Disclaimer: Harry Potter is not mine. If you want to know who it belongs to, ask that J.K. Rowling woman, I've heard she's an expert...
The (amazing) poem at the beginning of this fic is George Meredith's 'Modern Love, 17'.
Prompts: Draco/Astoria, jinx, fire, blue-eyed, snake, sick, warned, weather, storm, scotch (the 100 challenge by BlueEyes444 at HPFC), love can't tell time (Hogwarts Online, prompt of 4th November)
Thanks to: tat1312, for the encouragement
Notes: I wanted to write an unhappy Draco/Astoria to contrast it with the last (not posted) fic for this pairing I wrote, and then I just remembered this poem (my favourite one at the moment), and it all clicked. Some of the prompt uses are more subtle than others, and some I've changed the forms of etc, but I have used all of them.
Because the poem is so fantastic, I wanted to try to well and truly capture it in my writing - what do you think of my attempt?
Please let me know your thoughts at the end!~
At dinner, she is hostess, I am host.
Went the feast ever cheerfuller? She keeps
The Topic over intellectual depths
In buoyancy afloat. They see no ghost.
With sparkling surface-eyes we ply the ball:
It is in truth a most contagious game:
HIDING THE SKELETON, shall be its name.
Such play as this, the devils might appal!
But here's the greater wonder; in that we
Enamoured of an acting nought can tire,
Each other, like true hypocrites, admire;
Warm-lighted looks, Love's ephemerioe,
Shoot gaily o'er the dishes and the wine.
We waken envy of our happy lot.
Fast, sweet, and golden, shows the marriage-knot.
Dear guests, you now have seen Love's corpse-light shine.
One of my clearest memories of my childhood is the first dinner party I ever attended. At seven years old, Mother thought me too young to sit at table, but Father was adamant that I learn how to host events early on - and that this was a skill that couldn't be taught by even the best tutor, or even the best book: only by example. In truth, I agreed with Mother. But I never said so. My aim was to impress, not falter.
This is what we do, now, my wife and I. We host. We impress. We awaken an ironic envy in others that burns and simmers beneath the entertainment of the evening, and we do this tirelessly and deliberately, actors on a stage of our own making.
The room we dine in, too, actually looks like a stage, polished and magnificent - dressed up and sparkling, like everything here. And yet, it isn't perfect, much as guests might think it is.
This truthful monologue of mine taints it.
Everything has been scripted out, and following the script, my wife soon arrives from her bedroom (though to the rest of the world, it's not hers but ours), having finally managed to put on her glittering costume and its matching smile.
Unlike her older, bolder sister, this blue-eyed devil of a woman gets terrible stage-fright, but when it comes to the shameless play itself, to the time when she has to hide our sickening secrets (complacency, lies, adultery, violence: unhappiness) and make intelligent people into fools, she'll paint her make-up on and assume a flawless mask. This morning she was a deadly kind of beautiful, her anxiety showing as harshness on her sculpted face; but though her gaze is still discerning, it's kind now, too. You would come to this masked woman with your troubles; you would trust her. I know this woman intimately.
Talking, in our case, is ill-advised, but now we keep up a patter of surface conversation, getting ready for the show. Meanwhile I work on compliments for a dress I can only describe as an appropriate black, and I know that as her gaze reluctantly drags over my body, she is attempting to find the good in me, too. I would feel pleased that there was one person in this world who tried to look past what most people see when they look at me, but I know that if it weren't for the marriage that ties us together, neither of us would bother to care about each other. Tied up in inescapable knots so rough we have to do anything to get comfortable, we end up working for a common cause. Isn't that ironic? That the failure of a marriage can be what unites and harmonises its prisoners.
Our conversation before the guests arrive is not strictly scripted. Bored with a game we have played so many times, we improvise. Not even a word or a look bely the significance of what we are about to do - we don't want to jinx it, now.
But here - our first dear guests have reached the gates.
One minute warning. Take your places - centre stage - and enter, Greengrasses. Moons. Notts.
Like the snake that so appropriately represented us at school, we strike quickly. The most gracious host & hostess, the most golden husband & wife - that is our aim, the way we want to look, and we must make sure that we do in others' eyes. The very first clue is in our clothes, which coordinate, which complement each other. Close couples will sometimes dress similarly, and so we, too, in imitation do this, though subtly enough that it will look like an accident of closeness.
Hosting is an art that I learnt from both my mother and father, but mostly I paid attention to my (unsurpassable at the time, though look at me now) father, the dignified and smooth way he treated guests. My wife, on her part, paid more attention to her mother's attending actions; and so we both know what to do, the parts we play so easy to assume because they are partly based on ourselves. We do it so seamlessly, in fact, that I wonder whether this was how my parents did it, whether their light was as much an illusion as ours is; and that makes me wonder whether my own son will one day play the same game I play. Should I, as his father, teach him, attempt to breach the damning distance between us - or do I awkwardly say nothing, as usual, and merely hope he has a happy marriage? If there is such a thing, though I doubt it. Anything that starts off so happily, so passionately, surely must decline, rotting under a world of shimmering brightness. If I convince myself it's nature, perhaps it will hurt less? (I told you, did I not, that this would be a truthful monologue...)
We attend to our guests at all times, make them feel welcomed, at home, content. We ask questions, swap learned, often hearteningly disparaging comments about the state of the day; we show off with witty banter and quick rejoinders, and laugh at everyone's jokes - but especially each other's. For joke we do - this play is a comedy, remember.
The way to earn points in this game is to be subtle; the way to earn the audience's approval is to let them bathe in our gentle, happy light, a light that must never waver (by now, they all expect us to shine). Subtly, our eyes meet often, our gazes seeming to say words with no words. We share quiet, fast, sweetened moments across the table; others sometimes see, and think they are intruding on something private. There is nothing tacky about our pseudo-closeness, and we don't ignore our guests for each other. No, our love's glances are as ephemeral, fleeting, and convincing as our love was to us, once. This play is a comedy.
I hear, quite often, that other marriages are failing. I've heard a variety of reasons, each one a decaying, hidden corpse propped up against clothes, shoes, boxes of old love letters - gifts given to one another in happier times.
The difference is that my wife and I put on a better show than most. I am often asked how she and I do it, how she and I stay happy together. So many answers I have given, each one a lie because the truth is only ever an internal monologue. I want to laugh at them, these people-taken-in, and sometimes, I do. But I am jealous of them, too, so cripplingly jealous. The warmth I sometimes see between these couples is not always false. They may still have their duologue, occasionally, and the acts they put on, though thin, at least have some variety.
Though variety is not completely absent from our rehearsed gameplay: conversation is not always predictable, and my wife's sister knows her better than is safe. "You've changed, Astoria," she observes in today's last act, when a few of the guests stay behind for a brandy or a scotch, perhaps. The curtain is almost ready to be called (no encore) and we'll be shielded from bright lights by it for a while, but there will be one more storm to weather before the spotlights can be turned off, it seems.
No matter. We've managed to gloss over awkward comments before, and, as I once heard, love can't tell the time, even love decrepit, love false. We'll stay here all night if we have enough to prove - tireless and flawless in our act.
You've now been had.