The Engagement Party
24th July 1993
Astoria sits on a high-backed chair in the hallway, her feet swinging three inches above the ground in a new pair of patent leather shoes. She's not sure why she's here, but her parents are arguing. Loudly.
She can hear their muffled shouts and curses through the closed library doors, and though this isn't an unusual occurrence in the Greengrass household, she has a disconcerting feeling that this time it might just be her fault.
For Astoria is almost eleven, it is July, and she has not received any post.
12th April 2003
It's raining. Again. Astoria stares out the taxi window, watching the torrent of raindrops blur her view of South Kensington. The world is grey today and it rather matches her mood. She never does like coming home.
Daphne is engaged. Her only sister, engaged to a man with more cheekbones than substance and a silly name.
Blaise Zabini, she snorts out loud. The driver looks at her oddly in his rear view mirror. From the little she knows of her sister's fiance, she finds vanity to be his least offensive attribute - still, no accounting for taste she supposes. Her mother will be delighted, naturally. Their father won't care.
They turn onto her street. "Sorry, love, did you say number 27?"
"Here is fine," she smiles tiredly, fishing in her purse for fare as they pull up beside 26 and 28 Cottesmore Gardens. She jostles her umbrella and a congratulatory bouquet between slender arms and steps out onto the pavement, waiting for the cab to turn out of sight before stepping up to the door.
Number 27 emerges amidst the row of grand town houses. Tall bay windows, elegant white brickwork. A pity none of the neighbours can actually see it.
The door is wrenched open before she's even had chance to knock. Daphne is aglow in emerald green.
"You're late," she snipes, snatching at the flowers (hydrangeas and yellow tulips: the perfect way to say 'your fiancé is intolerable'). "And you reek of cigarettes."
Astoria bites down her reply and settles for a dry smile.
"Come through the drawing room so it looks like you used the floo." She fobs the bouquet off on the attending House Elf, disappearing back into the party before Astoria has even made it over the threshold
She slips out of her jacket and turns to hang it, but the coat stand is littered with the usual furs and fancy shawls, so she tosses it over the banister with a sigh. The house feels the same as ever. Expensively decorated, carefully put together - rather like the people that live in it. She can smell wood polish, roasting pheasant and a cacophony of perfumes from the guests that have already passed this way.
Her reflection grimaces at her from the hall mirror as flecked green eyes survey themselves. She runs her fingers through her long, dark hair. No time to do anything with it now.
She looks tired, she is tired, she does not want to be here and she needs a cigarette.
"Darling! I thought I told you to wear the blue dress? Oh, never mind, come say hello to Cecilia, Pansy's mother. You remember Pansy don't you? Daphne's friend from school, lovely girl."
Astoria does not remember Pansy and certainly has no burgeoning desire to meet her mother, yet as soon as she emerges through the drawing room doors, her own mother commandeers her into the running for Best in Show. She is to be trotted out for appraisal, it seems.
She manages to acquire a glass of something sparkly, however, so things are looking up.
By half-eight they are seated. The wedding party is together at the head of the magically extended table. Daphne is blooming under all the attention, Blaise looks indifferent. The Maid of Honour, whom Astoria assumes is the infamous Pansy, is animatedly exclaiming how lucky it is that Astoria and herself are of the same complexion; 'how helpful that will be when choosing the bridesmaid dresses!'
Astoria steals a glance at the girl. She is not sure she appreciates the comparison.
There is a chime of glass on glass - Daphne has knocked her drink over with the hulk of a diamond trying to disguise itself as an engagement ring on her finger.
Blaise curses under his breath. "Sweet Circe, Daphne. If I'd have known you were going to wave that blasted thing about like a toy, then I would never have given it to you."
Daphne's bottom lip quivers ominously.
"Perhaps you shouldn't talk aloud anymore, Blaise," Astoria cuts in, smiling sweetly. "I think you just managed to lower the IQ of the whole room."
"Astoria!" Daphne hisses while Blaise glares and Pansy looks disapproving. Astoria calmly folds her napkin.
"The girl's right, Zabini," an amused voice drawls from across the table, "I trust your wedding speech will be a touch more poetic?"
Astoria stares. The man is sat beside Blaise, apparently indifferent to the likelihood that he is about to be punched square in the face. (Astoria mentally chalks up bad tempered to the list of reasons she will never care for her future brother-in-law.) Instead he reaches over and tops up her wine, meeting her gaze across the table, steel grey on dappled green, and Astoria instantly knows that this man will be her lifeline tonight.
The meal continues with little event. Somebody asks an awkward question over dessert: 'Where did you say you went to school, Astoria?' But Daphne, adept after all these years of dodging such social mine fields, handles the situation deftly - 'Mummy sent Astoria abroad. Avoid the usual sibling rivalry that way...' - and the moment passes.
It is not till much later in the evening that he approaches her. He snakes up behind her as she stands in the open library doorway, watching her sister force Blaise into a rather public display of affection.
"So what do we reckon," he mutters, handing her a glass of champagne and watching the couple over her shoulder with amusement. "A marriage of true minds or another society divorce for Skeeter to sink her teeth into?"
Astoria appraises him from behind dark lashes. Sharp features, expensive robes, pale blonde hair that falls just above those disarming crystal eyes. He is smirking. On anyone else, it would look unattractive, smug even, but she is surprised to find she rather likes it on him.
"Oh, I daresay they deserve one another. It's the inevitable offspring I'm most concerned for."
His smirk widens. It's almost a grin. "Smoke?"
"Like a chimney."
He takes her hand as if it were his to hold and pulls her through the throng of people. She can't fail to notice that this isn't much of a challenge - the crowds part in front of him as though he is the wrong end of a magnet, everyone managing to keep their distance even in the confined space. It is unnerving and impressive all at once.
Nor is she oblivious to the attention the two of them seem to have warranted. Her mother cannot take her eyes off of Astoria's hand, buried in his. She fights the urge to hold it tighter.
They step out onto the terrace and it is as if they have broken free. Their audible sighs of relief are testimony and they glance at each other curiously, each wondering what the other was so keen to escape.
"I don't think we've been formerly introduced," the blond starts, pulling out a well-thumbed pack of Marlborough Lights and offering them across to her. "Draco Malfoy. Best Man and awkward dinner guest extraordinaire."
She laughs and takes a cigarette, relaxing in the familiarity of it between her fingers, "Astoria Greengrass, bridesmaid and embarrassing younger sister. Delighted to meet you."
He smiles conspiratorially, "Likewise," and frowns suddenly, hands wedged in pockets. "Don't suppose you've got your wand on you, do you?"
She's one step ahead, pulling a silver lighter from her purse.
"It's smaller," she justifies - for he is eyeing her inquisitively - slipping it back into her tiny clutch once lit to emphasise the point.
They spend a moment in silence, each of them enjoying the chill of the evening and a nicotine rush. The rain has dispersed the usual low-hanging London clouds and the night is clear and sharp. Astoria admires the garden, perhaps the one part of the house she has missed. The endless pathways, lined by tall hedgerows and bay trees in colossal terracotta pots, the perfect place for a child to lose themselves. She knows it well.
"You know," Draco says at last, flicking his cigarette so that the ash tumbles down over the wrought iron railings like blackened flakes of snow, "Blaise never mentioned Daphne had a sister."
Astoria smiles wryly. "No? Well, Blaise never mentioned he had any friends either. I must say I was rather surprised."
"Oh, I wouldn't quite say we were friends. For a brief period at school, I believe we were actually mortal enemies."
"I'm not sure people in real life have mortal enemies," she mumbles, exhaling deeply and watching the smoke spiral off into the darkness.
"Really?" he grazes his chin thoughtfully, "Sounds rather dull. I had several."
"Changed man." He has that smirk of his again which suggests otherwise. "So, studying abroad, were you? Beauxbatons? No, don't tell me - Luftsvyne Academie?"
"Something like that," she sips at her champagne. It's not strictly a lie after all - she has indeed spent most of her teenage years tucked away in a far Northern corner of France - but still uncomfortable territory.
Draco takes his turn and surveys her as she stubs out her half-finished cigarette. He's no fool, his ability to read other people has drastically improved these past few years (it had to, no one would speak to him directly), and he knows this is something she does not want to talk about. His old drive to press, to force her hand is strong but he curbs the urge. This is no time to push his luck.
He knows she is probably more trouble than she's worth and that any second someone will come to seek her out, to claim her back from him and this illusion of normality will be shattered. He cannot help himself though, and it isn't because she is pretty (although she is - stunning actually, or at least she would be if she wasn't so damn nonchalant), but because she doesn't stare at him as though any moment he is going to morph into some kind of beast, because she is willing to go beyond that all-too-polite level of conversation without seeming to care that her own social reputation is being stained with every second she spends out here alone with him. Because she hasn't once yet glanced, none too subtly, at his left forearm.
All too soon she is turning - 'I should probably go and inform my mother my virtue's still intact,' - and his hand is on her wrist and he almost shudders at the warmth of contact. They both know where this is heading, and neither understands why or how they reached this point so quickly.
She looks up at him with ill-disguised curiosity. "But you hardly even know me."
Draco's voice is gravely with need. "Isn't that the point?"
Tomorrow Astoria will blame it on the champagne and the nicotine and will endeavour to forget his name and slip back out of this world. And tomorrow Draco will cling to this moment and this memory to remind himself that he can still be more than a battle scar that refuses to fade.
But right now they are out on the terrace, and it is dark and they are standing too close for mere acquaintances. They have gone nought to sixty in zero seconds, and there is really only one thing left to be done.
So they kiss.