Chapter 9 : Turning the Corner
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Draco set down his quill on the table in front of him and flexed the stiff fingers of his right hand. He noticed that the bright sun pouring through the high windows of the Hogwarts Library hadn’t quite reached the spot where the back of his chair rested against the polished wooden floor. The days were growing longer as the end of the term rapidly approached, but it made little difference to Draco. N.E.W.T.s. were a scant three weeks away and not even the majestic beauty of a spring day in the Scottish highlands could lure him away from his revision.
As he stretched his wrists, it dawned on Draco that he’d become very single-minded about his studies. Thinking about it for a moment, he couldn’t pinpoint any single moment that sparked the change in his approach. It was the end product of a series of events, each of which had played a role. He thought back to the day it all started, his drunken encounter with Astoria in Diagon Alley, and a smile crept across his thin lips. She had given him something to hope for, a reason to push himself once again.
Truthfully, Mr. Greengrass’s hostile reaction had also been an important factor in Draco’s transformation. The simmering resentment in the man’s dark eyes had driven home the truth in a way that no lecture from his parents ever could. Nobody who mattered cared about Draco’s money or the Malfoy name any longer. He had no choice but to build a new family legacy out of the ashes of the Second Wizarding War. And apart from whatever help his mother could offer, he was going to have to do it on his own. The days of relying on his father’s influence were a distant memory.
His father. There was the final piece of the puzzle. A major factor contributing to Draco’s relentless hours of revision was the fact that he could no longer stand the sight of the old man. After his deeply unsettling conversation with Zabini, Gamp and Flint, Draco had tried to speak with his father. He had really and truly tried to keep calm and explain the danger to old Lucius without raising his voice or unleashing the venomous barbs that always seemed to be on the tip of his tongue whenever they found themselves in the same room. For a few minutes, it felt as though he might even succeed.
Then the old man became angry. He accused Draco of patronizing him, insulting his intelligence and trying to undermine his authority over the family. It didn’t take very much of his father’s abuse before Draco snapped back at Lucius, hard. He made it clear exactly what he thought of his father’s intelligence and authority, as well as his decision-making abilities, his mental health and the poorly-cast charm that the old man tried to use to conceal his receding hairline. By the end of the night, Lucius was storming around the manor, terrorizing the elves and having shouting matches with the portraits on the walls while Draco warded his private chambers and drank himself into a stupor.
Since that day, Draco had made a point of avoiding his father entirely. He rose with the sun each morning and had the elves bring his breakfast to his chambers. Once he was dressed, he used the servant’s staircase to exit the manor and apparated directly to Hogsmeade. On days when his lessons ended early, he would sit in the Library and quietly revise until the bell rang ending the final class period. He had become a suppertime regular at the little cafe in Derbyshire, to the point where his sense of honor had compelled him to finally send an elf to Gringotts and acquire actual muggle currency. As it turned out, the chatty waitress with the piercings and alarming hair was named Adeline -- Ada for short. She eventually asked his name, and though he was initially reluctant to tell her, he was surprised to find that he enjoyed hearing somebody say it without any trace of malice or disgust in their voice.
Draco shook off his moment of contemplation and turned his attention back to the Charms text lying in front of him. Even with his tireless revision schedule, it had become apparent that a certain amount of academic triage was in order. Half a school year simply wasn’t enough time to adequately prepare for all of the N.E.W.T.s he’d be sitting. Instead of earning mediocre marks across the board, he focused his revision intensely on Potions, Charms and Transfiguration. Draco had an actual talent for Potions, and with a bit of extra help from old Flitwick, he had managed to pull his Charms work back up to the standards of a normal Seventh Year student. His mother had been able to help him somewhat with the practical aspects of Transfiguration, although he didn’t expect to do well on the written exam. He’d given up on Herbology weeks ago and he planned fail the Muggle Studies exam spectacularly as a matter of general principle.
Just as he was completing a page of notes on charming furniture to rearrange itself, the final bell rang. Reluctantly, he began to gather up his things and stuff them into his bag. Draco recalled Ada telling him that the cafe would be serving elderberry pie on this particular day, and he allowed himself a small smile. There were one or two things in the muggle world that weren’t filthy or inferior, although Draco planned to keep that knowledge to himself.
Madam Pince was waiting for him by the double doors leading to the corridor, looking as though she’d swallowed something unpleasant. It was the same look she always wore when it fell to her to escort him out of the castle. Any number of insults popped into Draco’s mind, but he squelched them all. There was no point risking an incident, not when he was so close to saying farewell to this godforsaken place forever. She nodded stiffly in his direction without making eye contact and pushed one of the doors open. Draco returned the frosty gesture of acknowledgment as he slung his bag over his shoulder and stepped out of the library.
Just as he was starting to make his way down the fourth floor corridor, the sound of his name brought him to a halt.
“Mr. Malfoy, a word with you if I may.”
The Headmistress’s clear voice rang out from behind him, and he heard the echo of footsteps against the polished stone floor. Draco sighed and turned to face her, reminding himself that he hadn’t done anything wrong. If word of his meeting with Gamp and the others had somehow gotten back to her, he’d deny that it was anything more than a social call. Gamp was about to be married, after all. There was nothing unusual about Draco wishing an old schoolmate well, even if he wasn’t invited to the bloody wedding.
Madam Pince shifted uncomfortably, her eyes flitting back and forth between Draco and Professor McGonagall. The elderly Scot quickly released her from her predicament.
“Please feel free to return to whatever you were doing, Irma. I’ll take responsibility for Mr. Malfoy.”
She didn’t need to tell the Librarian twice. After one last sour look in Draco’s direction, Madam Pince hastily retreated to her books.
Draco waited for the Headmistress to speak, resisting the urge to break the uncomfortable silence that fell over them once the echoes from the library door closing died away. After all of the hostility and mistrust she’d shown him, he was not going to give her the satisfaction of asking what she wanted with him. For her part, McGonagall seemed to be searching for the correct words to begin their conversation. After a moment’s hesitation, she offered him a tense smile and started with what must have seemed like a safe question.
“Are the preparations for your exams coming along well?”
“As well as can be expected, given the limited time and resources I’ve had to prepare.”
Draco was able to keep the irritation out of his voice, but only just. It wasn’t the most polite answer he he could have given her, but it was better than a number of things that crossed his mind. In any case, he wasn’t eager to prolong the conversation, so being a bit terse wasn’t likely to cost him anything.
McGonagall fixed him with one of her probing stares. Her eyes were sharply focused, but not unkind. Finally she responded, not quite looking into his eyes.
“As it happens, your time and resources are precisely what I wished to discuss. I will be frank with you, Mr. Malfoy. When you returned to Hogwarts, my expectations for you were minimal. I doubted that you were serious about completing your studies and I fully expected that you would give up and withdraw once you discovered that I was serious about the limitations I was imposing on you.”
She waited a moment for her words to sink in. Even though it wasn’t anything that Draco hadn’t already guessed, it was still jarring to hear her say it out loud. She didn’t think that he was strong enough to face the hardships life had imposed on him after the war. She had expected him to fail. The irritation he was feeling started to twist into anger. What did she know about hardship? Had she ever stared into the Dark Lord’s eyes, knowing that he would kill everyone she cared about if she failed to please him? Just as Draco’s anger neared the boiling point, McGonagall continued.
“My assumptions proved to be incorrect, however. I may never agree with your actions before and during the war, but your behavior since you returned to Hogwarts has been exemplary. I know from my own class that you have been extremely diligent with your studies and I hear the same from Professor Flitwick. Professor Slughorn often struggles to find enough superlatives to describe your Potions work. It appears that I owe you at least a partial apology.”
Draco was dumbstruck. His anger drained away along with seemingly every other thought in his head. He was vaguely aware that his mouth was hanging open, but his brain seemed unable to initiate the proper corrective action. In spite of every lesson in decorum his parents had drilled into him, a smile tugged at the edges of his lips. It wasn’t lost on McGonagall, who quickly stiffened in response.
“That does not mean that we’re completely finished here, Mr. Malfoy. Professor Sprout tells me that your efforts in Herbology have dwindled sharply since the Easter break and according to Professor Bainbridge you have accepted a zero on, if memory serves me correctly, nineteen consecutive homework assignments in Muggle Studies. Do either of those revelations come as a surprise to you?”
Draco caught himself looking away and stubbing the toe of his boot against the floor. It was humiliating, how a tiny bit of praise from the elderly Headmistress could reduce him to behaving like a wide-eyed First Year. He looked her directly in the eye and answered as honestly as he could.
“I’ve been trying to make the best use of the limited time I have to revise for my N.E.W.T.s, Professor. At this point, I’m focusing all of my efforts on Potions, Charms and Transfiguration because those are the subjects I believe I can excel in. No disrespect to Professor Sprout, but Herbology isn’t as important to me. As far as Muggle Studies, I’m afraid I just don’t have a knack for the subject.”
McGonagall seemed to consider his answer, fixing him with a pensive stare. Then she sighed and responded.
“I suppose it was asking for a great deal to hope that you would open your mind on the subject of muggle culture. I’ll offer you the following bargain. I will release you from your obligation to attend Muggle Studies and inform the Ministry that you won’t be sitting that particular N.E.W.T. exam, provided, however, that you agree to devote that time to your studies of Herbology.”
She leaned a bit closer to him and her face softened ever so slightly.
“Professor Sprout takes considerable pride in the fact that none of her N.E.W.T. students have ever received a T on the exam.”
Draco had no idea how he was going to hold up his end of McGonagall’s bargain. Three weeks to absorb seven years worth of Herbology that he’d barely looked at in the past six months while not allowing his other subjects to slip. It probably wasn’t even possible. Avoiding the misery of listening to that fool Bainbridge yammer about the filthy muggles and their nonsense for two hours each week seemed nearly worth it, however, even if he was setting himself up for certain failure. The Headmistress seemed to sense his reservations and the tone of her voice became more conversational.
“Mr. Malfoy, have you decided what you’re planning to do after you finish your studies?”
Draco started to give her a noncommittal answer, then paused. As long as he was maintaining the ruse of seeking a job inside the Ministry, McGonagall was certainly well-connected with Shacklebolt and the rest of the new leadership. Moreover, he was feeling less certain about what he actually planned to do with his life. Perhaps getting away from his father for a while and living on his own would help to relieve the anger that always seemed to be simmering inside him. Even if he continued to live at Malfoy Manor, a job would at least give him something to do besides watch the old man crumble. Draco tried to answer confidently, but his words didn’t sound quite as firm as he’d intended.
“I was planning on taking a job. Not because I need the gold, mind you. No problems with that. It would just be to gain experience. And to make new connections. Make some new acquaintances and allies, you know. Perhaps I’ll look for something that involves travel, or maybe something inside the Ministry, assuming they’d have me. Such as things are these days, you know.”
He could have sworn that he saw a hint of amusement on the Headmistress’s stern face as he finished his less than concise answer, and he could feel the tips of his ears flush with warmth as irritation crept up the back of his throat. He felt like a fool, stammering out a response to such a simple question. McGonagall quickly stepped in and relieved his embarrassment. She lowered her voice to make sure she wasn’t overheard.
“Just this morning I was contacted by Madam Althea Blishwick from the Ministry of Magic. She has been conducting some very innovative research into a potion to help victims of the Imperius Curse repair the damage inflicted on their memories while they were under its influence. Her work has garnered a lot of attention. Minister Shacklebolt apparently considers it so promising that he’s appointed her to head up a new office dedicated to perfecting and refining potions to help victims of unforgivable curses. She owled me in hopes of finding one or two promising Potions students who could bring fresh perspectives and enthusiasm to the team she’s assembling. When I asked Professor Slughorn, your name was among the first that came up. Do you feel this is something that might interest you?”
A bevvy of thoughts raced through Draco’s mind. As distasteful as it might be to join the hordes of witches and wizards who trudged into the Ministry of Magic each day to earn their meager salaries, the benefits were obvious. His work would directly benefit victims of the war. Shacklebolt, himself, was apparently championing this project. He didn’t know the witch heading it up, but he recognized the name. The Blishwicks were an old, pure blood family. There might even be a chance that...
“She would consider hiring me in spite of my family’s involvement in the war?”
McGonagall maintained her soft volume.
“I taught Madam Blishwick when she was at Hogwarts. I don’t recall that she ever had much use for politics. Althea cares about results. That’s why her career has flourished in spite of the political instability that has plagued the Ministry over the past thirty years. When I mentioned this to Professor Slughorn, he made great fanfare of the fact that she was one of his favorite students. He claims to have arranged her first job interview at the Ministry. I believe we can assume that a good word from him will carry some weight with her. Her owl made it clear, however, that an acceptable N.E.W.T. score in Herbology was essential due to the rare and potentially dangerous ingredients required to brew this potion. With that in mind, do you accept the bargain I’m offering?”
Draco tried to pause for a moment before answering, even though there really was no decision. Whether he managed to get the N.E.W.T.s that he needed or not, he wasn’t going to spend another minute in Muggle Studies.
“It sounds like a very fair offer, Professor. I accept.”
McGonagall offered him a tight smile in response.
“Very well. I’ll inform Professor Bainbridge and make the necessary arrangements with the Ministry.”
Draco waited for her to say something more, but she merely stared at him. After a few seconds, he was beginning to feel uncomfortable. He shifted his weight slightly between his feet, trying to read anything from McGonagall’s expressionless face. Finally, he couldn’t bear the silence any longer.
“Were you planning to escort me out, Professor? I have all of my books and papers.”
The Headmistress stared at him for a moment longer before she spoke. She seemed to deflate ever so slightly, as though she’d arrived at a decision she’d been struggling to make.
“I’ll leave that decision up to you. In light of the respect that you’ve earned from your teachers and even a few of your fellow students, I’ve decided to allow you use of the Library starting at seven o’clock each morning until curfew. From now until the end of the term, you may find your own way into and out of the castle. I believe you’ve earned those privileges, Mr. Malfoy. Kindly refrain from making me regret the trust I’ve placed in you.”
For the second time in ten minutes, Draco found himself struggling for words. McGonagall seemed to sense his difficulty and offered him a small nod, encouraging him to speak.
“You won’t regret your decision, Professor. You have my word on that.”
“Very well. On with your revision, then.”
Draco turned and headed back toward the Library. He looked over his shoulder as he was pulling the heavy, wooden door open and realized that McGonagall was still staring at him. Was she already second-guessing her decision? He paused and looked at her earnestly.
“I appreciate what you’re doing for me, Professor. I realize that most people would say I don’t deserve it.”
The Headmistress allowed her stern expression to ease just a bit.
“Whether you deserved it or not, Draco, life gave you a second chance and you’ve made the most of it. Whatever else I might feel toward you, I can respect that.”
McGonagall walked away toward her office and Draco watched her back until she turned the corner at the end of the corridor. She didn’t treat him in a warm, friendly manner. Her words weren’t filled with admiration as they were when she spoke of Saint Potter and his friends. But she seemed to understand him enough to trust him. For now, that would do.
Draco hurried back to the table near the window, ignoring the shocked expression on Madam Pince’s face. He didn’t bother to tell her anything; she’d find out soon enough. Maybe there would be elderberry pie left at the cafe if he stopped for breakfast in the morning. He pulled his books and papers back out of his bag and sifted through them until he found a crumpled roll of parchment containing Professor Sprout’s N.E.W.T. revision list. Thanking his lucky stars that he hadn’t lost it or tossed it in the bin, he set it aside and took out a clean sheet of parchment and a quill. He had a lot of revising to do, but first there was a very important letter he needed to write.
Astoria walked slowly down the third floor corridor that led to the main stairs. Only half an hour remained before curfew, and the castle was quiet. Most of the students were tucked away in their common rooms, revising for their end of year exams. She felt a sense of relief at being between her O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. years. It allowed her extra time to pursue other interests.
She smiled to herself, feeling the tingle of anticipation spread over her skin. Astoria Greengrass was a very good, very well-behaved student. Not the type to be wandering the corridors so close to curfew. Astoria Greengrass was a proper young lady. Nobody would ever expect to find her lurking in the castle’s dark corners and hidden passages, ducking behind tapestries and peeking around suits of armor.
It wouldn’t be long now. The warmth flushed over her skin and she was certain that she was blushing scarlet. Never in her life had she felt so excited, so alive. Her heart was pounding in her ears, rivaling the noise that her shoes made as the heels tapped against the stone floor. Nothing in her sheltered life had prepared her for this moment. Not the chaste kisses she shared with her past boyfriends, not the trashy romance novels that she secretly borrowed from her mother, not even the giddy, giggling stories that her roommates shared about their own romantic escapades could have given Astoria any hint of the aching eagerness that seemed to electrify every nerve in her body.
In spite of her excitement, some doubts tugged at the edges of her mind. What if he didn’t show up? His owls had become shorter and less frequent due to his punishing revision schedule. Perhaps he’d get so caught up that he’d forget. Or maybe someone would follow him out of the Library and he wouldn’t be able to slip away. Draco still had many enemies inside the castle who would love nothing more than to catch him in some misdeed. Astoria tried to push the doubts out of her mind and focus on the exhilaration of the moment. Of course he would come. He cared enough about her to take the risk, didn’t he?
She felt a little thrill run up her spine as she walked past every statue. Would this be the one? Would she hear the faint whisper of his voice or catch a flash of platinum blonde hair in the shadows? Her vision seemed to narrow as the anticipation continued to build. She passed a richly woven tapestry that depicted a wizard summoning a great storm. Astoria could feel a hint of a presence, like something brushing up against the edge of her awareness. She closed her eyes and reached out with her senses and her magic, feeling, desiring, needing him to be near.
Another tapestry hung opposite the entrance to the Trophy Room. Was he there? She allowed herself to wander slightly, breaking her perfect stride and drawing nearer to the wall. Her knees felt weak as she tilted her head, trying to peer behind the tapestry. Nothing was visible in the darkness. Taking a quick look around, she reached out to lift the tapestry away from the wall. Her heart dropped when she discovered nothing but bare stone behind it. Maybe her doubts were well-placed. Maybe he wasn’t coming.
Astoria never heard a sound before she felt the soft tap of a wand against the top of her head. She spun around, finding nothing. Suddenly, she felt something creeping over her, like cold water being poured very slowly down her back. A touch of fear joined the intoxicating mix of excitement and anticipation coursing through her veins, and she felt the tiny hairs on her arms stand on end. She raised her hand to feel for his presence and just caught sight of her fingernails before they disappeared beneath the shimmering edge of a Disillusionment Charm.
A strong arm wrapped around her trembling shoulders and led her into the Trophy Room. Her breathing became rapid and shallow as her heart hammered away inside her chest. They stopped in a secluded corner beside a shelf full of old Quidditch trophies. She felt him wrap his arms around her and pull her body into him. Warm flesh pressed against her cheek, and the barest whisper reached her ear.
His lips lightly grazed the skin along the line of her jaw before settling onto hers. Astoria slid her hands up his sides until they came to rest just below his shoulders. The kiss deepened as she clung to him with all of her might.
Astoria Greengrass was a perfect pure blood daughter. She didn’t have secret evening encounters with boys in the hidden niches of Hogwarts Castle. She certainly didn’t snog them. And she would never, ever enjoy it.
Astoria was just completing a letter to Draco when she heard the prefects moving through the train, announcing that they were half an hour from King’s Cross Station. She carefully tucked the letter away inside her Arithmancy text and returned the heavy volume to her bag. Once she arrived home, she could loiter by the entrance to the manor and catch a departing owl to have it delivered. It wasn’t without a measure of risk, but she felt fairly sure that the preparations for Daphne’s wedding were reaching a fever pitch. It was unlikely that her mother and father would pay her any mind.
She closed her eyes and let her thoughts drift back to the previous evening. She had met Draco at what she’d come to think of as “their corner” of the Trophy Room just before curfew. He’d arranged a visit with Professor Slughorn on the final day of the term, ostensibly to offer his gratitude for a job interview at the Ministry that the professor had helped him to secure. Once the meeting was over, he simply neglected to leave the castle. The worst that anyone could do, after all, was throw him out.
Under the cover of Draco’s powerful disillusionment charms, the two of them had stolen through the nearly deserted corridors until they reached the seventh floor. He told her to close her eyes, and when she opened them they were standing in front of a door that she could never remember seeing before. It led to a cozy sitting room with a very comfortable settee that was just large enough for the two of them.
They spent a long time simply talking. Draco told her all about his N.E.W.T. exams and she complained about the large amount of summer reading she’d been assigned. Astoria showed him her timetable of Seventh Year N.E.W.T. lessons and he explained the job he was interviewing for. They shared funny stories about their classmates and the foolish antics of the muggles who frequented the little cafe in Derbyshire. Astoria kept catching herself staring into his beautiful grey eyes, losing track of what he was saying. Draco didn’t seem to mind repeating himself.
More than once, she felt as though he was holding back a little. Astoria had hoped that he would open up more about his past. Instead, he talked mostly about the future and all of the things he wanted to share with her. She couldn’t help but feel happy for him. The tormented young man she remembered from the cafe had become so happy and optimistic. Still, she wanted to learn more about his life before they met. She tried several times to gently steer the conversation toward his memories of the war, but he always managed to change the subject or shoot her a look that gave her goosebumps.
Finally, Astoria closed her eyes and took a steadying breath. Draco noticed the change in her demeanor and paused in the middle of telling her the names he was considering for his first son. She had tried to sound matter-of-fact, but her words ended up with more of a pleading tone than she would have liked.
“Draco, why don’t you want to talk about the war?”
The smile fell from his lips and she remembered the haunted look that passed over his eyes as he stared at the ceiling for a moment before answering.
“The war is over. What is there to talk about?”
She hadn’t wanted to hurt him any more. But part of her longed to feel the same connection they had made over tea and pastries in Derbyshire. Astoria had struggled to find the right words to explain it to him.
“I want to talk about you, Draco. I want to know about all the things you had to go through. I want you to help me feel what you felt. When you told me the story about the raid on the house in Hogsmeade, it was terrible and awful and sad, but I learned so much about you. I learned how sensitive you are. How big your heart really is. I’ve never felt so close to you.”
It was a long time before he met her gaze. Astoria recalled the pain in his eyes and the way that she instantly felt horrible for pushing him so hard. She hadn’t been able to stop herself from reaching out and taking his hands into her own, squeezing them gently.
“I’m sorry, Draco. I shouldn’t have. I know how difficult-”
And then suddenly he leaned forward and kissed her and the world melted into a warm, fuzzy blur. Astoria shivered with delight as she recalled the peculiar tingling that spread through her veins and the way her heartbeat throbbed in her ears. She had been completely unprepared for the way that his lips and his fingers and the heat of his breath made her feel. Everywhere he touched her, her body seemed to come alive with delicious new sensations. As Draco slid closer to her, she remembered arching her back and pressing herself into his embrace, craving every bit of contact they were able to create. Her breathing became shallow and uneven as he pressed his lips against the side of her neck and she delighted in the intoxicating feeling of his fingertips dancing lightly over places she had only imagined in-
Astoria’s eyes snapped open and she was momentarily startled to find herself sitting across from Isadore on the Hogwarts Express. She shook herself slightly, trying to regain her composure and disperse the butterflies that seemed to be congregating in her stomach. Isadore lowered her voice and smiled deviously.
“Where were you just now? You were practically glowing.”
“Sorry, I was just drifting off a bit. It’s been a long day and I didn’t sleep well.”
Astoria faked a yawn that turned into a real one after a certain point. When she opened her eyes, Isadore was still fixing her with an eager, probing stare.
“This wouldn’t have anything to do with how you wandered in after midnight last night, would it?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Isadore stared at her incredulously and Astoria responded with her best innocent look, but neither lasted for very long. Both girls quickly erupted into a fit of giggles. Isadore managed to recover first, and her voice fell to a whisper.
“You were with him, weren’t you?”
Astoria looked out the window and fixed an exaggerated thoughtful expression on her face, as though she was pretending to think about her answer. Truthfully, she was thinking hard about her answer. Was there really any harm in letting her best friend know? Astoria had a feeling, a premonition, almost, that the situation with Draco was going to come to a head on or shortly after her seventeenth birthday. It was only two weeks away. How much harm could Isadore do in two weeks that she would be spending with her spinster aunt?
She looked back to Isadore with a twinkle in her eyes and nodded her head ever so slightly. Isadore squealed with glee and practically launched herself across the train compartment, wrapping her arms around Astoria’s neck and eventually settling into the seat next to her. She drew close to Astoria’s ear and whispered excitedly.
“So how was it?”
“How was what?”
Astoria wasn’t quite sure what Isadore was playing at. Then realization dawned on her and she felt her eyes grow to a very unattractive size as her fingers flew reflexively over her lips. Did Isadore really believe that...
“Are you being serious? We had a brilliant evening, but we didn’t do that.”
Isadore looked slightly crestfallen. Then the mischievous sparkle returned to her eyes and she nodded slowly.
“So you’re telling me that you were all alone with a gorgeous boy in some hidden spot in the castle for over three hours and it didn’t happen? Alright, Astoria. If you say so.”
Astoria rolled her eyes and placed her hands on Isadore’s shoulders, resisting the urge to shake some sense into her friend.
“Isadore, you know I’d tell you if it did. The time just wasn’t right. We both agreed that the proper thing to do was to stop at a certain point. Besides, it isn’t like we didn’t do anything. I had... fun. Quite a lot of fun, actually.”
It took a moment for Isadore to process what she was hearing, then she giggled devilishly and pulled Astoria into another hug.
“So did he have as much fun as you did?”
Where Isadore was heading with that question, Astoria could only guess. She thought back to the night before and tried to recall the look on Draco’s face.
“Yes. I mean, I think so. He did look a bit restive when we decided that it was time to stop. But that was as much his decision as mine!”
Astoria wasn’t sure why it seemed so important to emphasize the fact that Draco had been the one to seize her by the shoulders and push the two of them apart. She was certain that it was important, however. If he had wanted more from her, he would have simply allowed things to continue, wouldn’t he? It wasn’t as though she’d been suffering from any excess of self-control at that moment.
Isadore gave her a patent look of disbelief.
“Astoria, you didn’t get him all wound up and then just leave him hanging did you?”
Panic shot through Astoria’s mind as she struggled to recall more about the way Draco had been acting as they left the hidden room on the seventh floor. Had she made a terrible mistake?
“I don’t think so. I mean, he seemed alright. What should I have done?”
Isadore spoke slowly and calmly, as though she was gently correcting the behavior of a small child.
“You have to mind the little wizard, Astoria. If the little wizard isn’t happy then the big wizard isn’t happy, either.”
Astoria’s head was spinning. She felt the train car shudder beneath them as the Hogwarts Express started to brake. King’s Cross was only a few minutes away.
“Mind the little wizard? Isadore, what on earth are you talking about? Just tell me what I need to do!”
Isadore looked almost giddy with excitement as she stood up and started to collect her things.
“Astoria, you and I need to have some very serious girl talk. Floo to my aunt’s house one afternoon this week, alright? She takes her afternoon potion around two o’clock most days and then she takes a little kip. It’s supposed to be a beauty draught, but just between you and me it smells suspiciously like gin. Don’t fret, we’ll get you all sorted out. The next time you’re alone with him, the little wizard will be in good hands.”
Isadore apparently found her own words hilarious and fell into another fit of giggles, leaving Astoria completely flummoxed. She sighed and decided that she was going to floo to Isadore’s aunt’s house on her first free afternoon. If Daphne had all of her afternoons filled with wedding-related plans, well... she’d make up something about Isadore’s aunt being sick and Isadore needing help around the house. Astoria couldn’t stand the feeling of being in the dark about something so important. One way or another, she was going to get to the bottom of this little wizard business.
After the porter set their school trunks onto the train platform, Astoria wrapped Isadore in a warm hug and said her goodbyes. Then she tugged her trunk through the magical barrier and out of King’s Cross. She found her father waiting by the back of a hired black sedan, talking to another older wizard that she was sure she recognized from some social event she’d attended in recent years. He nodded toward her and then stepped away from the car and pulled her into a hug when she drew near.
“I’ve missed you, princess. How were your exams?”
“They went well. My marks were high enough to keep going with all of my N.E.W.T. level subjects. I missed getting top marks in Charms by two little points! Ah, it was so frustrating!”
Her father smiled at her warmly and took her hand, leading her toward the back of the sedan while the driver loaded her trunk into the boot. Once the were on the road, her father asked her more questions about her studies. Astoria thought that she could detect more than just a casual interest behind his inquiries.
“So you’re planning to sit your N.E.W.T.s in Potions, Charms, Transfiguration, Herbology, Ancient Runes and Arithmancy?”
“I hope to, yes. Professor Slughorn said that it was going to be a heavy workload, but he believes I can do it if I’m willing to put in enough time in the Library.”
The beginnings of a frown appeared on her father’s face. Astoria was confused. He had always encouraged her to excel at her studies.
“I assume that you also have a lot of reading and revision to do over the summer?”
“I worked out a timetable. Assuming that the next week is pretty much lost to Daphne’s wedding, I’ll need to devote about twenty-five hours a week for the rest of the holiday. The reading list in my bag. Speaking of which, once the wedding is over, I need to make a trip to Flourish and Blotts. There were several books on the list that I don’t think we have in our library at home.”
Her father’s frown only deepened. Finally, Astoria couldn’t stand the tense silence any longer.
“Father, is something wrong?”
He stayed silent for a moment longer, looking as if he was dreading the conversation.
“Astoria, all of this schoolwork doesn’t allow much time for the sort of things a young lady your age should be seriously thinking about. Your mother and I have already arranged several dinner parties for you to spend time with young gentlemen who would make excellent husbands. I’m afraid you may need to find a better balance between your studies and your future.”
Astoria could only stare at her father. She had no idea what to say. For as long as she could remember, he had lectured her and Daphne on the importance of doing well in school. Was it all just for show? Her father must have noticed her growing anger because he did his best to soothe her.
“You’re still upset about attending the wedding with young Mr. Montague, aren’t you? Well, you can stop worrying about him, Astoria. After you shared your concerns with your mother over the Easter holiday, we spoke to several people who know him and they agreed that he is rather... pungent. After the wedding, we’ll quietly inform his parents that we don’t see the two of you as a good match. Your mother and I can be reasonable, you see. Besides, the young men you’re going to meet over the summer are a much better lot anyway. Very promising young wizards from impeccable families, untainted by the war. Think of Mr. Montague as good practice.”
Astoria turned away from her father and fought back tears as she watched the streets of London gradually give way to the English countryside. All of her worst fears were coming true. Her parents were determined to marry her off to some boy that she didn’t care for at all. Her future husband would be chosen on the basis of what he was, not who he was. Far from leaving her torn, the anger raging just below the surface of her calm facade clarified things for Astoria. She was falling deeply, madly in love with Draco Malfoy. And once she turned seventeen, her parents would either accept that or there was no place for them in her future.
So there it is! Draco and Astoria's first Big Moment. I hope that you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Your reviews are always appreciated!
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