Astoria stared straight at the pavement beneath her feet as she walked. She would have been running head first into the other pedestrians if her mother and older sister were not pushing through the crowd before her. In past years a trip to Diagon Alley would have been a happy occasion; Astoria had always enjoyed visiting the various shops and cafes. Since the end of the war against lord Voldemort five years ago, however, trips to anywhere involving the wizarding community had become a depressing chore. Everywhere she went she would recognize men and women whose children she had known before they were killed by death eaters, or former classmates with half their faces blown off. Astoria and Daphne Greengrass had both been extremely lucky; their parents pulled a lot of strings and called in all the favors they were owed to bring the sisters home mere weeks before Potter returned and the fighting began. Despite the knowledge that as a fifth year at the time she would have stood no chance fighting Voldemorts forces, Astoria had always felt a flicker of guilt for running home while others lost their lives. Daphne, on the other hand, had a much stronger survival instinct and would scold Astoria for feeling shame. Suddenly, her mother grasped her arm and pulled her sideways into Flourish and Blotts.
"I didn't know this was on our list of stops" Daphne said in her usual snobbish voice.
"I need a new book of cleaning spells" Mrs. Greengrass said impatiently. "The gardeners are letting the hedges in the courtyard run wild so I'm just going to have to fix them myself.
While her mother searched the dusty piles of books stacked next to the wall, Astoria decided to have a look on the upper floor of the shop. All the best books were up there. As she reached the top of the stairs, she could have sworn she saw someone dart behind one of the stacks, but she decided to ignore it and keep looking.
"Astoria! We're leaving!" she heard her mother call from downstairs.
As she turned quickly to leave, she ran straight into another customer. He was tall, thin, and had very blonde hair. Then it hit her; she knew this boy. Mostly through reputation, but still she recognized him. Draco Malfoy. The same Draco Malfoy whose parents worked for Voldemort since before Potter was born. The same one who had joined the death eaters, and only avoided Askaban because he and his parents left Voldemort only hours before his downfall. Despite her usually collected manner, Astoria gasped and stumbled back a step. She wasn't sure what to say after that reaction, or whether she should say anything at all. He beat her to it.
"So you know who I am then" he said, a bored tone to his voice.
When she failed to produce a hasty answer he seemed to become annoyed.
"What? You think I'll curse you in the middle of a bookstore? Or maybe I'll just murder you? After all I was a death eater, so I must be a horrible person, is that it?" His scathing glare began to frighten her.
"I…well… no…" Astoria had never felt her words desert her like this before.
He continued to glare, and Astoria continued to attempt to find her tongue. Apparently her mother had become impatient, because after what seemed to be an eternity, Daphne sauntered up the stairs.
"Astoria! What on earth are you doing? Mother is about to…. Oh….. Draco, hello" Daphne said awkwardly as she suddenly noticed Draco's presence.
"Greengrass" he said curtly.
Daphne had been in Draco's year at Hogwarts, and knew him quite a bit better than Astoria. In fact, there was a time when she seemed to fancy him, but, being Daphne, she soon moved on to another beau when Draco didn't immediately fall all over himself trying to win her affection.
"Astoria lets go" Daphne demanded impatiently, reaching past Draco and grabbing Astoria by the arm, yanking her sharply towards the stairs.
Just before she descended into the main entrance, Astoria looked back. Draco was looking back at her. What was strange was that his face no longer sported an expression of annoyance or disgust; he looked as if he had just lost something he held very dear. That look of utter despair made her feel even more ridiculous. If she hadn't been so stunned and acted so silly, perhaps he would not be simply standing there looking depressed. Astoria never thought she would say this, but she felt sorry for Draco Malfoy.
"I'll only be gone for a few hours mother" Astoria pleaded. "I just realized this morning that I need a book on mythological creatures to finish my article for work".
Since the strange encounter with Draco at the book store, Astoria had felt the urge to find him and apologize. She wished to go alone to avoid her mother discovering her true intentions, but Mrs. Greengrass was being difficult, as per usual. Being a traditional which, her mother scoffed at the idea of a young woman wandering about a busy street alone for hours on end. Luckily, Astoria's persuasion finally won out, and the next day she was allowed to return to Diagon Alley absent an unwanted chaperone. She used floo powder to get there as she always did, and hurried down the bustling street towards her destination. Before she knew it, she was panting at the top of the stairs where she had been awkwardly standing only two days ago. Except this time, there was no Draco.
"You idiot" she cursed at herself.
She hadn't even thought this plan through. Why would he still be there? It's not as if he lived in the upstairs of Flourish and Blotts. Continuing to curse herself for being so rash and silly, she turned to leave. She had almost reached the stairs when she noticed someone walking up them towards her. Astoria looked up to see…. Draco Malfoy. Of all the luck. She must have made some sort of noise because Draco's head snapped upward and his eyes met hers.
"Oh. You again." He sounded exasperated.
Thankfully, Astoria's ability to speak did not desert her this time. "I just wanted to apologize for the other day."
"Why?" he asked plainly.
"I thought I might have upset you. I didn't mean to seem so strange, I just wasn't expecting to see you …...here".
"People do come here. It is a store." That same annoyed tone had reached his voice again.
"Again, I'm sorry. And to answer your question, no; I didn't think you were going to curse me." Astoria decided not to pay attention his annoyance; she had a tendency to want to fight back, but in this case she needed to bury it. Deciding that there was nothing else she could say, she walked to the top of the stairs. She had gotten down the first few, but then he spoke.
"wait". He sounded as if it was causing him pain asking her no to go. "I accept your apology. And you don't need to run off, if you wanted to get something..."
"No, I just wanted to apologize"
Then they both stood there. Astoria had completely forgotten she was about to leave. feeling she ought to break the ice, she asked "Were you looking for anything in particular? I know this area of the store fairly well"
It was not a lie. Whenever she came here with her family she escaped up here as soon as they were in the door.
"No. I just spend time here because... never mind. I just do" He replied.
"Why do you spend time here?" she asked, curious. When he made no move to answer she explained "I come here a lot too, mainly to get away from my horrifically embarrassing family. And because it's quiet here. People don't usually disturb you."
After what seemed like forever, he spoke. "I also wish to escape my family from time to time. I'm sure you already know why"
"I do. But I also know that if you hide behind dusty book stacks forever no one will have the chance to forgive you and your family for... you know" Astoria was usually good at giving sensible advice, she just hoped she hadn't gone too far.
"I'm not hiding" He sanpped.
"Really?" She replied, suddenly feeling the need to beat sense into him. "Then why does it seem like you are always here? And why has almost nobody seen you in public since the end of the war?"
At this he gave her a blank look. Almost like he was shocked someone dare speak to him this way. Astoria knew the Malfoy family was rumored to be very high and mighty, but then so were the Greengrass'. She had, in fact, seen her sister give this same look to many people in the past.
"Oh, it doesnt matter" she said, regaining her cool head. "I will leave you alone now"
"No, you don't have to go"
Astoria didn't reply, but merely gave him an "explain" look. He seemed to understand.
"People don't take kindly to those who served Voldemort. Anyone with any association to him are shunned and looked down upon in the wizarding world. That is why I stay hidden."
Malfoy had finally lost his annoyed demeanor. It was then that she realized that his shirt sleeve was rolled up, clearly showing the ghost of a dark mark on his forearm. Despite temptation, Astoria turned her gaze from it.
"You know, I get that sometimes too. Not exactly the same I realize, but people look at me strange." This was true. Since her and Daphne's disappearance right before the war, they had been eyed with suspicion.
"Why would people look down on you?" He asked.
Astoria explained to him the situation, how her parents had gotten them out, and how people thought for a time that the Greengrass' were working for Voldemort even though they were not. Talking about the similarities in their situations seemed to make Draco less menacing. He appeared to be actualy enjoying her company. Suddenly she realized what time it was.
"Oh my! It's later than I thought. I have to get home before my mother starts blowing up things. Or sends the entire Ministry of Magic to look for me." As she got up from where she had sat down on an old leather chair beside a particularly old looking stack of books, he grabbed her hand.
"Will you come back?" he asked. "Passing time is so much easier with someone to talk to"
Astoria smiled. "I'll see." I hope so, she thought. "Goodbye for now then"
"Goodbye" He smiled back at her. But it was a real smile, not the sarcastic smirk he was famous for.
As Astoria ran back down Diagon Alley, she couldn't help thinking that today had been one of the best days she had had in a long time. As it turned out she and Draco Malfoy had a lot more in common than either of them knew.