A/N: This is an edit of the last "scene" in Chapter 31. I feel the original version is a little choppy and unnatural. I'll update it with this new version in a couple weeks maybe, once those of you who are interested have had the chance to compare.
The sound of footsteps filled his ears. He snapped back to reality, forcing on a smirk as Astoria pulled a chair next to his bed.
"Took you long enough," Draco admonished, playfully.
Without a care in the world, the Slytherin girl stretched her legs and balanced them on top of his, releasing a tightly wound yawn. "Soz. I was out with Ron and I lost track of time."
For a second, he wasn't sure he heard correctly. "Wait . . . " He shook his head, trying to process it. "You . . . Did you just say . . . you . . . you were out with . . . "
"Well it was more of an hourlong snog in one of those empty classrooms in the dungeons . . . but yes, I've been seeing him. Sort of."
Draco wasn't sure how to approach the topic. He opened his mouth several times, trying hard to voice some sort of opinion, but all he could manage was a look of complete and utter disbelief. It verged on disgust, the longer he waited.
"Let's start with the basics," he forced out. "What in Salazar's name does he have on you?"
Astoria rolled her eyes, lazily. "Nothing," she said. "Trust me, I'm as weirded out by this as you are. More, in fact. But . . . it just sort of happened. I don't know how to explain it."
She looked to him, brow arched. "You're not my father. I don't have to explain anything to you."
Draco opened his mouth, as if to say something he would later regret, but he closed it just as fast; making an honest effort to think before he spoke. "Listen, I don't mean to come across as though I know what's best, but . . . " His features softened. "I have every right in the world to look out for you. Weasley is bad news. You know that."
"I do know that," she nodded. "I know that he acted selfishly and cruelly toward Granger, but . . . I also know why he did it, and I can't fault him . . . not completely."
There was a brush of silence between them, as Draco listened.
"Okay . . . " he said, calmly. "What happened between Theo and Daphne was horrible. There's nothing wrong with wanting to forget about it, for even a short while, perhaps knock back a few drinks in the process . . . but I can't sit here like a moron and watch, as you do this. It's a vicious cycle. Same story, different bloke."
Astoria forced the tension down her throat. "You just can't be happy for me, can you? It doesn't matter who I'm interested in. There will always be something you disapprove of, some reason they aren't good enough."
"You know that's crap," Draco countered. "I just want what's best for you. And maybe Weasley isn't a bad person, but that doesn't mean he deserves you, or even a fraction of your time."
"Why?" she asked, tossing one look at him. "Because he led Granger to believe he cared for her, and then changed his mind as soon as things got complicated?" Her bottom lip twitched. "Sounds familiar."
Draco leaned back an inch. "That's not fair."
"Of course it's fair. Granger is a nice girl, and you're treating her like she's last week's rubbish. Why?"
"Why do you care?" he demanded.
"Because." Astoria cut in, louder than intended. "Because I . . . I know how it feels, don't I?"
There was a beat of tension in the room, as her words ricocheted from her body to his repeatedly. She tilted her head down, looking to the floor as though it was only way to keep her composure.
"The moment things get real, you run away. It's what you do. It's what you've always done."
"Astoria, I . . . "
"Don't," she cut in, fiercely. "I don't want to hear it."
Draco sat back, aware of the wall between them, and how foreign it felt to have that tone directed at him. They rarely argued, and when they did, it was never this serious.
She blinked away the frustration. "I . . . I should leave."
"Wait, wait . . . " He reached out, taking hold of her hand as she made motion to stand. "I . . . I'm sorry. We both know I'm an arse. Just . . . please don't go."
"You are an arse," she agreed, looking to him firmly. "An inconsiderate, self-absorbed arse, who somehow tricked a nice girl into having feelings for you. She's a good person, and you have been an absolute nightmare to her these past few weeks."
Draco swallowed. "I know." It didn't surprise him at all that Astoria was able to brush her own frustration aside and think of someone else; someone she barely knew, at that. She was living proof that Slytherin wasn't synonymous with selfish.
"I don't think you do," she softly argued.
"Trust me. I . . . I know I've been a dick, and I've certainly felt like one every step of the way."
Astoria searched through his eyes. "Then why are you doing this?"
"Because I have to." His face muscles twitched. "If I don't keep her away from me . . . I . . . I'll hurt her, badly. You don't get it."
"It's going to sound mental."
"Doesn't it always?" she asked, in a way that lifted some of the weight from his shoulders.
Draco looked to the girl. He was supposed to keep it a secret, but that rule didn't apply to her. It never did. Without really explaining it, he rolled up his left sleeve and showed his forearm to her, bandaged and swollen, before the truth came stumbling out from between his lips. "It happened a few weeks ago," he explained. "We were in the greenhouse. It was late. One thing led to another and . . . and she asked to see the Dark Mark. I think she did it to prove a point."
"She wanted you to know it's all in the past," Astoria gathered.
"What happened after that?"
"She touched it," he uttered, feeling his body tug him in two different directions; the two sides of him. "She's a Muggle-born and she touched the Dark Mark." For a time he didn't understand the significance, but he had learned the hard way. "I asked my parents, but neither of them seemed to know about the Dark Lord's little contingency plan. My guess is because none of his followers have ever been in close enough proximity to a Muggle or Muggle-born for anything to happen."
Astoria breathed in, silently. "Oh, Draco . . . " The pieces fell into place. "That's why you tried to remove the tattoo from your arm."
He nodded. Just the one time. "Since the moment she touched it, I . . . I've been fighting the urge to hurt her . . . to cause her physical pain. It's a fast trigger. I can feel it when she's around me."
"But . . . but that's horrible. She's supposed to help you with coursework. Alone."
"I know," he said, head down. "McGonagall and Pomfrey believe that I can fight through it, like the Cruciatus Curse."
Astoria fell silent. "Maybe you can," she voiced, after a few seconds of thought. "Love is stronger than dark magic. Potter is proof of that."
Draco tensed at the word.
In truth, there was another factor to the curse, a factor he kept to himself. It wasn't just triggered by the fact that Granger, a Muggle-born, had touched his Dark Mark. It was triggered by the rush of emotion that pooled his chest cavity, when he so much as thought about her. She wasn't just a Muggle-born. She was a Muggle-born he had fallen in love with, despite himself, and his curse was to live a life in which those feelings were impossible.
"She deserves to know," Astoria broke through. "She's the most understanding person I've ever met. There's no way she wouldn't help you work through this."
"Well that's the problem, isn't it?" he asked. "I know she would bend over backwards trying to find a solution to this problem, like she does for her friends all the time, but . . . but what if there is no solution? What if this isn't the only curse? What if . . . what if I hurt her in a way I can't take back? What then? She's been through enough. What she deserves, is a normal bloke."
"What she deserves, is a bloke who doesn't run away at the first signs of conflict."
"Not me, then."
When Astoria didn't say anything, Draco took it a sign that she agreed, despite her earlier stance. The silence between them stretched out for a long time, until finally, he broke it.
"You can't tell anyone," he uttered, as though it weren't the first time.
A/N: Right. This new version is a little less angsty, I think. Plus we get some more insight into Astoria and Draco's friendship, the way his decisions in both the past and present have affected her, etc. I also feel like, in the original version, Draco dismissed the Ron issue far too quickly.
I'd also like to know if any of the other chapters/scenes need a rewrite. Maybe the scene in the Quidditch Stands, between Draco and Hermione? Or even Astoria's talk with Theodore in the last chapter. Now that the story is complete, I've gone back and noticed some things that need tweaking lol.
Anyway! What are your thoughts? Should I stick with the original version or should I switch to this one? If you think this one is better, I'll tweak Chapter 32 as well, wherein Hermione overhears the last bit of the conversation, which, in this new edit, is slightly different.