Chapter 1 : I
| ||Rating: Mature||Chapter Reviews: 10|
Background: Font color:
so stay on my arm, you little charmer…
- The Smiths, Hand in Glove
It was a cold day when he first saw her.
In years to come, it surprised him that that was the only thing he remembered about their first meeting – if it could even be called as such. Working in a second-hand bookshop had given him an odd sort of habit of blurring the days together in his mind, simply because each seemed to fit the exact pattern of the one before. There were no real important events that marked the passage of time apart from the occasional spell of unusual weather, which, from his vantage point near the wide bay window at the front of the shop, he had a tendency to watch. Weather was infinitely more interesting than the usual stuffy clientele that visited, which was why his first sighting of her was the back of her head disappearing out of the shop door. He wouldn’t even have remembered her if it wasn’t for the boxy tweed jacket that sat upon her shoulders as if they were made of wire, scuffed elbow patches almost torn from wear, and the glint of a heavy silver watch beneath the sleeve – glinting off the winter sun, and that momentary flash was the only reason he looked anyway.
All else that remained in his memory of that day was the cold. A horribly bitter Monday in January, when the sky was an icy mix of blues, with the stale sun shining weakly in the midst of it all, making the compacted snow on the streets shimmer like diamonds. He remembered not being able to move his fingers for a good few hours for want of a good pair of gloves, and the horrible feeling of realising that he’d caught a cold halfway through the day (and subsequently spending his afternoon in the shop ripping tissues from a tattered box to deal with it). That was all; the girl with the oddly masculine jacket and silver watch had the simplest of walk-on parts in the great scheme of things. He might not even have remembered her later, anyway, if it hadn’t been for that damned jacket. (It never suited her, but she stubbornly put it on every day anyway. Mostly, he thought, because she didn’t actually own another jacket.)
It was still cold when he first talked to her. Colder, if that was even possible. She stood in front of his desk at the front, book in hand, and cleared her throat to take his eyes away from the window, where Diagon Alley was drowning under a blizzard.
‘Six sickles for that.’ he told her, nodding to the book.
‘Alright.’ She answered, and dug in a pocket for the money. In a moment, the silver coins were rattling on the counter, and she was already pushing her way out of the door, her new book tucked under one arm. He went back to watching the weather, noticing vaguely how the blizzard swallowed her up in seconds. In the months that followed, he found he couldn’t even recall what book she’d bought, although she insisted repeatedly that it was a copy of Defences of the Mind: A study of Occlumency, and she’d only really bought it because she liked the particular typeface they’d used on the front cover.
And that was all he could really remember.
January escaped him in a miserable slush of half-melted snow and watery sunsets, leaving him, as a final parting gift, a particularly bad bout of flu. February started badly, with the ghost of a cough still in his lungs and the vague smudges of blue-black haunting around his eyes, but he cheered up considerably when his month’s pay and Pansy arrived all in one week, the latter returning from visiting her parents up North.
‘Honestly,’ she told him, while they waited inside the pub for Daphne and Blaise to turn up. ‘You look a mess; you’d think they made you fight wars at that bloody bookshop you insist on working in.’
‘I’ve got the flu, and besides, I don’t insist,’ he told her, for perhaps the hundredth time since he’d taken the job. ‘It’s just that it’s impossible to get work elsewhere.’
‘Tell me about it.’ she muttered (for perhaps the hundredth time).
A few days later, she turned up at their regular table fifteen minutes late, her eyes bloodshot, and a mangled tissue stuffed up one sleeve.
‘I hate you, Draco,’ she said, miserably. ‘You’ve gone and made me ill.’
And those were the only really interesting things that happened in February. Of course, there was work (the usual languid trickle of customers, dusty as the books they perused) and life in his miserable little flat (a far cry from the mansion, but he’d had to give that up when nobody would give him a reasonable job), plus those two of three perfunctory trysts with Pansy that he barely even gave thought to, let alone regretted (he wasn’t entirely sure where their relationship stood between friendship and romance, but no harm seemed to come of it, so he left it alone).
It was just a routine. Breaking it would have been interesting, but he wasn’t even in a position to consider doing something out-of-the-ordinary and causing a fuss, because he had money to earn and friendships to keep.
(In months to come, he told her that she was the tweed-clad thing that broke up his little regime into tiny pieces, but the truth was that she didn’t; she was just another customer. Just one that he talked to a little more than usual, that was all.)
The girl came back in late February. Three times in one week. He recognised the (stupid) tweed jacket with the (even stupider) elbow patches, and remembered that in that week he’d sold her five different books, the most recent being a thick tome of a novel called The Elegance of the Lame Duck, which was a title so ludicrous that he couldn’t help but remember it.
On the twenty-ninth of February (it was a Leap Year) they had what he might have called their first sustained conversation.
‘Hello,’ she said. ‘Can I get this?’
A battered copy of Magenta Comstock*: A Retrospective hit the desk in front of him.
‘Three sickles.’ he said.
Tweed girl dug deep in her pockets, rummaging for coins. Draco looked past her towards a suspicious-looking warlock who was edging his way behind an overstuffed bookshelf, and frowned.
After a few moments, the girl slammed down a handful of coins onto the counter and began to sort through them hurriedly, finally extracting three of the dullest silver sickles from the mess of Knuts and lint from her pocket, pushing them forward towards Draco.
‘There.’ she said, proudly.
Draco slid the coins into the till. ‘You’re in here a lot.’ he said, idly.
‘Yeah, I suppose…’
Scribbling off a receipt, Draco slid the book towards her. She was wearing a pair of ungainly glasses that gave her an inquisitive, owlish look; as if sensing him watching her, she pushed them further up the bridge of her nose, the slightest hint of colour rising in her cheeks.
‘I get through books really quickly, so I always have to come back and buy more.’ she said, in a rush, almost tripping over the words in her haste to say them.
‘Understandable.’ he handed her the receipt, but she didn’t move.
‘Sorry,’ she blurted out, ‘but I think I recognise you from somewhere, were you in Slytherin?’
‘Yes.’ he told her, although it came out sounding more like a question than a statement.
‘Ah. Oh, okay. Did you…did you know someone called Daphne?’
Tweed girl nodded.
‘Yeah, I did.’
‘Ah,’ she said, her eyes lighting up. ‘She’s my sister.’
Tweed girl (or the youngest Greengrass sister, to give her a more proper name) took up her book and hugged one-armed it to her chest, stuffing the receipt into her pocket with her spare hand.
‘She talks about you a lot,’ Tweed-younger-Greengrass-sister girl said. ‘Well, okay, not a lot, but she’s mentioned you a few times. I mean,’ she added, hurriedly. ‘If you’re who I think you are, but if you aren’t, then she probably doesn’t, but, erm…’ she trailed off. Her spectacles slipped a little further down her nose, and she pushed them back up again.
‘Really?’ he said. ‘Er…truth be told, I didn’t know Daphne had a sister.’
(Pansy later told him that this was a rather tactless thing to say.)
Tweed-younger-Greengrass-sister girl let out a short, forced laugh. The suspicious warlock looked up, startled, abandoned the book he was holding in a nearby bookcase, and then left the shop, casting a dirty look in the girl’s direction.
‘Ah. Right. Well, I don’t see all that much of her, so…that makes sense.’
(Daphne later confessed that she avoided her sister on principle.)
‘Busy,’ she answered. ‘I work in the Muggle Liason Office (Draco mentally filed her under the ‘weird’ category in his mind) and even though it’s really interesting, (he filed her under the ‘severely deluded’ sub-division) all the overtime I do (he now placed her into the ‘avoid at all costs’ folder) means that I don’t get to see people often.’
‘I guess working in a second-hand bookshop isn’t really fun either, yeah?’
‘Ah, well…okay,’ she took a step backwards from the counter, effectively terminating the conversation. ‘Erm, see you soon, I suppose…sorry, what did you say your name was?’
‘Draco.’ he told her, already looking out of the window at the slate-grey, moody sky.
But whatever she’d said then had been forgotten, because she was already halfway out the door and a thunderclap chose that moment to interrupt her. For a week or so until her next visit, she remained in his mind as ‘Weird-and-severely-deluded-avoid-at-all-costs-tweed-younger-Greengrass-sister-girl’.
Pansy visited the shop later that day, with only a few minutes left before closing time.
‘Can I turn the sign on the door to ‘Closed’?’ was the first thing she said. He let her. ‘I feel very important.’ she admitted, giggling, as she flipped the sun-bleached old sign over.
‘It’s just a sign.’
‘You’re just very boring.’
‘It’s raining.’ he observed, as if this was an adequate answer to her statement. Pansy hoisted herself up onto the counter and stared into the rain lashing down outside, while Draco began to count out the day’s takings from the till.
‘Fifteen galleons,’ he said, after five minutes or so. ‘How pathetic.’
‘Slow day?’ Pansy said, politely. ‘It was for us too at the Apothecary, it’s all this rain, it-’
But whatever the rain did he never found out, because he gave the till an almighty slam at that point to get it shut, and Pansy almost toppled off the counter in surprise.
‘You prat.’ she accused, steadying herself. He glowered at her, sliding the meagre fifteen galleons into an empty money-bag, mentally calculating his cut of the wages and the likelihood of going another week without Floo Powder.
‘Coming out for a drink tonight?’ she asked.
‘No.’ his voice was deadpan; he was used to this conversation by now. ‘No money.’
‘I’ll pay for you…’
He shot her an incredulous look.
‘…I’ll club together with Daphne and Blaise to pay for you.’
He shrugged. ‘You owe me, anyway.’
The next day was spent drawn close to the window with his forehead on the cold glass, trying to soothe the irritated thrumming of a headache inside his skull. Tweed girl reappeared at five, her appearance signalled by the loud, shrill ringing of the bell that made Draco wince and cover his ears.
(The excuse for his fragile head was this: Firewhiskey was far too cheap, and Pansy was far too persuasive.)
Eventually Tweed girl returned, her skinny arms exposed from under thickly rolled-up tweed sleeves. She hoisted another heavy book onto the counter (Regression and Revolution: A Brief History of the Wizengamot) displaying, for a slight moment, a stark, black regiment of numbers in line across her wrist. Draco thought, involuntarily, of his own tattoo, and tugged his sleeve down a little more.
‘Five sickles.’ he told her.
She frowned. ‘The label says three.’
‘I say five.’ the headache made him spit out. Tweed girl wrinkled her nose.
‘Forget it,’ she said, miserably. ‘I don’t have enough.’
In a moment she was out of the door and Pansy was entering, yawning widely.
‘Wasn’t that Daphne’s sister?’ she said.
‘Dunno, probably.’ he let his head fall against the glass again, thinking of the pittance of coins in the till; the day’s takings had been the worst in a week.
(Draco Malfoy’s money problems were as follows: chucked out of the Wiltshire mansion at eighteen after the Ministry had repossessed it, he’d gone to his parents in Azkaban, pleading access to those hallowed inheritance accounts that might save his reputation, but they’d simply shaken their heads and told them there was nothing left. At least he got a good price for his Nimbus 2001. Pansy had gone through something similar with her parents, but at least it was only a house she’d lost, not a whole bloody mansion.)
Pansy idly flicked at the book Tweed girl had left on the counter, her fingers dog-earing the pages.
‘Coming out again tonight?’
‘Take that as a no, then?’
The conversation broke off for a minute as Draco served a nervous-looking young man buying a heavy spell dictionary.
‘Come over to mine, then?’ she asked, flipping through the book again.
‘If you’re inviting me.’
She pushed the book aside and put her chin in her hands, staring at him with her tired, red-rimmed eyes.
‘Maybe we’ll go out next week, yeah? When I get paid?’
‘That’d be good.’
And then later that evening they were walking back to hers, idling along a silent road in the north of London, the cold air making clouds of their breath (like dandelion clocks taking flight, like scraps of silk in a breeze, like smoke from a fire, whatever, Pansy was more of a poet than he was.)
‘Oh!’ Pansy exclaimed, furiously rubbing her glove-less hands together. ‘Merlin, it’s f-f-f-freezing!’
‘Do you want my scarf?’ he offered. She took it, wrapping the over-stretched, over-worn wool around her neck with a shiver.
‘Thanks, Draco.’ she stammered, through her chattering teeth. ‘Much warmer now…’
Then they were in her flat, where the warmth pressed upon his numb limbs like a cloak, and tiredness made his eyes flutter shut every few seconds, and Pansy swan before his eyes like a ghost, desperately trying to coax the fire into lighting.
‘What are we going to do, Draco?’ she said, desperately. ‘What are we going to do?’
He told her that, honestly, he didn’t really know.
* Magenta Comstock is an artist in the HP canon; she was featured on JKR's website in the 'famous wizard/witch of the month' section, I believe.
Other Similar Stories
The State of...