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astoria.

‘I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.’
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë




We fell into a rhythm, Luna and I. Something I looked forward to became routine—expected, but curiously no less exciting. Afternoons were stolen away in companionable silence, cross-legged before the hearth in The Room, surrounded by the comforting burst of rainbow. She read, and I stared at the fire. Occasionally, I would put pen to paper for Draco, but my words would fall flat and crooked on the page, and the parchment would be balled, thrown into the flames. It would be warm, briefly. Useful. And I would continue to stare, imagining my other life, visioning it in the flames that crackled and danced before me.

I would see Luna in that life.

Minutes, hours, days and weeks rolled into one, a blur of classes and ticking clocks, and before I had even settled properly, I was standing on the Entrance steps to Hogwarts, scarf pulled tightly around my neck, tiny puffs of steam rising from my mouth. Snow caked the ground, mistletoe was strung from the roof, yet it did not feel like Christmas. It was empty—like a normal day with a special name.

Daphne was the only reason I felt something. She stood next to me on the steps, shoulder lightly brushing against my own as she huddled closer for warmth. She looked older than when I had seen her last—her eyes glittered as if they were always filled with tears, and her mouth was drawn into a hard line. But I couldn’t stop staring at her—my sister, my familiarity. The one person I could always count on.

“How have you been lately?” I asked her. I wanted to know everything—where she was, what she was doing, who she had been with. I wanted it to be like nothing had ever happened, and we were just sisters—girls—spending Christmas morning together because our parents were on a holiday in New Zealand. Wasting time and talking about boys and dolls and music.

She sighed. A pained sigh. A sigh that reminded me we were not girls anymore. “I’ve been having some trouble with mother and father’s inheritance, Tori. It’s been stressful since you’ve come back to study. Adam... will not talk to me.”

I didn’t know what to make of what happened next. Daphne flicked her chestnut locks from her face—a habit she could not help when nervous—reaching into her coat pocket and pulling out a cigarette. She placed it between her ruby lips, where it dangled precariously as she lit the tip with her wand. The faint light illuminated her face and I could see every line etched there, chiselled from nineteen years of memories as she inhaled deeply, desperately.

“I didn’t know you smoked,” I commented, frowning.

“I didn’t,” she said between puffs, the foul-smelling smoke cloud lingering around her head, obscuring her features. “I started about a month ago, when Adam told me I didn’t deserve what our parents left us.”

Silence. Drawn out, and agonisingly uncomfortable. She was notably anxious, finishing her current cigarette and then lighting a new one instantly. Her foot tapped, her eyes were unfocused, and she kept brushing her hair off her face in irritation; once, twice—

Six times.

“Did he send you a Christmas card?” she asked, finally breaking the silence. Her voice was testy, annoyed—like if I said no, she would expect it; like if I said yes, she would hate it.

“Yes,” I answered anyway.

“What did it say?”

A lot. How he missed me. How he couldn’t see me on Christmas, but he ‘will be down for the New Year’. About how he visited mother and father’s grave and put two roses down—one from me and one from him. And as I thought about what was in my older brother’s card, I felt stupid, because I never noticed that he didn’t mention Daphne at all.

“I don’t want anything to do with her,” I overheard him say to mother once. I had been lingering near his room, desperate to enter before he left our house for good—ready to start his new life and forget about his old one. “She takes me for granted and I’m done helping her, little sister or not.”

And then he snapped his trunk closed and kissed mother on the cheek... and that was the end of that.

“He just said Merry Christmas,” I murmured, kicking a chunk of snow off the steps and blinking back the tears that threatened to fall. “Nothing important.”

Daphne scoffed.

What we talked about after that I cannot remember. We sunk down onto the cold stone steps, and two hours turned to three, three hours turned to five, and before I realised it the sun was setting and a small pile of cigarette butts towered next to Daphne’s left foot. We both stood, pausing, dreading the awkward goodbye and wondering when we would see one another again.

Hoping we would see each other again.

“Well, tell Theo I said hi and Merry Christmas,” I said, smiling sadly at her.

“I will. And you ...” She frowned, pausing for a beat. “Um. Tell Malfoy hi.”

I raised an eyebrow at her sudden change in demeanour. Her blue eyes flickered downwards, and I felt a slight discomfort—like there was something I was missing. Something I should not be missing. “Sure.”

I moved closer to her then, preparing to give her a hug and a quick kiss on the cheek. Snowflakes began to fall from the sky, whimsically dancing in the light breeze and disappearing into the darkness. I was desperate for warmth—for seclusion—and I was sure Daphne herself wanted to go back to her own home and her loving boyfriend.

However, before I could hug her, she stepped back away from me, spluttering, “Toria, wait.”

I paused, watching her warily. “What...?”

“I...” She bit her lip. “I know something you don’t. About Draco.”

“That he’s a horrible person?” I joked. But my heart didn’t feel it—it thumped against my ribcage in uneven beats, heating up my face and churning my stomach. Something about her tone had me instantly edgy. It was panicked—anxious.

“He ...” A sigh. A sigh that seemed to say more than words ever could. “Pansy Parkinson went to meet him in Brazil. She’s been over there for a month now.”

I remembered being in that tiny house after Draco left—I remembered hearing the crack as he apparated off the porch. I remembered sliding to the floor, tears streaming down my face—and I remembered thinking, if I could say anything to him to make him stay, what would I say?

And I remembered that I couldn’t answer the question. He wouldn’t have stayed, no matter what I said; his mind was made up, and I ... Well, I was the girl he left behind, sitting on her dead parent’s floor, wondering why it was so dirty when I had cleaned it just yesterday.

“Do you want a fag?” Daphne asked, placing another in her mouth.

She didn’t wait for an answer, lighting it carefully and then passing it over to me. As I put it between my lips, my first reaction was to spit it out and throw it on the ground—the smoke burned my throat, my mouth, my lungs, and the world was spinning, cascading, falling...

But then I felt Daphne’s hand touch mine—gripping mine, tightly, firmly—and she pulled me close to her, wrapping her arms securely around my shoulders to hold together the cracks that were appearing—the tears that streamed down my face, the legs that wobbled, the sobs that shook my chest.

“I miss mum and dad,” I mumbled. “I miss them so much.”

Her arms tightened around my frame, holding me closer. The cigarette fell out of my mouth, extinguishing as soon as it hit the snowy step—forgotten and useless.

And I must have fallen asleep on her, because when I woke, it was midnight and I was in my bed, warm and soft and alone.

So, so alone.


Luna found me in The Room the next day. Evening—just before dinner—on the floor before the fire with exactly fifteen letters from Draco spread in front of me.

She glided over. “Hello, Astoria.”

“Hey.”

Spreading my arms wide, I gathered all the letters in a messy, haphazard pile, holding them in my hands for a beat—two beats—three beats—

I couldn’t do it.

“Astoria?”

“Yeah?”

“Don’t do it.” I looked over then. Luna sunk down to her knees beside me, long hair brushing my face as she leaned in close. She smelled like dirt and pollen and cut grass. “My father did that after my mother passed away... It was a shame. He could never remember her clearly again after that.”

I stared at her. She was so close—I could see every detail of her: the flames of the fire reflected in her blue eyes, the light smattering of freckles across her nose, the tangles in her hair...

Her lips were so, so pink.

“I don’t want to remember him,” I breathed, voice hoarse. “I want them burned, Luna. I want him gone.”

But somehow the letters didn’t matter anymore—the world didn’t matter anymore. All my problems, hopes, wishes, wants, needs; they all disappeared, and there was just Luna.

And then she touched me.

Her fingertips hesitated at my temple, before lightly dancing down my jawline, tracing my lips with a touch as soft as the wings of a butterfly.

I couldn’t help the sharp intake of breath, or the widening of my eyes. “I don’t—I’m not into—”

My words were flowing out of my mouth in a jumbled rush, but Luna understood clearly what I was trying to say. Her hand fell back down to her side, and her eyes flicked to the letters still clutched in my hand.

“Why are you so paranoid?” she asked quietly.

Because the man I love is halfway across the globe. Because I sometimes I find myself staying up way too late, crying, missing him. Because he is sleeping with another woman. Because I don’t know if you are my friend or something more. Because I don’t usually like women. Because your hair is so beautiful and your eyes are so mysterious and your lips are so pink and I have not felt softer skin before, in my life.

“I’m not paranoid,” I rasped.

When Luna leaned in to kiss me, I did not pull away. In fact, I wanted to stay there, forever, locked to her lips, leaving the world far, far behind me. Behind closed lids and touching hands tangled in hair, nothing mattered apart from Luna.

And I imagined what I might say to her to tell her how I felt, if words still meant anything.

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