All the wrong choices (Ch26 – Forgotten history)

Draco ran the quill across his lips for the thousandth time as his eyes read the words making sure that he’d covered everything. The wording needed to be just right so that there could be no confusion. He leant over to add a sentence to his already lengthy letter a felt a satisfaction as he signed his name at the bottom. He remembered being tutored in the art of letter writing with his father when he was a child. Sitting at the grand wooden desk in a sun-kissed study long before the darkness seeped into his life when he remembered things in colour. Cosima’s sigh brought him back to the present.

“One more moment, Cosima, please!”

Draco didn’t bother turning from his desk and the precious letter as he carefully sealed the envelope. He wondered how long it would be before his owl arrived so that some of this sordid business could be behind him. He sighed himself as he pushed himself up from the desk. He caught sight of the lantern and the darkness leeching the light from the tent canvas. “What time is it?” He asked curiously as he walked into the living and dining area of the tent.

“About 5:30ish” she advised as she read her book, her turn not to look up.

“It’s too late to travel now, we’d end up getting stranded in a bog somewhere”

Cosima made a noise to suggest that she agreed. Draco looked at her, trying to read the facial features as though they were lines of text in another language. He had so many things he wanted to say. He wanted to thank her for being here and sorry that she was stuck with him. He opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came out. He looked around wondering whether he could escape the guilt he felt. His eyes landed on the supplies and then the stove and smiled.

“I’ll make dinner” He started as he began to unload the supplies. He felt, more than saw her head rise up to look at him as he began to sort through the supplies. The food began to levitate through the air so Draco could assess what he had to work with. Various fruits and vegetables floated from the bags and then, from another, proteins such as eggs and various dried meats. He nodded to himself, this was what he had been expecting. With a wave of his wand the carrots, parsnips and suede began to simultaneously peel themselves before being sliced and diced in mid-air. He turned and examined the packet of magically dried beef. He knew that as soon as he introduced water the meat would be rehydrated and ready to cook.

With another flick of his wand, another bag floated towards him. The contents slowly rising out to reveal themselves. Herbs and spices of various descriptions rose up, spinning and twirling for Draco to select.

“Wait until I tell the others back at the office about this,” Cosima said behind him. He turned and looked at her, his eyebrow raised in curiosity.

“About what?” He asked as he selected the bay leaves, thyme and parsley stalks.

“This!” She waved her hands at him to include all the food floating in the air.

“The food?” He asked, genuinely curious. He pondered for a moment what she meant before interrupting. “Pass me the water jug from over there please?” Cosima pulled out her wand and Draco raised his eyebrow again briefly, surprised by the paleness of the wood her wand was made from, he suspected it was Maplewood.

The water jug floated up and over to him, landing gently at his feet. “Thanks,” He said as he continued to prepare the food. Before long the tent smelled warm and comforting as the stew developed its flavours. He grabbed a cloth and wiped his hands before turning to Cosima again, who sat open-mouthed at him. “Cosima?” He asked as he sat down.

“How-” She began to ask.

“How do I know how to cook?” Draco asked, a small smile coming to his lips. Cosima nodded dumbly. “I’ve lived on my own a long time, if I didn’t learn I’d have starved” He laughed as though it was obvious.

“Sorry, it’s just that we all thought you were the same spoilt brat that bought his way out of Azkaban.”

“Please don’t say that word” Draco shuddered. He felt like cold water had been poured over him at the name of the place. He had waited within the walls of that hell hole as the ministry assembled the evidence for his trial. He had been luckier than some, as the dementors were no longer in residence, however, the rooms were still icy cold and damp, lacking in light and comfort. For weeks he had spent agonizing over and analysing every action, every thought and feeling which had transported him into the grim cell.

He slumped into the chair as he held himself close. His mind finding itself transported back into the tiny, dank cell. He tried not to think about the thoughts he’d clung to which had kept his heart beating during the 6 months he’d endured within the regularly-flooded icy box. The memories of Harry which had warmed his soul as the saltwater seeped into his ripped and ragged robes. He glimpsed the fantasies briefly before wrapping it in silk and filing it away at the back of his mind. Draco sighed as he thought of his new memories of their brief relationship. He knew they were much too fragile for much analysis as he carefully filed them for later. He took a deep and steadying breath as his thoughts returned to the room.

He realised that Cosima had been talking whilst he had relived his own version of hell.

“We all thought your Mother had paid handsomely to get you our of the trials without so much as a slap on the wrist.”

“Is that what people thought?” Draco muttered coldly. He could feel the anger and the pain of it all swirling around in his gut.

“I don’t anymore” Cosima muttered, and Draco could hear the embarrassment.

“My Mother, Merlin rest her soul, was a gentle woman who was dragged into this by my Father.” He paused, wondering how much he wanted to say what he was about to say, and for once realised he didn’t care about being careful, to hell with the Malfoy decorum. “I love my Father. He was a great man. Growing up I wanted to be exactly like him. Strong, graceful, powerful and above all, loyal to the saviour of the wizarding world. As a child, I was filled with stories of the great Lord Voldemort, who would return one day and rid the world of the Muggleborns and half-bloods who were ruining our way of life.”

He sighed as he rubbed his face for a moment, trying to rid himself of the tired feeling overcoming him. “For a long time, I held the belief that purebloods were an endangered species and under threat. That once all the Muggleborns and half-bloods were regulated, our way of life would be restored and protected. I believed that with every fibre of my being until I met the dark lord himself. I was fifteen and frightened. My strong and powerful father was in-”

He didn’t know whether he could force himself to say it, so close to his memories. He swallowed audibly and continued “Prison and not there to protect me nor mother, and mother was terrified. The dark lord, who had always been an awe-inspiring character in my imagination was, in truth, an evil and twisted wizard who was unpredictable in his anger and unfair with his favour. He did heinous, unthinkable things and I was forced to watch or help. I was days into being sixteen when I was forced to take the dark mark, forced to pledge allegiance to a cause which I no longer felt to be true. I was forced to kill Dumbledore to return our families honour and, more importantly, safety.” He stood and began to pace, keeping the anger and fear at bay.

“I never killed anyone, I tried to kill Dumbledore but even at the time, my attempts were feeble, and I almost killed others by be being careless and stupid. That is the one thing I tell myself in the mirror whenever I’ve have a bad run in. I wasn’t a murderer! I allowed Death Eaters to get into Hogwarts, and for that and any deaths which that act caused, I can’t and never will be sorry enough. I did everything that I could do to not follow the dark lord, but still be seen as being loyal. I couldn’t leave to join the other side because he’d have killed my gentle mother.” He stirred the food in the pot on the stove and sighed.

“After the battle of Hogwarts, I was imprisoned and left there for six months, not talking to anyone, not receiving letters, thinking that the wizarding world had locked me away and thrown away the key. The food was rotten, the cell flooded, I was naked and alone and seventeen, only just legal. The only interaction I had with people was hearing the other prisoners calling out when they too were beaten within an inch of their lives. The aurors were not gracious hosts. When they finally collected me for my trial, I had so many badly healed bones that I couldn’t walk properly, I was hunched in on myself, and I was so dirty and caked in muck that I would rather not mention how long it took to get clean.”

Draco ran his hand through his hair, luxuriating in its relatively clean state in contrast to what it had been. Cosima cleared her throat making him look up at her. He knew his eyes were haunted and steely, but he couldn’t bring himself to soften his gaze.

“I saw the pictures in the prophet”

“Along side some biased and fictional commentary no doubt” He bit back. “I was half-dragged into that court room where the lights were so bright, surrounded by so many people, afraid to show how much pain I was in. I couldn’t bring myself to look at them, I didn’t want to remember who would be sending me back to prison, and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would end up back there. I sat waiting for the auror to take me away. To lead me back to my punishment and my personal hell.”

He paused and closed his eyes, feeling the tears prick. He could remember everything about that day. The way the hard, wooden chair bit into his thin and delicate skin, how the chains cut and the stickiness of the blood. He could remember feeling slightly warmer than he had in his cell even in the large room, and he knew that was because there were so many people fitted into the small room. He knew that being covered in his own mess and rags made him look pitiful and disgusting. The murmur of voices washed over him as people spoke about him, he ignored them as he concentrated on the pain in his back.

Suddenly he heard a single voice above his own thoughts. He closed his eyes against the sound, wishing to any deity that would listen, that he wasn’t there, wasn’t seeing him covered in filth and so broken. But even the gods had failed him, he thought at the time. Harry bloody Potter was there and talking. The Chosen one, was seeing his rival reduced to a skin bag covered in faeces. Even now, the embarrassment filled him tinged now with the sadness. He had raised his eyes to look at him just once and wished he hadn’t. The boy he’d known and loved at school was no longer a boy but a man. So much more grown up and mature than how he felt. His clothes, albeit not up to Malfoy standards, were clean and smart, the colour of his jacket bringing out the green of his eyes. Even now, Draco felt his stomach summersault at the sight. He felt tears come to his eyes as he waited for the proof against his character and knew for certain that Harry Potter believed every unkind word. When Harry began to talk and their eyes met, it took every ounce of strength not to cry.

“When Potter spoke up at my hearing I thought it was to condemn me further. We had been rivals at school. Not that it mattered, I had resigned myself to going back. But I think I fainted when he started to speak up for me at the trial. I had to be carried from the room because I was too weak to expect it and endure it. No other came forward to help me, my mother told me afterwards. He was a lone voice in the room asking for mercy, pointing out all the ways I had tried to do the right things and all the choices I had made. Things that I never would have considered good choices at the time. It was difficult and surprising to realised that your rival and enemy knew you better than anyone else in the world. I next woke up at St Mungo’s having to have all my bones rebroken and fixed. Twenty seven bones in total. I was in that hospital bed for three months getting treatment, both physical and mental. No visitors came to see me, not even my mother as she was under house arrest. The mediwizards and healers didn’t agree with the wizengamot’s decision, I could tell a they didn’t talk to me, they healed me to perfection as that was their job, but they didn’t converse, didn’t treat me as a person.”

He sat down again, the memories getting slightly easier to relive. “When I was released I was able to go back home to the manor, a place now infected forever with the darkness that the dark lord had created. Every room held a dark memory and I didn’t want to stay there, but I wasn’t able to leave as all the money was either taken as reparations or frozen. My father had died whilst I was in St Mungo’s and I never got the chance to say goodbye. My mother died shortly after, leaving me everything but once again alone. It was difficult to do anything in England as I was a pariah. People spat at me and yelled at me, flinging stinging curses at me as I walked passed. I got beaten just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and for having the wrong face and name. The prophet followed me around for a time, suggesting that I was in contact with death eaters or that I was trying to reignite the dark lord’s movement. So after a while, I stopped leaving the house, finding it to be another just larger and warmer cell.” He swallowed again, not looking at her.

“I seriously considered suicide, I had no more fight left, I was alone and hurting in almost every way and I couldn’t see that there was any future for me. I just couldn’t take it, being alone and being miserable on my own. As I was sorting through my mother’s things, I found a copy of the Prophet and also the Quibbler from my trial. I read both and almost fainted again. The prophet painted my trial as a farce and that Potter must have been under the imperious curse. They never actually mentioned anything Potter said in my defence, just that his disillusioned argument swayed the wizengamot purely on his celebrity status. The Quibbler on the other hand gave a very frank and factual account. It listed Harry’s testimony in truth, word for word. I cut it out and kept it, and it gave me hope. Potter stood up to so many things during our school years, and had stood up for me to give me another chance at my life. How could I throw that second chance away? I vowed that I would make something of myself and use this second chance to help others and do the things that I always wanted to do. I left England, and the shadows of my former life and I travelled the world, I actually worked for a living, I lived from payday to pay day, donating the money from all my parents Gringotts vaults to various charities. I travelled and found a certain amount of peace. For fifteen years I managed to avoid England and its bitter reporters and long memories, I had hoped when I returned that people had forgotten or moved on. Obviously not”

They were both silent for a long moment before Draco spoke again. “The only thing paid to have me released was Potter’s pride, good will and reputation. The only slap on the wrist I got was an experience that would have killed me if Harry hadn’t saved me from it”

Draco stood up and checked on the stew again, giving it a stir. He didn’t know what he was expecting, pity maybe, but when two chubby arms encircled him from behind He nearly jumped out of his skin. He turned in her loose grip and looked down at her.

“What are you doing?” He asked as he tilted his head to get a better look at her. He knew his eyebrows were raised in shock.

“I’m hugging you” She replied simply.

“I can see that” Draco replied sarcastically. “But why”

“I wanted to say sorry, and you looked so sad” She sighed for a second and released him dejectedly. “I guess that things haven’t changed all that much, we still believe what we are told in the prophet, without looking for the facts. For my part in that, I am sorry.” She waited for a moment before speaking again, but Draco could see she had questions. “What did you do that Harry Potter felt he needed to stand up for you?”

Draco smiled a small smile and pulled out his wallet. He opened it up revealing a small and fragile piece of paper. He lifted it out and handed it to her. She unfolded it gently and began to read. Draco watched her features carefully, feeling nervous that the small slip of paper was distant from him. He ached to snatch it back and put it safely away again. Her eyes widened more than once as she read the article. Finally she looked into the fire as she digested it all.

“it’s like an alternative reality, why did I not know about any of this?” she shook her head. “Without you and your mother, Harry would be dead. How could the Prophet keep this from us? Draco nodded and reached, possessively for the parchment. She handed it to him without looking and just shook her head. “You need to tell the world again Draco. This would change so many people’s opinion about you. Not everyone’s but so many.” Draco nodded again.

“No one wants to listen to a death eater trying to paint themselves out to be a better person.” He sighed, getting up to check on the stew again. “Dinners ready, I hope you’re hungry, I may have made too much” He snorted as he looked at the bubbling broth in the pot.

“I am famished, wonder whether the ministry packed any bread?” Draco flicked his wand to reveal a crusty loaf from one of the bags, he hovered it over to the table, setting it down in the centre.

“Don’t know about you, but I need a drink too,” Draco said as a bottle of red wine followed towards the table, chased closely by two glasses.

“You read my mind” She smiled warmly as Draco returned to the table with two bowls filled to the brim. As Draco sat down Cosima poured the wine and gave him his glass. “I propose a toast”

“A toast?” Draco repeated questioningly.

“Indeed, I propose we toast to second chances, the truth and reconciliations”

“Alright,” Draco agreed.

“May the people who wronged us, know the truth. May the people who know the truth, request forgiveness and may those who forgive and are forgiven, be happy, healthy and loved” They clinked glasses and smiled as they drank the rich beverage.

“A lovely toast” Draco smiled wistfully. “Here’s hoping” He took another long swill before tucking into his food.

“Here’s hoping,” Cosima said, giving him a long a pointed look, which he ignored.

Accio Next Chapter

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