Chapter 1 : the earth and the sky
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He wakes in the middle of the night with a start, jolted, memories like a thick dark river of pain flow through the crevices of his mind. His eyes are lined with thick, dark circles. His breath comes in gasps, short and noisy gasps. Beads of sweat are forming on his forehead, trickling down his face, falling, dripping from the peak of his pale, pointed nose.
She is naturally drawn to him. He is, after all, a broken man in need of mending, and she has a passion for healing. Plus she needs a distraction, given everything that has happened. The war has not been easy on either of them. He is overwhelmed by existence, rooted in the belief that he has crossed his limit. He has lived far more than he is allowed, far more than his quota. He has been wrong more times than right.
She is gentle with him, understanding. She tells him that he has lived through troubles set to last a hundred lifetimes, but no, he has not lived far more than he is allowed. His time is yet to come.
'Here,' she hands him a sealed flask. 'Two drops, mixed with water, every night just before you sleep.'
'What is it?' He asks cautiously, eyeing the puce coloured liquid.
'Dreamless sleep potion.'
'Thanks.' He is grateful. It bleeds into his voice.
'Don't get too sentimental,' she tells him, her tone flat, but her mouth twitches- just a little- giving her away.
'Talk.' It is a command, but a well meaning one.
'No,' he pouts.
'Very well then.' Sigh.
They are neither friends, nor enemies. Just two people trying to find their way back into this life, grasping anything they can find to keep them steady, grounded. She is the sky and he is the earth, and together, they rebuild broken pieces of each other.
They slip into an easy routine, meeting twice a week, sometimes thrice. Sometimes talking, sometimes not at all.
Solitude, my dear, is when you can bear to be lonely.
And, can you? She begs.
To her, it is an opportunity, to grow and to love. To him, it is catharsis. But still, he knows.
She needs him. Even wildflowers need soil. She tells him this. He scoffs.
We are mutually parasitic. Symbiotic creatures, he tells her, his tone nonchalant.
So... we do need each other. I need the earth and you need the sky. The freedom. Oh god, you need it. You need to breathe.
No, I'm selfish. We both are. Don't confuse want with need, he admonishes her. Yet, he knows.
He falls asleep at work, his upper body splayed across his grand mahogany table. The demons are active in his mind once again, and he watches helplessly in horror as his best friend dies for the seventieth time, perishing in the flames of his own creation.
He wakes with a start. He is out of touch with his nightmares. His forearm is throbbing with realisation. A drink, he thinks. That should fix it.
A drink is what fixes it every night, these days. A drink can distract him, play with his mind, obscures his darkest thoughts. But no, a drink cannot fix him.
The sharp knock on her door wakes her and she trudges slowly through her flat to get to the door. It's nearly midnight and she has work in the morning.
He stumbles forward into her the second she opens the door. She pushes him away, steadying him, eyeing him with suspicion. It has been months since their last meeting. She is growing tired of waiting for a non-existent future.
'Hello, love,' his lips slightly stretch across his pale skin in a familiar smirk. 'How've you been?'
'You're very drunk,' she informs him cleverly, tiredly.
He makes some low, guttural sound and vehemently denies her accusation. (No, no.) The smell of stale Firewhiskey floats out with his breath each time he opens his mouth, and she shakes her head sadly.
What has become of us?
The world is spinning. His surroundings are caving in. Maybe it is it the alcohol.
'You can sleep here tonight,' she tell him tiredly. 'I have no time for thi-'
He doesn't let her finish. His right hand finds the back of her neck, and the fingers of his left hand bury themselves deep into her dark hair and push her head forward towards his. His lips land on hers sloppily, and then he's kissing her like he's never kissed any other girl before.
It's wet and slobbery, and so very unlike everything she thought it would be.
'Get out,' she spits, pushing him away forcefully. She is disgusted.
He is drunk, but not drunk enough. He will remember this in the morning.
She goes back to her bed, even though she cannot fall asleep again. But tonight, on the pavement, he is full of sleep, his mind tangled in sweet dreams. Despite the cold, he hasn't slept this well in years.
'Clean me up.' It is a request, his voice pleading.
She doesn't say anything. Her lips are pursed, unyielding. She walks away, shaking her head.
The opposite of love is not hate. It's indifference, she has heard.
Need, not want, he'd said to her once.
But, what's the difference now?
It is raining. She does not have an umbrella, so she casts an Impervious Charm and trundles through the sheets of water, towards the imposing building. The sky is as black as charcoal, occasionally lit up by craggy streaks of lightening.
'Come,' she tells him at the door. 'Stay the night. With me.'
She doesn't know why she is doing this. At least, that's what she tells herself.
He hesitates, only a little, but she sees it.
She remembers his objections, her rejections. 'Nothing has to happen', she adds.
He nods frailly, clasping her slightly outstretched hand. They walk in silence, as she wonders. Is there any need for silence? We are young and alone, with far too much to say to each other.
Still, the only sounds are that of the rain, the roaring wind and the odd clap of thunder. They walk to a safe spot and look at each other for just a moment before she shuts her eyes. The sensation of being squeezed through the smallest hole engulfs them both. When they open their eyes, they are in an alleyway near her flat. The crisp wind is blowing into their faces. She walks ahead, pulling her coat in a little tighter as she moves.
The silence remains unbroken. She takes him into her room and hands him a baggy, old Holyhead Harpies jersey, smiling a little, apologetically. Her frame is small and that is the only garment she owns with any hope of fitting him.
She looks at him properly for a long time, like she hasn't seen him in a while. There are lines running across his forehead and around his eyes. She fathoms briefly on how little it takes to age. Not the years, but the experiences. Her eyes trail lower and rest on his arm. He prefers full sleeved shirts for they hide the mark he so detests. Today, it is visible. Fading into his skin, but still clearly visible against the alabaster white. More like a man, less like a boy.
His hair is sopping wet and he looks infinitely older, but other than that, he still looks like the troubled boy she ran into two years ago. More like a boy, less like a man.
'Perhaps I've been too harsh,' she murmurs and subconsciously stretches out her arm to trace the contours of the mark. It takes her a second to pull out of her reverie, before she begins jostling about her tiny apartment, trying to get them something to eat and drink.
She makes tea and noodles from a packet. She can't cook.
'What do you want to talk about?'
They are sat at the table, a small one. Their legs are almost touching even though they are sitting on opposite ends of it. All of a sudden, she feels conscious and pulls them up onto the chair.
'The weather,' he replies. Safe.
'Come on,' she almost snorts in response. 'It's England. It's raining. What more is to be said?'
'The rain... it... it's like an eraser. It wipes out all the bullshit. A fresh start, if you may.'
The silence takes over again, but this time it isn't actually quiet. It's humming with unspoken thoughts and emotions. It's reflective.
The rain pounds outside the window as they face each other in the bedroom. He pulls her towards him tightly, into an embrace and something inside her just clicks. And just like that, a part of her she never knew was broken is fixed.
'Thank you,' he whispers, his breath tickling the back of her neck like warm summer rain.
'No, thank you.'
He strokes her hand, his fingertips skimming the skin on her forearm lightly, sending shivers up her spine. Her eyes close and a short gasp escapes her lips as she realises that this is a forbidden luxury. She cannot give in for the sake of one night.
She takes a step back and pauses to clear her head. 'Remember, nothing has to happen.'
'Right,' he nods. It is awkward for a moment, and then they both clamber into bed.
They fall asleep- happy and comfortable for the moment- with their arms and legs knotted with each other's. Their breathing is synchronised, in rhythm. Her face is nuzzled into his chest and her entire body rises and falls with it.
When she wakes in the morning, he is looking at her, contemplating, evaluating. Smiling, even. No, not smirking, but actually smiling.
'What?' She snaps a little. She looks beautiful in the soft glow of the morning light.
'I... I've been so foolish. These are the moments life is made of. This is not just want, it is need.'
His lips catch hers in one swift motion, and this time it is different. Soft, but passionate and not sloppy in the least.
At last, the truth.
And I thought the chances of this happening were infinitesimal now, she laughs into his shoulder.
He does not remember how he first met her, really. He screws his eyes up in concentration, in an attempt to figure things out. He cannot remember. When he thinks, he feels like he has always known her, but never really known her. Of course they had seen each other at school. She was a mere greeting, a nod of the head, sometimes a small smile tugging at the corner of his lips. She was his friend's younger sister, probably off laughing with her friends when he plotted the demise of Albus Dumbledore. He was sure he'd never noticed her until he had to. Such a shame, really, it had been to put her in the background, he thinks. All those wasted years.
She is his whole entire life now.
'Are you thinking about something?'
'You,' he smiles, his eyes softening.
She clutches her chest in one swift, exaggerated motion and laughter spills out of her open mouth.
She is so beautiful. Enormously beautiful. Unbelievably beautiful.
She is liquid, flowing everywhere, through all his holes to fill them and fix him. He can't remember how he lived before her. Had he ever really lived? he thinks.
He makes a promise to himself. It's selfish, but he'll never let her go.
'Caged bird,' he mutters, and oddly, he doesn't feel too bad about it at all.
A vivid rush of emotions bubble in her stomach when she sees him with a bunch of flowers and a key. Confusion passes onto her face, but then he kisses her, and asks, 'Will you live with me by the river?'
She is the sky, and he is the earth and all they really needed was water for wildflowers to bloom. Perfection strikes once in a lifetime, and hers came in him.
She can't remember that there had once been a time when he was a mess. All she can think of now is how much she has always really needed him.
A thought enters her mind. Want, not need, Astoria.
Had there ever been any other answer?
He is confused. Didn't rings usually adjust according to the finger?
'I wasn't asking if you wanted one, sir. Which one, I meant.'
This had to be the stupidest idea, he thought.
'Emeralds and diamonds.'
She liked green. And she was a Slytherin. This couldn't be wrong... right?
Why had Blaise asked him to go to a Muggle shop, again?
The sky is overcast and grey. How symbolic.
Two iron gates tower over him. His hand keeps brushing non-existent dust off his dark suit. He pats his hair lightly, over and over again to make sure that it hasn't moved out of place. He is visibly nervous. Swallowing down the lump in his throat, he grips one of the bars of the gate and pushes it slowly.
A house elf greets him. He is barely able to say what he wants to say because the nerves are clogging up his throat. He manages to croak out the words incoherently, but the house elf understands, and before he knows it, he is stood in the entryway of a rather large living room. There are deep maroon curtains, rich and velvet, from floor to ceiling on three sides of this grand room. On the fourth, a fire is crackling and roaring under shelves of trophies and books and some photographs.
Draco stares at one of a girl in pig tails with gaps between her teeth, and almost returns her wave. I'll marry you someday, he thinks.
A man in an armchair grunts rather unappreciatively, and grabs his wand from the small table.
They have met, of course. It doesn't mean they get along, unfortunately.
'Malfoy,' he nods.
The boy is near shaking, but hand shoots into his pocket and pulls out, not a wand like the man expected, but a small box.
The gesture is self explanatory, the wand arm rises immediately, a shot of light almost, almost hits him. Right in the chest, it would have been too. Words are exchanged, are exchanged in anger.
He stalks off into the sheets of rain, muttering. No longer scared, but genuinely furious.
A slight figure rushes through the rain, cutting through the dense air- her mother. Her fingers wrap around his upper arm, but he pushes her off.
'What haven't I given her?' He roars over the storm, whipping around in one fluid motion, to face her. 'Tell me.'
His silver hair is plastered to his forehead and those grey eyes are stony with rage, and a slight hint of plea.
Her mother studies him for a moment before asking, 'Do you love her enough for the rest of your life?'
He nods, swallowing. Here is his opening.
'For better. For worse.'
His words linger in the air for the longest second as she considers him.
'Then yes, you have my permission.'
Had there ever really been any other answer?
'I'm too old fashioned to think of something new,' he tells her, opening a bottle of wine.
'I don't know what on earth you're talking about, Draco.'
She smiles at him and sits on the grass. The stars are twinkling above them. Dense, sparkling.
'Beautiful,' she breathes in delight and he nods, looking at her from the corner of his eyes.
His stomach is dancing in knots. The wine splashes out of the bottle, and onto her white blouse.
'I'm so sorry,' he murmurs, red faced.
'What's wrong with you today?' She's laughing.
'You won't meet my eyes.'
Overcome with a sudden bout of courage, he head snaps up. If he doesn't tell her now, he never will.
'Astoria Greengrass, will you marry me?'
Nothing fancy. The speech has left his mind. He's fumbling with the silverware, his eyes are trained on the forks.
A beat of silence.
The wine. The stars. His eyes. They swim in her mind.
She closes her eyes and smiles, a little. Nothing is said.
How very Astoria of her.
The wine. The stars. The eyes. Still swimming in her mind.
She leans forward and presses her lips against his.
'Come again, didn't hear you,' he grins openly.
'Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.' She falls into his open arms, and they fall back together.
Had there ever been any other answer?
'I once tried to kill a man.'
His head is in her lap. His mind is elsewhere.
'I know. We don't talk about it anymore,' she tells him, absentmindedly wincing, while pushing the hair of his grey eyes.
'I don't deserve you, Astoria Greengrass.'
'Oh, but you're the best man I've ever had the immense pleasure of knowing.'
She says it so casually. She means it too.
'We're all pawns in the system. Servile in the lap of war.'
He does not know what to say to her. He has never been one to cry, but now he blinks back the tears that are threatening to spill over.
Like any other girl, she wished for sunshine and blue skies. What she got was rain pouring out of the grey expanse. The clouds were heavy, threatening to burst and burst and burst, never ending.
Daphne points out that having lived her whole life in England, she should have seen this coming.
Still, she thinks, feeling slightly grumpy. This is really not how she wanted her wedding day to go. She continues to stare outside the window, praying for a miracle, when she remembers.
Rain wipes out all the bullshit. A fresh start. A new beginning of her and him together.
'I'll take it,' she tells her sister.
It's a small ceremony. Almost as beautiful as her dreams, and all the other clichés. All the hand-shakes and dances, all the smiling and drinking, all the people she has never said a word to has left her tired and him dazed. When they collapse into each other's arms at the end of the day, they sigh with more with relief, than with happiness. But there is happiness. Two hearts are nearly bursting with it.
No matter how broken you are, he thinks, you can have it. Smiles creep into their faces.
Forever begins in a tight embrace, and some salty tears.
Marriage (n)- the formal union of a man and a woman, typically as recognized by law, by which they become husband and wife.
Marriage (v)- Process of continuous learning.
Marriage is like a text book. They learn that there are days when you can share a bed, but sleep facing opposite directions. There are times when fights stretch on for days. Sometimes, a smile can fix things words can't. One look is sometimes just enough.
They are happy. They are confused.
They learn, she learns, that all those things your mother warns you about? Pregnancy and babies. It's not easy.
Astoria, Astoria, Astoria, he exhales. His breath is warm against her body, his whispers are raw and carnal.
Draco. She's clutching his fine, platinum hair when they topple out of bed.
In the morning, she still isn't pregnant.
It's not easy to get pregnant.
Despite everything they tell you all the time- be careful, be careful- it takes so much.
It takes months.
But. Success. Finally.
She sleeps well. She eats well. She doesn't drink. She goes for long walks in the sunlight, when it shows. Astoria Malfoy is determined to succeed at parenthood, and so is her husband.
A new chapter.
With her, everything is, thinks Draco, and he is so glad for it.
For a while, that's all they both can feel- glad.
for a while.
Then one day, there is blood flowing out of her.
Blood isn't supposed to be flowing out of her.
There are cramps.
Her abdomen hurts to the point of tears.
She hopes, hopes, hopes that it is just the baby kicking.
It isn't. She knows.
And the Healer confirms it.
'I'm sorry, Mr and Mrs Malfoy. You will not be having a child.'
In the Malfoy household, they don't say the M word for a while, and no, it isn't Mudblood.
To anybody else, it is merely another night, caught in the passing of time.
To them, it is the cataclysmic understanding of what loss really feels like. Of how endings work.
Many important lessons in life are learnt over broken hopes. This is no different.
Tears flow freely (face your grief) as they lie there (be grateful for what you have) side by side.
That night, he holds her tightly to his chest. They curl up and pull the covers over their heads and wait for the tears to stop.
Feeble attempts at conversation die as quickly as they begin.
For once, he tells her, for once, I want something to work.
It is nearly two hours later that he is struck by the realisation that, at this very moment, he holds in his hands something so beautiful, and he thinks that he will always remember this. This is his something that is working. She is his everything that is working.
7th July 2005
Three months since tragedy struck, but they have recovered quite well.
There's a full spread English breakfast on the table for this day. To celebrate. Later, Draco would recount how the worst day of his life started out in one of the best possible ways.
He kisses his wife, full on the lips, whispering mark this date, love.
Happy, happy, happy.
They are happy, happy, happy.
Then he was gone, smiling, and she was left there standing, smiling. Like a fool.
He is applying for a new job today. He is travelling to the far side of town, taking muggle transportation, holding a briefcase, looking dapper in his new grey suit. His light skin even has a pale flush around the cheeks, blooming out of excitement.
Things will change.
'Let my name no longer define my life, Astoria.'
Today things are going to change, and how!
Mark this date. It will mean something.
Mark this date. You will never forget it.
She did mark the date later, for entirely different reasons.
The radio was on throughout the day these days.
He leaves home at eight thirty. The radio goes on ten minutes later. And ten minutes after that is when their whole world, pieced together so carefully, collapses.
Mark this date, he had said to her.
She fumbles with the dials, increasing the volume, pressing her ears to the box. She tries the dials again, but her fingers are shaking unsteadily.
A calm, mechanical voice announces.
Three underground trains. One bus. We are not sure about how many are dead.
The details fly over her head as the phrases repeat themselves.
Three trains. One bus. Death count rising. Still unsure.
He took the train today.
He was in that train today.
Dread creeps in like an unwelcome guest and her stomach twists itself into knots. She knows, even before she leaves the house, that everything has happened.
'But Sir, he is my husband,' she pleads to a man at a desk. The whole place reeks of formaldehyde, but she has been waiting for nearly three hours to get inside, to see him.
'Please,' she whispers, over and over and over again till she can't wait any longer.
The tip of her wand pokes out of her coat, and her whisper ('confundus') is lost with the overlapping screeches of the ambulances outside.
Once inside, her heart lurches. All around her are people, dead or dying. Flesh, blood and bones mingle with tears and screams, dulling into gentle sobs. Her eyes close for a second, as she collects herself. Then they flutter open, determined, and she scans the room sharply, searching for his blonde head.
Her heart drops to her stomach when she spots him at the far end of the room, heavily bandaged and nearly asleep. She is grounded, scared, but she has to know. So she walks to him, unsteadily, unable to stop the tears from forming salty tracks down her face.
She lays head on his chest, ear to heart and feels the gentle vibration. Feeble, but there. Relief, however slight whistles through her lips as she pulls back.
Draco Malfoy is alive.
An elderly woman in white watches over them, slightly tearfully. She knows he won't make it. Young love, her heart sighs. If there is a place where hope is alive, it's in the heart of a young fool in love, fluttering and soaring, and most definitely alive.
'Nurse?' She gives them one last look before scurrying away to answer the call.
'We are trying.'
'I'd like to have him transferred.'
'Mrs Malfoy, we understand you concern, but we simply can't-'
'I said I would like to have him transferred. Trying means nothing to me.'
Her voice is cold as her tears, dripping from her chin.
Her fingers circle around the mug as she brings it to her lips and takes a sip. The warmth of the tea soothes her down a little.
'How long has it been again?'
'Three days, Blaise. He hasn't opened his eyes.'
She notes how there was a time when she had been desperately in love with him. How it was his face she wished for every morning, how his voice melted her heart and how his kisses made her tears dry.
Time changes things as much as people.
He would have blown his enemy's head off if he had to a few years ago, and now he's amongst the best Healers she knows. Still, she feels nothing now when she sees him, not a modicum of her former, blazing love worms its way into her heart, but she is still fond of him.
'I'll see what I can do,' he says, and his voice is assuring.
Her mind travels back to the war, to her husband's dark mark, to Blaise's voice screaming out unforgivable curse after unforgivable curse. I guess, she thinks, I've always been attracted to bad men with good hearts.
With that, she leaves him, slightly more hopeful.
The next morning, Draco Malfoy is in St Mungo's, and by afternoon, they tell her that he will make it.
She can count, on the fingers of one hand, the few number of times anything has made her happier than that.
It's almost ten days before he stirs in his bed at the hospital. Astoria has fallen asleep, draped over his legs and as he moves, she moves. She's slow at first, disoriented, but soon, she realises what is happening and nearly jumps up with a clap. There are fresh tears now, happy ones. She almost screams, in that triumphant kind of way as he stirs a little more. Finally, his eyes open and she is filled with the thought that he is breathing, beautiful and breathing and alive. She loves the first ten seconds after a person opens their eyes and can't tell where they are, or who they are, or what has happened to them. They forget if they're broke or unhappy or hurt. They forget if they've survived bombs with nothing more than marks on their skin, marks she doesn't care about. She watches as he looks around, confused at first. When he spots her, he smiles, not much, but just a little. He doesn't know what has happened, but he knows that she waited for him here, and as he lets that sink into him, he realises that something else is also sinking into him, slowly and surely.
In all the hustle and bustle, and crying and laughter, and relief, he can see Astoria's mouth moving, but he can't hear a thing.
He digs his fingers into his ear, hoping that something would happen- would go pop- and magically let him hear all the lovely sounds again.
He is wrong.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
The last thing Draco Malfoy ever heard in his life, ever, was the sound that killed his sense- a blast.
You never know what you have until it's gone, says the cliché.
Astoria never had a particularly beautiful voice. Nothing to make the birds sing and all that. But Draco missed it all the same. He missed it so much, and sometimes, he tried to imagine it in his mind, but it never came close to reality.
What is reality now? Garbled nonsense.
It's like living in a bubble. He can see things, he can smell things and touch them. But he can never hear, not one thing, not even muted or dull. There is silence. Complete silence.
Things like these don't happen to everyone. When you can't hear the present, you begin dwelling in the past. It screams louder and louder and louder in your ears till you want to cover them and stop the noise. But the future isn't deaf, so it makes something happen. You start thinking.
Recovery is harder than anything either of them have ever tried and soon, they start looking for a distraction, and then another. He talks, she writes, he reads, he talks again, in response. It's clockwork, this routine.
Then one day, he tells her what the future is thinking.
Try again. For a baby, try again.
Third time lucky.
Finally something to smile about in this household.
A boy is born just as the snow is melting away. He cries loudly, and Astoria finds herself brave enough to make jokes about how Draco is lucky to not be able to hear. He laughs too. It's a happy time for both of them.
For the next eleven years, they know, that they are going to be consumed with this small boy. A distraction, they both agree, that is long enough.
What neither of them say out loud, is how this boy is so much more than a mere distraction. It is a new beginning. And somehow they have once again found themselves where they often do with each other- at another beginning.
Scorpius, Draco wants to call him and Astoria can't help but wonder what Malfoy men have against nice sounding names. She agrees, however. Scorpius Malfoy, she decides, has a pleasant ring to it after all.
Every summer, when he comes back from school, he will tell them that they are crap at names.
But raising a baby is hard work, especially when communication comes with great effort. Sleepless nights ensue, followed by packed days and they find themselves having no room for each other.
They have a house elf now- Binky- to help with the baby and the household chores that Astoria can't find it in her to do any more.
For far too long, they both feel like they're sleeping in sleepless nights.
All I have is this.
Blaise Zabini walks out of The Leaky Caldron and down Diagon Alley, smiling politely at familiar faces. He has some work to finish at Gringotts, but before he can get there, he is interrupted by the sounds of a crying woman, tucked away in one of those shady alleyways, under an overpass. She is well hidden, and Blaise only stops because he thinks he knows her.
She turns so slowly that he feels as if time has frozen.
'Blaise,' she notes, pulling her arm up to her nose to wipe it clean with her sweater. Her eyes and red and blotchy, and she wants to justify this, herself to him, but she doesn't find it in her, so she just collapses into his arms. The tears start streaming down her face in full force now and a deep sob emanates from her throat.
'I'm sorry,' she whispers. 'Sorry, sorry, sorry.'
He says nothing, just holds her as sobs rake through her body without abandon, as she trembles and shakes and just cries.
In another life, he thinks regretfully, before grabbing her shoulders gently and pushing her away slightly. He surveys her, clearly concerned. Before she knows it, he has grabbed her hand and is walking into the main alley, and she hates it. Hates, hates, hates the way people are looking at her, whispering slightly.
Faces blur by and sometimes, she makes an effort to sort of smile. The faces that used to pass her on this street earlier were her parents' friends or acquaintances. There were very few people she would recognise on her own, but now? Now it is different. Almost everyone is someone she knows or has seen before. The people bustling by, to get to work, to buy potions and ingredients, to grab a drink, are her friends and classmates, and suddenly, she feels inexplicably old. Marriage and childbirth gave her some joy, older and happier, but this?
But this is different. This is lead hitting your chest, reminding you of a grand clock, hanging somewhere in the air, in the breeze, counting down, counting away, counting always. And she starts crying again.
In all that has happened, she has lost years of her life, succumbing to pain. There are happier things to think about. Happier things than this, things that she remembers faintly.
He takes her to his house, mainly because he doesn't want her to do something stupid. He pours her a glass of water, trying to ignore the strong stench of Firewhiskey and cigarettes that trails out of her mouth each time she tries to say something.
Finally, she speaks.
'Everything is different.'
'I know,' he sighs, covering her hand with his, giving it a gentle squeeze.
'No,' she says, shaking her head and laughing bitterly,' I meant that everything is difficult.'
He doesn't say anything for a long time. And then, just as she is about to think that it's over, that the conversation, if there ever had been one, has died, he replies.
'It's supposed to be. It doesn't get any easier for a while now, but life goes... on.'
She nods and think about how her thoughts were drifting back to simpler times. She voices her concerns aloud, whether things would be easier if she had never chosen this.
'Well, you're a Slytherin.'
'I get what I want.'
'You're in love... with Draco. Still in love like you're both still twenty.'
So he goes on, 'And love doesn't check your house before knocking. Slytherin or not, go back home and stop second guessing your choices.'
She falls asleep, her head bent over his wooden table.
He doesn't say a word, but he thinks.
In another life...
Thinking is simple.
She awakes, red-faced and ashamed.
'Go home, little fool.'
And so she does, hanging her head low.
The first thing she does when she gets back is check on her son. Then she goes to the dining room, where Draco is sat at their table, reading the paper. He doesn't look up when she comes. He cannot hear her footsteps. He only learns that she is there when she gently grazes his shoulder with her fingertips and kisses him lightly on the cheek. He smiles, and asks.
'Where were you all day?'
She scribbles, in that neat cursive of hers, 'At Blaise's house.'
It isn't necessary anymore. All this parchment and scribbling. He can read her lips, can tell by the way her words form, what she is trying to say. Sometimes he gets it wrong, and sometimes he answers a little too loudly. But he is learning how to deal.
Months after it happened, he is still learning to cope, and so is she.
Well, that's life.
Draco smiles, but says nothing and she looks into his eyes, digging and daring, but finds nothing. He is genuinely unbothered by this, and she is overwhelmed by how much he trusts her and how lucky she is.
That night, when little Scorpius falls asleep, Astoria and Draco make love for the first time in six weeks and she loves, loves, loves him again. When she pulls back from his kisses, she gives him a very watery smile.
She cannot believe herself.
Never again, she tells herself, thinking of that day, of her doubts, kissing him with more passion.
Years pass and somehow, they battle the sluggishness that crept in during the middle. After all, they have battled worse things before. Scorpius grows, they buy him things, take him everywhere. They show him what love is, and he is a good child, he is good for them. It's difficult for them when he leaves, and for a while their days are empty. They still talk. Well, he does and she write notebooks full of things to tell him. It doesn't get easier, but it gets better. He gets better.
One day, he takes her dancing even though he can't hear the music. They talk, through half guesses and lip reads and an abundance of shouting over the music. When she clutches her hand over her chest and lets the laughter spill out of her mouth, he thinks she is beautiful, beautiful, beautiful and somehow, it is that simple for them.
It's the little things that keep them happy and there is laughter, even though he can't hear it anymore, he can see it blooming in her eyes, slowly creeping back and he sighs with contentment.
Marriage is still a textbook, and after so many years with Astoria, he is still learning that sometimes love isn't balanced, it isn't equal, not always fifty fifty. But over time, none of it matters. Love isn't perfect, but the cracks are what makes it mortal and beautiful.
Immeasurable, is what he thinks when he sees her now. They have both grown and where there's growth, there's life, and where there's life, there's beauty.
They breathe laughter. Golden years, they call it, spinning and whirring through life, almost like a dance, a smooth waltz. Grace is the way they almost swing into each other every day, without ever hitting each other. There is no collision, just their little dance.
What is it, he wonders. What is any of it? How did they come to be? How did they make a living out of the shreds of death? Life is a mystery. Maybe, just maybe, it wants them to play on its terms.
All around them, engagements and weddings, funerals and life happens as they swing through it.
'I'm getting married.'
Years have passed. They didn't even notice.
Ten months later, Draco feels like her has smiled enough for a lifetime. His wife kisses him as they dance and later, she writes what seems to be a long letter to him. She is proud of how he has battled against himself for his son's happiness. One day, she thinks, they will have grandchildren, and frankly, she doesn't care if their hair is red or blonde as long as they're happy.
It is years later. They are older, not old, but older. Time is ticking in their palms, and as they days go by, a new kind of comfort seeps in.
His breath tickles the back of her neck, I love, love, love, love-
She has fainted in his arms.
'Astoria, there is blood flowing from your nose.'
It's nothing, nothing, says her cursive, and lips move soundlessly, curling in false smiles, but even then, she blots her nostrils with pieces of tissue paper, and then some more.
'It's only a spot of blood,' she laughs airily.
Except, it's not, not just a spot of blood. Gums are bleeding, her back is bruising and for the tenth time in a week, she finds herself woozily grabbing the wooden railing in panic as she descends the stairs.
She doesn't talk often, given Draco's condition, but one day when Scorpius comes to visit, she almost chokes while trying to speak.
'Hello,' she manages to croak out on her third attempt.
It's three in the afternoon, and it is raining, predictably so. She doesn't want to do this, but he hasn't given her a choice. The sky outside is gray, overcast, like their mood. It is completely silent, and this time, it isn't because of all that has happened. Electric nerves.
'Nothing's wrong,' she whispers.
But both of them know that it isn't just blood that's pouring from her cavities, and it isn't just the stench of vomit that hangs in the bathroom air when Draco rises in the morning. Sometimes, when she faints, it happens so slowly that tears have found themselves half way down his cheeks before she even hits the ground.
You're going soft, she jokes, as she gently smoothens out the tears using her thumb.
But that isn't it, this isn't supposed to happen, he hisses, worried.
Healer Jennings is a broad shouldered man with a square jaw. He moves in this fluid manner than unnerves Draco. He clutches Astoria's fingers under the table as the Healer performs tests on her. There are potions and charms, actions and reactions, and after almost three hours, the Healer holds a thick parchment full of words and scribbles neither of them understand. His brows knit together and his eyes grow significantly wider. His mouth moves fast, too fast for Draco (he catches some words- serious, not long, potions) and Astoria's face pales. However, when Draco looks at her, she gives him a small smile and a reassuring squeeze.
He presses. What is it?
Healer Jennings pulls out a fresh parchment and a quill and notes down some symptoms.
Loss of hair.
Loss of voice.
But what is it, he asks again.
It means death wish.
What does this mean? For Astoria? For us?
Sir, your wife is dying.
Her voice leaves her four weeks after the first appointment. Her last words were directed towards her son. They aren't memorable, and after he leaves, she ponders about how frail everything is, about how sometimes, you just help how things pan out for you even when you know what's happening.
There was always that line in the horizon, she thinks, and it's always just there. You never see it approaching, and yet it never does.
Astoria dreams beautiful dreams. Her life flashes in vivid colours, splashed all over her youth and years. The middle rarely shows up.
Wrinkles appear on Draco's face, and even though she's sad because she never imagined a time when age would overcome them, and so she jokes.
We wanted to grow old together, didn't we?
He isn't impressed.
The manor is far too huge for two of them, and the silence makes it heavier. He still talks to her, sometimes in quiet soothing tones, sometimes rather passionately, emphasising oh how they'll get through this as well, like they always do, together, like they got through life.
And in response, she mouths words to him, and writes some others. They're so used to each other, and they slip in and out of new systems so frequently, that it doesn't take long to devise a new one.
Just that now when she speaks, it isn't just soundless to him.
He is encouraging, looking ahead, determines to beat the disease, find a cure.
He assures and reassures himself to the point of belief. It's his coping mechanism.
Astoria is different though. Something inside her is breaking steadily, sudden bouts of pain hit her chest like lightening, and she can't stop any of it.
Sometimes, she cries when he isn't looking.
One can't talk and the other can't listen, don't we make the perfect fit?
Astoria had once told Draco about her dreams after the war. She wanted to forget everything and everyone. The acrid hatred she had once felt had gradually matured into gentle indifference. She was so tired of it all, so tired and so lost, so young, but so old.
Astoria lapses back and forth from past to present, present to past, in an attempt to ward off the (lack of a) future. She thinks back to how she had once believed that she no time for love or marriage or children. The war had lined faint gutters on the faces of even the youngest of men, and her life was scarred by the marks of battle and death.
No time for love? What kind of a ridiculous thing is that to say, Astoria? She thought now.
'Maybe we could try something else?'
He is running out of ideas, but hope still burns bright in the depths of his being. Love this strong can't crumble under the pressure of a mere disease, surely. They have fought life throughout their time, and this is the final hurdle.
Still, somewhere in the distance, the echoes of life's mirthless laughter rebound off empty walls and ricochet in her mind. She doesn't say this to him though, she doesn't say that she thinks they may have lost this one.
While he is busy searching for ways to circumvent the problem, she is staring in the face of it, immobilised by the sudden deterioration of her voice, her body, her being.
'Maybe we could try something else?' He continues to prod, while she continues to accept. She's powerless against the throes of fate, in all its cruel glory.
It comes down to this.
During the war: 'Tory, are you scared of dying?'
Astoria, young and still untainted by life, smiled sordidly.
'No. After all, death doesn't happen to us. It happens to the people we leave behind. What about you, Daph?'
'Yeah, yeah. I am. Simple as that.'
And here she is, Astoria Malfoy, worried about death, spending sleepless nights staring at her husband's lumpy form for the fear of never having seen his face enough. This is what she will lose when it's all over.
'Yes, Daph. I'm scared.'
The moon is breathtaking outside. His face glows in the strip of its light that has slipped in through the crack of glass, in between the thick curtains. With a jolt, she thinks, that she may not live to see the next full moon.
When she does fall asleep, she dreams all sorts of dreams. Wars, crumbling castles, sloppy first kisses, Draco drunk on wine at their wedding, the first time Scorpius smiled, the time he brought his first girlfriend home, getting slapped by Lucius Malfoy, writing guest articles for the Prophet, her dysfunctional voice box, a tear in the fabric, a slack in the grip, a hitch in the breath.
She awakes, covered in sweat to find sun beams all around her. Somewhere in her chest, a lightness blooms, slowly, slowly. It blooms and spreads down to her stomach, up to her throat, closing it off. It takes her a second to realise that there are tears running down her cheeks.
Well played, life. Love is your trump card.
I am no longer even certain I know what the end means.
Her dark hair is splayed across the white pillow. Her chest heaves and falls with her breathing. She hasn't told Draco about how much everything has been hurting and collapsing.
Familiar memories masquerading as dreams.
Dreams that focus on him, on her son, on Blaise, on Daphne, on Rose, on pregnant Rose. There's laughter, more tears, bombs, hospitals, sick pristine whites, blood where there shouldn't be, there's rain, weddings, honeymoons, death of sound, dances, love, kisses, hugs that squeezed her insides out, there's reformation and recovery, there's sunshine, moonbeams, trails of dust, of death, a single orchid bush in their garden, there's life where she looks, there's pain, unending pain when she sleeps and also when she doesn't sleep, there are tears now, steady tears, a fiftieth birthday that will never come, multiple tears in the carefully stitched fabric that is her life, a slack in the grip, a hitch in the breath, breathlessness, gasps-
There's a slight shift in the universe, dead-weight sinking on the bed, as it takes another life, quietly.
Draco Malfoy turns onto his side, and Astoria's hand slips out of his as he does so.
Draco pulls the blanket tighter around his body as he rises. The morning is cold, but it is not the cause of his numbness.
The funeral was teary. Far too many people showed up, he'd had a break down, Scorpius was broken, Rose handled everything, pregnant, but efficient, and even she cried through the entire thing.
For days that seemed like decades strung together, every semblance of life vanished entirely from the Malfoy household.
Draco refuses to get out of bed even on his best days, and the poor house elf feels more overworked than she even did when Scorpius was a baby. She doesn't complain though. Her heart is heavy with sorrow, like her master's.
Rose and Scorpius visit often. They bring their baby. For a few minutes, everyone acts as if there isn't a heavy presence hanging in the air of the room. But when it does get too much to bear, they deal with it in the own way, leaving Draco to feel alone again.
Her sister visits now and then. They used to be close. Daphne and Astoria, Draco and Daphne, but the years have overcome them and now they spend awkward silences counting the minutes, offering a few thoughts on how lovely Astoria was.
'Lovely, lovely. She used to sing! It's a pity her voice died towards the end.'
And how Draco mercilessly wished that death had come knocking on Daphne's door instead of her sister's.
He wants to take things as they come, one day at a time. But when you're in a state of perpetual suspension, every day feels like eternity. Especially with all the silence he cannot hear.
On one of these days, Draco notices how the pages on the calendar have been turned. It is no longer, November or December, it is nearly spring, and the snow outside his window, which used to be thick and impossible is melting, letting in some light, leaving behind dirty yellow puddles of slush.
This was Astoria's favourite time of the year. She called it virgin sunlight and she loved how its warmth tingled on her flesh. The first rays after the snow, she had said, are always the freshest.
Draco does not wipe the tears that are streaming down his face. He lets them run, while thinking of her, feeling lighter with each passing minute. He had, in his youth, been foolish enough to oversimplify her presence in his life. He had called her catharsis, and finally, irony had decided to rear its ugly head by swiping her away and giving him enough tears for catharsis. He is sobbing by now, without abandon. He lets the tears fall from the peak of his nose, roll off his chin, splash on the clean kitchen counter, as he surveys the snow and the sun in his garden.
Like the white ice outside, he is thawing.
And like she had, in those final days of living, he accepts the deck that life has dealt him, he accepts that it is never possible to completely move on from a loss like this one. The scar is carved too deep into his skin, it is cored too deep into his soul and it lives in his heart, and it will live on. She will live on in his heart. Everything she has done to him has made him a better person, and traces of her touch will always be evident on him.
After several long moments, as he stares at the tiniest patch of sky that has cleared up, he is forced to conclude, as we all must when bad things happen, that you can't rewrite history. You can only move forward.
He plants an orchid bush in the place of the one that Astoria had cared for. The winter had taken it away, just after her demise.
He plants it for her. It is such a small thing to do, but it makes him happy, gives him an odd sense of closure. He cares for it, waters in, used his limited Herbology knowledge to give it the best conditions, and over time, he sees it grow. Varied hues of purple and white colour the thin, slender petals, and he watches, remembering once again how beautiful life really is.
After all, recovery isn't about forgetting. It's about clutching the pain in your chest and letting it shape you, change you, better you.
'I can't live a day without you,' he had thought. And yet, here he was, turning soil, smelling flowers, letting the fresh sun kiss his skin. There is still a hollow cavity in him, but he is no longer the cavity itself.
All things considered, Draco Malfoy has had a good summer. It is difficult, he finds, to focus on death and decay, when the sweat on your palms and the breath of hard work, are the direct consequences of giving life to something.
After all, where there is growth, there is life, and where there's life, there is beauty.
And so, he collects himself piece by piece, takes small steps. A simpler day, a nice read in the paper, a satisfying meal, and an unexpected laugh.
Life goes on, one day at a time.
Life goes on.
One night Draco Malfoy goes to sleep and never wakes up- swift, painless. The papers cover it, there is a funeral and so much happens... but none of it matters.
He feels light, like his wife once had. Rubbing his eyes, like he's just awoken from a state of deep slumber, he stumbles forward on the ground, only to find that it is all just an expanse of white. All around him, all he can see, stretched for miles and miles and miles is just pure white. There seems to be a soft glow emanating from it, making it almost ethereal. He has no way of telling if he is indoors or outdoors.
He steps forward, cautiously, slightly curious, even more aimless. He doesn't know which way to go, or what it is that he is seeking, but he walks anyway, telling himself that he has to start somewhere.
From somewhere far behind him, a low, deep rumble comes to life, and he jerks up, and does a double take. It has been more than half a lifetime since he has been able to hear any sort of sound. A part of him is elated, another part of him is curious, but in most, he is confused.
And then, just as suddenly as he had heard it, he sees it. A small speck in the horizon, growing larger and larger, coming towards him at an alarming pace. It stops at a distance, and Draco gathers himself and prepares to walk towards it.
He has a feeling, he thinks he knows what it is, what it could be. But of course, he has never been dead before, so he doesn't really know, can't really know.
He walks and walks, faster and faster, but the object still remains at some distance. To his right, he notices a clock, one he hadn't seen before.
For some reason, call it instinct, he knows he has to be there by 11:00 A.M.
He breaks into a run, surprised that he is more agile than he was when he last used his legs, and the whole ordeal seems much less tiring.
As he nears it, he confirms that his guess was right. Standing in the station, emitting the low rumble, is a magnificent maroon express, much like the Hogwarts Express in appearance, except for the signs.
Before he can get to the station, it begins moving. But even as his pace quickens, he knows that he cannot outrace it. In one final sprint, he makes it to the edge of the platform. He's done, exhausted, and just while he thinks, with a sinking feeling, that he may have to wait a whole year for a chance like this again, a hand shoots out of the compartment and grabs him.
He doesn't give it a thought. He grips the hand and hops onto the train, just as it speeds up, just before it becomes too fast for him to be able to do that.
'And I thought you'd never make it.'
Draco's head shoots up in recognition, and his body grips hers in an embrace. 'Astoria?'
She laughs, relieved.
He collapses into her arms and she clutches his head to her chest, sobbing. They're both sobbing without restraint. It has been far too long.
'What is this, finally?'
'I don't know,' she responds. 'I've never actually gotten off.'
She rolls her eyes, exasperated already. But of course he knows why.
'You waited for me?' It comes out like a question.
'Yes,' she breathes. He has longed to hear that voice for many years now. 'Yes, I did.'
Had there ever really been any other answer?
If you have made it till here, surely a slightly longish author's note won't be too much more?
I read a poem called 'The Silver Lily' by Louise Gluck a few months ago, and that served as the original inspiration for this. A few days after I started writing it, I entered a really difficult phase and I just couldn't carry on for a while. During that time, Kevin, a good friend of mine, really helped me. Over time, we have spoken a lot about topics like loss and recovery, and for all those reasons, I'd like to dedicate this story to him. Thank you, Kevin. (I do believe it covers those themes.)
And Kevin, I am sorry I didn't know that you didn't like Draco, but I still hope you like it if you read it!
It's true that very little of the original idea remains. The story and the plot have grown and evolved so much over time. Also, I had planned a much angstier ending to this, but I decided to keep it, hopefully, bittersweet. Some final necessary touches of editing will be done in a couple of days.
As for credit:
"I am no longer certain I know what the end means." is not my line. It was taken from The Silver Lily.
Also, the line about not being able to rewrite history is something Kevin said to me. I've just paraphrased it a bit to fit.
I'd like to thank Sian (nott theodore) and Lauren (FredWeasleyIsMyKing/Laurenzo7321) for their help with this!
Finally, if you can't tell, I've spent forever on this and it's very important to me. I'd love to hear your thoughts on it! Thank you for reading until the very end, and I'm sorry for this lengthy A/N to top it off.
Hope you liked it! ♥
21/3/15-A big thank you to everybody who voted for this story at the Golden Paw Awards! It really means so much to me!
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