Like Water for Chocolate
A/N: After a quick sojourn back to Astoria's first year the rest of the chapter takes place a few weeks into the beginning of Daphne and Harry's seventh year (Astoria's fifth).
Special acknowledgement to caskettfan5 whose excellent portrayal of Astoria's sorting in their story Harry Potter and the Unexpected Dogfather inspired me to try my hand at it as well.
September 1, 1993
As she waited for her name to be called Astoria tried to gather herself. The Dementors had done a remarkable job of wiping away any nervousness she had about her sorting but unfortunately her thoughts were now consumed by something much more depressing. She tried to refocus on the positive things...the nice girls she shared a cabin with on the train...the handsome and friendly Prefect that had helped with her trunk...the birthday presents from her parents waiting to be opened tomorrow morning...but it was a losing effort. All she could hear in her consciousness was Daphne's voice crying and pleading for her to be normal and healthy.
The scary woman bellowing "Astoria Greengrass!" broke her out of her thoughts and set her feet in motion. As she made her way to the front she spotted the man in the tatty clothes that had given her chocolate on the train sitting at the head table. He gave her a warm smile and a bit of her excitement and energy returned. She wondered what subject he would be teaching as she gave him a small wave, not worrying in the slightest about the amused chuckles it caused among some of the other students.
As the hat dropped on her head she hoped the inside was cleaner than the ratty outside. Her birthday tomorrow was already being threatened by her confrontation with the Dementors, if she contracted head lice due to this stupid hat she would be furious.
"Have no fear," an amused voice intoned in her ear, "I have multiple cleaning charms in place. I will not ruin your birthday...unless I sort you in the wrong house of course. That would be most unfortunate as it could ruin your next seven birthdays." The hat seemed entirely too pleased with his joke. Astoria wished he would get on with it.
"Straight to business then. Hmm...another Greengrass...you are a bit more complicated than the last one."
'Anywhere but Ravenclaw,' she idly thought. From what she had gathered they all seemed dreadfully dull...even more so than Daphne.
"Not Ravenclaw you say?" the hat interjected. "I would agree...you don't seem to be too concerned with academics."
'Less joking, more sorting,' she determinedly thought back. She was getting hungry.
"There's one every year," the hat wondered aloud before setting back to work. "Yes...you have many qualities of the other three houses...but which house do you need...that is the question. Better be HUFFLEPUFF!"
She looked to the Hufflepuff table and the wave of friendly smiles that greeted her, spotting one of the girls she had sat with on the train as well as the handsome Prefect that had helped her.
'Well done hat,' she mused, quickly hopping off the stool and making her way over to the table. She hoped the food was as good as Daphne promised.
September 19, 1997
Astoria picked at her breakfast distractedly, her mind stubbornly focused on the boy sitting one table over. Yesterday had been a bad day and she had purposely avoided him...something he immediately picked up on based his worried expression last night during dinner. He was too loyal and caring for his own good and she adored him for it despite herself.
She had promised herself long ago not to get seriously involved with anyone romantically...that it wouldn't be fair to saddle someone with her condition. She would have frivolous relationships for sure...what's the use in dying young if you weren't a bit reckless after all? But she would save the serious stuff to Daphne...she was the expert in that nonsense. Perhaps that was why she had such a long standing crush on someone as good looking and shallow as Draco. In retrospect she realized how naive and stupid she had been. Relationships didn't work that way. Without stakes or commitment it was meaningless. Her feelings for Neville were anything but meaningless.
It was supposed to be one day...one day of teaching some spells and sharing a meal. But they were having such a nice time they never actually got around to learning the spells. So she came back the next day to teach the spells. Then she returned two days later to help out in the greenhouse and test the spells in action. Then Lady Longbottom invited her to dinner the next Saturday. Then they started spending time together while they worked on their summer assignments and in the greenhouse. Then they went to the muggle cinema with Harry and Daphne...and returned a week later by themselves. Thanks in large part to Neville the month before her fifth year at Hogwarts was filled only with good days...the best days.
So here she was...in a relationship...an honest to goodness real relationship...with the nicest and most brilliant boy she had ever met...and she was terrified. She no longer found any appeal in being reckless with her or Neviile's heart. This was not the plan. It was easy to get angry and immature with her parents and Daphne...they were stuck with her after all. But Neville didn't deserve that and she had no desire to be that way with him. She needed him and maybe more importantly wanted him in her life.
She was broken out of her thoughts by one of her housemates. "Are you planning on eating anything or are you just going to move the bits around for fun?" Madeline asked.
"To be determined," she somberly replied, never looking up from the table.
"Stop being dumb and eat," Madeline admonished.
"Yes Mum," Astoria sarcastically answered before taking a bite of sausage. The fact that her entire house knew about her condition was simultaneously the best and worst aspect of being sorted there. They had, to a person, furiously guarded her secret and helped her whenever she needed it. Unfortunately they were also ready and willing to call her out on her idiocy.
Stupid, loyal Hufflepuffs.
"You did something to Neville, didn't you?" Maddie asked.
Astoria's eyes shot to her friend. "How did you know that?" she asked in a hush.
"He came in a few minutes ago and he keeps looking over here. He looks worried," she replied.
"Shit," she muttered under her breath as she went back to stabbing at her eggs.
"You need to tell him, Tori," Madeline continued, "he deserves to know."
"Thank you so much Maddie," Astoria replied insincerely, knowing she was right.
Maddie tapped her foot to get her attention. "Tori...he deserves to know and you deserve him knowing. Life's too short to waste it on the boring bits."
"Turning my own words against me is entirely unfair, Mads," she half heartedly rebutted. Maddie was right. Whatever happened with Neville he deserved to know. Her mind briefly flashed back to Daphne's four day standoff with Harry last year and she realized her behavior was remarkably similar to her sister.
"Sod that," she muttered to herself as she quickly stood up to leave. As she began to move she felt a tug on her robe.
"Take this...you need to eat," Maddie ordered, handing her two pieces of toast. She was so glad she was sorted into Hufflepuff.
She gave her friend a grateful smile and began making her way toward the Gryffindor table. The palpable relief on Neville's face as she approached confirmed that she had made the right choice.
"Can we talk?" she asked tentatively.
"Is something wrong?" he asked, immediately standing to leave with her.
"Yes. No. Maybe." she replied quietly in frustration. "We just...need to talk." She grabbed his hand and pulled him out of the hall before she lost her nerve.
Fifteen minutes later they were seated by the lake, Neville's worried expression having returned due to her prolonged silence. Before she could begin he spoke.
"Are you breaking up with me?" he asked, confusion lacing every word.
"No!" she quickly replied. "Though you may want to break up with me after you hear what I have to say...and I wouldn't blame you."
"What is wrong with you?" he angrily replied as if it was the dumbest thing he had ever heard. "Just spit it out already so we can deal with it," he commanded.
So she did. She spent the next thirty minutes outlining her condition...the years and galleons her ancestors and her own parents had spent looking for a cure with no success. All of it.
She could tell he was grasping it but he deserved to understand the full weight her condition involved. She began explaining in terms that had resonated with her personally.
"Think about a glass of water representing a witch or wizard's life span," she continued. "Every wizard starts out with a full glass except for someone like Dumbledore...or Harry maybe. They start out with a bigger glass of water due to their power."
"So a bigger glass of water equals a longer life," Neville added, processing her words.
"Exactly," she continued. "Every normal day a bit of water is poured out until one day the glass is empty and they die. They may have physically or mentally stressful days that cause a little more water to be poured out than normal but that extra bit lost gets filled back up the next day once they rest and recover. If a witch has a child they have a lot more water poured out when they are pregnant but they can get the extra bit they lost added back over time. Are you following?"
She smiled to herself as he nodded intently, wanting her to continue.
"Because of the curse I started out with a glass that was only half full...and when I have a stressful day I lose more water than normal. But I don't get any poured back in...ever."
She could hear the sounds of the lake creatures in her periphery as Neville remained silent, processing her words.
"So how many years is your glass of water?" he asked.
"At best forty to forty five years," she immediately answered. He deserved to know the truth.
"And if you had a child?" he asked. This was it. He was the nicest person she had ever met and deserved to know the truth...regardless of its impact on their relationship.
"Subtract five to ten years based on how hard the pregnancy and childbirth turn out," she answered quietly, her eyes fixedly focused on the squid as it lazily splashed about…blissfully unaware of the drama and tension happening on the shore. "And the child may be cursed as well...there is no way of knowing until after they are born."
She had long ago given up on the thought of having a child and had been content with fussing over her nieces and nephews. She would be the exceedingly cool Aunt and she was okay with that. But with Neville...if everything worked out...it would be worth it.
As the silence dragged on she focused back on Neville, waiting for his response. He reached for her hand and began speaking.
"So my birthday...that was one of your stressful days. One of the days that you lost a bit more water than normal?"
She slowly nodded in confirmation.
"Why did you get mad at me when I brought the chair over?"
She felt so stupid at her answer. "I thought Daphne had realized I wasn't feeling well and had sent you over to help. It annoyed me."
"So Daphne worrying about you is bad?" he asked confusedly, making her feel like even more of an idiot.
"No...it's just...I know it's stupid but I hate it," she exclaimed. "I hate seeing my parents and Daphne upset about me so I try to hide it from them whenever I can. I can't help it," she finished angrily.
"But you deserve to know," she stubbornly continued. "You deserve to know what you are getting into if we become more serious. And I would totally understand if you want to break it off now before we get to that point."
Silence reigned once again as Neville pondered her response. She desperately wanted to speak but knew she had said enough. She had ten years to reconcile the implications of her condition and Neville deserved as much time as he needed to soak it in before responding. Finally…finally...he began to speak.
"What do you want?" he gently asked.
"What?" she asked confusedly.
"What do you want? Do you want to break up?" he repeated.
"Of course not," she replied softly. "I would understand but I don't want that. At all."
"And you promise not to try and hide it from me? That you will let me help you?"
She nodded her agreement immediately.
Her heart soared at the genuine look of relief on his face.
"The last month and a half...spending time with you...has been great...like I've spent seventeen years drinking water but now I get to drink butterbeer instead."
"So...I'm the butterbeer?" she laughed.
"Yes...exactly...and I don't want to stop getting to drink butterbeer."
She couldn't help herself and leaped at him...all of her pent up emotion releasing in one burst. Many minutes later she rested her head on his shoulder...her worries temporarily forgotten.
"We should probably head back or we will be late to class," she eventually informed him, getting to her feet and reaching for his hand.
"Let's skip class," he replied, pulling her back down.
"Neville," she admonished him half heartedly, "we'll get in trouble...lose points."
"Sod the points, I'm thirsty."
A/N: For anyone wondering the handsome Prefect that helped Astoria in first year was indeed Cedric Diggory. For me he serves as the perfect embodiment of Astoria's mantra: Life is too short to waste on the boring bits.
I've got one more of these to go before saying goodbye to Daphne, Harry and their friends. Thanks, as always, for reading.