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Electric Pow-Wow by Aiedail

Format: Short story
Chapters: 9
Word Count: 15,841
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Mild Language, Mild Violence, Scenes of a Mild Sexual Nature, Substance Use or Abuse

Genres: General, Romance
Characters: Draco, OtherCanon
Pairings: Draco/OC

First Published: 10/31/2011
Last Chapter: 07/13/2012
Last Updated: 07/13/2012

Summary:
all hail ahoythere@tda for being goddess of magical drastorias



goodness is a seed, it starts in the heart and spreads its leaves through the body like electricity
draco/astoria


Chapter 1: one.
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one.


It was murky tea, but nothing to be ungrateful for. Some people swore by tea, after all, and it probably wasn’t for nothing. Of course, some people swore by silly things, but tea was something a bit difficult to consider in that way.

It was hard, being back here. She had loved Hogwarts, even if it had failed her as a bastion; there was a deep and resonant life breath to the stone of the castle that was undeniably present, even in the ruin it had become after the battle. She tried to imagine the castle as it was; clean, whole, pure again, the scars of that night wiped from its edifice as easily as a bit of milk from the lip of the bottle, but the image would not stick. There was something burned into the back of her eyelids, seared into her retina, however faint, however former, however removed. There were ghosts here one couldn’t see.

A little thing rose inside her, and a shift bigger than a tick she could ignore bit at her throat, demanding air space, demanding existence this context could not provide. Her hands shook and she tried to swallow it down, but it stuck in her throat, a bothersome lump, and would not allow her to speak without giving way to it; so she remained silent, and waited, watching the rain pelt the stained glass of the arching windows. She could see the grounds from here, lush and green still from the rainy season, though soon there would be snow.

“Miss Greengrass,” the headmaster said, his voice a bit solemn for the occasion. Astoria raised her head to look Filius Flitwick in the eye. They were blue, and gentle; probing, with an irksome air of understanding those things she was choking back. He couldn’t possibly understand.

“Headmaster,” she said, placing her tea back on the tray and standing respectfully. She tucked a stay curl behind one ear and knew that it was winning--that curiosity, that manipulative wondering, that small thing that said it is better to seek than to find. She bit her lip for the final time.

There is a deliciousness inherent in giving in to latent desire, and it spread through her like fire, bringing her closer to that free-falling of continual travel than she’d been in recent years. It’s strength where you’d never expect to find it. You spend years building up defenses, fending off those things that threaten your understanding, nurturing your potential and trimming your weaknesses. But Astoria had always believed that enhancing one strength was depleting another, and staying still would never do anything. Progress had never been a motionless experience. There was no reason to be here.

“Headmaster, I’m dreadfully sorry for wasting your time.”

She stormed through the castle, blurring the shapes, rending the mortar, pulling everything apart. There was no Hogwarts; only a yearning, and a small thing that said stillness will catch you.




There had been great times in Astoria Greengrass’s life, but none so great as the night of the Final Battle. She looked back at it with a scorching shame, a flame in her gut that slicked her brow and threatened to eat her, consume her alive. Everything broke that evening; she could no longer look to her parents for answers, or herself for goodness, or an institution for steps towards a truth.

The night they locked the Slytherins away was the night that saved her life. When she looked back over her years, it was hard to remember another moment so defining in the compilation of her character; it was still a mystery, but whatever it was, that night was part of it. She wanted to crawl inside of herself and hatch inside of her own womb, birth her own self out again and start over, somewhere new, somewhere she didn’t and never could exist.

“I don’t have a family,” she told the bartender one evening. The woman smiled sadly, rubbing a glass clean. It was late, and the Leaky Cauldron was nearly empty. There was an emerald green fire humming in the fireplace. Its light cast a strange, watery glow around the tavern. Astoria liked that feeling. Being underwater.

“I just have my Dad,” the bartender said, placing down the glass. “Lost my mother to the War.” There was a tear in her eye and Astoria’s existence pinnacled towards its descent. It was a slow fall, peaking and troughing at irregular, entirely-human intervals. Astoria willed that pattern to her heart, wished to etch it to the roof of her mouth; anywhere it would be wholly a part of her.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “Lost mine there, too.”

The women sat in a comfortable silence. The clock kept steady time on the wall. Astoria wished it would malfunction, even just a little bit.

“You know, I had an interview for Charms Professor today at Hogwarts,” she confessed, and the bartender perked up a bit, picking up a glass and scrubbing it intently.

“How’d it end for you?”

“I walked out. I didn’t answer any questions. The tea was nice.”

She liked the pulsing silence there. That expectation shattered, only that frequency left, ready to rip them to shreds. There was a dangerousness to the ordinary moment that was succulent, ripe, ready to be picked. Astoria liked to think that if she closed her eyes and stopped taking breath she was doing something like skimming the fruit with her fingertips. Tempting life to keep her, death to take her. Either win could be just as exciting.

“You’re looking for something,” the barkeep said. Her eyes were wide, kind, brown. Astoria wondered if she had a husband. She was lovely; she had a past like Astoria’s, you could tell. You can see scars on a face that boasts no deformation, especially with people Astoria’s age; this generation is faithful that way.

“We’re all looking for something,” Astoria said. “I know I’m looking to always be looking. I need something hard to find. Something that even when I find it isn’t completely found.” She said it feeling good about the air it left in the room. It sounded good, clean, a little bit raw.

The barkeeper laughed. “You’re looking for love, dear,” she said mildly.


a/n: BECAUSE I HAVE LOST MY MIND with one day till NaNo begins, I'm pounding out a short story. I haven't ever given myself a real stab at romance, so here it goes, in my unable-to-write-romance way of things.

Chapter 2: two.
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two.


Astoria liked a good and windy day; preferably sleeting, wet, soggy, dirty with snow. Her hair came into good use on those days, acting the halo, a mist of curls, a sea of simple matter.

It was that kind of day on the day that somebody told her she had lied when she said she lost her family to the war. “I’m not lying,” she said earnestly, pulling her scarf from around her chapped mouth. “I did lose them. They’re still alive, but I lost them to the war.”

She couldn’t stop thinking about the expression there on that woman’s face; there was the self-satisfied smirk of the woman convinced of her own moral superiority, but Astoria couldn’t help noticing her forehead and the lines around her mouth were telling a more curious story, one that wanted to hit at the humanity of another person’s history but was at a loss of how was the best way. It wasn’t an unusual expression; everybody wore it at some point, encountering another person with a little bit of explaining to do.

She kept wondering how often she wore that expression. How often did she allow herself to plant in the exploration of another person’s character? She’d not often thought about love; it had seemed too stationary; but a married woman would probably know, and that flash of light from the bartender’s left hand had not been an illusion; but could an answer that wasn’t an answer exist in something that everybody was chasing? It was hard to imagine that there was a real explanation for anything when she examined the idea that the end-all was nothing but something you could make through a gentle probing. A wondering. An insatiable movement.

It was the season for keeping jobs, but somebody lost his and came into the bar one day. He looked like a frown, a slip of an expression shaped as a willowy bow. Astoria had never harbored a pressing desire to be close to another person, but he looked as though he could use the warmth, a bit of tenacity, a little bit of spirit.

He needed a drink.

“Firewhisky,” she whispered to the bartender. She learned that day the woman’s name was Hannah.

Astoria held the drink tightly, suddenly nervous. Her hand looked like a limp and feeble thing, a fish perhaps, a fish lost in a world of air. It was gulping at a gesture, utterly flimsy, and Astoria realized that she was becoming shy.

She recognized him; everybody did, it wasn’t anything special to understand that a chin as sloped as his belonged to a Malfoy. She knew his eyes were grey even though they were hidden from her, his face angled towards the fire, sitting, alone, in a seat at a table away from the bar. With no information available about how to approach a member of that family she decided to pretend she did not know who he was; thinking maybe he might even appreciate it.

It was a slow approach, the kind of slow that precedes an earnest action kept hidden. Closer, Astoria could see that he hadn’t shaved for a while and his hair at the ends was beginning to fray. The sleeves of his coat were dutifully patched, but to an eye like Astoria’s, wont to see things that didn’t fit, it was clear that it had seen more than its share of wear. Her heart gave a weird beat, and her feet moved to retreat her from his proximity. She couldn’t get nearer to him than she was at this moment; there was a crackling in the air between them, a discomfort that, for the moment, she couldn’t protest.

He never ordered anything. Astoria never drank that whisky. It sat, a small amber pool of warmth before her, taunting and mysterious, reflective of a face devoid of lines.




She buried herself in the study of other things, namely human anatomy. It was silly that Hogwarts would teach you things like where to spray a Doxy with Doxycide so that you’d avoid a poisonous bite, but they didn’t teach you things about your own self. How was it that in a world so steeped in ancient tradition that the study of more human things was beyond their reach?

It wasn’t that she was dying for an escape into the Muggle world, but it just happened that Muggle libraries were better stocked for her purposes. Astoria patterned her time between the Leaky and the library, which kept her warm and her mind occupied. Any fleeting plans for running off into a distant plain had disappeared as soon as she had realized that she had probably been missing the point for most of her life--places were nothing next to people and she didn’t understand how to act in a crowd, or how not to step on people’s feet, or how to be anything but ambiguous to strangers. She would rend herself before an open landscape but before another beating heart she clapped up, clammed up quicker than she could ever move towards that perpetual free-fall she desired.

To hear a married woman say that what she was looking for was part of somebody else; inside somebody else and separate, too; it was too much to understand at first but gradually took a toll. I’m looking for something that I don’t understand at all, Astoria would think crunching through snow on the way to the bookstore, or the library, or the pub. I’m looking for something I mostly ignore.

It was too much to take at some moments; that everything her life had been pointing towards had failed her and that by seeking to escape that crumbled bastion of her past she had failed herself. How was one to make it in this life? With no knowledge of what one oneself needed, or what the future held, or that one’s parents could be utterly and unmistakably wrong. Her blood rushed through her ears as everything threatened to eat her--buildings looked like mouths ready to suck her in. She escaped into the Leaky Cauldron, her heart slamming against her ribs, and took her regular, well-worn seat at the bar. Hannah passed her a butterbeer and Astoria sat there for a while, holding it in her hands and thanking whatever gods she had that she had made it here, and made it here very much alive.

By the time she found it within her to pop the cork on her drink it was nearing a tepid degree, but it was the routine of it that was thrilling. At any time I could say I’m not going to drink any more, I’m not going to come here again, I’m giving up on anatomy and spark plugs and trains. She knew she couldn’t really leave, or find something else, or live in that restlessness she’d wanted months ago. She couldn’t feel it all the time, that pulsing and steady position at breaking point that she’d felt in the headmaster’s office. She couldn’t leave it all behind all the time; she’d float away. Astoria was liking it here. As small as her life was she was a part of it; so much that the world wanted her all for its self, all for its own.

It was a good feeling. Astoria found herself grinning into a page of her sketchbook. She’d moved from limbs to the torso to the finer attributes of the human body quickly, devouring the textbooks she found wherever she found them. It was lucky, she thought, that her family was not good at understanding what a disinheritance meant; that they thought it meant send her away with half the estate burning a hole in her pocket, and not leave her destitute, with nothing, a wandering vagabond. She was glad her parents had never thought to study language, that they were too noble to bother with defining words. They knew a situation and what words were appropriate and that, they knew, was enough.

It was enough for Astoria, too. More than enough. She was living comfortably in a Hogsmeade flat, although considering integrating into a Muggle kind of society soon enough. It could be that kind of on-edge stuff she'd been wanting, being out of place, an eyesore in a slick sea of people who all knew what they were doing, who they were, where they were going.

“You’ve been watching me,” a deep voice behind her mentioned. Astoria felt a ripple pass through her spine as she turned, holding her sketchbook down, to face that pointed chin and warm grey eyes.


Chapter 3: three.
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three.


“I’m sorry if it’s strange,” Astoria said, attempting to appear as though she meant it, too.

“I don’t think you are,” he said. “I don’t know if I care. I just thought--well.” He sat down next to her and they sat in silence for far longer than the allotted amount of time. Things became stiff between them; they sat without moving for a longer time than their joints said was safe, or healthy, and their breathing was a single strand in space, matching at the peaks. The air thick between them, cracking, their hearts nothing more than an amalgamation of beats.

“I never remember having seen a person with more hair than you,” he said and Astoria could have sworn she probably imagined it. After such a long silence it seemed too human and vulnerable to be something Draco Malfoy would have said--but looking at him here, out of the corner of her eye, his shoulders hunched, his facial hair unpleasantly patchy, he was more human than anybody Astoria’d known growing up or been able to see once everybody had said she’d become an adult. Thinking about what he had said, she didn’t think it sounded very adult-like, but she knew that in a way people are younger for a lot longer than they’d like to think.

To some people, it’s a comfort. It was to Astoria, especially then. It was nice to know that while the world was moving and threatening and sloshing along through space there were some people who didn’t know what they were either; how they fit into things, how to stop the world from gobbling them up as they moved through it. She didn’t know if people could choose to stay children or if it happened because something hadn’t been right back then and they had to make up for it by being kids now.

It wasn’t even that she was a child, or felt innocent, but there was that rising of a wonder in her that made her hungry for life and understanding, being able to recognise, now, quite safely distant from her younger years. Even in the six years that had passed since that battle in Hogwarts, Astoria had only shifted. There was quite a difference between that movement and any sort of gain on life; she had no secrets. Things were bare.

Sitting at the bar with another person in the same situation was a little bit like remembering that she was alive.

It was jarring, realizing that she was always building her hopes in the wrong direction--like building a wall right into the ground or planting a seed in arid soil. Not even sketching granted this basking in humanity. She did not know Malfoy and she did not understand why he had approached her, or if she could talk to him now after letting so much time pass between them in silence, but she knew that a simple steeping in a shared human element…in a weakness, a cluelessness, a past that mingled…was more accessible here, staring at the worn elbow of the coat of a man she hardly knew than in any of her other worldly pursuits.




It was awkward for a period after that first contact. Both Astoria and Draco Malfoy came to the bar at the same time; Hannah grew to know them well enough to slide them their drinks without asking what they wanted. They sat side by side at times, like strangers staring together into a trepidatious future. Astoria was tempted sometimes to pull out her sketchbook and relay the sharpness of his jawbone onto paper, or the way that his mouth twisted downwards, or the way that she knew he had lost his job but had never had the courage to ask him why or what it was.

She was unsure if it was good to wait for him to touch down again, to descend to the kind of reality that was the best for talking in. It suddenly became irksome that they spent so much time in silence; her compass was shifting its northward direction towards something much more real, and much more human. Somebody warm and quiet who took to a daily fire whisky with no real means to pay his bill.

She verged on speaking several times, but things were weak about her just then; she was having a bad hair day, she was catching a cold, she had a weird feeling that something was probably stuck between her teeth. More than anything, though, was the feeling in her that being alone was not worth being lost all of the time; she thought about telling him about she really didn’t have any sense of direction, that the only way she made her way about the city was that she only visited about three places regularly and they were within a walking distance from the bus stop. But she didn’t know how to talk to him. She didn’t know if there was enough of their past in them to suggest that it was the man who pursued what he found worthy…and she didn’t know why she had the feeling that their mutual humanity was enough to be worthy at all.

But she did.

There really wasn’t any getting around that.

It wasn’t that he was handsome, although--he was--but that wasn’t exactly why she knew he was attractive. She hadn’t known him well at school although his name had gone around…and looking at him here slouched over the bar, not talking, no hints of pretension clouding about his person, he was entirely different than the person that her mind had gotten to know all those years ago. The difference was the only thing that was sure to her since they had not talked and she had no idea what he was thinking.

She was tempted to say that a lot of the time they were probably both wallowing in the same regrets, but she was just as soon sick of herself for assuming in the way that all those others had assumed; because you were a Slytherin you must also have had a horrid childhood, you must also have looked to your parents for all of your answers, you must also have been raised on a doctrine of blood purity and then found out at a single, exploding moment in space that everything had been wrong and you where not anywhere you thought you had been.

You probably also became estranged from your family once you decided it was time to stand up to them and tell them they didn’t understand life as well as they thought they did and that there were other things, like not knowing what you wanted to do but liking some things. They had probably also said to you, Draco, what’s the point of having ambition if you can’t channel it to something? You can’t want everything; you can’t want to become everything. And yet you did. And you probably told your parents like I told mine.

Although she hated herself for thinking that way, for embodying something she had sworn never to become, by living largely inside of a fixed dream, it was comforting to imagine, if just for the moment, that these two could understand each other in some vital way that the rest of the world could not, and that perhaps someday, together, they could fend off the world’s hungry mouth.




It had been about a week since Astoria had realized that she was now just as helpless to her imagination than she had been growing up--that she was pointing everything about her towards acquiring something that, in all respects, was a contrived and singular goal. There was a bit of tranquility in the fact that it had been her own decision to begin the futile hunt for some restrictive future, and she had resigned herself to thinking that the hat had been right after all--she was ambitious by nature, grasping at things, and that chase was more exhilarating than everything.

That week had not passed in a tortured monotony of telling herself that she was falling into the same trap as she had set out to escape, but a ferocious probing at the things that she thought could lead her to a union of souls. With the barkeep’s words in mind it was hard to make this pursuit seem more innocent than it actually was, but there was some gratification in the idea that she had inherited more than money from her parents, and that part of that legacy was the talented ability to turn one’s eyes from what one did not wish to see. There had been times that Astoria had sought to see everything because she had needed to get away from that restricted opportunity of her childhood; from her parents; from the cornerstone of a pure-blood faith. But another person was not so much like a goal, the way she was able to look at it. Another person was a means to an end that would never end--that she could find and lose and find a thousand times.

She was at the bar again and Draco was at her elbow and she was so consumed by the reality of her own imagining that she could have sworn he was in a perpetual state of almost speaking. Just speak, Astoria, she repeated to herself, but it was no use. She was utterly convinced that he was going to break what ice there was between them by a simple show of interest in another human being for the fact that she shared in his failed composition of spirit and flesh--and was bound by that belief to silence.

It did not happen that day, but a few days later, and there had already been established between them that rare type of friendship that one can find if silent enough in simple existence with another person. They were learning about each other all in the wrong order, but nobody had ever said that love was a well-timed mechanism, ticking faithfully as a bomb towards detonation. They were vulnerable in their silence before the regular time, but it was all building towards the same result, the same ending place.

“I saw you, that first day,” Draco said on a particularly windy day, when it was easy to imagine that you could be swept up into the air and turn maybe into a giant snowflake. Astoria’s heart skipped a beat and she waited, on edge, for what he had to offer. “You were bringing a whisky towards my table. I don’t know what you were expecting me to do but--I--well, I would have thanked you.”

Chapter 4: four.
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four.


“One person to another,” was all that she could say.

He was raw, his voice pebbly, something about the line of his shoulders hunched in a way that did not only say stay back, cold wind, but stay inside, what is inside. Astoria thought that maybe she could relate to that, somebody who lived entirely inside of herself, perhaps besides what she gave up reading, or what she left behind her walking little place to little place.

She wanted to open up to him in the way that new friends did, not only because she thought that their ascent to something greater could be something wonderful, but because she thought that probably somebody needed to know more about him than what everybody was always saying. There was something like a proud apology about him that Astoria could only understand too well.

She wanted to say we’re running from something and that running is making us like what we’re leaving behind because we’re not leaving anything--but the moment passed and there was comfort again in thinking that she could know him without any effort.

It was not enough at times when she was happy to say to herself that things could continue into any discernible future without speaking; she saw them as friends but not the silent kind. She would come to her senses, in the way that she was able, to understand that sooner or later somebody was going to have to make that breach between unsaid and whatever else was out there parading as a fixed reality.

It was a day when there were clear skies that before she reached the Leaky she had been caught in the current of Muggles outside on the pavement that she saw through the small glass window on the tavern door a room too crowded to venture in--Astoria liked the anonymity of existing in a crowd, but not the kind of crowd that made being anonymous impossible. Unfortunately Wizarding Britain was the kind of place in which one couldn’t help but be seen--if you were Harry Potter, you might not have cared--there were much more people who wanted to wring your hand than turn up their noses at you, then--but if you had been a Slytherin before the war, these eyes were not the ones you wanted watching you.

She was about to turn around when somebody cupped her elbow in his palm and led her towards the door to the bar anyways, even though he could see, too, that it was full of people who knew their names and knew only too well their stories.

“It’s funny,” he said, sounding lighter than usual, “that when you’re running away from something it’s with you all the while.”

“Actually,” Astoria protested without any show of fervor, “we could have walked away and they would have been stuck in there. We--I could have been other places.”

“And if you never finally went in? You would always be changing your plans because they were where you wanted to be,” he countered, opening the door and waiting for Astoria to enter. She hesitated at the doorway, but none was looking their way; she rocked back and forth once on her feet and propelled herself towards the bar, sitting at the end, where there were two stools empty and waiting.

Hannah looked at Astoria and the man sitting beside her as if she had something on them--there was no malice in her eyes but she understood something beyond Astoria’s comprehension, and it was clear there on her face when she brought them their regular drinks. She had a feeling that pushed up the question in her throat: what is that face for? What do you know about me? because she thought Hannah’s answer might be different than other people knew how to say, and after all this time alone with herself and another unknown island--shaped like a Malfoy--she didn’t know if she could answer any better herself.

“It’s only natural that we tell ourselves we’re getting away,” Draco said in a quiet voice after he’d poked a little at his drink with a plastic flamingo. Astoria didn’t know where it had come from.

“It feels a lot like leaving things behind,” Astoria said, and even when her words left her body to mingle with what was around her--air, vacuum, blank space--she realized something that had not been so clear to her before; it made what Draco had said earlier make sense somehow, a fleeting feeling, a heartbeat’s length, that said we carry with us what we want to leave.

She knew she had never really changed, but things were becoming real now, things were having consequences outside of herself, and sitting next to her at the bar was a man she’d spent months with but of whom she knew nothing--nothing more than what she knew of herself. She was a construct of her flawed understanding, he was a construct of her projections, and it seemed once again like the world was falling, crumbling, poking in on her from the corners of this dark, warm bar, where the Wizarding world’s congregation gathered on this day and despite all her former confidence had not noticed her, and had not noticed Draco, and had not sent anything their way.

Astoria felt for a half moment, a sort of twinkling space or divot in time, that things could have been better had she remained alone, severed all ties, sunk to the bottom of a great sea and surrendered herself to what currents may have gathered about her there. People were so difficult to understand.

“I imagine that you looked for other things to learn,” Draco said after a long time. Astoria nodded, hesitantly drawing her sketchbook out of her handbag, flipping to a harmless page, a page full of bones and a cross section of a human heart.

“I see,” he said after a moment, trying to bite back a smile. Astoria felt her heart give a strange little leap and her cheeks felt stinging, felt much too warm. She resisted shrugging off her coat, unwinding her scarf from her neck. His teeth were very straight, his lips were cracked from the dry wind and frigid air. He hadn’t shaved in a while, and the last time he did Astoria was sure he’d used an old razor. His hair wasn’t so much a platinum blond as a lively silver, struck through with a little bit of gold.

“I see you’ve struck at the heart of the matter,” he said and this time couldn’t help himself--he smiled widely, cracking his upper lip with the strength of the gesture, and Astoria felt a throbbing and pervasive warmth. She allowed herself a small smile watching Draco here, someone so distant, someone she’d made her friend with defunct information, become someone very real, human, someone she could see a beating heart inhabiting.

“When I found out that what my parents believed in wasn’t working,” he said, his smile fading but still floating about his face, a light in his eyes. The lines of his face were not exactly kind, but there were slopes to his angles that Astoria hadn’t been able to see before that were fully lit now in the green, watery light. “I thought that maybe everything I’d scorned had the right answers. I don’t know why anatomy is the most obvious place to begin but I started there, too.”

Astoria thought to herself that she had never imagined they would talk this much, that he could say this much to someone he didn’t know. But she guessed that there was a freedom in allowing oneself to realize that one really didn’t have any idea about another person, no matter the kind of past one had, or whose parents had failed or who had been kept away from fighting at the pinnacle of their childhoods, whose world had collapsed and revealed itself to have been nothing but a mild, warm, comfortable wind.

Astoria couldn’t help but feel in that moment that it was so easy to begin with studying the body because no matter what a person had, they had a functioning anatomy; they each had a brain and bones and skin and they each, above all, had a beating, functioning heart, powered by something magical communities had ignored for centuries, had probably never cared to learn: electricity was the life breath of the human spirit, pumping what blood one had for this world, what allocation belonged to their earthly shells, through their human bodies.

If nothing else, Astoria and Draco were alike in that very basic way, and in this arching beat of space, their histories fell short of uniting them in any way near to that that their basic heartbeats allowed: as the sounds of their bodies mingled, echoes reverberating at close quarters, it was easy to imagine that they too were only a heartbeat apart in space.

Chapter 5: five.
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five.


“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.


Chapter 6: six.
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six.


Sometimes Astoria would clean her dishes by hand because she found that this was an easy way to think about things. Nobody, not even she, could be too interested in what was actually happening with the soap and the remains and the water to think much about it.

She sometimes would think that it was such a twist of life, the life that had always seemed to want to swallow her, had been the thing to triumph over her own desires for herself and her place in the world--if she had actually been able to avoid the Leaky on that day with clear skies she would have never talked with him, would have never shared in something that was happening despite all odds. That was a horrible feeling. Mostly because she didn’t know if it was relief or embarrassment or something like her whole world was, again, falling apart and she had no idea how to reconstruct it.

It had been a month since that day, give or take one or two, and enough had happened in that month to render the rest of her graduated life almost entirely worthless. She’d moved, finally, to the East End, into a dingy flat with minimal lighting and a single room, kitchen, and toilet. There was a fireplace, though, and the rent wasn’t high, and she was much closer to the places that she loved to be. She had found a job at the library shelving books, had enrolled in a couple of classes at the community college nearby, and had found somewhat of a solace in the friendship she had stepped into with Draco.

She had convinced him to take these classes with her, but he had moved to East End on his own, without knowing that was where she had also been headed--they lived a block apart, which was convenient for meeting to Apparate to the college, for running into each other on their way home from the market on Tuesdays, for making arrangements to meet at the Leaky, although, considering their habits, this was nearly superfluous. Still, Astoria thought, shining a teacup, it was an excuse to be together in the frigid air, which was as invigorating as any trip she could make by foot in the wintertime.

They realized that they were still in that selfish love, the kind that sometimes never went away, but that was so appealing because it offered, in loving, trepidatiously, another person, there was hope for the redemption of one’s own flaws--Draco was much more loving, easier to smile, first to take a guess. It was nothing like she should have thought knowing him only from Hogwarts, where he had been silent, pressured by his premature responsibilities, sleepless, often grey-faced, pallid, withdrawn, dependent more than ever on his faithful sidekicks. Astoria had not paid him more attention than any other girl had done but that was still a lot, because everyone knew a half-story about him, and everybody knew that he was untouchable in that halfness.

She had known that he was gone from anywhere anybody could find him a lot; she had never had a run in with him in a strange part of the castle like some others had, who would come back to the common room and tell everybody how they’d seen him on the seventh floor, or near one of those ugly busts, looking out of breath and withdrawn. She’d never looked hard enough to see that his humanity as a station above all was plainly inscribed about his features and she hated to think that if she had looked harder she might have had the presence of mind to find out more about him earlier and maybe helped him--but the thought was ridiculous, because Astoria had had the task of focusing on her own relationships.

“I heard from somebody you tried to save Harry Potter’s life,” she said to him one day as they were taking the bus home from a history class.

Draco was quiet for a while then smiled at her. “He saved my life,” he said. “That changes everything for somebody.”

“But you were at the manor,” she said, and his body passed into a momentary darkness as he seemed to allow himself to relive a memory, “when he got caught. His face was swollen, but you knew it was him, didn’t you?”

“Of course,” he said. “It’s not easy to hate somebody for years and then not recognize when you finally have a clear advantage over him.” He straightened and fixed his grip on the silver railing. “Things were becoming…real. People were dying. I couldn’t have that be my fault, not so directly.” He shifted so that his body and hers leant against each other, unobtrusively steepled, as if it were a gesture meant to reassure that they were in each others’ lives. Astoria sighed.

“I was just thinking about it because I know that we both wold have loved to get out of our homes earlier than we did,” Astoria mumbled, clutching her textbook to her stomach protectively. She watched a couple of people breathing heavily, nearing sleep, their heads lulling to the turns and quick stops of the bus on the road. It was strange to think that they were here together, he who had experienced so much more than she in that space of a few years, the cotton of their Muggle shirts mingling as natural as air.

Draco and Astoria spent time doing many things together that when they had been younger they could never have imagined. They rented a car once and drove it through the city, they went and toured a Muggle bank, they continued in their classes that had nothing to do with anything magic, they began a collection of antique Muggle inventions, like old television boxes, electrical wiring, and Draco even bought an antique pistol, which he hung above his fireplace.

They walked through corporate buildings and made sure to point out to each other that every light they saw ran on electricity, and all the lifts, and the heating and refrigerators. They’d go to bridges and bring their notes from maths, trying to understand how an entire world got on without the luxury of magic for conceivably all of history; they’d feel lucky again to have what they’d sought to leave behind them.

On a windy day when she hadn’t been able to do anything with her hair Astoria stopped in at the Leaky thinking that perhaps Draco wouldn’t be there, and it wasn’t that she wanted to get away from her, it was just that she had never stopped wondering why Hannah had looked at her and Draco that sunny day he’d led her inside. She had verged on asking the kinder woman several times what it was she saw there, feeling like she was going to consult a Seer for some kind of prediction, but every time she had realized that what she had, whatever it was, was sitting as an entity right here and right now, so there had never been the need to ask.

Draco had been strangely absent from her life for the past few days and she had felt his lack more than anything, especially the way that she’d gone absent from the Leaky recently. He had said that he had somebody to visit in another country, farther away, and Astoria had been too unsure to ask where, and he hadn’t invited her, and she had not felt that it would be pertinent to ask to come along. They were separate people although it was easy to forget that sometimes when they were doing all the same things in life and going, at least in a finite sense, the same places, seeking things in each other that the world just couldn’t offer.

Astoria walked into the door and her body immediately reacted to the warm and dry atmosphere, her eyes taking kindly to that green, wavering light. She walked with a quick and sure step to her regular seat at the bar. There were not many people here today, the way that it usually was, and Hannah was not long in coming with her regular butterbeer.

“Haven’t seen you in a bit, Astoria! It’s wonderful to see you round again.” Hannah beamed at her from the other side of the bar and Astoria felt horrible for having abandoned this place and this woman for so long.

“It’s great to see you, too, Hannah.” She wrapped her hands around the warm drink and leaned forward on her elbows. Hannah looked pointedly at the empty stool next to her and Astoria shrugged, trying not to smile too widely.

“He’s gone someplace, I don’t know where exactly. Said he’d be back in a couple days.”

“Ah,” Hannah said, but she didn’t say anything else. Her face was kind and Astoria realized for the first time that Hannah must have been at Hogwarts at the same time as she had herself. It struck her as odd that all the people in her life who were important to her had that in common--a background steeped in magic. She wondered if any of them she didn’t know so well, people like Hannah, ever wanted to look beyond that, understand things magic couldn’t explain.

“I wanted to ask you something,” Astoria began, feeling very shy. She tucked a curl behind her ear and tried to pat down her hair, pulling off her mittens. Hannah waited patiently. Astoria sighed, slumping back down in her seat and leaning forward. “That day--the sunny, rainless day that was very crowded here, a few months again--the first time I came in with--with Draco,” she stuttered his name; it was so strange to be talking about him to somebody else like she knew him well, because even though she did it felt almost forbidden, too good for her.

Hannah didn’t seem surprised, or make any visible reaction. Something about her person seemed to emanate understanding, and Astoria blundered on, “you knew something. Is it anything--that you can tell me? Is it wordable?” She knew it didn’t quite make sense but that Hannah understood her anyways.

Hannah sighed, and Astoria thought, she’s Draco’s age, I remember now. “Not quite something I can say in a small way,” she said. “I think some things are meant for feelings, and not words. But I was just feeling that you two made sense somehow, the same way I always felt that Neville and I made sense.” She tilted her head at Astoria, her golden hair a greenish, swimming light, and Astoria knew that all this woman had to offer her was truth, and wondered suddenly what her life had been like when she was younger. What had her hope been in? What had she staked her life on, to eventually have come to such a way of understanding life, and what could be love? What was she doing right and how could Astoria be like her?


Chapter 7: seven.
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seven.



It’s impossible to breathe, it’s damn slow, there are sparks from cigarettes leaving ring-worm molds in the film of her lungs, things are slow, there are eyes watching, the ceiling crackles with electricity, the ceiling fan is hanging from a wire, she thinks it’s going to fall, things are collecting on the blades and spouting off, like dust and pollen from the ceiling plants. There are no ceiling plants but the texture of it is like leaves, and they’re wet at curling, this place is old and haunted, there are ghosts everywhere, some of them walk in coldness and some of them glide in it. Things are trembling, things are trembling in the centers of things, there are little circle pockets and divots and hills in her firewhisky and the inside notch of her elbow is looking like a piece of glass combed from the sand on the sea shore, glittering in those haggard lines.

It’s the pain of impossible finds. That’s it. That’s all. And the light coming in through that window and its blinds which Astoria thinks have never seen proper daylight, not in Diagon Alley, not here, not here, is tragic. It’s all quite sad. She knows why but isn’t going to say because that voice is all a word has to make it real. Not charts, not letters, not words someone said onetime. She’s trying to believe this and thinks she believes it until she considers the light again, dull and flecked with yellow sun-drenched snow.

It’s not because he’s gone but now that he is she can think about the way he put his hand or foot or at least a finger into the center of whatever was spinning and it stopped, and she found herself alive and buzzing with a real-feeling pulse, and she had believed in things. It’s the pain of impossible finds that martyrs simplicity. It died for a good cause, for that spark and ripple, for the just-offbeat, shared rhythm of their hearts held apart only by construct, by what was safe for the human mind, human body, tiny things. Life is damn boring.

Astoria considers the story of her life when she lies here looking at the ceiling fan and watching the light sprint across the wall, or spit, one of the two, probably, but she doesn’t know and she doesn’t care and part of her is wondering if Hogwarts isn’t where she should have been all along, it’s better probably, maybe, well she doesn’t know, than lying on a mattress with one’s head lounging off the end and by now she’s reasonably sure, she can’t see toowell for the wild curls in her eyes, the crown of it is resting on the floor. The carpet of course is dirty and looks like a forest, or what she’s seen of the top of forests from the seventh floor, from the astronomy tower, once from Ravenclaw tower during the battle there. Astoria also considers the humour of it; it’d never quite struck her as humourous, but surely it was that parents so steeped in the habit of well-behaved children that the couldn’t know what it meant to cut someone off, or else it was the humour that gold was so like breathing and blood to them that it couldn’t possibly be part of that, and she feels the strange simultaneous bubble-up and press-down compress of laughter on her spine, her chest, the solar plexus, the third chakra.

Astoria is watching things, here eyelashes are never going to touch again, she is going to wait here at the door cross-legged with her neck folded over into the back of itself for him to come back and she wonders but knows it isn’t true, he’s not leaving this little world of togetherness they’ve forged into unkindness together, together, like hands with ten fingers, one hand with ten fingers, maybe, or two ice cubes that start being one ice cube after they have had enough time together or, better, she thinks now, watching the snow pelt her window through the golden blinds, the heavy moss-coloured curtains, or moth-coloured perhaps, when two snowflakes stop being special and start melting into just water, which is everywhere and in everything like Astoria, and Draco.

Astoria will swear she isn’t drunk but Hannah will know better, Astoria thinks, Hannah has something and Astoria doesn’t know if it is but she thinks it’s probably that life is never moving slowly to Hannah that somehow Neville, she remembers Neville, Astoria does, the boy who scared and surprised them all and the one who most of all of them, more than Harry or her own pity made her cry--word gets around to everyone but the ones who need it, he didn’t know how close he was--somehow Hannah and Neville, well, they’re never together around each other, Neville working at the school--the damn school! oh, she should have had that tea--but they’re those people who’ve figured it out, the ones who they write the textbooks for, the ones who aren’t the hopeless or lost or clueless or besotted but the ones who can.

Astoria is lying back on her bed now, her head is no longer touching the floor, she is patting her cheeks and things are spinning, not the ceiling fan--now that she notices this it is entirely out of place, a ceiling fan in a magical room--it’s spinning to fill time. I think time is the only thing keeping me and this bed apart right now, Astoria is thinking, poking the linens, pulling at the lip of her woolen sock, snapping it back against her calf, thinking she should pull on some trousers, thinking she should head out into the snow, which will be cold and will make outlines disappear. How hard would breathing be if outlines were gone? What of lungs, what of the heart, that seed of electricity, that impossible organ, that all-taker all-denier, you come in you go out, but you can come back again, that all-taker, denier, no, the all-denier, taker, because you can come back again.

Astoria sits up in bed with a hand over her heart--she feels her boundaries, the palm tree of the inside of her hand pressed against the coastline of her chest, her wool caught in-between, and some hair, some wild curls, there too, but more than that the seed, bigger, strangely, than all its roots and leaves, than the veins and arteries and the little baskets of capillaries, yes, she knows what they look like and she’s seen them all in books, in pictures--so there must be something small in the heart, smaller than the heart, more untouchable but just as spreadable, and she knows where he’s gone, she thinks, laying back down and keeping her hand pressed over her jumpers, her hair, her heart--because goodness is a seed, it starts in the heart and spreads its leaves through the body like electricity.

He’s gone to do good. Make good. To get it outside of his body, a bit, she thinks, smiling at this, like germinating. We’re all growing up.

Chapter 8: eight.
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eight.


“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.

“Er--”

“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?”

“What?”

“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.

“Where?”

“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.

“Ow!”

“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

Chapter 9: nine.
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nine.



There had been moments in Astoria Greengrass’s life when she wanted nothing more than, and she could not see beyond her desire to, curl up, lay somewhere, probably sideways, and dissolve into herself, disappear on the spot, disperse into some nobler element. Other things could stay: her worries or desperation, but her body would be gone, its atoms pushed apart and held apart. Everything about the human body wishes to hold itself together, how boring! What hasn’t come out of a small dense ball? The gold on her mother’s ears, at her mother’s throat, forged in a supernovae a billion years ago. That was true. Everything that was worth having happened had been the product of being pushed away from that small dark seed.

Where did that leave room for her individual timeline? Or, she supposed, where was there not room for it? Whatever had happened between her and Draco--and she looked up at his profile, his nose outlined in sunlight streaming through the window on the bus, the tip of it barely pointed up, and a puddle of light in the divot of his chin, shadows clinging to the edges of the small, white hairs there--had taught her two or maybe three things, perhaps more or less, and maybe it was all the same lesson.

Lifting her fingers before her eyes she ticked off these knowable things: one, that people are both the seed and the soil, that what comes out also goes in, in the same instant. Two, that boundaries exist only because that is how we feel most safe, but you can get beyond this conception that your body is only you, and you are nothing outside of it. Three, that you are everywhere and everything you have been and protecting the middle particle is at the detriment of appreciating the outside ones that change and grow and allow you things, like space, and air, and love.

“Are you thinking?” Draco asked, poking the back of her hand. She realigned her cheekbone with his shoulder.

“Am I ever not?” she asked lightly, and wondered if she wouldn’t collapse. She knew what she was doing, anchoring herself to him this way, he who had been in and out again--who had taken his body in and out again, that is, because she had been back, too, a hundred times, she had taken them up into her life, had taken their money, which she knew now was the same as loving them, and being loved, and had lived on the fruits of their nobility, of her nobility, because she thought, it was true that this is what it is, only everybody has it, and certain people refuse to see it in other people. That was true.

Draco laughed lightly and pushed some of her hair out of his face gently, patting it behind her ear. Her fingers fumbled through the pocket of her coat and wrapped around a floating cigarette. There were sheep outside on the green hills, the hills that were too green to be real, and somehow too real, too. She tried counting them, and tried to make herself very interested in them when she began to smell the sea.

Some things had hurt her. And she didn’t know how to say it, she didn’t know how one was supposed to choose what to keep, or if one could, if some things just stayed and others left, and if there was any interference to be done with whatever it was making that decision, to keep some things, to let others float off. And she supposed it must be in the body--as much as she knew, as much as she felt outside of it, something about the body was good, and she thought suddenly, sitting up, pushing her hand through the crook of Draco’s elbow and holding fast there, staring at the pucker of the grey twill under her fingers.

And if it was in the body then the body--no, it wasn’t that it followed. The body exists, she thought, to be a house to goodness, and to help it grow. She did not like that the obvious question next arose, and sighed deeply, drawing Draco’s silver eyes to her face where they roamed the expanse of her pale skin as a painter’s eyes roam a sculpture--with appreciation and a small bit of awe, almost as much concern--the question that asked, what of badness? What of fear and frailty and cowardice? What of self-righteousness? What was it that had banned her from the final battle, and where had it been?

If the body was good, and the house of goodness, and the form that good things chose to take--but she knew it was also the house of chaos and decision--then when someone became bad, or did bad things, were they putting on badness for a time, or were there different seeds and different winds? Or did the heart also pump this through the body?

She wished, not for the first time, she had made up her mind before this, that she had known how to feel. Hannah had told her so many things that night, and Astoria had asked many questions--why hadn’t she thought to ask of the place for badness in the soil of the heart?

“Some things hurt me,” Astoria confessed, poking her plastic umbrella around with a finger whose nail had been shorn too close to the quick.

“I know,” Hannah had said, nodding gently. There were many other people in the bar but she did not pay them attention. Astoria felt a rush of warmth spread through her fingers, through the lines on her scalp showing through the mountainous terrain of her hair. “Tell me your pain.”

It was a simple request and Astoria was quieted by her body’s own response, its immediate willingness and the desperation she felt pushing a bubble up her throat, compressing her chest, and she wanted to laugh, but felt tears on the back of her eyes instead. She breathed deeply for a moment, or no, more moments than one, and tried to find a voice for the things that she had carried--mistrust, blame, self-pity, betrayal, confusion--and found one story.

“There is a night I remember,” Astoria begins, and then thinks, stupid, stupid, it is a night we all remember! Why must you draw constant distinctions? But Hannah’s kind eyes were looking at Astoria with no sign of pity, only curiosity and some deep, pervasive calm. And something in her, in Astoria, was saying
speak, her hands closing around a cup full of tea and milk, pushed towards her by Hannah’s hands.

“The last battle. We weren’t allowed to stay, we were ushered out of the castle. I learned--well, I thought, then, I knew myself, and how mislead I had been. But, I think, I have come to remember it as something good, and it made me want--other--things, and I have tried--it hasn’t been easy, people look at me and I know they know, and I tell myself, it wasn’t my fault--but wasn’t it? Whose, then? Was it really unkind, to make us leave? They were concerned--it was a large moment, and, oh, you know how things happen in large moments, little things are forgotten, and I think a matter of Slytherin pride was a little thing when considering the damage that had come out of us, considering--our parents--Draco--we were tearing down
home, and I wondered if she ever thought about how it was also ours. It was our home, too, and many of our parents were tearing it down, the bricks, the stones. She is right--I mean, Slytherins are loyal, and I am one, I am, and I don’t think we would have fought our parents or siblings, I don’t think we would have gone face-to-face, but I think we might have started repairing the damage. We lived there, too. I can’t know for sure,” she had said, blinking rapidly. Hannah handed her a handkerchief and Astoria took it, feeling mildly self-conscious, and buried her face in it. “I think we would have started rebuilding.”

“I think,” Hannah said, and Astoria let her tears leak out of the sides of her eyes, into the warm, sweet-scented fabric of the handkerchief, “you would have, too. I think you
did, and I think you are. Look at you!”

Astoria looked up from her hands, feeling her forehead gathering, her mouth trembling. “We left, we didn’t stay. We didn’t help. There are still holes--”

“A building--what is a building, what is a castle?” Hannah said, waving a mug at the ceiling. “It’s a place where
people live. Astoria, it may seem simple to say, and it might not be what you want to hear, but you, and Draco, jobless and feeling alone, you are good people, and don’t think that others--” she gestured around at the people in the pub, a bit of remnant butterbeer floating out past the rim onto the shiny wood of the bar, and Astoria sat up straight and looked around her at all the faces and hair, the shoulders and elbows perched on tabletops, the shining glass of so many mugs full of ale, whiskey, butterbeer, and felt her body pulse out, a buzz began in her head, and her lips felt warm. “Don’t think that others don’t see you.”

“But--I--”

“You’ve felt the cold, I think,” Hannah said, nodding at the windows. Snow had gathered in the wooden panes. “You mustn’t think too badly of them, those who haven’t gotten to know you, those who haven’t seen you. In some way I’m sure it’s a beautiful thing, that people’s minds can be made up. And memory--isn’t that what you feel made
you good, that you can remember people’s doubts, and you can decide to leave it behind and make yourself all over? And isn’t that what has made Draco somebody you--yes--love?”

Astoria’s eyes flew open and she leaned back in her seat, her heart propelling her backwards. She realized yes, certainly, she was very drunk.


Astoria hadn’t told Draco what Hannah had said, only that she had said good things, and known them well, and that had been enough. Astoria thought that must have been because Draco himself already knew. She wondered then, though, if Hannah wasn’t really saying something else--it didn’t seem like such a stretch, because the woman knew things--if she wasn’t really saying--but it was too much to imagine, that she could have known that, perhaps, and Astoria wasn’t sure...she couldn’t have, but maybe she did--know--that Astoria’s family had given her goodness, too.

“What are you thinking?”

“Hm?” Astoria looked up. “Oh. Hm. Do you think--I’m not sure if I’ll say it right--do you think that something better than the first thing can come out of it?”

He was quiet for a moment. Astoria leaned her elbow on the padded armrest between them and felt some pressing pain in the skin, as if it were too dry to stretch that way, or as if there weren’t enough of it. She sat back in her seat.

“Would you trust me as much as Descartes?”

“More so,” she said, laughing with surprise. Of course, all Greengrass children had studied the great philosophers, most of whom were magical, despite Muggle belief otherwise. The Malfoys must too have studied them. They were moving into the past two-fold. And yet, the laughter issuing forth from an unexpected appreciation must be the best kind, Astoria thought, feeling, to the corners of her insides, gentle and full of light.

“Well,” Draco said, “then I say, yes, if the second thing has a brain and a heart.” And he turned to her and smiled. She watched his profile against the edge-light coming from the window.

They were quiet for some time. Astoria was surprised to find herself satisfied with Draco’s answer. She found herself, too, thinking about bones, and the holes that earthworms drill through soil, and the way that other things moved through these channels, and wondered idly, watching the pinprick clouds of sheep blurring to streaks against the countryside, whether or not open space was really open space or if it was something enclosed masquerading to the weakness and limited scope of the human imagination. They could be inside something. Astoria wondered: if they were inside a giant earthworm tunnel, was there any room for a seed in any person? Goodness still seemed apt fit into the metaphor of the seed, because it was clear that it grew, and stretched out the skin of the person containing it, made the person big enough to--. But badness--was it something put into soil at all? Or did it gather out of--she didn’t know--pockets of empty space, converging and acquiring mass and gravity? And so the same soil full of that blank-space badness could also have a seed in it, and that seed would still grow.

Hannah, then, she guessed, was sunlight, and perhaps their water had been those gallons of firewhiskey, untouched by the winter cold.

What seemed half an hour passed, and the countryside wavered between views of seaside cottages, and white-walled Manors. Astoria began to feel her heart pound: though that is not entirely accurate, she heard it pound more than she felt it, for all her feeling in all her body seemed to focus and concentrate, making her aware of a sick, slick heat pressing in on her forehead, the back of her neck, the drowse of a fever pressing down on her body. After a while Draco began to tap his fingers and he hummed a small song and then, turning only halfway to Astoria but touching her hair anyway, because it was wild and voluminous and filled space like roots,

“I know you want to do this, but you might not feel like it. And I just want you to know, you don’t have to.”

She was quiet, and looked out the window again, at the rolling hills, the smell of the sea, the giant, clean manors with rock gardens and gumball-shaped trees. “We’re very far from London,” she said.

Draco sighed and Astoria knew that was because he knew it was true; and that he had come back affirmed of his--well, affirmed of his everything apart from what his family had given him. Going back--it was beyond feeling, it was something decided by whoever had sowed the seed into her heart at birth, or before, maybe even when all the world was pulsing in the dense heat of a small black spec, impossibly small, and dense, and hot. Or maybe she was that. She was the seed and the blackness of bad failed to manifest and the sower.

Something slipped from her, then, and the Knight Bus lurched, and suddenly they were racing down a narrow, red-dirt lane. She thought of the list of good things she had made about home, the shape of her mother’s hands and the trust in her sister’s eyes, the sturdiness of her father’s shoulders and the serene quietness of the fireplace, usually empty, in the sitting room. She could feel the hair on her arms raising under her jumper. She felt the pull again, the pull inwards, to protect what was at the inmost core: that seed, that space, that capacity. But she held herself still. Looking out of the window to these rolling lawns, where there were some vagrant flowers and where there was soil touched by the wind that had touched the sea and which had touched the dirt under the tires of the Knight Bus and had touched the walls of the towers of Greengrass Castle, and was now streaming in the window cracked open two rows behind them, she thought about boundaries, and how much they depended on human determination, and how they could so easily slip away, because wasn’t it the poet Sappho who--and it was--overwhelmed with love and light, had marked down the words:

I begin to tremble everywhere,
and, greener than grass,
I seem not far from death.





fin.





author’s note: Well, guys! this has been a long and tiring journey, not to get punny. I have to thank Julia (peppersweet) for providing consistent feedback and being a fan in general of the pairing and being nice about my uncontrollable metaphor and for making the banner ofc. Also, I think I owe you all an apology, because I said I would use less metaphors in this chapter, but, alas!

Similarly, I am really hoping I was able to tie up all that I presented in earlier chapters--not in a concrete way, of course, as so much is left unwritten, but mostly, I hope my continual reference to the body, goodness as a plant, etc, made sense in this chapter in that literary way things can make sense. I was aiming for a move from the physical body as a reaction for Astoria and Draco--in studying anatomy, which provides a baseline for healing--away from magic, which denies the body largely, in its studies, because magic is so other; but then I attempted to use this newfound appreciation in Astoria for the body as a gateway into what the body holds, because I think that, thinking about it--and you probably are, if you’re someone who has had the patience and energy to make it to the end of this--it is only plain that there is some numinous inside the body. The last couple chapters are hoping to touch on this.

I bring up Descartes because he is well-known for using the evidence that good things cannot come from something less good as a premise for his logical argument in favor of the existence of God in his Meditations.

The last three lines are taken from the poem “Equal of the gods he seems to me” (translated by Frank Salvidio) by Sappho of Lesbos.

I hope that this was a somewhat enjoyable read. Please let me know what you think, and if there is anything I should consider further clearing up in this last chapter.

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