I always felt kind of sorry for him. Even last month when I heard that he’d got his name put on the sex offender’s register.
He’d always seemed completely harmless. He was so civil that I would have assumed he’d have known better. I’d have assumed that he really couldn’t have been capable of doing anyone any harm. In hindsight though, I suppose maybe he must have been.
I was in the same form class as Malfoy right the way through secondary school, though we weren’t in any of the same lessons. This was because he was far more academically intelligent than I was; right across the board, his place was firmly cemented in the ‘top sets’ for all subjects from first year through to GCSE year.
His real name wasn’t Malfoy by the way. This was a name he must have been given early on in his Star of the Sea days, maybe even before them. Whenever it was that everyone was first reading or watching Harry Potter, someone apparently spotted a tenuous resemblance between Andrew Hale (his real name) and the character in the series named ‘Malfoy’. To my knowledge the resemblance really wasn’t all that strong either. Then again I’ve only seen the character in film, and that was only from watching half of the first one, probably more than ten years ago, so I suppose I can’t really comment. Our Malfoy was a skinny boy with a posh accent – posh by a Yorkshire state school’s standards anyway – and a close fitting head of blonde hair. These I suppose were similarities enough to earn him his name at the time, a name that well and truly stuck.
I could have probably come up with a far more mocking nickname than ‘Malfoy’ had it been put to me. His pointy features and twitchy persona gave plenty to draw upon, so I suppose he got off lightly with the name he was given. Then I wasn’t really the sort of boy who’d ever be bold enough to come up with nicknames, not ones that I’d use to people’s faces at least.
By the time I was even aware of who Malfoy was, it was well established that ‘Malfoy’ was his name, and he didn’t really seem to mind it. By third year at Star of the Sea it had almost completely replaced his real name, to the extent that I’m pretty sure some of our less disciplined teachers even slipped into calling him it from time to time. Even now, fifteen years since my year group left Star of the Sea, and in the weeks since his actual name was printed in the newspaper, I’ve only heard those who knew him refer to him as Malfoy, including my mother in recent phone conversations with her about him.
‘Did you hear about Malfoy??’ my sister had eagerly asked me a month ago, in an SMS message that prompted me to visit the Raughton Echo’s clunky website for the first time in the five years since I moved away from the county. Though I often find it hard to read the tone of text message conversations, I’m pretty sure my sister (two years my junior, and still in Raughton) found the whole thing pretty entertaining. ‘****ing hell! He was always weird – but that’s mental!’, she’d replied to me when I told her I had just read the news about him on-line.
The more I thought about Malfoy the harder it became to imagine what life must have been like for him in the years that had passed since school. I probably hadn’t thought about him at all in the twelve years or so since I’d seen him. He was one of the very few people from school who I’d not run into on a Saturday night back home since then, and he’d never surfaced on Facebook, as most Star of the Sea alumni had, sending friend requests to long-forgotten classmates who they’d never actually been friends with in the first place.
What must he have been doing all these years? Had he gone to University? Did he have a job? I presumed if he did have a job, he’d have lost it since his name was published, and the Echo’s article did say something about his having recently ‘left the area’. Had Malfoy ever had a girlfriend? Had he ever got himself laid? Even without the recent news of the newspaper’s article, these questions would have been pretty difficult to imagine correctly giving a ‘yes’ answer to.
For most of the now twenty seven/twenty eight year old men and women from my year at Star of the Sea, it’s pretty safe to assume that since school they had got themselves laid, that they had got jobs and that most of them did now have partners. For most of them the more apt questions would be ‘are they married?’, and ‘how many children do they have?’. In Malfoy’s case I genuinely wouldn’t even have been able to begin to wonder beyond the basics. I couldn’t quite picture him in the workplace, or even at university – despite his superior intellectual abilities.
The newspaper’s website said the judge described him as ‘sexually and socially immature’, which anyone could have probably told you about him back when we were fifteen; but for a twenty eight year old man, I’m not sure I know what the hell that even means. I don’t know if I quite understand what the term sexually immature can ever really mean.
Throughout our time at Star of the Sea, Malfoy received no shortage of negative attention from other kids – boys and girls alike. At the time I’m not sure I’d have called this ‘bullying’, as my understanding of the term is that it implies a far more intimate bully/victim relationship than he was ever afforded. Screwing with Malfoy was just something everyone did sooner or later, myself included, and yet I don’t think that most would have felt all that great about it – he almost made it too easy. Then again, at fourteen or fifteen years old, I doubt anyone ever lost any sleep over it.
I can remember a number of stand-out occasions when our form teacher Ms Bullock didn’t come in for registration period. The form class would only assemble each morning between 08:45 and 09:00, so there was usually no cover teacher assigned to cover it if she wasn’t in. On occasions like this there was invariably a strange tension in the room for the fifteen minutes that our form occupied it. I was usually pretty tense at this time of day about the day ahead anyway, with some homework not completed, or one of the upcoming day’s lessons hanging over me.
When we were in third or fourth year, I don’t remember which, Ms Bullock was pregnant, and there were quite a few mornings that she was a no show. The atmosphere in a teacher-less registration period was strange, and for me anyway, hard to ignore. Essentially this was an unsupervised collection of students that in any other context would not have been. Students normally segregated by their academic ability, or otherwise by their chosen social groups. I remember the first three or four minutes after what must have been an 08:40 bell would typically have been spent in a sort of quiet anticipation of Ms Bullock’s arrival. This would then gradually dissolve over the following minutes into a chaotic scene of students sitting on desks, writing on desks, playing with cigarette lighters, lounging in chairs, listening to headphones and eating whatever junk food they had in their rucksacks; generally just making the most of an unexpected section of dead air in the school’s otherwise packed schedule.
From where I used to sit, on the third row back, there was almost always a near tangible hostility that emanated from the back row of seats, three or four rows further back from where I was. The back row was unofficially reserved for the class’ more troublesome students, most of whom I never shared a conversation or actual class with, and yet nearly all of whom in the years since school have turned up looking like **** in the ‘friend requests’ they’ve sent me. Anyway in a classroom without a teacher, the back row – of which a poor-faced boy named Gaz was the alpha – really couldn’t resist Malfoy.
Malfoy could always be found, neatly turned out at the very front row of the classroom. My friends and I were used to sitting right in the middle of a rather one-sided crossfire, literally keeping our heads down, and trying not to draw too much attention to ourselves. Malfoy was our diversion. We were invisible in a room that had him in it.
The most common attack that the back row would habitually deploy was to throw their rubbish at him. Empty Coke cans and sandwich crusts were the missiles of choice, and periodically they would bounce off the back of his navy blue acrylic jumper, with each of the back row boys’ feigned attempts at aiming for the classroom’s dustbin. Sentences like ‘Put that in the bin for us, Malfoy’, or ‘Soz, Malfoy, I wa aiming for ‘bin’, would be crowed from the back of the room, often followed by a snigger – depending on the comedic value of the missile’s bounce off him, or the amount of drink that it left on his sweater.
The worst part of it was probably Malfoy’s reaction to each hit, or near miss. He’d always get up from his seat and obediently put the rubbish in the dustbin at the front of the room. Depending on the noise level among the rest of the class, he would sometimes give an unselfconsciously delivered and well articulated quip back in response, ‘I think your aim needs some improvement’, or ‘Maybe we should put a target above the dustbin for you’.
Sometimes he’d get a laugh from the back row, but to everyone but Malfoy it would have been pretty obvious that it was a laugh at him and not at any of his quips. More often than not though, it seemed like screwing with Malfoy wasn’t something that the back row did as a source of ‘laugh out loud’ entertainment. It was more something to do just because he was there, and because they could. It was just the order of things to them and after a while they acted out of habit, or maybe instinct.
Occasionally during the teacher-less form periods, with the garbage slowly flying overhead in Malfoy’s direction, one of the Asian girls on the other side of the room might speak up on his behalf. ‘Eya don’t be tight’, they might have said, but I don’t remember it making much of a difference, and actually it didn’t happen all that often. There never was a Simon of Cyerne around to help Malfoy bear the cross that was his, a friend to sit on the same row as him, if only to draw some of the back row’s fire. He was probably the only person who was truly alone in our year group, taking everything the others could throw, without ever really seeming to acknowledge that any of it was actually aimed at him.
As friendless as Malfoy was, I cannot recall ever having seen him look wistful or upset. In fact I cannot recall him ever appearing anything other than his usual awkwardly well spoken version of upbeat; chipper even, in a manner that was really just too polite to seem natural in a school year full of his teenage peers.
Aside from the already mentioned occasional show of pity from one or two of the girls in the class, the girls generally made as much sport of Malfoy as the back row lads did. At times they could be even harder on him.
At maybe fifteen or sixteen years old, I vividly remember Emily Jackson creating a show for the class, using Malfoy as her prop. I think it was during an indoor lunch break on a rainy day(another volatile, unsupervised environment of students of varying social and academic groupings). In hindsight it was almost certainly a dare from her friends that made Emily walk to the front of the classroom, adopting a cliché version of allure that she might have borrowed from a Betty Boop cartoon. She confidently strode to the front of the room, her gangly, tan-nylon covered legs passing all the rows on the way, to sit on the ever unsuspecting Malfoy’s lap, like a dancer in a strip club. Emily was far from the best looking girl in our year, or even the class, in fact I don’t think she was someone I can remember anyone saying they ever ‘fancied’ or anything like that. Still, having her land on their lap would have been a nervy prospect for me or any of my friends at the time.
She sat across Malfoy’s horizontal thighs, her legs’ held together, and an arm draped across his shoulders, with her cheap blonde fringe and toothy smile just a few inches from his irksomely retracting pale face. She huskily said some cartoonish one-liners lines to Malfoy for the benefit of her onlooking group of friends, all of whom were now laughing like drains from a row half way back, and at the far side of the room,
‘How are you doing? …Good lookin’?’
I laughed along with the rest of the class as they erupted, like I always did. Like I did with every Coke can I watched him take to the head, or tennis ball I saw him take to the crotch, or ****ty comment I heard sent his way. I can remember these moments of laughter distinctly, for their hollow sense of relief, a hollowness that seems unmistakeable as I remember it now. It was far from the usual healthy dose of Catholic guilt at laughing at someone less fortunate, and was more of a cold-stomached feeling at the thought that it could have just as easily been me that had been targeted.
If I’d thought about it enough I could have broken a sweat just imagining the distress that would have come to me if I was in Malfoy’s seat that day, having spontaneously had even the most quasi-****able of girls land on my lap, like Emily just had on his. The unwanted staring and sniggering from the class behind him, the wall of laughter that followed. The fear of what Emily might say to her friends upon her return to them, or in an announcement to her audience from my lap. Fearing how my breath might have smelled with her face so close to mine, how my underarms would have dripped as they perspired with her being there, and the truly terrifying thought of getting an erection that she’d have been able to feel, and the inevitability of her tactlessly sharing that news with the others.
Malfoy remained as awkward as he ever was, but really no more than usual. He remained seated in his usual overly upright posture, and gave his typically square sounding, polite answers and retorts to each of Emily’s unfunnily delivered lines of seduction,
‘Is it getting hotter in here?’
‘I think it is quite warm yes, we’re quite near the radiator here actually.’
‘Where are you from, big boy?’
‘I’m from Thorne, where are you from.. big girl(?)’
After a minute or so of this there wasn’t any more laughing and for Emily’s part it had started to get a little embarrassing; she wasn’t getting a laugh any more from the mere fact that she’d dared to sit on a weird kid’s knee. She really didn’t have anything else in the way of comedy to offer the class and she was realising it. I suppose you’d have to say that Malfoy had, in his usual way, managed to obliviously weather a storm that would have easily destroyed somebody else. One that would have left me in ruins.
It would be remiss to call anything like this a win for Malfoy, he was always made to look a fool in one way or another, whether he knew it or not. He was always the same old Malfoy: the kid on the front row who everyone was above, everyone was cooler than – no matter how uncool they were.
I’m pretty sure there’s no real parable to draw from the limited memories I have of Malfoy, and they really don’t go far beyond the sketchy anecdotes that I’ve already recounted of him here. All I definitely know of him beyond these tales are the facts I learned from the newspaper: that ‘Police had seized computer devices from his home with over 300 indecent images of children, some at the most extreme level’, and that ‘he had admitted 11 counts of making indecent photographs and movies at his mother’s home in Raughton over a period of two years’.
There’s one thing that I can say with some certainty from my years with him at Star of the Sea, and from all my days of cowardly laughter and unspoken empathy at his expense. Out of all of the hundred or more students in our GCSE year group, there was only one student who left the school fully equipped to survive the friendless and humiliating existence that surely awaits one whose name is published for such indefensible offences. Malfoy.