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With Delicate Hands

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With Delicate Hands
by EMPG22HoPe

Mary and francis

Honey, you're familiar like my mirror years ago

Astoria had always known who Draco Malfoy is. She was two years his senior at Hogwarts, and had not been a kind man. During their school days, she would often see him bullying other students, looking down on muggle-borns like they were a speck under his boot, and using his wealth and family name as a means of getting what he wanted.

In short, he wasn't exactly the kind of person she would want to bother spending her days with.

But such is her life, and the reintroduced pureblood tradition of arranged marriages.

It made her sick to her stomach just think about it. The particular tradition had been long abandoned. But when the Dark Lord insists that pure-bloods must contain their bloodlines, as per his decree, one simply cannot say no.

And Astoria never did have a choice. Not since Voldemort won. And not since she fought in the "wrong side", earning her months of deprivation of choice and an excess amount of torture for fighting for what she had felt was right.

If she wished to keep her life, and her family's, she must marry. Or she will have wiped the entire Greengrass bloodline for all to see. She just did not think that Draco would be one of the bachelors that took an interest in seeing her today.

When the Malfoys entered the space of her family's drawing room, she immediately met Draco's gaze. He held a stoic look, not giving anything away. He was dressed impeccably in all-black, which made her feel as though he had come here for someone's funeral. His grey eyes searched her green ones curiously before a sudden sense of recognition crossed them.

"Cassandra, dear, perhaps you should fetch a house elf for this… mess." Narcissa, clad in emerald robes, twisted her face in disapproval as she jutted her chin towards the broken tea cup on the floor.

Astoria pursed her lips in guilt. It had been her blasted nerve damage, one that she's earned from all those cruciatus curses sent upon her not too many months ago, that had caused such a mess.

Her mother, Cassandra, blushed furiously. Instead of calling for a house elf, of which the Greengrasses had none, she brandished her wand and cast a silent repairing charm. The tea cup clicked and clanked together, reforming to its former piece once more before it gathered as a whole back on the middle table where a set of tea and biscuits were prepared.

"Shall we?" Cassandra asked, gesturing towards the sofas for the Malfoys.

Astoria took several steps back, taking her place on one of the softer cushions next to her mother. The Malfoys sat across them with backs straightened to mere perfection.

"I daresay, your house, Cassandra… it's not very up to par as it used to be." Lucius said, his cold gaze shifting amongst the furniture. "Where is Cepheus?"

Astoria froze. The mention of her missing father made the hairs on her skin rise. She was inflamed by the audacity of Lucius Malfoy, for it was obvious how everyone in the Sacred Twenty-Eight already knew where her father was. He was in the Ministry, working day and night, to make up for his daughter's crimes, for the side she had chosen in the Battle of Hogwarts. And taking curses to his frail body as an additional "workload" to his already mountain-full of one.

She held back a sob. It was her fault that her father was in a right mess, her fault that her family was suffering the consequences of her actions. If only…

"He's at work. He sends his apologies for not being here today. As for Daphne, well, you can imagine her shame after Draco denied her." Cassandra spoke between gritted teeth, trying to maintain a placid smile. But even as her mother went on, Astoria could tell it was all she could do not to strangle Lucius right then and there. "But she's off at Gringotts, applying to be a Curse-Breaker."

"If she can manage to get such a career," Narcissa added with a slight raise of her brow. She clapped her hands together, as if to close the conversation. Her gaze shifted towards Astoria, scrutinizing her apparel. "Let's see if young Astoria will have better luck. How are you, dear? Any plans after Hogwarts?"

The sickly sweet voice of Narcissa Malfoy made the hairs on her skin rise. She knew for a fact that the woman disapproves of her any more than she disapproves of Daphne for her son. But she kept to mind her mother's advice.

Do not let them get to you.

"I'm doing quite well, Mrs. Malfoy," Astoria answered breezily, attempting a small smile. From her peripheral, she caught Draco stare at her; though she did little to decipher the kind of look he was giving her. "I've been recovering for the most part. But once I'm quite well, I'll be taking some practices at St. Mungo's, mostly in the potion-making department. Most of my N.E.W.T subjects are for when I apply to be a Healer."

"A Healer? It's unheard of for young pure-blood women such as yourself, but I suppose it's respectable enough." Lucius addressed as Cassandra began to pour tea for the Malfoys. "Draco, on the other hand, has a vast interest in Alchemy. Should things go smoothly, perhaps you can work together."

This time, Astoria looked to Draco.

Draco had taken his tea with three sugars before finally meeting Astoria's gaze. "It's a complex subject, especially since base metals are hard to come by. I wouldn't mind having an opinion or two from a potioneer on its properties."

"Why Alchemy?" Astoria asked curiously, and immediately regretted it.

Pure-blood courtship entails that women should not speak unless directly spoken to. Though, she could say that she was, in fact, spoken to, since Draco had looked at her the whole time. But his parents did not look pleased, and neither was her mother. Draco, however, seems unbothered. She caught the side of his lip rise in amusement, rather.

"Because it's a subject many wizards are intimidated by. It's a challenge, among other things." Draco answered with a shrug before taking a brief sip of his tea. "I do like a challenge."

"It doesn't have to be entirely." Astoria claimed, though her voice quivered, she maintained a firm answer. "If you enjoy the practice in itself, it's more a hobby than a challenge. I find it'd be easier to pursue something if you find enjoyment in it, rather than pursuing it for the sake of showing off one's skill."

Astoria could feel her mother glaring at her, burning a hole right through her head. She wouldn't dare to see what Draco's parents must look right now. But neither she nor Draco seemed to be bothered by their presence. It's as though they weren't there at all.

Draco scrutinized her in amusement before setting his tea down. "Shall we take a walk in your garden? The room's a bit stifling. Some fresh summer air could do us some good."

This caught her by surprise. Suddenly, she found herself looking to her mother for help. As she had assumed, Cassandra had been glaring at her daughter, until Draco's suggestion. Her mother was shocked momentarily before nodding.

"Yes, that sounds like a grand idea." Cassandra announced, looking to Lucius and Narcissa. "That's what courtships are for, aren't they? Let the children have their day in the sun."

Lucius rubbed his chin delicately, but Narcissa was the one to produce a cold smile and a reluctantly strangled answer, "Indeed."

Astoria saw Draco rise from his seat. She felt her legs cry in protest at the prospect of standing and taking a walk in the family garden. But before she could stand up herself, Draco was already at her side, offering his arm for her to take.

She smiled at him gratefully before she took a firm hold on his arm. As Astoria rose, her legs buckled slightly on her weight, but she retained that little-too-cheerful smile of hers as Draco led her to the doors towards the garden.

It was a bright, sunny day when they finally met the fresh air of outside. The heat was not as stifling as it was in the drawing room, and it was bearable enough to walk under. Astoria quite loved summer, but not as much as winter. Still, she found plenty enjoyment in the season… until recently.

"Do you not need a parasol?" Draco asked with a quirk of his brow.

"Some sun would not be so bad on me." Astoria replied carefully. "I'm as white as snow."

Draco smirked before nodding towards the path of the garden. "Shall we?"

The cobblestone path was adorned with hibiscus bushes lining up on either side. As they progressed, they came across several plants of interest—both regular and magical sorts. Perhaps one of Astoria's favorites was the small field of sunflowers further north up the estate's land. She would often find herself running into that field as a child.

Though today, she doubted they could ever go that far up the estate's land with how she was fairing with her buckling legs, much to her chagrin.

In fact, she doubted anything could ever go much far with the courtship at hand.

There had been a brief silence between them as they walked. Astoria kept her gaze forward, taking slow and careful steps as Draco lead her. Her legs were throbbing with a pain unimaginable, but she kept it aside.

"We can sit, if you like," Draco suggested, causing Astoria to turn to him. He looked anxious. "I imagine walking doesn't agree much with you."

Astoria's mouth formed a slight 'o', unsure of what to say. Of course he was aware of the tortures she's been through. Perhaps what she did not expect was for him to be considerate about it. After all, when has Draco Malfoy ever been considerate of anything other than himself?

"Right, yes," Astoria finally said, searching the garden before she found a grateful shade under a magnolia tree. She pointed at the towering wood shedding pink blossoms. "Over there would be lovely."

Draco nodded before gently leading her towards the tree. Once they were under its shade, Astoria barely had time to hold back her sigh of relief as she pulled away from Draco's touch and carefully slid her back down against the tree's bark as a guide to sit down. Her companion sat next to her, looking every bit of relieved as she was.

From their position, they managed a magnificent view of the little sunflower field, as well as many other trees that swayed in the cool, summer air, the small lake on the west and the patio where she and Daphne used to play tea parties at as little girls. It made her heart twist painfully.

Those were simpler days, when her sister didn't hate her for the side she had chosen. Days when Daphne didn't ignore her every time she greeted her as her sister came home from finding a decent wizarding career. These days, it was impossible to speak with her older sister without her glaring at Astoria and looking at her like she was filth every now and then.

It made her wonder how Draco doesn't see her the way her sister does.

"I don't understand," Astoria started as she wringed her hands together, hoping it would give her some relief from the pain in her legs. She bowed her head, staring at her hands against her periwinkle dress. Her mother would be furious if she knew Astoria ruined the highly expensive dress by sitting on grass with it.

"Understand what?" She heard Draco ask.

"I don't understand how you would even bother with me." Astoria went on, drawing her hands apart before she allowed her fingers to fiddle with her dress. She was too ashamed and too frightful to look him in the eye. She had lost that bit of confidence she had earlier in the drawing room. "I'm the last person you should even be considering. Everyone knows what I did, how I earned the ruins of my reputation—a blood traitor. I'm… I'm damaged goods."

Astoria bit her tongue to stop herself from saying anything else. She could feel the weight of her deprecation slowly making her spiral into its unkind depths. Her anger towards herself was exceeding its usual. She should be grateful for even being given the opportunity to live if she made the right choices. But somehow, she felt undeserving of it—that it was impossible to be even given a second chance in life when she had none from her days being tortured.

Waiting for Draco's reply was sheer agony, but she waited still. She expected him to lash out at her, like all the other men that had bothered to pursue her. Or perhaps stand up and leave, and let that be the answer to her worries.

What he said right after, however, was not what she had expected at all.

"I remember a girl back then. Her hair was braided in pretty plaits, but it was all over the place. Probably from all those potion experiments she kept doing in the dungeons." Draco began. Astoria felt her heart leap, her eyes drifting carefully to look at him. He was looking out at the garden. "She came to the girls' bathroom one time. I was there, hoping the noise had been Moaning Myrtle. But instead, I found her, looking down at me with every bit of worry on her face."

"Draco…" Astoria whispered, wanting to hit herself for letting that memory pass. She could feel her heart race painfully against her chest.

"She asked me, "What's wrong? Why are you crying?" I told her to go away, but she was ever so reluctant." Draco continued still and made no indication that he heard her. A hint of a smile graced his lips briefly. "So after I said a few colorful words to her, she plopped right in front of me and waited. She watched me sob, and it was embarrassing. But I had been too tired to move, and didn't care if some measly fourth year was watching me fall apart. Then eventually, she said, "Please. Let me help you." I told her that she couldn't. And she was defiant, but firm when she said, "Well, let me try." I let her."

Astoria could feel tears well up in her eyes, but she held them back. She had almost forgotten about it. Being too consumed with hatred towards her situation had made her forget the person she was before the war tore her apart. Her hand itched to touch his, but she furled her fingers to crunch up the fabric of her dress.

"It wasn't exactly the kind of help I needed at the time." Draco finally looked at her. Astoria's breath hitched. "But it was enough to keep me going then."

Astoria was that girl. It was the only time back then that she had spoken to Draco, and hadn't done since. He had been crying on the floor of the haunted girls' bathroom. She had just come in to wash off some of the goo from the potion she'd been experimenting on when she found him there. The memory seemed so far away, but it was clear as day to her now.

"I'd nearly forgotten about that…" Astoria's voice trailed off, but she still felt bashful despite his story. "Is that why?"

"One of them," Draco answered candidly, leaning back against the tree's bark, and still not taking his eyes off her.

She almost smiled. "There's more than one?"

Draco's lip curled. "Wouldn't you like to know?"

This time, she shook her head in amusement, feeling her tight anxiousness from earlier slowly unfurl into something more comfortable. She was curious as to know the other reasons why Draco decided to give her a chance more than she could have possibly deserved, but decided to say nothing about it.

"I imagine this can't be easy for you," Astoria hung her head as she admired a fallen magnolia bloom. "Going from one pureblood home to another can be tiresome. I've had a few courtships, but they mostly came because of my family's fortune. At the end of the day, the fortune mattered little to them as soon as I open my mouth."

Draco put his arms behind the back of his head. "Yes, I've heard you're quite the handful."

"I never mean to be." Astoria said in a small voice, taking one of the blooms on the grass to play with it. "I suppose they just aren't very keen in marrying a girl with strong opinions."

"I don't mind strong opinions." Draco lifted his shoulder in a half shrug. "I could use a few myself. I'm not always this tough-looking."

"Oh?" Astoria asked, raising a brow at him now, resisting the urge to look amused. "Why is that?"

"Why do you have such strong opinions?" Draco fired back plainly with a question.

"I asked first!" She protested, letting go of the blossom in her hand. Her green eyes widened in realization before she looked down in shame. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to—"

"By all means, mean to." He said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "Astoria, we've little time and I'd rather you weren't so prudent. You weren't exactly like this years ago. Where's that girl that decided she wasn't going to bloody leave me until I tell her why I was crying in the loo?"

This time, Astoria's comfort cracked. Memories of her torture came to her all of a sudden. Her face etched with pain and distress, turning away from Draco as though it would help to keep the terrible past away. But even as she did, she could still feel the pain that told her that death would be much kinder.

"She's gone, Draco." Her voice was taut and quiet as she spoke. She shut her eyes to keep the tears from flowing. "The Carrows… the Death Eaters… they took her away. They… they turned her into a completely different person. I'm not the same girl I used to be."

A brief silence filled their space; the only sound that came was from the chirping of the birds and the slight rustle of the leaves and bushes of the garden.

Suddenly, she felt the warmth of a hand take place on top of her fisted ones. She hadn't realized she'd been squeezing her hands so tight that when she felt Draco's touch, they slowly opened themselves up, craving for a touch other than her own. His hand rested upon hers before he carefully filled the spaces between her fingers.

Astoria opened her eyes when he said, "That's not entirely true."

She met his gaze, his usually cold, grey eyes now filled with a sort of warmth she had never seen in him before.

"There's a kindness in you unparalleled by any other, and no one can take that away from you." Draco coaxed her gently. "I don't know how you managed to survive what they did to you. Merlin, if I had known then, I would have done something… but I had been so consumed by my own problems… but the point is, you're still here. You're still alive and breathing and doing what you can to save your family. If you can survive all of that, you can get her back."

"I can't. It's impossible." Astoria shook her head defiantly as tears escaped her eyes.

"Then build something out of what you have now." He suggested, and she felt his hand squeeze hers gently. "Start from scratch."

"It's not that easy. What can I build out of a girl with a reputation so smeared?" She asked him between sobs, unable to meet his gaze as she recoiled from his comforting touch. "A girl who has scars from her tortures? Not only that, but a girl with a blood malediction that has little to no cure?"

Suddenly, she felt a thumb brush away the tears from her cheeks. Astoria was heaving breaths now, trying to control her cries as she felt Draco rid of her tears. She saw him through her tears, and when she blinked the wet away, he was staring at her.

"Well, we both have the same questions now, don't we?" Draco chimed in. "What can I build out of a boy who has yet to fix his own reputation? A boy who has scars from all the death he had seen and did nothing about? A boy who's still making all the wrong choices?"

Astoria sniffed just as Draco produced a hanky from his breast pocket. She took the piece of cloth gratefully and began to dab her tear-stained cheeks.

"We can always build ourselves up back again. It will not be easy. In fact, it's far from it. But we can always try." He took the hanky from her and pressed it onto the side of her right eye gently. "Together."

Their eyes locked. A sort of understanding, something mirroring each other, came to them. It's as though they could see through each other's soul.

"I just want to do something that matters. Or be something that matters." Astoria confessed quietly. "I just want to matter."

For the first time that day, she saw Draco smile. A genuine one that made her heart leap from where it laid rest. His thumb brushed against her cheek, even though there was hardly a tear for him to rid of.

"But Astoria," He spoke in a way she knew he had never done before. "You already matter."

I slithered here from Eden just to hide outside your door

The mystery that was Draco Malfoy became not so much of a mystery afterwards. When his mother had called for him, telling him that it was time to leave, she felt his hesitance, and she had to admit that, for once, she didn't want someone courting her to go away so soon.

But thankfully, it had not stopped there. As soon as dinner came that day, Astoria received the mighty eagle owl of the Malfoys, and perched on the owl's beak, was a letter from Draco with his family seal. Her mother had nearly hopped off her seat in delight, and Daphne looked every bit of discontent as Cassandra blessed all the gods of their Greek heritage.

His letters came daily since.

She found that she enjoyed talking to Draco, about everything and sometimes, nothing but what they could possibly come up with in the spur of the moment. It would have been nice to see him again over the weeks, but as it was, he was now a busy man and upholding work at the Ministry like his father. Still, she sent him letters there, and she would laugh at the little coffee stains he'd blotch on his letters in his haste to reply.

It was after three weeks from when Draco went to the Greengrass estate that her family was invited to a gala in Malfoy manor.

Astoria was clad in a champagne gown, which accentuated her figure generously. Her hair was tied up into a beautiful bun and was adorned with little diamond flowers. While she would have normally worn heels to such events, she prompted for some silver flats to ease her still trembling legs.

Unlike the last time she saw the Malfoys, her family was with her when they arrived at the gala. Her father, Cepheus, though weary and tired from work, would not pass up an opportunity to appear in a social gathering. Her mother had been flying around Astoria like an untamed Cornish pixie fixing everything into place from her hair to the very sole of her shoes. Her sister, Daphne, had joined out of reluctance, as she still felt offended for being rejected. Daphne still refused to see eye to eye with her.

The gala had been in full swing when the Greengrasses arrived. As such, Cepheus made his way to Lucius, Cassandra and Daphne to their own social circles, leaving Astoria for the briefest moment alone.

The ballroom of the manor was adorned prominently. Its rich walls and marble floors showed the significance of the Malfoy's reputation for old money, something passed down to them and still managed to maintain. Every bit of thing made to show the family's high, wealthy status. She almost felt too small in the too big and fancy room, not having been used to such a vast space unlike the one at the Greengrass estate.

Whenever she walked past guests, she often sees them whispering behind their hands to each other. They hid their disgust through sickly sweet smiles and tinkling laughter. It made her sick to her stomach, knowing how some—if not all—of them were talking about her; her audacity for being there, the hopeless case of Draco choosing her above all the other more presentable and proper pureblood girls.

She could feel the walls of the opulent walls close in on her. Before she could turn to run from the ballroom, find herself a quiet place to contemplate and rid herself of her anxiety, she felt a hand on her shoulder.

Astoria nearly jumped, though when she turned to find that it was only Draco, she felt the slightest bit of ease.

"It's alright, Astoria. It's just me." Draco assured her, smiling gently. He was clad in emerald robes, a bit of a first for him, if she was being honest, when he offered his arm. "Would you like to dance? Or do you want to get out of here?"

It made her feel appreciated knowing she had a second option.

"It's a bit constricting," Astoria answered honestly as she hooked her hand on his strong arm, her eyes never leaving his, though they ached to look around to see how people were speaking of her. "Can we please go somewhere else?"

She caught Draco's eyes flutter towards his guests. His face etched with a hard look, and he glared at some of them tightly; though it had morphed into understanding when he looked at her again. He bobbed his head, and soon waded them out of the crowd of purebloods. There were guests that stared at them, others that pointed, and most looked at her in disgust. But she concentrated on holding onto Draco, using him as a sort of support even after they had left the noise of the ballroom.

Draco had led her to his own manor's garden. There was not a single witch or wizard out there with them, which made the tightness in Astoria's chest slowly unfurl. The summer night was cooler than usual, and in addition to the garden's atmosphere, both had helped calm her senses, among other things.

"Who were you glaring at earlier?" Astoria asked as she was led down the path of the manor's garden.

The space was larger than that of the Greengrass estate. And where there were not much animals back home, the Malfoys housed several Albino peacocks. The peacocks trotted harmlessly past them as they walked. They either walked about about or simply lounged on the ponds that dotted the field.

"Zabini," Draco replied gruffly. But in the short time she knew much of him, she had a feeling he'd been simply looking tough in order to intimidate the others to stand down from her. "I've been told he's tried to court you before."

Astoria blushed furiously, but waved the topic away. She didn't exactly come to Malfoy manor to talk to him about her many failed courtships. Her green eyes assessed his apparel and decided to change the subject.

"You look quite dashing in green."

"Quite dashing in green?" Draco repeated with an amused smirk.

"I just meant color looks very personable on you." Astoria tried to recover, still feeling the blush on her cheeks. "You see, you wear all this black. It's hardly bringing out the color in your eyes."

Draco chuckled lowly, but she caught a bit of red on his cheeks. Whether it was from the chill of the night, any alcohol he might have consumed earlier or simply because of her statement, she couldn't tell. "I don't think you just came here to talk about the color of my eyes."

She shook her head with a slight laugh before clearing her throat. "No, I didn't. I… I wanted to see you. How has work been?"

"Dreadful, as usual," He answered plainly, his brows pinching together in concentration. "It's not the best job in the world. Hardly something I want to do but I have to make do."

Astoria gave him a sad smile. She knew how Draco wished to pursue Alchemy more than ever when they had exchanged letters. But he hardly has the time to do so with what the Dark Lord had assigned him to do. Though he was a Junior Auror in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, he was tasked to hunt down some of the Order and DA members that had fled after the war. And she didn't want to hear what Draco had to do if he did catch one of them.

"I'm sure you'll make time at some point. Though mostly I just worry for you," Astoria expressed bashfully, drawing little circles on his arm with her thumb as they explored the garden. They came to a halt just before the fountain of Armand Malfoy. "Your job, that is. I don't want you getting hurt."

Draco smiled at her warily as he guided her to sit on the edge of the fountain. She expelled a breath of relief upon sitting before she pulled away from his touch.

"It's part of the job. Like you, I haven't got much of a choice either."

That was the cold, hard truth of it all. Ever since she spoke to Draco, she believed the very notion that there was something to live for still other than her family. But even then, she still found herself drowning in self-deprecation for the position she put her and her family in.

"Astoria," He spoke softly, causing her to snap out of her reverie. She watched him sit beside her, looking anxious. It made her heart spike up in worry. "Do you think I'm a good man?"

Back then, Draco Malfoy had not been a particularly good man. But as most wars, she had been under the assumption that it has changed him since. That much was true when she tried to comfort him back then in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom.

She blinked twice, unsure where his question was going, but she beamed at him as she slipped her hand off his arm so they can hold his hand in hers. "I believe you to be a man who does what he can to protect his family. A man who would go through any lengths to protect those he loves, even if those actions were to be questionable. You're not a bad person. You are a man of honor to me."

Draco looked stricken with disbelief, but soon there was a crinkle in his eyes as he locked his gaze with hers. Her mouth curved into a fond smile, her hand following through the gesture of squeezing his hand.

"I've always had the assumption that it only takes one person to believe in you to help you see yourself in that light. Like the way you did with me weeks ago." She implored, tilting her head to the side. "Consider me that one person."

"Astoria…" His voice trailed off, looking as though he had lost all sense into forming words. Then, as if to relieve himself of his indecision; his face broke out into a smile. She felt him squeeze her hand back before he moved to fish something out of his breast pocket. "I know it must be so soon… but I see what happens out there on a daily basis… and I can't stand the fact that I could give you all the choices you want to than when they hadn't given it to you before."

Her eyes widened when Draco produced a small, velvet box.

"Draco…" She said slowly, now looking just as stricken as he had earlier.

He opened the box with a sound click, showing her a gleaming silver band fitted with a large emerald diamond on top. The ring was intricate with its design on the silver hold of the diamond. It gleamed like a star from the sky in the young of the night.

"You have never been given a choice in life since the war. And the last thing I want to do is force your hand, because I would never want to do that to you. I want to be able to give you back your life, help you build something new out of it. Only if you want me to," Draco rambled on as color rose to his cheeks, but he did little to look away from her, his chin held slightly high with that bit of Malfoy pride despite his obvious trepidation. "Will you have me as I am, Astoria? Will you be my wife?"

Every inch of her body was aflame with a sort of delight and confusion that made her head spin. It was everything she had been waiting for—her redemption, the very thing that would save her and her family. Back then, she would have grasped the opportunity to marry simply for the sake of saving her family—even if it pained her to know that she did not love the man she was to marry.

And yet, she was not feeling that despair she had expected once she accepted the proposal of a pure-blood man. In fact, she felt elated, as though she was floating on air. She could not deny the very seam of the idea that she did not mind a life spent with someone who treats her with every bit of respect no other suitor had given her. Most of all one that gives her a choice. A privilege she has not had for the longest time.

Astoria felt as though she had been staring in the grey pools of Draco's eyes for so long. She almost forgot that she needed to reply to his proposal. And though she yearned to say yes…

"Draco, you know I want to, more than anything. It's just…"

Draco's eyes widened, his shoulders tensing in worry.

"What will people say, though? I don't want you to risk your reputation marrying me." Astoria spoke meekly, licking her lips nervously afterwards. "I'm not exactly the most polished pure-blood girl out there. I would hate to bring you such misfortune. There are people still out there that want to hurt me."

"I would fight with every bone in my body if it meant I could protect you." Draco declared firmly, bypassing all her worries about his reputation. He placed the open box between them on the base of the fountain, and after, took her small hands into his long ones. "Astoria, do you think after everything that's happened that I would give a damn about my reputation? They saw my family try to leave during the second battle. I'm not much proud of my name, no matter how hard I try to look intimidating."

It was the first she's ever heard of anyone wanting to protect her. Nobody cared to give sympathy to a blood traitor, and she doubted her family wanted to do much protecting her. And yet here he was, offering himself bare and without conditions.

Astoria's voice croaked. "What of me, though? You won't mind marrying a girl with strong opinions, some nightmares here and there and a blood curse to boot?"

"What did I say about strong opinions? I could use a few myself, and everyone else, too." Draco's laugh sounded between something nervous and something close to amusement. He then raised one of her hands before pressing her knuckles gently to his lips. She felt her insides burn with a subtle, comforting flame. "They may never understand your fire, but they will long for your flame. As for the nightmares and the blood curse, I would stand by you through it all. Scarred pasts and all."

This time, Astoria's face broke out into a relieved smile. She bobbed her head in agreement. "Scarred pasts and all."

Draco looked too afraid to ask again, feeling the tremble of his lips against her knuckles, seeing the shuddering of his soldiers in tension. But he asked anyway. "Will you build something out of nothing with me?"

Rather bravely, her first act of such since, she leaned forward to press her forehead gently against his. She saw Draco close his eyes contentment, heard the bare sigh of releasing something within. Her eyes gleamed luminously when he opened his eyes to meet her gaze.

Astoria beamed at him, in the most genuine, cheerful smile she used to have. "I already have."