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As always, that which you recognize from the books belongs to the inimitable JK Rowling.

Ouch! Bloody hell...”

The dark-haired boy rubbed the back of his head and grimaced, his face twisted into a filthy glare. The blond-haired man paid him no mind. He separated the stringy, slightly greasy brown hairs into three equal portions and dropped each into a flask of grey sludge that bubbled vigorously in response to the new addition. The concoction gradually turned to a moldy shade of green and emitted an aroma similar to damp, old socks festering beneath a veneer of inexpensive cologne. Satisfied, the blond man capped each flask and slid them into the pockets of the dress robes he’d borrowed from the dark-haired boy. They were a bit tight in the shoulders and loose in the midsection, but they were freshly laundered and neatly pressed. From the feel, he was pretty sure they had never been worn.

“If you bollocks this up, there’ll be hell to pay, Malfoy. I’m supposed to be meeting my future wife today. My parents won’t take kindly to finding out that that we switched places. You’re sure you can pull this off?”

Draco continued to ignore the boy, studying the fit of his robes in the mirror and straightening them so that they laid properly. The tailoring was quite impressive, even if it was completely wasted on the slothenly specimen standing beside him. He turned and studied the anxious boy, noting his greasy, uncombed hair and the disheveled dressing gown covering a pair of pajamas stained with mustard and other substances that Draco didn’t care to try to identify. Heaving a sigh, Draco turned back to the mirror and tugged at the fringes of his robes until they hung haphazardly around his body. Better to suffer through a few minutes of Mrs. Montague fussing over them than to give himself away at first sight.

“Are you listening, Malfoy? They’ll ground me for the entire summer!”

“If you’re so worried about it, Montague, you can always attend the wedding yourself.”

Draco fixed the boy with a knowing stare and watched him wither. He wasn’t at all concerned about Emery Montague going back on their arrangement. The pile of Quidditch magazines and the tray of snacks sitting on his bedside table made it apparent that the boy’s entire day was already planned out, and those plans did not involve Daphne Greengrass’s wedding.

“Just be careful, understand?”

“Relax, Montague. I have just as much reason to avoid being discovered as you do. Rest assured that I only intend to see to the business I have with one of the wedding guests. Aside from that, I’ll be keeping the lowest profile possible.”

Montague still looked apprehensive, but when he stole a glance at his bed, Draco knew that the matter was settled.

“You’ll come back here to my quarters after you return from the wedding, then? Change back into your own clothes and leave?”

“That’s right. Just make sure that... whatever it is you plan to do today, you’re not still doing it when I return, are we clear?”

The boy shot Draco another filthy glare, which he took as acquiescence. Draco stepped to the chamber door and pulled the first flask of polyjuice potion from his pocket. Taking a deep breath, he tilted a measure of the revolting liquid into his upturned mouth. Several gut-wrenching moments later, two identical copies of Emery Montague studied one another from opposite sides of the room.

Satisfied with his work, Draco turned and exited the room without another word.

“I simply don’t understand. Why did Horatio Greengrass even agree to have our son escort his daughter to the wedding if she was going to do nothing but avoid him all night long? Father never would have tolerated me behaving so rudely toward a guest. Especially a young man of such quality as our Emery. The nerve of some people is just beyond comprehension.”

Dolohov’s Flame Cutter Curse, death occurs from bleeding and internal injuries. Entrail Expelling Curse, death occurs from organ failure. Lead Lungs Curse, death by suffocation. Disguised as Emery Montague, Draco continued to stare sullenly at the table in front of him, imagining a series of dark curses that he ached to unleash on the two elder Montagues. How did anyone tolerate such small-minded, self-important people for any length of time? The fact that they believed their son was anything close to a worthy husband for Astoria infuriated him. He would certainly speak to his parents about striking them from the guest list for any future social function at Malfoy Manor. Assuming that Malfoy Manor ever hosted another social function. And that he was someday on speaking terms with his father again.

“Well it doesn’t help that the boy refuses to make eye contact with anyone. His brother was never like this. You don’t suppose somebody put a jinx on him, do you?”

“I’m sitting right here, you know!”

Draco pushed back from the table and nearly knocked over his chair as he stood and turned. He actually found himself getting indignant on Emery Montague’s behalf, even though the lazy twat doubtless deserved his father’s condescension. Nine hours of drinking vile polyjuice potion and submitting to Mrs. Montague’s incessant tutting had taken its toll. Draco was pretty sure that he was beginning to understand why kidnapping victims sometimes started to sympathize with their captors. Mr. Montague called after him, and with great effort he forced himself to stop walking in order to prevent an even bigger scene.

“See now, Emery! The wedding party will be making their way in soon. Come back here this instant!”

“I have to powder my nose and check my mascara!”

Resuming his rapid pace, Draco made his way to the narrow hallway leading to the toilets. At least the Montagues had the social grace not to follow him, which was the first positive thing he’d been able to say for them all day. The door to the nearest loo was locked, but that didn’t trouble him in the slightest, He was in no hurry at all to return to his seat and listen to more of Mrs. Montague’s carping.

Rubbing the heels of his hands over Emery Montague’s face, Draco wondered for the tenth time in the past hour whether he’d made a terrible mistake by not telling Astoria about his plan. It all made so much sense when he was working things out in his head. She would be so surprised when he revealed himself and she couldn’t help but be impressed by his cleverness and determination to spend time with her. Also, in the event that he’d been forced to abort the plan for some reason, he wouldn’t have to disappoint her. It was flawless, except for the fact that she had no idea that he’d succeeded in taking Montague’s place and was therefore avoiding him entirely.

Draco sighed and reminded himself that she couldn’t stay hidden away forever. When the evening entertainment commenced, the wedding party would split up and decorum would require her to take to the dance floor with her date. Once he was able to whisper in her ear, he knew exactly what he would say to make her realize who he was. A smile settled onto his lips just as the door opened, then fell away as he found himself face to face with Theodore Nott.


Draco delivered the acknowledgment listlessly, trying to greet his former housemate with the sort of slothenly indifference that Emery Montague was known for. Nott stared at him for a second and nodded slightly in recognition before answering.


A lifetime of being conditioned by his parents to never let his face betray his thoughts fell aside in an instant and Draco felt his mouth fall open in complete shock. Nott tossed his head back and chuckled heartily before continuing.

“Surprised, Malfoy? You shouldn’t be. You seriously trusted Zabini with a secret? That’s almost as bad as trusting the nattering old bag who gave birth to him. Maybe the war really did scramble your brains as bad as Flint says.”

Draco quickly found his voice and tried to stammer out a response.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Nott. It’s plain as the nose on your face. I’m-”

“You’re Draco Malfoy. You’re here because you talked Emery Montague into letting you polyjuice yourself to look like him and take his place, which I’m sure didn’t require a whole lot of convincing because he’s too much of a slob to get dressed up and a complete poof. You have business with one of the guests here tonight, at least that’s the story you told Zabini. Personally, I’m guessing there’s more to it than that, but I won’t bother asking because I’m sure you’re not gonna to tell me anyway.”

Draco’s initial shock had faded just enough that he was filled with a burning desire to murder Zabini in cold blood. He lowered his voice to a hiss and glared at Nott.

“Very well, then. What are you going to do about it?”

Nott checked the lay of his robes for a moment before looking Draco in the eye and answering.

“That very much depends, Malfoy. I’m actually glad I ran into you here. Saved me the trouble of hunting you down. Gamp wanted me to tell you that he’s moving up the timetable. He’s planning to cut his honeymoon short and return a week early.”

“Daphne must be overjoyed.”

Nott snorted in response and took a long sip of his drink.

“He isn’t planning to tell her until after they get to Switzerland and they’ve had a few rolls in the hay, but that’s beside the point. We’re all meeting at the house in Wales where Gamp’s parents are setting him up on the night he gets back. Seems this new acquaintance of his has something big in the works. Gamp wanted me to make sure that you’re gonna be there.”

Draco felt an icy lump growing in his stomach. He had planned on having at least another two weeks before he had to inform Gamp and the others that he had no interest in being part of their group. Two weeks in which he could determine how his father had gotten involved in their ludicrous scheme to overthrow the Ministry. Now he was cornered, with no way out that didn’t involve being found out and putting Astoria in a very bad situation with her father. The notion of bolting for the nearest door crossed his mind, but he dismissed it. Gamp knew he was here, and if he made Gamp angry, everyone at the wedding would soon know. He needed time to think, so he did his best to stall.

“How big are we talking, Nott?”

“Big enough that everyone in our world will take notice. We’re going to raise an army, Malfoy. We’re going to free our brothers and sisters who were imprisoned because they believe in the superiority of pure magical blood. The Ministry won’t be able to dismiss us or pretend that we’re just some fringe group of nutters. We’ll be a force to be reckoned with.”

Mad. Nott and the others were stark, raving mad. Draco couldn’t even fathom how they believed there was any chance that they’d succeed. Unfortunately, their stupidity was now his problem, and a pressing one at that. A pair of witches suddenly came around the corner, cradling flutes of champagne between their fingers and whispering vicious critiques of the atrocious bridesmaids dresses Daphne had selected. Nott looked at them for a moment, then turned back to Draco with a victorious smirk on his face.

“Shall I let the others know that you’ll be joining us, Emery?”

Draco suppressed a sigh. There really was no other option.

“Yes, thank you very much. I’d be pleased to join you.”

Nott nodded imperiously before shooting a flirtatious grin at the two witches and walking away. The proper thing to do would have been for Draco to offer the loo to the two ladies, but when had Emery Montague ever been proper about anything? Draco stepped inside, catching a huff of indignation just before the door closed behind him. He leaned back against the door, trying to gather his thoughts. Just as things should have been getting better, they had once again taken a dramatic turn for the worse. Right on cue, he felt an unpleasant tingling in his extremities, reminding him that it was time for another disgusting sip of polyjuice potion.

As he choked down the wretched, greenish sludge, several things occurred to Draco. First of all, Nott was right. He had been foolish to trust Zabini. Second, whatever his former housemates had gotten themselves mixed up in, it suddenly appeared much larger and far more serious than Draco had ever imagined. And he was now trapped squarely in the middle of it. If he tried to back out, he was certain that Gamp and the others would threaten to expose the fact that he had crashed the wedding. Whether they could prove it was irrelevant. Once word got back to Mr. Greengrass, there would be far too many difficult and unpleasant questions for...

Astoria. Draco felt a chill run down his spine as it dawned on him how much danger he had put her in. If his former housemates noticed any semblance of affection between the two of them then they would have no qualms about using her as a pawn to ensure his compliance. How could he have been so stupid? It was bad enough that Gamp was marrying her sister, but that was ultimately Daphne’s problem. The Greengrass family had managed to stay out of the last war, and Draco dearly hoped that Astoria’s father would have the good sense to do so again if Gamp’s plans actually amounted to anything. Like it or not, her father’s house was the safest place for her to be until everything sorted itself out.

His thoughts were interrupted by a loud banging on the door. The two witches were obviously dying to powder their noses and continue savaging Daphne’s wedding decor in private. Draco splashed some water on Emery Montague’s face and toweled it off before checking his appearance in the mirror. The pounding on the door came again, and Draco realized that the blows were far too heavy for the dainty hands of the witches he’d seen. He opened the door to find Mr. Montague glaring at him.

“There you are, Emery! While you were in there, doing... whatever, your future wife is sitting all by herself at a table in the corner. Get out there and talk to her for Merlin’s sake! So help me, if you embarrass us in front of the Greengrasses, I will burn every last Quidditch magazine in that unholy hog sty you call your chambers. Am I clear?”

Draco tried to decide whether he cared enough about Emery Montague’s happiness to appease his red-faced father. He didn’t.

“Be sure to bring a house elf along, or somebody else who’s smart enough to make fire. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to get this over with.”

Draco calmly walked away, leaving Mr. Montague standing outside the loo with his mouth hanging open in shock. There was only one thing to do. Astoria had no idea that he’d taken Emery Montague’s place and Draco was going to keep it that way. He’d stumble through a ham-fisted attempt to make conversation with her, then excuse himself and disapparate back to the Montagues’ estate before anyone knew what had happened. Emery couldn’t tell his parents that Draco had used polyjuice potion to impersonate him without admitting that he was complicit in the whole plan. He’d just have to deal with their anger.

He found Astoria sitting quietly at a table that was far from the head table and the dance floor, just as Mr. Montague had indicated. Draco couldn’t help but stop and stare for a moment. Her hair hung in long, dark curls that tumbled gently onto her shoulders. The alabaster skin of her cheeks looked radiant, and her brown eyes sparkled as they slowly scanned the room. She seemed to be expecting something or someone and from the expression on her face, Draco could only guess that she was dreading the sight of her “date” for the evening.

Taking one last breath to steel his resolve, he sauntered over to her table. It gave him a small measure of comfort to know that he’d be able to help her validate all of the terrible things she’d been telling her parents about Emery Montague. She noticed him when he was still some distance away, and the sour look that crossed her face was no surprise. In her letters, she’d gone on at length about how upset she was with her parents. He was glad that she’d decided to maintain appearances and keep them happy. That would go a long way toward keeping her safe in the turbulent times to come.

“Hello, Emery. So good of you to actually make an appearance. Do have a seat.”

Draco did his best to keep Emery Montague’s signature look of befuddled indifference fixed on his face. Astoria impatiently patted the table in front of the seat beside her and he stood perfectly still for a long moment, staring. She truly was beautiful, and Draco drank in her appearance. After tonight, there was no way to know when he’d be able to see her again. Astoria patted the table more insistently, and he sidled around and sat down.

“Um, hi, Astoria. Enjoying your holiday?”

“Oh, it’s been splendid. Helping my deranged sister prepare for this blessed day, watching my mother slowly lose her mind. What’s not to enjoy?”

The bitterness in her voice pained Draco. He knew very well from her letters that being at home, suffering through her parents’ lectures about her future and putting up with Daphne’s rapidly changing moods had made for a miserable start to her summer. He had been so in hopes that he would be able to surprise her and brighten up her evening just a bit. Now that wasn’t going to happen.

“Dunno. I don’t really know much about weddings.”

Mumbling out brief replies seemed like the safest idea to Draco. Soon, he would find a way to excuse himself and leave. He promised himself that he would write an extra-long letter to her as soon as he arrived home.

They eyed one another for a long, silent moment. Draco slowly swept his eyes over the peach chiffon abomination wrapped around Astoria’s petite frame. Had it been worn by any other woman in the world, he would have felt a strong urge to set it on fire. For her part, she was staring at him so intently that it made him uncomfortable.

“There’s something... different about you, Emery. You look older... more dignified, I think. Have you lost weight?”

Concern spiked in Draco’s mind. The polyjuice potion couldn’t be wearing off already, he’d only just had another dose. Had he messed up the recipe somehow? No, he had been quite careful and it had worked flawlessly all evening. Maybe something he was subconsciously doing was giving him away, some mannerism that he couldn’t quite control. She continued to stare at him, and he thought he could see a trace of anger behind her brown eyes.

She suddenly rose to her feet and stared past the room’s other tables toward the doors that led to the vast patio and the gardens beyond. After taking a moment to adjust her dress, she held out her hand toward him.

“It’s a lovely night out. Would you care to escort me on a stroll through the gardens?”

It was phrased like a question, but Astoria’s tone made it clear that she did not expect him to refuse. Perhaps it wasn’t such a bad thing. Once they were outside, away from the other guests, he could say something that drove the final nail into the coffin containing Emery Montague’s ill-fated courtship, then leave. He offered her the crook of his arm and they made their way outside. Neither one of them spoke as they crossed the patio, and the silence started to feel very oppressive. Even though his logical mind wanted to leave her annoyed and disgusted, his heart felt heavy. He needed to get this over with. Taking in deep breath, he lowered his voice to a mumble and addressed her.

“Astoria, I... uh... there’s things I ought to tell you. I know our parents are excited about this date but... well, it’s that... I don’t fancy girls. Quite the opposite, actually.”

There. If that wasn’t enough to put an end to the farce, Draco wasn’t sure what would. Astoria was quiet for a moment as they rounded a bend in the path that led to a quiet spot behind a copse of trees. She abruptly let go of his arm and spun around so that she was standing in front of him. One of her small hands found its way into the center of his chest while the other wrapped itself around his neck and pulled his head lower, so she could whisper into his ear.

“That’s really too bad, Draco. Because I know a girl who fancies you a great deal.”

Astoria held back for as long as she was able before the hurt and annoyance she was feeling were finally too much. She pushed Draco away and punched him right in Emery Montague’s well-padded midsection. He yelped in surprise, but she still wasn’t satisfied. She hit him again and again until he finally seized her slender wrists and forced her to stop. Astoria felt an unwelcome prickling of the backs of her eyes, but she refused to allow any tears to fall. There was a stunned look on Emery Montague’s pudgy face as she yanked her arms free and backed away from him. Her voice fell to an angry hiss.

“What were you thinking, sneaking in here? You risk our entire relationship and then you don’t even let me know that you’re coming? You’d better start explaining, you bloody fool.”

Draco’s mouth was slowly opening and closing, but no sound was coming out. She waited for him to find his voice, glaring icily. When he finally managed to speak, it was in a stammering whisper.

“I... I just wanted to see you. I wanted to surprise you. I started planning as soon as you told me about Montague and the wedding. How did you know it was me?”

The crestfallen look on his face combined with the obvious contrition in his voice took the searing edge off of Astoria’s anger, but she still stamped her foot and huffed before she answered.

“I overheard Jeremy talking about you with several of those friends of his. He tends to think that he’s whispering when he isn’t. Besides, I think they all started drinking before brunch. How do you think I felt, Draco? Finding out that you were here from that lot?”

Draco’s shoulders fell and he jammed his hands into the pockets of his robes. He seemed equal parts embarrassed and sad and Astoria could feel it tugging at her heart, but she wasn’t ready to let this one go. Not yet, anyway. She continued to glare at him until he finally spoke.

“I’m sorry, Astoria. I didn’t mean for things to end up like this. I was going to surprise you, try to make your evening more bearable. Now it seems that your parents might be the only ones who don’t know that I’m here. I tried to be clever and I messed up everything. Will you forgive me?”

She was still angry, but deep down she knew that this wasn’t how she wanted him to remember their time together. Men did stupid things sometimes. Isadore’s magazines were unanimous on that point. Her thoughts were rapidly turning toward what was going to happen next. She narrowed her eyes and stamped her foot softly.

“You promise you’ll never go and do something like this again without telling me first?”

No sooner had the question left her mouth than Astoria realized how strange it sounded. They weren’t married. They weren’t even a proper couple in the eyes of society. She was a rising Seventh Year, a week shy of her seventeenth birthday and he was an nineteen-year-old outcast, one year removed from fighting on the losing side of a devastating war. Somehow, in spite of it all, the question felt perfectly right.

“Yes, I promise.”

There wasn’t a hint of that meaningless, perfunctory Malfoy flippancy in his voice. She sighed and took a step closer, laying her palm in the middle of his chest. It was difficult to look behind Emery Montague’s dull, brown eyes and find Draco, but if she tried hard enough she convinced herself that she could see the warm spark of his affection.

“You know why I’m so angry, don’t you? I can’t lose you. Not now.”

She closed her eyes and tucked herself into his warm embrace. Maybe the arms around her didn’t feel like Draco’s arms, and the chest she buried her face in didn’t feel like Draco’s tall, slender frame, but when he pressed his cheek against the top of her head and whispered I love you into her ear, the voice she heard was distinctly his.

“Promise me one more thing, Draco.”


“Don’t buy me anything for my birthday. Instead, I want you to meet me at the front door of the Manor first thing in the morning. I’m going to tell my parents everything. I’m going to tell them all about us. And then if they won’t allow you to stay, promise me that we’ll leave together. Please?”

Her question struck him like a blow to the chest. She had just confirmed everything he had dared to dream that she felt for him, but at the worst possible moment. The word yes danced on the tip of his tongue. It would be so easy to let it fall. To throw caution to the wind and follow his heart’s deepest desire. He loved her and she loved him. That was what mattered. Everything else was just a distraction, bumps in the road that led to a life more wonderful than he had allowed himself to imagine in the dark days following the end of the war.

But those were foolish thoughts. Nothing more than the dreams of a misguided boy who chose to ignore the harsh realities of the world around him. The man holding Astoria Greengrass in his arms knew better. Another war was coming. Perhaps it wouldn’t be as long or costly as the one that came before, but that wouldn’t make it any less dangerous. Once again his family found themselves positioned on the losing side and unless Draco could unravel his father’s involvement and pull them back from the brink, they would lose everything. He enjoyed the gentle rise and fall of her shoulders for as long as he dared, but his resolve only grew stronger. He would not -- could not -- allow her to be put in harm’s way. If she never forgave him for it, he could only hope that she would live to be angry for a long, long time.

“Astoria, I have to go soon. Too many people know that I’m here. It isn’t safe for us to be seen together.”

He felt her body tense in his arms, and it brought a pain to his chest unlike any physical discomfort he’d ever felt. Draco silently reminded himself that he was doing the right thing.

“You didn’t answer my question.”

Draco took a deep breath and tried to decide what to say. Telling her about Gamp’s conspiracy would only make things worse. She’s already made it very clear how she felt about him taking risks on her behalf. Maybe he could appeal to her practical nature.

“Astoria, are you sure that’s what you want? We’ve both come so far over the past six months. I want to earn your father’s respect and court you properly if it’s at all possible.”

Astoria stared back at him with a look of suspicion and disbelief.

“Since when do you care what my father thinks, Draco?”

He should have known that she was too smart to blindly accept that answer, no matter how upset she was. Still, he couldn’t think of anything better, so he pressed on, reminding himself over and over that he was doing this for her.

“We had a plan, Astoria. To convince him that I’d changed so that we could be together with his blessing. I still think it’s a good one.”

That plan went out the window when I realized what an impossibly stubborn, arrogant fool my father is. It doesn’t matter to him that you’ve changed since the war. He’s incapable of changing his mind. He’d have to admit that he was wrong in the first place.”

There was something more lurking behind her frustrated glare and the impatient tapping of her foot. Draco could see the worry in her eyes, the desperation. If he thought that he’d felt conflicted before, it had just become a thousand times worse. As if she could sense his indecision -- and he thought it entirely possible that she could -- she dropped all pretense of still being angry with him and the tears started to pool in her eyes.

“Please, Draco. Say that you’ll do it. I never knew that a person could mean as much to me as you do. I love you and I don’t want to lose you.”

“Astoria, listen to me. You aren’t going to lose me. I’m yours for as long as you’ll have me. I just don’t want to see you hurt. If you run away from your family, people will say terrible, hurtful things. I know what it’s like to live in a world where everyone thinks the worst of you and I don’t want to see you suffer like that.”

The tears started to roll down her cheeks and she grasped both of his hands in hers.

“You don’t think I’m suffering right now? Emery Montague is only the first, Draco! My parents have lined up a parade of young men to court me this summer. When I told father about all the N.E.W.T.s I’d been allowed to sit, he was disappointed. He doesn’t think I have enough time to find a husband.”

She gripped his hands more tightly, staring at him with a pleading look in her eyes. Draco nearly had to look away. Her expression was killing him.

“What he doesn’t know is that I don’t want anybody else. I want you. Don’t make me beg, Draco. Say you’ll do it. I know I can make you the happiest wizard in the world if you’ll only give me the chance.”

The ache in Draco’s chest felt as though it might stop his heart. He was facing the moment of truth, and he knew that what came next was going to hurt worse than anything anyone had ever done to him with a wand. If he was going to keep Astoria in her father’s house where she would be safe until Gamp’s insane, dangerous scheme was finished playing out, there was no choice. He took a deep breath.

“Astoria, you’ve already made me happier than I ever thought I could be after the war. You know I mean that. But I can’t make that promise. There are things... things that you don’t understand. I couldn’t live with myself if you were hurt because of me.”

Astoria stared back at the unfamiliar face speaking in Draco’s voice. His words were like a knife through her heart. She had been ready to throw away it all away for him. Her relationship with her parents. Her place in society. She was prepared to sacrifice everything that had ever mattered in her life because she loved him with all her heart. And he had turned her down. A small part of her was crying out that something wasn’t right with his answer. That his wavering, mournful voice didn’t match the ugly finality of his words. But that tiny voice of reason was swept away in a tide of grief and panic.

“But why? Have I done something wrong? Tell me, Draco, please. Is there something more you want from me? I know I have a lot to learn about being a proper wife, but I’ll do whatever it takes to make you happy. Please, just give me the chance.”

She hadn’t noticed the tears running down her cheeks until he took her face in his hands and gently brushed them away with his thumbs. When he spoke, he sounded more resolute, although the certainty didn’t quite reach his eyes.

“You’ve done nothing wrong and our relationship makes me happier than I’m able to put into words.”

“Then why won’t you just say yes? What’s stopping you, Draco?”

She chewed on her lower lip while she searched for any sort of answer in his eyes. He seemed to be completely at a loss for words, leaving only Isadore’s advice echoing through her mind. If the little wizard isn’t happy then the big wizard isn’t happy, either. Was that why Draco was holding back? Was he not satisfied with the physical part of their relationship? Worried that she was unwilling or unable to please him? She fixed him with a beseeching look and tried again.

“Do you want... more than what happened in the hidden room at Hogwarts? Is that it? It isn’t a problem, you know. I’d do whatever you wanted.”

The somber expression suddenly disappeared from Draco’s face, replaced by a look somewhere between shock and disbelief.

“You would?”

Desperate hope gripped Astoria’s heart. Perhaps she’d found the chink in his emotional armor, the way for her to get past whatever barriers he’d decided to throw up between the two of them. She paused for a moment, trying to decide whether she had the courage to act. This wasn’t how she’d imagined their first time. Granted, she hadn’t expected Draco to whisk her away to some impossibly beautiful place, sweep her off of her feet with heartfelt professions of his undying love and devotion and then lay her down on a bed of rose petals. But she also hadn’t expected that she would be seducing him in the middle of her sister’s wedding. She took a deep breath and tried to push all of the doubts out of her mind. If she didn’t do something, she was going to lose him. Of that much, she felt certain.

Acting bolder than she really felt, she closed the gap between them with a single step and slipped her hand around the back of his neck. As she pulled his head lower, she closed her eyes and sought out his lips with hers. As long as she couldn’t see him, it was possible to imagine that she was kissing Draco’s lips, not Emery Montague’s. He felt tentative at first, but then he started to warm to her. It was time to throw caution to the wind.

As she felt her mind starting to grow fuzzy with passion, Astoria tried to imagine what Pansy Parkinson would do in this situation. She pressed her hand against his belly, toying with the waistband of his trousers. Draco’s kiss became more insistent, and she felt emboldened by his response. It was working! Her knees were starting to feel weak from sheer exhilaration, and she knew that it was time to show Draco her true intentions, how far she was really willing to go to make him happy. With Isadore’s advice ringing in her ears, she thrust her hand deeper and lower, until it came into contact with...

Draco’s eyes flew open and he nearly fell down at the sudden shock of Astoria’s hand invading his nether regions. He broke their kiss as quickly as he could without knocking her down and grabbed her arm, pulling her hand out of his trousers. Much later, when he’d been able to calm down and reflect on the events of that day, it would occur to Draco that of all the strange experiences that came with using polyjuice potion, the sensation of feeling another person’s hand gripping private parts that were not truly your own was by far the strangest.

Astoria, what are you doing?

He immediately regretted the tone of his voice. Her lower lip was quivering noticeably and she looked confused and hurt.

“I thought... I thought this is what you wanted.”

“No! You think I want you to demean yourself like that? Of course not!”

“So you don’t want to make love to me?”

The question sent Draco’s already overwhelmed mind reeling. It was as though she was determined to make this as difficult for him as humanly possible. Memories of their passionate night in the hidden room flowed unbidden through his mind. The way that her body responded to his touch and the soft moans of pleasure that escaped her lips. It would be so easy to give in and tell her what she wanted to hear. So very easy.

“Of course I want to, Astoria, but the timing... it just isn’t right. I want our first time together to be special. I want it to mean something.”

“So the time we spent together in the hidden room didn’t mean anything?”

Draco didn’t like the sudden change in her voice. There was something dangerous in her tone, forbidding.

“No. It meant a lot to me, Astoria.”

“Did you take Pansy there, too? I bet you didn’t stop yourself from making love to her!”

Draco knew that girls could be hard to follow at times, but Astoria was taking things to a whole different level. He shook his head in disbelief and stammered out a response.

“What? No! What has Pansy got to do with any of this?”

“You were never worried about whether the time was right with her. You just shagged her every chance you got. Maybe I’m just too much of a bother for you!”

The hurt in Astoria’s eyes had gradually twisted into rage. She crossed her arms across her chest, cramming clenched fists into the crooks of her elbows as she awaited his response. Draco could feel his own anger rising. He was willing to give up everything, all of his hopes and dreams for a happy future, to protect her and keep her away from harm, and now she was accusing him of... something. He couldn’t exactly say what, but he had a suspicion and it made him furious.

“You think I’m still in love with Pansy? You’re mental!”

“Well you’re plainly not in love with me! I was ready to give up everything for you, you big, stupid prat. My life, my family, all of it!”

“I never asked you to give up anything! You’re the one who decided we need to throw away everything and run off together! That was your choice, not mine!”

The anger radiating from Astoria seemed to condense and intensify. She lowered her arms to her sides and unclenched her fists as her back straightened into a proper posture. A dangerous calm settled onto her tear-stained face.

“You’re right, Draco. It was my choice, and now I regret it. You want to know the choice I regret most, though? The choice I made when I pulled your selfish arse out of the gutter in Diagon Alley. It’s funny, how my father could be completely wrong about you but still get one thing right. You are evil. Evil enough to let me fall in love with you when you when you obviously never gave a damn.”

With that, she spun on her heel and stormed away.

Draco stumbled along the garden path, feeling completely empty and numb. He had no idea how long he wandered. Long enough for the polyjuice potion to wear off, at least. Long enough to finally realize what he’d done. How his own stupid mistakes, one after the other, had cost him the only thing that still mattered. Long enough for his anger to turn inward, focused on the one place it truly belonged.

“Emery! Emery, is that you?”

Mr. Montague’s voice was rapidly coming closer. He sounded very upset, and it infuriated Draco that the gormless idiot felt entitled to such an emotion.

“You come here this instant, Emery! I would like an explanation for why your date has locked herself in her chambers, sobbing uncontrollably. If you’ve done anything to embarrass our family-”

Draco could count on one hand the number of times he’d performed magic without a wand. His displays of baby magic had been exceedingly rare, much to his parents’ chagrin. In the instant that Mr. Montague’s hand clamped down on his shoulder, Draco felt a surge of magic unlike anything he’d ever experienced. An otherworldly howl escaped from his lips as all of the pent-up anger and frustration and hurt and disappointment exploded outward. The stones beneath his feet were torn from the path and shattered into pieces. Several branches were ripped from nearby trees. Mr. Montague was flung twenty paces away where he landed in a heap.

The red haze of fury gradually cleared from Draco’s vision and he stood, panting softly and surveying the destruction he’d caused. He heard shouts of alarm coming from the direction of the manor house. They grew louder and he could make out the sound of rapid footsteps approaching. Taking one last look at the rubble strewn around the gardens, he laughed bitterly. The irony was simply too much. Then he turned and disappeared with a crack.

The flickering light of a single candle sent shadows dancing along the walls as Astoria rubbed her sore, red eyes with the heels of her hands. She had no idea how long she’d been holed up in her bedroom. Hours perhaps. Her horrible dress lay in a heap by the door, still in the same spot where her severing charm had split the corseted sides with an especially satisfying sound. The satisfaction had lasted only a second, however. For the longest time, she’d simply buried her face in her pillows and sobbed.

Several times she’d heard a soft knock at her door, but she ignored them. The locking spells she used weren’t especially strong. If her mother or father really cared enough to see whether she was alright, they could have easily forced their way in. Apparently they cared more about not damaging the door than their own daughter’s well-being.

She stared at the pile of Draco’s letters lying on her writing desk. She had torn the room apart, making sure to find every one. Clothes from her turned-out dresser drawers were strewn across the floor and her books were scattered across the bed. Astoria couldn’t stand the thought of a single letter surviving the purge. Each one was a mocking reminder of the future she’d been naive enough to imagine could be hers. A token of her childish belief that true love really existed. Before the sun rose, her childhood would be over. Tomorrow, she would face the reality of life as a proper pureblood lady. But on this last night, she mourned what she had lost.

Her wand twisted loosely between her fingers as Astoria lifted her arm and aimed it at the pile of parchment. With a single word, she would wipe away the last trace of her foolish desires. One spell, and she would never again allow herself to feel such pain and vulnerability. She would face her fate with the same equanimity and lack of emotion that she imagined on her mother’s face all those years ago when her father was introduced to the young woman as her future husband. The incantation sat on the tip of her tongue. She felt her hand starting to shake. Why now? One little spell and all the hurt would end. Why was she so weak?

Astoria collapsed to the floor, new sobs gripping her. As her discarded wand skittered away, the truth crashed over her. She couldn’t simply turn off her feelings for Draco by burning his letters and pretending she’d never loved him. That would only be another layer of delusion, a weak attempt to lie to herself about how broken her heart truly was. She never could have imagined how much losing Draco would hurt. How deeply in love with him she really was. But she had lost him, likely forever. And it was her own stupid fault.

Why in god’s name had she pushed him so hard? It should have been obvious how uncomfortable she was making him. She could see it so clearly now. Why had she let Isadore’s advice override her own judgment? And why had she said all those hateful things to him? In the heat of her anger and disappointment, she had allowed her temper to completely consume her. When she recalled the furious, humiliated young woman who had stood in front of Draco and called him evil, Astoria could barely recognize herself.

Nevertheless, she had done it, and now she couldn’t take those horrible, spiteful words back for all the gold in Gringotts. She could blame Draco for upsetting her. She could blame her parents, she could blame Isadore, she could even blame Pansy if she wanted to. Deep down, Astoria knew the awful truth. The only person responsible for her misery was Astoria, herself.

She curled up on the floor at the foot of her bed and let the tears fall.

First off, I'd like to apologize for the long delay between chapters. I felt like this was an especially important one, and it turned out to be surprisingly difficult. I wanted to make sure that I got it right. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my beta reader, sophie_hatter, for this chapter. Her suggestions and insights made it so much better than my first draft. Lastly, a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has read and reviewed Detox. The feedback always puts a smile on my face.

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