Chapter 15 : Yes
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Draco racked his brain, trying to identify of the new arrival. The obvious answer was another fugitive Death Eater. The man knew how to conjure one of the chilling silver masks favored by the Dark Lord’s followers, although the spell itself was not a closely-guarded secret. Unlike Avery, he appeared to be going to considerable lengths to conceal his identity. The mask and cloak seemed to subtly alter the sound of his voice. Whoever he was, he was more cautious than Avery. More cautious or at least smarter, not that being smarter than Avery was anything to boast about.
Draco was starting to mentally scroll through the list of Death Eaters still at large when Avery swept past him, opening his arms in a welcoming gesture.
“Good to see you, old friend. I wasn’t sure you’d get my message.”
The hooded figure nodded stiffly, maintaining his position. Avery turned again to face the conspirators. He fixed Gamp with a superior sneer and spoke with mock formality.
“Children, I’d like you to meet my old friend Mulciber. He an’ I served the Dark Lord faithfully in both wars. Now, why don’ you all run along to Azkaban. We have important business to attend to.”
Draco felt a chill pass through his body. The last time he’d seen Mulciber was during the battle at Hogwarts. Together, Avery and Mulciber were a formidable pair. Mulciber’s cold, calculating nature helped to balance Avery’s unfocused brutality. The difficulty Draco faced had just gone up exponentially.
Gamp looked like he wanted to argue with Avery, but the former Death Eater ignored him and started talking excitedly to Mulciber.
“We’re in luck. Turns out the Dark Lord left one of his experiments with Malfoy here. ‘Course, he don’ wanna say where it is, but that’s easy enough to fix. He don’ wanna to see his little lovely here get hurt, either. Especially not by his own wand. Why don’ you shake the rust off your Imperius Curse and see if we can’ persuade him to talk.”
Draco tried with all his might to raise his wand, but it was no use. Avery could cast the Imperius Curse just proficiently enough to hold him in place. Mulciber, on the other hand, was a master. He had placed dozens of Ministry officials under the curse to help the Dark Lord take control. With his last bit of self-determination, Draco turned his head to meet Astoria’s eyes and mouthed the words I’m sorry. Then he turned to face Mulciber and mentally prepared to put up the fight of his life. Just because he was going to lose in the end didn’t mean that he planned to make things easy.
Gamp snorted with annoyance and jabbed his thick finger toward Avery’s back.
“You’re mental, Avery. If you’ll excuse us, we’re gonna go overthrow the Ministry. When you’re done wasting time on these blood traitors, you can go crawl back into your cave.”
Avery paid him no mind, continuing to explain his theories about the Dark Lord’s non-existent artifact to Mulciber. As Gamp turned and started to talk quietly to his cousins, the masked wizard made his way across the room and stood next to Draco. Avery seemed almost gleeful.
“I think you should start by havin’ Malfoy cut her up a bit. If that don’ weaken his resolve, we try some less savory stuff. Why don’ you take your mask and cloak off and make yourself comfortable. I saw an elf aroun’ here somewhere. We’ll get firewhiskey and somethin’ to eat.”
Avery turned his attention toward Astoria, probably intending to force her to her feet. As Mulciber came closer, Draco steeled himself, knowing that the consequences of failure were too awful to think about. Where Avery was quick to inflict violent injury, Mulciber preferred to take his time and draw out every moment of suffering. Merely extracting information wasn’t enough. Mulciber was surgical in the way he went about breaking his victims. The masked wizard pointed his wand at Draco’s face, preparing the cast the curse. Draco refused to give the former Death Eater the satisfaction of blinking. He fixed the eye holes of the silvery mask with an icy glare, clearing his mind of everything except his need to keep Astoria safe. That was when Mulciber suddenly whipped his wand down and fired a powerful stunning spell into the middle of Avery’s back.
Astoria stared up at Avery, trying to steel herself against whatever was coming next. The leering cruelty in the man’s eyes didn’t leave much room for doubt; he wasn’t just planning to hurt her, he was going to enjoy it. She tried to curl up into a ball, not that it was going to do any good. He’d already proven that he was able to make Draco do things and Draco had far more experience fighting off dark curses than she did. Astoria closed her eyes and waited for the inevitable, feeling completely miserable. She needed to be strong to try to help Draco, but her body felt so tired and weak. Then she heard a loud crack.
Astoria’s eyes snapped open just in time to see Avery’s limp body cartwheel over her head. In an instant, the room exploded into a cacophony of shouting and cursefire. She watched the wizard Avery had called Mulciber slash his wand toward the tall windows and blow out the glass panes with a spell. Half a dozen witches and wizards in crimson Auror robes shook off their disillusionment charms as they leapt through the empty window frames. It was like something out of a novel, except it was happening in the great room of her own home. A moment later, she felt Draco fling his body over top of hers.
“You’re safe now, Astoria. Everything is going to be alright.”
If she’d felt a little less weary and sore, Astoria was certain that she would have set him straight. Nasty-looking spells were flying everywhere, making loud cracks as they collided with walls and shield charms. It was difficult to distinguish friend from foe as the conspirators and Aurors fought for the upper hand in a chaotic duel that quickly spread around the room. Whatever else they might have been, they were definitely not safe. Astoria looked up at Draco and watched his eyes rapidly flitting around the room as his wand twitched nervously in his free hand. No, they weren’t safe, but the intensely protective look on his face did make her feel slightly better.
After a minute or so, it became obvious that the tide was turning against the conspirators. Urquhart and Warrington were the first to fall, overwhelmed by the Aurors’ superior dueling skills. Gamp and his cousins proved to be stronger opponents, fending off the initial wave of spells and even managing to injure one of the Aurors. Out of the corner of her eye, Astoria noticed Blaise Zabini standing near the wall, looking overwhelmed by the fighting going on around him. Part of her felt bad for her former housemate, even though the fool had brought this fate on himself. Since he wasn’t fighting back, she wondered whether the Wizengamot might show him a bit of mercy.
Gamp’s cousin Aston was the next to go down, succumbing to the combined attack of a dark-haired female Auror and the wizard who had been impersonating Mulciber. Astoria scanned the room until she found Jeremy Gamp, who was engaged in a fierce duel with a tall, broad-shouldered Auror. He seemed to realize that the fight was not going well for his side and his eyes started to take on the crazed look of a cornered animal. Draco had obviously noticed the same thing and Astoria felt him pull her a bit closer. A few seconds later, Jeremy went for broke.
Whipping his wand toward the floor, he cast a blasting curse that caused the stone tiles to erupt in a deafening explosion. Everyone in the vicinity was knocked off their feet by the shockwave and shards of broken tile cut through the air like razors. The cartwheeling body of the tall Auror struck Draco in the side, and the two of them ended up in a tangle of limbs next to her. Something thin and light bounced off of Astoria’s cheek and landed next to her head. She forced her aching arms to move, feeling around on the floor next to her until her stiff fingers closed around a warm, wooden handle. There was no way to know whose wand it was, but that didn’t concern Astoria in the slightest. She was no longer helpless!
An angry, feral-sounding growl interrupted her moment of empowerment. Jeremy had pulled himself to his knees and he seemed to be trying to clear his head. Because he’d cast the curse away from himself, he’d suffered the least injury from the blast, but he was still bloodied and bruised and his robes were riddled with ragged holes. Astoria felt pretty sure that he’d collapse from his accumulated injuries within minutes, but that was an eternity in the chaos that surrounded them. She turned in the other direction and saw Draco still trying to get out from under the unconscious Auror. He looked dazed and exhausted and his wand was nowhere to be found. Astoria quickly realized that he was in no position to protect anyone, including himself.
She rolled onto her side toward Jeremy Gamp just in time to see him raise his wand. It was pointing directly over top of her and she quickly surmised that he was aiming at Draco. Astoria’s entire arm was shaking from the strain as she tightened her grip on the wand she’d found and tried to aim. Her vision narrowed until every quiver of her ravaged muscles made the tip of her wand appear to veer wildly off target. Jeremy’s ragged shout seemed to drown out all of the other sounds in the room.
“Filthy blood traitor! I’ll see you in hell, Malfoy! AVADA-”
The jinx was weak, but Astoria managed to strike Jeremy’s shoulder in the middle of his incantation. His arm lurched upward and a jet of green light from his wand struck the far wall, showering the floor with bits of pulverized plaster. She was feeling rather proud of herself until Jeremy’s crazed, bloodshot eyes settled squarely on her. There was something triumphant about the nasty sneer that crossed his lips as he pointed his wand at her face. It confused her at first but then the truth hit her. Killing her wasn’t just about settling a score. Jeremy was going to take something away from Draco, something that Draco valued more than his own life. And the image of Draco grieving over her bothered Astoria much more than the idea of her own death. In that fraction of a second, the one that was sure to be her last, she realized what true love was all about.
Jeremy Gamp slumped over as his wand fell harmlessly to the floor. Astoria managed to tear her eyes away from his body and found Blaise Zabini standing nearby with his wand still pointed at the unconscious wizard. All around the room the Aurors were sounding the all clear, and she was shocked to hear the final call come from Zabini himself. An instant later, she felt herself being pulled into Draco’s arms. As her head sunk into his chest, the emotions started to pour out of her. Tears streamed down her cheeks and soaked into the fabric of Draco’s shirt. Relief, anger, sadness, gratitude, worry, hope, love... Astoria was gripped by more feelings than she could readily name. Draco’s soft words filled her ears.
“Shhhh. It’s all over. We’re safe now.”
He gently ran his fingertips over her forehead, brushing the stray locks of hair out of her face. She looked up at him, drinking in every detail of his bruised, dirty face. He was alive. They both were. Somehow, against all odds, they had both survived. Joy welled up from deep inside her, but along the way it encountered another powerful emotion. She knew it wasn’t appropriate or even nice, but she couldn’t help herself. Her nose wrinkled and her brows knitted together in what she was sure was a horribly unattractive face.
“You prat! You almost got yourself killed!”
For a brief moment, Draco looked stunned and embarrassed. His frown quickly melted away, however, replaced by a wry grin that she found equal parts irresistible and infuriating. She made a weak attempt to punch him on the arm even as her own face split into a grin. He pulled her tighter and she could feel the low rumble of laughter in his chest. It hurt so much to laugh that she nearly passed out, but Astoria couldn’t stop herself. As she nestled her head underneath his chin, he tried -- and failed -- to answer her in a serious voice.
“As I recall, I wasn’t the only one who came close to dying.”
“Well if I hadn’t needed to keep Jeremy from killing you, I would have been perfectly fine. Prat.”
As quickly as it had started, Draco’s chuckling ceased. Astoria wondered what had happened to change his mood so suddenly. He bowed his head so that his lips were very close to her ear. She could feel the soft warmth of his breath against her skin as he lowered his voice to the barest whisper, making sure that no one else could hear.
“Astoria, I am so sorry. You mean everything to me, I was just too stubborn and foolish to see it. That’s why I came here tonight. If you’ll have me back, I promise that I’ll never do something so stupid ever again.”
A sense of profound warmth spread through Astoria’s body, followed by a tingling in her extremities. She tilted her head back, brushing Draco’s jaw with her cheek as she moved her lips close to his ear. She whispered to him, surprised by the amount of emotion she could hear spilling into her own words.
“You weren’t the only one who was acting stupidly, Draco. I got so caught up in being angry at my father and feeling sorry for myself that I tried to push you into something you weren’t ready for. Something we weren’t ready for. I can’t bear to lose you. Please forgive me.”
Slowly, he lifted her off of his chest and held her so that they could look into one another’s eyes. She groaned softly as her muscles and joints protested, but in spite of the discomfort she wanted to see his face.
“What if I was ready? I love you, Astoria. I never want to be apart again. If you still want me to meet you outside of your front gate on the morning of your birthday then that’s where I’ll be.”
Astoria’s felt her eyes open wider and a tear rolled down her pale cheek. It was everything she had ever wanted to hear, and the emotions pouring from her heart threatened to overwhelm her. She tried to speak but the words wouldn’t come to her so she just nodded slowly. Draco gently pulled her back into him, wrapping his arms tightly around her. She finally found her voice as she buried her face in the crook of his shoulder.
“I love you, Draco. I love you, I love you, I-”
“Get away from her, Malfoy!”
Her attention snapped back to their long-forgotten surroundings so quickly that it made her neck muscles scream with pain. She found the lanky, crimson-clad form of Ron Weasley towering over them. The red-headed Auror trainee was glaring down at Draco with a look of pure contempt. In the back of her mind, it occurred to Astoria that she’d gotten so used to having wands pointed at her that it barely registered any more. Draco seemed to feel exactly the same, and he returned his cheek to the top of her head as he tightened his arms around her.
“Go away, Weaselbee. This is a private conversation.”
Weasley was undaunted, and the volume of his voice rose alongside his anger.
“I’m placing you under arrest for aiding and abetting known fugitives, conspiracy to attack a Ministry penal facility, use of lethal curses in the act of resisting arrest and probably a few other things I’ll think of on the way back to London. Now get up before I put you in a full bodybind and levitate you!”
Astoria grimaced in pain as she pushed herself up from Draco’s chest. He seemed surprised that she was moving, but still he had the good sense to let her go. She wasn’t sure where the anger came from, but once it took control of her thoughts there was no stopping it. Astoria turned around on Draco’s lap and fixed Weasley with a furious glare.
“Draco didn’t do any of those things. He fought off all of these lunatics while you and the rest of the Ministry were taking your sweet time getting here. I’d be dead right now if it wasn’t for him. Now leave us alone or my father will have your badge delivered to him on a plaque!”
Weasley looked like somebody had slapped him. Much later, Draco would admit to her that he felt so smitten in that moment that only his enjoyment of the great, red-headed buffoon’s shocked expression kept him from abandoning any semblance of dignity and snogging her senseless in front of half of the Auror Department. It took Weasley a good five seconds to recover and stammer out a response.
“Is that so? Well... how’d you like to join your boyfriend in a holding cell for obstructing-”
“Let him be, Ron. He didn’t do anything wrong.”
Astoria was starting to get very annoyed with the endless stream of head-turning surprises this day had offered. She was definitely going to need muscle-relaxing potions and probably a massage. The new voice belonged to Blaise Zabini, who was standing nearby. But it wasn’t Zabini’s voice. And for some reason he was still holding a wand and he wasn’t being hauled off to a jail cell like the other conspirators. Weasley continued to glare at Draco and Astoria as he spoke.
“Don’t be thick, Harry. This is Malfoy we’re talking about. You think he was just here by coincidence? He’s messed up in all of this somehow.”
Astoria was sure that her mouth was hanging open in a most undignified way. “Zabini” was actually Potter. Also, he was talking sense to Weasley instead of just letting him act like a prat. Potter spoke softly, but insistently.
“He wasn’t here by coincidence, Ron, but she’s right. He kept Avery busy long enough for all of you to get here. Just let him be.”
The tone of Weasley’s voice changed noticeably. His frustration and anger were evident as he refused to back down.
“Bollocks, Harry! He’s a Death Eater. They don’t just turn on their own kind. Now I’m gonna-”
A commanding voice rang out from the other side of the room and Weasley instantly spun on his heel. The man who had impersonated Mulciber slowly made his way over. The Death Eater mask was gone and Astoria recognized the stern face from pictures she’d seen in the Daily Prophet. “Mulciber” was actually Gawain Robards, the head of the Auror Department.
“We have six dark wizards who need to be processed for transfer to Azkaban and three more on the way to St. Mungo’s for treatment. Stop wasting time. I want you back in London, helping Jeremy and Tarquin with the transfer paperwork. Move.”
Weasley shot one last filthy glare in their direction before stalking off toward the wall full of ruined windows. As the red-headed Auror trainee departed, Astoria collapsed back onto Draco’s chest. The effort required to tell Weasley off had left her exhausted. Potter kneeled down beside them and spoke quietly and calmly.
“We need to get both of you to St. Mungo’s. Once you’ve been cleared by a Healer, we’ll also need statements from both of you on what happened here this evening.”
She felt Draco nod slowly. Cradled in his arms, Astoria suddenly felt very tired. The sounds in the room seemed to grow more distant and she could barely keep her eyes open. As Potter started to stand up, Draco interrupted him with a question.
“Potter. How long?”
Zabini’s face looked confused for a moment, then nodded in understanding.
“About three days. His mother was apparently tipped off by someone inside the Ministry. We believe she managed to slip him out of the country. She’s obviously not saying and, well, she’s gotten pretty good at this over the years. Otherwise, she’d have ended up in Azkaban four or five husbands ago.”
Astoria heard a small chuckle echo inside Draco’s chest, but it never made it to his lips. At that moment, a group of Medi Wizards rushed into the room, levitating gurneys in front of them. Potter flagged two of them down and directed them to see to Draco and Astoria. He gave a small nod of Zabini’s head toward them, then moved on to some other task.
In spite of his own injuries, Draco insisted on lifting Astoria onto a gurney. She felt slightly annoyed with him for being so stubborn, but she did appreciate the gesture. Across the room, her mother and father were being prepared for the trip to St. Mungo’s and a wave of guilt rolled over her. In all the chaos and terror, she’d completely forgotten about them. Still, they were alive and in good hands, so she allowed herself to relax. She would deal with her father when they were both well enough to talk.
The Medi Witch who was taking care of Astoria tucked a white sheet under her sides and then pulled a flask out of her bag that contained a pale, blue potion.
“This will help with the pain until the Healers can see to your curse injuries.”
Astoria took one last look at Draco, who was staring at her intently as he gingerly lowered himself onto a gurney. She smiled at him and enjoyed the way his eyes lit up in response. There were still many problems they needed to deal with, but there probably always would be. Draco loved her and she loved him. The rest would work out somehow. She allowed the Medi Witch to tip the potion into her open mouth. As the warm, tingling darkness claimed Astoria, her last thoughts were of Draco’s beautiful grey eyes.
“I’m really quite alright. You’ve healed all of the burns and I feel much better, thank you very much. I don’t understand why I need to remain in this sorry excuse for a bed.”
Draco fixed the Healer with an angry glare and crossed his arms across his chest. He couldn’t quite suppress the twinge of discomfort that the motion caused in his shoulder. The Healer sighed and gave him a knowing look.
“Mr. Malfoy, it’s been slightly less than ten hours since the Medi Wizards brought you in here with a collection of injuries rivaling anything I’ve seen since the end of the war. You will remain in this sorry excuse of a bed because your body needs time to heal. Now lie down and rest before I have you sedated.”
The smug self-importance in the Healer’s voice made Draco’s blood boil. If he could fight Avery to a draw with the injuries he had when he walked into old man Greengrass’s house then he could certainly get out of bed now that they were mostly healed.
“Draco, please listen to him. Your father and I want to be sure you make a full recovery.”
Draco lowered his torso back onto the thin mattress with a huff of indignation. It was far too soft for his tastes and the coarse, scratchy sheets chafed at his skin every time he moved.
The Healer allowed his professional detachment to slip ever so slightly. His eyes narrowed and Draco could hear the distaste in his voice.
“Rest assured, Mr. Malfoy, the moment you’re medically fit to leave St. Mungo’s, we will be pleased to send you on your way.”
Draco groaned petulantly as the Healer left the room. His mother simply pretended that she didn’t hear him and went back to reading the Daily Prophet. Splashed across the front page was a huge, moving picture of the Aurors levitating a bound and gagged Avery across the Ministry Atrium. The headline underneath shouted CONSPIRACY OF YOU-KNOW-WHO’S FOLLOWERS THWARTED!. It made Draco feel mildly ill. Over a year had passed and they were still frightened to print the Dark Lord’s name.
A soft knock at the door caused his mother to lower her paper. Wearing a deep green dressing gown and leaning on a cane, Horatio Greengrass looked more than a little unsure of himself. He seemed unable to meet Draco’s eyes, so he addressed Draco’s mother instead.
“Narcissa. Doing well, I hope?”
“Very well, now that my son is no longer in danger. And your family?”
Mr. Greengrass seemed puzzled, as though he didn’t quite know what to make of Narcissa’s genuine concern. His answer had an air of forced cordiality to it.
“Fine. The Healers say that they’ll all be just fine. Thank you for asking.”
The awkward silence persisted for a long moment. It seemed that nobody was quite sure what to say next. Finally Mr. Greengrass took another hesitant step into Draco’s room.
“I was hoping that I might have a private word with your son, assuming he’s feeling up to it.”
Narcissa gave Draco a concerned look. In her eyes, he could see that she was more than willing to make his excuses for him. He shook his head subtly and then nodded toward a well-worn chair near the foot of his bed.
“Please, have a seat.”
Narcissa stood and folded her paper as Mr. Greengrass limped over. She offered Draco one last look of concern which he met with a small, forced smile. In his heart, he knew that the conversation at hand was important, whether or not he felt like having it at this exact moment. With a cordial nod toward Mr. Greengrass, Narcissa left the room and pulled the door closed behind her.
Draco waited for Mr. Greengrass to speak, feeling that he had nothing to gain by being the first to break the silence. The older man seemed to feel the same way, so the two of them shared several awkward seconds before Mr. Greengrass finally spoke.
“I suppose you’re wondering why I wanted to speak with you.”
It was a question geared to elicit a response, but Draco refused to take the bait.
“The question had crossed my mind, yes, but I assume you’ll tell me when you’re ready.”
Mr. Greengrass stared at the watercolor painting that hung over the head of Draco’s bed for another long moment. He appeared to be lost in thought. Finally, he met Draco’s eyes with a resolute stare.
“I should start with the obvious. You saved my daughter’s life and possibly the lives of my entire family. That was a very brave thing you did, facing down Jeremy and his accomplices. The House of Greengrass owes you a debt of gratitude.”
With some effort, Draco kept his expression neutral. He wasn’t accustomed to people thanking him for such things.
“I’m very pleased that I was able to help. Your daughter means a great deal to me.”
Draco noticed a momentary stiffening of Mr. Greengrass’s back. He looked like a man who was struggling with a difficult dilemma. A tight smile crossed his lips as he seemed to force himself to relax.
“Apparently you mean a great deal to her, as well. Astoria, along with my wife, wouldn’t allow me a moment’s peace until I came to speak with you.”
The muscles in Draco’s cheeks nearly cramped up as he tried to suppress the smile that threatened to take over his face. He could feel the corners of his mouth twitching and he nodded slowly to try to hide his reaction. His discomfort wasn’t lost on Astoria’s father, who sighed and lowered his eyes to the floor, slowly rubbing his forehead.
“This isn’t easy for me, Mr. Malfoy. I’m the head of a noble house and Astoria’s father, besides. For a man in my position, making the correct choices is about more than just avoiding the embarrassment of being wrong.”
Mr. Greengrass’s candor was starting to make Draco uncomfortable. Prominent pureblood wizards didn’t open up to strangers like this, it wasn’t proper. Then he thought about Astoria and made a conscious effort to push his discomfort aside. There was a genuine opportunity in front of him if he could find the right words.
“Years before I was even born, my father chose to align our family with the Dark-”
Draco took a fortifying breath. He couldn’t hold the publishers of the Daily Prophet to a higher standard than the one he held himself to.
“... chose to align our family with Lord Voldemort. That choice has defined every moment of my life. There’s nothing I can do to change the decision he made all those years ago. All I can do is move past it and make sure that I make the right choices from now on.”
At least Mr. Greengrass didn’t cringe at the mention of the Dark Lord’s name, although he did look a bit surprised. Draco could respect that. The room was quiet for a while as Mr. Greengrass seemed to consider what Draco had said. His voice sounded rather flat when he responded.
“Contrary to what she seems to believe, I don’t like to see my daughter unhappy, Mr. Malfoy. It’s just hard for me to accept what you’re saying when I know the types of things you’ve been part of.”
“I’m not asking you to accept anything that I’m saying. I’m only asking that you see for yourself. And please, call me Draco.”
Mr. Greengrass stared at Draco quizzically. In a way, Draco was humbling himself by allowing Horatio Greengrass to use his first name. When an older pureblood wizard referred to a younger man by his first name, the relationship implied was almost paternal in nature, like a favorite uncle or a respected mentor. Draco hoped that the gesture wasn’t lost on Astoria’s father.
The older man seemed to collect his thoughts for a moment before he started again.
“Very well then, Draco. If you’re serious about showing me how much you’re changed then I’ll offer you the following proposition. My family owns a company that imports rare potions and ingredients from the Far East. My sources tell me that the Ministry is about to open bidding on a contract to supply a potion that uses a rare plant found only in China. I intend to win that contract and I’m preparing to depart on a three week business trip to negotiate with several suppliers. You work in Madam Blishwick’s department, correct?”
Draco nodded his affirmation as he recalled nearly incinerating Edgar during his job interview. Horatio Greengrass’s sources were impressive, indeed.
“Then I assume you’re familiar with this plant and how it’s used in the potion. Come to work for me, Draco. With your knowledge on our side, we can’t lose. And while we travel, I’ll have the chance to make up my mind about you.”
Two things were immediately apparent to Draco. First, whether or not she wanted to admit it, having her father’s blessing would mean a lot to Astoria. Second, he could possibly have his resignation letter on Madam Blishwick’s desk before she left for the day if somebody in this wretched hospital had an owl he could borrow. Still, he didn’t want to appear too eager.
“How much would this position pay?”
Mr. Greengrass’s eyes hardened slightly.
“I’ll pay you twenty Galleons a week plus a one hundred Galleon bonus if we win the contract.”
“Make it thirty Galleons a week and we have a deal.”
The older man’s eyebrows arched and his back straightened.
“You’d haggle with your possible future father-in-law over ten Galleons a week?”
“You’d marry your daughter off to a man who settled for a twenty Galleon salary when he’s obviously worth thirty?”
The two wizards stared at one another for a long moment. The hard look on Mr. Greengrass’s face gradually eased. Draco thought he could see a hint of respect.
“I wouldn’t go so far as to say there’s anything obvious here, Draco. It’s not obvious that I’ll be marrying my daughter off to you and it’s certainly not obvious that you’re worth thirty Galleons a week. Twenty-five, and not a knut more.”
Draco allowed himself a smile and extended his hand, which Mr. Greengrass gripped firmly in acknowledgment.
“You won’t regret it. This plant is tricky to work with. It has a bit of a personality.”
The older wizard nodded approvingly as he rose stiffly to his feet.
“I’ll send an owl with all of the details. We leave in four days, assuming we’re both cleared to travel by then.”
Astoria’s father made his way to the door then paused before opening it. His voice sounded slightly shaky when he spoke.
“For what it’s worth, Draco, I do hope that I was wrong about you. I came very close to losing my entire family yesterday. I don’t want to lose Astoria.”
Then he opened the door and stepped into the corridor. He spotted something that Draco couldn’t see and glanced back over his shoulder.
“It seems there’s somebody else here who wants to speak with you.”
Astoria fixed her father with a stare as he emerged from Draco’s hospital room, looking for any hint in his eyes. He looked weary and he leaned more heavily on his cane as he took a couple of steps toward her. When he finally met her gaze, he hesitated for a moment. Then he nodded slightly. Astoria rushed over to him and wrapped her arms around his waist.
“Thank you, Father. You’re going to love him once you get to know him.”
She felt her father’s arm wrap around her shoulders, then release her. The smile on his face didn’t look entirely genuine, but for now she was happy to accept it.
“You’d better get in there before I change my mind.”
Astoria gave her father’s arm one last squeeze and then hurried into Draco’s room. The sight of his eyes lighting up when he saw her sent a shiver down her spine. She hurried across the room as quickly as her sore muscles would allow while Draco picked his wand up and flicked it over her shoulder. She heard a gentle thud as the door closed behind her. Coming to a stop at the side of his bed, she suddenly felt very self-conscious about being alone with him. It surprised her, considering how eager she’d been just moments before. He seemed to be waiting for her to speak, so she tried not to sound too awkward.
“How are you feeling?”
“Better. The Healers want me to stay in bed, but I’m fine really.”
Astoria was about to lecture him on the importance of getting plenty of rest when he noticed the incredulous look on her face and quickly turned the question back on her.
“How about you?”
“My arms and legs are still sore, but it doesn’t hurt to breathe anymore. I might be able to go home today.”
Draco nodded approvingly. Astoria could see a hint of disappointment behind his smile, and her heart fluttered in response. He didn’t want her to leave! Still, she wasn’t quite sure how to steer the conversation toward their relationship. Why was it so much easier to express your feelings when people were trying to kill you?
“So, things are alright between you and Father?”
Draco shrugged his shoulders slightly in response.
“They’re not perfect, but it’s a start. He’s offered me a job helping him import potions ingredients and I accepted. We’re traveling to China in four days.”
“Oh. Well that’s a step in the right direction I suppose.”
She took a step closer, feeling the anticipation building inside her chest. Draco scooted away from her, making more space on the side of his narrow hospital bed. As she was about to turn and sit in the space he’d created, he reached out and caressed her cheek. The flush of warmth created by his touch made her weak in the knees. She reached up and laid her hand on top of his, then turned her head and softly kissed the palm of his hand. Draco inhaled sharply. His smoky grey eyes locked onto hers and the intense passion she found in them quickly overwhelmed her lingering reservations. Instead of sitting on the edge of his bed she climbed into the small space he’d made. A second later, she felt her lips crash into his. It wasn’t a proper situation for a young lady to find herself in, but that was a concern for the people on the other side of the door. Not that they’d ever find out.
A warm tingling sensation filled Astoria’s extremities as she pressed her body against Draco’s. She took his face in her hands, pressing her palms against his cheeks and running her fingertips through his hair. His hands glided up her sides, across her shoulders and then down the middle of her back. Tremors of pleasure gripped her as his fingers made their way back up her spine and slipped into the depths of her dark curls, pressing her lips more urgently against his. Soft moans and sharp, sudden breaths were the only sounds that interrupted the intense pounding of Astoria’s heart in her ears.
After what seemed like ages, Draco and Astoria finally broke the kiss. Both of them were quietly gasping for air, still clinging to one another. As the loud buzzing in Astoria’s brain gradually receded, she noticed several things. First, she was almost certain that the belt of her dressing gown had been tied when she came into the room. And her hospital gown definitely hadn’t been all twisted up around her bare thighs. Feeling slightly panicked at the unfamiliarity of it all, she slid off of the bed and onto her feet, smoothing her clothes.
“Astoria? Are you alright?”
Astoria took a deep breath to settle herself before she turned around to face him. Draco looked a little confused and more than a bit worried at her sudden change in demeanor. In spite of her nerves, his expression put a small grin on her lips.
“I’m fine. It’s just... that all happened rather fast. Don’t get me wrong, it was wonderful and I love being so close to you. It’s just not exactly proper, that’s all.”
The worried look on Draco’s face gradually melted into an amused grin. Astoria’s hands instinctively moved to her hips and she tried to give him a reproachful glare even as she felt the smile tugging at the corners of her own mouth.
“What’s so funny about that? I’m a proper lady, you prat!”
A snort of laughter escaped him, and Astoria pressed her fists harder into her sides, trying to stay in control.
“You’re really bothered about being proper, after everything we’ve been through?”
The look on his face was too much. Astoria leaned against the side of his bed and tried to punch him in the chest as a huge grin broke through her wall of composure. Draco managed to wrap his arms around her as she squirmed and giggled, then he pulled her onto the bed beside him. In a matter of moments the two teenagers were consumed by fits of painful laughter. Astoria gripped her aching sides and relished the music of Draco’s laughs. It had been a long time since they’d been able to lose themselves in a moment of pure, frivolous amusement. She felt his body shaking next to hers and tried to press herself even closer to him, drinking in his warmth and nearness.
Suddenly, something changed. Draco’s laughter changed to awful, choking sobs. At first Astoria wasn’t sure that she was hearing correctly, and she pushed herself up onto her elbows to see what was the matter. He tried to roll onto his side, facing away from her, but she placed her hand firmly on his shoulder and pulled him back. Draco pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes, but he couldn’t stop the flow of tears and they leaked out onto his cheeks. Astoria pulled his head into her chest, smoothing his platinum hair and whispering softly to him until he was able to compose himself enough to explain.
“I’m sorry. Everything just hit me at once. I don’t know if I can ever explain the place I was in when you found me in Diagon Alley. For two years, my life was nothing but fear and anger and bitterness and death. I was dying Astoria, poisoning myself with whatever I could find that would ease the pain. Living just wasn’t worth it.”
Draco had to pause for another long moment to collect himself. Astoria waited patiently for him to continue.
“You helped me find the way out... gave me something worth living for. I’d be dead right now if you hadn’t. Everything I am and everything I want to be, it’s all because of you. You are the most amazing woman in the world and I want to give you everything you’ve ever wanted. I want to marry you. I want to have a family and a long, wonderful life together. I want your beautiful face to be the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning and the last thing I see before I close my eyes at night. I love you, Astoria. More than anything in the entire world.”
Astoria felt the tears sliding down her own cheeks. She stared into Draco’s damp, grey eyes until she was overwhelmed by the urge to kiss him. When their lips finally parted, she stared lovingly into his eyes.
“Do... do you really mean it? That you want to marry me?”
Slowly, grimacing from the pain in his shoulder and back, Draco slid out of the hospital bed and onto his feet. Astoria couldn’t help herself. She opened her mouth to order him back into bed, but he placed a single finger over her lips. Pulling her off of the bed and onto her feet beside him, he proceeded to gingerly lower himself to one knee.
“I know I don’t have your father’s blessing or a ring to give you, but I’m asking anyway. Please, Astoria, say you’ll be my wife.”
Astoria felt fresh tears spilling down her cheeks as her hand instinctively flew to cover her mouth. His beautiful grey eyes were staring up at her, adoring and beseeching. She nodded her assent and helped him get shakily back to his feet. Draco leaned against his bed for support and then pulled her into him. She felt his arms encircle her shoulders as she wrapped hers around his waist and relished the warmth of his chest. His soft, whispered words drifted to her ears.
“I’ll ask you again, properly, once I have your father’s blessing.”
Through her tears of happiness, Astoria’s smile grew.
“That will make Mother very happy. She loves big, romantic moments.”
“Do you think we should tell them?”
Astoria pondered the question for a moment, then shook her head.
“No. It’ll be our secret for now. Agreed?”
Draco gave her a slightly cheeky smile in return.
“That doesn’t seem very proper.”
Taking his hand between hers, Astoria wrinkled her nose and grinned devilishly.
“Serves them right for everything they put us through! Now back to bed with you before the Healers decide to keep you here even longer.”
Draco protested half-heartedly, but did as he was told. Astoria finished tucking him in and then she leaned down and kissed him again. She’d expected a quick peck on the lips but when she finally pulled away, her face felt extremely warm and the pleasant buzzing situation had returned to her extremities. She smiled adoringly at him and started to back away toward the door.
“I’ll stop to say goodbye when they let me leave.”
Draco smiled weakly in return. He looked tired, but also put out about being stuck in bed.
“Will I be able to see you again before your father and I leave for China?”
Astoria pretended to be taken aback by his question.
“Well I certainly hope so. My birthday is the day before you’re supposed to depart.”
Draco looked equal parts happy and confused as she reached for the doorknob.
“But I thought... I mean... am I still supposed to meet you at the front gate?”
She gave him an innocent smile that gradually melted into a wicked grin.
“I suppose you could come inside the house for a few minutes if you like. Just because we’re not eloping doesn’t mean that your fiancé isn’t expecting a nice evening out to celebrate her seventeenth birthday.”
Astoria blew Draco a kiss and then strolled out of the room feeling very satisfied with herself. One thing she’d learned from watching her own mother was that a proper pureblood wife always had to stay a step or two ahead of her husband. She supposed that it wasn’t too early to get started.
Draco stared at the ceiling over his hospital bed for a long moment. He tried very hard to convince himself that he was perfectly capable of differentiating between fantasy and reality, but in the end he simply had to be sure. He reached beneath the sheets and pinched himself in the side. Hard.
Alright, he definitely hadn’t just dreamed it all. Astoria’s father had actually spoken civilly with him and offered him a job. Then Astoria had visited him and they’d snogged each other breathless. Then he’d broken down and wept in front of her. That part would certainly be purged from any version of the day’s events he decided to share with his mother. And he’d asked her to marry him. Twice, actually. And she’d said...
“She said yes.”
Something about hearing the words out loud made the smile on his face grow even larger. She had agreed to marry him. Astoria was going to be his wife. He tried to temper his enthusiasm a bit as his cheeks started to ache. She would want to finish school before they were married. He wasn’t sure how he knew that, but he felt quite sure of it. One trip to China also wasn’t likely to offer enough time to completely alleviate her father’s doubts about him. There was still much to be done, he reasoned. Many opportunities for difficulties and setbacks. So why was he still smiling like an idiot?
“She said yes.”
Everything in his life was about to change. Then again, everything in his life had already changed. If he tried, he could vaguely recall what it was like to be the angry, bitter young man who used to sit at the bar at the Ragged Fang, listening to his delusional mates rant and posture while he gradually poisoned himself with alcohol. That Draco Malfoy was gone now. And he could say without hesitation that the new one was a vast improvement. Because Astoria loved the new Draco Malfoy and he loved her. And that was all that mattered.
“She said yes.”
Hello, dear readers. As you've probably surmised, the main part of the story has come to an end. It will be followed by an epilogue which I hope you find interesting and entertaining.
Nearly a year ago, this story started off as a challenge entry. It was a gift to the amazing JChrissy. I hope that she's happy with how it turned out. And a lot of credit goes to her for making the conversations between Astoria and Isadore sound realistic.
Immense gratitude goes to my beta reader, sophie_hatter, for all of her suggestions and wise counsel. Please check out her story, Evolution. It's well worth your time!
Lastly, thanks to all of you who've read and reviewed Detox! Your encouragement and feedback have really helped to make it a better story.
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