Got to be good-looking 'cause she's so hard to see
-The Beatles, Come Together
‘Which book do you think I should get?’
Tweed girl was standing in front of him, holding out a book in each hand. Draco wanted to laugh, but the sombre expression on her face told him that her reading choices were no laughing matter.
‘You pick.’ he dismissed her. After all, it was not his job to choose the books, but to sell them.
‘No,’ she said. ‘I can’t decide, so I’m asking you.’
He looked closely at the two: The Case for Autocracy
and The Silent Glance
were polar opposites as far as books were concerned. He remembered reading The Silent Glance
three months ago and immediately picked out The Case for Autocracy.
‘Thanks,’ she said. ‘How much?’
‘Two sickles.’ he told her, remembering pricing it the previous week. Tweed girl grinned, pushed her glasses a little further up her nose (he could have sworn she’d not worn glasses before) and then buried a hand in her pocket for the money. In a moment, she’d paid and left.
He watched her out of the corner of his eye. It was raining outside, and she threw her hands over her head and ran haphazardly along the road, almost upsetting a display barrel of cut-price Potions outside the Apothecary opposite. A moment later, Pansy came out, scowling, to re-adjust the sign. Draco waved at her; she rolled her eyes, gave an exaggerated yawn, and then straightened up, hands on hips.
I’m so bored!
she mouthed, through the rain.
Draco pointed at his watch; it was half past four.
Not long now
, he mouthed. Pansy shrugged and scuffed her shoes all the way back into the Apothecary, her hair like sodden rats’ tails against her shoulders.
The minute hand of his watch dragged itself towards the twelve. At five to, Draco tapped it impatiently, but the hand stubbornly remained hovering over the eleven, opposite the hour hand at five. Together they formed a thick black line across the watch face, stark as ink and pointed at either end like arrows, but then the minute hand grudgingly ticked on again and it was four to five.
Annoyed, Draco stalked over to the door and flipped the sign over to ‘Closed’. Time didn’t quite move fast enough for his liking these days. With an imperious sweep of his wand the shop began to sort itself, with books that had been picked up and misplaced soaring onto their rightful shelves. The Silent Glance flew close to his eyes and became a blur; he noticed a squat spell dictionary throwing itself through the air and caught it in one hand, knowing that seconds later it would have been a mess of glass and ripped paper on the Alley outside.
All that was left to do was to count the day’s takings. Wrenching open the till with white-knuckled fingers, he swept out a jumble of coins onto the counter. Deft fingers sorted them in little under a minute. Sixteen Galleons gleamed next to a small pile of Sickles and a cluster of Knuts. Twenty Galleons in total. As routine dictated, he swept it into an empty moneybag, mentally crossing out Floo Powder from that weeks’ list of luxuries.
Pansy was just emerging from the Apothecary when he locked the shop up, wiping her hands on her Apothecary-issued apron with a grimace.
‘Woman comes in at five, expects me to shovel her a whole bloody sack of beetle eyes,’ she moaned, wrenching off the apron and shoving it into her bag. ‘Had to brew up a cough potion too, I probably stink.’
Draco chose not to respond, instead jamming his fingers into his pockets, where a lonely Sickle knocked against his cold fingers miserably.
‘Daphne’s expecting us at the pub for seven,’ Pansy said, glancing at her watch. ‘I’m going to go home and get these stinking robes off.’
They reached the entrance to Diagon Alley. Pansy brought her wand out from her bag and tapped at the brickwork; in a moment they were in the warmth of The Leaky Cauldron.
‘Not flooing home, then?’ Pansy asked as Draco made for the door.
‘Can’t afford it.’
‘I might have a spare pinch,’ she said, kindly. ‘Hold on a second.’
Draco stood by, arms crossed, as she rummaged deep into her bag. A witch at a nearby table stared with beady eyes.
‘Got some,’ Pansy held out a closed fist. Draco extended a palm and she dropped a tiny handful of Floo powder into it. ‘Buy me a drink tonight to make up for it.’
In a moment, she had been swallowed up by the green flames. Following her example, he stepped in, opened his closed fist, and spoke his address to the fireplace. Three minutes later with the bitter taste of soot on his lips, he clambered out of the tower block’s communal fireplace and headed for the stairs.
(Can’t apparate? What a shame
. A lot of people expressed this sympathy. His usual response was to say that what with the war and all
... He neglected to mention the court documents in his desk drawer that expressly forbade him from apparition and certain spells, even if there was only a year or so left before it expired. At least he’d avoided prison, that much was good.)
Seven o’clock – raining still – found Draco crossing the threshold of the usual pub, shaking raindrops from his sleeves. His eyes scanned the room; bright after the dark haze of a storm outside, it stung his eyes. Daphne was seated at their usual corner. Her blonde hair had been scraped back from her face in a fiercely tight bun, her hand holding out a compact mirror at arm’s length so that she might scrutinise her face. Draco had always been of the opinion that she was one of those
‘Hiya,’ she said, breathlessly, snapping the mirror shut. There was a tiny smudge of lipstick on her teeth. ‘How was work?’
‘Same old,’ he answered, truthfully. ‘Funny, though, your sister was in today.’
‘Oh, no, not her,’ Daphne grimaced. ‘Merlin, I haven’t seen her in months…kind of avoid her on principle, you know?’
Draco had to admit that he understood this perfectly. He didn’t tell her this though. A distraction had just arrived in the shape of Pansy, wearing fresh robes, her shoulders thrown back as if a weight had been taken off them. Customary greetings were exchanged; she took the seat next to him.
‘Draco was saying my sister’s been in the bookshop,’ Daphne said. ‘You seen her around, Pansy?’
‘Don’t get me started on her.’ Pansy glowered.
‘Honestly, she needs a slap. Never met someone so dishonest in my life.’
‘What do you mean by that?’ Draco asked. He was duly ignored by both girls, who merely tutted. ‘Honestly, though, Daphne,’ he said, hastily. ‘I didn’t even know you had a sister.’
‘She’s an embarrassment to the family. I try not to talk about her in public.’
‘I didn’t really believe her at first, I told her I didn’t even know you had a sister-’
‘You told her that?’ Pansy butted in. ‘Oh, Draco, you’re so tactless.’
‘I thought you two didn’t like her?’
‘Yeah, but, still, you’ve got to show some tact to your customers, that’s just rude.’
‘Are we insulting Draco now?’ Blaise joined in, arriving at the side of the table. ‘Oh, good, I like doing that.’
‘Oh, shut it-’
‘We’re talking about how he has no tact, Blaise.’
‘What, tact as well? Along with everything else? No tact, no money, no proper job, no girlfriend…’
Pansy looked a little hurt at this last statement, but neither Blaise or Daphne seemed to notice. Draco merely glared at them until Pansy offered to go up and get their drinks, and he got up to join her.
‘Blaise is looking well.’ she said, casually, as the landlord pulled their pints.
He looked at her out of the corner of his eye. She was tight-lipped, clutching her purse to her chest, staring determinedly ahead. Draco wanted to say something, like dunno what Blaise is talking about, I’ve got a job and a girlfriend, maybe not the money, but
… but the words didn’t quite make it off his tongue, and he resorted to simply carrying the drinks in a futile attempt at gallantry.
Draco hardly paid attention to the rest of that evening’s conversation. He didn’t know whether it was how tired he was, or simply the way he was turning over thoughts about Pansy in his mind, afraid to ask where they really stood for fear he would offend her. She was the type of girl who did not take offence lightly, and he supposed he wasn’t exactly the type of boy to be upfront. Not that he supposed he was a type of anything at all. He thought of himself, a little pessimistically, as a prat who probably got what he deserved.
He was still lost in this thought when Tweed girl returned at two the next day, picked out a book called The Passage to Dusk
and dropped two sickles on top of it, smiling expectantly.
‘Thanks.’ he said, scooping the coins into his hand. He was about to add ‘-Tweed girl.’ to the end when he realised that he had no idea what her name was, and that it would be a good deal more tactless to call her Tweed girl to her face.
‘Sorry,’ he said, handing her five Knuts’ change. ‘I know you’re Daphne’s sister, but what did you say your name was again?’
‘See you soon, I suppose.’ she said, stuffing the book into her bag. ‘I read fast.’
, he thought, trying to force himself to remember her name. Her name’s Astoria. Not Tweed girl at all.
But he forgot her name as he expected he would. Sitting up awake by the window in Pansy’s dark flat, he went over the day in his head (Had he locked the shop up? Had he counted the money? Had he signed off that delivery of books with missing covers from Flourish & Blott’s?) and suddenly remembered the girl and how she’d evaded his mind entirely up to that point. What had her name been? It was unusual, one he hadn’t recognised…it began with an A, he was sure of that…Alyss? Ariadne? Adelaide? But then again, it might have ended with that effortless ia
sound, it might have even been Olivia…
The thought was only fleeting. Pansy was standing over him, her skin faintly illuminated, the rest of her dissolving into darkness, her eyes merely black shadows. A pale flash of red signalled her unsmiling lips.
girl took off out of his mind as if the memory of her had dissaparated.
‘Come back to sleep,’ Pansy’s voice was faint. ‘It’s two in the morning, Draco, we both have work tomorrow.’
He did not move – he was thinking again of the tight-lipped way she’d carefully reacted to Blaise’s jibe in the pub.
‘Pansy,’ he asked. She was tired, it was early in the morning, it was fair to ask her now, wasn’t it? ‘What exactly is going on?’
‘I’m tired and you’re being a prat, that’s what’s going on.’
He did not bother to correct her. He bring himself to ask through breakfast, nor through the walk to work, not even when she abandoned him outside the Apothecary, when he’d gone in to kiss her on the cheek and she’d dodged away and sworn at him before dashing inside.
He explained that away by remembering that she was always a one for violent mood swings. At the precise moment Pansy disappeared into the Apothecary, Tweed girl walked past, holding up a hand in friendly recognition. He waved back, but she did not stop to talk. She hurried away into the distance, evidently late for work.
Time dragged its feet as the day went on. Draco swore that the clock was ticking so slowly as to spite him, the hands yawning their way past minutes and eventually past hours. It rained on and off all day. By Noon Diagon Alley was drenched, multicoloured shop-lights shining on the pavements like an oil slick.
His eyes were heavy, half-closed and tired as if they’d both been blackened in a fight. Business was slower than usual. He was sure it was the wettest February in living memory. At three he sold an old Lockhart book to a nervous-looking witch then stretched, staring out of the window at the storm-blackened skies. Only two hours left to go, only two hours left and then it was the weekend…
The next thing he knew it was dark outside. The solitary, flickering oil-lamp on the desk had almost burned itself into darkness, and his forehead was resting on top of a pile of old maps a warlock had deposited at Noon, the smell of old, musty paper almost too much to bear. Someone was nudging him. A familiar wave of nausea rolled over him as he sat up – his head was sore, his eyes felt dry, and his throat felt like it had been scratched raw with sandpaper. Another cold
, he thought, miserably.
‘Hello,’ a small voice said. ‘I think you fell asleep.’
Stating the obvious or what?
A familiar tweed cuff drifted in the tiny pool of light cast by the dying lamp. Tweed girl whispered, and then the flame rose again, brilliant orange and painful to Draco’s eyes.
‘It’s eight,’ she said. ‘All the shops are shut. I saw the light and came in…’
‘Oh. Thanks,’ he told her, although, truth be told, he didn’t feel very thankful. What was her name again? He couldn’t remember, he could never remember… ‘er, thanks…Alice?’
‘Astoria.’ she said, with one eyebrow raised. She’d taken her glasses off; they were neatly tucked inside her top pocket.
‘Sorry. I’ve got a terrible memory.’
‘Quite alright.’ she cast her eyes around the shop at the piles of old books stacked on tables and shelves, towers of paperbacks making fortresses on the carpeted floor with buttresses of spell dictionaries and old biographies. Draco swept the old maps from his desk into a cardboard box that lay waiting by his side. A cloud of dust billowed from them as he fell. Astoria – he was sure he would remember her name this time – coughed feebly.
‘Thanks for waking me up,’ he squinted through the front window at the dark shape of the Apothecary opposite. Pansy had obviously left him there out of spite. His fists curled involuntarily, although he wasn’t even sure it was anger or annoyance that made him draw breath so suddenly or cause Astoria to look up inquisitively from the map she’d idly pulled from the box. He felt oddly helpless, self-pitying, annoyed at himself, even, for sleeping on the job, for taking such an unspeakably tedious job in the first place, for letting the Ministry just take his mansion and his inheritance –
‘It’s okay, seriously.’ Astoria put the map back into the box. ‘I better be off, I’ll see you around.’
He kicked the box aside the moment she was out the door. Maps!
he thought. What sort of weird people bring in maps?
They were all out of date, showing tiny towns that had since grown to leviathans of cities. He’d never sell these in a million years, not unless Astoria in her tweed and glasses took a fancy to them.
It was Pansy’s fault he’d fallen asleep. He decided, on the spur of the moment, to cancel their arrangement to meet in their usual pub that night. No, not even to cancel, but to stand them up, to simply not turn up. An act of defiance. If Pansy really was his girlfriend, then it’d be payback, wouldn’t it?
, he thought. No, it wouldn’t mean a thing
. Pansy would laugh in his face. She wasn’t his girlfriend anyway. Blaise didn’t think so. Evidently Daphne didn’t think so. They were just straggling on some sort of line between friends-with-benefits and something a bit more serious – what did he care, anyway? He kicked the box of maps under the desk. Saturday, the next day, was his day off. Someone else would sort them out. Someone else could sort Pansy out. He couldn’t quite be bothered anymore.
Draco left the shop ten minutes later, locking the door and enchanting the shutters to fall over it as he always did. Diagon Alley was silent.
A/N: Sorry for the long wait on this one! I'd be delighted to hear what you think - please feel free to drop me a review (: