Author's Disclaimer: All characters described herein belong to the magnanimous JK Rowling. I'm shamelessly using them for my own nonprofit, no-copyright-infringement-intended enjoyment.
Rated: PG-13 for mild language and violence
Spoilers: through OotP"Perfect Lilies"
He hadn't meant to upset her. She was always so distant, he could never tell what she was feeling at any given moment. Apparently, she had not been in a good mood when he'd gone to talk to her. He leaned forward, closer to the mirror. Well, his lip had finally stopped bleeding, that was good. The cut on his forehead was still rather wet, and he dabbed at it gingerly, wincing as the coarse cloth touched his raw skin.
"If I'm not careful," he sneered at his own reflection, "I may be mistaken for Harry-bloody-Potter." He was not at all keen on the idea of having a scar on his forehead.
Draco's mother had never hit him before. She usually left the physicalities of his disciplining to his father. But Draco had crossed a line this morning – he still wasn't sure how – and Narcissa Malfoy had backhanded her son across the mouth and headfirst into one of the stone pillars in their entrance hall. The shock had suspended the pain temporarily, but when he saw his own blood splattering onto the gray marble tiles, he'd clapped a hand to his mouth and run from her, and he hadn't slowed until he reached his chambers on the third floor. He'd spat a mouthful of mingled blood and saliva on the hall carpet outside his door, then wiped his hand on it, leaving a slimy handprint streaking down the varnished wood. He'd kicked open the door and then slammed it so hard he was sure wherever his mother was in the Manor, she would have heard it.
She must have felt at least a little sorry for doing it. Shortly afterwards she had sent up a tonic which was to stop the bleeding, and Draco had taken the gesture as a sort of apology. He didn't accept it, however, and he did not apply the tonic to his wounds, opting instead to pour it all on the new carpet stain in the hall. He'd watched as the chemical reaction burned a hole in the rug and wondered why he'd been expected to put that on his face. It didn't matter, the carpet would be cleaned and repaired as soon as his maid saw it, and his cuts would still be weeping. He didn't exactly mind the pain – quite the contrary, he marveled at, almost enjoyed simple clarity it generated – but he could not make himself understand why his mother had hit him in the first place.
Somehow he had remembered that today was Pansy's birthday. Although he could care less for the girl, he knew he was expected to at least acknowledge her birthday, so he'd left the comfort of his bed that morning to see what his mother had sent on his behalf. She was in the sunroom as usual, drinking her morning tea and going through the post, which had obviously come much earlier than normal. Or perhaps he'd risen much later than normal, he wasn't sure. He'd paused in the doorway to watch her, not ready to disturb her tranquility. She sat regally in a stiff-backed chair, her blond hair pulled into a neat twist, her sky-blue robes cascading into elegant pools on the stone floor. The sunroom was her favorite in the entire manor – it always had been, for as long as Draco could remember. He supposed it was because it was the only room in the house capable of being lit entirely by sunlight, at least on clear days. Narcissa enjoyed the sunlight, even if she was too fair-skinned to spend long, unprotected hours outdoors. His father had added this room to the house as a wedding gift to her; Draco had played in it as a child, had seen the birds flying through their garden, watched the trees swaying in summer breezes, allowed himself to become hypnotized by the fountain's waters perpetually glistening in the bright sunlight. He remembered all these sights even though he'd never felt the outside warmth on his skin or known the overwhelming fragrance of the many blooms on the other side of the glass. How many hours had he spent in this room, utterly content at his mother's side?
Yet on this particular morning, he had stood there, watching her as though he had never seen her before. Lost in his own thoughts, he hadn't even noticed her looking right back at him until she spoke.
"Draco?" He heard her voice, though it sounded far away. His eyes slid back into focus and he saw the sun glinting off his mother's golden head.
"Draco, are you alright?" She looked puzzled, and a little concerned. He felt himself smiling at her.
"Yes, sorry," he stammered. "I had forgotten what I came here for."
She gestured for him to sit across from her and he took the chair, squinting at the light now burning directly into his overly sensitive eyes. He moved his chair closer to his mother to avoid the sun.
"Here," she said distractedly, pushing the Daily Prophet towards him.
"I don't want to read it right now —" he began, but she cut him off.
"Just because it is summer does not mean you can stop keeping up with what's going on in the world around you. You will read it and be informed." There was no room for further discussion. Narcissa looked frail, but she had a decisive manner of speaking, and when she spoke, Draco listened – and obeyed. He picked up the paper and scanned the headlines: "Fudge Comes Clean – What We Should Have Known," "Gringotts – The Battle for Control," and "Problems in Paris – French Ministry Grapples with Giants." Thoroughly unimpressed with the front page's selection, Draco flipped through the rest of the paper, finally landing on a Summer Gardening Special. He was reminded of something, though he certainly didn't feel like discussing it, no more than he felt like reading about goblins or giants. May as well get it out of the way though, he thought.
"Mum," he said quietly, trying to break the silence as unobtrusively as possible. She didn't answer him at once.
"Mum . . ."
"Hm?" came his mother's reply.
"Today is Pansy's birthday."
"Yes," she murmured. "I know."
"Well, did I send her anything?"
"I sent her a silver bracelet and a box of sugar quills. And the usual flowers."
His mother had begun the tradition of sending Pansy flowers on her birthday when Draco was ten years old; the Parkinsons had been friends with the Malfoys for years, and Draco and Pansy's mothers had been encouraging a romance between their children since they were born. So, on Pansy's tenth birthday, Narcissa had sent her ten calla lilies, perfectly white and in delicate half-bloom. She had made Draco write inside the card: "One for every year you've made my life beautiful." He had scoffed at it, and everyone knew he couldn't have possibly come up with anything that charming at his age, but that his name was signed to it was sufficient. He knew Pansy loved the bouquets, and he had no reason to tell her the truth – that his mother was the only true romantic in his entire family. She added a flower every year. This year Pansy would be receiving sixteen perfect lilies.
"We should have sent the flowers to your sister," he muttered under his breath, skimming through the paper once more. There was a definite change in his mother's demeanor; she shifted suddenly in her seat and tilted her head to look at him.
"What did you say?" she asked in a voice of threatening calm. He knew it was futile to lie.
"I said we should have sent the flowers to your sister," he repeated uncomfortably. His mother continued to stare at him. It had sounded funny in his head, but having spoken it, his joke was not going off as planned. "You know," he added hesitantly, "to Bellatrix, for what she —"
"You will not speak of that," his mother interrupted him. "I don't know how you know any details of that night," she said frostily, "but you would do well to pretend that you don't."
The look on her face was nothing he hadn't seen before; he knew she was furious at him. It was the same way she'd looked at him when she'd gone to collect him from King's Cross station earlier that month, when she'd had to pull his deformed body from a luggage compartment on the Hogwarts Express. After she'd restored him to his proper state, she had refused to look at him for days. He flushed at the memory of it and now averted his eyes to avoid her piercing stare.
"Yes, mother," he said, fixing his gaze on a rose bush outside. "I'm sorry, I won't mention it again." His heart was racing in indignation – why wasn't his mother as proud of Bellatrix as he was? If his sister had killed Harry Potter's beloved blood-traitor Sirius Black, you could bet he'd be sending her sixteen perfect lilies; at least she had done something to deserve them. He couldn't understand why his mother was shushing him like a child. He clenched his jaw to keep from pushing the matter further.
"I think we'll have the Parkinsons and Goyles for dinner this weekend," his mother said, resuming her airy tone of casual indifference.
"Why?" asked Draco, thunderstruck. The idea of spending an otherwise free evening in the company of that insipid girl and the unbearably sycophantic Gregory Goyle was thoroughly unappealing to him.
"Because they are our friends," replied his mother, "and it is in our best interest to uphold such acquaintances."
Draco snorted. "Right," he sneered without thinking, "I'm sure they'll come in really useful in the end." And, not noticing how his mother once again bristled at his outburst, he stood quickly and strode from the room. The floor was cool as his bare feet slapped down the hall. He had barely reached the grand staircase when his mother cut him off, her azure eyes flashing dangerously.
"What?" he asked, struggling to keep his voice steady.
"What did you mean by it?" demanded his mother.
"By what?" Draco asked derisively, knowing exactly 'what.' "By saying that the Goyles and Parkinsons were worthless alliances?" He felt much braver now that he was on a roll; the words came streaming from his mouth. He wasn't sure he could have stopped them even if he had wanted to. "I meant," he snarled in his mother's beautifully stunned face, "that the day this family must rely on pathetic excuses for purebloods like them is the day we all deserve to die, anyway."
Narcissa gawked at him, appalled.
"For your information," she hissed back at him, "the Goyles and Parkinsons – and Crabbes, for that matter – have stood steadfastly by this family since before the Dark Lord's first reign. They have risked their own lives to maintain their relationships with us, and we have done the same for them. We all owe each other our lives."
"Yeah? Well, great job they've done," drawled Draco sarcastically. "Go on and invite them over then, a right cheerful little group we'll be – Pansy going on about anything in her vapid little head, her parents laughing stupidly at anything you or Goyle's mum says, and me and Goyle, playing at being the masters of our houses while our own fathers are locked away in blasted Azkaban. Great job you've all done, saving each other's necks all this time!" He ducked around his mother to ascend the stairs to his room, but Narcissa grabbed the back of his shirt and pulled him back down, throwing him in front of her. Standing between him and the bottom steps, her tall, slender form had become a towering figure, hell-bent on keeping him from the safe refuge of his chambers. He glowered at her, straightening his clothing. For a moment, she looked as though she were ready to explode. But she didn't. She stared at him contemptuously, then spoke at last.
"Do not presume to know what is best for this family," she said in a voice so low he had to strain to hear her. "There is more to this war than you will ever understand. True friends are difficult to come by, to say the least, and even harder to keep. The next time you question them, remember that it is a direct insult to me and your father."
Draco couldn't help but laugh at the mention of his father. It issued forth mirthlessly and with such unexpected intensity that it surprised him, but the release of such energy was pleasant to him, and he made no immediate effort to stop it. He left it echoing through the great hall.
"What," asked his mother in a cold voice, "is so funny?"
He shook his head, still smiling bitterly.
"That I'm the insult to this family," he said finally. Narcissa raised her delicately tapered chin slightly, defiantly bracing herself against what Draco was saying.
"I never said that," she whispered.
"You don't have to say it now!" he shouted. "I've been hearing it my whole damned life! Nothing has ever been good enough for him!" They both knew who 'he' was. "My grades aren't up to scratch because the know-it-all mudblood got higher marks, my Quidditch game isn't good enough because the famous Harry Potter beat me, being a prefect isn't an accomplishment because a Weasley made it, too! Nothing – NOTHING I do is acceptable! I'm the insult to this family? I could do everything he says – I could be Head Boy, win the Quidditch cup, get Outstanding on all my O.W.L.s, and he still wouldn't be satisfied! And when I get the Dark Mark —" his mother flinched "— it STILL won't be enough because then I'll just be another faceless Death Eater! And for what? Nothing!"
For a long moment, neither of them spoke. The last of Draco's words rang down the hall, leaving the air in their wake heavy with a tension thick enough to cut with a knife. Narcissa was first to speak, saying resolutely, "It's not all for nothing, Draco." This set him off again, sent his blood pounding in his ears.
"Oh, bollocks," he spat. "You know as well as I do that he'll never be satisfied as long as we live." He spoke in quiet resignation, but his voice was full of malice. "And when he finally does realize that I've been killing myself for his approval all these years, it will be worthless! The Malfoy family honor has already been tarnished, but not by me." Draco's lip curled nastily and he gained volume with every syllable. "HE'S the one who got caught in the Department of Mysteries, HE'S the one who got sent to Azkaban, HE'S the one who ruined everything! But it'll always be Draco's fault, I'll be the reason we lose all respect. Don't look at me like I'm mad, Mother! You know he'll blame me for all of this! You know he screwed up, you know he'll go groveling back to the Dark Lord! He'll go back to him begging forgiveness for his mistakes, when he should be apologizing to us for ruining OUR reputation!"
"Stop it!" shrieked Narcissa, stamping her sandaled feet vehemently on the floor and clenching her fists. "Stop it, Draco! Stop speaking against your father!"
"He's not here!" he bellowed back at her, waving his long arms. "He's in AZKABAN, he can't hear me! You know it's true!"
"Stop saying these things!" she screeched. She clamped her hands to the side of her head and shuddered so violently that strands of silky hair fell in her face, now flushed and distorted.
"YOU KNOW IT'S TRUE!" he roared.
"STOP!" his mother screamed at him. But he would not.
"You know he's the reason our life here is so miserable. He got caught and now everyone knows the great Lucius Malfoy is nothing more than a crawling servant of the Dark Lord. It's PATHETIC! The only person who deserved to go free that night was Bellatrix, she's the only one who did anything useful. The great Lucius Malfoy got caught, but your sister got away because she at least managed to kill Sirius Bla —"
The room spun and Draco felt his head slam into the column behind him. Staggering, he turned to see his mother gaping at him, her exquisite face blanched and contorted in horrified rage. She clutched her dainty hand to her chest, her entire body shaking. Draco stared at her, his face numb. When she gasped, he looked down to see the blood dripping onto the polished marble, splattering onto his feet. That's when he had run.
And now he sat on his unmade bed, staring at his disgusting reflection in a mirror. He hated the gash on his forehead, was revolted at how his lip was beginning to swell. He threw the mirror against the wall and lay back on his pillows, staring at the velvet canopy overhead. He sat abruptly – which caused his head to throb – and yanked the curtains around his bed closed to block out every bit of sunlight pouring into his room. He fell back again, dizzy. His head spun, not only from the pain, which was becoming considerable, but also from the crippling pressure of the confusion still growing in his mind. He knew he had spoken in rash, unchecked anger, something he rarely did in front of his parents. He had never yelled at his mother either, he thought guiltily. They had their disagreements, to be sure, and she'd lashed out at him more than once in his life. But she had never hit him. And why now? he wondered. Why strike him when he was doing nothing more than stating the obvious truth? She knew he was right. It didn't make any sense.
As if on cue, there came a light knock on his door. There was no way in hell he was inviting her in. The knock came louder, muffled through the hangings around his bed. He lay still, refusing to acknowledge the door opening and closing with a quiet click.
"Draco?" Her voice sounded far away. He did not move. He realized he was holding his breath. Her head poked through the curtains, but he willed himself to not look at her. "Draco, don't do this," she said wearily. He directed his eyes at her and saw with a sick satisfaction that her face looked drained, her eyes puffy as though she'd been crying. He'd never seen her cry though, so he couldn't be sure.
"Fine, lay there," she said flatly. "I know you're upset. I know things don't make much sense right now." He smirked; the movement hurt his lip. "Your father will be out of Azkaban soon, and you know this will pass. Ours is a respected name, and this is nothing your father won't be able to smooth over. I know you're frustrated and angry, but you have to trust that he will set everything straight when he gets back. Your father is a very influential man." She paused. Draco thought her speech sounded rehearsed. "We're lucky to have him. You'll understand soon. The right side always wins."
He swallowed and rolled his head drunkenly to face her. "You believe all that?" he asked her pointedly. A shadow passed over her face before she replied, "Yes." Then, as a determined afterthought: "I believe it because I must believe it."
She turned to leave, dropping the heavy drapes closed behind her. He sat slowly upright and watched her cross the room. She stopped before opening the door, withdrew her wand, and waved the broken mirror away into thin air. She looked over her shoulder toward the bed, where she surely must have seen her son peeking at her from between the curtains. Draco thought he saw her smile faintly, and she let herself out of the room. The closed door seemed impenetrable, and he longed to run after her.