“Drink it quickly, please, Miss Greengrass.”
She downed the Blood-Replenishing Potion in three quick gulps, screwing up her face against the bitter, metallic taste that would linger on her tongue for the next few hours. Even though she had grown used to it over the years, it still made her stomach churn.
“Not very nice, is it?” Madam Pomfrey said sympathetically. She patted her pockets and fished out a rather large bar of Honeydukes chocolate, which she presented to Astoria with a kind smile. She was rumoured to be quite strict, but she’d been surprisingly kind to her ever since she’d stepped into the hospital wing. “This might help.”
Astoria took the chocolate with a whispered ‘thank you’ and a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. She unwrapped it clumsily—the bandage wrapped around her right hand made it difficult to move her fingers. Her frustration tasted as bitter as that potion, and not even her first bite of chocolate helped wash it away.
She deliberately kept her gaze from straying to her hand as she chewed. It had been a stupid accident, really. Nothing she could have foreseen or avoided. A Gryffindor boy had somehow made his cauldron explode while they were brewing a Cure for Boils. Astoria had been standing a little too close, and in her haste to move away she’d sliced open her palm with her silver knife.
Normally, an injury like that could be healed with a simple spell. But Astoria was anything but normal, which was why she’d been in the hospital wing for half an hour now, waiting for the bleeding to stop.
“And let’s see your hand again, Miss Greengrass.”
Madam Pomfrey carefully unwrapped the bandage. Blood trickled out of the cut, seeping into the white cloth, but it didn’t flow as strongly as it had a few minutes ago.
“So this is one of the effects of the curse?”
Astoria nodded. Her body was quick to bleed and slow to heal, and not even magic could speed up the process much. “And sometimes I get… pains,” she added, placing the palm of her uninjured hand against her chest. “Right here. They don’t last long, but they… they hurt.”
Madam Pomfrey nodded, looking thoughtful. “But you have potions for that, yes?”
Astoria frowned. “How did you…?”
“Your sister Daphne spoke to me after the Welcome Feast,” Madam Pomfrey said, smiling. “She wanted to make sure you’re in good hands and told me everything she thought I should know.” She clearly approved of Daphne’s actions.
Astoria felt a rush of warmth, though she wasn’t sure if she felt pleased or embarrassed. It was sweet of her sister to look out for her like that, but at the same time… She didn’t want to stand out because of this. She didn’t want her stupid curse to overshadow everything else about herself. She just wanted to be Astoria.
And yet it had taken her less than a week to end up in the hospital wing.
“Thank you,” she mumbled, staring down at her shoes. “And yes, Painkilling Potions help. The Healers say I can rely on them.” ‘For now’ is what she didn’t say. Her curse would only grow more vicious with time. There would come a day when no draught or tincture would be enough.
“Good, good. And how often would you like me to brew them for you?” Madam Pomfrey was all business now. A notebook and a quill had appeared in her hands, and she was looking at her expectantly.
Astoria’s eyes widened. “Oh, no, you don’t have to worry about that,” she said hurriedly. “I can brew it myself.”
Madam Pomfrey’s eyebrows shot up. “It’s a very advanced potion, Miss Greengrass. I don’t think–”
“I’ve known how to make it since I was nine.” Her mother had grown tired of their frequent trips to the Apothecary in Diagon Alley and complained about them often, so Astoria had eventually decided she didn’t want to rely on other people for this anymore. Brewing a potion couldn’t be too different from baking a cake, could it? And she was rather good at the latter, according to both Daphne and her grandfather. “I thought it was something I should know. Just in case.”
Madam Pomfrey’s features softened slightly. “That’s very impressive, but you’ve come to Hogwarts so you can learn, Miss Greengrass. Don’t waste your time brewing tedious potions.”
“But you must be busy,” Astoria protested weakly, her cheeks flaming. “I don’t want to be a bother.”
“It’s my job to take care of students, Miss Greengrass, and you are a student.” The matron’s tone was firm, but not unkind. “So I’ll ask you again: how often would you like me to brew them for you?”
Despite her mortification, Astoria found that she liked Madam Pomfrey very, very much. “I don’t take them regularly,” she explained, fiddling with the sleeves of her robes. She didn’t injure herself that often, and her pains came and went as they pleased. “Usually I just carry one vial of each and use them when I need to.”
Madam Pomfrey nodded. “Then I’ll start brewing a few doses for you now, and you can come to me when you run out.” Looking satisfied, she patted Astoria gently on the arm, swiftly put away the notebook and quill, and left her on her own.
Astoria took another bite of chocolate and wondered if she should tell Daphne about this. Her sister would want to know, but then she’d get worried, and Astoria didn’t want that. She didn’t want to be a problem. She could deal with this on her own.
“And how are you feeling, Mr Malfoy?” she heard Madam Promfey ask. The matron had made her way over to the opposite end of the hospital wing, where Draco Malfoy had apparently been lying in agony for the past few hours. Astoria had barely paid attention to him when she’d come in. He’d been surrounded by his friends, clutching his arm (which Astoria supposed was broken) and making a big fuss, but he’d quieted down after Madam Pomfrey had kicked them all out.
“Not much better, I’m afraid,” Malfoy sighed, the expression on his pale, pointed face a balanced mixture of pain, pitifulness, and valiant resignation. He looked down at his bandaged arm mournfully.
With a concerned frown, Madam Pomfrey hurried to her office to prepare some Painkilling Potion for him as well. Silence fell as soon as the wooden doors closed behind her, and Astoria quickly became bored. She’d left her bag in the Potions classroom, so she had nothing to read, and she wasn’t sure she was allowed to do magic in the hospital wing, so she couldn’t practice the swish and flick motion Professor Flitwick had been teaching them.
Her eyes flickered to Malfoy, who was now fiddling with a ring on his left hand. Her gaze wandered to his injured arm, and she noted the reddish-brown stains on his shirt. Blood. So he hadn’t broken his arm, then. Was it simply a gash? Where had it come from? She’d heard Pansy Parkinson say something about a Hippogriff in that high-pitched, whiny voice of hers before, so that might be it. An accident in their Care of Magical Creatures class. It can’t have been fun, certainly, but Astoria didn’t understand why he was making such a big deal out of it. A minor wound like that one couldn’t hurt that much, could it? And Madam Pomfrey had patched her up in no time, so surely she’d done the same for him?
She chastised herself. Perhaps it did hurt. Perhaps she was being unkind.
Feeling that it would be rude to ignore him, since they were the only people in the room, she stood up and cautiously made her way over to his bed. She didn’t know much about Draco Malfoy beyond the fact that Daphne thought he was a show-off. She was inclined to agree. After all, she hadn’t forgotten the fact that he’d spent most of her Sorting ceremony openly mocking Harry Potter, who had apparently fainted in the train.
He didn’t notice her at first—or perhaps he did and simply chose to ignore her. He kept admiring his ring, brushed his silver-blond hair out of his eyes, and only looked up when she was already standing beside his bed. He raised an eyebrow, looking at her impassively.
“Can I help you?” he said, in a tone so dry that Astoria immediately knew he wouldn’t lift a finger to help her even if she asked him to, purely because he couldn’t be bothered.
“I just wanted to see if you were alright,” she said, feeling like an idiot. No, this wasn’t going to work. “Your arm… Is it very painful?”
That seemed to please him. His whole demeanour changed, and he quickly adopted that pained expression again, as if he were some sort of tragic hero. He even puffed out his chest a little. “It’s bearable,” he said bravely. “I think the Painkilling Potion is starting to wear off, though.”
“Oh.” She blinked, surprised. “Have you been here for very long?” It must have been lonely, having to stay in the hospital wing all morning while everyone else was in lessons.
He twisted his ring again. Now that she was closer, Astoria noted that it bore the Malfoy crest. “Since third period,” he said idly.
That made her pause.
Astoria eyed the empty vial on his bedside table, a crease forming between her brows. That dose of Painkilling Potion couldn’t be too different from the one she usually took. She was well acquainted with its potent, sickly-sweet flavour, as well as its effects and, above all, how long it lasted. Third period had ended only a couple of hours ago, which wasn’t nearly enough time for the potion to have stopped working…
She glanced at his arm, then at his carefully arranged features, and she suddenly realised that Draco Malfoy, on top of being a show-off, was an extraordinary, shameless liar. The flickering sympathy she’d felt was quickly doused, as if someone had poured a bucket’s worth of water over a candle.
That injury was faker than leprechaun gold.
“Is this a joke?” she demanded.
He frowned at her. “What?”
“That amount of Painkilling Potion is meant last between six and eight hours,” she said, speaking very slowly, as if she were explaining this to one of her younger cousins, “and you must have taken yours less than three hours ago, so obviously it’s still working. It’s impossible for it wear off so soon. So this is a joke, isn’t it? And it’s not a very clever one. Do you know anything about this potion?”
Malfoy instantly dropped his little act, as quickly as one would take off a mask. He regarded her with mild disgust, his eyes narrowing into thin, grey slits. “Excuse me?”
So it wasn’t a joke, then. But it was still a lie, and a really stupid one at that.
Astoria stood up a little straighter, folding her arms across her chest. “You’re not in pain—you’re lying. And you shouldn’t lie to Healers, you know,” she said sternly. “It’s not fair on them—they’re just trying to help you, but they can’t if you start making things up for…” For what? For fun? Because he was bored and entitled and thought this would be amusing?
Malfoy was looking at her as if she were something nasty that had stuck to the bottom of his shoe. “And you are…?” he said coldly, clearly offended at being told off by an eleven-year-old girl.
Astoria felt herself bristle. “You know who I am.”
He had to know. He should know. They’d never actually spoken before, but surely he’d seen her during those dreadfully dull Christmas dinners and balls? She’d seen him, strutting around as if he owned every manor he visited, boasting about his racing brooms and enjoying being the centre of attention. But he didn’t seem to remember her, which just added to her growing dislike. What was she to him? Just a short, scrawny first year with a big mouth and an annoying attitude, no doubt.
To her surprise, however, recognition eventually flashed in his eyes.
“You’re a Greengrass,” he said thoughtfully, though he was still looking at her with open distaste. “Daphne’s little sister. Asteria.”
“Astoria,” she corrected cooly.
It was a common mistake, one she was usually happy to forgive, but she decided Draco Malfoy wasn’t worth the effort. She wondered if he’d bother to apologise for getting it wrong.
He did not.
“That’s not a real name,” he scoffed.
“That’s not a real injury,” she countered, nodding towards his arm.
They glared at each other for a few moments. Or rather, Astoria glared at Malfoy, and he looked her up and down in a way that told her he found her every bit as unimpressive as she found him. She almost felt tempted to give him a real injury, just so he’d have something he could really complain about. She was starting to sympathise with the Hippogriff that had landed him in the hospital wing.
His expression suddenly turned mocking. “So what, are you going to tell on me, Greengrass?” he sneered.
Merlin, he really was an idiot, wasn’t he?
“No,” she said, with dignity. “I don’t know why you’re doing this and I couldn’t care less—it’s pathetic, whatever the reason. I’ll just let you enjoy having the whole school think a little cut on your arm is too much for you to handle. I’m sure the Gryffindors will appreciate just how brave you’re being.”
Malfoy looked like he’d been slapped. An angry blush stained his pale cheeks. Before he got the chance to reply, however, the entrance to the hospital wing burst open. A pug-faced girl with dark hair rushed in, cried ‘oh, Draco’, rudely shoved Astoria out of the way, and proceeded to kneel at Malfoy’s side as if he were on his deathbed. And just like that, he put on his act once again, lying smoothly, exaggerating everything, and clearly relishing the way Pansy Parkinson was fawning over him.
Astoria felt vaguely sick, and that had nothing to do with the Blood-Replenishing Potion this time. Realising that she absolutely did not want to witness this, she sent one last glare in Malfoy’s direction, resisted the urge to stick her tongue out at him for good measure, and left the hospital wing. She’d come back for her potions after dinner.
The quick tap-tap-tap of her shoes against the stone floor was loud, but didn’t fully mask the sound of Malfoy’s voice. She heard him moan about how much his arm hurt, about how his father would be furious when he found out, about how he could’ve easily died and had been lucky to survive the blow. She rolled her eyes.
Draco Malfoy wouldn’t have to worry about death for a long, long time. Stupid, childish, fortunate boy.