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How the Muggles Decorate their Christmas Trees.

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When they came for me in the middle of the night, I wasn’t ready. Ridiculous, I know. All those years, all that degradation and horror, and there I was, scrabbling on the floor in fear, hands in the dirt, my back against the wall. Terrified.

All those years, and I couldn’t leave my cell. Just a sad, pathetic old man cringing, dropping to my knees at the very sight of the guards wands. Experience tells, and they'd be quick enough to Stupefy or worse if I didn’t move. And they want to hurt, want just that one last chance to hex or curse because today I’ve been granted my freedom.

I know the drill. I lay in the filth, full compliance while they attach the shackles. Any movement means a bruise, and I learnt quickly that while magic leaves traces, some good old-fashioned prison violence is just part of the currency here. Made the mistake of looking one of them in the eye a few years ago and it turned out he lost a brother in the War. Cissa told me afterwards that she didn’t think I’d pull through that time. Infirmary for over a month. I think perhaps he got some sort of warning.

Apparently its Christmas. There's no such thing as seasons here, no weather, no view. Nothing to mark the days. My damp, grey cell has no windows, and I rarely leave it. Without Cissa to anchor me, my sanity would have slipped, there is no doubt. The guard laughs, muttering something about the Ministry burying bad news. I keep my head down, cringing and pathetic, but always listening. Ought to be burying this bastard, counters the other.

Freedom has taken such a long time. I have a grandson now. Scorpius. A strong name, powerful. When I heard that he had been born, something shifted in me. A life beyond these walls. The world had turned and suddenly there was desire, purpose. A future. Cissa laughed when I begged her to get me out, looked at me with scorn, but in my heart I knew it could happen. Family is everything.

Of course, I knew she didn’t truly want to. For years after the War she barely tolerated me: mute with loathing, she couldn’t even look me in the eye. Every week we sat in savage silence, but every week she came. Society expects, after all and I was still her husband. Something must have softened within her as the years passed, and one day she spoke. Sometimes only a word, or a sentence. But, in the uttering of the name Astoria, and in her telling me of the joy, the love, that she had brought to our son, something broke within her. Hope had bloomed in her heart. Like I’ve always said, family is everything.

They give me time to wash and change. Like water could wash away the dankness, the rot of the prison. The grey tinged skin, the sunken eyes. Lank white hair hanging in greasy tails down my back. I’m an old man now, powerless and broken, tattooed with numbers that I’ve come to recognise quicker than my own name. The clothes I’m given were mine once and they hang loose, my body skinny and worn. They feel so particular, heavy and thick. I used to dress like I wanted to battle the world. Now I just want to hide.

I’m struggling, my chest tight and my breath gasping. I can’t control my spiralling thoughts now the moment has come. Apparently, its a Ministry effort to bring some of the old Pure-Blood families back into line. A few concessions, a few early releases. The most pathetic, the weakest. Those, who, without the Dark Lord are little more than a joke.

Who better then, than piteous old Lucius, captured so heroically after the final battle; wand-less, blackout drunk, alone and broken, amongst the smashed glass and ruin of his Manor? I’m no fool. Gold has changed hands, and my vault will be lighter for it. The thought of freedom at the mercy of those Ministry cretins fills me with revulsion, a stubborn reflex of pride making me want to laugh in their faces.

But I have a family. A grandson. Scorpius. And I need to swallow the bile, swallow the pride because this freedom means I will meet him, know him. Have a family once more.

An Obscuro blinds me, and the guards floo me to the mainland. I’ve already been told the limits of my freedom; no magic, wards that’ll tell the Aurors if I so much as leave the gates. No Apparition or floo, because I’m forbidden to travel. No association with anyone bar my family. One mistake, I’ll be returned, and then it’ll be forever. Back to a cell so small I could touch both sides at once. The constant lament of the broken and the mad. Your life sliding away from you, as the months bleed into years. No, I’ll take their rules, their distrust, their petty tyrannies, and I’ll thank them, because anything is better that Azkaban.

And yes, I’ve been released before. Swore I’d never see the inside of another cell, mocked those amongst our fraternity that feared to return. But back then I was triumphant, a leader. I was in the service of my Lord. And I knew, even as I welcomed him to my home, even as I gave him my wand, even as I gave up my very son to be marked, that I was right. That this was all for my family. To make them stronger, more powerful. So they could rule.

Sanctimonia Vincet Semper. Purity will always conquer. I held those words in my heart, wore them alongside the armour of my clothes. But I was wrong. It is Scorpius who is pure, a child, untainted by the decisions made by his family. In time it is he that will conquer, have a life unfettered by those chains that I laid on his father.

They bundle me into a car. It is ugly, cheap, tiny. Yet I can feel the enchantments running through the vehicle. Nobody is taking any chances tonight. The idea of my release, the freeing of a Death Eater is so much more exciting than the reality. A stooped old man, shuffling, wincing at the too-bright lights, frightened even to step forward.

Watching the scenery flash past, I can see coloured lights at windows, and I’m reminded of the date. Cissa loved Christmas when Draco was small. Nothing was ever too much trouble. One time, I remember, she charmed the tree to light up whenever the boy waved at it. We even had a nativity scene. Mary rocking her baby in the manger, the animals moving slowly around them. He loved that too, was fascinated by it for hours. I should have paid him more attention. Given him more time. I was too concerned with parties, lavish affairs, where I could work on my Ministry colleagues to get what I wanted. Anything to get one up on the rest of them. Anything to get what I desired. A gift, a curse. They were all the same to me. What did I do to you Draco? Can you forgive me?

And here I am. Home. What used to be called Malfoy Manor but now won’t own up to the name. I don’t know what my future holds. I don’t know if Draco can forgive me, if he’ll let me see his wife, his son. My body is broken and weak, and my mind not far behind. I know that I'll never be forgiven, that my name is as unutterable as that of the Dark Lord to so many. I gave him a home, gave him shelter and for that I am rightly condemned alongside him.

Narcissa has waited for me in the sitting room, and she rises to meet me. I find myself weeping, collapsed at her feet. Cissa, my wife. The greatest mistake of my life was not listening when she urged caution, urged me to look to her sister as an example, urged me to throw away my hubris. I broke our lives, but she has brought us back. After all, family is everything.

It is only later that I realise that she has decorated the room. A tree, the nativity scene and a wreath above the fire.

Well, Cissa always did love Christmas. My voice, so long without use, is hoarse and choked. The words stick in my throat. Giving compliments have never been my forte. Noticing my glances, Cissa saves me once more.

“A new Christmas tradition for a new start. A new family with a new grandson. This is how the muggles decorate their Christmas trees… Without magic”