"Azkaban." Draco Malfoy put his head down into his arms and tried not to give in to despair. He'd been sixteen – six-bloody-teen – when he'd been told to hold his arm out so that monster could brand him. He'd been sixteen when he'd been sent off to school and told to kill Dumbledore or watch his mother be cut into pieces in front of him as punishment for his failure.
Didn't matter, apparently.
Didn't even matter he hadn't even killed the man. Sure didn't matter he'd gotten to experience the displeasure of the Dark Lord over that.
He wondered if the people who'd condemned him even knew what the Cruciatus Curse felt like. Wondered if they knew that the Dark Lord had figured how exactly how long you could use it on someone before they went insane.
Legilimancy had its uses.
Not that they'd care. He was a Death Eater.
"It's only one year," his lawyer said, gathering up his papers with the air of fussy efficiency the man affected when he knew the information he had to convey was bad. "You're really very lucky. Your father, Thoros Nott, all the others, they got life."
"It's only one year if someone is willing to take on my parole," Draco said. "Someone not related to me, someone with no connections at all to the bloody-be-damned Death Eaters, which means no one I know."
"Maybe you should have made more friends," the lawyer said rather dryly.
"Not as easy as it sounds when you're one of the bad guys," Draco muttered. "I'm going to die in Azkaban, just like the rest of them." He put his head down. "Fuck. I've never even had sex."
The lawyer ignored that; clients confessed all sorts of things it was better not to hear. "I found someone to vouch for you so, Mr. Malfoy, it's one year and then you'll be out."
Draco's laugh was bitter and disbelieving. "Really? If they find out you bribed someone to do it they'll throw you in Azkaban too, and I know you aren't that loyal." He shook his head. "Don't make this worse than it is with false hope."
"Don't berate the man."
Draco looked up to see Hermione Granger slip into the barren conference room. She was wearing some kind of white linen dress that looked like spring and garden parties and life. He found he hated her for that dress more than he ever had in his life. It taunted him with all the things he'd never have again.
"Come to gloat?" he asked, summoning what little bravado he had left. "Plan to think of me suffering while you get lauded as the improbable, wonderful heroine you are?"
She shook her head. The lawyer looked at her. "You have three minutes, tops," he said and walked out the door.
Draco glared at the woman as she walked around the table, keeping his eyes away from the red, inflamed scar on her forearm. Trust the stupid bitch not to have the grace to cover it. She didn't say anything at first, just pulled something from a pocket and tied it around his neck. "I came to give you this," she said. "And to tell you I'll see you in a year. Sooner if I can get a pass."
He flinched as her hands brushed against his skin.
"I can't give you any kind of actual charm," she said in a low voice near his ear as she pretended to fumble with the knot. "They'd take that away from you; this… this is older magic: a fairy stone. The prison officials probably won't recognize it for what it is; they're pretty rare. It should help you." Her breath was warm on his neck and he could smell she'd been drinking some kind of herbal tea. "Hold on, Malfoy. It's one year and I'll be there when it's over. Just hang on for me, okay?"
"Why do you care, Mudblood?" he asked when she stood back and looked at him, worry in her warm eyes. "You hate me."
"You're an idiot," she said. "I really will try to get a pass to come see you. Hang on, you stupid prat."
And then the guards were taking him away and he didn't look back.
. . . . . . . . . .
They stripped him. Gave him the striped uniform. The deeper he got into the complex that was Azkaban, the less the staff even pretended to professionalism, and by the time he was thrown into his cell he'd been kicked, cuffed and mocked.
"Wonder if he'll be a laugher of a crier," one of the guards said with a derisive snort as Draco picked himself up off the stone floor and looked around. "Like the accommodations, rich boy?" the man continued with a sneer. "You get one bucket for water, one for food, one for waste, and if you're very lucky we'll remember which one we're supposed to empty."
Draco sat down on the cot. He supposed he should feel lucky it wasn't a pile of lice-infested straw. One cot. One thin blanket. I am, he thought, sitting in an illustration of the meaning of the word 'grim.'
The guards laughed as they walked away from him and, once they were out of sight he scrambled to the bars. They were right; there was one empty bucket, presumably what counted as the facilities, a bucket with some bread and apples, and one with water. He tasted it; it was brackish. He picked up an apple and began to eat it. It was mealy.
Well, at least it wasn't rotten.
He saved the apple seeds because he wasn't sure what to do with them, setting them in a neat pile in one corner of the cell, then lay back down on his cot and waited for the Dementors to drift by and ensure what little happiness he might feel disappeared. His fingers crept up to the thing Granger had tied around his neck. Whatever it was, it was so unremarkable no one had bothered to take it from him. It felt like a flat stone, worn smooth over years. His fingers found a hole, slightly off center, which the witch had used to run the strand of leather through.
A fairy stone.
What a crock. Why she'd claim to give him such a thing he didn't know. Those things were nearly impossible to find and worth a bloody fortune. If Granger had really had one, she could have lived like a queen her whole life on the proceeds of selling it.
She certainly wouldn't have tied it around his worthless neck.
He held on to it and wished it were real as he lay on his cot and waited for the Dementors to come.
It was cold, and dank, and dim in his cell. His uniform was too thin, his blanket too shabby.
He lay on his side and held the rock.
When morning came he was still waiting. He was cold and hungry and sore from the abuse he'd taken the day before but, he had to admit, despite seeing Dementors floating down the hall outside his gated cell he'd never felt the searing cold of their attention.
He fingered the rock at his neck. It seemed impossible the woman had given him an actual fairy stone but maybe she had.
He knelt by the water bucket and scooped several handfuls into his mouth, trying not to choke at the taste. He pulled the hunk of bread out of the food bucket and, when he heard the sound of feet moving down the hall, retreated back to the far wall of his cell. He'd lived with Voldemort; he knew when to get out of reach.
You always wanted to be out of reach.
The guards laughed at him and he looked down. "Wonder how long he'll stay so pretty," one of them said and Draco shuddered at the threat implied in that leering taunt.
"Can't," the other guard said. "He's a short-timer. You want to play, go find someone else."
Draco tried not to let the way he sagged with relief show as he bit into the decidedly stale bread.
"He's only short time if someone logs him out," the first guard said.
"He's already on the schedule for release," the second said. "Someone out there loves him enough to plan to be here the very day he's eligible for parole. Anyone loves the bastard that much, they'll go after you if you go after him. Don't fuck up your career for a bit of arse, mate. Take my advice and go find someone else. The place is full of pretty newbies this month; go find one of them before they all start to smell too ripe."
They were gone, then, and Draco sat down on his cot, stale bread in one hand, and reached up to finger that stone around his neck. "Hermione Granger," he breathed out, "I owe you."
. . . . . . . . . .
Dementors drifted by and ignored him.
The guards usually remembered to feed him and if days went by where they didn't, well, no one cared what happened to prisoners in Azkaban. The water bucket, at least, was charmed to magically refill so, once he learned to pull it far enough away from the bars no kick could send it spilling across his floor, he always had water.
The guards emptied the waste bucket when they felt like it.
He sat and thought. He thought about himself, his life, what he'd done. What he hadn't done.
He tried to tell himself stories in his head, books he remembered reading, plays his mother had taken him too. It worked at first. But days would go by and he didn't remember them. Time was slippery and he was light headed from hunger fairly often and, even without the crushing despair of the Dementors, he could feel himself slipping away.
He took to holding the rock at his neck and replaying the meeting with Granger. She'd worn a white dress. She'd smelled of herbal tea. He would lie down and hold the fairy stone and think about the way she looked and the way she smelled and that she was going to come and get him.
He'd called her a Mudblood.
Maybe she'd change her mind. He could fret for hours that she might change her mind, that he'd insulted her one time too many. Why would she come get him with her white dress and good smell when he was just this shivering, starving, wretched creature? He was a Death Eater, the guards were happy to remind him whenever they walked by. He was scum.
Most of the time, of course, he wasn't being taunted. Most of the time he was just lying on his side, holding onto the rock that kept the Dementors at bay, trying to hold onto the hope that she'd come get him.
If he tried hard enough, he could hear her voice. "Hang on for me, okay?"
She'd said that after he called her a Mudblood, hadn't she? He's called her that and she'd still planned to come get him, right? All he had to do was hang on.
He remembered one day she'd said she'd try to get a pass to come see him. He began to hold on to that hope as he drank the water, ate the inadequate food, and shivered under his blanket. He sat in his miserable cell, feeling impossible hope, and the Dementors ignored him.
By the time she finally came he was, he knew, filthy. He didn't get enough water to wash, not ever, and he was afraid that if he got wet he'd get sick anyway. He sat in the visitor's room, threatened by guards who'd shoved him and hit him as they brought him in, and, though he'd waited for this meeting for weeks – for months? - he suddenly wished it weren't happening.
She was there, then, looking at him, her fingers grazing the place he'd split his cheek open when he'd fallen against his floor after being kicked by a guard bringing food; he'd been stupid, letting himself be too near the bars at the wrong time but he'd been nearly starving and desperate for something to eat. He cringed away from the feel of her.
She wasn't in white this time. Funny, he'd spent so much time picturing her in that white, summer dress she seemed wrong in some kind of slacks and a soft, grey jumper.
"I know I'm disgusting," was all he said. "You don't have to touch me."
"You're still in there," she said, her voice nearly a whisper. "Oh, thank God. I've been so worried."
"Yeah," he muttered, looking down at the floor, at the wall behind her, anywhere but at the woman he'd tormented for years that had somehow decided to…
"What is this?" he asked, touching the rock – the fairy stone – at his neck. "How did you find it?" Why would you give it to me, was what he didn't ask. Thank you, was what he couldn't say.
"I found it on a walk with my parents when I was six," she said, her hands folded on the table between them. "I've saved it since then. Wore it during the War. But the Fey weren't a part of our War, not really. House Elves, maybe, but they were on our side. Dementors."
"Dementors," Draco Malfoy repeated. He could hear his voice was harsh from disuse. "I didn't realize they were Fey but that makes sense." He swallowed hard. "Granger, you…"
"Five more months," she said. "Hang on for five more months, Malfoy. I've got a room in my flat for you while you regroup. I'll get you put back together. Just hang on."
"It's been that long?" he asked, closing his eyes. "I… time runs together." He didn't open them as he heard himself say, his voice almost begging, "Why are you helping me?"
"You're an idiot," she said, and she sounded like she was crying. "So smart and so damn stupid. Just keep warding off the damned fairies and stay in one piece for me, okay?"
"I can do that," he said.
When he opened his eyes she was gone and he wasn't sure she'd ever even been there.
"Arsehole," the guard said as the man tossed him back into his cell. "Why a fucking war heroine would waste her time with the likes of you I'll never know."
So she had been there.
"I don't know why either," Draco whispered as he lay back down on his side and held the fairy stone, the old, old magic that protected the wearer against the Fey. Just a rock with a hole worn in it by running water, just the most precious thing he'd ever owned.
His sanity, or at least some vestige of it, on a leather string around his neck.
Hope. Impossible. Improbable. But so very real.
He tried to follow the days again but he couldn't. Had it been one day or two since his food bucket had had the rotting apple? Had the man down the hall stopped sobbing today or yesterday?
He gave up and just waited for her to come back and get him. Sometimes he realized he was screaming. Sometimes he realized he was kneeling at his cot and pounding his head into the frame. He was barely holding on, even with the fairy stone. Too much solitude. Too little food.
He didn't know and then she was there leading him by the hand out of the prison. "Jesus, look at you," she muttered. "Those arseholes."
. . . . . . . . . .
A/N – This is an expansion, done at the request of my lovely beta Shealone, of Drabble 34. It's a four-shot and the whole thing is quite done because, for once, I decided to try to write the whole fic up front.
I hope you enjoy it. :)
Also. I'm on tumblr and I'm very confused but come and, uh, tumble at me. colubrina . tumblr . c o m