Author name: 1 Eyed Jack

Author email:

Category: Drama

Sub Category: Action/Adventure

Rating: R

Spoilers: all books

Summary: Harry Potter is one of few who remains skeptical when Lucius Malfoy emerges from Azkaban with a full pardon and a plan to start an evil-fighting organization. Exposing Malfoy as a fraud won't be easy amid lies, fights, and hidden agendas. One motorway accident, two definitions for SPEW, three levels of Ministry alert, and lots of four-nication.

DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended. Some canon information in this chapter comes from the Lexicon.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Special thanks to Gena, Oli and co., and Viola for the betas.

Diagon Burning

Chapter 1:
The Thirteenth-Ever Escape From Azkaban

It was 4 AM and the owl from the Prophet had already arrived.

LUCIUS MALFOY GRANTED FULL PARDON

"Ron," Harry hissed. "Wake up!"

"What?" Ron rolled over, his arm dangling off the side of his bed. He pulled a pillow over his ears. "Go away, Hermione."

"Ron." Harry smacked him. "Get up."

Ron sat up and glanced at his orange bedside clock, brought to Grimmauld Place from his room at the Burrow. "Good morning," he snarled. "Four in the morning, is it? Let's make a habit of this, Harry."

"Shut up and read this." Harry passed the Prophet to Ron. He pawed around his nightstand for matches. Harry wished, not for the first time, that the Blacks had stooped so low as to install Muggle conveniences. Electricity would be nice about now.

Harry lit a stub of candle while Ron opened the Prophet and whistled. "Damn."

Harry grabbed his glasses and held out his hand. "Let me look at it. I'll read aloud."

Ron passed the article back. "We should wake up Hermione."

"Fine. I'll stay here."

Ron tiptoed back in, accompanied by Hermione, who was wearing a dour expression and a flowered nightdress. He flopped down on the foot of Harry's bed.

"Good morning." Hermione yawned, taking a seat on Ron's rumpled covers. "I wanted to wake up Ginny, but Ron wouldn't let me."

Harry and Ron exchanged a glance. "Three's enough, I guessed." Ron shrugged.

"We were in the same room," Hermione snapped. "It couldn't have been that much trouble. As much as I appreciate being a member of the boys' club—" She took a look at their faces. "Oh, never mind, just give me the paper."

Harry obliged. "Lucius Malfoy Granted Full Pardon," she read. "There's absolutely no light in here, hang on—" She dragged the candle closer. "Honestly, what a stupid rule, no magic on holidays. Right, where was I?"

"The title?" Ron said.

Hermione gave him a sour look and turned back to the paper. "Malfoy Granted Full Pardon by Rita Skeeter, Special Correspondent—goodness, it looks as if we're about to enjoy a fair and unbiased bit of reporting, doesn't it?"

"She did write up that interview with Harry," Ron said.

"Her only redeemable action," Hermione agreed. "Too bad she only did it because I blackmailed her into it. Don't try to defend her, Ron. You'll just dig your own grave."

Primly, she turned back to the article. "London, August 1st. Last night, Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge made his second-most stunning announcement in months, after acknowledging the return of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named this past June. Lucius Malfoy was granted a full and, in the eyes of the Wizarding public, long-awaited pardon."

"Long-awaited?" Ron blinked. "Long-awaited in the same way as OWL results, maybe?"

Hermione blinked. "I looked forward receiving to my OWL results."

Ron opened his mouth and then closed it. "I didn't mean that literally."

Hermione rolled her eyes and continued to read. "'Lucius and I have been friends for so long,' Minister Fudge said at a press conference last evening, 'I just couldn't comprehend why he would have turned to You-Know-Who, especially after that whole Imperius fiasco the last go-round.'"

Harry laughed.

Hermione favored him with a quelling McGonagall-like glare before continuing. "'So when Narcissa Malfoy came to me with the true story,' the Minister explained, 'I was only too glad to listen.' Unnamed sources very close to the Minister told the Prophet that Mrs. Malfoy arrived at the Fudge mansion early last Saturday and remained there for a number of hours, pleading her case. When asked about Mrs. Malfoy's involvement, the Minister added that she was 'most persuasive'—oh, I bet she was," Hermione snorted by way of editorial. Ron made a face, but Harry just felt angry. Narcissa Malfoy was the woman who had used Kreacher to lure him to the Department of Mysteries. If he had never gone, Sirius would still be alive.

"'Obviously Lucius is the only one who can speak of his ordeal with the utmost integrity,' said Minister Fudge, 'and I wouldn't like to go into full details until he's completely recovered and ready to disclose them. Issuing this pardon is the least I could do to repair the honor of this Ministry and more importantly, the damage to the Malfoy family. The last thing my administration wants to be responsible for is putting an innocent man in Azkaban.'" Hermione glanced up. "Oh, Harry."

Harry wanted to smash something.

Ron looked sideways at Harry. "Keep reading, Hermione."

She put down the paper. "Harry?"

He cut her off. "Finish it, will you?" Even though Harry didn't think about Sirius all the time anymore; he'd thought about him a lot at the beginning of the summer. He'd figured that being at Grimmauld Place would have made it worse, but it didn't, really. He hadn't known Sirius long enough to tie him to any one place, except Azkaban.

Hermione stared at him for a few seconds, obviously wanting to say more. But she picked up the Prophet anyway, perusing the column until she found the place where she had left off. "Despite the Minister's silence, the Prophet was able to obtain the true version of events from an anonymous source very close to the Malfoy family.

"Apparently, Mr. Malfoy was diligently laboring in the service of Wizardkind the night of the now-infamous attacks on the Department of Mysteries and overstayed the normal working hours. Hearing a disturbance down the hall, he rushed to the scene of the battle. Despite past disagreements and general ill-will, Mr. Malfoy leapt to the aid of Potter and his compatriots when he recognized the individuals attacking them as Death Eaters, an even greater threat to the Wizarding world than pint-sized celebrities with delusions of grandeur." Harry's ears burned.

"She must mean Draco then," Ron said loudly. "Except for the celebrity part." The joke fell flat. There was an uncomfortable silence.

"There's about two paragraphs more," Hermione said tentatively.

Harry shrugged. "Yeah, go on." He didn't really want to listen.

"When Dumbledore arrived on the scene and used his Anti-Disapparation Jinx to contain the remaining Death Eaters, Mr. Malfoy was still in the thick of the battle. He managed to get caught with the others.

"Mr. Malfoy and Dumbledore have a history of disputes. Most notable are Mr. Malfoy's alarm at the Headmaster's unorthodox choice of faculty (werewolves and malicious half-giants) and their altercations over how Hogwarts School should have responded to a series of attacks on students four years ago (Mr. Malfoy favored a dynamic, preemptive policy while Headmaster Dumbledore took a more hands-off, ineffective approach).

"Even so, 'the Malfoy family,' according to a statement issued by their long-term solicitor Cheswick Parkinson, esq., 'would like in no way to insinuate that Headmaster Dumbledore trapped Mr. Malfoy on purpose because of their regrettable history of disagreements. The Malfoy family has no wish to press charges, unless further evidence incriminating Headmaster Dumbledore surfaces. Mr. Malfoy strongly believes that this is a time for the Wizarding community to bind together in order to face our most dreadful foe. He feels that prosecuting Dumbledore for his attempt to dishonor the Malfoy name and lock him away in Azkaban for life would not be conducive to this spirit of unity.

"'In fact,' Mr. Parkinson continued, 'Mr. Malfoy was so struck by the ferocity of the Death Eaters during his detention in Azkaban that he plans to put forth a sizeable amount of money to create an organization dedicated to stopping He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and the degenerates who follow him.' The Prophet will, of course, bring you news of further developments concerning Mr. Malfoy's admirable venture and urges the wizarding public to donate its resources and manpower toward seeing it through to completion.

"Mr. Malfoy, meanwhile, has been removed from Azkaban and is currently purported to be at home in his Wiltshire mansion, recuperating in the care of his wife, son—and various mistreated house elves," Hermione editorialized with a grim smile. "Our thoughts and prayers are of course with the Malfoy family in this most trying of times. 'I'm just glad,' said Mr. Malfoy's tearful son Draco, 16, 'that my father's home'. Draco, we're glad too.

"For more of Rita Skeeter's exclusive interview with the young Mr. Malfoy, see page A3."

Ron blinked. "Draco, we're glad too?"

Hermione threw the paper down in disgust. "This is why I hate the Ministry. Not your Dad, Ron, or Kingsley or Tonks or anyone in the Order, but the rest is so bureaucratic and stupid and blind. How can anyone swallow a story like that? About Lucius Malfoy, of all people!"

Harry felt very tired.

"I'd like to strangle Lucius Malfoy and smear his brains across a shoelace," Ron said.

Hermione blinked. "I don't think that's physically possible, Ron."

Harry rolled over and closed his eyes.

----

"'Breakfast was the most depressing thing.'" Fred levitated his pumpkin juice up to mouth level and took a sip as George held out a copy of the Prophet. "Young Draco's storm-gray eyes went misty with tears as he remembered his fatherless meals. 'Looking across the table and seeing his chair empty was almost too much to bear. But I had to be strong for Mummy.' Oh Fred!" George's voice cracked dramatically. "It's so moving. I don't know if I shall be able to continue much longer." He wiped away mock tears.

"That dear, wronged boy." Fred took the paper and cleared his throat. Ginny snorted into her toast and marmalade. If the image of Draco Malfoy sitting around with his "storm-gray" eyes going "misty with tears" wasn't bad enough, her brothers' dramatic reading was certainly pushing Rita Skeeter's exclusive interview over the edge. It would be a lot funnier, she thought, if Lucius Malfoy hadn't actually been released from Azkaban.

"'I dreamt about Father every night.'" George leapt on top of the breakfast table in a burst of dramatic energy.

Fred made a lewd noise. "Did he now?" Ginny giggled and pulled a plate of sausages out of George's way.

"'I expected to see him every morning, kissing Mummy or helping the house elves. And it was a shock all over again to come downstairs and see his warm smile gone, his chair filled only by dust mites.'

"The Prophet: Would you call your father an affectionate man?

"The poor fatherless boy's eyes brimmed over with tears." Ginny made a mental tick mark. That was the seventh time Malfoy had cried in as many paragraphs. "'Undoubtedly. I received a letter the day after my father was mistakenly taken,' the poor courageous boy paused, wrestling with his grief. 'He must have sent it just before his arrest. I know it by heart. It says, 'You are the best son a father could wish for.' I sleep with it under my pillow at night. It is very special to me.'

"If such familial devotion does not prove a man's innocence, what does? This Prophet reporter challenges Albus Dumbledore to show half the affection and loyalty displayed by Lucius Malfoy and his courageous son."

"George, get off the table immediately," Mrs. Weasley said, bustling into the kitchen. "What have I told you about standing on the furniture?"

George ignored her. "Have you seen the paper, Mum?"

"Read her the part about You-Know-Who," Ginny said.

Mrs. Weasley glowered. "I don't care to hear what a Malfoy has to say about the Dark Lord, or anything else for that matter."

"'Never once has my father even considered the company of such an undesirable houseguest as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named,'" George read. "'He's far too busy hosting charity socials and organizing village fairs to entertain any company.'"

"George Weasley, put that down now!"

George edged around the side of the breakfast table while Mrs. Weasley advanced, wand in hand.

"'My father prides himself on being a kind and gentle soul who enjoys the company of religious men, starving children, and small, fuzzy animals.'"

Mrs. Weasley frowned. "Malfoy couldn't have said that."

"Seetyseglif," Fred offered through a mouthful of sausage.

Ginny translated. "See it yourself."

"It's right here, in black and white." George held out the paper.

"We didn't doctor it." Fred put his hand on his heart. "On my honor."

Mrs. Weasley looked from one twin to the other, gave a resigned sigh, and reached for the paper. George jerked it back. "Don't be rude," Mrs. Weasley snapped. "You offered it to me."

"I saw that look in your eye." George backed away. "You're going to confiscate it."

"Mum!" Fred looked outraged.

"I was going to do nothing of the sort."

"Now, Mum," Fred said, the portrait of earnestness, "you taught us never to tolerate a lie."

Ginny snickered. Mrs. Weasley made a frustrated noise. "What I should have taught you is when your mother tells you to do something you jump to it. Now hand it over, George, and let me put it away before I really get angry."

George, who had been waving the paper like a sword at Mrs. Weasley, dropped his arm. "Put it away? But why?"

Mrs. Weasley looked over her shoulders at the stairs. "Harry's going to be down to breakfast soon," she whispered, "and I don't want to upset him."

George rolled his eyes. "Is that what this is all about?"

"Look, Mum." Fred leaned across the table, putting his elbow in the sausages. Considering that he was probably going to eat them all anyway, Ginny figured it didn't really matter. "Malfoy has been trying to get to Harry for years."

"And from what I heard about last Quidditch season, he succeeded." Mrs. Weasley shot the twins a venomous glance.

Fred leaned back, scooting the sausages with him. "Yeah, well, the nasty little ferret could do with a black eye."

"Gave him a little bit of color." George snickered. Mrs. Weasley rounded on him. "Sorry," he amended.

"Harry subscribes to the Daily Prophet anyway," Ginny said. "He gets it in his room every morning. He's probably seen the article already."

"He might not have noticed," Mrs. Weasley snapped.

George turned to the front page. It was almost entirely consumed by a smiling photograph of Lucius Malfoy. "Yeah. They were really subtle about the release, weren't they?"

There was the sound of feet on the stairs. Mrs. Weasley glanced over her shoulder and extended her hand. "Come on, George. If the poor boy is upset, I don't want to make it any worse."

George rolled his eyes. "He'd resent being called a poor boy." He handed her the paper anyway.

She banished it with a flick of her wand. "Thank you," she said as Harry, Ron, and Hermione burst into the kitchen. Ginny scooted over, making room for someone to sit beside her. She tried not to be disappointed when Ron plopped down. Harry sat next to Fred.

"Oh good, sausages!" Ron reached across the table, but Fred yanked the plate away.

"Get your own," he said, pushing another one into his mouth.

"I think there are cold eggs in the pan, Ron," George suggested, sitting on the other side of Harry.

Hermione, of course, sat down by Ron. "It's not really cold eggs, is it?"

"No, Hermione," Mrs. Weasley replied. "Harry, can I make you anything special, dear?"

"Harry can have a sausage," Fred said.

"What?" Ron spluttered. "Why?"

"Because he's not funny looking," George replied.

"Or a relative," Harry amended, taking two sausages and throwing one to Ron. Fred looked mildly offended.

Mrs. Weasley put her hands on her hips. "The plates are down at the end of the table, boys."

"Sorry, Mrs. Weasley," Harry said through a mouthful of sausage.

"That's quite all right, dear."

"Hermione, where were you this morning?" Ginny leaned across Ron to ask.

"Ron woke me up," she said, as if she couldn't decide whether or not to fault him for it. "He and Harry wanted to show me the Daily Prophet." As if on cue, everybody's eyes flicked to Harry. He took a bite of sausage. "I guess you've seen it," Hermione said, noticing the direction of Mrs. Weasley's stare. "The headline and everything?"

"We had a copy," she said tersely.

"Do you think, I mean, how is Malfoy's release going to affect what the Order is doing?"

A smile tightened Mrs. Weasley's face. "It's all going to be fine, dear. I promise."

"Oh," Hermione said. "Right."

"Pass the sausages, please," Harry said. Ginny couldn't tell if he was taking it well or not.

"Er, sure, Harry," Fred gave him the plate.

No one spoke as Harry picked one up and plopped it in his mouth, but Mrs. Weasley glared at the twins, obviously thinking that Harry's lack of reaction was their doing. "You know, I can't stop thinking about that interview with Draco Malfoy." Harry finally said, after half a minute of dead silence.

Ginny distinctly heard her mother squeak. "That was brilliant!" Ron said, oblivious. "Reading it was almost as good as the whole ferret thing."

Hermione sniffed. "I'd be ashamed to print such rubbish if I ran the Prophet."

"If you ran the Prophet the Order would have a lot less problems with bad press, wouldn't it?" George countered.

"Fred and George were giving a dramatic reading," Ginny said as Mrs. Weasley glowered.

Ron perked up. "Did you do the ferret voice and everything?"

"Need you ask?" Fred smiled as George nicked the last of Ron's sausage from in front of him.

"You know what made my day?" Harry took a satisfied bite of sausage. "When Skeeter asked Malfoy about me, he started to cry."

George looked at Mrs. Weasley and raised an eyebrow.

----

Draco was indeed close to tears when he walked downstairs and discovered that the Fudges had already arrived. His father had invited them to dinner within moments of his release. While Draco was able to appreciate the politic of such a move, he had sat through enough of the Minister's policy speeches to be anticipating the get-together with as much zeal as a bad case of gonorrhea, or double History of Magic. Capable of reading his thoughts, as only mothers were, his mother had already forbidden him from faking or inducing illness, removed the Manor from the Floo network for the evening, and locked his broomstick in Grandfather's old Iron Maiden in the dungeons.

Draco could always walk out the back door, but it was wet and dark and there was nothing for miles except a Muggle dairy farm and cows gave him hives. The best course of action was to approach to whole incident as a hardening experience. If he could survive dinner, no torture or interrogation in the world would be able to break him.

Besides, the house elves were making his favorite soup.

Draco reached the bottom of the stairs and cast a wistful glance out the front doors, just closing behind the Fudges. The Minister was bending down to let a house-elf take his over-robe, laughing at something Narcissa had said. Dressed in sleek black, she was as stunning as always, and even more so next to Fudge's wife. Nearly twice as tall and three times as wide as her husband, the woman looked distinctly bovine. His father, too bad for him, was kissing her hand. Obviously starved for physical contact, the cow turned magenta and started jiggling with joy. Draco felt ill. He turned to rush back up the stairs and hide under his bed.

"Ah, Draco!" Too late. His father had spotted him. Reluctantly, Draco turned around and walked into the entry hall. He jammed his hands in his pockets and tried not to scowl. "We've been waiting."

"I'm sorry," Draco said, fishing for an excuse that would go over well in the current company. "I was just reading the latest issue of UK Ministry Workers' Digest." He turned to the Minister. "I thought your article against overtime payments was brilliantly reasoned."

"Well." Fudge blinked several times, taken aback. "I don't know of many young people who read the Digest. Actually, I don't know of many people who read the Digest."

"Draco has his own subscription," Narcissa said proudly. It wasn't completely true. He had read the latest issue cover to cover in the waiting room of Parkinson's office last Tuesday when his mother had Flooed in to finalize the legal details of Father's release. She hadn't trusted him home alone and then hadn't allowed him in on the actual meeting. It had been, perhaps, the most boring afternoon of his life. "Draco's been looking forward to this dinner all week, Minister," his mother said. "He begs us to go and watch you whenever you make a speech."

Fudge exchanged a surprised smile with his wife. "You're obviously a very intelligent young man."

"I don't believe you have ever met," Lucius said. "Minister, this is my son, Draco." Even in a wheelchair, Draco's father was far more impressive than the Minister, who looked as foppish and insignificant as ever in a set of dress robes so lime-green they should have been banned.

"I am honored, Minister," Draco said, bowing his head to hide his smirk.

Fudge extended his hand. "It is a pleasure indeed to meet the son of such a fine ally as old Lucius here." Fudge smacked Lucius on the back in what he probably thought was an affectionate manner. Lucius winced. "You must feel that you have a lot to live up to, young man."

Draco smiled down at the wheelchair. "Father always did have very tall expectations for me." His father coughed.

Fudge looked mildly concerned. "Something stuck in the throat, Lucius?"

His father glared at Draco. "No, everything's fine."

"Father is recovering from pneumonia," Draco improvised. "Terrible ventilation in Azkaban."

"I did always find it a bit drafty there myself. That prison is due for a renovation, but things are spread so thin at the Ministry right now..." Fudge scowled. "From the financial side, You-Know-Who chose a very inconvenient time to resurrect himself. No common courtesy whatsoever." He shook his head. "But that is my problem. Don't let me bore you with it. I hope you're making a firm recovery, Lucius. I've always found pneumonia vexing."

Lucius pounded on his chest sardonically. "It's been an uphill battle."

"Mummy was at his bedside day and night," Draco pitched in. "She's never had any formal training, but she is a talented Healer."

Narcissa slipped her arm around Draco's shoulders and gave him a squeeze. "I had help," she said, looking at him fondly. "I had to force Draco to go to bed at night. He was so happy to have his father back. He didn't want to lose him again."

Fudge smiled blankly. Draco sniffed, trying to will a tear.

"My only regret is that we could not restore dear Lucius's ability to walk," Narcissa said, lightly touching the handle of Lucius's wheelchair.

Fudge's wife let out a strangled little sob and dabbed her eye with a hideous lace hanky. "Such devotion." She hiccoughed. "It's beautiful."

"Yes." Draco had to agree.

Narcissa smiled. "Draco, I want you to meet Minister Fudge's wife, Matilde."

The female Fudge was perhaps the most unfortunate looking person Draco had ever seen: a fat little dollop of a woman with more chins than his father had house elves. He felt slightly uncomfortable shaking her hand. "I'm charmed."

"Oh, Cornelius, he's a little darling!" Draco did not appreciate being talked about as if her were a baby Puffskein, but a squeeze from his Mother prompted him to swallow his indignation. "Lucius, you've raised your son so well."

"I am only glad to have another opportunity to fulfill my fatherly duties." He gave her a smooth smile. "Cornelius, if you'd be so kind as to wheel me over to the table, we could start with dinner."

"It is really too bad about your legs, Lucius," Fudge said, grabbing hold of the chair. "And with that pneumonia, too! You should claim compensation from the Dementors."

"We don't want to cause any more fuss than we have already, Minister." Narcissa slid into her seat at the far end of the table. "A lawsuit would just complicate things."

"I don't suppose Dementors have many assets," Fudge remarked pensively. "Being demons or soulless wraiths or whatever it is those buggers are."

"I think any litigation would be born out of principle alone," Lucius replied. "I'm sure Parkinson could dredge up grounds for a suit if I was feeling very petty."

"Principle," Fudge echoed, winking at Lucius. "That's something you do have quite a lot of, Malfoy, isn't it?"

Lucius smiled. Draco suspected that his father had no idea what Fudge was talking about. Draco himself certainly didn't. "Narcissa was just saying that to me the other night." Glasses of cabernet sauvignon materialized on the table for everyone except his mother, who was having her usual cranberry juice and vodka.

"I've always liked men with integrity," Fudge proclaimed, plopping down beside Draco's father. "They are a vanishing species, Lucius, like the Golden Snidget—crushed inside the glove of a cruel, callous, and self-serving world. You, Malfoy, are a Golden Snidget, a true find, a bastion of morality and truth."

Lucius inclined his head. "You are too kind, Cornelius." Draco coughed into his napkin.

"Pneumonia isn't contagious, is it?" Fudge broke off, looking genuinely concerned.

"The poor dear," his wife cooed.

Lucius glared at Draco.

"I think," Draco said, setting down his napkin and pasting on his best replica of a sickly smile, "I will live."

Mrs. Fudge clapped her hands. "Oh, you overwhelm me!" She leaned forward, unleashing her ample bosom all over the ancestral linen. "A sickly master and a dying heir and you still invite us into your hearth and home when Cornelius is so obviously the cause of all your troubles! He has done you a gross disservice. You should have never listened to Dumbledore, dear."

"I didn't mean to, but you know how he gets." Fudge started to go red around the ears. "It's just so hard to say no to the savior of the free world. Ever since he defeated Grindelwald, he's been prancing around like some sort of authority. Did you know that he almost convinced the Wizengamot to appoint him Minister instead of me? Can you believe that?" He spluttered in indignation. "Dumbledore, Minister?"

"A dark day that would have been," Lucius said.

Narcissa fitted Fudge with her most charming smile. "Luckily, the Wizengamot made the right choice."

Fudge refused to be dissuaded. "Dumbledore suffers from an excess of ambition. You would not believe some of the stories he's tried to stuff down my throat—escaped hippogriffs, unregistered Animagi—who's ever heard of unregistered Animagi? He must think I'm an idiot."

Draco's parents exchanged a glance. His father shrugged. "Power corrupts," he said as the first course, a reddish broth, materialized on their plates.

"But you, Lucius, are a true angel," Mrs. Fudge cooed, before her husband could start on another spiel about Dumbledore. "Cornelius takes full responsibility for whatever harm befell you while that unscrupulous man deluded the Ministry into having you locked up in Azkaban."

"I may have lost the use of my legs," his father proclaimed, in Draco's opinion rather lamely, "but I don't blame you at all. I'm glad this whole misunderstanding was happily resolved."

Draco recognized his cue. "And I'm just glad to have my father back." He added a hacking cough for good measure.

"Have some broth, Draco, dear, it's good for the throat," his mother said.

Mrs. Fudge looked as if she was about to wet herself with sympathy. "Now, what year are you in school, young Draco?" she asked. "You must be nearly finished at Hogwarts."

"I'm a sixth year," he replied, taking a halting sip of soup. "Provided I'm well enough to return for next term."

"Draco is a prefect." Narcissa smiled. "If he keeps his grades up, he is going to be Head Boy."

"I would have told you myself," he said, "but I am painfully modest."

"You're in the same year as Harry Potter?" Fudge raised an eyebrow.

Draco looked at his soup. "Indeed."

"And what do you think of him?" It was obviously a loaded question.

Mrs. Fudge sighed angrily. "That boy is the most ridiculous—"

Draco cut her off. "I always try to be generous with Potter. But truthfully I think he's rather difficult. He has a problem sharing the limelight."

"Potter," Narcissa added, "is not a prefect."

"And rightfully so," Fudge said. "At least Dumbledore has sense in one regard, if not in many others." He nodded significantly at Lucius's wheelchair.

"Lucius, this soup is delicious!" Mrs. Fudge bellowed as soon as her husband mentioned the word Dumbledore. Draco got the sense that she was rather well acquainted with his rants. "Whatever is in it?"

"Muggle," Lucius replied, "marinated with sherry."

There was a nervous sort of pause and then Fudge giggled. "Oh, Lucius, you almost had me there."

Narcissa looked down at her napkin. "It's an old family recipe."

Lucius smiled.

Dinner passed in a series of courses and conversations. In Draco's opinion, each remark from the Fudges was more inane than the last. Dumbledore was mentioned a total of sixty-two times, Potter thirty, and Draco himself a paltry five, even though he was present and dying of pneumonia. It hardly seemed fair. It wasn't until late, between salad and dessert, that anything emerged to pique his interest. He was tonguing his sherbet despondently, pretending it was Pansy, when Fudge said, "So what is all this talk about you investing in an organization to stop He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, Lucius?"

Lucius replied with a small smile. "The rumors must have come from somewhere."

"Spit it out." As Fudge leaned forward, his ascot fell into his sherbet. The fabric looked better stained. How unfortunate. "Is there truth to the rumors?"

Lucius put both hands on the table, palms up. "You know that I have devoted my life to the service of the Ministry—"

"Of course I'm not obligating you to anything," Fudge cut him off, completely misunderstanding Lucius's preamble. "I don't want to tie you down especially after our, ah," he glanced at the wheelchair, "misunderstandings—which I of course take full responsibility for. But then again, if you are at all interested in giving me—I mean the Ministry—money, then by all means—"

Lucius's eyes narrowed. Despite his obvious annoyance, he picked up where he left off. "I have devoted my life to our Ministry. But I feel that I have not done enough. My long stay in Azkaban alerted me to the growing threat of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. If he is not stopped now, we will have no chance of opposing him in the future. I feel personally responsible for this."

"Well, you needn't," Fudge said. "It's not your fault that he wants to take over the world."

Lucius's smile remained superhumanly steady. "I'm planning to put up the money to create an ancillary branch of the Ministry devoted completely to the capture and defeat of the Dark Lord."

Fudge's eyes widened. "Lucius! These are exciting thoughts!"

"They are."

"I feel myself getting excited."

Lucius held up a hand. "It's the least I could do. Of course, such an organization would need access to all the Auror records and resources to make any sort of headway."

"Whatever you need," Fudge blustered. "Oh, this will help us out of a pickle indeed. I was worrying about how to scrounge the funds to meet Auror operating costs. They're expensive idiots. All that travel to Tibet tracking Sirius Black didn't come cheap. My, my, this is a development—"

"Maybe it would be better if I just absorbed the Auror Bureau?" Lucius suggested as glasses of port materialized on the table.

"I'd feel more comfortable with you at its head instead of that spendthrift Shacklebolt." Fudge scooped up his glass. "This is truly incredible—you are truly incredible. I am simply at a loss for words."

"To a new Ministry," Lucius picked up his glass of port.

"A new Ministry," Fudge echoed and met Lucius's toast. "Merlin's teeth, it's good to have you back."

Merlin's teeth, Draco thought as his father tipped back his drink, that was ridiculously easy. He had expected the negotiations to go on for much longer; he had expected that there at least be negotiations. His father, he had come to realize in the past few years, was an excellent manipulator. What his words wouldn't get him, his money could take care of. Nevertheless, observation and Draco's own experience taught him that there was generally a bit of a chase before the quarry rolled over and gave in. Either his father was ridiculously persuasive or Fudge ridiculously persuadable. Despite his mountains of filial respect, Draco was reasonability certain it was the latter.

"Now, if you'd be so kind," his father inclined his head, "I must take my medicine. It's a potion for my legs. Draco, attend to me. We wouldn't want anyone else catching the pneumonia. Narcissa, don't bore them too terribly. I won't be but a minute."

Draco stood up and took his Father's chair by the handles, wheeling him toward his study. "We will be here, dear fellow, when you return!" Fudge chortled, waving his port.

"Yes," his father hissed as the door swung shut behind them. "That's the pity, isn't it?"

"Potion for the legs?" Draco turned the lock.

"Don't be flippant," his father snapped, standing up. "My back's so stiff I really won't be able to move. What a vile contraption." He glowered at the wheelchair. "Where's my cane?"

"It will take at least nine months of extensive therapy before you will be able to attain that level of mobility, Father." Draco smirked. "Mummy would not want to see you hurt yourself."

His father placed a finger over his lips for quiet. "Nor, I suppose, would she like to see me hurt you."

"You are the one who decided to become a paraplegic." Draco deliberately ignored him, plopping down in the wheelchair and spinning round in a circle.

His father grabbed the handles, stilling him. "Don't be smart with me, Draco."

"I personally think paralysis is a brilliant idea. Not that my opinion means anything—" he flicked a smile, "although I did like how you picked up on that pneumonia thing in our exit. It was my idea."

"I'd appreciate it if you would not add any more ailments to my retinue," his father said. "I would prefer to avoid extemporaneous illness."

"It went over well," Draco protested. "They love you even more now that you almost died again. Potter's been using that strategy for years. It works repulsively well for him. It makes me want to hit him."

His father looked down his nose. "Your chatter is not becoming."

"Yes, well, aside from coughing, I've been holding myself in all night. I still don't see why you wouldn't let Pansy come."

"Then I would have had to invite Cheswick, and Fudge would have run around like a decapitated chicken thinking I was going to press charges."

"It would have been fun to watch."

His father didn't deny it. "Furthermore, you can't have a social dinner with your lawyer unless you're in danger of bankruptcy."

"We've had the Parkinsons over before," Draco protested.

"Yes. But it was just us and the Parkinsons and there was no one else around to substantiate the rumors."

"I like Pansy," Draco said sulkily.

"You're allowed to," his father replied. "Pansy is not my lawyer."

"Then why couldn't she come?"

"Get up."

"Why?"

His father grabbed him by the shoulder and yanked him out of the wheelchair. "You're more amenable quiet, so it's high time to go back in."

"You know it's common knowledge that it takes at least fifteen minutes to administer leg-strengthening potion."

"You are very funny, Draco," his father said as he sat down. "But no more pneumonia and no more games. You understand me. This is my magnum opus."

Draco wondered idly if, when he was his Father's age, he would also be obsessed with legacy.

He took the handles. His father leaned forward to unlock the door. "At least we had the Muggle soup," Draco remarked as his father looked back over his shoulder. "I hope we're having fudge for dessert?"

His father's sniff was almost a laugh. He touched the side of his chair. "Patience, Draco. What was it you were telling me? Nine months of therapy before I can walk?"

"That doesn't count," Draco muttered. He reached over his father's head and opened the door.

----

It wasn't until later that night that Harry talked about Malfoy. Mrs. Weasley spent the entire day trying to avoid the subject even though Harry hadn't been able to stop thinking about it, he didn't want to discuss it with either Ron or Hermione. Ron would get angry, complain about Fudge, and then suggest they ask his dad, while Hermione would say witty, scathing things about the Ministry and then propose they talk to Mr. Weasley too. What it came down to was they didn't know any more than he did, and their only suggestion would be to appeal to an adult.

Even if Ron's dad would talk, Mrs. Weasley would force him to stop before he could tell them anything worthwhile, and then there would be a huge row, and everyone would end up more angry and miserable than they already were. So there was really no point to asking Ron and Hermione.

Halfway through the day the Order assembled, even Kingsley and Tonks, who were finding it even harder to skive off work since Voldemort's return. They said a brief hello, went straight down to the kitchen and locked the door. Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny spent the afternoon trying to listen in, but no sound leaked out. The new and improved model of Fred and George's Extendable Ears leapt away from the door as though it burned them.

When Lupin opened the door three hours later and the Order filed out, he didn't seem at all surprised to see them sitting backs to the wall in a row.

"You had better come inside," he said. "Your mother has made dinner."

The table creaked under the weight of a proper roast lamb dinner, complete with gravy and Yorkshire pudding. Nobody, of course, mentioned anything about Malfoy, but then again, they were all very busy eating.

It wasn't until after dinner, when everyone else had gone upstairs—Mr. and Mrs. Weasley to knit, which Harry supposed was code for discussing Malfoy; Ron and Ginny to play chess; and Hermione to read the Prophet article one more time—that Lupin tapped him on the shoulder, charmed two cups of tea and asked him if he wanted to talk.

"Don't tell me you're surprised that Lucius Malfoy escaped from Azkaban," Lupin said mildly, sipping his tea. "It's been done before," which was the closest anyone would get to mentioning Sirius's name in front of Harry, "and Malfoy didn't even do it the hard way."

"Because making up lies about Dumbledore and bribing the Ministry is obviously the best way to escape from Azkaban."

Lupin sipped his tea and placed it on the saucer before responding. "Lucius Malfoy is not the type of man who would swim the North Sea when he could be personally escorted out by Fudge instead."

"So Fudge sees what he wants to see?"

"An innocent Malfoy with a sack of gold," Lupin agreed.

Innocent and Malfoy did not belong in the same sentence. "And what does Narcissa Malfoy have to do with this? The Prophet said she convinced Fudge that he'd been wrongfully imprisoned."

Lupin choked on his tea. He put it down. "Mrs. Malfoy can be—very persuasive," he finished, swabbing his face with a napkin. "Very persuasive."

"Are you turning red?" Harry said suspiciously.

"Hot tea," Lupin said hastily.

Harry decided to drop it. "So about this evil-fighting organization that Malfoy's starting."

"Yes, that." Lupin seized the change of topic. "I think it has a lot to do with the Ministry's willingness to give Malfoy a second chance. It shows that he's a changed man."

"Do you really believe that?"

"No, but the Ministry does, and that's what counts."

"Not to me."

"Nor me, but we should have known better than to assume that Lucius Malfoy was going to rot in Azkaban for the rest of his life."

"Well, what are we going to do about it now?" Harry said. He would lose it if Lupin spouted something like "the Order has its plans," which was the sort of answer that was worse than no answer at all.

"Well," Lupin hedged, "the Order has its—"

"Don't even say it," Harry said, and left.

-----

Notes:

The chapter title, "The Thirteenth-Ever Escape from Azkaban," is based on the number of documented escapes in canon: Sirius Black was the first person to escape from Azkaban (PoA). Barty Crouch, Jr., may have actually escaped earlier than Sirius, but we don't learn about his escape until GoF, so we're counting him as the second person. Ten Death Eaters, including Bellatrix Lestrange, broke out of Azkaban in OotP, bringing the total to twelve (OotP 25). Lucius, therefore, makes thirteen. (to satisfy the canon nerds, who you just know would want know, "Why thirteen?")