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The State of Things by peppersweet
Chapter 4: a kindness
‘Mr Malfoy, did you perform the Imperius curse on the night of December the twenty-first, nineteen-ninety-seven?’
‘And were you fully aware that it was an unforgiveable curse and therefore carried the most severe of punishments under magical law?’
‘And did you, subsequently, perform the Cruciatus curse?’
The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth: ‘Yes,’ Draco said. ‘But it failed.’
‘But you performed the curse with intent to cause harm?’
It was pedantic, Draco thought, to argue the truth, but it may prove good enough to save him from prison. ‘No,’ he said. ‘If I’d truly meant it…it would have worked.’
‘But even the poorest of Cruciatus curses causes some pain to the victim, and evidence shows that a poorly applied Cruciatus curses causes pain that is duller, but lasts far longer, a common side-effect of miscasting. Mr Malfoy, this is not a question of intent: you cast an unforgiveable curse. You caused another human being to feel pain. We have evidence from ten convicted Death Eaters that you applied both the Imperius curse and the Cruciatus curse to Miss Lovegood on the night of her capture. You robbed her of her free will and, with other Death Eaters, subjected her to torture-’
Draco’s palms slipped between the chains as he jerked forward. ‘It was a kindness!’
The assembled jurors and Ministry officials shared a collective intake of breath, and it was then that Draco realised how he must have sounded. Like his Aunt Bellatrix, one who drew pleasure from the pain of others; he stammered the next words out in a rush to correct himself. ‘The Imperius curse, I mean, it was a kindness. A kindness of sorts. You don’t feel the pain if you’re under the Imperius curse. I…I was in control of her mind for at least five minutes of it and she didn’t feel any pain, I swear.’
‘Five minutes?’ Mr Beverly’s voice chilled him to the core. ‘And is five minutes suitable compensation for thirty minutes of unimaginable pain?’
‘I wasn’t there,’ Draco said quickly. ‘That was nothing to do with me. After my curse failed I was forced to leave.’
‘And thus you seem to believe you wash your hands of all guilt,’ Mr Beverly said. ‘Because your casting of the unforgiveable curses was a kindness.’
And it was, as Draco knew well; the feeling of being blissfully, exhilaratingly out of control, of knowing that there was nothing to fight for because all was worthless, all forgotten, that the pain in your body was no longer your own. To be under the Imperius curse was a kindness, albeit temporary, that cut you from life. He’d known it, once, cast by his mother’s hand, a quiet sacrifice that they had never spoken of, the spell that had saved him from a punishment handed down by the Dark Lord.
But not one person in the courtroom thought to ask him how he knew this, nobody picked up on what he had said; perhaps calling it a kindness had been too jarring, too distracting and, in retrospect, he half-wished he’d chosen a different word. Or were they simply prepared to ignore it, unwilling to hear that he, too, had gone through something similar? It was sympathy for the devil, sympathy for a Malfoy, hardly something good. Then the Judge called for the first witness of the day and his chance had gone but, no matter, no matter, the trial would surely drag on for weeks, would surely pull him back and forth through dirt and thoroughly destroy him in time. He could bring it up later.
A wooden chair was set out a few metres away from Draco’s chained throne, immediately before the Judge. As if sensing a witness was too appear, the chains drew about his wrists a little tighter, restricting any sort of movement entirely; the links lay cold and heavy on his skin, invisibly branding him.
The door was opened by a Ministry guard and a young woman entered. She was not as frail as he remembered her, but, ever since the war, she’d never been able to rid herself of the starved look of her face. Her wide eyes dominated her fine, pale face, and her dirty-blonde hair had been tied back in an uncharacteristically neat bun. As she took her seat, she turned for a moment to look at Draco. She did not smile, but there was a total absence of the usual fear a witness wore; he could not quite decipher the look in her eyes.
‘Do you confirm that you are Luna Lovegood, aged twenty, of Juniper Cottage, Catchpole Road, Cornwall?’
The ethereal, dreamy voice was familiar to him, although this was the strongest he’d ever heard it. He remembered her well; her wide eyes had fixed on him like searchlights that afternoon he’d helped the others snatch her from the Hogwarts express. It had been in the Christmas holidays. He would take food to her and the imprisoned wandmaker, Ollivander, once a day, and she would always ask him the time, what the weather was like, tell him she missed her father. She had always tried to make conversation, tried to reason with him, even pleaded – she reminded him, always, how easy it would be to run to the Order of the Phoenix, something he’d thought about often – but he had never once replied, never said a word. Possibly the only time she had heard his voice was when he put her under the Imperius curse and told her, carefully, to step off the train and follow him into the dark.
‘Miss Lovegood, could you tell us what happened on the afternoon of the twenty-first of December, in the year nineteen-ninety-seven?’
Still ethereal, still otherworldly, but her voice had a strange sharpness to it. ‘I was coming home for the Christmas Holidays on the Hogwarts Express. I was alone.’
‘Was this unusual?’
‘No,’ she said. ‘I was often alone at school.’
Draco remembered the feel of her mind when he’d controlled it; it had been light and clear, anxious but honest. She wanted to get home more than anything else, and it had been hard to persuade her to leave the train. All she wanted was home, the haven where she hoped war had not touched her father. Come on, he’d said. Just a little further. He’s here. He’s safe. It had seemed like such a cheap lie and she had complied so easily.
‘Did the train make it to Kings’ Cross?’
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘But I did not.’
‘Where did you leave the train?’
‘I’m not sure, but it was a short time after we’d crossed the border into England.’
‘Did you leave of your own will?’
She had lingered on the threshold of the compartment for almost a few minutes, one pale hand clutching the doorframe, her last defence. He knew he had little time before Crabbe and Goyle would tire of guarding the surrounding compartments. People were already panicking about the unscheduled stop in the middle of nowhere, the blackness that pinned to the train windows and hid the Death Eaters outside. He had five minutes to coax her from the train, five minutes to win her trust. His sleeves were rolled up and the tattoo was bared, but she came along like a lamb to slaughter eventually.
‘No, I didn’t.’
‘Were you forced to leave the train?’
‘I don’t remember.’
‘Can you tell us what happened just after the train stopped?’
‘Nothing unusual. It was very quiet. After that, the first thing I remember was…was waking up at the big house.’
And when he had led her off the train and out into the darkness, she had been so unsteady on her feet that he’d had to guide her, to take her hand as well as her mind and lead her on towards what he thought, at the time, was her death. He imagined that anyone watching from afar might have thought them brother and sister; they had similar complexions and, after all, they were both from two old Pureblood families, except his blood was noble and hers was traitorous. But if you cut them they bled the same. He’d known that after the first night.
‘And what happened then?’
Her voice was as clear and bright as ever. ‘I was tortured.’
‘Are any of them in this courtroom today?’
‘Just one,’ she said. ‘I don’t think I need to identify him.’
Mr Beverly gave her a kind smile. ‘For the sake of accuracy, we would appreciate it if you did.’
Luna Lovegood turned in her seat to face Draco but, yet again, there was still that curious look upon her face, neither reproachful nor frightened. And those eyes, still needle-sharp, impossible to look away from. In her cellar prison, she’d had a weird, submarine magnificence, for you could never see more than her eyes and the shapes of her face in the shadows that seemed to glow strangely green against the damp and mildewed walls. Hers were the eyes that watched him in his dreams, and hers were the spindly, clammy hands that would jerk him awake in an empty bed, always accusatory, always violent, now strangely calm and even accepting.
‘It was him,’ she said, before turning around again and removing him from her searchlight stare.
‘And what was it like in the manor?’
I was tortured when I arrived,’ she said. ‘And then I was taken to the cellar, where Mr Ollivander was. And…I didn’t know exactly where I was or even what time it was until I was rescued. There were no windows or clocks and we only had a candle for light, and it went out a lot…we were given bread and water once a day. Draco Malfoy brought it to us.’
‘Did you see any other Death Eaters in your time there?’
‘Not after the first night. After that, only Draco. I rather thought they’d forgotten about me, and when Draco came down every day I would ask him the time and try to talk to him, but he never answered. He didn’t try to hurt us, though, and he didn’t forget us.’
‘Presumably he would be punished if he were to forget.’
‘I don’t know. I don’t think they cared enough about us for that.’
He didn’t know quite what they kept her in the cellar for, because he knew as soon as her father had triggered that false alarm that his Aunt would have ordered her immediate murder. Perhaps, if Potter hadn’t turned up, she would have been taken from the cellar and killed in the night; perhaps he would have been ordered to do it, as the one who’d taken her from the train. A cyclical relationship they might have had. Her captor, her murderer, and the only words they’d exchanged had been in his head, all imaginary. He knew he wouldn’t have had the heart to do it anyway. He’d never been able to do it before and, besides, she seemed so harmless; the idea of her death was so pathetically pointless, surely it would achieve nothing? He did not share his Aunt’s bloodlust and he thought, if he’d had the courage, if he’d had the certainty of safety, he might have tried to save the girl.
‘Let’s go back to the night you were rescued, then,’ Mr Beverly said. ‘What happened then?’
‘I think some Snatchers had come to the house. Two Goblins and a boy I knew from school were put in the cellar with us. Dean Thomas. And a little bit later, Harry Potter and Ron Weasley were put in too. And then the house-elf Dobby appeared, and he got us out through side-along apparition. And that was it.’
In the chaos after the raid, it took him two days to notice she’d gone. They’d all been punished in some way for letting the Boy Who Lived slip from their grasp, yet again. Cruciatus curses all round: his Aunt had delivered the news in the same way she might order a round of drinks. Draco considered himself lucky to only have felt the curse for a brief, stinging moment, but the fault was all his – he’d known it was Potter, and there was no point trying to fool anyone that he hadn’t. He’d recognise the face anywhere, however disfigured, but while Potter was still alive and on the run there had been that tiny hope that he might have been able to get out of the war. Not to win it, not to lose it, not to retreat or run away, but simply to leave it, cease all involvement with it. Beg the Order of the Phoenix to give him a new name and a new identity, a life somewhere else, somewhere far away where he could not be found by Death Eaters. He supposed it was out of some misguided sense of family loyalty that, after all the tears from Narcissa, Bellatrix had been lenient. And after it was all over, it had suddenly occurred to him that he hadn’t fed the convicts for two days and descended the staircase to find the cellar was empty.
It was two in the afternoon before he was allowed to leave Courtroom Ten, long after Luna Lovegood had finished giving her evidence and Mr Beverly had dissected it for the court. To his surprise, he found himself sharing a lift with Astoria.
‘Atrium?’ she said, her ink-stained finger hovering over the buttons.
They waited for half a minute before the doors slid shut, but nobody joined them in the lift. Draco was in no mood for conversation, but felt obliged to say something to her, and so politely asked her if she’d managed to write her article about the speech.
‘Yes, of course,’ she said. ‘It actually went in this morning’s edition. I stayed up half the night,’ she added, smiling, and he noticed the dark thumbprint shadows beneath her eyes. ‘I’m waiting for the evening edition for the Prophet to see if any of Barr’s supporters noticed it…we’ve had quite the argument going across the papers since this whole bloody mess started…’
‘I’ll look out for it.’
‘I was thinking of working on our interview tonight, you know.’
‘I’m not sure I want it to go in The Spark,’ she said. ‘Oh, I’m freelance, strictly speaking, by the way. So I feel like I can sell it to anyone. The Spark hasn’t got the biggest of readership, so…’
‘It’s strange,’ he said. ‘To think of someone selling your story.’
‘Oh, I didn’t mean it like that,’ she said. ‘I don’t mean to…you can’t really put a value on someone else’s words. But I need to be careful who publishes it, that’s all.’
He frowned. ‘Not sure the Prophet would touch it with a ten-foot broomstick.’
She regarded him with a cool stare. ‘There are other newspapers, you know. Listen, if you want to read it through or anything, you’re welcome to come around tonight.’
She handed him a business card with her address on it, and he was forced to stifle a laugh.
‘I know,’ she smiled. ‘It seems ridiculous. But I paid good Galleons to get those printed, so I should really pass them around.’
He grinned and pocketed it. ‘A formal appointment. I won’t be bringing a bottle of wine, then.’
‘Oh, bring the wine all the same,’ she said. ‘It cheers me up.’
Imagining that the trial would drag on until the evening, Draco had told his manager not to expect him for his apprentice work in the Department of Mysteries that day, and he had little to do before going to Astoria’s flat. He stopped at an off-licence on his way back from the Ministry and bought two newspapers and the promised bottle of wine, although he knew the Prophet would just irritate him and that the wine was sub-par, reduced price, not a patch on the expensive stuff his mother still hoarded. Narcissa was fast asleep in her chair by the window when he returned, and so he crept through to the kitchen as quietly as he could to have lunch and read the papers. As he’d expected, he found his own face on page ten of the Prophet, a candid shot of him in the Ministry atrium, harassed and pale, beside a report of his ongoing trial and a recap of his father’s convictions. He wondered who cared, who was really following his case from page to page for the Prophet to cover it in so much detail. An entertaining read for the likes of Potter, perhaps. Draco read the rest of the newspaper in a temper and completely forgot to open The Spark and look for Astoria’s article.
Dusk was falling by the time he left the house, the sky glowing a dark, sick shade of orange, peppered by the occasional flash of a passing aeroplane. His eyes were tired, and the blinding glare of a twenty-four hour corner shop on the way to the Underground made him squint, the light imprinted on his vision, so that every blink brought another flash of it. The station was packed with commuters, but a small piece of luck showed him an empty seat between two tourists. He realised, then, that he’d forgotten to change out of his courtroom suit and was still dressed in funereal black. He hoped that Astoria would take this to mean he hadn’t gone home before visiting her, that he had some sort of life outside of the trials besides his apprenticeship.
Britannia Tower was near-silent as he climbed, with the faintest of scraps of conversation playing as he ascended the ten staircases to Astoria’s flat. On the tenth floor, he stopped for a second at the top of the stairs to catch his breath, cast a contemptuous look at the lift that was out of order, and then stepped towards the door of flat 10b. Unlike Daphne’s block, this was a purely magical housing development, an unplottable tower block invisible to muggles that rose straight from the roof of a tube station. He supposed you could see all over London from the roof.
Astoria answered the door almost instantly and he presented her with the bottle of wine and an apology; from an off-licence, sorry, it was on offer. She said it was no matter and told him to take a seat. The front door opened right onto a space that was both kitchen and living room, sparsely furnished, with three doors leading off at the end of a short corridor. Too small for comfort, he thought, then reminded himself that she lived there alone and didn’t have the family wealth that he had.
He had to admit to himself that he was pleased with what she had written. It wasn’t overly sympathetic to him, nor was it in the Ministry’s favour; even he recognised that he’d done wrong and there was no use in trying to deny it. The only thing that unsettled him was the paragraph she’d spent discussing the punishment that might await him, the Veritaserum and the Dementors, the lengthy sentences that had been handed down so far, a brief recap of the controversial defeat of the Minister for Magic’s attempt to ban the latter punishments entirely. In fact, Draco barely figured in the article, which had more of a general focus on the trials as a whole. This pleased him; the less his name appeared in the newspapers, he thought, the better.
‘Funny,’ he said, as she sat opposite him and poured them both a glass of wine. ‘I thought…well, I was rather convinced you were writing an article about me.’
‘Oh, no,’ she said. ‘Contempt of court, you see. I just needed to familiarise myself with your story. Understand it better.’
‘Oh. Good,’ he said. ‘Well…I was actually worried, but this…this is alright.’
‘Delighted to hear it,’ she said, sounding amused. ‘I’m afraid my article about Braxton Barr’s speech was savaged in the Evening Prophet.’
They lapsed into silence for a few moments as they drank.
‘Your evidence today was very interesting,’ Astoria said, setting her glass down on the table. ‘I think it changed everyone’s opinions of you.’
He felt his face burn slightly. ‘I should’ve kept my mouth shut.’
‘No,’ she said. ‘In a good way. When I left everyone was wondering how you knew what it was like to be under the Imperius curse. Someone suggested they look back at your father’s evidence.’
‘It was my mother,’ he admitted.
‘You should really be telling this to a court instead of me…’
‘I don’t want her to end up there again,’ he said. ‘And, anyway, she used it to help me.’
Astoria frowned. ‘Come again?’
‘I was…this is difficult to talk about,’ he sighed. ‘The Cruciatus curse was an ordinary means of punishment for those who’d failed to carry out the Dark Lord’s will…the ones who were lucky not to be killed, anyway. And if you’re not in control of your own mind…you don’t feel the pain, do you?’
Her frown seemed to darken. ‘I understand.’
It seemed easier to talk to Astoria, as if there was something inherently trustworthy about her. He looked up and met her eye. ‘My mother put me under the Imperius curse so I wouldn’t feel any pain. I’ve never told anyone that before. Don’t…don’t put it in a newspaper, or anything.’
There was a brief silence before she spoke. ‘I won’t,’ she said.
In the dim light of her flat and with the taste of wine on his lips, she almost reminded him of Pansy, the way the shadows in the hollows of her eyes were reminiscent of smudged eye makeup, the way she seemed so ready to listen to him; he set his glass down upon the table.
‘There’s nothing else I want to say about the war,’ he said.
She met his eye again. ‘Of course.’
He stayed at her flat for longer than he’d intended to, swapping stories about family friends they shared, the past, life before the war. She told him how – and it was silly, really – she couldn’t think of her life in any other way now. It was pre-war and post-war, two entirely different lifetimes that might have been centuries apart. Two entirely different girls. And he agreed, thinking of his life in much the same way. Pre-war, post-war, and yet he could not bring himself to talk anymore about that vague third section that cleaved his life in two, the war itself.
Draco left at half past eleven, when the wine was long-finished and even the busy road outside had fallen into some unusual silence, some anxious hush. He had missed the last train, but she offered him a pinch of Floo powder and a stern reminder that he should really get his own, directing him to the block’s communal fireplace on the ground floor. When he stood up, his mind reeled; it had been a long time since he’d drank so much, even if it was a discounted bottle of wine from an off-licence opposite the Apothecary.
For some inexplicable reason he paused at the door, caught for a second by the frown on her face and the dull grey of her eyes, the way they shone slightly with reflected light from the hallway; she hadn’t bothered to turn the lights on as she showed him the door, and they stood in half-darkness. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, as if on the verge of leaving, but neither of them moved, neither of them spoke. There was something about the way the dim, yellowy light from the hallway sparked on her grey eyes, the way both colours were so dull but seemed so radiant.
And he found himself, as if by instinct, suddenly closer, his fingertips trailing along the line of her jaw; her eyes shut almost expectantly.
He let his hand drop. ‘Sorry, I should go…’
Astoria stood back to let him through. Once in the hallway, he turned; her eyes were half-shut still, but her hand was raised in farewell, her customary frown back in place.
‘Goodnight,’ she said. ‘See you sometime?’
He nodded and left without another word.