Chapter 2 Meaningless Suffering
"[D]o not stand upon the blood of your people." - Leviticus 19:26
Harry awoke for the first morning of class feeling as though he'd just fallen asleep. Exhausted, hearing Ron's yelling voice beckoning him awake instantly put him in an unhappy mood. It felt like a sneak peak at the yelling he'd be hearing within the hour over his break-up with Ginny, which of course had not gone well. For that reason alone, obviously Harry well-expected her to tell Hermione and Ron all about the breakup as soon as she saw them; indeed, bitter as Ginny was, he could imagine her at breakfast right now getting a head-start at making him out to be a total git to everyone who'd listen at the Gryffindor Table (not to mention all the "inconspicuous" eavesdroppers who would naturally hear, then spread). Plausibly speaking, therefore, no matter what an unfavorable scenario awaited him downstairs, and needlessly said, that made it all the more difficult to force himself out of bed today.
"Come on, mate, we're gonna be late to breakfast," Ron called impatiently.
Harry yawned loudly as he sat up in his four-poster bed, stretching. The morning sun was shining brightly into their dormitory. Ron was waiting fully dressed. Everyone else was already gone. They really must've been running quite late after all. "Sorry, didn't fall asleep until really late," Harry apologized. He jumped out of bed and started getting dressed quickly.
Ron looked at him suspiciously. "You alright, Harry?" he said, watching as Harry anxiously scrambled to put on clothes. Ron couldn't help but wonder why his best mate seemed to be intently avoiding eye contact...
Harry flushed an obvious shade of scarlet. "Err, yeah, what do you mean, mate?" he said a little too defensively, smiling unconvincingly.
Ron shrugged, saying nothing, but seemed to keep an eagle eye on him as they rushed down to breakfast in awkward silence.
"Heavens, Harry seriously broke up with you just like that?" Hermione was stunned to disbelief upon hearing Ginny's words at breakfast.
Ginny nodded earnestly, her expression self-righteous. "Yep, can you believe the nerve of him, Hermione? How could Harry Potter, the guy I was brainless enough to think was sweeter, actually genuine, turn out to be just like the other boys? I can't believe how stupid I was!" Uncharacteristically, inadvertent or not, essentially Ginny Weasley disregarded all her pride in her arguably exaggerated cry of self-pity.
Hermione, sitting beside her at the Gryffindor Table at breakfast time in the Great Hall, an arm affectionately wrapped behind her friend's shoulders, shook her head in distaste for the entire situation. "Oh, Ginny, I know you probably absolutely despise Harry right now, and you totally have every reason to, but I've known him for too many years to not mention that I'm absolutely positive Harry isn't meaning to hurt you by all this. I know that's not what you want to hear right now, but I promise, Gin, it's the truth. I know Harry Potter." Her words couldn't have been more truthfully aimed to console her, and Ginny knew that. Hermione even struggled to articulate the right words for once, candidly expressing with first a sigh, "Harry's been through so much this past year. I know it bothers you that he didn't include you in our whole adventure - or misadventure, depending on whether we're discussing a specific day or just the end result - but believe me, it was the most terrifying, difficult experience, beyond what even I anticipated. I'm not saying being in an aftershock state of mind excuses him treating you like this, Ginny, but it may very well explain it."
Blanching, Ginny went vivid pink in the ears just as her face drained of color. She opened her mouth to speak but was dumbfounded; her mouth stayed gaped open without uttering a sound. She wished something just as profound and intelligible would come to mind, but nothing surfaced. Instead, Ginny just let out a weary sigh and waited as a swallowing, awkward silence passed by. Finally, she conceded to just say, "Who knows, Hermione, who knows. I suppose you have one concrete point no matter what: I haven't spent any time with Harry in an entire year, really; I guess I just assumed he'd come rushing back to me with open arms. I was so sure he'd have the same feelings, that we'd just be on hold until after the war, you know?" Ginny very slowly turned tearful, and only noticed when she had to stop speaking because her voice cracked. Pretty much without any subtlety whatsoever, Ginny immediately looked away, mortified that Hermione could see her crying.
And to make matters even worse, Ron was approaching the Gryffindor Table with Harry tagging behind him awkwardly.
Draco was at the top of the North Tower, looking out from the balcony at the starless sky as the brisk cold air hit him. He was entranced somehow by the scene, his thoughts empty of worry or fear of being caught. His imagination slid right over him -
Suddenly, the sound of a high, shrill voice interrupted his reverie. "What are you doing up here, Mr. Malfoy? Thought I wouldn't find you?"
Draco turned around and was startled to see the terrifying sight of Lord Voldemort - those blazing red eyes, deformed-like snout, pallid skin and all - facing him mere feet away. Underneath the hood of his typical black cloak, the Dark Lord held that same old wand of his firmly, prepared for anything...
Draco froze, overtaken by sudden paralysis, at the impossible vision of the late Lord Voldemort. Gasping, his mouth stayed gaped open even as he tried to utter a response, something. But Draco couldn't; speechless he remained as the towering presence of Voldemort, reanimated and lively as ever, sunk him beneath more and more fear -
Finally, Draco Malfoy screamed louder than he could ever remember. But just as he did, Voldemort overpowered him with an unending cruel laugh. Then, very suddenly everything started to deteriorate away as Draco, holding his breath, was forcibly flown backward into a high-up, distant first-person perspective by an invisible, massive force. Nonetheless, Draco frightfully remained subject to the ringing sound of Voldemort's malicious laughter until a tremendous black hole appeared midair and absolved him -
He was but a destroyed vessel - soulless and static - and without nuclear identity...
Draco didn't immediately recall where he was when he first woke up, and was utterly startled when a sudden roar of vicious laughter practically deafened his ears. Unsurprisingly, former ally Blaize Zabini was pointing at shaken-looking Draco and laughing away. The poor defamed young Malfoy couldn't manage an instinctive frown right then without first exhaling a long, weak sigh.
Fifteen minutes later Draco, falling into his seat at the Slytherin Table for breakfast as usual, was obviously not at all surprised that his fellow Slytherins around him stared and giggled at him. However, what did come as a total surprise was the devastating front page of the Daily Prophet, which was immediately tossed at him by Blaize Zabini. He and a group of fellow minions (all former mates of Draco, too, notably) exchanged delighted looks before returning their eyes to Draco, who looked taken aback by the newspaper suddenly in front of him. Thus, with an obscurely guarded look the ostracized young Malfoy took the paper into his hands not too quickly.
The headline could not have brought Draco worse news:
NARCISSA MALFOY ARRESTED FOR 'CONSPIRACY TO COMMIT MURDER' AND 'A-DEGREE TREASON'
By Rita Skeeter
In an astonishing about-face, Narcissa Malfoy was taken into the custody of Ministry Aurors early this morning. Although her husband, Lucius Malfoy, was recently convicted for 'Capital Murder with Death Eater Involvement' and sentenced to Azkaban for life, the official original word was that no evidence implicated his wife on any like charges; in fact, the investigative report specifically cited her exonerating lack of a Dark Mark (the Death Eater insignia). Therefore, the Ministry's announcement early this morning was most unexpected.
Just hours ago, however, the Ministry stated that newly-surfaced evidence implicates Narcissa Malfoy, too. Accordingly, Aurors uncovered a Penseive at the Malfoy Manor which irrefutably incriminated Mrs. Malfoy. The contents of the enclosed memories (however many there are) 'remain strictly confidential', says Minister Shacklebolt. The Ministry did inform us that a Grand Jury indicted her just last night, and that a trial date has been set for October 14th. If convicted in the High Wizengamot Court, Mrs. Malfoy will, at minimum, face life in Azkaban, and at maximum, the Dementor's Kiss —
Barely able to bear the brutal humiliation of this information, his disgusted eyes ceased to read any further. Nevertheless, Draco could not distract from the reality of things around him, which was unarguably no less troubling: jeering, cold-tempered faces leered at him everywhere in the Great Hall. Just by luck his gaze fell dead on Harry Potter and his minions at the Gryffindor Table, their pleased shock exacerbating the humiliation. Draco felt like an ant about to be stomped on by a hundred giants. He wanted to run, run far out of sight, but then they would win.
But as Zabini and the others laughed right in his face, Draco still remained speechless for what felt like an endless moment of torture. He couldn't have been more blindsided, truthfully; Draco had never actually foreseen criminal charges being filed against his mother. After all, she herself had not been a Death Eater.
Finally, Draco Malfoy stood up furiously, slammed his fist on the table, and with a deadly look of rage yelled, "Like I bloody care what happens to that pathetically caught bitch! Saw it coming anyway." He managed a smirk of disregard, his infamous cheeky reply. "Besides, all that matters to me is that I'm going to be cashing in big-time any day now!" And he let out an arrogant laugh to seal his facade.
By now Draco had attracted the full attentions of nearly everybody in sight. He looked around, inwardly mortified, and then suddenly he was face-to-face with Professor McGonagall, who'd apparently been passing out their course schedules. Her lips were thinned, always a bad sight, and her body seemed inundated with anger. McGonagall impolitely threw Draco his schedule, warning him very sternly, "Don't even DARE to repeat that kind of behavior hereon, Mr. Malfoy, as it will not been taken lightly. Now, sit down unless you want me to write you a detention already!"
And Draco, forced to swallow his pride, was truly squashed by no less than the worst and largest giant of all.
The awkwardness of the morning only increased for Harry. Unfortunately, their first class today was Defense Against the Dark Arts - joined by Slytherin classmates. It was already certain to be true Hell, given the brutal challenge that preparing for their N.E.W.T.s would bring. (Even Hermione could not hide collective despair for the situation.) And even yet, now they also had the torturous burden of putting up with Slytherins all the while. Even Professor Trelawney could've made the right prediction about this: here awaited an obvious disaster.
Today especially, though, the topic of heated interest was the shocking arrest of Malfoy's mother, Narcissa. His dad, Lucius, had been convicted and sentenced to life in Azkaban, yes, but that had been a little while ago and not unexpected. In contrast, it was pretty blindsiding that Narcissa had been arrested months afterward. As a result it seemed clear that Malfoy was ostracized already at Hogwarts. Even Malfoy's (former) Slytherin mates were taking a special interest in mocking him!
Thus, it went without saying that although for NOW Harry had evaded the ambush of the whole Ginny thing (as Ginny hadn't had time to fill Ron in given the mayhem about the Malfoys), a very contentious atmosphere was still preset for them no less.
Careful, the trio arrived early for class, intentionally taking the least-noticeable seats in the very back. Their immense curiosity about Fleur Delacour as their new professor filled their minds appreciably. It seemed, too, that such rested in Malfoy's mind, for he alone had arrived before them and ensured his seat in the very front. The three of them were easily made resentful of the obvious fact that he was prematurely eager to scrutinize Fleur. Then again, it came as no surprise at all - after all, Fleur was a firm opponent of his family before, during, and after the war.
Four additional students glided in shortly, while Fleur (now Professor Delacour, Harry had to keep reminding himself) only managed to arrive right on time. She barely gave her new students any immediate acknowledgement as she, harassed, carried a sizable filing cabinet across the room, dropping it on top of her desk. Breathless, Fleur turned to look at them with all the enthusiasm that she could presently muster, smiling brightly. (Harry speculated the half-Veela was rather put off by the one or two strands of her straight silver hair which were out of place.)
Walking gracefully to the center of the classroom, Fleur introduced herself. "Hello class, it is delightful to at last meet you. Some of you may remember me as Beauxbatons' Triwizard champion four years ago. My name is Fleur Delacour, and it is a great honor to now return to profess a subject so crucial to your wizarding education." With her charming French accent, Professor Delacour articulately elaborated on her qualifications, making allusions to "recent history." But the more she spoke the clearer was the intention behind her conservative robes and modest makeup.
The boys were gawking helplessly and obviously.
As Fleur finished, she looked rather disappointed that her half-Veela appearance was causing a distraction, and quizzically moved on seriously. "Well, let us not waste any time. Our first topic on the curriculum - Draco, please pass down these syllabuses - is the justice system as it applies to the practice of Dark Arts. In light of the high difficulty of the N.E.W.T.S caliber, by random selection I have split you up into partners for both classroom and out-of-classroom activities. If you all would come take a look at the bulletin by the door - the one with those extraordinary historical displays, right there - you'll find the list of assigned partners." She gestured for them to rise.
Harry, Hermione, and Ron exchanged suspicious glances, and quickly arose. But to Harry's great, great dismay, his partner was unbelievably none other than...