Maybe it was just a quick walk. Maybe it was a breath of fresh air.
Maybe it was his way of running, his way of showing people that he wasn’t the same, that he was bitter and tired of the hate, that he’d lived his whole life in an endless pool of resentment and all he wanted was a smile or maybe a passing nod, or maybe even a slight flicker of the eyes, that it was okay, that all was forgiven.
He was exhausted. What was the point, really, of living this half-life, this spiral of shame and guilt? He didn’t think there was a point – none of it mattered, he wanted to scream, damn it, none of it matters, you all are going to die anyway! And all you’ll be is a decayed remain of someone once upon a time, a vague memory, a half-remembered dream.
That’s all he was. Nobody. Forgotten. He meant nothing. None of it was worth anything. Outside of this bubble of existence, there was nothing except the endless unknown, the deep vast space of nothingness.
But then he looked at how people were building back up from the ashes – how his old school became magnificent again, how Potter married Weaslette, how Granger married her Ginger, how they were happy, and oh Merlin – he hated knowing that he was the only one left behind. He was the in-between, the not here and not there, the undecided character who suffered the consequences from both sides because his whole life he’d been taught to be bad and all he really wanted to be was good.
So he was a maybe.
She’d always thought he was sort of beautiful – in that broody, ‘oh-I’m-so-misunderstood’ kind of way. He was the kind of person who would hold the door open for you and then scowl as you stepped in, as though he couldn’t believe he’d done something nice. And then as you walked away, peeking slightly behind your back for another look, he would look remorsefully at the floor, as if he was wondering why he’d been nice and mean at the same time.
She wondered when he would become all-nice.
Because he would, she was sure of it.
He was a good person.
She saw it in his eyes, in the way he always – always – held the door open for whoever was walking behind him, even if it so happened to be a long line of witches and wizards, in the way he had stooped gracefully to the ground and helped Ginny Potter pick up her papers after she had dropped them, in the way he always tipped just a bit extra to the waitress at the Leaky Cauldron because her son had gotten ill and was at St. Mungo’s.
She wasn’t sure if he wanted anyone to notice.
But she did.
And she wondered why no one else did, why none of the witches or wizards spared him a second glance, why Ginny Potter had merely muttered a rushed ‘thank you, Malfoy’ and flustered off, why that waitress didn’t even smile when she knew he was giving her extra.
She wondered if they realized that they were doing the exact same thing that they had fought against for such a long time.
She wondered when it was going to stop.
He’d known long ago that life wasn’t fair.
But lately, he was wondering if it just wasn’t being fair when it came to him.
Yeah, he’d done a lot of stupid things – he could write a book on the stupid things he’d done, starting with the very first time he pissed Potter off and ending with the time he stood by and let a classmate get tortured by his own aunt – but didn’t everyone deserve a second chance?
It wasn’t easy – no one ever said it was going to be. People struggled, and he knew that. The world was just starting to get back on its feet. They were taking baby steps to start up the future again. Small, but sure. Some days it was harder than others, he could see it in the way Granger (Weasley, whatever) pressed her hands against her face and sighed as she wrote new bills, the way Potter looked stressed all of the time, the way Weasley worked hours on end just to set things right.
But they were doing it. They were picking themselves up from the rubble that remained of their past lives and they were building.
He was left behind, given odd glances and hesitant questions because no one quite knew how to deal with this ambiguous person. And he really, really hated it. He wished he could stand up on a table in the Ministry Cafeteria and scream that he wasn’t blind and deaf or made of glass and that people could talk to him without bursting into flame or worrying that he’d shatter into a million pieces.
But he never did.
He was a Slytherin, after all.
You don’t wait for life to happen – you make it happen. She’d always firmly believed in that, but there was still something holding her back from going up and talking to him. Maybe it was the haunted look in his eyes or the way he gave off the aura of not wanting anything to do with anyone.
She watched him, all the time. Once she caught him smiling – it was the strangest expression on his face, transforming every line until he was radiant and it very nearly knocked her right over – and she glanced around furtively, to see if anyone else had noticed.
No one did.
She thought that maybe if they tried, they could find something there, something she discovered in the flicker of his expression one day.
And that’s why she did it.
“Do you mind if I sit here?”
He look up, startled. For a second she could read every emotion of surprise flitting through his eyes, but it was gone, covered up by a mask of polite indifference that she hated right away.
“Of course,” he replied quietly, ducking his head back down to his book as he scooped up another bit of pasta into his mouth. She sat down hesitantly, wondering when she’d become such a Gryffindor and deciding she rather liked it after all.
“I’m Astoria Greengrass,” she ventured. His head snapped up so fast she was surprised he didn’t get whiplash.
“Draco Malfoy,” he finally said, sounding genuinely puzzled.
But she just smiled, hoping he didn’t notice her discomfort. “It’s nice to meet you.”
He’d abandoned his book completely, and his fork lay limply in his hand as he outright stared at her.
“You do know who I am, right?” he finally asked.
“Of course I do,” she answered flippantly. “You’re Draco Malfoy.” Then she shot him the most dazzling smile she could muster, and he blinked. He thought he was rather handsome when he looked clueless.
When he didn’t say anything, she just pulled out her own lunch and started eating as though she was completely at ease.
He turned back to his book.
But that was okay.
He was not the kind of person that beautiful women came up and starting talking to.
Maybe, once upon a time…but even then, it was only Parkinson, and she wasn’t what he considered beautiful. She was just…Pansy. His mate.
Currently living in Italy – unable to face the world. She’d run away. He closed his eyes and breathed out deeply through his nose, pressing his hands against his forehead.
It was probably like a breath of fresh air, he mused, just dropping all of your problems and stealing away to a small corner of the world where no one knows you and you have the blissful chance of starting completely over. But Draco…he’d run away his entire life. He’d known it was going to be difficult, but he’d also known that he had to stay. He was tired of running. The problems always came back to haunt him.
He’d half wanted to ask Astoria Greengrass if she was lost when she sat down across from him, offering her name with a smile. He was shocked when he replied with his and nothing flashed through her eyes except for a warm sort of friendliness.
She was probably crazy, he decided, picking up his quill again.
She sat with him at lunch every day that week, drawing a lot of weird looks. It made her absolutely giddy.
He probably thought she was insane – she’d seen it in his expression when he looked up at her the next day as she approached his table again – but she found she didn’t really mind. She was going to break through that shell that had trapped Draco Malfoy and pull him out of the past.
She talked about anything that came to mind. He didn’t say much, just sat there and listened to her prattle on and on in a fashion that would probably make her mother faint if she ever saw such unladylike conduct from her perfect pureblood princess.
But she just didn’t care.
On Wednesday he came to lunch without his book.
On Thursday he greeted her with a tentative “hello” when she sat down.
On Friday he smiled slightly at her.
She still had to get him to talk, but that would happen, too.
“Hey,” she said suddenly, one Friday at lunch. She’d been sitting at his table for two weeks now. He didn’t quite know what to do with her – most girls either fawned over him, hated him, or were afraid of him and this was just alien – so he sat in relative silence and tried not to show how much her stories amused him. She was that breath of fresh air he’d so desperately craved. He was starting to get addicted, which was very dangerous.
“I’m going to Hogwarts tomorrow, to help with the rebuilding,” she continued, her eyes lighting up with the pleasure of being presented a challenge. “Will you be there?”
He shrugged, and she gave him a pleading sort of glance, which she quickly pretended never happened.
He almost wanted to laugh. He couldn’t remember that last time he’d really, genuinely laughed. It must have been third year. Or fourth.
Merlin, that’s sad.
“I’ll come,” he finally said, and she beamed.
He swallowed and glanced down at his plate again.
Very dangerous, indeed.
Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Neville Longbottom were giving instructions when he arrived, Astoria plucking at his sleeve and giving him a small smile when he let out a little breath. The last time he’d been here, there was a full-fledged battle raging around them. He could still see the flashes of light behind his eyelids, the breath of the fire at his heels, the sharp pain in his nose after Weasley had punched him.
Right now the silence was almost eerie. Everything was too serene. Every muscle in his body was tensed, waiting for something to go wrong.
“Relax,” Astoria breathed in his ear. He could feel the heat of her breath against his neck. That didn’t help in the slightest.
There were very few people actually there, and he was surprised no one had picked up on his presence yet. Astoria was like a buffer. With her, he wasn’t such an outcast anymore.
His relief was short-lived, however, when he saw that Lovegood was looking very intently at him. He blinked, perturbed by her stare. She didn’t seem belligerent, or even confused. She was just looking. He shifted nervously. Those eyes could see through everything, and he didn’t know if he had anything in him that was worth seeing. He was too scared to try – what if all he could find was thing after thing to be ashamed of?
Then Lovegood did the unthinkable. Picking carefully through the rubble, she walked right over to him, stopping in front of him with a cheery, “Hi, Draco!”
All chatter ceased.
Astoria tapped her fingers gently against the back of his hand, reminding him that he wasn’t here alone.
“Lovegood,” he finally said quietly.
She laughed gently. “Call me Luna, please. I never got to thank you.”
His mouth ran dry. Please stop talking, please stop talking. “Uh –”
“It must have been terrifying, risking your own neck right under everyone’s noses just to get me food every day,” she said conversationally, her voice carrying around the entire establishment. He wondered why she didn’t just throw up an advertisement in the Prophet and be done with it.
“And I really appreciate it,” she continued, “you kept me and Mr. Ollivander alive all those months.”
He couldn’t bring himself to say anything. He nodded shortly, hoping he wasn’t blushing and that she’d walk away now.
“I also wanted to thank you for showing me how to conquer the Cruciatus,” her voice took on a vaguely dreamy quality and he realized with a jolt that this was the most lucid he’d ever heard her, “you were smart to use Occlumency.”
And then she stepped up and hugged him.
His eyes bugged out unattractively as he stood stiffly, praying to everything that she’d let go and everyone would stop staring like he’d just sprouted eight heads.
“The pain,” she said quietly when she finally pulled away, “it’s all in your head, Draco. It might be powerful, but that doesn’t make it invincible.”
He nodded again his mouth strangely dry, and with a blinding smile and wave, she skipped away.
It was Granger who finally snapped out of it. She stepped up next, giving Astoria a warm friendly smile and looking up at him carefully.
“The East Wall,” she finally said, “we're putting it back together. I was just headed that way with Harry. We’ll need some help.”
And they started rebuilding. This time, together.
It might be powerful, but that doesn’t make it invincible.
He supposed she was right. Nothing was invincible.
Going with Draco to the build had been…enlightening. She was shocked at what Lovegood had revealed about him, but it finally made sense, how firmly she’d testified in his favor.
He was good, she thought happily as he nodded back to Potter.
“Thanks for coming on Saturday,” she finally ventured.
Draco gave her a puzzled look. “I love Hogwarts too,” he said simply.
She swallowed. Conversation just seemed too hard today – she kept double-guessing what she was going to say to him, wondering how he’d take it. With a jolt she realized he made her nervous. She rubbed her sweaty palms on her skirt. Well, this certainly changed things.
“I remember you,” she finally blurted, “from Hogwarts.”
Draco looked at her, his head tilted slightly. “Yeah?”
“Yeah. You were a third year when I started,” she pushed her peas around her plate. “I thought you were a bit of a git, actually.”
There was a short silence, and she cursed herself repeatedly for not knowing when to shut her mouth.
Then suddenly –
“Just a bit?”
Her head snapped up, her mouth dropping open slightly when she realized that he was smiling teasingly. She blinked rapidly for a couple of seconds to regain her bearings.
“Actually, you were a huge git,” she finally blurted.
He chuckled. He chuckled. Oh Merlin, his laugh was beautiful.
“I wish I’d known you in Hogwarts,” he said warmly, “I definitely needed to hear that.”
This time her recovery period was much shorter.
“I dunno, I’d get tired of telling you,” she shot back with a smile of her own.
“Nah,” he shook his head, “Granger set me right towards the end of the year. Punched me across the face.” He looked almost appreciative before chuckling again. “Maybe it’s a good thing you didn’t know me, I’d have a permanently broken nose.”
“Mr. Malfoy,” she said, scandalized, “you underestimate me. I know quite a collection of very formidable hexes.”
“My apologies,” he bent his head, “I wouldn’t want to incur your wrath.”
“I don’t think you could,” she said honestly, holding her breath for his reaction.
He looked stunned, for a second, and she almost opened her mouth to say something else, change the meaning to something much safer.
But then, he smiled.
“I’m glad,” he finally said quietly.
Her heart was beating furiously in her chest. It seemed as though he’d incurred something entirely different altogether.
They started meeting outside of work. Purely accidental of course. He’d run into her at a bookstore and they’d get coffee. She’d spot him at Quality Quidditch Supplies (having a mock staredown with Potter over the latest broom, though both would vehemently protest that it was quite real, thank you very much) and they’d go out to dinner. She’d stop by his flat and they’d talk for hours on the sofa about nothing and everything.
It wasn’t until she kissed him on the cheek before she left for home one evening did he realize that he’d practically been dating Astoria Greengrass for two months and neither of them had noticed.
And that was just not what happened with a woman like Astoria Greengrass. A woman like Astoria Greengrass had men queuing up at the door to date her, and instead she was here, almost dating him.
He was going to eliminate that almost altogether, he decided. Hell if anyone else was going to steal away his breath of fresh air.
Whatever was happening with Draco… well, she wasn’t going to complain. It took her two weeks to get him to smile at her. She figured that the guy was a bit slow with emotions and she didn’t really mind, anyway. She had never walked up to him expecting to fall in love.
Then again, love isn’t something you can come to expect. It creeps up on you, and you’re falling before you even notice, right when it’s too late to turn back.
They were attempting to bake a cake the muggle way – flour all down her neck and his hair looking as though he’d had a very bad case of dandruff – when Draco, still grinning (and still taking her breath away, the prat) said very suddenly, “I think we should go on a real date.”
She froze. “A real date?”
He nodded, looking comfortable for the first time around her.
So, naturally, she decided to mess with him a bit.
“I…I thought we were already dating,” she whimpered in a small voice. He stopped stirring, looking up at her with a horrified expression on his face.
“I never – I never asked and you never said yes, so –”
“What have we been doing all these weeks then?” she demanded, putting her hands on her hips and letting her bottom lip quiver a bit. “Has anything else been completely fake too, Draco? I’ve been living a lie! How could you do this to me?”
He looked half-terrified of her.
“Er – um. Astoria, I really didn’t know –”
She burst out into a peal of laughter, no longer able to help herself. His mouth opened and closed wordlessly – he looked so lost, with flour all over his face and a bit of frosting on the corner of his mouth when he’d stolen a handful before she could get to him. She’d finally come to the day when Draco Malfoy was synonymous with the idea of adorable.
If she told anyone they’d probably chuck her in the mental bin.
“You should have seen your face!” she said gleefully, “that was priceless.”
Understanding dawned on his features.
“You…you just out-Slytherined me!” he exclaimed.
She nodded, an evil smirk on her face.
“…that’s it. Say your prayers, woman.”
She let out a squeal and tried running away, but he caught her around the waist and smacked a handful of cake mix into her face. She twisted around and rubbed it all over his neck, then stopped just short of his lips.
“You’ve got a bit of frosting right there,” she murmured.
“Could you get it for me, love?”
Then with the infamous Malfoy smirk so conspicuously lacking from his repertoire of expressions plastered firmly across his face, he leaned down and kissed her.
And that’s when she realized she’d tumbled right off the edge months ago without even knowing.
She made him want to be. She made him want to get up in the morning and face the world. She made him want to smile and laugh. And when she was around – the rules just disappeared. He could be Draco with no restrictions, and it was incredible.
They’d been dating a total of four months when she finally saw it. He’d forgotten to hide it that morning, used to the full-sleeved shirts he wore to provide a shield between the mark and prying eyes. They were just sitting there, lazy silence strumming around them, Astoria playing with his fingers. She undid the button, rolled up the sleeve, and he snapped away, covering the mark with his hand, his eyes wild with shame.
“Shh,” she murmured, pulling him back, “let me see it.”
“No – Astoria –”
She pressed her lips against his and uncovered the mark. He closed his eyes when she looked down, afraid of seeing the revulsion on her face. Then he felt her finger on his forearm. She was…she was tracing it. Caressing the mark with her gentle love, destroying the remains of hate on his arm.
“Don’t be ashamed,” she said quietly.
He swallowed, holding her eyes in his. “How can I not be?”
“You’re defined by the things you do and say, Draco,” she responded, “And you know, maybe you have made some mistakes in the past, but that doesn’t mean you’re stuck with one label your whole life.”
“Everyone else thinks so,” he blurted.
She smiled, and he was pretty sure this was love.
“Prove them wrong, then.”
Then she kissed the dark mark on his arm and for the first time in a very long time, things were good.
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