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Detox by CambAngst
Chapter 6 : Relapse
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 19

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As always, that which you recognize belongs to JK Rowling

“I don’t believe it.”

Astoria grinned demurely as Isadore Nott fixed her with the latest in a string of incredulous stares. Four days after the visit to Hogsmeade, Astoria had finally decided that the time was right to tell the entire story to Isadore. She’d been resisting her best friend’s probing questions, revealing only that she’d met somebody in the village for tea and very much enjoyed herself. Isadore had immediately decided that Astoria was referring to Draco Malfoy. The rumors swirling around the school about the Head Girl cursing Draco within an inch of his life didn’t leave much room for doubt. Still, when Astoria broke down and told Isadore about the adventure they’d shared, her best friend was dumbstruck by the time the story was over.

Even after thinking on it for a few days, Astoria hadn’t quite decided what to make of the whole thing. On one hand, she didn’t feel as though she’d done anything particularly brave. Faced with a difficult situation, she tried to do what she felt was right. In the course of doing so, however, she’d fought a family of vengeful killers and stood up for a former Death Eater in front the Headmistress of Hogwarts. She probably shouldn’t have been surprised that Isadore had a hard time wrapping her head around it all. Astoria put on her best earnest smile and gave it another try.

“That’s how it happened, except for a few details that would bore you anyway.”

The details she’d left out were the ones about Draco’s experiences during the war. Astoria knew that she would be betraying a very important trust if she revealed his agonizing confessions to anyone else, even her best friend. In time, she hoped that he would learn to open up to others, as well. If people were going to stop thinking of him as one of the Dark Lord’s thugs who managed to buy his way out of a prison sentence, Draco was going to have to go on a major charm offensive. He needed to convince them that he had been an unwilling participant. That he had been acting under the threat of death for both himself and his family. And he couldn’t do that unless he was willing to talk about it.

Isadore took Astoria’s elbow and pulled her toward an empty section of the Slytherin house table. Astoria sighed under her breath and allowed herself to be led along. For somebody who acted as though she didn’t believe a word of what she was hearing, Isadore certainly asked a lot of questions.

“But, Astoria, how? You are so hopeless in Defense lessons -- don’t look at me like that, we both know it’s the truth -- but you managed to stun a fully qualified adult and fling a statue at somebody? And then your boyfriend apparated you both to Derbyshire after taking a blasting curse from Granger? And you both made it in one piece?”

It took every ounce of Astoria’s self-control not to drop her books and cover Isadore’s mouth with her hands. She pulled her elbow behind her back, drawing her friend closer, and hissed out her response.

“He isn’t my boyfriend, alright? Good heavens, Isadore, this is how rumors start! And levitating a statue isn’t Defense, it’s Charms!”

The two girls set their books down and took seats on the long wooden bench. Isadore took a quick look around before continuing in an excited whisper.

“Stop trying to change the subject, Astoria! He took you to some romantic spot and the two of you had lunch together all by yourselves. I know you wouldn’t do that with just anyone. It isn’t at all proper. This sounds pretty serious to me.”

“No, you don’t understand! We left the village together so we wouldn’t get killed! He picked that little cafe because he knew it was safe. And we were only gone so long because he needed to rest so we could apparate back safely.”

Isadore rolled her eyes knowingly and leaned closer.

“You don’t have to make up all these stories, you know. You’re my best friend, I won’t think any less of you. It isn’t like you went to some seedy muggle inn and- Ow!”

Astoria elbowed her friend in the side. It wasn’t proper. It wasn’t dignified or ladylike. It wasn’t even nice. But Isadore did stop talking, and for that Astoria was grateful. The wounded look in her friend’s eyes made Astoria feel a bit bad, and she tried to soften her scowl before she whispered into the other girl’s ear.

“Isadore, please! I’m telling you the truth. Now will you please stop asking me about it before the whole school thinks that I slept with him?”

Isadore stared at her for a second, then shrugged and began to fill her plate.

“Have it your way. All I’m saying is that when you’re ready to tell the real story, I won’t judge.”

Astoria sighed and reached for a jug of pumpkin juice. Just as she was about to pour, a large post owl swooped down and landed next to her plate. There was a letter affixed to its leg, sealed with a blob of red wax. Astoria recognized the seal and instantly felt her chest tighten up. The letter was from her father. It was short and to the point.

Astoria Persephone Greengrass,

I will be arriving at Hogwarts via the floo in the Headmistress’s office at precisely nine o’clock this morning. Meet me there. I wish to discuss a letter I received from the Ministry.

Your Father

She folded the parchment between her fingers and checked her watch. It was half eight. That left thirty minutes to figure out a way to convince her father not to kill her, or worse still, remove her from Hogwarts. She stood up from her seat and grabbed Isadore by the elbow as she scooped up her books.

“Come on. There isn’t much time.”

Isadore made a muffled noise of protest through her full mouth. Astoria began to walk away, holding tightly to her best friend’s arm. Isadore made a desperate grab for a muffin and her Potions text before stumbling along in Astoria’s wake. Astoria rapidly led them out of the Great Hall and into a nearby vacant classroom, closing the door behind them. Isadore finally managed to swallow and fixed Astoria with an annoyed glare.

“Do you mind telling me what the emergency is?”

Astoria slapped the letter down on the desk in front of them and smoothed out the wrinkled parchment.

“It’s from my father! He got a letter from the Ministry. It must be from the Improper Use of Magic Office. When I stunned that man in Hogsmeade, it set off the Trace!”

Isadore’s eyes widened as she processed what Astoria was telling her.

“So you really weren’t pulling my leg? This attack on you and Draco Malfoy really happened?”

Of course it really happened! Isadore, what am I going to do? He’ll find out everything!”

Isadore looked thoughtful for a second, then shook her head.

“You were in the middle of a fight. Other people were casting spells, right? There’s no way the Ministry can prove that you were the one casting them. The Trace doesn’t work that way.”

Astoria took a deep breath, trying to sort things out in her head. Isadore was right. The Trace could only show that magic had been performed in the vicinity of an underage witch or wizard. But her problems went beyond warning letters from the Ministry.

“You’re right. The Ministry can’t prove anything. But by the time I made it back to the castle, McGonagall already knew that Draco was there. I’m sure that Father knows by now, too. I’m not ready for him to find out about Draco yet. I was hoping he could finish school first and start to make a new reputation for himself.”

“So you two are an item?”

Isadore was smiling triumphantly. As annoyed as she felt, Astoria couldn’t spare the time to argue the point.

“Alright, already! So I fancy him and I’m pretty sure he fancies me, too. It won’t matter if Father takes me out of Hogwarts and sends me off to Beauxbatons. Now help me figure out what to say to him!”

Astoria tried to resist the urge to wring her hands together while Isadore scrunched up her nose and stared at the snow-covered grounds through the classroom’s tall windows. Not for the first time, she wondered whether she was getting far too worked up over the situation. Even after their strange lunch date, there was a lot that she didn’t know about Draco Malfoy. Was she risking a major confrontation with her father for a romance that was doomed from the start? What price would she pay to find out whether Draco was her one, true love or merely another passing fancy?

Isadore interrupted her silent contemplation, lowering the tone of her voice and sounding very serious.

“You have to lie to him. I just don’t see any other option. Tell him you were minding your own business, heading to Scrivenshaft's for some new quill tips, and the next thing you knew there were people casting curses all around you and you grabbed Draco’s arm just as he was about to disapparate so you wouldn’t get killed. Then the two of you had a pleasant conversation over tea until it was safe to come back.”

It was the same lie that Astoria had been turning over and over in her head since she and Draco arrived in Derbyshire. For some reason, hearing Isadore tell it made it sound even less palatable to her.

“Isadore, I can’t.”

“You can’t? Astoria, we’re Slytherins and we’re girls. Sometimes we tell lies when we don’t even need to, just to keep people guessing.”

Astoria found that talking things through with her best friend was really helping, but not at all in the way that Isadore intended. That was part of what she loved about the girl, she supposed. Bad ideas were so much easier to spot when they came from somebody else’s lips. Shrugging her shoulders, Astoria tried to explain.

“He’s my father. I haven’t told him a lie since I was seven years old. If I start now, what happens when I really need him to believe me? Besides, that wouldn’t be fair to Draco. He didn’t try to just pop out of Hogsmeade and leave me standing there. He lied to those people to protect me and then he fought them to try to keep them from attacking me. I owe it to him to be honest about that.”

Isadore was once again staring at her with a sly grin.

“You really do care about him, don’t you? I hope you at least got to snog him a bit, because you’re taking a big risk for him.”

Astoria rolled her eyes and shook her head, then she lowered her gaze to the letter lying on the desk in front of her. It was partly for effect, but also so that Isadore wouldn’t see how close to the mark she really was. Astoria was about to take a huge risk. And she was doing it because she really did care what her father thought about Draco Malfoy.

Astoria arrived at the entrance to the Headmistress’s office three minutes before nine o’clock. Punctuality wasn’t going to save the day, but it was a step in the right direction. The stone gargoyle regarded her with a disinterested expression and spoke before moving aside.

“The Headmistress is expecting you, Miss Greengrass.”

She rode the moving stairs to the top and stopped outside of the heavy wooden door. She could hear voices coming from inside and against her better judgment, she stopped to listen.

“Of course I’m upset, Professor. My daughter was attacked with unforgivable curses and taken from the village by a young man who belongs in Azkaban. Not being a parent, perhaps you can’t understand how upsetting that is to her mother and me. I’d heard that the standards have slipped at this school since Dumbledore let his obsession with that psychopath Voldemort get the best of him, but I had no idea how bad things had gotten.”

Astoria cringed involuntarily, imagining the Headmistress stiffening in response to her father’s insinuations. A tense moment passed before McGonagall’s clipped Scottish brogue filled the silence.

“Mr. Greengrass, I assure you that your daughter is quite safe on the grounds of Hogwarts. If it is your wish that she no longer participate in our visits to Hogsmeade, that is your prerogative. As to the late Professor Dumbledore, I believe you will find that most people familiar with the particulars of the war are in agreement that what you’ve termed his obsession is the principal reason that we are once again governed by the rule of law and not the murderous whims of a madman.”

Astoria held her breath. Part of her wanted to applaud the professor’s candor and the other part was terrified that it was only making her father angrier. She heard him snort in response before continuing.

“Rule of law, indeed! This new philosophy of governance that’s become fashionable at the Ministry is a mixed bag if you ask me. I don’t see a need to go changing the law every time a muggle-born or a house elf feels put out about something.”

The conversation was probably only going to get worse from there, so Astoria knocked softly on the door. It swung open and she stepped quickly inside, avoiding eye contact with either adult. Her father acknowledged her arrival with a stiff nod and turned back to the Headmistress.

“Professor, I would appreciate a few minutes alone with my daughter. Would it be possible to use your office?”

“Very well. Please afford our guest the courtesy of not interrupting his conversation.”

Astoria looked up, trying to figure out whether there was another person sharing the room with them. It dawned on her that Professor McGonagall was addressing the portraits lining the walls. The small number of former headmasters who were not already asleep quickly closed their eyes to feign slumber. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed that one portrait remained awake. Professor Snape’s coal-black eyes peered out from beneath their heavy lids, studying her. As soon as the door closed behind the Headmistress, her father fixed her with a glare and spoke in a low, angry voice.

“Your mother and I are very disappointed in you, Astoria. I made it quite clear to you how I felt about that Malfoy boy. So what do you do? The first Hogsmeade weekend of the term, you’re sneaking off to see him. As if that wasn’t bad enough, you make the situation even worse by performing magic outside of school, leaving the village and apparating away with him to who knows where. Your mother and I have always believed in allowing you and your sister a certain amount of freedom to make your own choices in life. Your lack of judgment suggests that we’ve allowed you far too much.”

Her father’s words stung. Astoria wanted to snap back at him. She wanted to argue that she had made good choices and he was completely wrong about Draco Malfoy. But she knew that he had more to say, so she continued to stare at the professor’s desk, waiting for his leave to speak. This was one of those times where it was essential to be a good pure blood daughter.

Her father pulled a tarnished candle snuffer out of his pocket and held it up in front of her.

“You know what this is, I assume?”

She felt her breath catch in her throat. Her worst fears hung in the air, inches in front of her face. She choked out a response, barely more than a whisper.

“It’s a portkey.”

Her father nodded slowly. Astoria felt like she was wilting under the weight of his stare. It seemed to her that hours passed before he spoke again.

“Can you give any reason why I shouldn’t send you home as soon as your things are packed?”

Astoria took a deep breath. The lie she’d been considering for days, the one that Isadore insisted was necessary, sat on the tip of her tongue. Summoning all of her courage, she swallowed it. If her father was going to ship her off to France, he would at least know the truth before she left.

“I’m not going to lie to you, Father. I did use magic outside of school and I left the village. At the time, I didn’t think I had any choice. Those people were trying to kill us.”

He nodded in response, but her father didn’t look at all appeased by her confession.

“The Aurors I spoke to seemed to agree. The Ministry has decided not to take any action against you. That’s not the point, Astoria. The simple fact of the matter is that you never would have been in any danger if you hadn’t gone to see that boy. What on earth were you thinking?”

Astoria tried not to let her lower lip tremble as she looked into her father’s stormy eyes. She spoke as calmly as her nerves would allow.

“I wanted to talk to him. I told you before that he didn’t seem like the horrible person you described to me. Ever since I was old enough to understand, you’ve told me that I can’t just take other people’s opinions at face value. You said that I need to get all the facts and figure things out for myself.”

Her father started to interrupt, but Astoria gave him a pleading look and pressed on.

“What would have happened to us during the war if you’d listened to everybody else, Father? What if you’d just fallen into line with the other old families and supported the Dark Lord instead of making your own decision? We wouldn’t be standing here. You’d be in Azkaban and I’d be-”

“Astoria, that’s enough.”

Her father clearly wasn’t pleased, but the edge of anger was gone from his voice. He lowered his head and closed his eyes before pinching the bridge of his nose between his fingers. When he looked back up at her, she found his expression difficult to read.

“I always knew you’d hoist me by my own petard one day. Yes, Astoria, I want you to think for yourself. Yes, I want you to make well-reasoned decisions. But when I share my wisdom and experience with you, I expect that you will listen. Am I understood?”

Astoria nodded obediently. He slowly returned the portkey to his pocket.

“I came here with every intention of sending you home. But I would feel rather hypocritical about doing that, knowing that your mistakes are at least partly due to my own failure to make my expectations clear. Your mother won’t be pleased about this, but I’ll offer you the following bargain. You will not spend any more time with Draco Malfoy. There will be no more Hogsmeade visits, either. You will obey every rule of this school to the letter. I don’t want to receive any more letters from either the school or the Ministry. In return, you may remain here at Hogwarts. Do you agree?”

Astoria didn’t need long to consider his offer. With the prospect of being pulled out of school at least temporarily held at bay, there was little else she could do.

“I agree. I won’t see him again and I’ll follow every rule to the letter. But I still don’t think that he’s evil.”

Her father looked surprised, then annoyed. His hand moved toward his pocket and for a horrible moment Astoria knew that she’d messed up everything with her stubborn pride. But his hand stopped just short and he merely shook his head.

“Someday, when you have a bit more perspective, you’ll see that I was right. I’m late for an appointment. Please convey my appreciation to the Headmistress for the use of her office.”

Astoria watched as he tossed a pinch of floo powder into the fire and disappeared into the emerald flames. When the fire died back down, Astoria let out a breath that she felt like she’d been holding for days. It was over. She was still at Hogwarts. And he hadn’t forbidden her to use post owls...

She started toward the office door when a voice startled her.

“Naturally you must obey your father, Miss Greengrass, but if it’s any consolation to you, you are correct about Mr. Malfoy.”

Astoria spun around to find Professor Snape still fixing her with his piercing stare. She was surprised by his comment. Outside of her lessons, she was pretty sure that the man had never spoken a single word to her.

“Begging your pardon, Professor?”

Snape rolled his eyes at her and proceeded to speak very slowly.

“Mr. Malfoy is not, as you have correctly surmised, evil. To truly be evil requires a courage in one’s convictions that neither Draco nor his father will ever possess.”

Astoria stared back and tried to parse his words in her mind. She’d always found that the line that separated Snape’s compliments from his insults was exceedingly fine and quite fluid.

“So you don’t think that Draco is brave?”

“On the contrary, Miss Greengrass, I have seen Draco exhibit considerable courage in situations that would have left his father seeking a dry pair of trousers. However, that is neither here nor there. You stated that Draco is not evil and you are absolutely correct.”

Astoria took a cautious step closer to Snape’s portrait. She’d always heard that Draco was among his favorite students. Rumors had even circulated that Mrs. Malfoy extracted a promise from Snape to keep Draco safe during the war. Perhaps he wouldn’t be above offering her a bit of advice.

“Professor, how do you think I should go about convincing my father to see the truth about Draco?”

Snape closed his eyes for a long moment. Astoria began to worry that he’d decided to go back to sleep instead of answering. When he finally replied, it wasn’t what she’d been hoping to hear.

“What you’re asking, Miss Greengrass, is how does one prove the negative of a highly subjective and open-ended statement. As you should well know, to do so is very nearly impossible. A lifetime of good deeds will not acquit a man beyond all doubt while a single bad deed offers ample rope from which he may hang. The question, Miss Greengrass, is what do you believe? And if you believe that Draco is not evil then what do other people’s opinions truly matter?”

Draco finished reading Astoria’s latest letter and held the parchment up in front of his face. After listening carefully to make sure that nobody was lurking in the corridor outside of his private chambers, he pressed it gently against his face, inhaling deeply. Even after her letters survived the long trip from Scotland attached to the leg of an owl, he always thought that he could detect just a hint of her lotion on them. Perhaps he was only imagining it, but it pleased him, so he chose to continue to believe.

Since she owled him with the story of her difficult conversation with her father, Draco had come to cherish every bit of communication they were able to share. They both knew that they had to be exceedingly careful. Daphne still had friends among the Seventh Year Slytherins and Draco had an abundance of enemies who would enjoy nothing more than ruining the happiness he’d found in courting Astoria. It pained him to realize just how close he’d come to losing her over the incident in Hogsmeade. He promised himself that he would never be so careless again.

An elf popped into existence beside his chair and Draco reluctantly folded Astoria’s letter and slipped it into his pocket before acknowledging the creature’s presence.

“Begging your pardon, Master, but Master Lucius requests your presence in his study.”

Draco suppressed a flash of annoyance. He didn’t like being summoned, especially by his father. It reminded him too much of the way that the Dark Lord expected everyone to jump at his beck and call. Aside from that, Draco had started to feel more and more uncomfortable around his father. During the war, it had been easy to ignore the changes in the old man’s behavior; Draco had more than enough of his own problems to focus on. Since Draco had stopped drinking, the deterioration in his father’s health was impossible not to notice. It angered Draco in a way that he found hard to explain. After everything they’d been through, watching the old man succumb to his demons felt like such a waste.

Shooing the elf away with a curt wave of his hand, Draco stood up from his writing desk and slipped on his shoes. He tucked his shirt tails into his trousers as he made his way toward the entrance to his private chambers and quickly checked his appearance in the mirror before stepping out into the corridor. Even though his father hadn’t received any visitors in weeks, it was prudent to be presentable, just in case.

Making his way through the manor, Draco’s thoughts drifted back to Astoria. Her seventeenth birthday would occur shortly after the end of the spring term. He was almost thankful that she planned to return to Hogwarts for her seventh year. It allowed him more time to find a way to convince her father that he was a worthy suitor. That said, if the old man was completely unwilling to see reason, he could simply ask her to marry him once she was of age. He knew that it was a remote possibility, barely worthy of his consideration at this stage of the chase. Astoria came from a good family and her father’s blessing would be important to her. He tucked it away in the back of his mind, content in the knowledge that they did have a choice if all else failed.

Draco descended the sweeping marble staircase and crossed the polished floor of the great room. He stopped outside of the study and peered inside. His father was hunched over the Daily Prophet, slowly rocking forward and back as he read. Even after all of their quarrels, it pained Draco to look at his father sometimes. The old man’s white hair had grown so thin that the pinkness of his pate was clearly visible when he bent forward. The dull, grey pupils of his eyes were now seated deeply behind the bony ridges that crowned his gaunt cheeks. Not even the generous cut of his robes could conceal the wasting of his once muscular frame.

“What do you want, Father?”

Draco tried to conceal his irritation, which, if he was being honest, was as much a reaction to his father’s appearance as it was to the old man’s audacity. Lucius’s head jerked up from the newspaper, seemingly startled by Draco’s arrival at his door. He began to twist the signet ring that hung loosely around the third finger of his right hand with the fingers of his left. It was now at least two sizes too large, and since it was goblin craft, Draco supposed that it couldn’t be easily resized with magic. After a moment, it appeared to dawn on his father why Draco was there, and he waved his hands eagerly, motioning Draco into the room. When he spoke, his voice sounded raspy and hollow.

“Come, Draco. Sit. You’re looking well today. Very, very well. Please, have a seat.”

Draco slowly entered the room, taking a high-backed leather chair in front of his father’s polished wooden desk. He continued to study the old man, which seemed to make Lucius even more nervous. His fingers returned to the signet ring, spinning it faster and faster around his bony finger until Draco finally settled into his seat. Lucius laced his fingers together and forced a smile onto his face before speaking.

“So tell me, son, how are things at Hogwarts? Your lessons are going well, I trust?”

Draco stared back at his father for a long moment before answering. Surely the old man had wanted to discuss more than just his marks.

“Fine, father. Just fine. They’re going quite well, actually.”

Lucius’s face lit up in response and his posture straightened a bit.

“Splendid! That’s wonderful news, Draco. Your mother will be very pleased. Very pleased indeed.”

Draco continued to stare meaningfully at his father while the old man chuckled softly to himself. After a few seconds, his father’s expression grew serious again. Draco waited for the old man to speak, but the awkward silence persisted.

“Is there something else, Father?”

Lucius perked up in response to Draco’s question, looking as though an important memory had suddenly come back to him. He drew his wand and closed the door with a small flick of his wrist before lowering his voice.

“Something else. Yes. Very interesting, indeed. I have news, Draco. Very interesting news. Exciting things. I thought you would want to know straight away.”

“Know about what, Father?”

The conspiratorial tone in the old man’s voice set Draco’s nerves on edge. It was the voice that he used when he didn’t want to be overheard. When he was worried that Draco’s mother would disapprove of what he was saying. That voice was nothing but trouble. And Draco cringed inwardly when his father’s voice fell to barely a whisper.

“A new movement is rising from the ashes of the Death Eaters, Draco. Proud sons of the old, pure blood families are quietly joining together to undo these disastrous reforms that Shacklebolt and the rest of the muggle lovers have brought to the Ministry. They’re going to set things right and restore the old ways. I’ve been making... enquiries, so that we don’t miss out on our opportunity to be a part of the new ruling faction.”

Draco slowly counted to five, forcing down the boiling rage that filled his chest and threatened to consume him. He took a shaky breath and managed to spit out three words before he had to bite his tongue to keep from screaming.

Are you mad?

Lucius abruptly straightened in his chair, pulling back from Draco with a confused look on his face. His fingers rapidly slid the signet ring up and down his first knuckle and the corners of his mouth twitched.

“Draco, did you understand what I said? No longer will we be be forced to endure the petty torments of blood traitors and mudbloods. Our family will be powerful and respected once again.”

Draco could feel his fingers threatening to cramp as he gripped the arms of the chair so tightly that the old leather groaned in protest. There had to be a misunderstanding. Not even his father was this thick. He stared back at the beseeching smile on the old man’s face and it gradually dawned on him that the only misunderstanding was his own. He had allowed himself to believe that his father had learned his lesson after nearly losing everything. He was plainly mistaken.

“That’s what you said before the war, father! Before they sent you to Azkaban. Before the Dark Lord took up residence in our home. Before we nearly lost our lives. How can you even humor such rubbish?”

It seemed as though Draco had pressed some long-dormant button in his father’s psyche. The old man’s chin rose as his thin lips twisted into a dismissive sneer.

“Now you see here, Draco. This is nothing like that. The Dark Lord became unstable after his first defeat. He was obsessed with power and his own mortality. These are good men from old families who only care about upholding our cherished traditions.”

“Who, Father? Who are these men you keep referring to?”

Lucius looked momentarily confused before he once again found his direction.

“I haven’t spoken to them directly, but the names that my sources have mentioned are all familiar. Surely you remember my old friends Goyle and Nott? The Gamps! Yes, the Gamp family is involved as well.”

Draco slowly exhaled while his father sat back in his chair, looking very pleased with himself. The old man was delusional. Draco knew that Nott’s father was locked away in Azkaban and Goyle’s father had been killed during the battle at Hogwarts. Gamp’s family had avoided the Dark Lord’s call to arms. His elder male relatives had left the country to pursue “business opportunities” with distant relatives in the Balkans. That was why their fortune remained intact and Jeremy was free to court Daphne with her father’s blessing. Draco steeled himself and tried to keep his voice below a shout.

“Father, you know as well as I do that we can’t afford to be implicated in such things. We were this close to spending the rest of our lives in prison. The Great and Noble Saint Potter himself testified on our behalf and a third of the Wizengamot still voted to convict us. Not even Mother was spared their accusations. You’re being irresponsible and you need to stop putting her in danger.”

The confusion in his father’s grey eyes slowly twisted into anger. The focused outrage was something Draco hadn’t seen in a long time. If the circumstances had been different, he would have found it encouraging.

“How dare you? I am the head of this family. So long as I wear this ring, I will decide what is best for us. And that will not change until you remove it from my cold, dead hand. Do you understand that, Draco?”

Draco abruptly stood and turned on his heel. He couldn’t stand to look at his father any longer. He tore the door open and stopped in the doorway, struggling to contain his anger. He turned to find his father still glaring at him and snarled out a response.

“Yes, Father, I understand. I understand that you don’t give a damn about Mother and I. I understand that you’re willing to destroy our family name so you can feel important again for a few moments. Even Aunt Bella understood what a fool you are. Go ahead. Play your games. Get yourself sent back to Azkaban. Just leave me out of it!”

Draco stormed back to his private quarters and warded the doors behind himself. He kicked his shoes off with such force that they left indentations in the plaster on the far wall and tore his shirt tails out of his pants. His hands shook as he tried to contain the burning rage that he felt toward the arrogant old man who threatened to derail everything he wanted to do with his life.

Of all the emotions that Draco had struggled with since the Dark Lord’s fall, anger had proven to be the most difficult. He was angry so often during the war that he eventually stopped paying it any mind. It felt natural, comfortable, like a well-worn pair of boots. If his anger got to be too much to bear, there were always opportunities to vent it on the Dark Lord’s enemies. Dark curses had a way of consuming strong emotions, leaving him feeling pleasantly numb.

Back and forth he paced, driving his fist into his palm. His breath came in angry snorts. He tried to think of Astoria, to find solace in his memories of her bright smile and the touch of her soft lips on the side of his face. The sound of her laughter rang in his ears, but his violent rage twisted the notes into mockery and disdain. He couldn’t control his father, he couldn’t control his life, he couldn’t even control himself. What could she possibly want with a pathetic man like him?

Draco let out a shout of impotent rage and turned toward his closet. From the deep pockets of an old traveling cloak, he retrieved the only source of comfort he could lay his shaking hands on. He uncorked the bottle and stared at it for a long moment, trying to find the strength to say no. Then he took a long, slow drink of the amber liquid within. A fit of coughing ripped through his chest as the burning sensation stretched all the way down his throat, but it quickly passed. Soon, the anger would be gone. Soon he would be at peace.

After another long draw on the bottle, he caught sight of his reflection in the mirror on the back of his closet door. The sour expression on his face and the bitter curl of his thin lips repulsed him. This was what he’d been reduced to. She could never love this. Draco took one more stomach-churning gulp and hurled the bottle at the silvery glass, shattering the mocking image into a thousand glistening shards. Then he crossed his room and fell into his bed, waiting for the alcohol to claim him.

Hello, again. This chapter had a lot of ups and down for our favorite star-crossed pure blood couple, but I was really pleased with how it turned out. I hope you enjoyed it, as well. Please leave me a review and let me know what you thought!

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