"Did you murder Harry Potter?"
The blonde woman's chin rose defiantly. "Why would I answer that question?"
"Because I asked," Ron Weasley replied irritably.
She laughed mirthlessly. "Not a good enough reason."
Ron stared at her blankly. This was not the Dakotah he knew: this woman was cold, calculating and heartless, not at all the flighty, flirty and happy woman he had known for four years.
He came round to stand before her. Steel blue eyes met her fearless gaze. "Did you murder Les Walker?"
"Would I tell you if I did?"
He was sick and tired of playing cat-and-mouse with her, but he was not about to give up. Harry had been his best mate and deserved more than what he had got so far, as did Les.
Dakotah's gaze was unwavering and the trial continued much as it had started, with Ron answering and Dakotah playing coy. The hearing came to a halt only when it became apparent that Ron was about to lose his temper, which was something no one wished to see.
"We will resume the hearing tomorrow," the council agreed.
However, tomorrow never happened…
It was through the Azkaban prison grapevine that Draco heard what became of Dakotah. She hanged herself in her cell. Draco thought this a very cowardly thing if not because she had died then because she had died a Muggle death. It figures, Draco mused, didn't she marry a Muggle-born?
Still, she had been kind enough to leave a note for the guards who would find her in the morning. In the note she admitted to murdering not only Harry and Les, but also a couple of other men, including her husband. She made sure to reconfirm her accusations, and their suspicions, that Draco had been apart of it all.
He snorted at the irony of it all. While she managed to escape her own pathetic life, she'd left Draco to serve punishment for a crime he didn't commit. Not that he cared all that much; he always knew prison was his destiny.
What he couldn't figure out though, no matter how long and hard he thought on it, was how and where Dakotah had procured the rope and chair used in her hanging. Nor did he know where the parchment and ink had come from for her to write that letter. The way he figured it, if he was barely allowed a cot to sleep on, she most likely hadn't even gotten that, much less a rope and chair.
And so, Draco spent his days and nights sitting with his back against the slimy, moldy concrete wall of Azkaban's basement cell. Azkaban was not the feared place it once was; there were no dementors: they had been vanquished alongside Voldemort eight years earlier. Instead, powerful wizards and witches guarded the wards with just their wits and wand. It did not matter to Draco either way; he was not about to attempt escape.
Even so, it was not a place filled with sunlight and laughter. Wizards and witches were still imprisoned within its dark walls. There were few windows to look out of and even worse scenery. Still, as the days became weeks and the weeks became months, Draco came to appreciate the simplicity of the prison and its surroundings.
It was that same simplicity which allowed him the time to look within himself, to see who he was and how he'd become the man sitting in Azkaban today. It was not something he relished doing, but it was something he had avoided for too long. He could not ignore himself any longer. If it had been him to die and not Harry…he would have died unsatisfied with his life.
There were few things he was proud of in his younger years. His marks were always good during his schooling at Hogwarts, and that was about it. Otherwise, he hadn't done much good.
Crabbe and Goyle had stood by him throughout school. Draco still wasn't sure why, but for whatever reason they had remained his ever faithful lackeys for six full years at Hogwarts. Draco had not made an inquiry about them since leaving Hogwarts that night.
Before leaving school that year, he poisoned Katie Bell and Ron. While he had always loathed the two Gryffindors, Ron especially, death was not something he wanted on his conscience. For that reason, Draco would send up a silent thanks to Severus Snape every day of his life. His old mentor didn't have to do what had been assigned to Draco. Yet he had, and in doing so, he had ensured Draco's freedom. Even if Snape had lived, Draco never could have repaid him.
And so, Draco contented himself to serving a prison sentence for the crimes he committed as well as the one he did not. It was only fair to serve his sentence to save his soul, even if it meant hurting his mother one last time.
He had seen the despair in his mother's face at his trial. Draco had not wanted her to attend and had tried to talk her out of it, but Narcissa Malfoy would have none of it: she would be there.
It had nearly killed him to see the sadness weighing her down. Draco momentarily felt guilty for embracing the blame Dakotah had laid on him, because in doing so, he was hurting his mother yet again. He had never wanted to disappoint his mum.
Draco wasn't able to look at his mother for the rest of the trial and instead focused on the balcony where he noticed a slight figure sitting in the shadows. Instinctively, he knew it was Ginny, although he was not able to make out any distinguishing features. Knowing she was there was as bad as seeing the disappointment in his mother's icy blue eyes.
So many things had happened between them, none of which he had ever even considered, much less dreamed possible, that now it seemed like it was just that: a dream. …A dream within a dream, Draco considered, remembering the line from a Muggle poem he'd read long ago. Despite the passing of time, he never forgot the line.
It seemed to Draco that was all his life was to ever be: a moment of hope here or there but always ending in despair. Certain memories would stick with him forever, some lighting the darkness of his mind while others would serve as a reminder of why his fate was what it was.
Both the best and worst memories were the ones of Ginny for they plagued Draco night and day. Some were good and others were bad; all were bittersweet.
He had so many regrets for being only twenty-five, not the least of which was withholding his feelings from Ginny. He had done the same thing to Irene, Draco realized now. He had pushed his feelings for her out of his mind and in turn, lost them and her. He never could have loved the Italian woman the way she needed to be loved, Draco told himself.
With Ginny though, it was different. Draco comforted himself by acknowledging the fact that he was a fool to love her at all. He was an even bigger fool – maybe even a jackass – for not telling her at all.
Draco rubbed his cheeks wearily, loathing the feel of stubble beneath his palm. He'd never gone so long without shaving. He had never gone so long without a number of things.
At least celibacy doesn't bother me, he thought dryly. Then he thought about Ginny, naked and hot beneath him. Too much anyway.
Aside from Ginny, he hadn't slept with anyone in nearly two years. Oddly enough, it was not the thought of not sleeping with Ginny ever again that bothered him the most but the idea of never seeing her again.
That was one of the reasons he knew he loved her.
Loving Ginny was the most torturous thing he'd ever felt and he was inclined to hate her for it if it had not been for the fact that he felt so deeply for her.
There was a jingling then, coming from the corridor, signaling dinnertime. Draco hadn't made it two steps and the slot on the door opened while a plate of hot food slid through.
He had learned early on to eat whatever the guards pushed through that slot, no matter how unappetizing it looked. In any case, he hadn't gotten sick from it yet. He supposed that was a good sign.
Draco took the cup of broth to the corner of his cell and sat down on the floor as comfortably as he could. The floor, the rickety bed, it made no difference to him anymore.
He held the cup away from his body, outstretched toward the small window as if it was an offering of sorts, and perhaps it was just that: a small bowl of nourishment for his redemption. Draco wasn't foolish enough to believe such a trade would ever work, if only for a moment.
Admitting defeat would be admitting his own humanity, something Draco didn't relish in doing, but in this cold Azkaban cell, he was forced to. Taking an introspective look would take its toll on him in the next few years, making him tired but also appreciative of the life he had had, and the life he would have.
It was only a matter of time.
That night Draco left the bowl, still full of soup, beneath the small window, where the moonlight cast shadowy bars across it. He would leave it there until the guards came to take it away in the morning, when they brought breakfast. Until that time, he would not touch it, for even though he knew his meager offering wouldn't save his soul, deep inside he wanted to believe it just might. Someday.
Take this kiss upon the brow! And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow—
You are not wrong to deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.
-- Edgar Allen Poe, "A Dream Within a Dream"
I would like to take the time to thank everyone who has read and reviewed this story. :) I am planning a sequel, called Red Sky at Night that will further chronicle Ginny and Draco's relationship. I'm afraid it won't be up and published for a month or so, but please keep a look out for it. Thank you, once again!