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Chapter 6 : VI
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asking what things you have seen.
You're vulnerable in your head,
you'll scream and you'll wail till you're dead.
-Laura Marling, Rambling Man
In the days, weeks, months and even years to come he tried to reassure himself that there was nothing he could have done. Even if he had been able to do the impossible – running faster than light, apparition – there was no way he could have changed what happened that night and, of course, the Ministry didn’t hand out time-turners to the common man. Countless people reminded him that the past was the past, that there was nothing to be done and it was not his fault. To live and let live. He couldn’t. There was no way he could, just like there was no way he could run like light in his dreams, reach out a little further, fingertips brushing tweed…
Of course nothing could be changed. He wanted to change it all. No more dreams of the collar of her jacket haunting him, no more memories of the feel of her small hand in his in Hyde Park. To go all the way back to the start, to wish that on that cold day she’d carried on walking straight past the bookshop and bothered some lesser soul, fallen for someone with tougher skin and a shrewder mind. Someone who had the sense to see a liar for what she truly was, to see the story beneath the skin.
His flat became a fortress until the end of June. Pansy politely knocked on his door and fought her way through the stacks of old newspapers and the cut of his words. The closer she came, the more he felt he hated her, but when she finally took a seat opposite him and folded her hands on her lap, he gave in. She was there for sympathy, not for scorn. Blaise had been right; he would never have been able to strike her out of his life. He felt like a teenager all over again, burning with secrets.
The night stuck with him most vividly. All I wanted was to forget, she’d said. Was that too much to ask at the expense of his sanity? It went like this. The story had been unpicked and retold countless times, but he still thought he had a very good grasp on it. He clutched onto their last meeting as a sole survivor might to the wreck of a ship, fearful of the waves.
He’d closed his eyes, sick of her words. All I wanted was to forget. He remembered her voice distinctly, then his. Oh, just go and manipulate someone else for a change. The poor retort still stung; it was the last thing he’d said. It was muffled by the shield charm. Even so, he heard her impatient sigh and the smart click of her boots on the pavement as she walked away. He opened his eyes and let the charm drop, but it was already too late. The dark machine was powering through the orange-lit London night, engine growling, screaming along with the sirens in the distance. The city’s cacophony seemed a perfect soundtrack for the moment. He could not shout. She was stuck in the middle of the road, like a moth pinned by the wings in a glass case. Statue-still and white with fear. He couldn’t watch. It had always been a flaw of his. A moment later there was a hollow noise and then the screech of brakes, and when he dared to look again her eyes stared straight into his, glassy, mere marbles.
Little remained of the next day. Blue sirens screamed her away. At one she was in St Mungo’s, and at three he was certain of passing out in the stuffy, nauseating white of the hospital corridor. Daphne’s hands danced at the curtains around a sash window. Her eyes were red. A Healer hurried out, the white apron over her purple robes flecked with red. Blaise could not be reached and Daphne’s grandparents were out of the country. At five Draco and Daphne sat side-by-side in the corridor, silent and staring, somehow unable to look at each other. He was waiting for her to say I told you so.
At six a Healer took Daphne into the ward. At seven Draco had stretched across the row of hard wooden chairs and fallen into shallow sleep. At nine Daphne nudged him awake, and when he left at quarter past she was crying, wiping her eyes on the curtain, which would have been funny if it wasn’t for the question of her sister’s glassy marble-eyes in the next room.
Daphne had been the trigger. Fed up of it all, she’d marched into the bookshop at midday, folder in her hands, slamming the door so hard the glass shook in its frame. The shop was empty, a vase of sunflowers wilting on the windowsill. Draco was slumped at his desk in front of a newspaper, finger tracing the small print of an article about inheritance tax.
‘I’ve had enough. This ends now,’ Daphne said, flipping the sign on the door to ‘Closed’.
‘What the hell are you doing?’ Draco rose from his seat, but she silenced him with a glare. Stalking over to the desk, she dumped her back next to the Millitary History section – he inexplicably thought of Astoria – and placed the folder on the desk before him.
‘When are you next seeing Astoria?’ she demanded.
‘Not this again, Daphne-’
Reluctantly, he told her. ‘Half eight tonight. Look, whatever you’ve got to say now isn’t going to change my mind-’
‘I want you to end it with her.’
‘For crying out loud!’ he pushed the folder to one side and occupied himself in folding up his newspaper. ‘Fix the sign on the door and get out of my shop, I’ve had enough of this.’
‘This is for your benefit, not for mine! Tell me, Draco, do you ever notice anything missing? Anything out of place?’
‘Your sanity, perhaps.’
She snatched the newspaper from his hands, crumpled it into a ball and burnt it with a spell. She looked livid. ‘I’m not kidding, Draco. This isn’t funny. I’m trying to help you.’
‘Fine. No, I haven’t noticed anything.’
‘Things that don’t make sense? Days that when you look back seem absurd, even fake?’
She pulled the folder over again and opened it. It was full of newspaper clippings and dog-eared pieces of parchment. The first sheet was a page from the Daily Prophet, largely dominated by a group of photographs.
‘Photograph seven, Draco. Look.’
He bent closer to the page. They were prison photographs, each numbered and captioned. Photograph seven showed a girl with a heart-shaped face, framed by black hair that was matted and hung lank over her pale face. Her eyes were smudged with shadows and a graze on her cheek looked angry even in monochrome, but her mouth was twisted in a dark smile, barely discernible. You would have had to know the girl to judge her emotions; her soft features usually looked bright. She blinked at the camera, smile never leaving her face. He knew the name beneath her photo. It ran like ice through his veins; he was numb.
‘Her tattoo. That odd mix of letters and numbers. You’ve seen it before. Just think. You went to visit your parents a month ago, when they held a visiting day – you saw it then, didn’t you? Stamped on the wrist of every piece of scum in this country.’
He didn’t think to retort. The headline above the photographs read Delinquents leave victim for dead in brutal attack. Below, in smaller print, Ministry inspects the involvements of dark forces.
‘A joke with a friend? A postcode? Convincing, not at all…she’s just as rotten as the rest, Draco, and if you’re not careful she’s going to drag you down and down. She said she did it for our parents, but it’s not what they would have wanted, I’m glad they were gone before they had to see this.’
‘What if you’re lying?’
Daphne sat up straighter and fixed her fierce glare on him. ‘I’m not a liar,’ she said, firmly. ‘I am your friend and I’m keeping you safe.’
The two of them fell into silence. A lone bluebottle buzzed at the window. As if on impulse, Draco and Daphne turned towards it, and by chance caught sight of Pansy across the road, straightening an outdoor display with a smile on her face and the sun on her skin, blissfully unaware of them.
‘So you see why I gave you all that grief,’ Daphne said, closing the file as if she couldn’t bear to look at it anymore. ‘It’s a burden I’ve been carrying for years. She’s a dead weight on me and I can’t get rid of her. I didn’t want you to get sucked into all the misery.’
‘You shouldn’t – you shouldn’t have told me.’ The Astoria in his mind was too fragile and polite, too bookwormish, too quaint, too perfect. The Astoria that had raced with him in Hyde Park was not a criminal. In his mind she was not capable of violence, too brittle for prison. In his mind she was thin glass, yet he knew it was true; he recognised the stamp of Azkaban on her wrist. He remembered the story now, he remembered following the case in the newspapers. Somehow it had slipped his mind.
‘She would have done something serious sooner or later.’
‘She’s changed. She’s not…she’s not a criminal, Daphne, she’s far too-’
‘But you’ve never met her,’ she said, patiently. ‘Not the full version of her, anyway. I met up with her a while ago for a drink, and despite all the promises of change she was just the same. Boasting, brash – when we parted ways she only went deeper into town and, I tell you, not a scrap of tweed on her. She’s been using you to get at me, I swear.’
‘And yet…’ Daphne gathered the folder in her arms. ‘I said the same thing before she gave me ten stitches a few years back. I said the same thing before she started sleeping her way around her year at school. I said the same thing to Snape in his office when he told me she’d been caught stealing and they were about to bring our parents in. A fundamental rule of life is that people don’t change, Draco, not one bit.’
He didn’t bother to argue. His heart was sinking. He felt tired, more than he’d done in months, as if he was back to his humdrum January regime again. The city outside seemed cold, suddenly frightening, as if it was tainted in some way by the image of Astoria walking alone with victory singing in every step.
‘Tonight,’ he said. ‘I’ll…’
‘You can come over tomorrow if you want,’ Daphne said, pushing open the door. ‘I’m really sorry about this. I’ll invite Blaise and everyone. We’ll cheer you up. Just forget about her. See you.’
The door was closed before he could respond. He felt angry now, sick at the thought of being deceived, sick at being lied to, sick at being messed around – he wanted to do something symbolic, wanted to burn the sunflowers or trash the Military History section or rip to shreds every book she’d thought to pick up, everything that seemed to in some way hold the memory of her-
Instead he felt tired. The sign on the door still said closed. He eased the blinds shut and put his head on the desk, unsure of what to do. In his mind, he ran, and ran, and ran.
‘You need to put the past few months behind you. Just forget it even happened. The world’s still going round, everyone’s still going on with their lives – you can’t just drink yourself into a stupor every night and then sit in that bookshop staring out the window as if you’re dead, it didn’t happen to you. You’re still here with your health and your family – no listen to me, your Mum’s appeal was successful and she’ll be out in a month or two. I know you know that. There’s only a few months until they lift your suspended sentence too. Pull yourself together, Draco, there are people out there in far worse situations than you. Nobody died. You’re being childish.’
Pansy took a deep breath at the end of her monologue. She’d been speaking to stony silence for ten minutes. She bit her lip and shifted in the seat opposite him, rolling an empty bottle between her fingers. The nails were bitten and ragged.
‘I don’t mean to sound blunt,’ she added, ‘but someone had to tell you. I know that by nature you’re a grumpy guy, Draco, but this is beyond belief.’
‘In what way?’ It felt strange to use his voice.
‘At the end of the day,’ she said, with a weak smile, ‘nobody died. Daphne says she’s getting better every day-’
‘Of course someone died!’ he exploded. Pansy flinched. ‘She’s dead, she’s gone, of course there’s nothing alright about this-’
‘I didn’t mean it in that way-’
‘Well what way did you mean it in? You know it’s not her, you know it’s all wrong!’
‘Daphne says the Healers are working hard and she could be back-’
‘Yeah, in twenty years, in thirty-’ his voice had risen in volume. ‘In twenty years she’ll be forty, Pansy, that’s no life for anyone.’
‘You’re missing the point.’ She placed the bottle back on the table, the click of glass an audible full stop at the end of her sentence.
‘Stop being such a twat,’ she snapped. ‘She’s still very much alive and breathing, and if you really do feel so strongly about her you should have the sense to keep back and give her time to recover.’
‘I don’t…feel, or whatever. It’s not her.’
‘Do you need me to spell it out for you? It’s her. It will be her by the time the treatment is over, and whether that takes twenty or thirty years it doesn’t matter, because eventually you’ll have your freaky girlfriend back. But right now she’s confused and she can barely even write her own name, and I’ve been with Daphne to see her and, honestly, she’s like someone’s lost child, but she’s still there. She knows who Daphne is and she’ll probably know who you are too soon, but right now she’s not dead and you should show some bloody respect for Daphne and all she’s going through, because right now you’re being rude and selfish, and, frankly, you disgust me.’
She said the last sentence so quickly that he barely caught it. Her breath had become short with the effort of saying it all. ‘You completely forgot about Daphne,’ she added. ‘Some friend you are.’
‘Am I not allowed to grieve?’
‘What grieving is there to be done, for heaven’s sake? Daphne’s struggling. She didn’t lose her parents that long ago and now what with Astoria and all she’s really at her wits end.’
Draco merely shrugged, mind blank. Pansy clenched her fists as if ready to punch him, but then stood up, snatching her bag to her chest.
‘You make me sick sometimes,’ her voice trembled. ‘I’m going, I said to Theodore I’d meet him at eight.’
‘Nott?’ Draco exploded. ‘He’s not – you’re not serious-’
‘Yes, Draco,’ Pansy sounded exasperated. ‘And you can hardly talk. I’ll be back tomorrow, by the way, and if this mess isn’t cleared up I’m going to throw every curse I know at you and then some. Look at this place,’ she gestured around the room, from the bottles and old newspapers littering the table to the copy of Defences of the Mind: A Study of Occlumency hurled against a wall, spine snapped and a loose page crumpled on the floor beside it. ‘It’s a tip. So get cracking.’
She was halfway to the door when he broke his silence. ‘I can wait,’ he said, aware of the half-hearted resignation in his voice. ‘I’ll wait twenty years, even thirty, and then when she’s back to normal I’ll ask her out again, it won’t matter if we’re forty or fifty, I’ll still love her.’
When Pansy replied she sounded patient, as if she spoke to a child.
‘I don’t think you will, though, Draco. Really, you only went out with her for two months or so. You’ll have moved on by August and in twenty years’ time you’ll have married someone else and won’t spare her a single thought, and to her you’ll just be someone she knew a very, very long time ago. Don’t try and act like a hero, Draco, because there’s really nothing heroic about this.’
She stood silent for a moment as if waiting for him to reply. He couldn’t think of a single word. She was right as usual. Sighing, she let herself out, and as her heels clicked down the corridor he stood and started to stack the bottles in his flat, resolving to start again.
This was how he had argued with Astoria.
‘You don’t understand,’ she spat, staring defiantly up at him. ‘I picked you, I’d heard about you from Daphne, all that stuff about the war and your parents and I thought you’d get it, right from the moment you saw this,’ she jabbed a finger at her wrist. ‘But you didn’t, and I kept dropping all these hints and I even told you-’
‘You told me?’
‘Of course I did, hardly a secret you can keep, is it?’
‘When? How?’ he demanded. Her eyes glittered with the orange light in the darkness and in the street beyond a siren began to wail.
‘Don’t you get it? I’m an Obliviator. I’m damn good at memory charms, it’s my job,’ she said, rolling her eyes. ‘You’re just to wrapped up in your own cynical little world to notice that things keep going missing, and you’re far too trusting. Didn’t you ever notice anything? Either you’re a bloody idiot or I deserve a promotion-’
‘Don’t be absurd,’ he said. ‘You can’t just toss around memory charms like that, the Ministry would-’
‘I have a licence to Obliviate, don’t I? Look, what happened that first night I went back to your flat?’
‘You were reading stuff…we ended up falling asleep,’ he said, slowly. The night was so long ago he couldn’t quite remember. Astoria shook her head impatiently, crooked smile in place as if trying not to laugh. He recoiled; that crooked smile was now inextricably linked with prison photographs and violence. Before it had been a sign of a joke, a sign of laughter – now it had a dark, disturbing quality he couldn’t quite believe.
‘No, it wasn’t anything like that, not like that at all…you see, I just planned to get you blind drunk and have a rummage round your flat, but you insisted on mindless talk about books and the Ministry, and then it got to one in the morning and you finally dozed off, slept like the dead…so I started going through your cupboards, looking…found some interesting court documents. I saw you couldn’t apparate, like me, you couldn’t get certain jobs, like me, and you had to sign on with the Ministry every month…well, a little bit like me. And then you caught me – got me with a stinging hex here,’ she pulled aside the collar of her shirt and showed him a patch of red skin on her collarbone. ‘And there was really nothing I could do except Obliviate all the pain away.’
‘Yes, I know, I’m a liar,’ she snapped. ‘You’d never think it, would you? Staggering around in tweed like some senile old woman, practically throwing myself at bookshop boys in vain hope of getting some sort of normal life – I keep telling you, Draco, I want to be honest, but you always overreact, you never give me a chance to explain it.’
‘Why shouldn’t I overreact?’ he demanded. ‘I saw the headline, the story-’
‘You’ve said that before. Funny how stale this argument feels. Will you give me a chance to explain myself? Will you listen this time? We’re in public, you can’t fight back. You can’t hurt me this time.’
‘Hurt you?’ he exploded. ‘Why would I hurt you? Just – stop it. Just go, I don’t care.’
‘You do care,’ she said, meeting his eye for the first time. ‘And that’s why you’re here. You care so much you can hardly think straight. I can tell. I’m good with minds. It’s all in the training. But you don’t want to know how I did it, you know, you’ve done it yourself.’
‘Not like that,’ he said, blood turning cold. ‘That was different, I had no choice-’
‘Everyone has a choice. You know the theory of it, you probably heard it all broken down for you in court, but the how isn’t important, it’s the why.’
‘I don’t – I don’t care-’
‘My parents were like yours, Draco.’
‘They were nothing like mine!’ he shouted. Astoria pressed her fingers to his mouth, continuing in a hushed voice.
‘They may not have had the mark but they were in the war, Draco, they did stuff too, and the Order of the Phoenix got them in the end like they got everyone and they died in the fight – don’t try and pretend you didn’t know, I bet you read it in the paper like everyone else, I bet you didn’t give a damn like everyone else-’
‘Of course I cared, they were my father’s friends!’
She ignored him. ‘Nobody cared, Draco, nobody offered to help me and Daphne out, nobody thought to bring their case to the authorities, and everywhere I went there were posters in shop windows screaming at me, wanted posters, people I recognised, people I knew as friends. And of course when Daphne tried to take the Order to court our pictures went in the paper, and people started to recognise me – I got spat at in the street, didn’t I, just like the others? There was one man who kept a shop near the end of Diagon Alley, he used to sit outside with a copy of the Prophet in his hand, spitting at us when we went past, telling us our parents deserved all they got, but they didn’t! They were decent people, good parents. All along through my life my Dad had taught me that muggles were scum and mudbloods were worse but in those years I finally saw he’d been wrong, I finally got it. It’s the purebloods themselves that are scum, the ones who’ll spit at orphans in the street and put two sisters out of their home and into a crummy flat claiming benefits, the ones who’ll support the Dark Lord one day and the Ministry the next, the ones who’ll sacrifice their own kind to save their own skin. They’re the worse. I was sixteen and I saw the truth at last; muggles were just ignorant, and it was the Ministry that was the worse. Bureaucrats, millionaires and hypocrites, the lot of them…did you know the man in his shop who spat at us was a pureblood after all?’
Her breath was shallow. With a shaking hand she swept loose hair back from her face, ready to continue her tirade. ‘I went back for him, you know, when I was eighteen. Never forget his face as long as I’ll live. I had others with me. We were all the same. Cheated. We found his little shop, full of Ministry propaganda rags like the Prophet and those last remaining wanted posters. Wasn’t very kind when I showed up. He remembered me too. Called me all sorts of names, leering at me, must have been about fifty and there was a little wedding ring jammed on his fat finger, but that didn’t stop him saying that half an hour in the back of his shop with me would fix things good and proper, he always made exceptions for pretty young girls. Half an hour to stop it all for good.’
‘No,’ she shook her head. ‘It was always about pride. I broke two of his fingers, one for me and one for my sister.’
‘I don’t regret it, you would have done the same. The others came in to finish him off, and I meant to leave then, I honestly did, and it would have ended if he hadn’t started throwing spells everywhere…I had my arm in a sling for ages, nasty break, the Ministry told me it was fair – an eye for an eye, you see? Oh, grow up,’ she said, as he tried to interrupt her. ‘You’ve done the same, I’m sure. I cursed him, used the Cruciatus. They say that’s what got us caught. They say if my arm hadn’t been so broken the curse would have been five times as powerful and I would have gone in for life. You know what it’s like, don’t you?’ she grabbed his wrist and he tried to shake her off, disgusted. ‘It’s exhausting, physically and mentally, you feel like you never want to do magic again. Your bones shake, your mind feels like it’s going to burst…you’ve known that too, and I know you have, I’ve seen all the reports.’
‘It wasn’t like that at all, I was forced, I didn’t have a choice-’
‘Don’t you see, though? I chose you because we had common ground. You were the only other person in the entire world I could think of who’d lost a family, a reputation, a life to the war, who’d been put on trial and restricted like I had, who’d done things all out of war and pride – I love you, I do, honestly, even with all your faults, but I can’t be with you unless you know all this.’
‘I can’t trust you,’ he spat, taking a step back. ‘You’ve just been lying to me for ages and screwing with my mind whenever you feel like it – that’s not love, that’s just a lack of bloody respect! I can’t be with you because I can’t trust you – what if one day you lose your temper and break my fingers?’
‘It was once,’ she said, patiently. ‘And in very different times.’
‘I’ve heard things!’ he blurted out. ‘At school when you gave Daphne ten stitches, how you always seemed to be sleeping your way around or something, and you were set on rebelling at everything-’
Astoria’s face had turned pale. She struggled to speak for a moment, and then said ‘that was a long time ago, Draco.’
‘You’re a liar. How many others have you done this to? Bet you’ve got a whole little chain of boyfriends you’ve screwed over and Obliviated out of your life, all deluded into thinking you’re some normal person-’
‘There’s only ever been you.’
‘-and I bet you go home and chuck your pretend life off and sit and count your winnings – the tweed thing was all an act, right? A big, fat lie about understanding so you could just get my money like Daphne said you would, but you’re thicker than you look, there’s none left!’
‘It was never about that.’
‘And to think I let you into my flat, to think I risked my job for you, and you were just lying all along!’
‘It’s not like that!’ she said, desperately. Her eyes brimmed with tears; the fight had gone from her. ‘I only used the memory charms because I couldn’t stand the thought of losing you if you found out! I didn’t want you to leave me because of my past, things are different now! Please, just listen-’ she grabbed for his arm, but quick as lightning his wand was in his hand and he’d blocked her with a shield charm. Her hand pressed against the invisible barrier, magic sparking against her fingertips.
‘I just wanted to put it all behind me,’ she pleaded, voice deadened by the charm. ‘All I wanted was to forget.’
He heard the break in the middle of her sentence. Even that did nothing to kill his anger; all he could feel was hatred, humiliation at the pain her lies at caused, shame at being tricked so easily.
‘Liar,’ he said.
Her eyes shut for a moment and she breathed in deeply, as if contemplating something. A second too late, he realised she was giving him the chance to pull the charm down and to settle the argument.
‘I’m sorry,’ her voice was barely audible. ‘This always ends with shield charms on your part. But you don’t appreciate that, essentially, I’m better at magic than you are, and I’ll always find a way of modifying your memory of this evening.’
‘Oh, just go and manipulate someone else for a change.’
She gave him one last defiant stare, but he looked away. She turned on her heel, sighing, and stormed off into the night. He didn’t think that in all his life, no matter how many times he tried, he would forget the next moment. The way she’d been pinned statue-solid in the middle of the road. The bad timing. A word on her lips, the last few seconds of her life as she knew it crushing it out of her so that it was never said. A hollow sound. Her eyes, glassy, staring into his.
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