Chapter 8 : eight.
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“You’re pissed,” Draco’s voice said. It split the air and Astoria peered up at him over the edge of her linens through one eye, the other screwed closed, trying to keep her brains in.
“Quite piss-pot drunk,” he said. His hair was soft and glowing.
“You’re not allowed in my quarters,” Astoria said, reaching a hand outside of her bedclothes to shoo him off. “I’m a woman, you’re a woman--no, I’m a woman, you’re a man--”
He looked like he was laughing. Astoria couldn’t hear anything.
“You ever been, before, darling? We used to do it at Hogwarts, but you weren’t like the rest of us. You still understood.” He was leaning down near her face now and Astoria felt his nearness, felt his presentness, it was wrapping around her like a spiderweb, though he was a quite strange and storied spider, it felt like lifting her up, they were close, she could nearly hear his heartbeat.
“What are you doing here?”
“You’re at the Leaky,” he said, his eyes flickering towards the windowsill. It was dark out.
“Oh, right,” she said. “Hannah made me stay. Said I couldn’t apparate.”
“Perhaps that’s best,” he said. “I rang you at your flat and when you weren’t there I didn’t quite think, just moved. And--here we are.”
“Yes,” Astoria said, pulling the linens over her head. “Here we are.” It sounded as though he was moving around the room, and she could see his shadow, or the outline of him, scraping the borders, close to the walls. She poked an eye out of the covers. He was sniffing the walls and she laughed, startling herself.
“I was trying to stay away from magic for a bit longer, but I’m not very lonely here,” she admitted, pulling her sheets off her face. “What are you doing?”
“It doesn’t smell the same,” he said, turning to face her. There was a beat--she felt the space between them inconsequential. He could have been standing at the bed, it didn’t matter. It was strange, and she felt a bit ill, but that could have been a million things--it was night, he was back, she had figured it out, he was back, it was night--
“The same as what?” she asked, draping a hand across her forehead and closing her eyes. She opened them again quickly, suddenly afraid that things would disappear.
He paused, tilted his head as though considering the question. “The same as before.”
There was permanence again, at least for a moment.
“Hannah told me things about us,” Astoria said. She had waited a long time to say it, and he was here now, and she had said it, and the moment felt expanded and contracted both, perhaps at intervals, but probably, she thought, lifting a couple fingers to her temple, a smell of spice around her, between her eyes, it was just her head. Things are between these temples, she thought, poking at one of them.
“Oh,” she said. Then, “I feel like I just came out of something.”
“Like what?” Draco said after a moment, though his brows were drawn and she could tell he wanted to ask her about Hannah and she couldn’t think why he didn’t, besides maybe her confession of feeling as though she’d been recently birthed had given him pause, because those kinds of confessions can do that. “A cocoon?”
“Was thinking seed pod,” she grumbled, thinking of Herbology. She grinned then, sucking in air between her teeth. She needed a smoke. “I think you’re drunk.”
“Like a Snargaluff? No, no,” he said, looking at the curtains on the window.
“Did you ride the tube like this?” she asked, feeling very luminous, and alive. She sat up straight in her bed, and then was quite self-conscious.
“No,” Draco said, and then covered his mouth with his hands. His eyes were a bit dull but still warm and still grey and that strange, almost-brown silver. They looked soft, and light. He was laughing.
“You are drunk, oh, God,” Astoria said, and then pulled her sheets up over her head. She didn’t come out this time. She imagined what she must look like, perhaps a teepee, or a rock. She wondered what she would look like without her hair, if that was somehow more accurate. My ultimate form, my true essence, resembles a boulder, she thought, and stifled a giggle. She flopped over onto her side.
“God? I thought purebloods swear--swore?--on Merlin,” Draco mumbled, and she heard his feet on the hardwood floors. She remembered the feeling she’d had before she’d fallen asleep of ghosts in the room. He was probably wading through them, dispelling the cold. It was getting warmer. Her breath was wrapping around her head, trapped in the linens. She thought about the way, and the image came unbidden, that a skull looked--and she’d seen photographs!--riddled with bone cancer. Like lace. There are pockets in the skull wracked by bone cancer and her hair is serving her that purpose now, and her breath was warming the untouchable pockets as Draco sat down at the edge of her bed and the whole room squealed.
“What is wrong with us?” Draco was asking as Astoria was wondering what had given her cancer in the first place, at all, or wherever these things start. “It wasn’t hard, not at all.”
“What is wrong with us?” Astoria agreed.
“No,” Draco said. “I change my mind. Nothing’s wrong. We’re beautiful baskets of neurons and we’ve done wonderful things.”
“Yes,” Astoria said. “Where did you go?”
“Yes,” Draco said.
“Things are going to change,” he said. “What did Hannah say about us?”
“Tell me first, I asked first,” Astoria said, flopping onto her back. She poked an arm out of her sheets and pointed at the end of the bed. “Tell.”
“I can’t hear you, your mouth is inside the sheets,” Draco said, and she felt his weight realigning, as if he was leaning on one elbow. She felt it then, on the top of her foot.
“Sorry!” and he had jumped back and was off the bed now. She pulled the sheets off of her face and though it was dark there was something burning her eyes, she thought it might have been the light.
“But something is wrong. I tried to go--I felt that, if I could be good--”
Astoria felt things fall still. Here, here. They were on the edge of something. They were coming out on the other side of something, or somewhere they had been. And had been for a while. She sat up in bed and watched Draco look at cracks in the ceiling and wished they were home in their Muggle neighborhood in their houses where magic had never been. But that wasn’t right, she thought, looking at Draco, whose outlines were meshing with the air around him and she thought Merlin, he’s glowing, and it was true, because he was covered in light.
“Where did you go?” Astoria asked again, and her heart gave one very loud and hard, violent beat in her chest as Draco turned his silver eyes away from the ceiling and towards her face. She felt her body compress, almost as if in laughter, and stared back at him. He looked like he was making decisions, and he started pacing again. He was--well, perhaps he would--she didn’t know, but it seemed to matter, where he had been. And she wanted to know.
“Streets,” he said, finally, and it was with a rush, because she knew the feeling that he felt at the moment and it was his voice finding itself outside of the walls of the dam at the back of the throat or the base of the brainstem, one couldn’t tell which-- “streets are made of surfaces. I was thinking about it when I was going, how the surfaces are always wearing away but they also regrow. And,” he said, and he didn’t seem to care if he was making sense so Astoria leaned back and closed her eyes and simply listened, stopped herself from trying to guess at all, relieved herself of that pressure-- “I started to think, when we were headed through Dorset, the streets are so old, and people have walked on them for ages, I mean literally thousands of years, and I felt compelled to pull out some kind of core out of the stone, to the place that doesn’t wear away because that seemed the only true--point, particle--that had travelled unchanged through time.” Draco stopped Astoria opened her eyes to see him watching her and her heart gave that same dark pound again as she registered the expression on his face as something fond, and she thought she might stop breathing as he started to move towards the bed and he sat down at the edge of it, looking intently at his hands which he had arranged in some kind of cage-looking shape.
“And I realized that was wrong--the core had always been the inside, and it had never interacted with anything! It hadn’t been in the past more ardently than it had ever been in the present--I don’t know if--but it’s so untouchable, the core, and it just made me think--we aren’t like that.” He paused. He had been moving his hands in a way that had made a ball of the air between them and this, Astoria could almost see and feel, was spinning and morphing and turning into some bundle of light, and she hadn’t been wrong--this was wandless magic, the kind you often had as a child, without understandable purpose, but beautiful and strange--oh, they were alive!--and now he stopped and used both of his hands to grab one of hers, and he twisted his fingers into the space between hers, holding up that mass before their eyes, between their faces.
“We’re this bundle--a mass, some kind of--thing--at the inmost core, a pulsing, pumping--cottage of chambers--”
He was struggling to speak now, and he was shaking her hand in his gently, overcome with trying to explain, and this was strange but somehow good, or mostly good and somehow strange--
“We’re these changing things, and you know, you’ve seen--the books, they show us the insides, how they are moving, and coming to the surface. Things can come out--and things are always going in. And we’re not just moving with the--air, or blood--but with each other.”
He lowered their hands and Astoria breathed in rapidly, choking slightly. Draco reached forward and put their hands over his heart, and then wrested one of his free to place it over hers. He hadn’t answered her question, but she knew anyway.
“We’re as changing and alive inside as out,” he said. “This is proof. Both of us--we’re together, and we have a shared past, and we’re going the same places. Every second passing on that train I was still with you, do you understand?”
Draco’s eyes were close to Astoria’s and her hair was starting to touch his face, and his hand was hot over her heart and her skin was tingling, she felt almost spiritual and there was something pushing up at the inside of her chest--
“We’re this--I thought of it, don’t laugh--electric pow-wow of desperation and, I think, love we haven’t had a chance to use.” His nose was touching hers now and she laughed at his words, she had never promised not to, and he sighed and shook his head and she stopped laughing because his nose had pulled hers a little and it had almost hurt, but something--and now she was laughing at herself and there was water in her eyes--something had snapped into place when her nose had gone straight, and she smelled him suddenly, like asphalt and coffee, bitter like firewhiskey.
“I know,” she said, mumbling, afraid to open her mouth very much. “You went home.”
He was reaching up behind her ears and then his hands were in her hair. She could see him smiling or feel it, she wasn’t sure, and his shoulders were close to her body-- “Yes, Astoria,” he said in a very soft voice, “I went home.”
His mouth wasn’t talking anymore, and Astoria wasn’t separate from him--his lips were moving down on hers and it was all true, Astoria’s heart was spilling up and out, that electricity, and she was so sure that her hair was glowing.
author's note: immediately i should note that this chapter was written with the thought of a big thank-you to julia (peppersweet) in mind. as the goddess of drastorias and a consistent and beautifully-worded reviewer you have given me a lot of the energy i needed to get ahead with this and move things forward. which, i hope, you will agree with me that they have.
i feel pretty accomplished at the moment. i'm writing romance, what? and i don't feel it's totally horrid.
one more chapter, perhaps an epilogue afterwards. but we're nearly done. i'll do more real-language, less metaphor in the next chapter, i promise! ♥ lily
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