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As always, that which you recognize belongs to the amazing JK Rowling.

The crushing sensation of apparition was like torture to Draco’s battered body. Every bruised rib screamed in protest as he hurtled through the winding, twisting tunnel of darkness. The streaks of light that swirled in front of his eyes had taken on more of a surreal quality than normal. He struggled to fight through the pain, blocking it all out as he desperately focused on his destination. Getting them there in one piece -- keeping her safe -- was the only thing that mattered.

It was over as quickly as it began. The world spun back into existence and they appeared in a hidden space nestled between a painted cinderblock wall and an overgrown hedge. Draco spun on his heel, trying to take in the sight of her. He had to know whether she was alright. If he’d splinched her or if a curse had managed to slip past his defenses... But the world didn’t stop spinning even when he came to a halt. A second later he felt her small hands grabbing at his head and neck as he crumbled to the ground.

“Draco! Draco, are you alright?”

He took a shaky, agonizing breath and tried to get control of himself. The burning ache in his back and neck fought to commandeer his attention, but the nauseating sense of vertigo was clearly his highest priority. Unable to stand meant unable to defend himself. Unable to keep the two of them safe if his attackers managed to track them down. He forced his eyes open and nearly retched as the world tilted and spun in front of him.

“Draco, say something.”

Draco forced another breath into his lungs and answered softly.

“I’m fine. Just give me a moment.”

“You don’t look fine! Are you sure you don’t-”

I said I’m fine.

The words came out with a much sharper edge than he’d intended. Even with his eyes tightly shut, he could sense the way she recoiled. The small, sudden intake of her breath was tainted with fear and hurt. He caught her hand just as she was pulling it away from his shoulder.

“I’m... I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have snapped at you like that.”

He heard her huff softly.

“No, you most certainly shouldn’t have. At least you’re not completely thick.”

Draco probably would have laughed if he hadn’t been struggling so hard not to throw up. After a few moments, he opened one eye experimentally and found that the world seemed far more stationary.

“You put yourself in far too much danger back in the village, and-”

“They would have killed you, Draco! You were in no condition-”

And... even though I could have handled them, I really appreciate what you did.”

He watched in two slightly blurry dimensions as her argumentative frown slowly melted into an incredulous smile.

“You’re unbelievable! You could barely stand, how were you supposed to fight?”

“I would have managed.”

She rolled her eyes at him and took a quick look at their surroundings. A cloud passed over her features and as quickly as it had appeared, her grin melted away. She looked stricken and for reasons he couldn’t quite explain, Draco felt on the verge of panic.

“Oh, no. I’m in so much trouble. I did magic outside of school, I left the village, I-”

“Just blame it all on me.”

It seemed like a perfectly sensible solution, and the very least he could do for her after the risks she’d taken to help him. So it surprised him when she shook her head vigorously.

“Out of the question! You were barely allowed to return to school in the first place. If anyone finds out that you were involved in this, McGonagall will-”

“McGonagall was going to find a reason to drum me out sooner or later, anyway. I’m certain that our illustrious Head Girl has already found some way to inform the Headmistress about the row I had with her idiot boyfriend that completely glosses over the fact that he started the whole thing. There’s no reason for you to get into trouble as well.”

She chewed on her lower lip for a moment. It seemed that the Slytherin in her was giving some serious thought to taking him up on his offer. Considering her options. Weighing the different outcomes. Draco found it strangely alluring. But then she shook her head again.

“I don’t believe Miss Granger will do that. Whatever she meant about teaching you a lesson, she seemed quite sincere.”

Draco opened his mouth to argue. He had known Granger for so much longer than she had. Constantly quarrelled with the girl. Watched her nearly die at the hands of his mad aunt. But Astoria cut him off before he could utter a word.

“It’s a girl thing, Draco. Subconsciously, she needs to fix you. Just trust me, alright? Now, our other problem is the fact that you apparated us away from the village. You do have a license, right?”

“Yes. Of course.”

She fixed him with a withering stare, and he raised his palms slightly in spite of the pain that shot through his shoulders into his upper back.

“They gave me one during the war, when Thicknesse was Minister. I think they just forgot to take it away.”

Astoria arched her eyebrow at his revelation.

“Did you actually take the test?”

“No. My aunt gave me a book to read and told me that if I splinched myself it was my own fault for not trying hard enough. Then we flooed to the Ministry and she put her wand to Mr. Twycross’s head and told him that his signature was either going to be on my license or his own death certificate, his choice.”

She stared at him for a moment as though she was trying to decide whether or not to believe him. He nodded slightly in response to the question in her eyes.

“Your aunt sounds like a charming lady.”

Draco looked at her for a moment, enjoying the biting sarcasm in her eyes. He broke into a grin. As much as she tried to stay cross, Astoria seemed to find it infectious. A small smile slipped onto her own lips. Draco chuckled softly at her, and she broke down into a fit of giggles. He clutched at his aching ribs, trying to soothe the pain as he struggled to control his own laughter. She punched him on the arm, trying to look serious as she dabbed her eyes with the sleeve of her robes.

“Draco, what is so funny?”

It took him a moment to catch his breath, and he finally had to look away from her to avoid losing his composure again.

“You talk about her as though she was a human being. It isn’t a widely held opinion.”

His comment prompted another burst of uncontrolled laughter from both of them. When the moment passed, she looked at him seriously once again.

“Draco, why were those people trying to hurt you?”

His mirth quickly faded away. The moment he had been both looking forward to and dreading had come. He needed to tell her something. His heart wanted to simply open up and tell her everything about the war. Reveal every horrible moment of anguish and mortal terror. But he was terrified that she wouldn’t understand. Besides, telling her everything might take days. The story of the Ratcliffe clan seemed like a small, safe place to start.

“We should go inside first. Your cheeks are red and my fingers are aching from the cold.”

“Inside? Wait, where are we?”

Draco grinned at her and started to climb to his feet. He made it as far as his knees before his head began to swim dangerously again. He closed his eyes and focused on his balance, but the world refused to settle into a simple pattern of up and down. Then he felt her hand close around his.

“Draco, I understand that you don’t like accepting help from others, but really now. You’re being a prat. Here, all together now.”

Draco huffed and grasped her hand a bit more tightly.

“I am not being a prat. And I would have made it to my feet eventually.”

“If you say so. Prat.”

Slowly, and with more than a little of the help that he certainly didn’t need, Draco made it to his feet. The muscles in his back and shoulders had ceased their screams of agony, settling into a constant, throbbing ache. One halting step at a time, he led her along the length of the wall. Pushing aside the untidy end of the hedge row, Draco allowed her to step out onto the pavement in front of a small coffee shop. She turned to him and raised an eyebrow.

“We’re in Derbyshire. It’s a muggle establishment, so mind what you say.”

“A muggle establishment? You never cease to surprise me, Draco.”

“I happened upon it during the war. The muggles here are... quiet. They just sit and read their books and don’t talk much. On several occasions, I came there to think about... well, just to think.”

Draco held the door open for her, wincing due to the strain that it put on his arm and shoulder. For a moment, she started to take the burden of the door from him, but then she seemed to think better of it and simply whispered her thanks. He selected a small table near the back and pulled out her chair, then seated himself across from her. A young muggle woman with orange streaks dyed into her hair and a multitude of silver rings piercing her ears stopped by and took their order. Astoria waited until the waitress left and then spoke quietly.

“A sickle for those thoughts of yours.”

“Do you mean my current thoughts or from when I used to come here during the war?”

“The latter sound more interesting.”

Draco took a deep breath and stared at the chalkboard listing the shop’s abbreviated menu through unfocused eyes. His first instinct was to weigh his words carefully. To apply the correct polish to his answer. Then his eyes met hers. The intensity of her concern startled him. Thoughts of subterfuge faded away. He simply began to speak.

“I came here to think about leaving. The war, Britain, my family... I was thinking of leaving it all behind. I couldn’t stand it any longer. Every day, I woke up wondering whether it would finally happen.”

Astoria’s voice was barely a whisper.

“Whether what would finally happen, Draco?”

“Whether I’d finally die. If I made a mistake, or if I couldn’t complete some task that I was assigned or if the Dark Lord simply grew tired of looking at me, I knew it would be the end. It was the first thing I thought about each morning and the last thing before I went to sleep at night. Just once, I wanted to wake up without wondering whether I’d live to see another day.”

“So why did you stay?”

Draco looked away toward the chalkboard again. He could feel the uncomfortable stinging on the back of his eyes.

“He would have killed them. If I’d run away, my mother and father would have died for my cowardice. Mother might have chosen to leave with me if she’d had the chance, but not Father. A Malfoy doesn’t run from danger. That’s what he would have said. And even though he was the one who brought the Dark Lord’s anger down on us in the first place, I couldn’t bring myself to do that to him. No matter how much we’ve fought and argued, he’s still my father.”

Astoria was staring at him as though he was something very fragile, and she feared that saying the wrong thing might shatter him into a million pieces. In his mind, his father’s voice shouted with furious indignation. Draco simply ignored it. The pride of the Noble House of Malfoy could be upheld another day. For the first time in as long as he could remember, Draco allowed himself to take a tiny bit of pleasure in the sympathy of someone who wasn’t his mother.

“You said that you’d tell me why those people in Hogsmeade were so angry with you. I understand if you’d rather not-”

“No, it’s alright. The old crone was Madam Ratcliffe and the fine specimens of wizarding kind accompanying her were her sons. During the war, they contacted one of the Dark Lord’s followers who was patrolling the village and told him that they’d seen Harry Potter sneaking into the home of a nearby wizarding family. I found out later that her younger son, the taller one, had quarrelled with them.

“We were almost certain that they were either mistaken or outright lying to us. The Death Eaters who’d been watching the old Black family home in London had caught glimpses of Potter and his friends whenever they stepped outside of the protective wards to disapparate. We told the Dark Lord as much. But he was unwilling to ignore the slim chance that Potter was actually there, and he made it clear that if the Ratcliffes were lying, we were to demonstrate the consequences of attempting to mislead him.”

Draco lowered his eyes to the table as memories of darkness and fire and screams of terror filled his mind.

“Six of us traveled to Hogsmeade and we located the house where the Ratcliffes claimed to have seen Potter. Dolohov and Rookwood warded the house so that the only way in or out was through the front door.”

The screams inside his mind grew louder. Draco could hear his pulse racing inside his ears. He was snapped back to the present when the waitress set two mugs of tea on the table in front of him. He dismissed her with a nod, not even bothering to look up. Taking a deep breath, he continued in a shaky voice.

“Then they set the house on fire. I heard screaming. Shouts of panic. The wife came running out the front door, pulling one little girl by the hand and holding a toddler to her chest. Dolohov hit them with some sort of spell. The next thing I knew, the mother was lying on the ground and the children were wailing at the top of their lungs.”

Draco didn’t realize how badly he was shaking until Astoria placed her small hand on top of his, steadying him. He looked up and met her gaze, not even bothering to try to hide the anguish he felt.

“Next the father emerged. He had burns all over his hands and face and his dressing gown was on fire. He was screaming that his son was still inside the house, begging for us to help him. He barely made it off of the front porch before Travers took him down.”

There was a long pause before Draco was able to continue.

“We watched the house burn to the ground. Rookwood, Travers, Dolohov... all of them were joking. Laughing as though they’d never seen anything so funny while this man, this man whose name I never even knew, begged them to save his son.”

Astoria’s brown eyes were wet with tears as she clutched his hand.

“Draco, you don’t have to-”

“No, I need to finish. Please.”

She nodded slowly.

“When it was over, when there was nothing left of the house but a smoldering ruin, Rookwood and the others decided that they were going to have a drink. They ordered me to take Greyback and deal with the Ratcliffes. To punish them for daring to lie to the Dark Lord. I can barely remember the short walk to their home. I was in shock. And then I was angry. Furious at the needless, casual, brutal stupidity of it all. As soon as we arrived, I blew the door off the hinges with a Reductor Curse. Madam Radcliffe and her three sons came bustling out the door, waving their wands and making threats and talking rubbish.

“The middle son tried to rush us but Greyback made short work of him. I tried to stay angry. To tell myself that they deserved to be punished for what they’d done. But when I saw that man lying on the ground with Greyback on top of him, all I could think of was the poor man in the burning gown who was never going to see his son again. I told Greyback to deal with them and I disapparated home.”

Astoria looked confused for a moment, then a terrible realization settled onto her face.

“So the man Greyback attacked was the third son?”

Draco nodded slowly without looking up.

“It’s strange, isn’t it? How things seem to even out in the end.”

They sipped their tea in silence for a few minutes. Draco felt his heartbeat return to normal as the burning sensation around his eyes gradually receded. Given another few hours and some pain potions, he was beginning to hope that the day might actually turn out alright. He looked at Astoria, who was staring into her mug. She looked sad and a bit frustrated, as though she was trying to square two thoughts that refused to coexist no matter how she twisted and turned them in her mind.

“I’ll give you that sickle back if you share what’s troubling you.”

She looked up at him without a hint of amusement in her brown eyes.

“Did you take the Dark Mark?”

The question cut right through his nascent feelings of hope, laying bare all of his anxiety and fear. Again he thought of his father, and the jealous way the old man guarded the truth about his left forearm. Over and over, he had tried to tell the Aurors that the blackened remnants were merely a curse burn. In spite of the powerful urge to lie to her, he simply nodded his head and waited for her to storm away in horror.

“Did you want to?”

The question took him by surprise. He stared back at her and couldn’t stop the snort of mirthless laughter that escaped from his lips. She seemed startled at first by his reaction, but then raised her eyebrows slightly, urging him to answer. Draco took a second to compose his thoughts. Where to even begin?

“There was a time in my life when I wanted to be a Death Eater with all my heart. When I was a little boy, I had no idea what the ugly, black scar on my father’s arm meant. But I knew he guarded it fiercely. It was important to him. By and by, I overheard enough of his whispered conversations with his old friends to realize what it was, what it signified. My father was the only role model I had ever known. The only man who seemed important enough to really look up to. I wanted to be just like him. Desperately.

“Then he was arrested in the Department of Mysteries. Everything changed. The Dark Lord was furious when my father didn’t obtain this prophesy that supposedly foretold Potter’s victory. He was determined to make an example of us, to show the others the price of failing him. The thing I’d always dreamed of became my worst nightmare. In the end, it didn’t matter whether I wanted to take the mark. I wasn’t given any choice.”

Draco suddenly sat straight up and forced the cuff of his shirt up his left arm. Out of all the things he’d told her, all of the truths that he had shared, this was the one thing he most needed her to understand. The one that might make a difference.

“People think that this mark made me powerful. That it was some sort of gift and I was chosen to receive it because of my family’s loyalty to him. It isn’t true, Astoria. None of it. I was a slave, bound to obey his every whim and meant to die as a warning to the others. This mark is nothing more than an elaborate chain. Anyone who tells you otherwise either doesn’t know what they’re talking about or they’re mad.”

Astoria nodded slowly without taking the eyes off of the dull, blackened mark on his arm. Draco kept still, waiting for her to stop staring at it. He didn’t really know what else to do. Both of them were startled when the waitress suddenly appeared beside their table.

“Your tat don’t look so good. I’d ask about my money back if I were you.”

Draco abruptly pushed his sleeve back down and fumbled out a response.

“I wish I could, but I’m afraid the artist has gone out of business. Could you bring us some scones and biscuits? Something with chocolate, perhaps?”

He watched as the waitress walked away and turned to find Astoria covering her mouth with her hand. The laughter in her eyes was a welcome relief. For the next two hours, they simply talked. Draco told her about growing up in the cavernous halls of Malfoy Manor, and in turn she shared stories of her family’s frequent trips to their ski lodge in the Swiss Alps. She seemed genuinely interested in his enthusiastic descriptions of the Quidditch World Cup qualifier he and his father had attended in Lisbon, and he did his best to refrain from making sarcastic comments about the preparations underway for Daphne’s wedding. She passed along the latest gossip from the Slytherin common room and Draco couldn’t deny that he missed the company of his old housemates.

By mid-afternoon, Draco felt well enough that he was certain he could apparate the two of them back to the village with minimal danger of an incident. He watched Astoria’s back as she excused herself to the ladies room, then quickly transfigured a couple of napkins into ten pound notes to cover the tab. Against all odds, it seemed he had learned one useful thing from Wormtail.

When she returned, he reached out and took her hand without even thinking about it. He led her outside and then around the corner to the secluded spot behind the hedge. Taking a deep breath and fixing the image of the alley behind Honeydukes in his mind, Draco turned and disapparated them away. A second later, they appeared behind the sweets shop, startling a fat, grey rat that had been digging through the rubbish bin.

Draco looked down at her slender hand, still wrapped in his own. He felt very strange. Over the past few hours, he had bared more of his tarnished soul than he ever imagined possible, yet there was still so much that he wanted to tell her. It wasn’t that she could grant him peace or take away his feelings of remorse. Nobody could. But somehow, when he shared his awful memories of the war with her, remembering didn’t hurt quite as bad.

“I’d walk you back to the castle, but...”

“I understand, Draco. Besides, if I have to defend your honor for a second time today, people are going to start to talk.”

She smiled at him, and Draco’s world became a little brighter even as their surroundings seemed to fade away.

“I know that our day didn’t get off to the best of starts, but I had a wonderful time. Not many people have been willing to look past my family name and give me a chance. You’re very special, Astoria. I realize that my situation makes this very difficult for you, but I really want to see you again. Please say that you’ll consider it?”

Astoria’s smile seemed to brighten, but he could also see a hint of reservation behind it. A tinge of sadness.

“I would like that very much, Draco. People aren’t giving you much of a chance, and I think it’s their loss. But as you say, the situation is difficult. When my father finds out what happened today, he isn’t going to be pleased. In time, I think I can convince him to see past your reputation, but first we need to keep you from being expelled.”

She took half a step closer and placed her free hand on his cheek. He followed the gentle motion of her fingers as she drew him near and placed a soft kiss on the cheek opposite her hand.

“Write to me, Draco. As long as I’m in school, we can exchange owls freely. If you can avoid any more run-ins with the Aurors, perhaps I can change my father’s mind.”

With one final smile, she turned and hurried around the corner toward High Street.

Draco stood behind Honeydukes for several minutes, trying to take it all in. The angry confrontation with Weasley and the attack by the Ratcliffe family felt like they’d happened weeks ago. He shook his head, trying to clear the fog. It dawned on him that he had a huge smile on his face. Remembering that he had a long Transfiguration essay due on Monday, Draco turned on his heel and disapparated. In the unlikely event that he was allowed to turn it in, he was determined to make it a good one.


The shadows cast by Hogwarts castle were starting to stretch long over the Scottish countryside as Astoria trudged back up the path that led to the front gates. She tried to replay her conversation with Draco in her mind, but she kept getting distracted by the memory of his eyes. Sometimes they sparkled with joy and other times she felt haunted by the sadness she found in them, but they never failed to derail her entire thought process and leave her feeling warm and tingly on the inside.

Shaking her head, she forced the enchanting grey eyes out of her thoughts. She had a great deal of planning to do if she was to have any chance of convincing her father to accept Draco as a worthy suitor, and it all began with keeping him at Hogwarts. She began constructing an explanation in her mind, gradually fine-tuning the words as she rehearsed them over and over. By the time she reached the castle gates, it was all prepared. There was certain to be a personal cost, but she had spent nearly six years building her reputation as a diligent student and a respectable young lady. The time had come to spend some of that credibility on a worthwhile cause.

She considered a quick stop at her dorm room to shed her heavy winter clothes and freshen her makeup, but decided against it. If it appeared that she had come directly to see the Headmistress, her contrition would seem more sincere. Astoria went over her explanation of the circumstances one more time in her head as she made her way through the corridors. She tried very hard to resist the urge to gloss over the less flattering parts. Any attempt at deception was likely to make things worse.

When she reached the final corridor in the long and winding journey to the Headmistress’s office, she was surprised to see a lone figure walking toward her. Hermione Granger appeared to be deep in thought, and when she saw Astoria approaching, she looked startled.

“Miss Greengrass.”

The Head Girl continued on her way without pause, barely meeting Astoria’s gaze. Astoria felt her stomach clench. Granger had gone directly to the Headmistress, just as Draco said that she would. A chill ran down Astoria’s spine and she desperately tried to process all of the ramifications. If the Headmistress believed that the confrontation between Draco and Ron Weasley was entirely Draco’s fault, there wasn’t much chance that Astoria would be able to make her see reason. Perhaps she should simply turn around and head to the dungeons. Wait and see what happened. She stood frozen in place for a moment, unsure of what to do.

“Is there something I can help you with, Miss Greengrass.”

Astoria turned with a start to see the Headmistress staring at her. The elderly Scot stepped away from the gargoyle statue, which slowly turned into its closed position. McGonagall fixed her with a probing stare, and Astoria realized that her indecision must be written plainly across her face. She silently cursed herself for being so transparent, took a deep breath, and did the only thing she felt that she could. She stuck to the plan.

“Professor, I’ve come to submit myself for disciplinary action. During today’s Hogsmeade outing, I broke two school rules.”

The Headmistress’s face was unreadable, aside from a slight nod of interest.

“Go on.”

“I witnessed a fellow student who was being attacked by a witch and two wizards from the village. When I attempted to help him, they threatened me, as well. I used magic outside of school to help defend the two of us. It proved insufficient, however. One of the wizards attempted to cast the Killing Curse at us. At that point, the other student and I left the village.”

Astoria was surprised when McGonagall’s expression didn’t change. The Headmistress stared calmly at her, as though she conversed with students who’d been attacked with unforgivable curses on a daily basis.

“The student in question wouldn’t happen to be Draco Malfoy by any chance, would he, Miss Greengrass?”

So she knew! Granger had turned them in. Astoria lowered her eyes and nodded. Why on earth hadn’t she listened to Draco and taken the time to come up with a better plan?

“Today has been most curious, Miss Greengrass. You are now the second student who has come forward to confess to a transgression against the rules involving Mr. Malfoy. The other student was also adamant that he was not directly at fault. I must admit that I’m at rather a loss for what to think about this.”

Astoria’s chin snapped back up and her eyes locked onto the Headmistress’s weathered, unreadable face. She replayed the statement in her mind, searching for caveats and hidden meanings. So Granger hadn’t simply blamed everything on Draco. This put a whole different meaning on the guilty look the Head Girl had been wearing when they met in the corridor. Perhaps she was even embarrassed by her own behavior? Astoria realized that she would need to seriously reconsider her opinion of Hermione Granger.

“Professor, I realize that it isn’t my place, but would you like to know what I think?”

McGonagall raised an eyebrow and fixed her with an appraising look.

“By all means.”

“I think that people were too quick to judge Draco after the war.”

The Headmistress’s gaze hardened somewhat, but she didn’t appear angry. Only skeptical.

“Miss Greengrass, I don’t wish to sound dismissive, but your involvement in the war and the involvement of your family was minimal. On what basis have you arrived at this opinion?”

“We had tea, after we fled Hogsmeade. And we talked.”

McGonagall lowered her chin slightly and stared at Astoria over the rims of her spectacles.

“And in the course of this talk, did the topic of his conduct before and during the war happen to come up?”

Astoria was starting to feel very small under the weight of the Headmistress’s gaze. But then she thought about Draco, and the anguished look in his eyes as he told her about the night of the attack. She found renewed determination to speak the truth, whether or not anyone wanted to hear it.

“Professor, Draco did some terrible things during the war. He freely admitted as much. But he paid a higher price than anyone realizes. I wish you could have seen the pain in his eyes when he talked about the war. Draco isn’t the monster that everybody thinks he is. He isn’t his father. He went through a horrible, traumatic experience and I think that he wants very much to change.”

For a long moment, the two witches stood in silence. Astoria wasn’t entirely certain whether the Headmistress’s stern gaze softened just a bit or the heady feeling she got from sharing her insights about Draco was affecting her perception. Before she was able to decide, McGonagall changed the topic.

“Setting aside the issue of Mr. Malfoy, my sources in the village have already corroborated your version of the events immediately preceding your departure. I am pleased to inform you that the Aurors arrived to take Mrs. Ratcliffe and her sons into custody moments after Mr. Malfoy disapparated the two of you out of danger. As I’m certain you are aware, the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery makes an exception for situations where a young witch or wizard is forced to defend themselves. While your father will most assuredly receive an owl from the Improper Use of Magic Office, I consider the matter settled.”

Astoria broke into a wide smile. The Headmistress was quick to quash her feelings of vindication, however.

“Moving along to your other violation of school rules, you are well aware that students are restricted to High Street and the immediate vicinity during Hogsmeade visits. While I understand that the imminent danger posed by the Ratcliffe family required Mr. Malfoy to take extreme measures to save both of your lives, I cannot overlook the fact that you remained outside of the village for nearly four hours. You should have returned as soon as it was safe to do so.”

Astoria fought back the urge to argue. Being very careful to maintain a respectful tone of voice, she did her best to explain.

“Professor, for at least a couple of hours Draco was in no condition to safely return us to the village. It’s a miracle we didn’t get splinched as we fled. But I admit that we could have returned sooner.”

McGonagall nodded slowly in response.

“I was told that in the course of defending yourself, you performed some excellent non-verbal charms work. In light of that accomplishment and the injuries suffered by Mr. Malfoy during an unrelated confrontation with another student, I will forego the deduction of any house points, provided that you refrain from making a habit of this behavior. Your disciplinary record at Hogwarts has been exemplary up to this point, Miss Greengrass. Let us keep it that way.”

Astoria nodded enthusiastically. She could hardly believe her good fortune, and she started to back away, hoping that the Professor’s last admonition was also the signal that she was being dismissed. McGonagall seemed to have one more thought on her mind, however.

“Miss Greengrass, do you believe that he’s actually changed?”

Astoria came to a halt and tried to force the smile from her face. The words had been part of her carefully scripted speech that she never needed to use, and she wanted to deliver them as seriously as possible. Draco deserved at least that much.

“I believe that he’s trying very hard, Professor. But the way that everyone treats him is making it very difficult. I wish I could say that I know he’ll succeed, but I can’t. All I know for certain is that if nobody is willing to give him a chance, he will fail.”

The Headmistress looked at her thoughtfully for a moment before nodding in response. Then she turned back toward her office and Astoria retreated to the Slytherin common room as fast as her dignity and damp boots would allow.

Draco and Astoria have had their first Big Conversation. I'd love to know what you thought of it. All reviews cheerfully accepted!

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