Literatti: Fiction By Deslea
Deslea R. Judd
Word Count: 3800
Summary: Draco abandoned the life he knew to redeem himself after the war. He didn't think - then - to ask if that life was the one he really wanted.
More Fic: On AO3 or my fic site.
Feedback: Love the stuff. On AO3 or at deslea at deslea dot com.
Notes: Written for the 2013-14 Rarepair-Shorts Winter Exchange. This version is a bit different because I had to shoehorn the fest version into the 2500 word limit. There are no new plot elements, just a bit more detail.
Draco said this, looking around the foyer of the French estate in confusion. In any Malfoy house, the use of the Floo should have invited the immediate attendance of either the proprietor or the elves. Draco could see neither.
"Out here, darling," drifted in his mother's voice. The source was the veranda, through the French doors to one side.
Draco followed the voice outside.
His mother was sitting, lazily sipping on tea in a wicker chair. She had a broad smile on her face and creases around her eyes, as though he'd caught her about to laugh. He hadn't seen her in months, and she looked happier than she'd been in a long time.
Intrigued, he came around her, and caught sight of a young woman with glossy chestnut hair. When he came around them properly, he saw that it was - of all the unlikely people - Astoria Greengrass.
"Astoria, hi," he said, unable to quite conceal his surprise. He leaned in to kiss his mother's cheek, still looking over at her.
"I notice I don't get a hello," Narcissa said as an aside to Astoria. She said it without rancour.
He humoured her. "Hello, Mum."
"Better. Astoria's visiting."
"So I see," he said, sitting down in the vacant chair opposite them both. "I didn't know you were still in France, Astoria." He vaguely remembered hearing that the Greengrasses had been sent to school abroad when the war broke out. Astoria would have finished a couple of years ago, he supposed.
"I stayed on for Beaubaxton's tertiary program," she said, and that surprised him. The so-called tertiary program was a glorified finishing school for prospective society wives, and the Greengrasses - not to mention Astoria herself - had always seemed too down-to-earth for that. "That ended a few months ago. Our house was damaged in one of the Dark Lord's raids, and it's still being rebuilt. Your mother kindly offered to let me stay here until it's finished."
Draco shot his mother a look, and wondered how much of that was atonement. Narcissa was not in the habit of entertaining long-term guests, and his father had been part of that raid.
"Oh, there was nothing kind about it," Narcissa said, dismissing this. "The pleasure's all mine."
"Well," he said. "I'm sure she's enjoyed having you. France has certainly been good to you both."
"You're still a flatterer." Narcissa let out a low, rich laugh. Went on mildly, "How's your father?"
"I haven't seen him," he said, looking away quickly and reaching out to the plate of little cakes on the table in front of them. Avoiding her gaze.
"Oh, Draco," she reproached. "He's still your father."
He glanced at her sidelong, a wrinkle of irritation settling into his features. "You can talk."
Narcissa pointed out dryly, "You can't divorce a parent."
Draco pressed his lips together. "I've seen him across the corridor at the Ministry a few times. He keeps to himself, but he seems fine."
"Your father, keeping to himself? Gods."
Draco grimaced. "I really don't have anything to do with him. It's just how he seems from a distance. Can we please talk about something else?"
Narcissa pursed her lips, but she let the matter drop.
"So why don't you speak to your father?" Astoria wondered later as Draco squired her around the room.
Narcissa had invited a few people over for dinner and dancing, and they were the youngest people there by a twenty-year margin. They had stuck together by default.
Astoria was a pleasing dancing companion, well practiced in more steps than anyone he spent time with at home. He'd slipped into it all so naturally that it was like he'd never been away from this life at all. He'd remembered the forced pleasantries and formalities that went with such occasions, and hadn't missed them, but he'd forgotten how good dancing could be. Forgotten the easy rhythm of settling in with another person and talking and moving in time.
He'd had a couple of drinks, relaxed a bit, so he didn't stiffen or pull away. Just frowned. "Well, you know. He did terrible things."
To him, this was an explanation all on its own, but it apparently wasn't to Astoria. She said easily, "He didn't do them to you, though. Your mum says he was a good father. She says it's why she stayed as long as she did."
"He was all right," he conceded, a bit ungraciously. "Hard, but all right. He didn't do anything to me directly. But that's not the point."
"Then what is?" Her tone wasn't accusing. Just curious.
"I -" he faltered a moment. "Some things are too bad to just ignore, even if they didn't happen to you."
Astoria shrugged. "My dad says there's the love you get in a family just because you belong, and then there's the love you get because you earn it by being a good person. It's better if you can have both, but one's better than nothing." A smile curled around her mouth, and she added sheepishly, "On the other hand, my family's just regular-messed-up, so maybe I should just shut up."
He smiled in spite of himself. That curling-up of her mouth was infectious. "Far be it from me to tell a lady to shut up."
She held his smile with hers for a long, shining moment before looking away.
He led her around the room a while, catching sight of his mother from the corner of his eye. She was talking animatedly to her friends, but she spared him a wistful glance.
He remembered how she'd loved dancing with his father. So much of their marriage had been mutual survival interest, but the look on her face when she'd danced with him had been real. Right up to the very end.
He wondered if, deep down, she still loved him. It made him sad to think so. Sad, and vaguely guilty, too, and he wasn't sure exactly why.
"Do you see any of the old crowd?" Astoria wondered presently. "Greg? Pansy?"
Draco felt his face close up at that. "No," he muttered. "I don't really move in those circles anymore."
It seemed to hover on her lips to ask why, but instead she said lightly, "Who do you see, then?"
"I see a lot of the Weasleys," he said, a bit awkwardly.
"Aah," Astoria smirked. "Redemption by association."
This time he did stiffen. "Don't presume to analyse me, Astoria," he said with a tone of warning, and releasing her, he turned and walked away.
She found him on the love seat in the rose garden.
"I'm sorry," she said, dropping down beside him without preamble. "The war wasn't as bad here, but we all were on a hair-trigger anyway. We all learned to read each other and talk to each other. It's what happens when you put a bunch of scared girls together, I suppose. I have to keep reminding myself that out here in the real world, it isn't usually helpful or welcome."
Draco shrugged. Conceded, a bit ungraciously, "There might have been some truth in it, I suppose."
Astoria shrugged too. "Even so. Sometimes a lady really should just shut the fuck up." She stood, and took his hand. Tugged on it gently. "Come back inside and dance with me. I promise not to ask any more wildly improper questions."
He hesitated a moment, then tugged her back. "Stay here. I might as well tell you."
"Do you want to tell me?" she wondered.
"I don't know," he said honestly. "I don't not want to."
Astoria thought on this a moment. "Good enough," she said, and dropped back down at his side.
Glancing at her sidelong, he said, "Harry kind of took me on as a pet project, that first year. Draco Malfoy's redemption and acceptance into post-war society. I don't even know why, really. I didn't do anything that special. I didn't give him up, but I didn't help him, either."
"From what I heard, not giving him up was helping him. The way I heard it, you saved his life."
"Yeah, that's Harry's story, too. But I didn't save him. I just didn't help them kill him. There's a difference." From the corner of his eye, he saw her turn her head as if to speak, but she didn't. He went on, "If I had to guess, he was mostly trying to put off dealing with his own demons. He successfully integrated me into polite society - cemented by my acceptance as a surrogate Weasley - then promptly fell to pieces himself."
"It's to be expected," she said with sympathy.
"Of course it is, but apparently not to everyone around him, who for some insane reason thought he'd come out of seven years of evading a psychopath with nary a psychological scratch," he said grimly. "He and Ginny have spent the last two years breaking up and making up, rinse and repeat. The last time, she said it was over, and asked me out to prove it, but it isn't. She's marking time with me. She just won't admit it."
Astoria winced. "Ouch. I'm sorry."
He said easily, "I never really thought it would be anything else, so it's fine. She feels terribly guilty, of course. I'd do her a favour and end it if I had the bollocks for it, but Molly would never forgive me. So we'll just have to keep limping along until she gets up the guts to do it herself."
"Coward," she said, her voice suffused with warmth.
"Yes," he agreed complacently. "I shouldn't have said yes to start with, but she's nice, she's pretty, and..."
"And your redemption was complete," Astoria said with a twinkle.
"Sometimes a lady really should just shut the fuck up," he said without rancour. "But yes. Something like that."
They were silent a moment, but then she said, tentatively, "Draco. About your father-"
"I don't want to talk about my father."
Anger flared in him, sudden and harsh. He turned on her. "Why the fuck do you care?" he demanded. "Just because your family made it through together, doesn't mean we all have to!" He got to his feet and stormed off towards the gazebo.
Astoria got up too, following him, her heels clattering along the path. "And what the hell makes you think we made it through?" she flared as she caught up with him. "That war touched all of Europe! Did you think it was just bloody Wiltshire? Why the hell do you think I'm here and not with my own mother?"
That made him pause. He came to an abrupt halt at the gazebo entrance, and turned to face her. "What?"
All the fierce indignation seemed to fall out of her. Her shoulders slumped and her voice dropped to a whisper. "She was a Dark Lord sympathiser. She never did anything, but she believed in him. My dad got a couple of friends out of the country - Muggleborns - and I passed messages via the Beaubaxton owls to help set it up. And now she won't look at me."
There was a sinking, heavy feeling in his chest. He ticked it over at lightning speed, the way the Greengrass mansion had been raided and destroyed. Her mother would have blamed her for that. Her and her father both. No wonder she'd stayed at Beaubaxton's as long as she did.
"I'm sorry," he muttered, feeling horribly embarrassed. "Really, Astoria, I am. But you did something good. My father was a traitor. They're completely different things."
"Don't you think she sees me as a traitor?" Astoria said, and he noticed with alarm that her eyes were glistening with tears in the dark. "And you know, I don't even care if she thinks I'm a traitor. I just wish she could love me anyway. Traitor or not."
Draco felt dreaful. "Shit, Astoria, I'm sorry. I didn't know." He took a step towards her and drew her against him. He felt awfully helpless. He'd never been able to stand to see people cry.
Astoria sank into him, just for a second, but then she pulled away awkwardly. She did it gently. "Thanks," she said, looking away and wiping her eyes with the heel of her palm. "Sorry. I'm all right. I just get-"
"Yeah." He took her hand. "Come on. Let's go back and dance. It will help."
"I don't feel much like company. Will you dance with me here a bit?"
"Sure," he said softly, and led her into a slow waltz.
They stayed that way for a while, not saying much, and gradually, they settled into one another. Closer and heavier. Hips fitting together, her breath warm as she bent her head to his neck.
He knew he shouldn't, but he allowed himself one single press of his lips to her hair anyway. Closed his eyes, lingering there for a long moment. It felt right, even though it wasn't.
Gently, he detached himself from her. "I should go, Astoria." He didn't mention Ginny. He didn't need to.
"Draco," she said quietly as he began to walk away.
She stood there in the moonlight, still looking very frail and vulnerable, but that steel of her - the steel that already seemed like a familiar friend - it was still there. It was there in the tilt of her chin and the set of her jaw and that clear, forthright gaze.
She said, "Maybe redemption that makes you push people away isn't much of a redemption at all."
"'I don't care if she thinks I'm a traitor,'" Draco quoted softly. "'I just wish she could love me anyway.'"
They were on the porch, looking out over the cornfields in the light of the setting sun. Ginny and Harry were walking listlessly together a little distance away, very much together and just as far apart. He felt wearying, heavy melancholy for them suddenly, and for him and Astoria and his parents too. For all of them.
Arthur said nothing, only looked at him from his seat opposite. His expression was grave.
"Do you think-" he broke off, struggled with it for a moment. He forced out, "Do you think my father feels like that?"
"I'm sure that he does," Arthur said. He said it gently.
Draco looked away. "Am I wrong?" he muttered. It was a question he wouldn't have asked before Calais, but Astoria's alarming honesty was infectious.
That didn't make it any more palatable.
Arthur frowned. "I don't know if love is ever right or wrong, Draco. It isn't governed that way. We just...let in who we can. That's all." He said wryly, "I do know that if families were only for the good, the species would die a very swift death."
Draco snorted. "As long as you keep reproducing like rabbits, I'm sure we'll survive."
Arthur gave a broad smirk. "You aristocrats aren't exactly replacing yourselves. Someone has to compensate."
Draco smirked too, but his heart wasn't really in it. Arthur knew it, it seemed, because the moment fell away as quickly as it had arisen.
He nodded towards Harry and Ginny. "Tell me, Draco. Why don't you end it?"
Draco shrugged. "She needs to come to it on her own. When she wants to pull the plug, I'll be decent about it. But I'm not going to be the bad guy for her by beating her to the punch."
Arthur raised an eyebrow, but said only, "We don't always get to be the good guy in life, Draco, no matter how hard we try."
Draco rolled his eyes. "That's rich, coming from you."
"People need heroes after a war, Draco, but you shouldn't believe the Prophet. There's no such thing as a saint. We're just sinners with good PR."
"Maybe," Draco muttered, unconvinced.
Arthur said thoughtfully, "You know, Harry told me about that first day at Hogwart's, and how Ron laughed at you when you tried to introduce yourself, and how you were all enemies after that. That was my fault, you know. I thought I was teaching him to choose his friends wisely. I didn't realise that I was also teaching him to exclude people. Things might have been very different for you if I hadn't."
Draco dismissed this with a wave of his hand. "My father tried to teach me much the same thing - with his own special brand of bigotry thrown in for good measure, of course. Chances are, I'd have been just as awful to them anyway."
"See? Two fathers, both trying to be good guys. And we were both wrong."
Draco gave a noncommittal sound.
"Besides," Arthur went on dryly, his gaze settling on Harry and Ginny once more. "Maybe a bad guy is exactly what this situation needs."
"Arthur Weasley and I agree on something," his father marvelled. "Gods."
"Don't start," Draco muttered into his wine glass. "I only came to dinner at all because Mum and Astoria thought I should, so don't think we're going to be ganging up on the Weasleys together. I can't believe I told you about Ginny at all."
"Astoria, hmm?" Lucius said approvingly, stretching out on the Chesterfield. "Excellent."
Draco shot him a withering look. "Oh, put a sock in it. You're as objectionable as ever."
"I do try," he said smugly. "So you'll be bringing Astoria next time, I hope?"
"Astoria is a friend," Draco said loftily. "A good friend."
"Oh, indeed, my boy, as was your mother to me, or so I told my father." Lucius added fondly, "I asked her to marry me the very next day."
"My father is obsessed with the idea that we're going to lope off into the sunset together. He's absolutely insufferable. I don't know why I let you talk me into seeing him at all."
Draco said this, rather irritably on Christmas Eve. Molly's wrath at his and Ginny's breakup had not eventuated, but they had still agreed that he should miss this particular Weasley Yule.
"Oh, stop sulking, darling," his mother said airily. "I think it's wonderful that you're talking to him at last. And it's all thanks to you," she added, leaning in to kiss Astoria's cheek.
Astoria shot him a look that was half-amused, half-apologetic.
"Ugh," Draco said disgustedly. "Not you, too."
"Why darling," Narcissa said with a twinkle, "I'm sure I didn't say a word."
Draco said this as mistletoe drifted, seemingly completely spontaneously, into the parlour where they were sitting.
His mother's bedroom door banged conspicuously closed in reply.
Astoria was laughing.
"I'm sorry, Draco," she giggled. "I think I've created a monster."
"Is there anyone who doesn't love you?"
"Just you and my mother," she said, but she said it playfully.
He thought, looking at her in the warm glow of lamp-light, that maybe that was only half-true.
"Much as I hate to give them the satisfaction, maybe we should try doing something about one of those," he said lazily. A casual veneer. A lie.
"We could do that," she murmured through smiling lips over the edge of her glass. Just as casual. "And according to your mother's spellwork, you do owe me a kiss."
With an air of rather pleased resignation, he leaned in. Took her glass and put it down on the side table alongside his. Gently but firmly pressed his lips to hers.
It started warm and matter-of-fact. Casual, familiar kiss of longtime lovers. But then, slowly, her smile faded into something more intense and focused. Her head tipped back and her breaths came deep and slow as she leaned deeper into him. He wove his fingers into that glossy hair, twining it into big handfuls as he sank down over her.
"Draco," she sighed, and that sigh impressed itself on his brain as inevitability. As something just about them. Something in her was calling to him - a life was calling to him, a life he'd thought he'd left behind - and something in him was calling back. He remembered settling into her that first night they'd danced, like a puzzle piece falling into place, and realised he'd known it all along.
"Astoria," he said in a low, ragged voice, holding her with his eyes. Suddenly blazing with need.
She saw it. Rose up to meet him, holding his face between her hands. Breaths suddenly rough and fast. Hunger meeting hunger. His hands curled hard around her shoulders and her fingers fell to his shirt buttons. Fumbling urgently through the clothes between them.
"This lounge is four hundred years old," she gasped out between feverish kisses. Made a hitching sound as he found her panties beneath her dress and eased them off her, touching her bare flesh for the first time. "Your mother will kill us."
"Serve her bloody right," he growled as he settled between her thighs. Moving against her until her breath caught, then sinking deep inside her. Making her cry out, the lounge forgotten, cry out over and over until she fell back, as overwhelmed with it all as he.
The first time was hard and fast; the second, soon after, deep and rolling and slow. He needed them both, raging fire and cooling waves, and she was both. A perfect fit. She always had been.
Like a puzzle piece falling into place.
He drew her into the crook of his arm afterwards, glancing in the direction of his mother's room with more than a touch of pique. Bloody woman would have to be right, damn her.
His vague irritation faded as Astoria curled herself tighter against him. Looking at her, he couldn't bring himself to mind.
Although, that bloody mistletoe was going to meet a fiery end when he could be bothered to find his wand.
"Promise me something?" he said, pressing his lips to her hair.
"What?" she wondered. She was gorgeous, laying there half-dressed, her hair loose and wild. Still flushed and breathless for him.
He smirked, "If my parents succeed in marrying us off, we're going to match-make them back together as relentlessly and blatantly as they have to us."
Astoria gave a bark of laughter at that. "Spoken like a true Malfoy."
"Well, you can't be a good guy all the time," he said easily. "Or so I'm told."
"No," she said. "But I think you're good enough."