Draco Malfoy had accepted that he would never feel clean again. He had come to terms with the pitiful excuse of a diet he would endure for the foreseeable future, and was slowly getting used to being pushed, jabbed, or attacked whenever he made the mistake of looking the wrong way—which was sometimes the opposite direction of his assailant, while other times the mistake was looking directly at them.
He refused to accept that any of this was okay.
Locked away and forgotten after a war he'd wanted nothing to do with was done, and his so-called side had lost, Draco Malfoy had refused to come to terms with his situation. He refused to accept that he deserved any of it.
That his father would rot away in Azkaban until he died did nothing to ease the wounds of betrayal or calm his rage. That his mother was never subjected to their harsh and unforgiving walls did, but that she had never seen fit to visit him in this uniquely personal hell only made it worse.
Either she blamed him for never being strong enough to refuse his father, or she blamed herself for being the knife held against his throat for so many years. Regardless, she did nothing for him now, when he needed her most.
She was definitely not the person waiting in the dingy visitor's room at the end of the hall, which Draco was now being pushed toward, despite his deep reservations.
He never expected to see Harry fucking Potter, or his sidekick Granger, let alone both of them.
He seethed at the sight of pity in their eyes.
Well, that threw Draco off.
His scowl shifted in favor of a look of confusion. He moved his conjoined hands up to check his face for any damage he had failed to catalogue and was immediately forced into the closest wall by the human Azkaban guard who had just accompanied him into the room.
Draco's unexpected guests immediately screamed. Their tones betrayed how angry and scared and conflicted they were to be defending Draco Malfoy, who stood pressed against a wall with the breath knocked out of him.
The guard stepped back and Draco collapsed to his knees, using the wall to regain his footing. He gradually turned to the duo, who'd stood in protest, but hadn't left their spots at the table.
Draco expected to see Saint Potter failing to hide a smug look, an expression Draco had come to recognize—and loathe—over the years of their childish rivalry; instead he saw the eyes of a man forced to acknowledge a harsh truth and felt disgusted by it.
Granger, who he had tormented and taunted for years, was less cowed by the experience. If anything, her resolve seemed hardened; the pity Draco had first seen in her eyes was now replaced by a raging fire.
Perhaps the role of sidekick has switched.
The three took their seats—Draco last—but said nothing. The silence must have been deafening to the two Gryffindors, who were unused to the simple Slytherin tactic, but Draco was bred to manipulate, and—more to the point—get information. Most humans were so ill equipped to handle silence, they spilled so much more if it meant ending the dreadful emptiness, than if they were simply asked.
"You look like absolute shit." Potter would be the first to crack, and while his remarks were far beneath the level of dialogue Draco was craving these days, the truth of it hit home and Draco snorted.
"What Harry means to say is that… well, yes you do look a mess, but you seem well, otherwise. Sane," Granger said, taking files and paperwork out of a bag unseen from Draco's seat and spreading them out across the table between them.
"I can't remember what warm water feels like and I have an unholy craving for apples, but otherwise, yes. I have managed to keep it together, mostly."
Draco flashed something that he supposed looked like a smile, but couldn't be sure it didn't come across as a weak sneer. It was hard to judge, based on the reactions of the two across from him. Potter looked down at his hands, unable to keep eye contact for longer than a few seconds, while Granger huffed.
"It was an absolute disgrace, sending you to Azkaban," Granger began, her hands shaking.
Draco agreed. He reminded himself of this daily, refusing to let the Ministry win by breaking him, but hearing it from the champion of Muggle-borns—along with house elves, and whatever other pet-projects the ridiculous witch had picked up since Hogwarts—say it herself elicited a strong reaction from Draco.
"Ten years in Azkaban, serving a minimum of three years before a possible review. There's a considerable fee associated with your release, as well as a ridiculously long list of conditions upon which said release is contingent," Granger went on to say, repeating the terms of his sentence.
Draco never expected anyone to consider trying to have him released after the three years. Sure, a small part of him held a secret hope. That hope died when on the third year marking his incarceration passed, exactly the same as the 1095 days preceding it.
But it was never the cost or the conditions that Draco thought would block his freedom, despite the draconian implications associated with what would pass for freedom under the Ministry's conditions.
"And our final condition: a sponsor. Your release is conditional on a sponsor claiming full responsibility for your actions and well-being. You are to work with them, at their place of employment, reside with them at their own expense, and exist in their presence for two full years. They must be willing to endure the punishments society will undoubtedly dispense upon you in your day to day life as if said punishments were their own. They cannot have been in your House at Hogwarts, or have any known association with the Dark Arts…."
Draco shuddered at the memory of his sentencing. With conditions like that, he accepted then that he would indeed be forced to endure the full term of his imprisonment.
Granger stopped rattling on, having been speaking for the past several minutes, and regarded Draco. He could only imagine what was going through her mind, only able to picture how his thoughts played out on his face, if at all.
They might think he's finally cracked, and they're to blame.
Granger looked helplessly at Potter, who locked eyes with her and sighed, nodded, and then turned to Draco.
"We're sorry it took us this long to get here. We've been petitioning for access for months, but they only relented last week."
Draco opened the eyes he hadn't realized he'd closed and looked at Potter. He opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came out, so he closed it again.
"Your mother wanted to come with us but we couldn't let her," Potter added, earning a wide eyed glare from Draco. "We've been doing everything we can to keep her safe, and bringing her here to see you would only put a new bulls eye on her back."
Draco said nothing. Mother wanted to visit me?
"Hermione was getting to it, but it's probably easier just said plain out," Potter went on, pausing to give a sheepish smile to Granger, who rolled her eyes but with a smile on her face.
"We're getting you out of here. We have the money, we have a team of solicitors fighting back some of the more ridiculous terms of your release, and we have a sponsor."
Draco said nothing. He felt nothing. There was a rushing noise in his ears, like water crashing against rocks, and his eyes started to prickle, but no tears dropped.
"What?" he finally managed to croak out.
Potter—no, Harry, Draco thought, although the childhood nickname of Saint Potter now seemed more fitting than ever—took Granger's hand and squeezed it. She nodded, smiling brightly.
"We've tried before, but were rejected. This time we have a solid case, and in a few days you'll be out of here," Potter said, finding a form among the pile of papers Granger—Hermione, dammit—had laid out earlier and spinning it to face Draco.
"Who would be daft enough to chain themselves to me for two years of hell? Two years which, I imagine, will feel like an eternity?" Draco asked, his words biting as he started to build walls of resentment. He wanted to defend himself from this unexpected onslaught of hope.
He picked up the piece of paper, his hands betraying the cold façade of dismissal he was playing at as they shook.
Potter laughed, leading Granger to hit him.