Zabini was already waiting in the drawing room when Draco set foot in the Manor, and didn't even do him the courtesy of looking apologetic. Draco scowled.

Blaise glanced at the fireplace briefly. "Thought she was coming with you."

With a body half numb and half trembling with pent-up emotion, Draco couldn't even form the words to convey why he really couldn't bear the thought of Astoria being anywhere nearhim at the moment, so he settled for a sort of growling snarl, to which Blaise rolled his eyes.

Stuffing his hands into his pockets, Draco walked past his unwanted visitor and made his way towards the staircase. He could hear the broken glass crunching under their shoes, but Blaise didn't seem to notice it. Perhaps he'd already encountered it last time he had been in the Manor, and drawn his own conclusions.

The press had crowded around Draco as soon as he had left the courtroom, but the new Aurors Bill Weasley had finally assigned to protect him had been considerably more efficient than Buchannan and Smith, and so he had only had to grit his teeth and keep his eyes fixed on a distant point before him until he was Flooing home. The shouting voices hadn't been hard to drown out; his mind was still spinning and replaying Potter's words over and over. It all only served to make him angrier.

Ollie skittered towards him at the top of the landing, stopped short at the look on his face, and promptly disappeared in the opposite direction. Draco stalked down the corridor, turned sharply into the sitting room, threw himself down on the sofa and turned to glare at Blaise.

"Why are you here?"

Blaise's lip curled as he leaned against the doorframe, arms crossed. "I was thinking that it might be a good time to call on our friend Mulpepper."

"A good time?" Draco looked at him with absolute bafflement. "How in Merlin's name is this a good time? In case you hadn't noticed," he added. "I just got back from the Ministry."

"I know. I came just ahead of you. Your entourage slowed you down."

Draco snorted and rubbed his face with one hand, feeling infinitely tired. "I need a drink," he grumbled, staying hunched over with his forehead on his palm, propped up with an elbow on his knee.

Ollie appeared immediately, bowed, and retreated, but not before Blaise had already put in an order of his own, as if this was his bloody house.

Astoria had knownwhat bringing Potter to the trial would do to him. He had seen it in her eyes just before he had realized who was about to testify; she had looked almost like she was going to apologize.

She had no idea how it had felt, to have to sit there and listen to Potter speak about him, to watch the irony play out in his head against every single interaction they had had before that moment… to remember, with bile churning in his stomach, the childish glee he had felt every time he succeeded in making Potter's stupid, naïve face flush with anger, anger that had only grown into hatred as the years passed by…

"Look, Malfoy, if you intend to waste the rest of the day pondering over your misfortune, I think I'm better off getting a First Year to help me with this business."

Draco turned his head only as much as was necessary to send a look of proper scorching rage his way. "If you really were at the trial," he snapped. "Then you know I have every reason to give myself some bloody time to ponder on my misfortune, given the circumstances."

Blaise snorted and pushed himself off of the doorway, looking down at him with a sardonically raised eyebrow. "Oh, the horror of having Harry Potter himself come and testify on your behalf. What a tragedy that must be."

He wasn't helping. All Draco really wanted was to sit quietly and, yes, maybe ponder on his misfortune a bit more, but in all fairness he really had earned the right to do so. He had no interest in discussing his feelings and experiences with Zabini – no matter how admittedly great, and somewhat surprising, it was that Blaise still wanted to help him.

Ollie delivered the drinks, and Draco snatched the glass from the table in front of him.

He took a swig. "If you're so bloody eager to get this thing done, go get Mulpepper."

There was a pause, and Draco turned again to see Blaise surveying him with distaste on his dark features. "I'm not bringing him here when you look like that. I also have no intention of entertaining him in your sitting room like he's some sort of family guest. Pick somewhere…" Blaise looked around at the bare walls and the small oasis of carpets and sparse furniture that Draco was perched on. "Scarier."

"This isn't the Shrieking Shack."

Blaise smirked. "Put him in the Dark Lord's room, I bet that'll make him piss himself."

Draco almost choked on his drink.

He couldn't even begin to explain why nothing Blaise was saying made any sense, and why every word that was escaping the git's mouth was absolutely insensitively insulting to the years of horrible memories the Manor housed, so he just coughed and slammed his glass down on the table. "We can use the entrance hall."

"You're so underwhelming."

Draco narrowed his eyes. "You're much too happy about this."

It occurred to him for a second that Blaise might actually be trying to cheer him up. He was failing enormously, of course, but the thought was off-putting enough to somewhat distract Draco from how unpleasantly the trial had gone. He finally sighed and got on his feet, facing Zabini.

"That's better," Blaise drawled, like a parent surveying his child. As if Draco hadn't had enough humiliation today for a lifetime. If he hadn't needed Zabini on his side so badly, he might have hexed him. "Especially with that murderous expression; I think it'll add nicely to the ambiance. See you downstairs in five minutes."

And saying that, he smirked and left the room.

Draco finally let out the frustrated yell that had been boiling inside him, and in a sudden spurt of violence, knocked over the small table with his foot. The remains of his drink soaked slowly into the carpet. He turned away from it, palms pressed to his eyes, which felt all too hot in the cool air of the Manor. He was shaking.

Was Potter intent on adding himself to the mad cast of characters that had a habit of appearing in his head? Hadn't he had enough?

Even now, he could hear Astoria's voice, low and scathing: You think it's much better to just sabotage yourself by keeping information from me because you're too bloody proud.

He had spent almost the entire second half of his life fighting tooth and nail against Potter, hating Potter, attacking Potter – and now, in some manner of strange, fucked-up poetic justice, Potter was turning it around and making him the recipient of his particular nobility-infused benevolence.

Hadn't he survived the past two years without anyone, much less Potter, there to save the day? Didn't life owe him something better than being reduced to the role of victim in the strange story that was playing out – the story where Potter always, always, seemed to be the hero?

If you win this case – now's your chance.

It was patronizing, that's what it was – and worst of all, it was true.

When he finally made his way down to the entrance hall, the arch leading into the drawing room was already gleaming with green light from the fireplace flames. Draco pushed his hair out of his face irritably and pulled out his wand, feeling some fleeting satisfaction at the knowledge that he could, at the very least, finally use magic.

Blaise emerged only a few seconds later with the sound of screeching glass against marble, one hand fastened on the collar of a trembling figure, which he tossed onto the ground mercilessly, his wand already pointed at its head. He made momentary eye contact with Draco, amusement gleaming in his gaze, and then his normally calm features twisted into cruel anger.

"Look up, you sorry excuse for a wizard!" he snapped. His wand twitched and the figure's head was suddenly raised to reveal the terrified yet slightly glazed-over eyes of Travis Mulpepper. With his wrinkled hat and cigar absent, he looked like a strange, shrivelled goblin.

At the sight of him, Draco felt his frustration melt away slightly, replaced with cold enjoyment. It had been weeks since their encounter at Mulpepper's apothecary, but his anger had in no way diminished.

"Welcome," he began scathingly. "To my… what was it? 'Rotting cave in Wiltshire'?"

Mulpepper let out a strangled growl, eyes darting around the hall as if he expected someone to run in and save him at any moment. "The Ministry's got you sealed off," he floundered.

"Well, obviously not completely," Blaise drawled, his wand tightening the man's bonds painfully with a twist of his wrist. "Good luck trying to get out, though."

"What do you want?" The old man spat.

Draco allowed himself a threatening grin. "You stole my property. I want it back."

Mulpepper ground his teeth together, but then bared them in a yellowish grin. In the dim light, the rusted metal teeth were rotten, dark gaps in his smile. "And you think tying me up is gonna do the trick? I run a business, Malfoy. All you've got left is this dump. And if you think killing me will help, I'm sure the Ministry's tracking that sort of activity around here; don't think I don't know that."

"Who says I want to kill you?" Draco retorted. "I want the Fluxweed back, and you're going to give it to me."

The pale eyes stared at him with a sickly sort of satisfaction. "There's nothing you can do to scare me, Malfoy. Lucius might have thought he could boss the rest of us around like we were his House-Elves, but his time is up. So is yours. Let me go if you know what's good for you, or I'll take you to the Ministry and have you thrown where you belong. You've got no power left."

Draco smiled coldly. "You're forgetting something."

"You're a businessman, aren't you, Travis?" Blaise crossed the floor until he was standing beside Draco, his wand held so casually in his hand that it almost didn't seem like he was responsible for Mulpepper's bonds. "Don't you know that every business revolves around the needs of its clients?"

Reaching into his robes, he produced a roll of parchment, which Draco unravelled with a flick of his wand. It hovered in front of Mulpepper's face, names and numbers reflected in his glassy eyes.

"My uncle's a potioneer," Blaise explained calmly. "Orders a supply of Fluxweed every six months from the Malfoy Apothecary. The transaction is made automatically at Gringotts – it's been going on for generations, you see."

The old wizard's eyes narrowed. "What's that to me?"

Blaise's tone was so threatening that Draco found himself wondering why in Merlin's name he had settled for Crabbe and Goyle to help him terrorize First Years during their childhood. "He died in a Ministry raid just after the War – but the deal still stands, and it's been passed on to me, as his closest male relative. Which means that now, since you have the Fluxweed, you owe me two years' worth of the product."

Mulpepper let out a snarl. "What's this?" he spat, turning to look at Draco, hatred shining in his eyes. "Getting your friends to do your dirty work?"

"He's my client," Draco replied. The roll of parchment fell to the floor with a hollow smack. "The Fluxweed was already paid for. You stole it from him, not from me."

"In case you hadn't heard, I'm back in town," Blaise continue. "And the Zabinis won't blink twice at having to drag you to the Ministry for theft – especially when it comes to an ingredient as dangerous as Fluxweed. You want Aurors poking around in your shithole of a shop?"

Draco's cold smile widened. "Are you scared yet?"

Blaise returned with a signed parchment and a list detailing the amounts of product that had been returned. Mulpepper had even had to pay back some in galleons, to make up for selling some of the two years' worth of Fluxweed. Blaise split the amount and tossed Draco his half.

"Look, I don't know what you're so moody about anyway," he said, continuing the conversation where it had been abandoned more than an hour ago. "You went from having no chance to having the greatest of chances handed to you. Last week you thought you were going to end up in Azkaban."

Draco threw the pouch of galleons onto the upturned table and glared into the fire. "I'm sick of everyone setting up a fucking safety net underneath me."

Blaise snorted, but when Draco glanced at him, the mirth was gone from his eyes. "Oh, you were expecting some sort of gloriously dramatic exit from the courtroom, with Greengrass convincing the jury and you watching powerfully on as all your enemies were vanquished?"

He sighed and made his way to the couch, taking a seat and crossing his arms in front of him. "Trials aren't like that, Malfoy. You're lucky you've gotten away with minimal humiliation. You know what the rest of us had to do?" He wasn't looking at Draco now, but at the opposite wall, his face oddly blank. "I had to beg the Wizengamot. My mother cried. Have you seen my mother?"

Draco swallowed, his throat suddenly dry. He could hardly bring himself to imagine Mrs. Zabini, with her usual regal gait and her prideful scowl, undone in front of the Wizengamot.

"We were on the wrong side of the War," Blaise continued. "There isn't going to be some glorious victory at the end of this. It's going to be humiliating, and it's going to hurt like bloody murder, and by the end of it all you're going to want to kill everyone and most of all, yourself. That's how trials are."

To be honest, Draco hadn't really thought about what Blaise's trial had been like. He supposed, belatedly, that maybe he should have been there. But at the time the thought of being at the Ministry only a few months after his father had been convicted had seemed almost physically impossible.

Blaise's eyes were emotionless, but his mouth twitched into a smirk. "You're lucky you have Greengrass. I guess the family brains must have skipped Daphne entirely."

He caught the look on Draco's expression and snorted, but said nothing else.

They stayed that way in silence, Blaise sitting and Draco standing, facing the same direction, until finally Draco let out a sigh of frustration and turned.

"I didn't expect it to be a victory. But how would you have felt if Potter showed up at your hearing—"

"I would have been grateful, Malfoy," Blaise snapped, interrupting him. His eyes were suddenly burning, cutting holes into Draco's. "Because after all the shit you put Potter through, he did you that favour. You think you deserve to get out of Azkaban? Is that what you think?" He let out a low laugh and shook his head. "Greengrass got you the best witness you possibly could have had on your side. You have a chance, now. Get over yourself."

Draco swallowed again, digging his shoe into the carpet as he turned back to the fire. He knew, vaguely, that he should write a letter to Sally Coulson to explain that he had fixed the situation – to prove that he hadn't failed completely. To show that he, too, could solve things, like his father once had, but better… except he never seemed to be doing any of it on his own.

If Lucius Malfoy hadn't been a Death Eater in the First War, if they hadn't been so afraid of going against Voldemort, if they hadn't instilled prejudice in their son… maybe Draco would have had a chance to make his own choices.

Zabini would have been grateful.

And he could hear himself again, snapping at Astoria when she accused him of being too proud, too stubborn to tell her what she needed to know in order to win.

He had been so scared.

But he had still wanted, for some stupid, pointless reason, to have a chance at a victory lap – at emerging from it all with his head raised high, at pointing out to the world that somehow, maybe, he had been innocent.

It was unrealistic, and it was stupid; hadn't he told Astoria the same?

He wondered absently what would have happened if his mother and father, upon discovering that the Dark Lord was soon to return, had gone to the people who might have truly helped them – the same people Draco himself might have shunned; people like Zabini, or even the Greengrass family, who would have understood, who might have even helped, somehow, to ease the load of terror. People like Dumbledore.

People like Potter.

Draco waited until the knot in his throat subsided and his eyes burned from staring at the fire for so long. Then he turned to find Blaise already waving his wand at the mess that was the spilled drink on the carpet. The table was on its legs again, and there was a pile of documents on it.

Blaise pointed to the contract at the top of the pile and leaned forwards to hand him a quill. His eyes looked tired, but his lips twitched. "Stop being a little bitch, Malfoy."

Draco took it.

"I fucking hate you, Zabini."

"Mother says I'm just like my father," Blaise added, smirking as he watched Draco sign. "In case you hadn't noticed, that's not a compliment."

Blaise left half an hour later, looking much too satisfied for Draco's liking, though he knew he should be feeling triumphant as well. It was just a bit difficult to focus on the pleasing memory of Travis Mulpepper coming to the realization that crossing the Malfoys had been a mistake, so soon after the emotional upheaval of that day.

He swallowed down the last dregs of bitterness he felt at Potter's appearance. Zabini was right. And so was Astoria, of course. The knowledge didn't quite appease his shame, but it brought it down from a violent boil to a mere simmer, which was a considerable improvement.

He wondered what Astoria was thinking; if she was confident in their victory, or if the minutes passed with the slowness of entire days the way they seemed to be doing to him. Suddenly, the Manor felt much too big and much too quiet.

He hadn't realized how accustomed he was to having her around.

Rising from where he sat on the couch, he made his way down the corridors to his bedroom. The lights appeared to be somewhat brighter now, but they didn't make the corners any less sinister—Draco was half expecting Nott to jump out at him from some dark corner, intent on getting revenge.

The thought was jarring. Suddenly, he remembered the cold hatred in Nott's eyes as Astoria had turned away from him victoriously, the cold wave of her words leaving the courtroom breathless with surprise.

The thought transformed his lazy walk into something that was nearly a sprint, and he burst into his bedroom only a few seconds later. Fumbling about dusty piles of unidentified items, he finally fished out a quill and a piece of parchment.

There wasn't much else he could do, after all.

He began the letter with Astoria, and then felt that maybe it was too unprofessional – but Greengrass wasn't quite right, either, and Dear anything was much too drastic. He settled for the easiest answer, in the end; one that didn't remind him of what it had felt like to breathe her name into her ear, in the very bed that lay just a few feet away from him.

Greengrass,

Don't forget what I said about Nott. He might be just waiting to pounce. Reinforce your wards unless you want him to pay you a visit.

(Can you even set wards on Muggle flats? If you win this case, you really should invest in something more respectable.)

Draco.

He tried to stop his hands from shaking as he rolled the parchment up and summoned Ollie. It was stupid, really, to worry so much – even stupider to send a letter, for Merlin's sake, as if Astoria didn't know how to take care of herself already… but as Ollie Disapparated with a crack, he realized that being an active idiot was better than being a passive one.

He threw himself onto his bed and tried very hard not to breathe in the scent of her, still entwined with the threads of his sheets.

A flutter by his arm roused him half an hour later, and he snatched up the piece of parchment like it was a lifeline.

Draco,

I'm not stupid.

Astoria.

P.S.: Get some sleep.

He read it almost three times before the meaning sunk in, and then allowed his head to fall back onto the mattress, the note still clutched in his hand. He wondered what she was doing, if she was about to sleep or if she was having trouble doing so – wondered if she thought he was angry, wondered if she was angry, wondered how much she had already guessed about his thought process that day.

He wondered, as he drifted off into uneasy sleep, if this was the last time he would be able to sleep on his own bed like this, curled up in the scent and memories of her, with some vague sliver of hope still fastened to his chest.

He fell asleep, the note still clutched in his hand, and woke up just at dawn.

There was a second letter lying neatly on the lower right corner of his bed, this time an envelope, which opened to reveal a small note and a second envelope – the latter carrying the Ministry seal. The note was simple, with no signature. He didn't need one to recognize the sender, anyway, when another of her notes was still in his hand.

I forgot about this, sorry. You wanted to visit your father.

And oddly enough, in the dim morning light, caught somewhere between the crisis of his fear for Pansy and Daphne and Astoria and himself, and the horribly condemning possibility of a cell in Azkaban bearing his name, it made sense.

"Master Draco, two wizards is waiting for you," Ollie said shakily, eyes wide.

Draco didn't blame the Elf for being apprehensive. Groups of unknown wizards arriving hadn't boded well for the Manor in the past few weeks. His wand dug almost painfully into his palm, but he snatched his cloak from where it lay crumpled on the ground and followed Ollie out of the room.

He nearly knocked into his mother as she made her way down the corridor.

It felt like it had been a while since he had seen her, but maybe it was only because it had been a while since he had allowed himself to study her with anything beyond passing discomfort. He had decided, somewhat subconsciously, to think of her like one considered a silent statue, an element of the Manor's very structure – but he couldn't help, as he watched her breathe with the immoveable rhythm she had set for herself the day she went quiet, feeling considerably anxious. Somewhere behind the statue, his mother still lingered.

He cleared his throat. "I'm going to see Father." At least, that seemed to be the case, unless the intruders really weren't the Aurors and were actually some form of retaliation for the stance he had taken in the trial. Maybe Creevey had finally come back for more.

Not that he had said anything dramatic enough to warrant an uproar, and the thought of Nott's secret, still lodged in his brain, sent a shot of revulsion down his spine.

Narcissa said nothing, of course, but as Draco began to make his way down the staircase it became clear that she was following him. It was a strange thought, and he found himself glancing over his shoulder every few seconds to confirm it. Her actions proved more sentience than anything she had done in the entire year, but she hardly even blinked. It was as if the outing had been in her plans all along.

But she was free to go out on her own, anyway. Only Draco was under house arrest. Draco could still remember the ladies that had once gathered in the gardens, sipping tea and his mother's expensive pastries – she had been so different then. He wondered if she would ever seek her old friends out again; would she even be welcome in their company?

Mrs. Nott had been there, when she had still been alive. The thought filled him with a surprising amount of anger. Nott's betrayal ran deeper than his threats towards Draco – he had even insulted his own mother's memory, albeit indirectly, by planning a strategy to steal Narcissa Malfoy's own house from under her feet…

That line of thought was pointless. Draco suppressed the memories and steeled himself as they reached the drawing room.

The men waiting were, in fact, the Aurors from the day before. They looked only slightly more professional than the Aurors that had allowed the South Wing to nearly burn to the ground, but so far they didn't seem as unreliable. They looked at him with a distracted sort of concern.

"Malfoy," the taller of the two said, as if Draco could be anyone else. "We're here to escort you."

"I figured," Draco replied guardedly, pulling his cloak over his shoulders, but not relinquishing his hold on his wand. If the Aurors noticed, they didn't say anything. Maybe they, too, wanted to get out of the dark, claustrophobia-inducing house. "My mother will be joining me."

Their eyes slid over to Narcissa's silent figure. They must have been warned about her condition, because they appeared to waver between silent acknowledgement and greeting.

Draco was halfhoping that they would decide to walk through the gardens and do side-along Apparition just beyond the wards, but maybe they thought that was too risky, or just generally had no interest in letting Draco have a breath of fresh air from anywhere other than the balcony, because he was escorted to the fireplace in the drawing room instead. Draco wondered what poor fool was in charge of administering Floo permits into the house, and if they were at all aware of the sheer amount of people that had successfully gotten past security.

"Isn't it tempting fate a little, to go to Azkaban today of all days?" the shorter Auror remarked as his colleague took a fistful of Floo powder.

Draco didn't answer.

When they arrived at the island, the Aurors stayed outside, arms crossed in front of them like a pair of uncomfortable-looking bats. The grey-clad guards didn't pay Draco much attention beyond what was necessary, which came as something of a relief, and Draco took advantage of the moment to try and figure what the hell he was actually doing in Azkaban the very day of his verdict.

He knew he should be avoiding the place like the plague, and indeed the thought that he may very well be moving permanently onto the island after today was disturbing, to say the least – but he couldn't get Potter's stupid words out of his head. Nott's grinning face was there, too, though it was no longer accompanied by Mulpepper's. The confusion he felt at the decisions he had thought he had already taken was almost crippling; and maybe it was a stupid, childish thing to need, but he needed to see his father.

He handed over the permission letter Astoria had sent him, and the guards inspected the Ministry seal closely before nodding and scanning him. If their eyes lingered a bit longer on his face, Draco pretended not to notice. He didn't have many more emotions left to waste.

In the end, he supposed, there was some satisfaction to be derived from being able to look at his father from the opposite side of the glass, if only for the last time.

Narcissa was a silent shadow behind him, her presence still inexplicable. Draco wondered if she knew what day it was; if she knew what awaited him that very afternoon. He wondered if she cared. How different would her life be without a son to care for the Manor?

It suddenly hit him that there probably would be no Manor at all once he left – at least not one in Malfoy possession.

He glanced at her blank expression, those blue that had once held so much worry now utterly empty, and realized that it probably didn't matter. It might be best for her, after all, to leave a house that was full of so many ghosts.

He wondered if she could see them too; if she heard Sanctimonia Vincet Semper whispered in her ear every night before she slept.

He wondered how she would feel, now, seeing her husband behind bars.

She had visited once before, of course, when Draco had dragged her along with him. But Draco had found the confusion and even fear in his father's eyes so disturbing that never attempted to bring her again. Maybe Lucius knew why; either way, he had never asked for Narcissa to return..

The eyes that surveyed him from across the glass were decidedly guarded, though Draco could see a pleased gleam in them. Lucius looked just as haggard as ever, his lips a hard line.

"Son."

Draco cleared a throat that suddenly felt too tight. "Father."

Lucius frowned, leaning forwards slightly. Frowning had always made him seem irreparably angry; the expression had kept many Ministry officials squeaking their assurances of assistance, back when it had been offered under the fearsome Malfoy title. "I was not expecting your visit – surely there are matters to attend to before the verdict—?"

"You said you wanted me to come," Draco answered shortly. "I'm here."

He didn't have to ask why his father was so perplexed at his appearance. Lucius' grey eyes said enough, even in their silence – there was very little hope left. Lucius fully expected to see his own son in an adjacent cell the next day. The frown was only there to mask resignation.

And the realization, so sharp and unforgiving, caused a sudden surge of fear to course down Draco's spine.

"Narcissa."

Draco pulled himself out of his shaking thoughts to see his father finally staring at his mother: the second time in two years. Narcissa had taken the chair beside Draco. She resembled a ghost in every way but her solidity, and if Draco could almost believe that if he closed his eyes he wouldn't even know someone was beside him.

He wondered if there was really any of her left. It was clear, as Lucius' eyes searched his wife's face and found nothing, that his father was wondering the same thing.

After some agonizing minutes, Lucius ripped his gaze away. His expression was of such haunted resignation, even under the frown, that Draco found himself scrambling, almost like a child, for anything to say that would ease the terrible tension of the situation. He found himself explaining what had happened with Blaise, and how the Mulpepper issue had been resolved. The words poured out of him tersely and felt stale in his mouth, but his father listened intently.

"Zabini?" he finally said, the frown easing and his eyebrows rising. "That is convenient. His mother may have been a promiscuous tramp, that is, but they certainly reaped the benefits. Not that any of it matters, of course, if the verdict is not in your favor – but I am glad to see you making more… neutral… allies."

His last words were loaded with meaning, and it took Draco a second to realize what he was implying. By the time he understood, his father was already speaking again, grey eyes ice cold, just like his voice.

"I hear Potter made yet another appearance."

Draco had to admire the fact that his father somehow still found ways to get his hands on information – did he still have a servant, somewhere, that fed him information? Did the Aurors distribute copies of the Daily Prophet? The thought was distasteful enough to make him shudder, but more displeasing was what Lucius was implying.

"He did."

Lucius let out a frustrated breath. "I told you to be more careful, Draco!" he hissed. "Greengrass may not understand the situation you're in, so make her understand. Siding with Potter is incredibly rash and can even prove dangerous! Who knows what he will ask in exchange? And the precedent this is setting – you'll have the Malfoy name associated to Potter permanently, if you aren't more careful."

Draco ground his teeth so hard that his jaw hurt. "Father, I did what I had to do."

"You won't survive long if you keep picking a side! What did I tell you—"

"Theodore Nott will inherit the Malfoy estate if I go to prison," Draco interrupted sharply. "He's been testifying against me, and he's blackmailing me, because he knows that I won't speak his name in court. You know he helped kill Scrimgeour. Is that the sort of person you'd rather have me side with?"

"Theodore Nott is neutral ground, unlike Potter. We can deal with family matters ourselves, without Ministry intervention—"

"He attacked me." And Astoria. The memory of her struggling, caught between Nott and the wall, her arm nearly broken, brought familiar rage back to the surface.

He saw the anger reflected back at him in his father's eyes. "Then that is for you to resolve, not the Ministry!" Lucius snapped forcefully. "Do you think we Malfoys got where we are by running to the Aurors like whipped dogs?" He slammed his hand on the table in front of him, the sound muffled by the spells in the air. His teeth were clenched, his eyes burning with fury. "I'd rather see you grapple with Nott than involved with scum like Potter or the Weasleys. At the very least, Nott is a Pureblood and a Slytherin—"

Draco had had enough.

"This isn't a bloody House dispute, father!" he exclaimed, and suddenly he was nearly shouting at his father, as much as he could allow himself without letting the guards nearby hear his every word. He had never contradicted his father so deliberately, and the rush of it surprised him, warming his limbs, causing his fists to shake. "You don't want me to pick a side? Or you just don't want me to pick Potter's side? Nott wants to steal everything we have – it doesn't matter if he was a Slytherin."

"He'll come around. You grew up together, Draco. We all take care of our own."

"He left us behind years ago!" Draco said roughly. And unbidden, the memory of Lucius whimpering at the Dark Lord's feet rose to mind – the first time Draco had seen the contradiction in his father's tales of power and glory. "And who hasn't? Zabini didn't show up until the last moment, and the Parkinsons distanced themselves immediately. The Crabbes and the Goyles are gone. The Slytherin alliance, the Pureblood privilege – it was all lies. Who's left, Father? You?" His breath was escaping him in short, angry pants. "If you're so bloody loyal to this family, then why didn't you keep us safe from him?"

In the space of seconds, what he had thought had been his definitive decision was now unravelled before him. All he could see through his anger was the pathetic image his father made against the glass, his eyes so wide with rage that Draco could see the sickly yellow of their whites. Suddenly, none of it mattered – not his selfish longing for Astoria, or the family mantra that had haunted his childhood. In that moment, the air suddenly seemed to clear, and the answer to the barrage of questions that had been pounding in his skull was suddenly blindingly clear.

"You have no idea what—"

"Oh, I do," Draco shot back at his father. The truth was suddenly shining, glowing inside him. It burned so painfully he thought he might fall over from the agony of it. But there was too much to say. "Because the one who ended up shouldering the weight of it was me. The one who's fucking facing Azkaban only two years after Hogwarts is me." He snorted. "Don't pick a side? I'm pretty damn sure I've already picked a side, Father, and it's not the one that got us here."

He jumped to his feet, glancing briefly at his mother. "We're leaving."

Lucius' hands were fists against the table, his livid face nearly pressed against the glass. As Draco straightened and Narcissa rose to follow him, he looked up at his son and let out a vicious shout. "If you betray Nott, you're betraying everything we've ever worked for!"

Draco laughed, then, cold and mirthless. Narcissa stood silently at his side, ready to leave after him. He looked around him. The walls of Azkaban were grey and stained with humidity, and his father's skin seemed to be merely draped over a skeleton.

He met Lucius' eyes with disgust, and waved a hand at their surroundings. The words inside him burned. "Look around you, Father. I hope I am."