Title: A Thousand Words (ch 8)
Summary: Of life-changing decisions, unwanted assistants, and tea shops.
Draco woke up the next morning to the glare of the sunlight in his eyes. His first impulse was to grab his head, roll over, and vomit his insides out; however, the pounding headache that wracked his brain prevented him from doing anything but groan pitifully.
‘Lydig,’ he moaned, unable to raise his voice to anything above a whisper.
Thankfully, the magic that bound the house-elf to Draco assured that it would hear Draco no matter how far apart they were; and, sure enough, Lydig appeared immediately at Draco’s bedside with a loud crack.
‘Master called?’ Lydig squeaked, gazing warily at the disgruntled-looking Draco.
‘Find some way to rid me of this headache,’ mumbled Draco into his pillow, ‘and close the blasted curtains; it’s bright enough to wake up an entire town in here.’
Draco listened to the scurrying of Lydig’s feet as he ran to do as his master had ordered. When at last the blinds were drawn tightly, Draco opened one eye expectantly, gestured at his forehead, and muttered, ‘Now do something about this.’
‘Lydig – Lydig is afraid he is not knowing how, sir –’
Draco glared at Lydig. The house-elf’s ears oversized ears were drooping and he had a look of absolute terror in his great eyes. Draco did not have the heart to reprimand him, so instead, he said resignedly, ‘Fix me some breakfast, then, and I’ll try to brew something later today to help me lose the migraine.’
‘Yes, Master,’ said Lydig at once, sounding greatly relieved. With a deep bow, he hurried out of Draco’s bedroom.
While Draco waited for Lydig to return, he gazed blankly up at his dusty ceiling. He tried desperately to remember what had possessed him to buy – and drink – a bottle of Hell’s Wrath, but he found it impossible to come up with a reason that would justify such a drastic and stupid move.
At long length, Draco became away of a faint rustling coming from the other end of his bedroom. Lifting his head a quarter of an inch off his pillow, he looked around and saw, to his utter bewilderment, a snowy white owl sitting in a brass cage atop his dresser.
‘What the – ?’
The recollection of his visit to Eeylop’s the previous day jumped into Draco’s mind, cutting his sentence off. He bit back a yell of frustration when he realised he was now stuck with an owl he didn’t want.
The owl – what was her name? Latera, the clerk had said? – blinked at Draco. Draco glared back.
‘Fine!’ he said out loud. Reaching over to his nighttable, he wrapped his fingers around the handle of his wand, pointed it at the birdcage (he didn’t have the strength to lift it up), and thought, Alohomora!
The door of the cage flew open with a loud clang which caused Draco to clap his hands to his ears and groan in pain. However, the noise did not bother him so much as the fact that, upon finally being let out of her cage, Latera promptly flew down to her new master and landed on his head, digging her sharp claws into his cheeks to steady herself.
‘Argh!’ Draco yelled, waving his arms around frantically to get the owl off his face. ‘Go away, you effing beast!’
Latera simply stared at Draco, her round amber eyes unfazed.
At long last, Draco ceased his struggles. He was tired, his head was throbbing more than ever, and Lydig had not yet arrived with his breakfast so he was hungry as well. Sighing, he buried his face back into his pillow and mumbled grumpily, ‘The rest of today better be a hell of a good day to make up for this…’
As it turned out, the rest of the day did end up going so well that all thoughts of the disagreeable morning were gone from Draco’s mind by nighttime. There was one sole reason for this: Starlight’s letter.
It was the first thing Draco saw when he stepped into his office. Someone had dropped it on top of his desk while he’d been gone.
Draco crossed the room in two long strides and grabbed the letter eagerly. He turned it over and glanced at the address: nothing but a simple ‘Shadow’ written in green ink. He then flipped the letter back around and broke the wax seal, eager to see what Starlight had to say.
Something deep inside twinged uneasily as Draco unfolded the parchment and smoothed it out. He knew the uneasiness was a result of something he had written in his letter to her the day before; it had been bothering him since he woke up. Unfortunately, he couldn’t remember for the life of him what he had written that was so bad, and so it was with a strong sense of apprehension that he began to read Starlight’s reply.
It took several readings of the letter before Draco was able to absorb the last paragraph: She wanted to meet him. In person.
The bottom of his stomach seemed to drop at the very thought. She had urged him to wear a disguise so that neither of them would find out who the other was, but still…it made him rather queasy just thinking about what she would say and do if she found out who he was. Run away in fear? Look at him with utter repulsion in her eyes?
‘I have to say no,’ he muttered wildly to himself as he stood up abruptly and began to pace the length of his office. ‘I can’t meet her. Not this soon. No, I can’t do it…’
And yet though he continued to mumble these refusals underneath his breath, Draco couldn’t help but imagine how it would feel to just sit down and talk…talk to someone who would listen…
Against his better will, Draco returned to his desk and sat down heavily in his chair. He gazed at Starlight’s letter for many long minutes, desperately trying to decide what to do. Should he agree to her request, agree to meet her and possibly risk their faint friendship? Or should he take the safer, lonelier path and refuse, a choice that would allow him hide behind a page of words forever?
You also risk falling in love, a sly voice in the back of Draco’s mind pointed out.
‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ said Draco out loud. He glared angrily at the wax otter. ‘For all I know, she could be a forty-year old witch with a bad complexion and a poor back!’
Why so shallow? scolded the voice. Look at your own face…
‘Leave me alone,’ Draco growled. He rubbed his temples, trying to rid himself of his slowly-returning headache.
Very well…if not love, at least a friendship so deep that you’ll no longer be able to stand her not knowing your identity…
‘That won’t happen,’ said Draco firmly, wishing he was as sure of this assertion as he sounded, ‘I won’t let it. We’ve been writing to each other for two weeks now and we’re only correspondents.’
If that’s so, murmured the voice, sounding amused, why do you fear scaring her off?
‘I said, leave me the hell alone!’ said Draco loudly, gripping the edge of his desk so tightly that his knuckles turned white. ‘I’ll do it!’
The words were out of Draco’s mouth before he had the chance to consider them. His heartbeat quickened considerably when he realised that, now that he had said it out loud, there was no way he bring himself to go back and rethink his decision.
‘It’s just a meeting,’ he assured himself in low tones as he unscrewed the cap on his ink bottle and dipped a quill into it. ‘Just a meeting…’ he repeated quietly before bringing out a clean sheet of parchment and scrawling a few short sentences on it:
Meet me tomorrow evening by the pond in Sherwood Park. Be there no later than seven o’clock. Wear your cloak and tap me on the left shoulder when you arrive.
Not wishing to doubt his decision any further, Draco quickly folded his letter the moment he finished writing it and stuffed it into an envelope, which he addressed ‘Starlight’. Then, Draco stood up and walked over to the Ministry owl he always kept in his office.
However, as he made to tie the letter onto the owl’s leg, he heard a low hoot from behind him. Turning around, he saw Latera staring reproachfully at him from inside her brass cage. Sighing, Draco turned away from the Ministry owl and walked over to Latera instead.
‘You better find her quickly,’ he muttered, glaring at his owl. She bobbed her head up and down as if to assure him she would.
Once the letter was secured firmly to Latera’s leg, Draco carried her over to the open window on his arm. Just before he thrust her into the open air, he paused and said sternly, ‘I’ll be expecting you to return with her reply soon.’
Latera ruffled her feathers impatiently and bobbed her head once more. Then, she was gone.
Draco watched Latera disappear into the distance. When she was gone, he sighed and shut his window, wondering whether he had done the right thing by agreeing to meet his mysterious pen pal.
Despite his concerns about agreeing to meet Starlight, Draco couldn’t help but feel significantly better having read her letter. As he headed out of his office and to lunch, he even managed to smirk suggestively one of the Hit Witches, causing her to blush furiously and turn away.
Just as Draco was about to push open the door leading out of the office, he felt a hand on his arm. Looking down, he saw, to his surprise, that the hand belonged to Kay. She was smiling widely up at him and looked as though she desperately wanted to ask him something.
‘Yes?’ said Draco mildly, checking his watch to make it clear that he was on his way somewhere.
Kay noticed this too, and she quickly released Draco’s arm. However, her bright smile remained firmly fixed on her round face as she said cheerfully, ‘Mr Shacklebolt’s just told me that I’m to take up the position of your assistant starting tomorrow, sir!’
Draco’s eyebrows shot up. ‘Excuse me?’
‘I’m going to be –’
‘I know what you said,’ Draco snapped, cutting off Kay’s response. He noticed a hurt look flash across her face, and he regretted his harsh tone; however, he was too preoccupied by this sudden news to bother with an apology.
Since when did I apply for an assistant? thought Draco furiously. He glanced at Kay warily. He didn’t have anything against the young witch; she was, as he had said, much brighter than half of the others in his department. However, Kingsley knew that Draco preferred to work alone. Besides, his position called for him to do next to nothing: sitting in an office and ordering lower ranked Hit Wizards around was not a job that required more than one person to execute.
‘Er…’ said Draco at last. He still wasn’t quite sure what to say. ‘Er…let me talk to Shacklebolt about this, okay, Jamison?’
Kay looked slightly crestfallen at Draco’s response, but she recovered quickly and said steadily, ‘Okay, sir. I’ll let you go now.’
‘Thank you,’ said Draco stiffly. He watched Kay disappear behind a row of cubicles before turning around and leaving the office at last.
What was Shacklebolt thinking, assigning me an assistant like that without even telling me, thought Draco indignantly as he made his way to the Ministry lifts. I don’t even have anything for her to do…
Draco continued to fume over the appointment as he exited the lift on the first floor, left the Ministry, and crossed the street to a small tea shop called ‘Brown’s’.
When he entered the little building, his feet instinctively took him to his table: the one in the furthest corner of the shop; the one he sat in everyday for lunch. Sitting down, Draco did not have to wait any more than a few seconds before one of the eager waitresses hurried up to him.
‘The usual, Mr Malfoy?’ she asked enthusiastically.
Draco nodded, and the waitress sped off.
While Draco waited for his order, he gazed at the customers in the tea house dispassionately. He noticed that many of the witches and wizards that usually had lunch there around the same time he did were absent. This was rather disconcerting, for Draco had gotten used to seeing them at their usual tables.
What surprised Draco even more, however, was the presence of two new customers: Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley. They were sitting at a booth not far from him and talking earnestly to one another as they ate their lunch.
His interest piqued, Draco watched them through narrowed eyes. Ron held Hermione’s hand in his casually as he excitedly explained something, his free hand waving about to help illustrate his words. Hermione was leaning forward as she listened to Ron speak, an expression of enthrallment on her face.
Draco couldn’t help but feel slightly resentful that it was Ron Weasley sitting across the table from Hermione, and not someone more deserving. Hermione – whose intelligence he’d learned to accept once he realised that his life did not revolve around his marks – had always struck him as someone who would choose her significant others with the same care and consideration she used when measuring ingredients for a particularly tricky potion or researching facts for an essay. In Draco’s opinion, Ron was anything but the smart, accomplished man that should’ve been in his place.
‘Excuse me, Mr Malfoy, I’ve brought your drink.’
Draco was snapped out of his thoughts by the return of his waitress. She was holding a tray upon which sat a large cup of wild blackberry tea and a large slab of fruitcake. The tea Draco took gladly, but the fruitcake he had not ordered, and so he did not touch it, instead choosing to eye it suspiciously.
‘Compliments of Madam Brown,’ the waitress explained, beaming. She offered the tray to Draco again.
Shrugging, Draco took the fruitcake and thanked the waitress. When she had disappeared behind the counter again, though, he pushed the plate bearing the fruitcake away.
Once he was finished sweetening his tea with sugar and milk, Draco brought the cup up to his lips and took a tentative sip. Perfect. He smiled, enjoying the way the hot liquid warmed up his insides.
As Draco took another sip, his eyes fixed themselves on Hermione and Ron’s booth again. Hermione seemed to have forgotten about her lunch, while on the other hand, Ron was wolfing his down with wild abandon. Draco’s lips curled in disgust at this, and again, he couldn’t help but think fleetingly that Hermione was an extremely brave and kind woman for choosing to date an oaf like Ron.
The longer Draco observed the couple, though, the stronger the pangs of loneliness inside of him became. As much as he disliked both Hermione and Ron, he couldn’t help but envy the way their eyes sparkled as they spoke to one another, the way they smiled at each other so lovingly. This sort of joy and ardency was foreign to Draco; he had never felt nor received it. Naturally, he never showed this in public, for he had learned from his father long ago that love was a weakness for reasons that had never been properly explained to him. Regardless, Draco secretly longed for the chance to love and be loved, and this yearning was perhaps why he was so drawn to Starlight.
Once Draco was finished with his tea, he set his cup back down onto the saucer and stood up. He threw a few silver Sickles down onto the table then briskly made his way to the exit of the tea shop. As he passed Hermione and Ron’s table, he determinedly avoided looking their way, hoping they wouldn’t notice him.
As Draco stepped outside, he shot one last glance over his shoulder into the tea shop. His eyes met with a pair of curious brown ones. Scowling, Draco turned away again. However, as he stepped off the curb and hurried across the street, he could feel the burn of Hermione’s gaze lingering around him.
*scurries off to go wait anxiously for the next installment of 'Shades'*