Notes: Okay... let's try this again, shall we? I'm rewriting this because I sort of wrote myself into a corner the last time around, and didn't have the time to wrap up all the storylines before the end, which has to occur at a certain time of the year. Mostly all I'll do this time around is switch the order up a bit and add some more detail.
Thanks to those of you who have reviewed, even if it was out of confusion: ) And special thanks to Kaydotsidot and FreakWave for their encouragement!
Disclaimer: All right, so my imagination might be a little on the twisted side... but I still could never think up Dementors. :shudders:
Chapter Two: Prisoner Number 57
The end—it was the end
The sirens were pulling him down
And his heart was cold, so very cold
You believe it might never beat.
—"You Turn Me Around," Aqualung
Life was dark in the fortress of Azkaban. It was dark, and it was cold, and it was hungry. But above all else, it was lonely.
Prisoner Number 57 chuckled hoarsely at the thought, tucking his arms inside his ragged shirt to gain the most from his own body heat. Lonely. He was surrounded by raving lunatics, and he was lonely. Birds of a feather...
He growled to himself, fingers finding another hole in the thin fabric, testament to the fact that he'd worn nothing but these clothes for four long years. He hadn't had a proper bath in at least nine months, and the small, sane corner of his mind was disgusted by his own smell, his own appearance. But the rest of his consciousness just shrugged and trudged on, wondering why it should care. That part became larger with every passing week, and the prisoner shuddered to think that soon, it might overwhelm the last reserves of his sanity.
It didn't help that all of the cells around him were full of nutters, howling and screaming and clawing, singing nursery rhymes while they tore off shreds of their own flesh, weeping for reasons they couldn't comprehend—until, finally, they simply stopped eating, and their voices grew weaker and weaker...
The prisoner shuddered again, and began his daily routine, which consisted mostly of repeating a mantra to himself and sleeping as much as he could.
"My name is Draco Aurelius Faustus Valerius Malfoy. Today is the sixth of June, 2001. I am twenty-one years and one day old. I am innocent. My name is Draco Aurelius Faustus Valerius Malfoy. Today is the sixth of June..."
He passed a few hours in this manner, and at the end of them he felt calmer than he had in quite some time. The repetition of the mantra, which changed only in the date and his age, always soothed away the emotional flotsam and jetsam from the nightmares that tormented his psyche during the night. He had hit upon the practice a few weeks after entering the prison, when he recalled an article on how Black had kept his sanity. Innocence is not a happy thought, Potter had informed the reporter. Therefore, the Dementors couldn't take it from him. It kept him sane.
And so Draco Malfoy found himself in Azkaban, clinging to the method that had saved his second cousin. Unfortunately, he, unlike Sirius Black, was not an unregistered Animagus. There was no chance of Draco slipping through those bars and swimming to shore.
He was stuck.
And it was driving him mad.
"No," he growled, shaking his shaggy head violently. "My name is Draco Aurelius Faustus Valerius Malfoy, and today is the sixth of June, 2001. I am twenty one years and one day old. I am innocent."
Innocent of what they accused you of, whispered a sly voice in the back of his mind, a voice that did not belong to him. It was so familiar, so tantalizing... so provoking. But he couldn't remember. But there are things you've done that they never discovered. Remember that Mudblood girl? Remember how she screamed? Remember how she pled and wept, and begged you on her knees to leave her alone?
"My name," he began again, eyes closed, "is Draco Aurelius Faustus Valerius Malfoy, and—"
Remember the day Dumbledore announced she'd committed suicide over the Christmas holiday?
"—is the sixth of June, 2001," he repeated, his voice louder in an attempt to drown out his own conscience. "I am twenty one years and one—"
What was her name again?
"Eleanor... Eleanor Branstone."
Ah. So you do remember.
"My name is—"
She would be eighteen now... if it weren't for you. You made her life a living hell. Never quite had that effect on Potter, did you? Daddy wasn't happy... and when Daddy wasn't happy, no one was. You did it for him, didn't you? Sent those Howlers—notes enchanted to disappear as soon as she'd read them—you made her feel worthless, hated... and mad.
"No," he whispered forcibly, fingers clenching into fists and eyes opening. "No."
Worthless... hated... and mad. Tell me, Draco. Why do those sound so familiar?
"It's not real," he consoled himself aloud.
That voice! It was so... so close... He glanced over his shoulder, breathing coming harder and faster. It seemed to him that a dim shape formed in the shadows, its edges blurred. Pale hair swept back over broad shoulders, robed in black, and piercing eyes so cold they made him shiver...
You're worthless, Draco! You could not even be more than a thorn in the Golden Boy's side—so you murdered a child! Worthless... worthless, and hated...
You don't deserve the name Malfoy.
Prisoner Number 57 turned his head away, closing his eyes and gritting his teeth. "I. Don't. Want. It."
What was that, boy? You don't want it? You're a disgrace—a complete disgrace! You don't deserve to share this name. Not at all.
"I DON'T WANT IT!" he screamed at the shadow-memory of his father. "I DON'T WANT IT! I DON'T WANT YOU! LEAVE ME ALONE!"
The prisoner in cell fifty-six went silent for a moment, listening, and then began to weep again. Her neighbor had leapt to his feet and was stumbling around his narrow cell, beating his bare, numb fists against the rough stone walls. "I don't want it! I denounce it! I denounce you! I AM NO LONGER A MALFOY!"
For once, that hissing, poisonous voice in the back of his mind was silent, and Draco's face split into a fierce grin. The muscles in his face stretched into the unusual position with some difficulty, making the expression more of a grimace—but Draco didn't care, not anymore. He'd won the battle. "My name is Draco Aurelius Faustus Valerius, and today is June the sixth!" he cried. "Draco Aurelius Faustus Valerius. Draco Aurelius Faustus Valerius!"
"Well, Draco Aurelius Faustus Valerius. May I come in?"
"No! Never again! Never again! I've won—I will not listen to you ever again, you thrice-bedamned bastard! I am innocent! Innocence is not a happy thought. The Dementors can't take it from me. I am innocent, I am innocent—my name is Draco Aurelius Faustus Valerius... Black! MY NAME IS DRACO BLACK!" he shouted with fierce grin.
"Headmaster..." Hermione put one hand on the old man's arm, looking up at him concernedly and then back at the gaunt man who stood, laughing uncontrollably, in the center of the tiny cell. "He isn't..."
Dumbledore glanced down at her briefly, eyes shining. "No, my dear girl. He's no madder than either of us. His psyche is simply strained after so many years of false imprisonment. I only hope it has not stretched quite to the breaking point yet, though his apparent belief that his father is with him is certainly worrisome."
Hermione wasn't concerned about Draco's hallucinations, though—she had stopped cold at the end of the previous sentence. "False imprisonment?" she asked, her voice dark.
The Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry smiled through the narrow slit in the door at the laughing young man; he was now pounding his arms against his chest to generate warmth. "Indeed, Miss Granger. False imprisonment. Draco declared his own innocence and then requested Veritaserum; it was denied to him." He pulled out a small bottle and a key. "I intend to give that to him now."
He unlocked the door, and Hermione grudgingly followed him, unwilling to get any closer to Malfoy than necessary. She gagged at the smell in the tiny chamber; were these places never cleaned? For a moment she forgot the name of the man before her and simply pitied him as a human, forced to live in incogitable conditions. Then she remembered, and kept her wand within easy reach.
"Draco Black," the filthy young man was musing, wagging his head back and forth and laughing softly. "Draco Black."
There was no innocence in the sound, or in the smile on his face. He was too tainted for that. His hoarse laugh was bitter and harsh, if tinged with true pleasure; the expression on his face was closer to a smirk than a smile. He nodded his head once more and then, while swinging it back, seemed to notice his guests for the first time. For a long moment he stared at the pair, dark gray eyes unfocused.
"You." He said, narrowing his eyes at Dumbledore. His cold gaze raked the old man up and down, taking in the long, forget-me-not blue robes, the half-moon glasses, the prodigious beard. "I... know you. Dumbledore?" he asked, his voice unusually hesitant. Hermione frowned.
The old man simply smiled. "I am honored that you remember me," he said. "Mr. Malfoy, I was rather hoping—"
"No." Malfoy's jaw was clenched, his eyes hard. "Mr. Black. There's no brand on this arm!" he said, holding up the limb as if to prove it, and then looked down at his hands, his voice softening. "Blood on these hands... I want to wash them. I'm a Malfoy no more. Mr. Black."
Dumbledore inclined his head towards Malfoy, as he would to any new acquaintance. "My apologies, Mr. Black," he corrected himself. "As I was saying: I was rather hoping that my colleague and I might ask you a few questions."
Malfoy's—Black's?—face contorted into a snarl. "Veritaserum! Give me the damned Veritaserum, Fudge!"
Hermione stepped forward as Malfoy stormed towards Dumbledore, but the headmaster extended one arm, sweeping her gently back into her previous position. "All is well, Miss Granger," he said softly. "It is merely a flashback... an unfortunate consequence of his stay here."
Malfoy raged for another several minutes about his innocence, shouting in Dumbledore's face about dragons and wands and a theft of some sort—Hermione was too busy taking down his words to try to decipher the half-crazed commentary. His eyes cleared eventually, though, and his snarl subsided into a desperate grimace as he caught at the headmaster's sleeve. "Give me Veritaserum, Dumbledore! I'll prove it! I swear I will!" He dropped the hem and grasped the headmaster's shoulders, his pale, bony hands trembling.
Hermione turned her face away, attempting to cope with the drastic changes in Malfoy's appearance while the headmaster calmed him down. His pale hair fell in a matted, gnarled shroud over his unbelievably thin shoulders, and his eyes were sunken and shadowed. A wrinkle had formed between his eyebrows at some point during the last four years, and there was something about his face that made her almost think he'd never smiled in his life. A scraggly brown beard had grown up and overrun the stubborn line of his jaw, and his clothes were ragged and thin. The emaciated state of his body didn't bear thinking about—she wasn't sure her psyche could handle it!
"I know you will, my dear boy," Dumbledore said gently, and the panic began to seep from Malfoy's fogged gray eyes. "Here is the Veritaserum. Miss Granger, are you ready?"
"Yes, sir," she answered, her voice coming out too sharp and shrill in the unnerving quietude, broken only by the wails of other inmates. One was singing an out-of-tune lullaby. Hermione focused her thoughts back on her task and prepared to play stenographer again.
"Here, Mr. Black. Open your mouth." Malfoy—Black—the prisoner, Hermione thought, frowning—obeyed, and swallowed the three drops as soon as they touched his tongue. Stenographer and professor waited for a few moments as the prisoner shook his shaggy head and blinked, the blur of Veritaserum drifting over his consciousness. "We will begin," Dumbledore said quietly. "What is the name given to you at birth?"
"Draco Aurelius Faustus Valerius Malfoy."
"And how do you wish to be called?"
"Why?" Dumbledore asked.
"My cousin... Black. He was my second cousin. He was falsely imprisoned. I am falsely imprisoned." Those clouded gray eyes turned from Dumbledore to Hermione, who was too busy writing to notice. Abruptly his gaze reversed. "It's symbolic."
"What is today's date?"
"The sixth of June, 2001."
"And how long have you been in Azkaban?"
Draco paused, calculating days. "Three years, eleven months, one week, and four days."
"Are you responsible for the death of Charlie Weasley?" Hermione's heart constricted as she waited for Malfoy's answer—those few seconds between question and answer seemed to last days.
She exhaled gustily and wrote down his answer with a hand that only trembled a little.
"Are you, or were you ever, a Death Eater of Voldemort?"
"Have you, Draco Black," Dumbledore said, "completely and sincerely denounced your heritage as a Malfoy, and along with it all ties to the Death Eaters and the fallen Dark Lord?"
Malfoy blinked. Hermione hesitated, noted the tension in Dumbledore's frame and the slackness of the prisoner's face, then turned back to her notes, waiting. "Yes."
"Do you wish to leave Azkaban?"
"Yes!" No hesitation this time.
"Do you wish to correct the mistakes of your past?"
"I suppose." Hermione looked up to see an expression of ambivalence on the prisoner's face. Maybe not a Death Eater, or a murderer, she murmured to herself, her hard gaze resting on his countenance, but he's still a Slytherin.
"I am going to propose a plan of action now. If you accept this, you will sign the name you wish to be known by on the piece of parchment supplied by Miss Granger. If you do not, you will simply tell us so. Do you understand?"
"Here is my proposition," Dumbledore said, motioning Hermione forward. Draco blankly took the quill she offered, not looking at the parchment she lay on the stone floor before him. "We fear that the Death Eaters may be rising to some semblance of power again. We need someone to go among them, find out information, and bring it back—we need a spy, someone whom these people will trust. If you agree to do this, you will swear allegiance to the Minister of Magic and you will be inducted into the Order of the Phoenix. You will be partnered with another spy of the Minister's choosing and all of your past wrongdoings will be forgiven. Do you accept these terms?"
Hermione, who had set down the paper and quill within Malfoy's reach, fingered her wand; if he did not agree, she was to Obliviate him quickly and completely. The mind of a madman was prone to holding onto things that were better forgotten, as Dumbledore had said, and they could take few chances.
Her wand wasn't needed; without speaking, Malfoy crouched, scribbled something on the paper, and rose again. He offered the parchment to the headmaster, who examined it and then smiled.
Malfoy shook the haze of Veritaserum from his head and looked up. "Is it... is it done, then?" he asked, tripping over the surprisingly sane words.
"Welcome to the Order of the Phoenix, Mr. Black," Dumbledore said simply, extending his hand.
Leaving Azkaban was like awakening from a dream of eternal winter and darkness to find the sun shining on one's face. Draco gripped the rail at the ferry's edge so tightly that he knew his knuckles must be showing white through his already pale skin, and closed his eyes. For the first time in almost four years, he felt wind on his face. It was salty and chill and the moisture in it was more than a little rancid, as the waters surrounding the fortress of Azkaban are wont to be, but it was wind. Air. Freedom. I'm free.
Behind him he could hear voices conversing quietly. One was a man's, mellow and calm, but touched by the rasp of age. His companion was a young woman; her contralto was hushed and colored with anxiety and something like repressed anger. Both were familiar.
Then he remembered—Dumbledore, offering him Veritaserum. There was a haze in which his memory was distorted and imprecise... and then a quill was in his hand. He was a member of something... the Order. The Order of the Phoenix. He was a Ministry spy.
As it came flooding back, he opened his eyes, blinking out at the horizon. His thoughts, no longer restrained by near-madness, drifted between the novelty of his freedom, the consequences of his (perhaps hasty) decision, and the voices at his back. Dumbledore... and Granger. His blood cooled, and one corner of his lips lifted into a sneer. Of course she would be here. Hadn't he pinned her for a Ministry lackey right from the start?
The ferry docked all too soon, and the ferryman and prison guards—wizards, thank Merlin, and not Dementors—left the unlikely trio standing on the far shore, shaking off the gloom of Azkaban.
Draco turned to face the others as Dumbledore spoke. "This is where I leave you. I've far more business to finish up at school than is entirely humane, and you two need some time to be reacquainted. I thank you again, Miss Granger, and commend you. Give your regards to Miss Lovegood, would you?"
"Of course," she said, nodding. The fact that she was pointedly not looking at Black made her acute awareness of his presence all the more perceptible.
"And you, Mr. Black," Dumbledore said. Draco raised his gaze from the erstwhile Gryffindor to look at the elderly wizard. "I wish you the best of luck, my boy, and hope that you will not be a stranger. Miss Granger will assume all responsibilities for you henceforward, so if you need any assistance, help her. I am sure she will not hesitate in her duties."
She smiled tautly.
"Well, then, I leave you to it." Without another word, Dumbledore vanished with a quiet pop, leaving Draco alone with the Mudblood.
He turned to her, but she resolutely ignored him, staring out over the gray sea. She had never been particularly beautiful at school, and the last four years had certainly not harbored any miracles. Her features were strong and elfin at the same time, and her hair, though sleekly straightened, still showed signs of its trademark frizz. Her frame was curved and thoroughly average in size, though she stood nearly an entire head shorter than him. He found himself strangely compelled by the sight of her, and was filled with disgust to find it was hard to look away. You've gone too long without seeing a woman, mate, if you think she's attractive.
"Granger," he grated after a moment. She turned to look at him with a languid air of condescension which told him quite clearly that by-gones were not quite by-gones just yet. "What does he mean, we need to get reacquainted? Why are you 'responsible' for me?"
"I am responsible for you," she said, avoiding the first question, "because Dumbledore and the Minister said so."
"I don't need a damned babysitter."
Granger gave him a hard smile. "If you, still widely believed to be a Death Eater or at least Dark sympathizer, would like to go running about the wizarding world all alone, without someone reputable there to vouch for you, be my guest. It certainly makes things easier for me." She looked at him for a long moment, waiting for a reply. The only answer she received was a grimace. "As I thought. Well, then—first thing, you need a very, very long shower."
He would have made a snide comment—or, if his wand hadn't been snapped, hexed her—but his own senses told him that she was right. He desperately needed to bathe. And shave, for that matter.
Draco jumped back a step as something brushed his hand. A derisive little laugh caught his attention, and he looked down to see Granger standing much closer than she had been before, hand outstretched. "Side-Along Apparition, Malfoy," she cooed viciously, obviously mocking his edginess. "Promise it won't hurt."
He ground his teeth. "My name is Black."
She narrowed her eyes at him, but the expression was not malicious; rather, it was calculating, analytical—and surprisingly Slytherin for such a thorough Gryffindor. "Very well," she muttered, and grabbed his hand. The movement was quick, and he thought that the old axiom of get it over fast must be something like what was going through her head at the moment their fingers intertwined. There was a pop, and the seashore vanished.
They were standing in a living room. The carpet beneath the thin soles of his dragon-hide boots was soft, and the wallpaper was tasteful, with slight metallic hints below the molding. Well-used, comfortable leather furniture filled the room, and there was a fireplace that was obviously outfitted for the Floo network. Whose home was this? Granger's? He doubted it. She had never been big on aesthetics—just the bare bones minimum.
To his surprise (and dismay) Granger moved away from him, heading for a staircase behind them. Draco made to follow her, panic seizing him—suddenly all this freedom seemed a lot to get used to, after so long, and he didn't want to face it without something familiar there, even if that something familiar was a certain know-it-all Mudblood.
"Granger," he called quickly.
She stopped on the third stair and looked at him expectantly, eyebrows raised.
"You never answered my other question. Why do we need to be 'reacquainted?'"
"Because," she said tersely. "We've been partnered."
He blinked. "Partnered?"
She let loose an exhausted sigh. "Yes, M—yes. Partnered. Remember that contract you signed?"
A look of disgust settled over his features. "We're—sweet Merlin, why?"
"Ask the Minister," she muttered. "Now, come on. You're going to bathe, and I'm going to think up ways to kill Remus Lupin with impunity."
He followed her to the base of the stairs. "The mongrel?" he asked with a sneer that unconsciously mirrored that of Phineas Nigellus, one of his distant relatives. "Any particular reason?"
She gritted her teeth. "He's the one who stuck us together."
"But the... that beast is the Minister of Magic?"
"For two years now," she said testily, glaring at him.
"Look, I'll fill you in on everything later, but you are really, really smell." Before he could respond, she turned and climbed the rest of the stairs, leaving him standing at the bottom, scowling up.
"Bloody witch," he muttered, shaking his head.
He jumped when someone screamed shrilly behind him. A woman stood in the kitchen doorway, staring at him, aghast. After a moment of petrified terror, she threw down the mail she was holding and took up a metal poker from beside the fireplace, brandishing it clumsily like a foil.
"Get out!" she shrieked. "Get out! Henry, there's an intruder! Get out of here, you!"
A man with a neatly-trimmed gray beard came bursting in from another room, and Draco staggered backwards, tripping on a small side table and falling, taking the table (and the porcelain plate displayed upon it) with him. The man rushed at him, but at just that moment, Hermione came running downstairs.
"No, Dad, stop! Mum, it's all right, really! I didn't think you were home or I'd have warned you—" she said, hurrying over to Draco and helping him up. "He's a colleague of mine. Draco, these are my parents, Henry and Janet Granger. Mum, Dad, this is Draco... Black. I'm really sorry, but he's only just got in from an assignment in Africa, and I told him you wouldn't mind if we stopped off here so he could clean up a bit before we went back to London."
Draco wondered briefly when Hermione had come up with that story, but she didn't look at him after making sure that he was unharmed. Her eyes were fixed on her parents.
"Oh. Oh, dear," Mrs. Granger said, sitting down on the arm of the sofa and pressing one hand against her chest. "Please forgive me, Mr. Black—you just gave me such a scare!"
"It's—it's all right," he said uncertainly. Hermione, still not looking at him, gave a tight little nod that her parents missed.
"Are you all right, son?" Mr. Granger asked kindly.
"I'm fine." He looked again at Hermione for help, uncertain what to do. After all, these people were... Muggles. Draco had never had a conversation with a Muggle in his life. He wondered if they knew anything about the wizarding world, if he should pretend to be just another Muggle—no, what he should do was run out of there as fast as possible. But that wasn't happening anytime soon, he realized as Hermione returned to his side, taking his arm in hers.
"C'mon, Draco, I've got the bath ready for you..." she muttered, escorting him upstairs.
"If you need some clean things, feel free to borrow a pair of trousers and a shirt," Mr. Granger offered.
"Uh—thanks," Draco said as Hermione hauled him up the stairs.
"Stupid bloody prat," she hissed as soon as they were out of her parents' hearing. "Why didn't you follow me?"
"I am not a dog, Granger, and you did not ask me to."
She rolled her eyes, and pulled him into the bathroom. "Clean up. You smell like—like—eurgh, there isn't even a name for it," she said, making a face and motioning towards the full bath. "There's soap and towels. I've got to go do some damage control."
With that, she left him standing in the middle of the Muggle bathroom. No sooner had she closed the door than he heard footsteps on the stairs and Mrs. Granger's voice.
"Is that the young man that Luna was telling us about?"
"No, Mum!" Hermione said, apparently horrified by the very thought. "Ugh! And why have you been talking to—"
Draco scowled and blocked out the rest of the conversation, stripping off his clothes and dropping into the bath. The water felt like heaven after so long, and he stayed in so long that Hermione actually knocked on the door once and asked if everything was all right.
"No, Granger, it's not. I'm incapable of taking a bath by myself. Bugger off, will you?"
"All right—but I'm warning you, Malfoy. You keep a civil tongue when you're around my parents, or I'll do you one worse."
"Black!" he hissed, even though he knew she couldn't hear him. "My name is Black!"