Friday dawned cold and wet, a stark contrast to the summer weather London had recently been experiencing. I woke up far later than I’d planned to, frantically racing to send on owl to Vine with my latest submission. He’d told me earlier in the week that if he didn’t receive something from me by three on Friday, he’d be mad. Hence, waking up at one in the afternoon warranted a little bit of stress.
Terry’s words from the night before still puzzled me. I couldn’t fathom how he’d thought it appropriate to barge into my house unannounced. Obviously he had strong misgivings about the Malfoys, but that seemed to be taking it too far.
I knew I wouldn’t get any more information out of Terry himself, and I had no intention of going anywhere near him, so I settled on asking Draco at the gathering tomorrow evening.
I sent my chapter to Vine with a strange sense of relief. After that chapter, I only had one left to write, and the author’s note at the beginning of the book. It was nearly finished, the project I’d been working on for so long. Hopefully I’d get enough money from this to be able to, well, afford food and move into a decent place, but also to write things that I wanted to write. As much as I loved writing about the underappreciated heroes of the war, it wasn’t my passion.
Over the past week, the threads of a story had been building in my mind. Dreaming of eighteenth century balls was only the beginning of it. Yet, I couldn’t let myself work on it until I’d finish this book. It was frustrating.
Friday afternoon and evening I devoted to cleaning. I’d always hated cleaning, but my house had gotten to the point where it was absolutely necessary. It occurred to me that lately I’d been doing a lot of things that were out of the ordinary for me – writing on schedule, shopping, visiting my family, attending society functions, cleaning. It was unlikely, but I could, perhaps, be maturing.
Either that or it was simply an odd week, and things would return to normal once I’d finished the book. That was more likely.
It was eleven at night when I finished, and I must say, I was rather proud of myself. I’d found three quills I hadn’t seen for at least a year in the kitchen, discovered that I actually had a lot more plates and bowls that I’d thought, and returned the colour of the carpet to its original shade of cream. A rather successful evening.
For once, I had a good night’s sleep, waking up on Saturday feeling refreshed, the usual longing for caffeine somewhat subdued. It’s amazing what a solid ten hours sleep can do.
I headed over to Daphne’s in the late afternoon, taking with me a pile of clothes. She’d instructed me to report to her for outfit decisions, and I was following through. For some reason, I was slightly nervous about tonight. I couldn’t exactly explain it, but a part of me wanted to look good, for Draco.
I would never, ever, admit that out loud. I couldn’t even explain it to myself, let alone justify it to anyone else. I wanted his approval, for some insane reason.
The process of choosing clothes was a long one. I wasn’t particularly a fan of dresses (or the extra work required to wear one, beauty is pain and all that), yet Daphne insisted on one that we’d found the other day on our shopping excursion.
It didn’t have a floral pattern or lace, it wasn’t a ballroom gown, and it was short whilst still retaining my modesty. I flat out refused to wear heels, much to Daphne’s disappointment. She did, however, gain a small victory in the makeup department, as I allowed her to take charge there.
Finally, we were ready, and it was time to head to Malfoy Manor.
Malfoy Manor was just as imposing as it had been the last time I’d visited. In the evening light, the shadows of the manor were magnified, the hedges towering above us as Daphne, Father and I headed up the gravel pathway.
The doors, like last time, swung open as we approached, and I could see Draco standing, ready to welcome us. The sight of him surprised me – I half expected to be greeted with the empty entrance hall, like last time. Apparently this ‘gathering’ warranted a proper greeting that hadn’t been necessary for my interview with Narcissa.
“Welcome.” Draco said, a rare smile gracing his face.
I couldn’t help but gape at his relatively warm greeting, earning myself a subtle nudge in the back from Daphne.
“Can I help you with your coat?”
I nodded mutely, standing still with shock as Draco proceeded to help me out of my coat, sending it over to the coat rack with his wand, before doing the same to my sister and father.
“Mother and father are through there.” Draco said once that was all finished, directing us to a set of double doors on the right.
I smiled awkwardly at him, before heading off in the direction he’d pointed. This was just the beginning of the evening, and already it was full of discomfort. This would be a disaster, I could just tell. There was a reason I never attended these sorts of things.
Though, on that note, Draco hardly ever attended them either.
“What was that about?” Daphne whispered in my ear as we walked away.
“I don’t know!” I whispered back, frustrated.
“He’s watching us, no, watching you walk away.” She said quietly, after subtly looking over her shoulder.
Typical Daphne, always looking for something to gossip about.
“Don’t look at me like that!” I said, glaring at her as she raised an eyebrow at me.
“I don’t know why he’s doing that. Just ignore him.” I said finally.
The room we were directed to turned out to be a living room of sorts complete with finger food and beverages. Lucius and Narcissa were present, Narcissa seated on a couch, makeup covering her pale complexion.
A few other people were there, but no one who particularly stood out to me. Most of the guests were older, friends of Lucius and Narcissa, I supposed. A few men in Muggle suits were also there, who I presumed were business associates of Draco’s.
An hour passed with nothing but polite chit-chat. Draco didn’t approach us, and I only talked to Daphne whilst Father socialised with the older crowd. I did catch Draco’s eye on my several times, but steadfastly ignored it. Daphne didn’t comment on it, but I was sure she’d noticed.
She was quick to pick up on these things, and I was expecting a thorough grilling on it the minute we left the manor.
Everything changed, however, just before dinner was due to be served. The door to the room was thrown open dramatically, revealing a short, pug-nosed girl in a moss-green dress that she clearly intended to show off her figure, but, unfortunately, it had the opposite effect.
Pansy Parkinson had, to her credit, grown up since Hogwarts. She still couldn’t exactly be classified as beautiful, but she had a striking image, one not easily forgotten. Her attitude, however, seemed to be much the same.
“Draco!” She squealed, practically launching herself on Draco, embracing him in a hug.
He stood still, refusing to show her any affection whatsoever.
“Last I heard, he dumped her. Wonder what she wants with him, appearing like this tonight. She mustn’t have been invited.” Daphne whispered excitedly, her eyes alight with the possibility of a scandal, or at least some juicy knowledge on a relationship.
“Pansy.” Lucius eventually interjected, breaking the silence.
Draco stood stiffly, watching coldly as his father greeted his ex-girlfriend. It was clear that Lucius approved of Pansy. As far as I could tell, he approved of anyone who was of what he considered to be a good family. However, the discussion I’d overheard between Draco and Lucius had made one thing clear – Draco didn’t listen to his father’s advice when it came to relationships, nor should he, in my opinion.
Lucius would never force him into anything, but he hinted at it. Many of the pureblood families wanted to preserve the ‘bloodline’. I was just thankful that my father wasn’t that narrow-minded.
The seating for dinner proved to be problematic. Pansy seated herself near the head of the table, obviously intending on being close to Draco. Draco, however, waited for her to be seated before taking his place down the other end, as far away as possible. Daphne didn’t hesitate to take the seat near the head of the table that had been intended for Draco, leaving me with only one option.
It was, of course, the seat next to Draco. It’s funny how these things seem to happen. I felt, walking over and sitting down, like a heroine in a Victorian era romance novel. It was such a bizarre and almost clichéd set of circumstances. I ran into Draco in the oddest places, and just, by chance, happened to be seated next to him for dinner.
Tabby would probably say it was fate. Reno would just scoff. I, as always, was somewhere in between. Where exactly my opinion lay, I wasn’t sure.
“Are you enjoying the chicken?”
I breathed deeply before replying to Mrs. Gamp on my left.
“It’s wonderful.” I said through gritted teeth, taking a generous sip of my wine.
Draco, on my other side, smirked slightly. I couldn’t help but glare at him. Daphne, far down the table, sent me a questioning glare, catching the exchange. My only response was to roll my eyes at her.
Subtly, of course. This was a civilized dinner, after all.
“Do you not like to talk whilst you eat, Miss Greengrass?” Draco said quietly, not looking up from his plate.
I snuck a glance sideways at him, but he looked impassive.
“Conversation detracts from the food, does it not? It certainly prevents you from using your mouth to eat.” I replied, just as quietly.
“And here I was, thinking a polite dinner conversation was customary.” He replied with a smile, wide enough that I caught it in the corner of my eye.
“Well, Mr Malfoy, if you think conversation is mandatory, what would you have us discuss? Politics, gossip, the weather?”
“I think the topic of conversation should present itself naturally, don’t you? After all, would you not call this, what we’re having, a conversation? And has it not just presented itself, without our doing anything?” He reasoned calmly.
I smiled slightly at that.
“Well, Mr Malfoy, I’m glad you shared that insightful piece of information with me.” I retorted, unable to think of anything more intelligent to say.
We ate in silence from then on, but it was a comfortable one. That small bit of interaction, those few words he’d said to me, had been enlightening. It was hardly a thrilling discussion, but it had brought a smile to my face, a true smile. I snuck another glance at him through my hair, as childish as it was.
I couldn’t understand him at all. He didn’t talk most of the time, yet decided to strike up a conversation about the importance of conversing. Obviously he wanted to talk to me, or else he wouldn’t have bothered.
Dinner finished without anything else remarkable occurring, apart from a few scathing looks from Pansy. Apparently she’d noticed the brief interaction between Draco and me. The group split up, the older members heading off for a cigar or a whisky, or whatever it was that they did. Draco’s business friends, Pansy, Daphne and I remained.
Draco quickly escaped, no doubt wanting to avoid Pansy. Daphne saw him disappear, and cast a long glance at me. I knew her well enough to understand that she wanted me to follow him, probably to attain gossip, but I found it fishy. Why on earth she couldn’t follow him herself was beyond me, but I didn’t complain as she engaged Pansy in a conversation, sufficiently distracting her from Draco for the meantime.
I headed out in pursuit of Draco, finding him outside, leaning against the wall beside the front door. I surveyed him for a moment before speaking my mind.
“Why did you invite me tonight?”
He turned sharply, his eyes piercing mine.
“I don’t know.” He said, his eyes widening as if he was surprised at the response, at his own honesty.
“Well, why is Pansy here?” I tried again.
“Pansy,” He started, pushing off the war so that he was standing upright, facing me, “invited herself. My father let her stay. She is, after all, a close friend of the family. Nothing more.”
The sour look on his face deterred me from taking that particular topic further. Apparently he detested Pansy as much as I did.
I have a terrible habit of blurting out things when a moment gets awkward, or when I’m nervous. I shouldn’t have been surprised at what came out of my mouth. I should have expected it.
“Terry Boot told me to leave your family out of my book.” I said without thinking.
Draco’s face immediately darkened, and I flinched, wishing I could take it back.
“And you agree with him?” He said, his eyes flashing.
“No!” I protested, shaking my head.
“I defended you! Terry, well, obviously he has issues with you, and Merlin knows, some of the stuff he said is true, but-"
Draco cut me off, his voice rising in anger.
“What? What did he say, Astoria?” He took a step forward, I could see my reflection in his eyes.
“It – it was about your behaviour at Hogwarts. You’ll never live that down, you know that.” I said, my voice low, but equally fuelled with anger.
I wasn’t sure why I was so quick to anger tonight. Draco, apparently, irritated me like no one else.
“He has no right. I’ve changed since then, surely you know that.” His voice dropped, his eyes meeting mine.
“Boot’s had issues with me for a long time, Astoria. I wouldn’t take anything he says at face value. I may not be perfect, everyone knows that, but, I swear he isn’t either. He warned you against me, you say?”
I nodded, sensible enough to stay quiet.
“Well, you’ve got it wrong. He’s the one you should watch for. He’s gone downhill since Hogwarts. He wanted Pansy, I’m fairly sure they were involved before I broke up with her. Merlin knows why anyone would ever want to be in a relationship with her, but he did."
He paused momentarily, the only sound the distant chatter of the guests, the tension in the air around us palpable.
"He’s lost his family finances; he doesn’t have anything to stand on anymore. He’s the one you shouldn’t feature. He saved those two lives, yes, but he’s been an idiot since. I’ve tried to reform. He hasn’t.”
He breathed deeply, the anger clear on his face.
“How do I know that’s the truth?” I said finally.
He gazed at me sharply; I could see the hurt my question had caused him.
“I hardly know you, Draco, just as you hardly know me. Why should I trust you?”
He didn’t respond, nor did I expect him too. I darted inside, grabbed my coat and promptly apparated out of there. Daphne and my father would find their way home without me – they probably wouldn’t miss me at all.
I headed home to my paper and quill, preparing to deal with the emotional backlash in the only way I knew how.
I was going to write.
Firstly, a massive thank you to everyone who's favourited/reviewed this story, they really bring a smile to my face! I'm continually surprised at the response to this story that I was, initially, not very engaged in (I love writing it and Astoria now, though, she's a very demanding character, haha).
Also, a shout out to raisha, who nominated this for a Dobby. You have no idea how happy that made me, I have a huge grin on my face thinking about it now!