Chapter 5 : five.
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“I can’t pretend that I’m entirely selfless,” Draco began. It was a morning and they should have been out looking for a job, any kind of job, some kind of occupation other than this dramatic floating.
“Oh,” Astoria said. She nodded. She found herself vulnerable before him before she though that it was probably time, and in a moment of uncharacteristic thought she decided that perhaps there was nothing else for her than to revel in honesty. “I can’t say that you’d given me a reason to suppose so in the first place.”
There was a small jerk about his mouth, but it was not quite a smile. “I wouldn’t have expected you to.”
“To what?” Astoria found that somehow none of this conversation retained the logic of other conversations with other people and she couldn’t understand why one thing was coming after another. It was all a bit of fuzz around the edges but she couldn’t picture herself another place with less of it. It was a little like snow. And wind. Or how she felt when her hair blew into her eyes while she was crossing the street.
Draco turned in her direction for the first time since sitting down at the bar. There was nothing resembling a promise in his features, but there was still that bothersome hope, that one remaining in the obliteration of other troubles--Astoria in that moment thought that she probably understood how Pandora had felt, once, too.
“I don’t suppose you still read the Daily Prophet,” he said, ignoring Astoria’s blunder. She couldn’t decide if that was a nice thing to do.
“I don’t bother with it,” she said and her voice sounded rather casual, although there was a weird stabbing in her chest that she knew was not going to leave her alone soon; it was the kind of feeling you couldn’t help but wouldn’t leave, with an inexplicable pervasive concept to it, like it was, almost, something you understood more than you felt. Astoria shook her head a little bit and was glad that it looked like it could be because of what she said.
“No, I suppose not,” Draco repeated. There was a scratching noise on the underside of his words; he sounded like he maybe was feeling what Astoria was feeling. She realized that perhaps this was the free fall before whatever there was to share came into the open--that not knowing, that near-death revelation of not being able to go back, of opening something that couldn’t be closed again, of doing something and not having a time turner round your neck to solve things.
Draco took a drink and continued in that same rasp, that raw and real and breathing sound. “I would say that that was some comfort to me, though it doesn’t make sense in several regards--such as, well, simply, I’m going to tell you what it said, and you not reading it won’t have saved me anything. It’s just that, well, I suppose you’ve seen the tatters other people haven’t, because, I suppose, excuse me for assuming, but I think you’d understand what those meant more than others. As--who we are, how we were, I think--we understand a certain lifestyle and know to look for what doesn’t inhabit this, and, well, that’s who I’m being now.”
“You lost your job,” Astoria said when Draco paused and couldn’t seem to continue. It was just that, falling, and the wind the rush the speed was ripping all the words away from him. She felt just as he said, that there was something between them neither of them had with other people in their lives and that became important to preserve at this moment, this trembling, this position perched atop knifepoint. “I know. I knew that first day. I didn’t want--well, now I can guess that I didn’t bring you the drink because I didn’t want you to see it as pity. I know how we can be,” she said and that juncture didn’t cause her any echoing, any shaking in her skin like it did when she tried to be a part of her family.
Draco sighed and Astoria was sure she was not imagining that it hit her as grateful, even a little bit, in the same way he had been grateful for the way she had almost brought him that drink that first day. “I stole from my parents,” he said, and things were coming out in a rush now, sitting in the air between them ready to be consumed by some greater significance, something that could eat them both up and spit them out happy, not quite whole and not quite caring. “I worked at Gringotts, managing cart repairs, and I stole money from my parents.”
“They didn’t pay you a lot, repairing the carts?” Astoria asked.
“It wasn’t enough for things I was used to having,” Draco admitted. He lowered his head and brought up a palm to use as a hold for his pointed chin. He wasn’t fond of shaving, Astoria didn’t think.
“Then you didn’t leave until very recently,” Astoria said. It didn’t seem to make sense with what she had taught herself to understand of him. She had not waited to leave--why should he?
“I left back after the war,” he said. It wasn’t quite an answer and Astoria waited in that eager silence. “But I never told them the real why to leaving, the kind of why I think that you can understand. I only told them--once--they were trying to help me, and I couldn’t pretend that I had only wanted to begin my own life anymore. It wasn’t a moving into something as much as a moving out of something but I was forgetting what they had given me--it was strange to have to encounter their strangled love, the kind that could raise me with such limited scope and could also protect me from the only thing we all know to be afraid of. Our fight was ugly because it was both of us playing ignorant of our shared past--I couldn’t deny it now that they did a lot to protect me in the ways that they could.”
They sat in silence for a long time after this and Astoria could gather from that silence the rest of the story, because he held it around his mouth and around the pink soft edges of his eyes--he still loved them, they still loved him, and they, together, had cut off that one last reminder of a relationship--allowance. It was contrary to anything she’d come to think about before, that money could be love.
She shouldn’t have been so surprised to hear it, because in ways she still didn’t understand her own family had joined with the Death Eaters for assurance of their livelihoods, to ensure that their children would survive the war, would live long enough to be able to make their own decisions. Astoria realized that Draco had come farther, much farther than her in understanding that they were not unique in their feelings towards their families, that every parent in a way has to limit her child’s future for the sake of progress in the real and flawed world, with the hope that some day, things can open, things can be better. It was not an excuse for what her life had been like or for what Draco’s life had probably been like but it was life, and life was something she could only thank her parents for. It was real life.
Then I don’t really want to live in the real world, Astoria found herself thinking, smiling lightly at Draco. He was watching her from the corner of his eye, that strange grey sparkling in the green light here, looking, she thought, for some little thing that said she understood, and she could only guess that he had found it because he looked all at once a little bit happy, a little bit relieved, and reached over seamlessly to hold one of her hands in his. It was rough, calloused, and still warm.
Astoria realized that what she had thought was not quite true--things here weren’t so bad as she had always felt.
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