Dancing, Eyes Closed
Draco and Astoria ( 16 January 2006 )
Draco usually hated weddings with a passion. He hated the cheesiness of it, the pretence. He hated the smiling faces, the tears and everything in between. He hated the ancient words during the ceremony and he hated the “fun games” during the reception. The only thing he didn’t hate was the dancing, however scarce it was.
Astoria didn’t hate weddings. But she didn’t like them particularly much either. Her parents’ marriage had started with a big wedding, a huge celebration and had still crashed and burned not ten years later. Astoria didn’t mind the old patterns of the ceremony and she could enjoy herself during the games. She loved dancing, though – with a passion. And she always found there was never enough time to dance during a reception.
Draco believed in loyalty, in standing by one’s partner through everything once one had pledged allegiance. He had always feared that kind of power, ever since the days he had put his loyalty to the wrong side, pledged allegiance to a maniac, a villain.
He had gone through countless motions with countless women, to try and find the one with whom loyalty felt easy, but had failed time and time again, with all these girls who were so eager to be close to him, just because he had a good fortune and was to inherit a whole lot more. They didn’t care about his past, they didn’t care about what he had believed and what he believed now. They were all indifferent towards his insecurities and whenever he noticed it, his interest declined rapidly. He hated who he had been in the past, of course he did, and he knew that he was lucky not being completely shunned by society; Still, maybe because it was such a dominant part of why he had become the person he was now, post-war, he needed someone besides himself to care, to ask questions and listen to his stories, because after all, he had so many stories that needed telling.
Astoria knew Draco, before she even ever saw him for the first time. Daphne told her about this evil, selfish, heartless boy from school whom she despised – her harsh words about him dripping with venom. When Astoria came to Hogwarts for the first time, placed in Ravenclaw and therefore effectively ripped from her sister, she saw this evil, harsh boy, too – and found him just as unlikeable as her sister, if not for anything else, then out of solidarity to Daphne.
It took her years to figure out that her sister, however, hated him for a totally different reason than herself. The beginning of the Second Wizarding War taught her, that Daphne, the closest friend she had ever had, hated Draco because she wanted to be like him – in his place, a part of the Dark Lord’s closest following. A world shattered for Astoria that day. And from then on, she began to unlearn the many lessons her parents and her sister had taught her since she had started thinking. She raked her brain through, thoroughly; Thought about everything she believed in and asked herself why she believed it. And from the age of thirteen she educated herself, about Muggleborns, about Blood Supremacy and the damage it was causing to the world.
It led her to turn her back on her family when she was fifteen, at the high time of the war, and go fight for what she believed to be worth defending – the right for everyone who possessed magic to learn how to use it and not be discriminated against. She hated loyalty with a passion, now. Hated how so many people blindly pledged allegiance to one thing or another without understanding what it meant, blindly following this maniac, this villain who slayed people simply because they had an opinion that differed from his own.
She became very unsatisfied with the way the world seemed to work around her – even after Voldemort was defeated and most of his following scattered across the lands, being chased by aurors and put in Azkaban one by one. She became angry at the state of affairs, reading about how Goblins were still treated, about the horrible things that happened to so many creatures on a daily basis. And, because she couldn’t find a way to let it off somewhere, she reclined into herself, pushing everyone away and stewing in her own toxic thoughts, her only motivation to get up every morning being finishing her degree.
Draco felt lost, alone, forlorn and adrift after the war – especially after the trials which put both of his parents into Azkaban: his father for life, and his mother for three years. He walked free, not believing his luck and devastated about the loss of his parents at the same time.
He considered going back to Hogwarts to finish his NEWTs but decided against it – he couldn’t be bothered with academia anymore: being the second of his class hadn’t saved him from making stupid decisions the first time around. So, what was the use?
He ran away: First he went to Italy for a few weeks and came back feeling a lot lighter than he used to. But after three days, and a particularly nasty encounter with an elderly witch who accused him loudly and hysterically of killing her son, his past caught up with him and reduced him to the anxiety-ridden shadow of himself, he had been before. He went to visit his mother who was in a dreadful state, told her made up stories to cheer her up and then left again, running from the darkness, the rotten smell that made him feel sick, the moans and screams, and fled to the Caribbean. He stayed almost five months before his conscience got the better of him and he went home to visit his mother again.
This pattern continued for longer than he was proud of admitting.
The day Astoria held the results of her NEWTs in her hands, she broke down, crying heavy sobs into her hands – the last bit of direction, of motivation was now gone and she felt the grip she’d got on herself loosen until she fell apart.
She hid at a cabin in a forest a few hours walk to the north of Hogwarts, miserable and lonely, sleeping, crying and staring into the dingy darkness of the room in turns. Her breakdown worsened over the next few weeks, until she couldn’t get out of bed anymore. Not to make tea, not to feed herself, not to clean up – nothing seemed important anymore. All passion, even hate, had left her and she had gone utterly numb.
A stranger with a familiar face found her after what felt like an eternity of being caught in a bizarre limbo, half asleep and half dead but also alive and awake enough to suffer. He cleaned her up, made her something to eat and sat down by her side quietly.
Draco had been on a trip around Scandinavia, been in the wilderness for almost four months without meeting another human being. He had finished his trip off by going to the Shetland Isles and from there he decided to walk home. He sought shelter from a particularly nasty thunderstorm when he came across the small cabin and found her in an abominable state, unresponsive, haggard and damaged. He didn’t know how long she had been hiding out here. The smell in the little cabin was sickening; It smelled like rot, and death and sadness. He opened the windows, cleaned her up, brushed her black, but no-longer-sleek hair out as well as he could. He made her a hearty soup out of root vegetables and meat he found and trapped and stayed by her side until she ate and then fell asleep again. All that time neither of them had spoken a word.
The familiar stranger was still there when Astoria awoke. He smiled at her, his bearded face lighting up just a notch amongst his wild, windswept hair. She tried to smile back but broke into tears. He simply put an arm around her, and let her weep hopeless tears, her face buried on his shoulder; She wept for her life, for her passion, for her hate and her love, for her sister whom she hadn’t spoken to in years and for her sense of direction. The first thing she said to him, when she could speak, was, “I have no idea where I’m going.”
Draco held her a little bit closer when her words were followed by a ragged sob, his own eyes stinging with long unshed tears, too. He thought of his mother who had lost all the fire inside of her and now sat on the ground of a little cell day in, day out, guarded by the most haunting creatures in existence, always completely silent and staring into the void. She managed a small smile, every time he sat down next to her but it faded away like a dying light so quickly that sometimes Draco only got a glimpse of it. He still told her made-up stories about people going on travels, finding love and being happy. Sometimes, he told her about places he’d visited, things he’d seen but mostly he held her hand and told her that she would get to leave soon and it would all be over.
He thought about his father who screamed and went on rampages so frequently Draco couldn’t go near him. He still visited but there were iron bars separating them. Lucius did not recognise Draco and screamed the same abuse at him as he did at everyone else who came to see him. There weren’t many visitors to begin with and by now, two years after the war, Draco was the only one who still went, listened to his father’s disappointed, mad and angry yells and bowed his head, whispering “I know, father” again and again, his heart beating fiercely in his chest.
He looked down at the not-quite-familiar face, Astoria’s scrunched-up nose, her red-rimmed, puffy eyes that lacked life so much it physically hurt him. A sob escaped him.
“Me neither.” He choked.
Because they didn’t know where to go, they went to Rio de Janeiro, got drunk with all the other people on the Copacabana and woke up in the sand, her head on his chest, his arm holding her close.
They went swimming in the Atlantic Ocean and saw lots of colourful fish. They hiked up to the huge statue with a group of American Muggles who talked a lot and the both of them could be silent and listen, holding each other’s hands tightly as if they were the only real thing in an entirely unreal world, and tentatively try to laugh at the jokes the Americans were telling.
From Rio they went up the coast, walking, apparating when they dared, swimming, seeing sharks, whales and dolphins. Astoria performed her first magic in months and gave Draco a grooming, because she thought he needed it – not because he looked wild, but because he used this wildness to cover up his insecurities and his fears. Astoria liked them – not in an I want to save him kind of way. She liked what a great man he was, despite them. She found he had grown so much and dealt with what he had believed in just the way she had all those years before and just like her it had left him with a tendency to overthink everything. And while that spiralled out of control from time to time, it mostly made him a deliberate, critical and rational person, with whom she got along splendidly.
Somewhere on the road, mile after mile, time after time, Astoria rediscovered her passion. First, she found her ambition: racing Draco up mountains, challenging him to swimming and diving competitions, wanting to walk ten miles, today, because they had managed nine yesterday and they had to beat that, solving Arithmancy problems and talking about philosophical conundrums while they did.
Second, she rediscovered her love for the small things, the pattern of an extraordinarily beautiful butterfly, the colour of the ocean when there was a storm out on the open sea, the way Draco’s steely eyes flashed when he had made her laugh or the way he smiled an adorable half smile when they were dancing. They danced a lot in those first weeks, and they continued doing that wherever they went. They started with the dances they encountered on their travels, and sooner rather than later Draco started teaching Astoria the standard dances she had never learned, once she had turned her back on her family.
They danced everywhere – on beaches, on mountaintops, in their tent, in the forest and on grassy hills. Sometimes they had music, sometimes they didn’t - they didn’t care: The music of their lives had returned and was playing in their heads once more.
Third, Astoria unearthed her hate again: when she saw a man trying to start a fire in a bin in front of a beautiful, old, wooden house when they were in the Rockies. Draco had to hold her back on the collar of her jacket so she didn’t hex this man stupid.
And, surprisingly, she discovered her passion for the man who had been next to her for several months now. It hit her square in the face one moment, and the next she had stopped Draco dead in his tracks halfway through a race down a steep hill, grabbed his collar, pulled him close and kissed him.
When she kissed him for the first time, it felt like a storm, like wild waves crashing into him, wind tugging on every square inch of his body, threatening to blow him away. It engulfed him, made him go breathless and left him gasping for air. He felt small and feeble in the face of the force of nature she turned into, right there, before his very eyes. He kissed her back with fervour, savouring her wildness. She tasted of rain, of the menthol cigarettes they shared from time to time. The taste promised him, her lips assured him and her hands on his neck plighted she wasn’t leaving him anymore. And suddenly he found, he didn’t struggle at all to be sure he was going to be loyal to her forever.
He still hated weddings, and she still was indifferent to them, so they never bothered. After all, they knew they weren’t leaving each other’s sides, not for a long time.
Nothing and all of that changed, when Draco found Astoria crying in the kitchen of their travel tent, one day. He hugged her from behind, holding her, because that was what he did, when she had one of the bad days.
But this wasn’t a bad day, he realised rather soon, when he saw her wand lying atop the counter: a bright, blue ball shone at its tip. Draco, who had gone through Healer’s training just a few months prior, to be able to help if one of them ever got seriously injured on their travels, knew instantly what that meant.
“Really?”, he asked hoarsely, his eyes stinging, throat constricted. Astoria nodded, and Draco tried to bite back his tears. He failed – and so they stood, holding each other, crying heavy, happy sobs for an entire evening.
The next morning, they packed and started for their travel back to England. They weren’t in any particular rush to get to the local Portkey Station, and they ended up walking there, as they so often did – it took them almost a full day to reach the town. Their portkey was scheduled for early the next morning and would bring them to a small wizard dwelling in the Northeast of England. From there they could easily apparate.
The ended up walking from Newcastle to Malfoy Manor instead, where Narcissa had returned after being released from Azkaban. Draco didn’t like to return to the Manor – its overbearing history made him feel sick and the look of it, still the same as all those years ago, gave him the creeps.
When they told Narcissa, her face lit up for the first time since before the war. Seeing his mother this happy restored Draco’s faith – his faith in good winning over bad, in light being stronger than darkness.
That night he went to the attic of the Manor by himself. It was dingy, dusty and the floor creaked in odd places. Still he liked the attic best of all the spaces in the house, simply because it wasn’t meticulously clean and tidy. There were boxes, trunks and sacks full of old things up here; and all of them breathed and whispered their own stories. He searched in an old trunk until he found the beautiful gold ring he had kept there for the longest time. It was Goblin-made and shone so brightly it almost glowed in the semi-darkness. He looked at it for a while and basked in the feeling: he was so lucky, after all to have Astoria by his side, have had her for so long, now.
Then he put it back, because he knew she’d hate that it had most likely been stolen from the Goblin who had crafted it, and she valued other things much more highly than gold and diamonds. This ring was for him, for his past self that had imagined one day to present this ring to the woman of his dreams. He didn’t need that anymore, but he still liked reminding himself of his past.
Instead he contacted a friend of theirs whom they had met in China. His wife hand-crafted jewellery out of the most precious jade and Astoria’s eyes had begun to shine when she had seen the fine artworks of beautiful green stone.
Draco selected a delicate design with thin ‘strands’ weaving around each other like very sophisticated braiding and had it delivered to the small cottage they had moved into, in the village a few miles from the manor.
He cooked dinner – a hearty soup with root vegetables and meat, that reminded him of the first time he had met her: Actually met – not just seen. She smiled when he told her, the little wrinkles around her eyes shining in the candlelight.
After they’d eaten, he guided her to the dimly lit sitting room, put on their favourite music and they started dancing – like they so often did, ever since they’d met. Their eyes closed, as they were swaying in the constricted space, and Draco felt at peace – like all the bad in the world had vanished.
When they took a break after a long while, and she sat down on the sofa with a sigh, one hand on her stomach, one draped on the back of the couch, he took a deep breath, stepped up to her, got down on one knee, produced the ring from his inside pocket and looked up to her.
“I’ve searched for a girl like you forever until I stumbled across you in a forest in Scotland. Someone to whom it felt easy to be loyal. You’re perfect.” He said, his voice croaky and wavering. “Will you marry me?”
Astoria was quiet for a beat, her face scrunched up and Draco’s heart started racing in his chest, a bowl of lead falling into his stomach. She made a choking sound, covering her mouth with one hand. Then she got up quickly, pushed Draco aside, so that he lost his balance and fell over, and started out of the room. He looked after her, breath hitching and scuttling up to regain his composure after she had knocked him sideways. He heard the kitchen door close behind her.
She reached the kitchen just in time to throw up into the sink. Her heart raced, and she had broken out in a cold sweat. She retched a few times more, and then the nausea was gone as quickly as it had come. She sat down on the floor, waiting until her heart had calmed down and her sweats were over, then she cleaned up with a flick of her wand, thankful, yet again, that she was able to do it this easily without the need to scrub.
“Sorry,” she said quietly to Draco when she entered the sitting room again. He was looking slightly fazed.
“I think the pregnancy may actually start to show.” She laughed, nervous all of a sudden, her cheeks flushing, or maybe it was just the colour returning to them after being sick.
Draco smiled up at her, “I’ll just repeat what I asked you before.” He said and cocked an eyebrow at her.
“Will you marry me?”, he asked; This time around his voice was far more stable. Astoria’s heart beat furiously as she started smiling.
“Of course, my dear.” She said softly, grinning and pulled him up by the collar of his shirt to kiss him.
They went to get registered the next day, waited the 28 days they had to, and then took Narcissa as well as Daphne and Pansy, with whom they had formed something like a semi-close relationship again, and went to Venice – Draco and Astoria’s favourite place of all the ones they had seen. It was ice cold and windy as they stood on the square in front of St. Marcus’ Cathedral.
“It’s bonkers beautiful.” Pansy sighed and took Daphne’s hand. Draco smiled at them.
“Told you so, didn’t I?” He cocked an eyebrow at her. Daphne giggled.
“I so wanna take a ride in a gondola.” She said smiling at her girlfriend.
“They’re overrated and expensive.”, said Draco. “I’d suggest you take a vaporetto. It’S the Italian way. You could go to Murano?”
Astoria took his hand.
“I wanna go to Murano later.” She whispered in his ear, making all the hairs on his arms stand on edge. “You know where I wanna go.”
Draco swallowed as he remembered. Oh, they’d had some fun, a few years ago when they had come here for the first time.
“I wanna sneak into that abandoned shack where its half dark, and nobody will find us.” She whispered and Draco’s insides did a somersault.
“Tori!” Daphne called from a distance. “I know that face! Please don’t!”
Pansy smirked, and after a few moments of stunned silence Astoria started laughing.
“Shut your face!” She yelled back. It gave Draco time to recompose himself. He put an arm around his mother – who was still feeble and thin even years after her sentence had ended.
“I’ve always loved Italy,” she told him. “My parents used to have a holiday home in Tuscany when I was a girl, and in the summer, we would spend a few weeks there every year.” She smiled. “It was the only time I felt truly free.”
Draco swallowed and hugged her a bit closer.
“I’m very glad you can’t remember my mother. She was the most venomous and manipulative person I have ever known.” She went on, her smile dying from her lips. “And her toxicity was only made worse by my father. He was a selfish and self-important man and he treated us like scum. I don’t think I have ever heard him speak a kind word to anyone but himself.” She reminisced, “Isn’t that sad?”
Draco nodded; He didn’t really know what to say.
“The accomplishment as a mother, the one I am most proud of, anyway, is that you did not become like my parents, and also not like your father and I.” She smiled.
“What do you mean by that?” Draco asked quietly.
“You love Astoria to pieces, right?” His mother asked back.
“See, that’s the first difference, right there.” She whispered, and brushed away a tear. Draco let her rest her head on his shoulder while she cried silently, stroked her back and looked around to find Astoria’s gaze. She smiled at him, one arm around Daphne who was also crying, one on her belly that showed the tiniest signs of their child being there and he smiled back.
They stumbled across a beautiful terrace overlooking the lagoon, far away from the tourists and Astoria said, half-jokingly that it would have been nice to get married on it. Draco resurrected the few words of Italian he knew and rang the doorbell. An elderly lady answered and Draco asked her if they could get married on the terrace of her palazzo. Her eyes became very soft at that question and she told him own wedding had taken place there fifty years ago. She invited them in, made them coffee and poured some sort of Italian bitter into it that made the coffee undrinkable without massive amounts of sugar. She got her maid to clean up outside, and wouldn’t listen when Draco tried to tell her she shouldn’t bother.
She and Narcissa, who remembered a lot of Italian from her childhood, spoke about anything and everything while Draco went outside to ask if he could help with anything. The maid almost fell over when he did and it made him embarrassed, his cheeks turning flushed, so he simply grabbed one of the brooms and started sweeping the wet floor.
After a good twenty minutes they were done and all of them gathered outside to perform the ceremony. They invited their host, Caterina, to stay but she refused and said she was going and getting ready a meal for them to eat afterwards.
They didn’t speak much as they stood overlooking the greyish-green water. In the distance Draco could make out the islands of Murano and Burano and Draco’s insides did another somersault.
None of them really knew where to start, and so, after a while, Astoria looked at them all, one after the other, and then she said, “You know, I am very happy to have you here with me. Because you constantly remind me that my past doesn’t define me. What defines me is my present and my future.” She paused. “And I’m glad I reconnected with all of you.” She looked at her sister. “It means the world to me, even though we don’t agree all the time. I know now that we don’t have to."
Daphne smiled back at her.
“I’m so happy that I get to be a part of this. I know how much not having a sister sucked, and I’m so glad you brought me to my senses.” She hugged her, but without letting go of Pansy’s hand.
Narcissa seemed to squirm under Astoria’s gaze, when she turned to her and she tried to give her a reassuring smile.
“I’m glad we put our differences aside.”, she murmured. “Because I hope that we will be friends and teach each other a lot.”
Narcissa smiled a thin smile that, until a few years ago would have seemed uninviting, and proud, almost snobbish to Astoria. Now, she crossed over to the side Draco wasn’t occupying and gave her a half hug.
Draco cleared his throat, and looked at Pansy.
“I know you get snarky when emotions are involved so I won’t say anything in that direction.” He ginned at her. “I will say, though – as annoying as I found you in school, as glad am I to have you now.”
She smiled up at him from underneath her lashes, “Thanks.” She mouthed.
It all went rather quickly from there, and Astoria was glad about it. She faced Draco, smiled at him and took his arm in hers, closing her fingers lightly around his wrist and feeling his fingers on hers. Narcissa performed the binding spell, without further ado, and she forewent the old sentences traditionally spoken during it substituting them with silence that suited the occasion so much better. Astoria closed her eyes when the unfamiliar feeling of being locked into place opposite Draco hit her.
It wasn’t particularly pleasant, she found. It felt like being a prisoner, like her arm around Draco’s held her in place even though all she wanted to do was wrap her hands around him and be close to him – closer than just the touch of their arms. She had always had this over-romantic perception of this part being the ceremony’s key moment; But now, she realised it wasn’t. The key moment came afterwards when, the second the spell left her, she threw herself into Draco’s arms, overwhelmed with her love, her respect and her admiration for him, and so happy it almost hurt on her insides.
Astoria sank into Draco’s arms, dissolving into silent sobs. He held her knowing she was shedding tears of joy, until she looked up and whispered, “I love you.” And the way she smiled through her tears made Draco’s heart dance. He tried to smile, but found he didn’t make a good job of it, then he kissed her.
There was music somewhere in one of the adjacent houses and after they parted, Draco took Astoria’s hand and guided her into a slow waltz. She smiled at him.
“Let’s never stop dancing, okay?” she whispered.
He nodded, pulled her a little closer and murmured close to her ear, “So, no Murano, then?”
She giggled, flushed and giggled some more. “Later, my dear.” She said. “We have all night and I can’t drink, so we’ve got plenty of time.”
He smiled and closed his eyes, savouring the moment of complete happiness. After all, they had both always found there was never enough time to dance at a wedding.