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The State of Things by peppersweet
Chapter 3: home and memory
The door to Daphne's flat was nondescript. Nothing would have told him that a witch lived there. Astoria glanced briefly over her shoulder at the wall opposite and the floor’s other three doors, before drawing out her wand and tapping the lock.
However plain and simple the door might have been, the flat inside showed the unmistakable traces of a witch’s life. On a shelf near the door there was a Sneakoscope, a folded-up copy of The Daily Prophet and a moving photograph. Draco recognised the occupants to be Astoria and Daphne, both still in Hogwarts uniform. The flat was clean and well-kept, but bore distinct signs of shabbiness. Behind a tottering pile of folders and books near the front door, Draco could see a hairline crack running through the wall, and wondered if the papers and novels had been dumped there simply to cover it. Astoria led him to a door on the right, struggling with the handle for a few seconds. When she finally sprang through, Draco heard conversation within.
‘Sorry I’m late…’ she said.
‘How was the interrogation?’ a voice called out. Draco heard Astoria laugh, then she spoke again.
‘I’ve brought him back. Did you hear the speech, by the way?’
Draco took this as his cue to enter and stepped forward. The room was a kitchen, cluttered, flooded with bright, welcoming light. A large table dominated the space, covered in even more parchment and crumpled brown folders, ink bottles and quills scattered here and there. Just behind the table, an oversized antique radio sat on a cracked kitchen counter. Four people were gathered around it, each of their heads turned in Draco’s direction.
‘Good Evening,’ he said, scanning their faces.
‘This is Draco Malfoy, but you probably know that,’ Astoria pointed to him, and then to the other four. ‘This is Alastair, Fabian, Rowan and…well, you know Daphne.’
She crossed the room and took the seat beside Daphne. Unsure of what to do, Draco grabbed the last available chair in the room, seating himself next to Astoria.
‘So you’re the one we’ve heard so much about,’ Fabian asked, showing a row of brilliantly white teeth. ‘Astoria’s been talking about interviewing you for weeks.’
‘Well…’ Draco said. ‘She did.’
The five of them laughed weakly at this.
‘I should get you something to drink,’ Daphne leaned in and touched him lightly on the elbow, as if extending the hand that might repair their old friendship. ‘Tea?’
‘Two sugars,’ he shot back, immediately, almost forgetting to say please at the end. The others, evidently uninterested, all turned to look at Astoria.
‘Did you hear the rubbish Barr was spouting?’ Rowan said, and Draco noticed a slight tension in her voice.
‘Of course,’ Astoria said. ‘I’ll have to turn in an article about it for tomorrow morning, won’t I?’
‘I’m afraid so,’ Rowan nodded.
At once, the four of them began to discuss what Astoria might write. Behind them, the kettle boiled steadily louder; Daphne stood at the window, the cracked wood framing her. She’d changed a lot since those Hogwarts days, although Draco suppose that he wasn’t entirely the same person he’d been then either. Her shoulders were hunched, her robes bore a distinct look of shabbiness – they weren’t exactly cheap robes, but it was as if she hadn’t cared to look after them. A loose thread trailed from the cuff as she pulled mugs from a cupboard. He turned away and looked back at the group; it was always painful to see old acquaintances now that they were all in such disarray.
He guessed that Astoria was the youngest present. Rowan was possibly a few years older than him, with reddish hair and a keen, sharp face like a fox. Fabian had to be in his thirties, and was wearing flamboyant robes that suggested a Ministry position, something with a bit of pay. Alastair was the eldest, with grey streaks in his hair and an odd accent that convinced Draco he’d been educated at Durmstrang. He certainly didn’t recognise any of them from Hogwarts.
Draco could barely follow the conversation, which seemed to have turned to semantics, a deconstruction of every word Braxton Barr had spoken on the radio that evening. He was glad when Daphne tapped him on the shoulder and dipped her head towards the door.
‘We could go into the sitting room,’ she said. ‘Unless you want to hear this.’
He followed her through into the next room, where she set the two cups of tea down onto a coffee table and motioned for him to sit on an antique sofa that must have been salvaged from the Greengrass country home, for it looked completely out of place in the shabby flat. Daphne sat in an armchair opposite, lifting the mug so she could take a sip of tea.
Silence dragged on.
‘It’s been a while,’ Draco said eventually. ‘When was it, two thousand and one?’
‘I gave evidence at your father’s trial,’ she said. ‘Is he well?’
There was a coldness to her voice, yet it still retained the luxurious softness he recognised. The Greengrasses had never been an especially rich family, never of especially high standing, but Daphne had carved something of a name for herself in her time at Hogwarts. She had been one of the few Pureblood girls Draco’s mother had approved of. Daphne had the sort of cool efficiency and ruthlessness that made a Slytherin, and it seemed she had not lost it, despite the pitiful shabbiness of her appearance and flat.
‘He’s in Azkaban,’ Draco said shortly. ‘Yes, he is well.’
Daphne gave him a taut smile. ‘I’m glad my parents were never sent to that place. Do you hear from the others much?’
Who was there to hear from? He pretended to think about it. ‘Not really,’ he said. ‘I saw Theodore at my father’s trial, but the rest seemed to have disappeared.’
‘Blaise works for Gringotts,’ she said, her fingernails drumming a light rhythm on the side of her mug. ‘Tracey and Sophie have gone abroad. I hear Pansy moved to France.’
He felt a familiar tightness in his chest. ‘She did,’ he said. ‘She was murdered.’
‘I’m sorry to hear it.’
They didn’t speak for another few minutes. Draco took up his mug and sipped at the tea, willing Daphne to speak again, to say something that wouldn’t lead to another conversation about the past, their old and absent friends. He had not gone back to Hogwarts for that eighth year that so many of his classmates had taken. He’d only managed to pass a few N.E.W.T.s by taking correspondence courses from the Ministry, the bare minimum of qualifications he needed for a job. Daphne was one of the ones who had gone back, yet it seemed that she’d been no better than him at reconnecting with their old friends.
It was that final battle that had driven them so deeply apart. Some Slytherins he knew still resented him for his family’s betrayal of the Dark Lord, although he knew that most of them might have done the same had they got the chance. It was the horror of it that he knew all too well and they were so ignorant of: why else would he have stayed in the castle when they ran to join the Death Eaters in the forest?
The silence eventually became unbearable. ‘You’ve got a loose thread,’ he said, pointing to her sleeve.
She glanced down at her cuff. ‘I’ll deal with it later. Did you know that there are plans to ban robes?’
‘I’ve heard of them.’
‘They want us to cooperate with the muggle community more. Dress like muggles. Marry muggles.’
‘So I’ve heard.’
‘Pure blood is no longer something to be desired,’ she said. ‘In a few decades, Draco, we’ll all be half-bloods.’
This was the sort of conversation he always wanted to avoid in company. In truth, he didn’t know how he felt about blood status any longer. ‘Are you campaigning against it?’
‘Of course not,’ she said. ‘We’d lose over half of our supporters. The thing about politics, Draco, is that you often have to lie to get anywhere.’
‘What brought you into politics?’ he asked.
‘It’s cliché, I’m aware, but I believe I am a born politician,’ Daphne said. ‘The Ministry refuses to compensate for my parents’ deaths. I just want justice.’
He was unfamiliar with the Greengrass’ story. ‘How did-’
‘It was the stake-out at the Rosiers’,’ she said. ‘They were helping to coordinate the Snatchers. The Order of the Phoenix battered the place for three days.’
‘I didn’t hear about that.’
‘Burned beyond recognition,’ Daphne said, and the softness vanished entirely from her voice. ‘Astoria often has nightmares about it. She was the first to be told.’
‘And what do you do these days?’ Daphne said abruptly. ‘Employment, I hear, is difficult to find for our sort.’
‘I work for the Ministry,’ he said. ‘I…I have an apprenticeship in the Department of Mysteries.’
‘The Ministry?’ Daphne raised an eyebrow. ‘I’d have thought that’d be the last place to take you on.’
‘I think the belief is that it’ll be easier to watch over criminals if they’re in Ministry shackles.’
Daphne let out a short, forced laugh. ‘Of course,’ she said. ‘I hear the pay is good.’
‘Not particularly,’ Draco said, and there was no attempt to conceal his bitterness. ‘Not for the hours. Close to the courtrooms, on the bright side.’
‘Is there ever a bright side?’ Daphne smiled.
It was eleven before Draco left. The conversation with Daphne had lasted well over an hour: they’d spent a good deal of it talking about the legalities of the trial and the aims of her campaign. Eventually, a weary Astoria knocked at the door and told them that she was about to Floo home, and Draco took that as his chance to leave.
‘Just have to send a few letters, then it’ll be straight to bed with me,’ Astoria said, smiling, as the two of them descended the stairs.
‘Comparatively short, in fact, but I’m beat.’
He withdrew his modified tube ticket from his pocket as they reached the ground floor and was about to change the dates with his wand when Astoria stopped him.
‘It’s alright,’ she said. ‘Look, I’ll lend you some Floo Powder again. It’s cold out.’
‘I can stand the cold,’ he said, but she was already digging in her pockets.
‘Just this once,’ she said. ‘You can buy yourself some tomorrow.’
Home was the only thing he felt he could be proud of anymore. The smart terraced house in Kensington was the only thing they’d been allowed to keep out of the vast Malfoy estate. He did his best to keep it well, although it was a little crowded with the antiques and the furniture they’d managed to salvage from the manor. But the place had not once felt like an actual home. There was nothing comforting about it, nothing entirely secure. It was like a vacuum; he stepped out of the living room fireplace and scattered ash over a fine rug. The ash vanished with a wave of his wand, but at once the usual feeling of being inside the cold, dark hollow of a wrecked ship came back to him.
His mother habitually occupied the armchair by the window of the living room, and as he straightened up, brushing soot from his sleeves, she woke from her nap with a start and turned to stare blearily at him.
‘Draco?’ Narcissa Malfoy asked tentatively, as he went about lighting the oil lamps that were positioned about the room. ‘How was it?’
‘I don’t know,’ he said.
‘They printed your photograph in the Evening Prophet,’ she said, and her pale, bony hand emerged from the folds of her black robes to lift a newspaper from the table beside her. ‘You looked very smart, although those muggle clothes don’t suit you.’
He brushed a final speck of dust from his shoulder. ‘They’re thinking about banning robes, mother.’
‘Salazar, why would they do that?’
‘Muggle cooperation laws.’
‘They’re making a mockery of our culture,’ Narcissa sniffed. ‘Could you bring me a goblet of water, darling?’
‘Of course,’ Draco turned and left for the kitchen. The rest of the house was in darkness, as ever, but, then again, Narcissa rarely left the living room. In the absence of a house elf, it was Draco who cooked for her, who brought meals and drinks to her place in the living room, where she kept a constant vigil at the window as if perpetually hoping her husband would walk by in the street outside. He filled one of their oldest crystal goblets with an Aguamenti charm – Narcissa would not touch the glasses he’d bought from Diagon Alley, nor anything that came out of the tap, which she called the muggle contraption – and then brought it back to her.
‘I might go up to bed early,’ he said, and she nodded.
‘Goodnight, Draco,’ she said, and he dimmed the lamps for her so that she might sleep again. In the half-darkness, her eyes became hollows, flecks of light reflected on her irises like keyholes to the contents of her skull. He turned away, unable to look at her. It was often said that light revealed the truth, but the dimness provided a far more accurate picture of what his mother had become.
His bedroom was upstairs, were the house was far less tidy. Just inside the door of his room, Draco nudged aside a pile of books with his foot, exposing the peeling wallpaper they’d concealed. He flicked on the lightswitch to illuminate the room, using the muggle electricity his mother abhorred. She never ventured upstairs and it was truly his own domain; there was at least a sense of life there. It was a little like Daphne’s flat, except that hers had been bright and warm with voices. There was an impenetrable silence here, a mourning hush. A gauzy white curtain hung over a window he’d carelessly left open, and as he glanced over it moved in the breeze – his heart stopped, thinking of ghosts and inferi but, no, only his imagination.
Draco crossed the room and shut the window, cursing himself for being so foolish. His hands trembled; what if it had been Pansy, would he have been glad to see a ghost then? The truly dead never came back, though, and he knew almost for certain that Pansy was no coward. Still, he held on to a childish sort of longing. Perhaps, one of these days, she would ring the doorbell and be there in her customary cloud of perfume and cigarette smoke, her red lips distended in a sun-bright smile, kohl gathering in the lines around her eyes.
It was childish. It was only ever a childish thought.
He changed into his nightclothes mechanically, folding the muggle suit over the back of a chair. There would be another trial tomorrow, and another the day after, and the day after that. He would wear the same suit each time. Maybe the court would see it as a sign of austerity and of his repentance. He no longer owned smart robes. The ones from his teenage years no longer fitted him, and he hadn’t got around to buying any new sets. You barely ever saw people in robes those days. Society had turned away from the old magical way of life entirely.
He was in bed with the lights out by half eleven, shivering, trying to get warm. Not for the first time, he wished time could reverse – the Wiltshire mansion of his childhood had been warm, well-lit, with roaring fires in Winter. The Kensington house was by no means bad, but it was a far cry from his old home.
He was sick at the thought of the courtroom. He remembered the night before his very first court appearance, before he’d given evidence against Mulciber. Pansy had sat up with him all night to comfort him, and then she’d held his hand until they were right at the doors of courtroom ten. She’d only let go at the very last moment.
They had been planning to find a flat together back then. She’d waited for him to come out, all six hours of that day’s trial. She’d been dying for a cigarette break the whole time but hadn’t dared to leave. That night, they’d searched the classifieds section of the Daily Prophet for flats. Forty-eight hours later she was on a ferry to France.
He would never have known where she’d gone had it not been for the officers from the Magical Law Enforcement officer who’d turned up an hour after the newspaper had that Sunday morning. They’d explained in more detail about the terrible accident, gone on at length about her injuries, the way she’d been found broken like a doll in the bath, how he should maybe step outside for some fresh air, how he was to go down to the Ministry to help with their enquiries, to pick up the few possessions of hers they’d recovered. There was no family to give them to. He kept them, still, in a box at the bottom of his wardrobe.
Foolish. Childish. He screwed up his eyes tight against the darkness. It was not good to dwell on the past like this, to drown in memory each time he was close to forgetting. It was shameful. He could be in prison in a year; would people remember him like he remembered Pansy?
Draco sometimes wondered what it had been like to die like that. He couldn’t shake that morbid thought, not when death seemed to linger all too close to him. His mother had always said he had a vivid imagination. It was all too easy to close his eyes and imagine what Pansy looked like in that bloody water. He didn’t want to think about it, but to not think about it would be to lose her.
When he finally fell asleep that night, his dreams were plagued with cold hands.