A/N: This is just for my (and hopefully your) amusement. I own nothing and I'm not seeking any profit from publishing this work.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
As Draco gracefully exited the Floo and entered the Leaky Cauldron he silently exalted in the blessed sameness of the wretched place. It had been almost two years since his last visit but it was still as dingy and disgusting as he remembered, a place he would never be caught dead in if it weren't the most convenient route to Diagon Alley. It was a miserable place but it didn't change. That was something. That was important.
Despite his realization that the pureblood dogma preached by Voldemort and his father was rubbish he still wholly embraced the history and tradition that let it fester. He no longer thought he was automatically superior to the mud-, muggleborn, but he damn sure appreciated having a leg up on them in society and despite what Potter and Daphne had accomplished he still had that advantage with some of the remaining idiots in charge. And he was still miles better than the muggles. That was just an objective fact. He had magic and they didn't.
His expulsion from Hogwarts had been embarrassing and humiliating but he knew it was justified. But he was a Malfoy. Malfoys didn't wallow in self pity and remorse. They survived during the lean times and then flourished once again after the dust had cleared. His stellar academic record and behavior at Durmstrang during his final year of studies allowed him to regroup and reassess what he truly believed in. His additional year abroad after Daphne's revelation about Voldemort's defeat provided even more distance from the horrible mistakes he had and had almost made.
The time to merely survive was now at an end and it was time to start taking baby steps to flourishing once again. Potter's qualified acceptance of his apology had gone a long way to convincing him the time was right to resume public life in England and today was the day. Who knew sincere remorse and humility disbursed in controlled bursts could be so cathartic and rewarding? He wished his father could have learned that lesson but it was too late. His lifetime sentence in Azkaban had seen to that.
His mother had offered to accompany him on his impromptu shopping trip but he had adamantly refused. The days of riding on his parents' coattails were truly at an end. He was the head of his family now and needed to start acting like it.
The looks of disgust he garnered as he made his way to Flourish and Blotts were expected but he was used to that. He and his family had received their fair share of those throughout his childhood and unlike then now he honestly knew he deserved it. If Potter could suffer through such things and come out the other end then surely he could as well. He knew he would never win everyone over but he was certain he could change many people's minds. He was only nineteen and had plenty of time. He was a Malfoy and Malfoys did not fail.
As he was perusing the 'Muggle History' section of the bookstore one of the voices he had missed the most during his self imposed exile echoed behind him. He'd missed his first chance with her and righting that wrong would go a long way to start flourishing once again.
"Draco," Astoria Greengrass called out, "you're back!" His heart warmed as he could tell by her tone that she was happy to see him again.
"Hello Astoria," he answered, "it's good to see you." He meant it. As she replied with her warm welcoming smile Draco once again appreciated things that did not change. He had been such an ass. The fact that she would greet him with such kindness was heartening.
"Me too, Draco," she answered. "I wasn't so sure you'd be happy to see me now that I'm consorting with the enemy though," she teased.
"Potter?" he asked amusedly. "I surrendered that battle long ago. I may be be a bit full of myself but even I know when I've been beat."
"It only took you six years of losing to Harry but I'm glad to see you got there eventually," she replied with a smirk.
"I deserved that," he replied. "As much as it hurts to admit it I've missed your brutal honesty, Astoria."
Why he had preferred the blatant sycophancy and cruelty of Pansy Parkinson over Astoria's genuine offer of friendship he would never know. He would not make the same mistake again.
"Well I always knew you had it in you," she answered affectionately.
"Would you like to get some coffee?" he asked. "I just need to pay for these but I'm free the rest of the afternoon. It would be nice to catch up."
"Two books about muggles, Draco? If I didn't know better I'd think you really had learned your lesson."
"I have," he answered sincerely. "Potter, Granger, and your sister taught me that I don't have all the answers and thinking I do is a fool's journey. As you said it only took six years but it finally sunk in. Having father thrown in jail and getting expelled drove the point home as well," he joked.
Astoria's relieved smile warmed him. Sincere remorse and humility in small bursts definitely went a long way. It was good to know she still believed in him.
Astoria looked at her watch and replied. "I only have an hour but I would like that, Draco."
The hour passed quickly as Draco recounted his Durmstrang experience and Astoria briefly shared what it was like to be part of the Potter orbit for the last few years. He could tell she had left many things out but it was clear to Draco he had badly miscalculated which side he had chosen as the Greengrass family was thriving. He knew that already but having Astoria cheerfully confirm it was slightly depressing. Thankfully based on how easy their conversation had been all hope was not lost.
All too soon the hour passed and Draco was profoundly disappointed when Astoria looked at her watch and stood to leave. "I have to go but it was good seeing you again, Draco." As she began walking away Draco resolved to not waste his second chance.
"I'd love to see you again Astoria," he stated smoothly. "Could we continue catching up over dinner sometime soon?"
To Draco's surprise he was greeted with a new expression from Astoria. Was she uncomfortable?
"I'm sorry Draco but I have a boyfriend. A serious boyfriend. I don't think that would be appropriate," she offered with a friendly smile before turning to leave.
She hadn't said fiance so all hope was not lost. "Who is the lucky wizard?" he asked in his best nonchalant voice.
"The squib?" he asked unthinkingly. If his only competition was Longbottom there was definite cause for hope.
At her look of irritation he quickly backpedaled. "My apologies, Astoria. I didn't mean to offend. I just think you deserve better."
It became immediately clear to him how badly he had bungled the situation. The disappointed look he had become so used to seeing from her during their time at Hogwarts returned in full force. He remained silent as Astoria sat back down and began speaking, purposely looking him straight in the eyes.
"Would you like to know when I realized Neville was the one?" she asked, all signs of her previous friendliness long gone. She did not wait for him to answer
"Neville and I began dating at the beginning of my fifth year at Hogwarts. A few months into our relationship we started talking about our former crushes. I told him that despite everything you had done I had an unrequited crush on you for years. I even admitted that I still held out hope that you would redeem yourself despite all evidence to the contrary until the very end."
She was so shut off now, all of her prior warmth well and truly gone.
"It was the perfect opportunity for Neville to tease me and make fun of you and gloat at your circumstance. We both know you deserved it after how awful you were to him."
He watched as she smiled and gazed off into the distance. It was clear she was thinking about Neville. All hope was gone.
"But he didn't do that," she continued. "He actually said he felt sorry for you and that your loss was his gain. He knows who he is and doesn't have to insult others to prop himself up, Draco. Neville is exactly who I deserve."
He watched as Astoria stood to leave and turned to look at him once again. "It's not too late for you Draco but it is far too late for you and me. Good luck."
And with that she was gone.
As he finished his drink he realized how deluded he had been. Astoria was too smart and he had been too much of an ass to ever have a chance with her at this point. Clearly he had a long way to go in pushing down his ego to acceptable levels. Did it have to be fucking Longbottom though? That was just cruel.
As he made his way out of the cafe he was once again pulled out of his thoughts by a pretty witch.
"Draco? It is you! Do you remember me from Hogwarts?"
He did remember her. How could he not after having Crabbe and Goyle impersonate her for a year. No need to tell her that though. He had hardly noticed her at Hogwarts but he clearly remembered that she had fancied him. She was quite attractive.
"Of course I remember you Meredith. How are you?"
"I'm good. Really good," she replied as she eyed him. "It's a shame you are leaving. I would love to catch up." She was not being subtle.
Time to start flourishing, even if it was only for one night.
"I have all afternoon free and would love to catch up, Meredith," he answered with an easy smile as he escorted her back to his table.
As he sat down and motioned for the waiter he once again pondered how much he appreciated that some things didn't change.