale, nothing but the white horse and silver armour was lacking in this picture-perfect portrait. He was also, Rose had noticed, the spitting image of his famous father, Blaise, who had earned his fortune first as a model, then later as a Wizarding Wireless Network journalist, to great popularity especially among the women. Rose was very envied among the second- and third-years for her status as Gabriel's girlfriend, the relationship having started at the end of their sixth year. They had kept up a sensible correspondance over the summer, and what Rose was fond of in Gabriel was the fact that he, too, never mentioned silly loving words. She seemed to have entered a silent agreement with him that love was out of the question; something which clearly suited both of them.
'Hello stranger,' Gabriel said, and Scorpius rolled his eyes in disgust. Ignoring him, Gabriel smiled at Rose and beckoned her towards him. Rose obliged, stood up, aware that Scorpius was watching her, and kissed Gabriel full on the lips. 'I see you made Head Girl.'
'Proud of me?' she muttered and laid her hands delicately on his chest, well-covered by his Ravenclaw robes. He grinned and leaned forwards to kiss her again, but Scorpius had coughed in an exaggerated way.
'D'you mind?' he said loudly. 'I have to stay here and much as I love a good snog, I prefer to be a participant instead of a spectator.'
Eyes flashing in fury, Rose wrenched around to curse him, but Gabriel took hold of her arm to restrain her. His eyes were on the blonde, and they, too, seemed cool.
'My father doesn't like to be snubbed, Malfoy,' he said coldly.
'What the hell are you talking about, Zabini?'
'He invited you and your dad for dinner twice over the holidays. First time a refusal, second, no answer. What's up with that?'
Scorpius looked uncomfortable and ran a hand through his hair again, closing his book. Rose noticed his fingers edge towards his pocket, where she knew his wand was concealed.
'I guess my Dad doesn't want to mingle with the Old Crowd.'
'And what's that supposed to mean?' Gabriel asked, his voice dangerously low.
Scorpius considered him for a moment, his lips pursed in a thoughtful, perhaps sarcastic, way.
'Slytherins, Death Eaters... whatever you want to call them.'
It was Rose's turn to restrain Gabriel as he took several steps forwards; Scorpius, too, got to his feet, his wand now in full view.
'I'm in Ravenclaw. And my Dad was never a Death Eater,' Gabriel breathed.
'Oh?' Scorpius said, his tone now definitely mocking. 'That's right, they never found evidence. Too cowardly to stand up and say he tortured first-years when he was at Hogwarts!'
'And your Dad didn't?' roared Gabriel. Scorpius looked away, his face suddenly red. 'Ever since you were sorted in Gryffindor, you think you're too good for us! You used to be my best mate, Malfoy, all those summers we spent together! Well screw it, I'm not sticking up for you, even if you think your Dad has got his act together!'
Gabriel waited for a response, but none came; Scorpius was breathing heavily but refused to answer. Rose looked from one to the other, confused, but alarmed. Gabriel took advantage of the fact that her grasp was no longer firm, and bolted out the door. She fidgeted for a moment, wondering whether she should storm after him, but her rage with Scorpius was too great; she turned around and raised her wand.
Scorpius had been too quick for her, but there was no trace of a grin as he caught her wand and stared at her calmly, a fierce look in his eyes nonetheless.
'What the hell did you do that for?' she yelled.
'I didn't want to get cursed,' he answered.
'I meant picking a fight with Gabriel!'
'Picking a fight?
He was the one who picked the fight! Just because you're in love with him, you think -'
He stopped speaking, for Rose had walked up to him and was prodding her forefinger rather painfully in his chest, her furious face dangerously close to his.
'I am not
in love with him,' she breathed angrily. Scorpius' eyes widened in surprise.
'What the hell is wrong with you, Weasley?' he breathed quietly. 'Any girl would be wearing flowers in her hair and singing cheesy songs, and you tell me you don't love Pretty Boy?'
She glared at him, wondering whether to tell the truth; that she could not, would not love, but he wouldn't understand. Instead she stretched her hand out.
'Give me my wand,' she muttered.
Slowly, he obliged, still eyeing her curiously, but she did nothing to explain. Her eyes still sparkling with anger, she flopped back down on her seat, thrust open her magazine again and avoided speaking to Malfoy for the rest of the journey.