The fireplace crackled sharply, cutting through the silence. The hall seemed to ring with emptiness.
"You need to at least try this time around."
His voice sounded hollow. The house felt hollow. Her expression was the epitome of hollow.
Around them, the drapes hung low over the windows, and the stained glass of the skylights above was enveloped in cobwebs, but even the shadows that spread over the floor couldn't quite hide the spaces where all the ancient furniture used to sit. The footprints of their dragged bodies had left marks of dust on the once polished floor, and he air seemed to hang heavily, hardly making an effort to carry his voice.
The tall columns and tapestried walls were now empty, the paintings leaving gaping black holes everywhere they hung. His ancestors had long retired into the walls, taking their sinister stares with them. He often found himself wishing he could do the same.
It was just a house, now. An old, faded picture of ancient memories that guilt, pain and shame had worn out into a decrepit ghost. Just a vast, empty house, whose old role of a mother had been buried under a short, but unforgettable career as a prison.
"The china," he said, almost like he was baiting her for a reaction. He waited for a flinch, a flash of resentment, anything.
Beside them, the fire flared slightly, casting drunken, bloodshot light onto her pale face, and the bag in his hand felt impossibly heavy. Her eyes seemed to see straight through his shoulder. When had he grown taller than she was? It must have happened years ago. He couldn't remember ever noticing it before now.
The watch in his pocket was ticking away, and every second brought new weight to the bag in his hand. He forced the words out one more time.
"Please, Mother. At least try."
And turning away from her, without even glancing at her in some wistful hope of a response, he seized a handful of the grey powder from the bag and threw it into the towering fireplace, reaching to pull his mother into the flames with him.
One last glance into the room made him regret it; the bright green flash of the flames against the alabaster floor made him want to throw up. He clenched his jaw tightly as the world began to spin and he hoped, in a swift, sickened thought at himself, that his words hadn't sounded quite as much as begging as he felt they had.
"This is ridiculous." Ernie Macmillan ran his hand through his hair in frustration, glaring down at the table in front of him. He took a deep breath and splayed his hands on the shining wood. Then he turned his head to look at the woman to his left. "The case is practically closed; there isn't a soul in that courtroom that believes otherwise. The jury has known the truth since 1973! Even Howard knew it! Prolonging this trial any further would simply be preposterous."
"The very fact that Perkins abandoned his client is proof enough that the case cannot be decided on with so little evidence to stand on."
Macmillan scoffed. "'Little evidence'? I beg to differ! The only evidence there has been little of is that of Malfoy's innocence. And with absolutely no argument being made on the accused's part, I believe the decision will be an easy one."
"That's the very reason for why I'm replacing Perkins," said Greengrass, her blue eyes flashing as she turned to the three seated at the table. "Minister, my client's representation so far has been handled in a way which was, frankly, quite mediocre. It would be unjust to proceed to the jury with no decent defense having being made. My client is quite clearly mentally unwell and is yet to recover from the trauma-"
"Well, if it was an issue of dealing with trauma, then I believe some of the victims-"
"Please, Mr. Macmillan," Kingsley Shacklebolt interrupted, his deep voice calming some of the tension in the room. "There is some logic in Miss Greengrass' objection. The Wizengamot has not, perhaps, gotten the full picture of the accused's motivations, given the lack of response before the witness testimonies."
"I'm sorry, Minister," Macmillan put in, taking another deep breath to calm his irritation. "But Perkins could present no hard case in favor of the accused after nearly three weeks of time. I mean no offense to Miss Greengrass here, but two hours' notice is hardly enough time to make a case. Either we reschedule or the jury makes its decision in the hearing, this very day. That is without even delving into the fact that Malfoy is clearly unwilling to participate, which in my opinion is a waste of time for everyone involved."
"My client's mental health is fragile, but it is of no concern to the jury as an obstacle to the trial," Greengrass said firmly. "The demonstrated lack of participation is mere proof of the emotional commotion that was suffered. It is all the more reason to be open to the possibility of rescheduling the hearing-"
"How are you going to get words out of that mouth when you haven't even had a chance to speak to your client? It must be rescheduled, if not canceled altogether! Merlin, Greengrass, it's glaringly obvious where the blame lies, forget 'emotional commotion'…"
Another voice cleared its throat at the Minister's side. Percy Weasley looked up from the parchments he had been poring over for the last few minutes. His expression was grave from under his horn-rimmed glasses. "I'm afraid a rescheduling would be impossible. There is only one hour open this week; afterwards the Wizengamot is to be present at Courtroom 3 for the hearing of Bogrod the Goblin. Either way this trial cannot extend itself further than a fortnight; should you want to reschedule it, the next time would be the last."
"Can I take both?"
Macmillan threw his hands up in the air in resignation. The Minister almost seemed to smile with amusement as Greengrass fixed her earnest gaze on Percy Weasley.
He looked taken aback, and turned to look at the Minister in askance. Greengrass explained herself swiftly. "Let today act as a response to the witness Macmillan has brought with him; I'll work with what I have. But it's probable it won't be enough to set up a proper defense. If the need arises, can I call for an extension next week?"
"It won't be enough time to clear a Malfoy," Macmillan murmured under his breath. She ignored him.
"We'd rather it didn't come to that," said Bill Weasley, from the Minister's other side. His scarred face was slightly contorted with a frown. He sighed. "But I'm afraid that it might indeed be necessary to prolong the trial. It wouldn't do to have the Wizengamot accused of injustice, especially not at this time. Though Malfoy is hardly in a position to negotiate, we must go along with Miss Greengrass on principle."
He and the Minister met Macmillan's gaze almost apologetically, and the prosecuting barrister took a few steps away from the table with a resigned sigh, taking off his glasses to clean them on his grey robes. Greengrass had a small smile of triumph on her lips.
"Thank you," she said, collecting her briefcase from a nearby desk. She turned back at the sound of Bill Weasley's voice.
"Please prove this to be the right decision, Miss Greengrass."
She gave a short nod. "I will."
Macmillan followed her out of the room, still scowling. But his frustrated expression faded somewhat as they walked down the corridor of offices together. Though they were taking opposing sides in the case, they had studied together for some time and had great respect for each other. Astoria might even venture to say she considered him a friend.
She checked her watch. Twenty minutes. Enough time to finish reading up on what little Howard Perkins had left on the case before giving up on it… or 'leaving for vacations', as he had excused himself. They passed a gaggle of reporters who were being pushed out into another corridor by some guards. The Prophet had gotten insufferable in their attempts to reinstate their reliability, and almost seemed to be everywhere at once. She wasn't looking forward to the announcement of her replacing the Malfoy barrister.
"Don't make this into some sort of heroic tale, Greengrass," Macmillan told her in a low voice as they turned a corner towards the lift.
"I don't follow."
"You know what I mean," he said seriously, his expression almost concerned. "Don't fool yourself into thinking you'll be saving some misunderstood villain. This isn't that kind of story. Narcissa Malfoy is guilty and there won't be anything you can do to change that fact."
She didn't say anything, but shook her head slightly as the lift doors opened before them.
"Draco Malfoy, with your father in prison and your mother soon to be convicted, how are your feelings on your own upcoming trial?"
"Mr. Malfoy, what are your plans for the future of the family business?"
"Mrs. Malfoy, how do you feel knowing that you may be sentenced to Azkaban today? Do you have hopes of being cleared of all charges?"
"Narcissa, have you been to visit your husband?"
"Draco, do you plan to continue you studies-?"
He tuned them out. Wasn't there some sort of law against this level of harassment? It had been enough on the streets those few times he and his mother had ventured out into the open… why he had thought that a good idea, he didn't know. But here, in the Ministry itself… the amount of reporters was unbelievable. He kept his eyes fixed in the direction he was going, trying not to wince at the blinding flashes of the cameras. Idiots.
The Aurors on either side of him weren't helping, either. It was clear that they were only trainees; most of the real Aurors had died fighting during the War, and the current experienced had better jobs on their hands than that of escorting the accused to a trial. As they were jostled through the group of screaming reporters, trying to make their way over the polished floors of the hallway, Draco caught sight of the large fountain to his left. Water still flowed in glittering jets of water, but there were no statues or engravings anywhere on it anymore. He had read in the Prophet that various proposals had been made (most of them completely ridiculous: one of the most amusing involved a victorious Potter standing over the Dark Lord with the water shooting out from- well, suffice to say it had been rejected), but no decisions had been made as of yet. It was just as well, he thought. Things were controversial enough without adding statues and symbolism to the arguments.
Two years had passed since the Battle of Hogwarts. The first few months had been mostly spent in an effort to round up the main circle of Death Eaters who were clearly guilty of multiple crimes and, had Dementors still had a role in Magical Law Enforcement, were deserving of the Kiss. As it was, Thicknesse, Greyback, Rookwood, and nearly sixty others had been sentenced to lifetime imprisonment in Azkaban within the first week. Among them was Lucius Malfoy.
The rest of the suspects had been banned from leaving the country, and were gradually placed under house arrest as the resources were found to enforce it. During the following months, the nation-wide effort had mostly been focused on repairing the destruction the Dark Lord had caused and reinstating what was left of the trusted Ministry employees from before the War. Hogwarts had been reopened, and all Ministry Departments had begun urgent training programs to try and fill out as many positions as were possible.
It was only about a year afterwards that the trials began for those who had clearly had roles in the War but were hard to be determined innocent or guilty. There had been some considerable reforms made to the Justice system in an attempt to learn from the mistakes in the First War against Voldemort, with careful study of the cases that claimed to be victims of Unforgivable Curses, and many had been imprisoned for their involvement with the Death Eaters since the very beginning of the name. All in all, it had taken a surprisingly long time for the investigations to reach Draco and his mother.
He wasn't sure if he was grateful for that.
Beside him, Narcissa said nothing as they got onto the lift. The Aurors finally seemed to get their act together and managed to keep the reporters from filing in behind them. Their shouts and camera flashes grew farther and farther away as the lift took them downwards, towards the courtroom.
Narcissa's grey eyes were unreadable as they sped down, her richly embroidered black robes having lost none of their elegance despite the emptiness in their pockets. Her white-blond hair flowed down her back much in the way it always had, but Draco knew that it only masked the white strands that had made their way into her locks, betraying the toll time had taken on her.
Well, it wasn't just her, he thought darkly. He knew that unlike her, he looked decidedly unkempt. His robes fit him loosely and the stubble on his chin and cheeks was getting ahead of him. He knew there were lines on his face where there shouldn't be any at the age of nineteen.
It didn't really matter, anyway. His life had long since been reduced to travelling between the house and the Ministry, and who gave a damn what you wore when half the Wizarding World was convinced (and earnestly hoped) that you'd spend the rest of your life behind bars.
"Department of Mysteries." The familiar voice rang over the sound of the doors rattling open, and the Malfoys followed the Aurors down the corridors to the courtroom.
As the heavy doors swung open before them, he met his mother's eyes for a brief second. But then he was being hurried to one side of the large dungeon and she to another, and he found himself staring down at the side of his mother's large seat, her inscrutable profile looking forwards into nothing, where he had seen chains coil round his father's wrists to keep him from escaping the armed guards around him. He wondered if she felt the ghost of his presence where she sat. His arm tingled; he automatically pulled his robe sleeve well over his fingers, clutching the fabric tightly.
Above her, on the benches that rose around the room, sat the already familiar figures of the Wizengamot, most of whom he had already known since before the trial; some of them had even been considered family friends once. Many of them had once treated him as a prince thanks to the generous amounts of gold his father had donated to the Ministry.
It was strange, how things had turned around so completely.
Well, he had to admit the Weasleys weren't, despite his dislike for him. They had always loathed him and his family, so at least they would be getting some sort of victory out of all of this. And there could be a worse Head of the Department of Magical Law enforcement than the scarred redhead, despite his pathetic attempts to emulate Mad-Eye Moody's look. So far, in the trials Draco had been to (and there had been quite a few), he had seemed to be one of the most rational among the prejudiced fools in plum-coloured robes that sat on the benches.
"The Wizengamot is present today," began Shacklebolt, his voice echoing in the vast dungeon among the soft rustling of papers and shifting feet. "To pass judgment on the case of Narcissa Malfoy, née Black, accused of conspiring with the terrorist organization of Dark Wizards, self-named Death Eaters, under the command of Voldemort, in the murder, torture and other crimes committed against Wizarding and Muggle population from the year 1973 to 1998. This includes," he cleared his throat, looking down at a parchment on the desk before him. Some benches lower down, a young woman with a severe case of acne of some sort was keeping note. She looked vaguely familiar. "Assisting in the hiding and protection of Death Eaters, as well as Voldemort Himself; failure to come forth with information about their plans and whereabouts; possession of several Dark Objects; participating in various Death Eater meetings and witnessing over thirty tortures and murders of innocent Muggles, Witches and Wizards, and participating in support of the Death Eaters during the Battle of Hogwarts. To this, the accused pleads not guilty."
Draco didn't need to look around to see the faces of all those in the jury contort with distaste and rage. He could feel many of the glares on himself. He found himself focusing on his mother and on the person sitting to her left.
He was surprised to see a woman with dark hair that barely grazed the base of her neck sitting at the table of the defending barrister instead of Howard Perkins. He hadn't expected there to be a replacement; it wasn't like Perkins had exactly filled him with confidence that his mother would be cleared of all charges, anyway, so it hadn't made much of a difference. But there was something determined about her stance that almost made him feel some hope that there was a level of control on the outcome of the trial. The woman looked quite young, too, even younger than he was; she had to be very recently graduated from Hogwarts.
"We wish to make clear the change in representation for Mrs. Malfoy. Astoria Greengrass shall be replacing the recently retired Howard Perkins as defense."
Ah, so that explained it. There were nods about the room. Draco leaned back in his seat languidly. There was an Auror on either side of him, but aside from them his section of the courtroom was empty. He was thankful there weren't any reporters allowed into the courtroom so that they could theorize. There had already been that Lonely, Poor and Soon to be Convicted: the Malfoys sit alone before the jury article. They disgusted him.
The Minister continued. "It is as a consequence in this change of personnel that the trial has been extended to this second installment, in the hopes that new light shall be shed upon the circumstances leading to the crimes presented by the prosecuting witnesses. Last week the jury heard the testimony of Sylvia McNair and the convicted prisoner Rabastan Lestrange."
Rabastan, the backstabber. Draco had expected it, but it had still been something of a blow. He loathed the man and had feared him ever since he had seen a picture of his crazed, sadistic features, but he was still technically family. Rabastan hadn't even benefited from giving Narcissa's name. The Ministry wouldn't drop a single year from his life sentence.
"Present today are: Kingsley Shacklebolt, Minister of Magic; William Weasley, Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement; Percival Weasley, Senior Undersecretary to the Minister; Court Scribe, Marietta Edgecombe. And as Prosecuting barrister, Ernest Macmillan."
Draco couldn't help the dislike curling in his knuckles. He remembered the pompous Hufflepuff from school, and it irked him to watch the man strut around the courtroom accusing people of things he couldn't possibly understand with that vapid mind of his.
"The defense may present its statement."
The young woman stood up swiftly at the words, her eyes fixed on the assembly before her. "Members of the Wizengamot, I am Astoria Greengrass and I represent Mrs. Narcissa Malfoy. My client has been accused of conspiring with the Death Eaters during the First and Second Wizarding Wars against the Dark Wizard Voldemort. To this we plead not guilty, on grounds that coercion and blackmail were being used to force her into participating in these criminal acts.
"Last week it was made clear that Mrs. Malfoy was not under the influence of the Imperius Curse, but was also never fully in control of the environment that surrounded her. Her husband, Lucius Malfoy, who is now serving a life sentence in Azkaban, made the decision of joining the ranks of the Death Eaters early in the First War, but Mrs. Malfoy herself was never counted among the elite circle of Voldemort's followers. As evidence, we presented the lack of a Dark Mark on her forearm, known to be a clear symbol of loyalty to Voldemort. With the rise of the Second War, Lucius Malfoy fell out of favor with his Master, and their son was forcibly pulled into Death Eater ranks, as punishment for Lucius' actions, as we learned by Rabastan Lestrange's testimony. Narcissa Malfoy was unable to act against the Death Eaters, out of fear for her son's life."
At least something good had come out of Rabastan's story. Greengrass thanked the jury and sat down. The Wizengamot knew all of this already.
"We call forward the prosecutor."
Macmillan stood up. "I call forward a witness: Daria Higgins. The International Statue of Secrecy, sect. 14 states that a Muggle may be brought forth as a witness on the condition that their presence is supervised by the assigned Ministry officials and spells are applied before and after her role in the courtroom is fulfilled."
There was some commotion as three Ministry officers whom Draco assumed to be Obivators, moved forwards, escorting a dark-skinned, dazed-looking Muggle woman forwards to the witness' bench. It took a few minutes until they left and she sat there quietly, swaying slightly. She was obviously under a spell, or many, to avoid shock taking over. Or perhaps it was some legal variation of Veritaserum.
Macmillan wasted no time. He was soon at his feet before her, his hands behind his back. "Will you please state your name and living address for the jury?"
The woman did, rather vacantly, her eyes slightly glazed over as she looked at the lawyer.
"Will you tell us what it was that you witnessed on the 18th of January, 1998?"
The woman answered automatically, almost robotically. "The death of my sister, Leah Higgins."
The members of the Wizengamot looked grave. By now they were used to listening to this sort of testimony, but it was obvious that nobody involved enjoyed the experience. Draco himself felt uncomfortable; there was something about the empty expression on her face that reminded him more of the unblinking, tear-filled, dead eyes he had seen staring up at him from his father's dinner table years ago, than of the inscrutable stare his mother continued to use from her seat on the large seat in the center of the courtroom.
"Please describe the situation," said Macmillan gently.
Daria spoke quickly, as if she had planned the entire speech for months. "It was half-past five, and my sister and I were on our way home from work. We lived in a flat someway off from the main area of town, and it was deserted at that time of day because it was a residential area and everyone there commutes. I'd dropped an earring on the gravel somewhere along the last block, so I stopped to look for it, just as Leah spotted smoke some blocks away.
"She insisted we go look, but I was worried about finding my earring, so I told her kind of distractedly that I'd catch up in a minute. She left in the direction of the smoke. It took me about five minutes to find the earring and make my way towards where she'd gone."
"And what did you see when you got there?"
"I saw six people standing around her while she screamed, and they were smiling, and she was screaming, and suddenly she just wasn't and they were gone and she was dead."
The silence in the courtroom was absolute. Draco felt sick. He tried not to think about the empty blue eyes contrasting against the dark table, or the cold slither of a reptile moving past him…
A few minutes passed before Macmillan spoke again. "And was this woman," he pointed at Narcissa. Empty eyes met hollow ones. "Standing over your sister as she screamed and then died?"
His mother said nothing. From where he was, Draco couldn't tell if she had met the Muggle's gaze. How had Daria avoided being seen? They must have been very concentrated on the woman they were torturing… he remembered how Dolohov got when he was having fun. He struggled to hold back an involuntary shudder.
"And was this woman, Mrs. Malfoy, being tied down or held hostage by the perpetrators?" Macmillan's question was pointed. This was his retort to Narcissa's defense.
"Thank you, Miss Higgins." Macmillan looked up at the jury briefly and then returned to his desk in silence. The Muggle said nothing.
"The defense may present questions to the witness."
Greengrass stood up swiftly. She was wearing dark robes, and her heels clicked slightly as she crossed the space between her desk and the witness' area of the room.
"Miss Higgins," she began. "Did you at any moment see Mrs. Malfoy," she gestured towards her client. "Smile or laugh at the situation?"
The idea of his mother smiling or laughing was at this point so foreign that Draco had a hard time remembering what it looked like. Somehow, the more he thought about the mental image, the less it looked like his mother. He was disturbingly reminded of his aunt's smile, which was absolutely nothing like his mother's.
"Were the others around her?"
"They weren't all laughing, but most of them looked amused."
"And yet Mrs. Malfoy was not?"
"She was not."
Greengrass paused for a moment and then asked. "How would you describe Mrs. Malfoy's expression in that moment?"
"Tired, resentful, desperate." The adjectives escaped the woman's lips like a perfectly recited rhyme.
"Did she, perhaps, have a stick of this sort in her hand?" Greengrass produced her wand and held it up so that Daria could see it. The Muggle's vacant gaze fixed itself on the wand.
"Thank you." She put her wand away and turned to the Wizengamot. "You see, therefore, that my client was clearly not there out of free will or desire for violent, sadistic pleasure. There are many forms of coercion and blackmail; though Narcissa Malfoy was not being held hostage, she was the subject of severe blackmail on account of her son, whom Voldemort had already taken into his command against her will as a punishment for what he considered insubordination. She could not actively at against the violence she witnessed, nor could she refuse to participate when asked. She was an unwilling participant in these activities and cannot be held accountable for the crimes committed."
There were murmurs among the jury. Greengrass remained standing, her eyes sharp as she waited expectantly. On the other desk, Macmillan had the same expression, but Draco could tell that he wasn't pleased with the way the trial was going. The thought almost amused him.
Finally, Bill Weasley spoke up. "The jury would like to hear the accused speak."
Well, that was it. Draco threw his head back for a moment and stared up at the endless roof of the courtroom, were many torches hung in midair. He knew nothing would get his mother to speak, and if her being cleared depended on her speaking in her own defense, then she would be joining his father in Azkaban. When he finally forced himself to look back down, Greengrass had obviously reached the same conclusion. She had joined Narcissa's side, but was obviously hesitating to say anything to the Wizengamot that she might regret. She had had no previous contact with her client… there was no way she would be able to convince Narcissa to speak.
Macmillan almost seemed pleased. He stood up, his expression adamant. "Sir, the accused's continued refusal to give testimony should be evidence enough of her guilt and lack of reason. This trial cannot be prolonged any further; she has had her chance." One last try on Macmillan's part. He was looking directly at the Minister.
But Greengrass wouldn't allow it. "My client is unwell and unable to speak; the trials have proved too strenuous for her. I request an extension."
Macmillan was furious. "Three installments for a client with no defending witness?"
"On health grounds." Her expression was fierce.
They Heads of the Wizengamot had already agreed. Kingsley Shacklebolt sighed and nodded. "Extension scheduled for Friday of the following week at three o'clock. Next time, we shall give a verdict. I suggest you find a way to get your client to talk, Greengrass."
She said nothing, but gave a short nod. Draco could see triumph in her eyes. Draco almost felt sorry for her as he watched her leave her desk. She almost seemed convinced that his mother had a chance.
He was escorted down the rows of benches towards his mother, who merely moved calmly towards the doorway. Outside there was already a crowd gathering for some other hearing to be held in that courtroom, but the Wizengamot were already collecting their things to leave; he assumed it must be a hearing of less importance. Well, at least in trials the Malfoy name was still given importance, he thought with disgust.
They pushed passed the crowd of people outside, that murmured and whispered things about him and his mother as they passed. He clenched his jaw and said nothing, walking as quickly as he could. He felt a sudden fierce desire to be back home, even if all that was left of it was a towering, dark, empty house.
He started and turned to push the reporter away, but then realized he was staring down at the slender Astoria Greengrass. Even with heels, she was almost a head shorter than he was.
"What do you want?"
She smiled at him coolly as she joined him, walking towards the lift. "I wanted to arrange a meeting with you, after I meet with your mother this evening."
Good luck with that, he thought. Clearly she underestimated his mother's silence. And what did she want with him? He couldn't possibly testify on his mother's behalf… he wasn't a trustworthy source, even less now that his trial was scheduled to be next week, on Wednesday. But he only said "Why?"
Greengrass smiled. "I'll be representing you as well, next week."