Chapter 5 : V
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I must have been asleep for days
- The Cure, Just like Heaven
‘She’s lovely, she really is…you should see her smile, it’s slightly crooked at one side, as if she heard a joke she’s trying not to laugh at. Even her knees are nice…’
Draco and Blaise sat opposite one another at their usual table in their usual pub in mid-April, three weeks after Astoria’s daring escape from the cupboard.
‘Knees, Draco?’ Blaise almost sounded disgusted. ‘Didn’t know you were a guy for knees.’
‘Well, I’m not, I just thought they were decent. And she’s very funny and clever, isn’t squeamish about stuff, she’s full of all these politically incorrect jokes I haven’t heard since I left Hogwarts…she’s wonderful, Blaise, she really is.’
‘Didn’t have you cut out as a romantic either.’
‘No, I’m not, but if you met her…you’d feel the same. She’s got a great personality. Never met anyone like her.’
‘Yeah, there’s all that, but is she a good shag?’
Draco gave him an inquisitive look. ‘That’s neither here or there, Blaise, it’s all about-’
‘What, it’s all about kneecaps? Come off it, Draco.’
‘Why do you want to know anyway?’
‘Well, you know, just wondering where my mate’s gone – the usual grumpy, woe-is-me Draco, more like a doormat than most doormats.’
‘Yeah, and all the time you went out with Pansy the only things you used to tell me about happened in the bedroom, but she was going all fuzzy about kneecaps on you, that’s what girls do, yeah?’
‘So what’s this Astoria like, anyway?’ Blaise said, casually changing the subject. ‘Never heard much about her except Daphne thought she was weird.’
‘She’s lovely, very witty-’
‘Give it a rest, what about the important stuff?’
‘Oh, I dunno, bra size-’
‘Blaise, that’s awful!’
‘Don’t deny it,’ he smirked. ‘You definitely checked it out-’
‘Of course I haven’t!’
‘Hey, you two,’ Daphne said, sliding into the seat beside Blaise. ‘What are you talking about?’
‘Your sister’s bra size.’
‘No we weren’t!’ Draco protested, as Daphne turned to face him with a raised eyebrow.
‘Really?’ she said. ‘Because if you want to know, I’ll tell you.’
‘How do you know?’ Blaise demanded.
‘You’re forgetting I lived with her for eighteen years.’
‘Yeah, but – what, did you, like-’
‘I did the washing a lot,’ she smiled. ‘We weren’t privileged enough to have a house elf, remember.’
Daphne turned to Draco, mouthing can you believe him?
‘Must you corrupt everything, Blaise?’ Draco asked, trying to ignore the hot feeling in his face.
‘What can I say?’ Blaise held his hands up as if in surrender. ‘My mind’s in the gutter.’
‘We know that,’ Daphne rolled her eyes. ‘Look, Draco, whatever you’ve got going on with my sister, I want you to stop it.’
‘Oh, not you too,’ Draco felt he’d heard the same argument a thousand times before. ‘Why do you all think she’s so weird? Honestly, she’s fine, if you were human enough to give her the time of day you’d see that, I’m not going to send her into some sort of spiralling breakdown or anything-’
‘Not for her benefit, for yours.’ Daphne leaned forward, her voice low and deadly serious. ‘Draco, I don’t want you to get hurt.’
‘So what if she was a bit out of control as a teenager?’ he accused. ‘She’s changed since then, that much is obvious!’
‘She’s a compulsive liar and a thief, Draco. She’s going to break you into little pieces. I bet you she’s only in it to take all your money off you.’
‘Well, bit late, isn’t she? The Ministry got there first-’
‘We know, Draco,’ Blaise cautioned.
‘I’m just saying, watch out.’
‘What do you mean she’s a liar and a thief?’ he demanded. ‘On what evidence?’
Daphne leaned closer. ‘Her tattoo. What did she tell you? Her postcode, a phone number?
Worker reference number? In-joke with a friend?’
‘She said it was something she did with a close friend.’
‘Yeah, which friend was that?’
Draco thought about it. ‘I don’t know. She didn’t say.’
‘Obviously not that close then.’
‘Well, you know, people grow apart…look at me and Pansy!’
‘Oh, yeah, about that,’ Daphne said, quickly. ‘She told me to tell you that she doesn’t care how sorry you are, you’re an arse and she’s got another boyfriend.’
‘Well then,’ he placed his hands flat on the table. ‘That’s sorted.’
‘Don’t you want to speak to her?’
‘Not really,’ he said indifferently.
‘Draco, she’s been your friend for years! Even in sixth year, when you were-’
He held up a hand to stop her. ‘Give it a rest, Daphne.’
Even Blaise looked mildly affronted. ‘I think you owe it to her. She’s been there for you a lot.’
‘She’s a stuck-up bitch! When’s the last time she did something good for me?’
‘Well, you know, Daphne grinned. ‘I’m not going to lie, Draco, you’re a bit of a misery guts. She’s been through a lot of whinging.’
‘So? I’ve had to put up with years of ooh, so and so did this the other day with whatshisname down the park, ooh, isn’t that scandalous, and I really don’t care!’
Daphne leaned back again, shrugging. ‘You’ve got to take the good with the bad. She’s only human.’
‘Yeah, and so am I!’
‘Oh, no way, I reckoned you were an elf all these years,’ Blaise laughed, but at Draco and Daphne’s murderous glares fell silent again.
‘Look, just give her another shot, she’s still really into you, whatever she says.’
‘I’m not doing anything,’ Draco folded his arms. ‘If she really wants me then she can come to me, and that’s final. You can tell her that.’
There was a short pause.
‘Don’t tell her all the other stuff I said…you know, all the swearing and rude jokes…’ he said, uncomfortably remembering the previous three weeks’ worth of arguments.
‘Too late,’ Daphne said, mildly. ‘So, anyway, back to my original point. My sister. Be careful.’
‘Daphne! Give it a rest! We’re going out, and you can’t do anything about it!’
‘Give it up,’ Blaise echoed. ‘Or we’re just going to keep on going round in circles.’
Daphne rested her chin on her hand and stared off into the distance, accepting defeat. ‘Alright,’ she said, after a silence. ‘For all that grief, Draco, you can buy the first round. I’ll take a Whisky and Ginger Ale.’
‘The usual for me, mate,’ Blaise said, as Draco, rolling his eyes, slipped out of his seat.
It seemed that Draco was not entirely forgiven. Even after buying Daphne her third drink that evening, she still treated him with cold indifference, staring at him over the top of her drink whenever he touched on a topic too close to the subjects of Pansy and Astoria. At nine she said she could only stay for half an hour more, pleading an early start at work the next morning and a headache. Blaise left to get her a glass of water at quarter past, at which point Daphne leaned forward and said, enigmatically, ‘she likes sunflowers.’
‘Who?’ Draco asked, his thoughts a little fuzzy after multiple helpings of the pub’s signature beer.
‘My sister. She’s partial to sunflowers. She doesn’t really like chocolates, but I’m sure if you want to buy her over then plenty of alcohol will do. She isn’t a lightweight either, unlike you, so if you go out, don’t try asserting your masculinity by drinking double what she has.’
‘Too late,’ he grimaced.
‘Wow,’ Daphne said. ‘That must have been embarrassing. Oh, and don’t provoke her into an argument, she’s good at throwing punches. She can bear a grudge, too, she doesn’t forget like most people can. Can be a bit tough, actually. Don’t get on her wrong side.’
‘Does this mean you approve?’ Draco said, slowly.
‘I suppose I have to,’ Daphne shrugged. ‘But it’s mostly so that, when she beats you up and runs off with your money at three in the morning, I can say I told you so.’
She remained silent until Blaise returned, at which point she took up her glass of sparkling water and resumed her icy stare. Right on the dot of half past she left, kissing Blaise on the cheek and staring daggers in Draco’s direction. He presumed she was off to meet up with Pansy.
‘You’re a real winner with the girls,’ Blaise said, pushing aside Daphne’s empty glass. ‘You can’t seem to move an inch without offending one.’
Draco ignored him. ‘Where do I even get sunflowers at this time of year?’
‘Sunflowers. Apparently Astoria likes sunflowers.’
‘Aren’t they summer flowers?’
‘Yeah, that’s my point. Where do I get them?’
‘You could conjure them up.’
‘What, and risk blowing my flat up?’ Draco scoffed. ‘You know I hated charms.’
Blaise raised an eyebrow. ‘Flowers are dead easy,’ he said, pulling out his wand. ‘Like this.’
A rose materialised in Daphne’s empty glass. Disbelieving, Draco lifted it and winced as a thorn bit into his finger.
‘See?’ Blaise said. ‘You just have to adapt it for sunflowers. Don’t you work in a bookshop? Ever get a spell dictionary to flog?’
‘There’ll be one lying around,’ Draco put the rose down and Blaise vanished it, tucking his wand back into his pocket.
Draco walked back to his flat alone, the evening mild enough that he rolled his sleeves back. London was quiet for a change. Nobody paid him the slightest bit of attention. He dawdled through the park, passing couples holding hands beneath the trees, and for once didn’t scowl. Astoria was working late that evening, but had promised to meet him in the park the next day after work.
There was a letter on his doormat when he let himself into the flat. The handwriting was Pansy’s. He burned it without even opening it, tossing the ashes out of the window as if it were a final, defiant rejection. He was much better off without her.
At work the next day he scanned the shelves for a spell dictionary. Choosing the newest and least dog-eared looking one, he spent a good hour studying the charms section, occasionally breaking off to sell a book to a customer. By midday he thought he’d mastered it, and conjured a bunch of sunflowers onto his desk, much to the amusement of a witch perusing the fiction section.
‘Take them home, if you want,’ he said, pressing them into her hands. He had no vase to put them in and, besides, he didn’t fancy carrying a bunch of flowers all the way to the park. The witch took them with a wide smile. As she left the shop, Draco glanced over to the Apothecary in case Pansy was watching, but the street outside was crowded and he couldn’t tell. Idly, he wondered who her new boyfriend was. Strangely, he could only imagine Theodore Nott. The thought was bizarre; it was almost like imagining her with Crabbe or Goyle.
The memory of Daphne’s words lingered in his mind as well. It was not the first time she’d said them, nor was it the first time they’d come to blows over his relationship with Astoria, yet the words seemed to stick to him more this time. A compulsive liar. A thief.
She’s going to break you into little pieces.
That thought seemed to have been tattooed onto the backs of his eyelids. It was there every time he shut his eyes, every time he caught a glance of himself in the mirror by the door, every time he passed the kitchen table, where the vague smell of flowers seemed to linger on his abandoned robes.
They were ‘slumming it’, as Astoria put it. Daphne and Pansy called it ‘going native’. Draco thought of it as ‘dressing up’. Blaise simply called it ‘dressing muggle.’ It didn’t bother him. Unusually, Astoria was the first witch he’d met who didn’t really suit robes. They made her look as if she was only pretending that she could perform magic, as if she was only pretending that there was a little Obliviator Licence with her name on it somewhere in the Ministry. He supposed that he was biased, though, given that most of his memories of her were distinctly woven in Harris Tweed.
Anyway, he preferred to say he was slumming it, simply for the (admittedly sentimental) reason that it was her phrase, a little memento of her he could carry in his mind, like the tweed and the glasses. So, slumming it at seven, he gathered his things and made his way to the statue they’d agreed to meet at, face turned towards the sun as if to drink it in. He half expected it to rain the next day.
Astoria stood next to the statue, laden down with thick folders of parchment, glasses perched on the top of her head, looking uncomfortable in her tweed suit. She didn’t notice Draco at first, but seemed to realise someone was watching her, because she reached down and tugged at the hem of her skirt, which already fell well below her knees.
‘Hello,’ she said, jostling the folders in her arms as she tried to embrace him. ‘Just come from work, I’m a bit of a bag lady right now.’
‘It’s alright,’ he said. ‘Er, I met up with Daphne, and…well, Helianthideous.’
Astoria grinned as a bunch of sunflowers appeared out of thin air. Feeling chivalrous, Draco took the folders from her and let her hold the flowers instead, amused by the way the bright yellow clashed with her tweed suit. After thanking him, she tied the stems together with a spare elastic band and tucked them into the crook of her elbow, still smiling.
‘So it’s a truce then?’ she asked, as they walked further into the park, Draco’s arms aching with the weight of the folders.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Is Daphne okay with the…arrangement?’
‘Yes, she’s fine.’
‘How fine? On a scale of one to ten, one being not all that bothered and ten peachy keen?’
‘Probably a one. I think the less I mention you the happier she gets.’
‘Hmm, I’ve found that too,’ Astoria said, wrinkling her nose at a cloud that had just covered the sun. ‘We went out for our obligatory annual drink the other day, and I had so much fun telling her about what we’ve been up to this past fortnight. I think she especially liked last Thursday, I thought she was going to slap me.’
Draco’s smile dropped slightly. ‘She better not tell anyone about that.’
‘What, Thursday? No, it’ll be fine. It’s pretty harmless anyway.’
‘Harmless? If word gets around I’ll lose my job.’
‘I still maintain that it was a good idea,’ she said, smartly. ‘You’ll never be able to look at the military history section again without thinking of me. Ah, this looks like a nice spot. I’ve got some drinks in my bag, that hopefully explains the folders.’
She chose a patch of grass a few metres away from the path, half-hidden behind a clump of bushes and a tall, thin tree. This extended out into a larger clearing, circled by more of the thin trees, and two fiercely gnarled oak trees further away into the park, stooped with age so that their branches almost touched the ground. The area was deserted.
‘Take a seat,’ she said, patting the grass next to her. Her other hand was rummaging in her bag, from which the clinking of bottles could clearly be heard.
‘You’re an expert on muggles,’ he said, as they toasted a three-week anniversary a moment later. ‘How legal is this drinking in public?’
‘Probably not very,’ she said, after taking a hearty swig. ‘But, you know, license to Obliviate and all that. They’re quite forgetful when you want them to be.’
‘How’d you get into Obliviating anyway? I hear it’s pretty hard, you must have a heap of N.E.W.T.S.’
‘Not exactly,’ she said, sipping at her drink. ‘It’s not too hard. You just need defence, really, charms and transfiguration preferred, potions and herbology not even needed. Muggle studies required – oh, no, I didn’t do that at Hogwarts, unless you count the Carrows,’ she added, as Draco gave her an inquisitive look. ‘Took an evening class when I left school and fancied Obliviating. How did you get into working in a stuffy bookshop? I would have put you down as something more glamorous.’
‘Yeah, with all that sun-deprived skin and those dark shadows you look like an unspeakable, all that’s missing is the gormless stare all those Department of Mysteries people have. Anyway, what’s so attractive about a bookshop?’
‘Nobody notices you,’ he grinned, shielding his eyes as the sun emerged from behind the cloud again. ‘After Hogwarts and the war and everything, I wanted to pretend I didn’t exist, seeing as Saint Potter’s face was everywhere and my parents and all their friends were getting banged up in prison. Plus the pigs at the Ministry took all my inheritance-’
‘Watch it, I work for them.’
‘Astoria, you were the one who started calling them pigs. You also call them the filth-’
She put a finger to his lips to silence him. ‘True, but, you never know, I could be a double agent.’
‘You’re too pretty and angry to be a Ministry girl. See, you might not have put me down as a bookshop person, but I certainly didn’t put you down as an Obliviator. At first I thought you were some doddery old lady trapped in a young body, practically stalking me-’
‘-and I thought you were a sensitive, tortured poet-type bohemian chap, so I stalked you.’
‘Sensitive poets?’ he grimaced. ‘Is that really your type?’
‘Of course,’ she said, trying hard to smother a laugh. ‘One day I’m going to abandon you and run off with a boy called Tarquin who will write me poetry and call me his muse. I’m joking, Draco, I’m yours. For now,’ she added, hastily. ‘Don’t try and write poetry, by the way, you’d be terrible at it.’
‘How do you know?’ he demanded.
‘Hardly a romantic bone in your body,’ she grinned.
‘And yet here we are.’
‘Yes, the sunflowers were nice surprise. You’re also in a very good mood.’
‘Noticeably so,’ she said. They lapsed into silence, turned towards the setting sun. Astoria began to drum her fingers along the side of her glass restlessly. Her sleeve had slid back, and there was that tattoo again, the one that Daphne always mentioned, the one that seemed to be the source of so much of her suspicion.
‘That’s a strange tattoo,’ he said, hoping Astoria didn’t remember he’d asked about it only a
month or so previously. ‘What’s it for?’
‘Joke with a friend,’ she said, bluntly. ‘I dare you to climb a tree.’
‘The word is pardon, Draco. You’ve complained about your lost childhood before, so why not make up for it now?’
‘No I haven’t.’
‘You have. You’re a psychoanalyst’s dream. Climbing trees does wonders for getting rid of stress.’
‘I’m not stressed.’
‘I took a level one Healing course a few years ago,’ she said, grabbing his wrist and pretending to check his pulse. ‘And I say you are – don’t argue, I’m qualified!’
‘I took a level one Healing course too and all I figured out was how to put an arm in a sling, you’re not fooling me.’
‘Well then,’ she pulled him upright. ‘You can put that skill to use when you fall out of this tree you’re about to climb, then.’
‘I’m not climbing a tree.’
‘Yes you are!’ she pulled him across the clearing, bringing them out into the full glare of the sun again. ‘Come on, I’ve been cooped up in an office all day, humour me!’
‘And I’ve been shut up in a bookshop and – argh!’
He had no choice but to break into an awkward jog. She had started running, but kept an iron grip on his wrist.
‘What about our stuff?’ he shouted, torn between shaking her off and trying to race her.
‘We’ll be fine!’
‘Not if you’re so hell-bent on-’
His sentence was cut short as Astoria stopped abruptly near one of the gnarled trees. Caught unawares, he staggered forward, saw what looked like the sky where his feet should be, and then ended up sprawled on the floor in a rather ungainly manner, Astoria’s breathless laughter in his ear.
‘Never again,’ he muttered, staring up at the branches above.
‘Live a little,’ she murmured back.
‘Don’t make me climb a tree, please.’
‘There are better ways to spend time together,’ she whispered, lowering her head to his. The branches and the sky above vanished. She kissed him, and in spite of the tree root that dug into his back and the fact that she’d kissed him countless times before, he still felt a little lift in his stomach.
‘When we get home,’ she said, running the collar of his shirt between her fingers. ‘I’m going to take this off and-’
A polite cough interrupted her. The two of them turned. A couple and their two children stood a little to the left, expressions a mix of disgust and amusement.
‘…hello.’ Astoria said. The family hurried off, evidently embarrassed. As soon as they vanished out of sight, both Draco and Astoria burst out laughing, unable to suppress it any longer.
‘That was well timed,’ she said, helping him up. A businessman emerged on a path a little further away; Astoria self-consciously rearranged her skirt and brushed leaves and loose mud from her tights.
(A week earlier, he’d told Blaise that one thing he loved about Astoria was her sense of humour. Two months later he could barely say her name.)
‘People seem intent on disrupting our time together.’
‘Maybe we just pick bad places,’ he said, dusting down his jacket.
‘Yeah…time for another drink?’
Hands clasped together, they made their way back across the clearing, unable to hide their sun-bright smiles.
Sorry for the long wait on this chapter! Hopefully it's a little happier than the others, but I must warn you that chapter six is a bit of a Mount Everest of angst and misery in comparison. The character of Draco is just made for tortuous angst (:
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