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A New Tactic

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As Draco yawned for the fourth time in a minute, folding his arms and squinting his eyes against the early morning sun, he realised that he let Astoria get away with far too much, and that this might be a problem. She’d made the most of his sleep-addled state and inability to say ‘no’ where she was concerned, and it was because of this that he now found himself standing in the snow-covered garden without even a cloak to keep the cold away (he was certain he’d been wearing one when he’d arrived at Astoria’s home the previous evening, but he had no idea where his girlfriend had thrown it when she’d taken it off him and she hadn’t given him time to look for it).

“It’s still snowing!” Astoria gushed, happily ignoring her half-frozen boyfriend as she rushed out into the garden, the snow making a crunching sound as her boots sank into it. She stuck out her tongue and tried to catch a snowflake with it, going so far as to stand on the tips of her toes. When she finally succeeded, she grinned victoriously before letting out a light laugh. She was probably aware of how ridiculous she looked, but she embraced it.

Draco didn’t take too kindly to being woken up before eight o’clock, especially if it meant abandoning the warmth of his bed and being dragged outside, but the sight of Astoria so full of childish joy and excitement almost made it worthwhile. He didn’t realise he was smiling until she spun around, noticed his expression, and raised a defiant eyebrow.

“Are you judging me?”

“How old are you again, Astoria?” he said, amused.

“When there’s snow?” She pretended to think about it, then grinned. “Six.”

And with that, she went back to… whatever it was that she’d been doing before. This time she held out her hands, smiling as snowflakes fluttered down and settled onto her gloves. Draco could almost see the appeal of it: the snow had turned Astoria’s garden into a winter wonderland, and he was discovering that he very much liked how those little specks of white contrasted with her dark brown hair and how the cold had made her cheeks go bright pink, but at the same time… He turned to face the house. The snow would look just as lovely from the inside, where it wasn’t so bloody cold, wouldn’t it? They could curl up on the sofa, covered by one of the many woolly, colourful blankets Astoria owned, and watch the snowflakes fall in contented silence, or talk about anything that crossed their minds, as they tended to do, or perhaps they could move to the old piano by the window…

“Draco?” he heard Astoria call him sweetly.

He knew the snowball was coming, of course—Astoria loved to play, and he was willing to bet his share of the Malfoy fortune that she’d dragged him outside purely for this reason. However, he underestimated just how fast she would be, and his Quidditch reflexes were all that prevented him from being hit square in the face. He ducked, the projectile sailing cleanly over his head, and in the same movement he grabbed a handful of snow, quickly compressed it into a makeshift ball, and threw it back.

He caught a glimpse of Astoria’s shocked expression half a second before the snowball found its mark. It hit her in the shoulder, exploding into pieces that went flying into her face and hair. She staggered back a couple of steps, gaping at him with a look of utmost betrayal.

“You didn’t—you wouldn’t—” she sputtered.

“Yes, Astoria?” he said patiently, straightening up again. He didn't bother to hide his smirk.

She opened and closed her mouth a few times, but words seemed to fail her as she stared at him, her eyes wide with disbelief. Finally, with an indignant huff, she scooped up a handful of snow and flung it at him.

Naturally, this started a war.

The world became a blur of white as they both began to hurl as many snowballs as they could at each other. There was nowhere to hide, so they simply attacked, ducking and diving aside whenever they got the chance. The air was thick with the sound of snow crunching beneath their feet, his own heavy breathing, and Astoria’s shrieks of laughter.

Draco had never actually been in a snowball fight, as it was the sort of thing that his parents would have frowned upon. Interactions with Purebloods his age (who he’d never really considered friends) had always been strictly supervised—there had been no opportunities to sneak off and make mischief or simply play as children should do. He hadn’t minded back then, and he’d taken pride in turning his nose up at games like this, thinking himself too mature for them. It wasn’t until now, years later, that he realised just how much he’d missed out on.

As he got pelted by snowballs, he discovered that this was… fun. Absolutely ridiculous, but fun. He probably looked nothing like himself: his cheeks hurt from smiling, a few strands of hair had escaped from his ponytail, and his whole face burned with cold. He was laughing so hard it was difficult to breathe, and he couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt so light.

When he leaned down to grab more snow, he was suddenly tackled from behind and barely managed not to fall after taking a couple of staggering steps. He’d tensed on instinct, but relaxed when he recognised Astoria’s perfume. She had wrapped herself around him, effectively pining his arms to his sides. They swayed on the spot.

“Is this a new tactic?” Draco asked dryly. “It’s not very fair, is it?”

“All’s fair in love and war,” Astoria said in a sing-song voice. “Do you concede defeat?”

“Of course not,” he scoffed.

They both knew Draco could turn the tables easily, and Astoria seemed to be expecting it because her hold on him tightened. He couldn’t see her, but he could picture her mischievous smile, the smattering of freckles on her nose, her hazel eyes that always sparkled with amusement.

“We might be here for a while, then,” she said playfully, resting her chin on her shoulder. Her breath ghosted over his ear. “I’m not letting go until you surrender.”

“Isn’t this considered cheating?” he countered, his lips twitching.

“It’s not cheating, it’s winning.”

Everything was a game or a competition with her. Normally, Draco was too proud to back down from her challenges, but he’d learned that there were perks to letting Astoria win. Right now, for instance, he felt no inclination whatsoever to move. If losing meant being embraced by Astoria like this, then he was more than happy to forgo his chance at victory (and he would have won if he’d wanted to).

But now that he wasn’t moving, he began to feel the cold again. His jumper was completely soaked, and so was most of his hair. And he wasn’t the only one—he felt Astoria shiver, too.

“We should go back inside,” he pointed out, gently extricating himself from her hold and turning to face her.

Merlin, she was beautiful. Her cheeks were flushed, even the tips of her ears had gone pink, and her lips were chapped from the cold. Her hair was a damp, tangled mess, and his fingers immediately itched with the urge to brush it away from her eyes. He almost kissed her right there and then, but she raised an eyebrow at him, squaring her shoulders. “You’re giving up already?”

“I’m trying to stop myself and my girlfriend from catching a cold.”

“Uh-huh.” She smirked at him. “So I win.”

He rolled his eyes. “Merlin, you really are six years old. Yes, Astoria, you win. Satisfied?”

“Almost.”

Her bright smile turned wicked, and before he could react she’d reached down, grabbed a handful of snow, and stuffed it down the back of his jumper. Now it was his turn to gasp and sputter as she burst out laughing. He narrowed his eyes at her, but that only made her laugh harder. Before he could return the favour, however, she winked at him and took off towards the house. He had no choice but to sprint after her, still frozen to the bone but unable to hold back his own smile as they both ran, leaving a messy trail of footprints in the snow.