This piece is not part of the Malfoy Manner series. This is an exercise in first person perspective for me. Opinions are appreciated. Thanks always to the dark dragon...and also to the unicorn of delight;-

Practicing Peacock

Chapter One: Choice Hen

I finally found him standing in the courtyard. He was in the midst of the damned birds. Eleven or twelve of them milled about his calves, some displaying their proud feathers. It appeared strangely as if he was holding court with them. He knelt and one approached fearlessly, fed from his outstretched hand.

"Draco." I stepped further onto the stone patio. "Tea."

He looked at me almost blankly. "Yes, mother." I remember when there was inflection in his voice; boyish excitement, indignation, laughter or mulish obstinance. Now, it was flat and emotionless. Like our lives. I shook off the thought. No sense in sentimentality.

He came into the solarium just after me. He sat across from me, as he always had. His father's chair remained empty.

"How are the birds?" Silence would kill me. I poured him a cuppa.

"Fine." He took up a scone.

"I'd like you to have a jacket on in this weather. It's too cold to be about the grounds in only shirstleeves."

He scowled at me. I withered inside. "What the hell does it matter what I wear, mother? What does it matter now if I live or die? If either of us lives or dies?"

I looked down at my crumbs. His recent dark moods frightened me.

He shook out the latest Daily Prophet. "Perhaps we could both simply amble about naked, mother." I felt my face flush. He made a dismissive gesture. "Not as though anyone shall come to visit us, eh?" His gaze lingered on me. "Oh, don't be embarrassed, mum. You're still…fit."

"Enough!" I hissed, slapping the tabletop. "I'm sick of your depressing sulk, Draco! And I am not to be the receptacle for your bitterness. You are stuck here for a year. Make the best of it and be glad it isn't Azkaban or execution."

"Like my father?"

My lips tightened.

"Do you miss him, mother?"

I swallowed and straightened my eating utensils. "Of course, I do."

Draco scoffed at that and I knew my expression read shock when I looked at him. "Please, mother. Not even a tear for your beloved husband?"

"How dare you?" I seethed. "How dare you insinuate knowledge of my feelings?"

"You have feelings?"

"Go to your room!" I barked.

"Gladly," he retorted. His chair scraped loudly as he left. Watching him go, I realized he'd been barefoot this entire time. I called the elf to remove the tea tray, and sat at the empty table until my back and sides ached.

That evening I dined alone. I hardly tasted the soup, much less the veal. I pushed my plate away. The manor was so quiet, so empty. With the portraits gone, it seemed even emptier. I was empty, too. I understood my son's accusation. Truthfully, he was right. I was numb from my fingers to my toes. It seemed the only thing that made me feel anymore was…but I mustn't think such things. I pressed my fingers hard into my eyelids until I saw light globules expand and explode.

When I opened my eyes again, Draco was standing in the dining room archway. The way the moonlight etched through the windows onto his shadowed profile made him appear ethereal. Angelic. He was still barefoot and in shirtsleeves. He was holding a bottle and staring at me. How long had he been thus?


"Mother." He made no motion to come toward me.

"Are you hungry?"

I saw the glint that indicated his eyes drop to my barely touched plate. "No. You?"

I shook my head.

"Will you drink with me, mother?" He held out the bottle. I recognized it – his father's favorite wine. There were few bottles left in the cellar and Lucius had reserved them for the most special of occasions…or the most intolerable. I recalled a good many of those bottles disappearing during the Dark Lord's stay. But now, I supposed, we could drink whatever we wanted.

I gestured to a chair. "I will."

He produced two glasses from behind his back as he approached the table. It pleased me strangely that he had counted on my joining him. A tap of his wand, and the cork slid easily from the bottle. I smiled at the trick. "Better at that than your father was."

"I imagine I'm better at many things than my father was." He propped his bare feet on the surface of the Black family's fine mahogany table, tossed his wand carelessly beside them. I bit my tongue. He linked his fingers behind his head and tilted his chair back. He was challenging me. I ignored his antics, the way I'd done when he was two.

"So, mother." The wine hadn't breathed nearly enough, but he'd poured anyway. "I owe you an apology."

I blinked at him. "What?"

"For what I said today at breakfast. I apologize."

I worried he was unwell. This from the boy – man, now – whose father had told him that 'apologizing is weakness and admitting fault.' I wasn't certain how to react, what to say. He read my confused expression.

"Do you accept?"

Oh. "Yes. Of course, son." I sipped the bitter, heavy red. Draco swirled his thoughtfully. He was staring at me. It was highly unsettling.

"You look pretty in the moonlight, mother." He drank in gulps and thunked his empty crystal to the table. I jumped. I jumped again when his chair righted and banged the floor. "Father ever tell you that?" He asked. "That you look pretty?" He chuckled at my reticence. I sensed cruelty in the sound. He answered his own question. "I doubt it. I doubt many pleasantries ever passed between you and father."

I put my hands flat before me. "Draco, please stop."

"Stop what? Being honest, for once?" He poured another. "I think a great heaping dose of honesty is just what we need right now, don't you? Here, I'll go first. I'm a virgin, still. That should please you, at least. I nearly fucked Pansy Parkinson in back of Borgin and Burkes summer before my sixth year. But she got scared and ran out." He smiled and looked at the ceiling nastalgically. "That was…the last really good thing I remember happening to me. What about you, mother?"

I was caught a bit off guard by the virginity comment. "What?" I stammered.

"The last really good thing that ever happened to you. What was it?" He leaned forward.

I scanned my memories. Good things, good things…Draco was born. Draco didn't die. That was all I had, it seemed. "When I took your hand and led you away from the battle at Hogwarts."

"Ah. That it, then?" I nodded. "I don't believe you," he said, not giving me time to respond. "I think the last really good thing to happen to you, mother…was becoming a widow. Was it?"

"You're cruel," I whispered.

"Am I?" His face clouded. "I have a memory…" He waved his hands in the air amorphously. "I must have been 14 or 15. I remember hearing something very late one night. I looked out of a crack in my door. D'you know what I saw?"

I couldn't stop the shaking or the tears. I threw my hands over my ears. "Draco," I warned.

"I saw father pulling you down the hall by your hair. I saw you pull your wand and him slam your wrist into the wall. I saw you begging him to stop and him tearing your dress and – "

"Draco!" I shouted.

"I thought that was what sex was, mother!" He shouted, too. "For the longest time, that's what I thought. Can you believe that?" He laughed. "Guess that's why Pansy ran, eh?"

I shuddered to imagine my son had done such a thing, or was even capable. "Oh, I know better now, mum. Don't worry." As if he'd read my mind…

I didn't realize I was crying until he reached into his pocket and produced a handkerchief. I picked it up and sobbed quietly behind it. He watched me, drinking his wine, until I calmed. "Feel better?" He asked.

I shook my head. I felt like utter shite and completely humiliated. "I read something fascinating about peacocks this morning." He thumbed the base of his glass. "That when the dominant male dies, the next in line - one of his own brood, of course – inherits the entire flock. Becomes their new leader. He gets the first feed, the best roost…he even gets the choice hen. Even if that hen is his mother hen. Imagine that."

My body went frigid. I stared at the tabletop.

"He just sort of slides right in," Draco murmured. I jumped yet again when he pushed back his chair. He rose, but I didn't watch his progress. Then, I felt cool fingers slip across the back of my neck. They boldly tugged at a thin shank of hair loosed from my bun. "I didn't hate you, mother. All those years ago. You're afraid I do, that I resent you for being weak and letting him terrorize you. But I didn't. And I still don't. I hate that I never knew you."

When he stopped talking, all I heard was my breath coming fast. I had nothing to say, nowhere to begin. His fingers left my near-bare shoulder to tilt up my chin. I looked into eyes I hardly recognized, staring down at me with rough gentleness. "You certainly are pretty in the moonlight, mother."

Then he left. I stared at the empty wine bottle. It produced no handkerchiefs for me.