Who: Astoria Greengrass, Stephen Cornfoot
Where: The Grotto
When: 23 July 2001, evening
Astoria was uncomfortable. Bars were not her scene. She’d hold a glass of champagne at a party, sure, but otherwise she preferred to do her drinking surreptitiously. A few glasses of wine in the bath at night. A flask tipped into her teacup at a boring brunch. But the more she drank the more she could suppress her discomfort, so she was already on her third lemon drop martini. And Ophelia had abandoned her momentarily for the restroom, so she was draining this one quickly, since she didn’t know what else to do with herself.
From the corner of her eye she saw someone slide into the barstool next to her, and she turned, assuming it was Ophelia. “I want to go home,” she announced, and then frowned when she realized it wasn’t her friend at all. “My friend was sitting there,” she informed him.
“She was, past tense,” Stephen agreed with a nod. “But it was most definitely vacant but a moment ago.” She was frowning at him, which didn’t seem to be the most auspicious of starts, but he’d already consumed a few glasses of wine — close to a bottle, in fact — and the alcohol had emboldened him.
All he wanted to do was make her smile. Or anyone smile, for that matter. In a town dominated by Hufflepuffs, he had seemed to garner glares everywhere he went following the revelation of his paternity. Then there were fires putting everyone on edge, including him. And now Lavender had dumped him. Why was it so hard to find a woman who wanted an actual relationship?
Stephen turned on one of his own smiles, an arrogant half-smirk that seemed forever destined to win witches but not keep them. “Besides, someone as gorgeous as you doesn’t deserve to be abandoned. May I please buy you a drink?”
Astoria sat frozen for a moment, with something of a confused scowl on her face. She was so bad at this flirting business. But she should probably practice, right? And he wanted to buy her a drink, which was nice, and he’d called her gorgeous, which was very nice. She stared at her nearly-empty glass a moment longer before taking a deep breath and suddenly turning back to him with a more neutral expression. “I suppose I could allow that,” she said, and turned in her barstool so her body was angled toward his. “But you’ll have to remind me your name, first. I couldn’t let a stranger buy me a drink.” Maybe she shouldn’t let anyone buy her a drink. Or maybe she should? She felt so mixed up, and she unconsciously rubbed the spot on her left hand where her engagement ring used to be.
His smile grew a little. “Oh, yes. How remiss of me.” The same attention to detail that had made Stephen a good assistant to his biological father meant that he noticed the movement of her fingers. No ring on her hand was good. The fact that she didn’t know his name either was refreshing. “It’s Stephen Cornfoot. But you’re welcome to call me Ste.”
He glanced at her glass. “Same again?” he asked.
Stephen Cornfoot. That name sounded familiar. Astoria paused, trying to place it — she always felt it was important to know what you could about everyone you spoke to, so you could treat them accordingly. “Oh,” she said, when it clicked. “You’re the one who’s Orpington’s son.” She stated it as a fact, without any particular concern. It wasn’t the most prestigious background, to be sure, but at least he wasn’t — you know — Muggleborn. “Yes, I’ll have a lemon drop, please.”
“I’ve never met anyone called Ste, before,” she remarked conversationally. OK, this flirting thing wasn’t so bad, if you just thought of it as talking to people. Just because she let him buy her a drink didn’t mean she had to kiss him or anything. Or did it? She watched his mouth as he responded, trying to decide how she would feel about kissing him. He certainly wasn’t bad looking. She blushed a little, for no apparent reason.
“Apparently so,” he agreed. “Orpington’s son and a variety of other things if you believe the Prophet. But you seem far too smart to believe all their sort of nonsense.” A lie, but one that came easily after all the wine. Speaking of which… He signalled to Llewellyn behind the bar, ordering their drinks: wine for him and a lemon drop for her. His head swam a little as he moved; he couldn’t quite feel his face.
“Well, I was never much of a Steve or a Stevie.” Leaning his elbow on the bar, his body angled towards her, he gave a one-shouldered shrug. “I’ve told you my name. Do I get the pleasure of yours?”
“Astoria Greengrass,” she replied. “Daphne’s sister, if you know her. And I find the Prophet very hard to believe most of the time, these days.” She sipped her lemon drop and decided that he was handsome, but not as handsome as Idris — a thought that was somewhat painful, and quickly reminded her of Cary, and his horrible finger, and — she winced and took a rather large sip as though she could wash the memory away. “Whoops,” she said, as she suddenly seemed to lose her balance on her stool for no reason at all, and she had to grab onto his shoulder to keep from sliding off.
“Sorry,” she said, but didn’t take her hand away — she just stared rather blearily at it, as though she’d never seen it before. His shoulder felt nice. She never touched any boys and they never touched her. That was for slags like Heidi MacDonald. But his shoulder felt nice.
“I’m the one who got a finger in the post the other day,” she announced, suddenly taking her hand away. Oh, why had she said that? That was exactly what she was trying not to think about.
He nodded. “I was at school with Daphne.” A pretty brunette Slytherin — traits that seemed to run in the family — and one he’d seen around Helga’s Hill. He had to hope that Orpington hadn’t tried it on with either of the Greengrasses; Stephen had tried to keep track of his dalliances, but more than a few had slipped past his notice. Sometimes it was the ones he had flaunted, though, that had been worse. Like Lavender. Stephen took a long swallow of his drink as he thought of the Gryffindor with the pretty blonde hair and dazzling smile. How could she do that to me?
“Careful there,” Stephen murmured, even as he wobbled a bit on his own stool, his hand going to her waist to steady her. “Don’t want to do yourself a damage.”
As Astoria took her hand away, he let his own linger for a moment before withdrawing it. “I read about that. How awful.” He had only a moment to decide. Give her sympathy or change the subject. ”It must have been horrible. Are you okay?”
“Erm.” What were they talking about, again? She had found his hand on her waist very distracting. This was why bars were tricky, you got drunk in public and then you late strange boys touch you and you liked it. “Oh! The finger. Yes, quite.” But she was tipsy enough to lean in again — experimentally resting her hand on his shoulder on purpose this time — and confide, “But it was the most interesting thing that’s happened to me in ages. This town is so boring.” Not that her life before moving to Helga’s Hill had exactly been action-packed, really, but that was beside the point.
Stephen made a small noise that could have been interest or compassion. Mostly, though, he was just trying not to smile too much. Her hand was back on his shoulder and he was taking that as a good sign. “A few months ago, I might have agreed. Now it seems like death and destruction are everywhere. And a lot of… interesting people.” The edge of his mouth curled into a smirk. “Maybe you need to make your own excitement.”
“Like how?” Astoria responded. In typical Astoria fashion, she was being more naive and direct than intentionally flirty. If Stephen had ideas for how not to be bored all the time, she’d love to hear them. So far her best solutions were drinking, reading, and going on long wandering walks. Dull. She dropped her hand from his shoulder and took another sip of her drink, but kept her eyes locked on his as she waited for his response.
He narrowed his eyes slightly, playfully looking her up and down. “How about… randomly kissing a near-stranger in a bar?” Before she could respond, he dipped his head to press his lips to hers.
Astoria kissed him back automatically, and by the time her brain started to intervene, she was already thinking about how it was… kind of nice. Different from kissing Alexander. She hadn’t realized kissing could feel different. And she hadn’t realized how much she’d missed being kissed. She grabbed him by the shoulders to lean in more but her wobbling bar stool was a sudden reminder of where they were and she let go and pulled back abruptly. “We are in public,” she said, almost as though chastising herself. “I am not doing this here.”
Stephen bit his lip. His head was spinning a little, but he wasn’t sure if the cause was Astoria or the wine. Her words hit him sharply and almost immediately he felt as though he was being watched. He turned his head to look around the bar with what he hoped was a casual movement, but he was really seeking out one person. There she was. Lavender. As blonde as Astoria was dark. He wanted to see her burn with discontent. He turned his attention back to Astoria. “We could always go somewhere else.”
Somewhere… else? Astoria looked around for Ophelia with a slightly panicked look. She had a lot of thoughts crowding her mind, and it would have been very helpful to have her friend tell her just what to do. Whether she should seize the day, or whether she was mad to even consider it. Respectable girls didn’t just go home with boys from bars. But she could give him rules, like she had with Alexander — about clothes, and touching, and not lying down… She felt overwhelmed, and her martinis were starting to make themselves known in a queasy, unpleasant sort of way. Her face was flushed pink but she kept her expression cool as she replied, “No, thank you, I don’t think so.”
Because she didn’t really want to go kiss this boy in a sweaty tangle on his couch. Or in some dark alley somewhere if, God forbid, that was more what he had in mind. She was realizing that she just wanted to be engaged again, and do this all properly, and it was a melancholy and frustrating sort of thought.
The smile stayed on Stephen’s lips, but the playfulness faded from his eyes. Everyone was out to bring him disappointment, the whole world against him. “A shame,” he told her gently, lifting his hand to carefully brush a flyaway hair from her cheek.
“Well, if you ever change your mind.” He fumbled in his pocket, a couple of knuts escaping and bouncing onto the floor. Stephen ignored them. Instead, he pulled out one of the business cards that he had taken to carrying around since he had started working for Orpington. “You can always owl me. Or I can buy you and your friend another drink.” He needed more wine.
Astoria took the card, intrigued, but informed him, “I think it’s more appropriate for you to reach out to me, don’t you?” From the corner of her eye she finally saw Ophelia headed back toward them, and she hastily tucked the card away and flashed Stephen just the tiniest smile before she spun round in her stool to face away from him and toward her friend instead. She didn’t want to tell Ophelia what had happened, not just yet. She wanted to turn it over in her mind a bit more, and it was kind of thrilling to have a secret. And now this was the most exciting thing to have happened to her in a while — much better than some awful severed finger.
“Perhaps. And perhaps you might find it fun being a little inappropriate. Hope I’ll see you soon, Astoria.” He smirked as she tucked the card away, picking up his glass. He gave her a last look before slipping quietly away, sure that he would see her again.