Chapter 2 : Chapter One: Of Jasmine, Keys and Apologies
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The house is dark.
A quick, blind fumble for the light-switch and the kitchen materialises around him.
Spotless, as usual.
The track-lights, angled down over the sink, reflect from stainless steel, and the granite surfaces gleam. The recipe-book open on its stand, the grainy picture of the young woman on the corner shelf, sleeping, a bowl of fruit half-full and positioned at the exact centre of the small wooden table that fills the corner of the room.
The quiet simplicity of her.
Turning back towards the kitchen, he notices the blackboard with its chalk hanging from a string, ready for messages or grocery lists. Taking up the chalk, he writes.
A sound emanates from deeper in the house. He looks up.
But then the house cracks again, closer this time, timbers settling into the cool of the night-morning. With closed eyes he leans back against the door-frame, breathing in the fluid security.
“Cat food,” he reminds himself, breaking the mood and turning towards the pantry.
A movement at his feet, the cat rubbing its side along his leg. The animal’s purring is loud in the early-morning silence of the kitchen. He rubs the soft fur behind its neck.
“Well, Moggs. Looks like we’re both deserted from now on. Want something to eat?”
Later, he sits on the bed, holding her battered yellow bear and listening to the quiet. Her scent is on the sheets and pillows.
Vanilla. The only perfume she’ll ever wear.
Falling backwards across the bed, he looks up.
The ceiling is painted with clouds. Pale blue, with light greys and whites. He has lain beneath them dozens of times, her arms across his chest, the soft skin of her leg touching his, her bushy hair fanned out across the pillows—but lying here alone, he feels as if he is seeing them for the first time.
How many hours did she spend, perched on the narrow rungs of a step-ladder to create this sky in their bedroom?
“It’s all a matter of perspective, Ron,” she admitted once. “We like to create our own prisons. And our concepts of freedom. Plus”—a shrug—“I like clouds.”
Reaching for the pillow, he buries himself in the smell of her.
Once again, he’d promised, and she has managed to fail him already. She has always seen it this way—like the things she does and continues to do are never enough. And they aren’t. She isn’t a dumb girl—she was the smartest in her grade, thus her current position in the near future—but when it comes to him, everything doesn’t really have an answer. Unlike Arithmacy, Astronomy, he is something much more complicated to understand. There are no one word responses for him, no solutions or pieces to a puzzle. You are with him or you aren’t, and you follow him or you falter. And though he is far from controlling or forceful, this is just how he is.
Strong, poignant, honest. Desirable.
That is perfect for him. He is desirable—
No. He is her object of desire.
So many times she had read those words when she was in Hogwarts—romance novels, Muggle fairytales. Object of desire … And he really is! On those late winter nights, were he’d be working overtime, Astoria would wriggle into their massive bed, feeling the lack of him. She would shiver in the cold and curl into herself, not once shutting her eyes, but dreaming of his touch in the dark with them wide open. And then, long past midnight, she’d hear him come home, shuffle around in their room, then disappear in the shower. Silence for another thirty minutes would ensue, just about breaking Astoria’s heart with the craving for him. And then he’d slip in bed beside her, his hair magically dried, a smell so enticing and husky emanating off him she would feel her heart drop in awe.
And she’d feign sleep as he’d kiss her neck, run his long slender hands down her thin little arms, knowing full well that she was wide awake.
Her beautiful object of desire.
Astoria quickly wipes her tears and grits her teeth. She tells herself she is foolish. This is her fault; though it is her only solution. She just about screams—her only solution! She is letting him down. She’s tearing them apart.
“Again,” she whispers to herself, looking at the keys in her hand. “I’m breaking him again.”
Sometimes she feels as if in breaking him, she’s killing herself. Slowly she starts to believe her occasional lies, and one day she might even believe it never happened. At the worst of times, she would even find herself bouncing her guilt back on him—saying that he was stupid for staying with her anyway, stupid for continuing. Only after these words would leave her mouth, though, would she realise why he was staying.
Because she wanted him to. Because she still does.
Astoria breathes in deeply, laying down the keys on the marble tabletop. Two sets of keys—one with the number ‘6’, the other with the number ‘118’. And she thinks of him yet again. Of his amazing ability of forgiving. He is the definition of forgiveness.
Will he forgive her this time? she wonders. Is she asking too much?
“What is it anyway?” she snaps to herself. “Stupid … Forgiveness.”
She weighs the word in her hands, the lightness of it, its fragility, its beauty. Such a small, meaningful word … Astoria wipes her tears away.
Inside everyone lies good and bad, light and dark, choice and regret, cruelty and sacrifice. She must learn to forgive herself for this. She’s got to learn to forgive others. Astoria knows there’s a lot of grey to work with—no one can live in the light all the time.
She has always believed that if you spent your life running, it’s to see how far you go until you stop. Life stops at death. Life stops at forgiveness.
Yet she is still running—she hasn’t forgiven. But not him—oh, no, not Draco. Her love for him reaches unthinkable heights, stops her heart, makes her cry. With him she is happy.
But Astoria hasn’t forgiven herself. Not yet, not now, not once, not ever.
She is still running.
A soft woosh in the grate makes her turn around quickly. Her heart speeds up, and a flicker of panic rushes through her, starting in her stomach and spreading to the very tips of her toes and fingers. Her heart beats painfully against her chest and a blush is rising fast. She had told Draco she would meet him at the Academy! What would he do if he saw her here? She is supposed to be at her father’s!
Snatching the keys, Astoria makes ready to Apparate on the spot, but a flash of familiarity stops her. A quick flicker of beauty—easy beauty. It is hard to describe it, and even Astoria herself doesn’t understand; but she has always seen the world as beauty. There is pure beauty, like Draco, like Hermione’s pain last night—a beauty so intensifying and ‘in-your-face’ that it can never be mistaken. Then comes natural beauty, that shines not from a feeling, but from a smile. Astoria has never liked the natural beauties—the ones like Ginny Weasley, or even her sister Daphne. So fake and perhaps maybe too honest for her, Astoria has never gotten along well with any natural beauty.
But then there is easy beauty—the subtle grace, fine features. The whole package in one swift, simple motion. One of those people that just takes your breath away.
And there is only one easy beauty Astoria knows of.
After the soft swirling of the ashes, Blaise’s jaw drops slightly at the sight of her. Astoria feels her blush intensify, and instantly traitorous tears have sprung to her eyes. So many things run through her head, so many things she’ll never say. I hate you, I love you, I want you to leave, I want you to know …
She swallows and he asks, “Where’s Draco?”
“He went to his mother’s,” Astoria manages to choke. She can feel everything in her cracking, like paint in the sun—cracking and peeling away, showing the world the ugliness underneath. And fading. Always fading. “What do you want?!” she’s suddenly screaming. “Haven’t you had enough?!”
His hands shoot up in a surrendering manner. “I just want to say goodbye to Draco!”
“I told you he wasn’t here!”
“I … C-ughn—” She lets out a strangled noise, halfway between a cry of anguish and a sob. Her face crumbles, and she holds her head in her hands, feeling everything within her leak out. Who knew just seeing him again would cause such a reaction. She can’t stand it, can’t even think of it. Everything is coming out, and she’s so shocked by the abruptness even she, for a moment, forgets to breathe.
Blaise watches her sob, his body caught in Astoria’s sudden release. He is stunned for an instant, but then he walks up to Astoria and pulls her closer, feeling the fierce resistance. There comes a brief struggle, until Blaise prevails and is able to wrap his arms around the petite darling, holding her close. Together they rock with Astoria’s tears. Nothing is said. It doesn’t even cross Blaise’s mind to say anything. He just holds on for as long as it takes.
Finally her tears subside, and they are still and unmoving. Then she pulls away, already feeling the guilt.
“Astoria, I’m so sorry.”
She looks up at his interruption, a flash of anger flitting through her blue eyes. “No, Blaise, you’re not. And that’s what makes it so hard. You’re not prepared to forgive, or to say sorry, because in the end it’s just a lie.”
“That’s not true!”
“Yes it is, Blaise!” Her voice cracks at his name, and she feels herself crying again. “It is, okay? I know it is, because I feel it too!” She takes a breath. “There is no way in this world I am ever going to say sorry for what went on between us, for what we did—because I know that if I didn’t have it I would’ve been missing half the happiness in my life I’d ever have!”
Blaise’s face turns expressionless. He takes a shuddering breath, casts his eyes down and runs his hand through his hair. Soft, silky strands of black filter through his fingers, and Astoria accepts this as a gesture of pain—and perhaps, maybe even regret.
But what he says next takes her breath away.
“I didn’t come here to see Draco. He told me he was seeing Narcissa before he left for the Academy … I”—a nervous laugh escapes—“I’ve already said goodbye to him. I really just came here to see you, if only to hear you telling me to leave. I think … I love you, Astoria.”
The ground beneath her leaves, and she reaches out for some means of support. The bench. She grabs it, leaning heavily on her side. Her knees are about to give way … she can’t breathe … Breathe …
“You can’t,” she gasps.
“I don’t love you!” She shakes her head. Everything is spinning. “You don’t get it! I never did. I mean, I loved what you did, loved the way you treated me, but … Draco.” She moans loudly in pain at the name. “Please, Blaise, just leave.” She swallows, closing her eyes and letting more of her tears escape. “Please leave.”
When she dares open her eyes again, Blaise is nowhere in sight. Though somewhere in the distance, she hears the sound of rattling keys …
The old jasmine stretches away out of sight into the shadows of the lower garden. Narcissa Malfoy pauses in her work, to gaze out beyond the fan of yellow light that spills across the small paved area and the neglected lawn at the back of her house, out as far as the barricade of trees.
She slides the huge pane open to the sounds of the mountain morning, breathing in the slight scent of honeysuckle and the stronger perfume of the jasmine, absorbing the morning through her pores. The smells, the distant rustlings, the respiration of the surrounding forest. The creaking of the old house as it settles slowly into the day.
She returns to the bench, rubbing gently to ease a nagging ache in her lower back. The fluxweed is in place. She presses down firmly on the handle of the oil press, watching the liquid appear, darkly transparent, drop after precious drop.
The words have an air of ritual. An unconscious element of the oil’s complex liturgy.
“Still talking to yourself?”
Draco has appeared silently beside her at the bench, gathering the uncut fluxweed into a pile ready for halving.
“I don’t have much choice anymore, do I?”
Draco says nothing more. The old habits take over, and his tongue slips briefly out from between his lips as he concentrates on the small grass, isolating the damaged ones into a separate pile for closer examination. Absorbed in the act of selection, he bites his bottom lip and wrinkles his nose, as he has done since …
Time warps, and he is young again, his head barely higher than the bench-top at Malfoy Manor, his hands gripping the curved edge of the marble, his play robes stained with some substance of dirt or another.
“You never know for certain how it’s going to turn out, Draco. You can follow the procedures exactly and choose your ingredients with the greatest care, but you still can’t be certain. In the end, the oil draws something from your soul. Something you won’t find in the fruit or in the seed.
“The only certainty is that no two batches will ever turn out exactly the same. You can’t predict it. There are just too many variables …”
Except for a curved snake-bracelet circling the flesh a few inches above his elbow, Draco’s pale arms are bare, even in the cool mountain morning. It moves briefly in and out of his line of sight as he works.
The sharp knife flashes, dividing the green weed and cutting out the dead stems almost in one motion, pilling the roots for pressing and filling the cracked flask of the blender for juicing. He has forgotten nothing of the ritual.
After a few minutes Narcissa releases the handle of the press, reaching out to squeeze her son’s hand.
“Not too busy to visit the old madwoman then?”
“Never.” Draco kisses her gently on the top of her head.
Then, the trance broken, he moves to the window and looks out into the huge garden. “Merlin, mother, I still don’t understand why you’d prefer to live here than the manor. Look at it …” His voice falters as the trees sway in the breeze, and Narcissa can see her son is captivated by the beauty.
“You know the manor holds too many memories—” She stops short of saying her late husbands name, turning back to the bench and pretending to look busy.
It almost works.
“I’m leaving this afternoon. I’m still not quite sure whose dorm I’m in, but I’m hoping it’ll be Astoria’s. I got her to arrange it—it’s a different matter of whether she did or not.”
There’s a bitter tone in her son’s voice that Narcissa wonders about. Draco had always been so infatuated with Astoria, even while he was still in Hogwarts; though after the past few months, it seemed as if he always referred to her as some kind of ghost.
Narcissa says nothing, and after an irritating pause on Draco’s behalf, he continues, “She said yes. We’ll be getting married after our three years there.”
I’m so proud of you …
He sighs. “I hope you don’t mind me visiting you beforehand.”
He brushes his hair off his face and rolls his shoulders forward then back, and rotates his head clockwise then anti-clockwise, releasing the tension of the past few days. He watches as the shadows slowly disappear in the morning light.
“I thought Astoria would be coming with you.”
“She was. She wanted to see her father first, though. But that’s all right. Gives me some time psychoanalyse you.”
Still staring out beyond the glass, the boy stops flexing and shakes his head.
“No. I had breakfast. Do you have a house-elf anyway?”
Narcissa places the capped jar on a small shelf above the bench, ready for the afternoon’s press.
“No. It’s all do-it-yourself around here, Draco. Better get used to it in the real world.”
Draco moves slowly back to the bench, holding one of the damaged weeds to his nose, breathing in its pungent sweetness.
“Father never got used to it.”
Now Narcissa Malfoy embraces her son, reaching up to gather him in.
But you already have …
“I told you I would meet you here,” Astoria hisses out the corner of her mouth. She then sticks her hand out, a gesture for him to take it, but Draco just sneers. She lets it drop lifelessly back to her side, unable to stop her eyes from rolling, even though she actually feels like screaming. She glares at her fiancé, holding back the furious retort on the tip of her tongue. It’s about time you listened to me for once …
“Let’s go find our room,” Draco snaps, still furious about waiting one hour at the manor for her, only to be showed down. Again.
He makes to sweep past her but Astoria quickly reaches out and grabs the sleeve of his robe. The thin fabric slips off his shoulder and he turns around in undisguised fury. “What?!”
“I’ve—” Astoria lets go of him with a sad, embarrassed blush, and she holds out her hand. Dangling in between her fingers is a small key, a giant number 6 clinking before his eyes. “I’ve already got my room.” Her voice is careful, slow, as if she were talking to a three-year-old.
“Well, good. Saves time, then?” He turns around again, but something in her eyes causes him to look back. “… Well?”
“And I have yours.” Her other hand appears then, holding what seems to be exactly the same key. But by closer inspection, Draco reads the number that clinks before his eyes. Room 118. Room 6. 118. 6. 118. 6. Different.
He looks away in an attempt to control his building anger, though it fails. It crawls up him like some kind of monster. His eyes flash as he turns back around to Astoria, and she steps back, her jaw setting—a classic sign she is ready for a fight. He grits his teeth. Good.
“Perfect,” he spits, and she shrinks away, her demeanour instantaneously failing her. “I thought you said you had this organised. Fucking wonderful, Astoria! Beautiful!”
His sarcasm stings. She bites her lip.
Draco grabs his key and in that moment Astoria starts to feel the death of everything she has tried to gain and keep in control.
“You won’t forgive me? I’m sorry!” He swings around and walks away, but his step falls into a slightly sluggish pace. She snatches the opportunity and reaches out for him, before thinking better of it and curling her stray hand into a fist. “I’m sorry,” she repeats, a whisper this time.
“You’re always fucking sorry!” He turns back to her, stepping backwards gradually. His face is fierce and hard, and he’s slowly, very slowly, shaking his head. For a moment she feels fear—undisguised fear. A fear she has never felt with him before. “You’re always sorry … And sometimes … I wonder.”
When he walks away, she makes no move to stop him.
Authors Note:: Sorry about the lack of happening in this chapter, guys; it was actually one MASSIVE chapter, but I thought that would get way too boring, so I spilt it in two. But, since I’m a trusted author now, just give me a nudge on when you want the next chapter, and I’ll put it up whenever you want ;)
[PS. Feel free to visit my Meet the Author page (: I’m quite lonely there xP]
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