Love is a mirror,
It reflects only your essence,
If you have the courage,
To look in its face.


Chapter 1: Lucius

Azkaban, August 2003

Each day there were three interruptions to his complete solitude. Only three, always the same and, as far as he could tell, always at the same time. In the morning, a baton was rattled against the bars of his cell to wake him up. In the middle of the day, his name was roughly spoken — Malfoy! — the cell door unlocked, and he was escorted, by himself, to the grimy yard, full of fog and salty air. Each evening, the guard delivered food and water. This was his unvarying routine, and it was by these events that he marked the passage of each day. Early on in his incarceration, he had tried to count the days, and form and track the weeks and months, but the endless repetition and uniformity had overwhelmed him.

Nothing else happened.

Nothing else happened, and he was completely alone.

He could remember a time when being alone was a refuge, or a pleasure, even something to be craved. He could remember going to some far corner of his library, tucked behind a bookshelf, and sitting there for hours with only the company of a book. He could remember his irritation when an interruption came. He could remember it, but he could not feel it or understand it. Because now he longed for the three daily interruptions. Though the rattling of the bars assaulted his ears and jarred his nerves; though the guard who took him to the yard might shove, or kick, or hurl an insult; though the food and water were barely fit for human consumption; though his fear and panic at each of them were equal to his longing.

They were something.

The quiet in his cell was so intense, it almost had the quality of sound. At one time, again in the early days, he had sometimes spoken out loud, shouted even, just to break the silence; sometimes, he had rattled the bars himself. But the quiet stifled everything. All sound was extinguished quickly, and in the end he had given up and retreated into his own matching silence, submitted to the nothingness that surrounded him and blended with it.

Then —

"Lucius?" He had been dozing. His nights were sleepless; his days filled with unintended, sudden lethargy. Slowly, he opened his eyes, sticky from sleep, poor health and the stagnant gloom in the jail. He had not heard this word . . . this word, Lucius, that once was regularly spoken as his name in . . . he didn't know . . . but years, he thought. The last time he even saw it was in a letter, the final one Narcissa wrote to him: Draco is well …. I am well … you know I loved you, Lucius, but I cannot stay, I cannot wait … Too much has happened, and I cannot go back; I must go forward.

In his first year of imprisonment, Narcissa had written frequent letters, and Lucius sustained himself with these, and with the hope that he would see her again, his brave, beautiful wife; and, though his son had never once written, that he would see Draco again, maturing and becoming a man.

After this final letter, his last shreds of hope had fallen away. Time simultaneously passed and stood still, that was all. He lived through it but did not live. Each day was just the survival of dead time: the dementors were gone, but time itself and silence stripped one's soul, until even the desire for survival became a mere reflex.

Again, "Lucius?" It was a man's voice - calm, controlled, patient, commanding. Lucius blinked. The light in the cell was dull, his eyesight blurry and he could not see properly.

"Lumos!" said the man's voice, as though responding, helping. No one had responded to him, much less helped him, in as long as he could remember. Perhaps he was imagining it; perhaps the other man only wanted to see better himself.

But with great pain and difficulty, slower than slow, very carefully, Lucius pushed himself upright, placed his feet on the dirty stone floor and stood. He walked, joints stiff and aching, so dizzy he was in danger of falling with each step, towards the cell bars, squinting in the magical light. When he reached the bars, he gripped one with each hand to steady himself and took a deep breath. The short walk had exhausted him, and yet an inkling of unaccustomed curiosity had started to wake up.

The man standing on the other side was dignified, wore elegant robes, had a look of compassion on his face that made Lucius falter. The few people he saw now — all of them inferior by far to this man — only looked at him with contempt, hatred and as though he were less than human.

Lucius swallowed. Since his voice had fallen into long disuse, he wondered if he could still speak. On top of this, he knew that he knew this man, but could not recollect his name. Eventually, however, he managed to make a croaking sound. He shook his head, trying to clear his mind, cleared his throat, tried again to speak. Then a thought came to him, a recognition, and the single, hoarse word formed itself without his conscious agency. "Minister."

"Yes, Lucius," the man — the Minister? — said, and inclined his head, looking so intently into Lucius' eyes that now he had to look away. After several breaths, Lucius slowly lifted his eyes again. "Minister?" he repeated, a question this time, seeking confirmation. At one time, current events had been his lifeblood; now he had no idea what was what, or who was who. But some dim familiarity still pulled at his mind.

"Yes," the man repeated, then, visibly awkward, "We are building a new wing here. With a focus on rehabilitation. I am here to break ground and cast the foundational enchantments. And I thought …" His words trailed off; his face took on an even more uncomfortable expression.

Lucius stared at him. His mind was slowly beginning to work, cranking like rusty machinery, and he wondered, confused, why the man was giving him this information. From a place he thought had long since shut down, a flimsy wisp of knee-jerk sarcasm released itself. "You wish to rehabilitate me?" he asked.

The Minister shook his head and stood considering his answer. It fascinated Lucius to study his face, to watch its expressions change, if for no other reason than the unscheduled distraction it provided.

"How are you?" the Minister said finally. "Word reached me that . . ." He did not elaborate. "How are you?" he repeated.

At first, Lucius did not know how to reply. He had not thought it mattered how he was. The Wizengamot and the Ministry had left him here to rot. Did the man want absolution? Something, some feeling rose up in his chest and throat: anger, pain, shame, perhaps all of them at once. "I am as you intended me to be, I imagine," he said softly. "When you imprisoned me here." Then the words, the emotions, were too many and too much; his throat contracted and he began to cough.

The Minister's look of compassion intensified, he pushed a hand through the bars and let it rest on Lucius' shoulder. Lucius could not decide if he wanted to shrug it away, or let it stay there. No one touched him now, unless it was to do some harm, or to express disdain. But there was something strangely comforting about this hand; so comforting, that what began with coughing turned to tears suddenly running unbidden down his face, all of it outside his control. "I …" he tried to excuse himself, wiping his eyes roughly with his hand. "You . . ." then to excuse the Minister from any need for sympathy. But he could not get the words out. Then — Kingsley, his mind supplied. They had been at Hogwarts together. Kingsley Shacklebolt. Kinsgley was older than Lucius . . . by three or four years? He had been named interim Minister of Magic right after the war. Lucius supposed the appointment had become permanent; and with the thought, noticed that a little logic, some coherence was returning to his mind. Not a big step, but enough to try to pull himself together. He let go of the bars, attempted to stand straight. "Please … excuse me, Minister Shacklebolt," he finally managed to say.

Shacklebolt slowly shook his head, gently removed his hand, and opened his mouth, about to speak again. But sharp, rapid footsteps, louder as they got closer, echoed outside the cell and interrupted him, followed by a clipped, anxious voice.

"There you are, Minister." A very young man. "We have five minutes until the ceremony begins."

Lucius did not recognise the new arrival; he scrutinised his face, trying to work out whether he had ever known him and forgotten, or never known him at all. In the struggle to focus, remember, make a decision, his mind filled with jumbled memories and thoughts; images of the past; people, faces, words; what he had done; what had been done to him. He started to sweat, his breathing became too rapid, his heart beat too fast, and he sank down to his knees, closed his eyes, adrenaline coursing through his body painfully; the fickle burst of logic and clarity departing as quickly as it came

"Lucius, are you —?" Shacklebolt began, but was again interrupted.

"Minister, we have to go," said the young man in a pushy tone. "The Board are waiting."

"Yes, I know, Inkwood," Shacklebolt said, irritation evident in his deep, until now patient voice. "They can wait a few minutes longer." Then, softer, murmured, "He is still a human being. We are still human beings."

There was a long pause filled with tension. The two men remained outside the cell. Lucius remained on the floor, wishing now they would both go away, or break the silence, or do anything to stop the suspense that seemed like it would never end and tore at his struggling mind.

With slow, careful movements, Shacklebolt crouched down to Lucius' level, again put a hand through the bars, and patted Lucius' shoulder. "Please hang on," he said. He lingered there for a few seconds, then got up, and both men walked away.

After a few minutes, Lucius succeeded in calming his breathing, his heart rate slowed, the sweating stopped. This agitation happened frequently; it always ended with deep torpor and, if he was fortunate, engulfing sleep. This took him over now. So drowsy, he could not move, Lucius had to lie down where he was. As the somnolence dragged him inside itself, he heard again Shacklebolt's words — Please hang on. While he could not begin to understand why or for what, the words kindled a spark of interest; a tendril of willpower, and not just instinct, to survive.

In one of the temporary chambers created by magic for the use of the dignitaries attending the ceremony, Kingsley Shacklebolt gave directions to Inkwood, his secretary. "While I am at the groundbreaking, please locate copies of the laws and precedents for the Ministerial Prerogative of Mercy. Bring them to me immediately the event ends."

"Minister!" Inkwood replied in a shocked tone, instantly understanding and objecting. "You cannot be considering Malfoy's early release. Might I remind you —?"

"That he does not deserve my mercy?" Shacklebolt broke in, his voice firm as he locked eyes with his employee. "That he has served less than six years of a ten year sentence that most witches and wizards thought was far too light in the first place? That he deserves the decline that we just witnessed?" He paused, then spoke more softly. "That he is a monster?"

"Yes, sir! All of that!"

"Well … you are right, of course. His crimes were monstrous. But we are here expressly to usher in a new era at Azkaban, and the irony of that when he is in such a state does not sit well with me. He came to Azkaban broken by his previous imprisonment and by Voldemort, and he has only become worse. Ten years were not intended to be life, and I fear . . ." He shrugged, almost apologising, but still resolved to do what he felt he must. "Lucius Malfoy may have been … may be despicable. But I prefer to believe that I am not."