The Phoenix's Choice.
Lucius Malfoy raised his hand from the table in front of him to brush away a stray lock of platinum hair from his pale, gaunt face. The heavy iron chains of his manacles clanged loudly in the stark white, empty room, breaking the perfect silence he had been momentarily enjoying.
Idly he looked at his reflection in the mirror that took up one wall of the interview cell. He guessed there were probably many faces behind that mirror; people who had come to gape and jeer at his fallen figure. His reflection gazed dispassionately back, refusing to show any emotion other than haughty distain.
Even the final fall of the Dark Lord and a few years in prison had not robbed him of his aristocratic demeanour. Though the face of his image no longer shone with the gleam of wealth and a life of luxury, his eyes still held the cold, hard glare of a noble born that intimidated lesser men.
His clothes too were no longer the magnificent cut he had spent most of his life wearing. Although he had been cleaned up and given new prison issue robes before this interview, they refused to look like anything but the drab, anonymous uniform they were.
Suddenly a door appeared in the wall opposite the mirror and opened into the cell. Two figures in traditional deep red Auror robes marched in. Their wands, already drawn, were immediately pointed unwaveringly at Lucius.
A tall, dark skinned man, carrying a thick folder, strode into the cell. His bearing, while only slightly more relaxed than that of the guards, displayed the confidence of someone used to a position of authority.
The door silently closed behind the newcomer, but not before Lucius caught a glimpse of more red clad guards in the narrow hallway outside the cell.
Wordlessly, the guards took up positions in the corners of the room as the last man to enter placed the folder onto the table and took his place in the chair opposite Lucius.
Inwardly, Lucius smiled, amused that they would treat him this way; as such a danger. His wand had been snapped, his friends and family imprisoned or killed, his former fame and fortune useless inside of this room. There was nobody to come for him, and nobody for him to run to.
"Auror Shacklebolt," greeted Lucius, taking in the impassive features of the man sitting in front of him. "Here to ask more futile questions are we?"
He leaned back in his chair and assumed a posture of bored diffidence.
"I thought you had long ago decided I had no further useful information, or is there something new you would like to ask me about?"
"In a hurry to get back to your cell, Mr. Malfoy?" asked the man, his face not displaying any signs of emotion.
"Not at all, Auror, just surprised to be having yet another fruitless discussion with you. I am beginning to think you must secretly enjoy repeatedly hearing tales of all the creative ways I found to remove the worthless scum of our society."
The Auror, a man renowned for his stoic composure, fought to retain a neutral face.
Lucius smirked, satisfied at how easily he was able to provoke so many of his captors. A few chosen words, spoken softly and politely, could turn these 'holier than thou' saints into snarling monsters stripped of all of their artificial manners.
"No, Mr. Malfoy, I am here to offer you a choice," Auror Shacklebolt replied, his tense voice the only real betrayal of the depth of anger touched by Lucius's barbs.
Lucius tensed in spite of himself.
Although he had lost all of his open allies, there had been many sympathetic pureblood families in positions of power after the war. He had been sure the almost totally pure-blood Wizengamot would not have allowed the law to execute him, one of their own, and his trial had proven that.
It had been a very long drawn out affair, with political manoeuvring dragging the whole thing out for months. In the end, he had been sentenced to a mere hundred years of imprisonment, despite the veritable mountain of irrefutable evidence presented against him.
He truly only expected to be imprisoned for a matter of decades, with time off for 'good behaviour' and other such nonsense. After that he fully expected to regain his place in society by using his ever increasing fortune to return to power. It would be a long road, but it was inevitable; cream would always rise to the top, and life, even imprisoned in an uncomfortable cell, was preferable to death.
Now, after years of preparation, he was suddenly facing the prospect that something had changed or gone wrong with the plan, and he feared the only choice he could possibly expect was the method of his own execution.
Though he had barely moved a muscle at the Auror's words, the man's face reflected satisfaction. The slightest upturning of the corners of his mouth indicating he had guessed what Lucius was feeling; fear.
"Things have been changing since your Dark Lord fell, Mr Malfoy. The pure bloods no longer have as much say in the running of the wizarding world as you are used to. Mr Potter and his friends have made great progress in their reformation. They have been calling it the 'industrial revolution of magical society' in the papers I believe. A very exciting time to be alive wouldn't you say?"
Lucius almost winced at the ridiculous name the public had fallen for.
With his wealth, connections, and the lack of Dementors, Azkaban had become much less of a torment than its reputation implied and, while it was no holiday camp, it did allow him many luxuries formerly prohibited, including access to news papers.
He had read a few of the articles, but had dismissed it all as the nonsensical playacting and posturing of that brat Potter and his friends. Ludicrous notions of giving house-elves civil rights and werewolves free wolf's bane potion; fodder for the masses.
Lucius, like many others, believed the Potter boy had become addicted to fame and was embracing any cause to keep himself at the centre of attention; the more ridiculous a cause the better.
The Auror's words were obviously aimed at trying to take revenge for Lucius' earlier comments, so he knew to ignore them.
When Lucius didn't react, Shacklebolt reached into the large folder and, after a second of flicking through its contents, removed two parchments. He placed both parchments on the table, just out of Lucius' reach.
It was a very calculated move; A ploy to force Lucius to move if he wanted to examine them.
"Your situation has been reviewed by the Wizengamot, and new punishments have been accepted as an alternative for capital crimes. You, by virtue of your former high standing in the wizarding world, have been given the right to choose to accept the new sentence in place of your current one."
Lucius held his breath. It would appear the power of the purebloods had not been completely circumvented, if he suddenly had been given this choice. He waited for the Auror to continue, not trusting himself to speak, lest he indicate the growing excitement making his heart thump wildly in his chest.
Seeing no change in the prisoner's expression, the Auror took a third parchment from the folder and began to read.
"This is the actual declaration."
"Lucius Malfoy, you are hereby granted the right and privilege to alter the manner in which you will pay your debt to society."
"Blah, blah, blah - there's lots of legal mumbo jumbo about your current crimes and conviction."
"Ah, here we go."
"Your conviction has not been altered, and you may choose to continue with your current punishment, the standard 'One Hundred Years' imprisonment, of which you have currently served four years, or you may choose to take the new standard sentence; the 'Phoenix's Choice'"
"Should you decide to continue your current sentence, you will be returned to your cell to complete your term with no possibility of parole or early release."
"This offer will only be made once."
"Blah, blah, blah – signed Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot."
Shacklebolt negligently tossed the parchment on top of the other two and leaned back in his chair. "It goes on a bit in detail about your crimes and how the alternative sentences are considered more humane and better for society than just keeping you in a box, but that is the gist of it. Personally, I wish we could find a few Dementors and put you in a deep, dark hole with them until the end of eternity, but wiser heads than mine have pondered the problem and decided to do something they consider better than just cutting off your head."
Lucius allowed a small smile to come to his lips. The weak willed wizards in charge of the courts had refused to take responsibility, yet again. Since there were no Dementors left, the nasty business of performing executions was thrust back into the realm of man, and none of them could stand the thought of getting blood on their hands.
This new punishment was probably another chance to be seen to doing the 'right' thing; the 'light' thing, and it possibly represented an easy way out for Lucius.
"Kingsley, where is my lawyer?"
An unreadable mask again covered the black man's face at Lucius's use of his first name.
"Your previous lawyer was found guilty of many breaches of conduct and is himself imprisoned after investigations into your, and other of former master's followers, trials."
"Will I not then be permitted legal representation?" asked Lucius, raising an eyebrow in mock surprise.
"The retroactive Phoenix's Choice offer you have been made is outside of the normal laws and courts. It has been granted via special injunction from the Wizengamot itself. As such, no legal representation has been deemed necessary. It is a personal choice to be made by you and you alone."
"But how am I to know that you are telling the truth, how am I expected to know if this 'Phoenix's Choice' is what you say it is? You could be unfairly prejudicing my option with your words and actions."
"It is my right, as a citizen of the wizarding community, to have someone to advise me as to the best course of action for me. You can't possibly be suggesting that the values young Mr. Potter has been extolling, those of liberty and justice, are to be denied me? Is this the face of your 'brave new wizarding world'?"
Lucius knew his words were baiting them, forcing them to suppress violent emotions. Especially his use of words like 'unfair' and 'right' must be hurting.
Shacklebolt had been an Auror during the war and had undoubtedly seen exactly how fair Lucius had been to his victims, and just how many rights he had granted them. He, and the other Death Eaters, had been sure to show everybody exactly what would happen to them, and their families, if they had chosen to stand in the Dark Lord's way.
Behind him, he heard one of the guards growl, and for a second, he thought he heard something coming from behind the mirror as it shook slightly, and he smiled again.
"Mr Malfoy, an attempt to get you legal support was made, but nobody could be found who would agree to take oath to represent your best interests. Your own family refused to release funds or to support you in any manner, shape or form."
"Behind that mirror, we have three members of the Wizengamot standing as witnesses. Their Pensieve memories will become part of the court record. The Chief Warlock raised a motion to have this done in front of the full High Court, but was turned down by a majority vote. The Phoenix's Choice option is considered to be the most just punishment ever devised, and is given almost exclusively in lieu of imprisonment for serious crimes, such as murder. "
"I assure you, every effort has been made to provide justice. You will receive no further special treatment."
Delighted at the stress he was causing the normally unflappable man, Lucius leaned forward in his chair and pretended to study the document on the table in front of him. When he thought he had spent enough time reading the parchment, he sat back once again wearing his air of nonchalance; a handy trick, since he was still chained.
In truth he didn't care what was written and had no intention of reading it. He had used the distraction to bury his excitement; it just would not do to give away his hand this early in the game.
"Very well, Auror Shacklebolt, I trust you," Lucius said. "Tell me about the Phoenix's Choice. What is it?"
Shacklebolt removed three vials from his robes and placed them on the desk between them.
"The Phoenix's Choice is the right to choose one of three potions."
Picking up the first one, he held it up for Lucius to see clearly. It was filled with a black potion that stirred thickly at the slight motion.
"The first one, the Draught of Final Death, produces a very deep sleep filled with pleasant dreams. Within a few hours of taking the potion, your sleep will become so deep that your body will shut down, and you will die. It is considered the most humane form of execution possible and is chosen by those criminals who believe their only redemption or release lies in death and the afterlife. This potion was rediscovered in an ancient Egyptian tomb several years ago and its formula is known only to a select few individuals from the Department of Mysteries."
Lucius could not contain a shudder at the sight of that one of his options. Nothing could be worse than death, nothing. There was no afterlife, no redemption. There was only the finality of death and complete removal from existence.
He would do anything to avoid that fate, and had performed many of the same rituals his master had to keep it at bay for as long as possible. That was the only reason he was sitting here today, instead of being long dead from the wounds he had received in the battle that resulted in his capture.
Kingsley replaced the potion on the table and took the next vial. It held a deep blue potion.
"The second choice is called Lockhart's Blessing. It will remove all of your personal memories permanently. You will forget your name, you family, your heritage, everything. You will become a blank sheet onto which new memories will be written. Your features will be permanently altered, and you will be given a new name and identity. You will be relocated, with no possibility of ever regaining your former self."
"This option is often taken by those who have no desire to die, but recognise that they are unable to be an acceptable or responsible member of society. Originally developed to remove contenders for various thrones without the spilling of royal blood and its accompanying curses, this variation has for several years been used to alter the personalities of people who had been affected by horrendous crimes. Many mentally ill criminals have been cured by the therapeutic administration of this potion which allows for the retention of some personality traits and memories."
Lucius looked at the second potion with genuine interest. He could see the value of permanently removing somebody whose death might cause any number of magical effects to occur. Kidnapping and brainwashing to make sleeper agents would be vastly easier with a potion like that; it had potential.
Kingsley put down the potion and picked up the last vial. It was a bright red and shone with golden particles swirling in its depths. They looked like dust motes caught in a brilliant stream of bright, morning light.
"This final option is the Dementor's Kiss," said Kingsley slowly turning the vial, making it sparkle brightly.
"This potion will make you relive every torment you have ever caused. You will feel every curse, mourn every death, and feel every pain, as if you were the victim."
"Starting from your earliest memories, you will relive every single bad thing you have ever done. Even things that you had forgotten, or never really understood you were doing, will be revived."
"After taking this potion, you will be released, your sentenced considered served. You will have no titles or property, no more rights than a Muggleborn, but you will remember everything from your life and your punishment."
"You will also have a criminal record and be bared from holding certain positions or professions, and further criminal offences will be sentenced at the maximum possible, without the Phoenix's choice option."
"This was developed during the war as a possible weapon against your master, but was never used."
Kingsley put the potion back down on the table and sat back in his chair.
Lucius gazed at the potion in undisguised awe. It was truly a magnificent creation.
This potion was so potent that it could reproduce the effects of every spell, physical or emotional hurt, without actually damaging the subject. Even if you had tortured somebody to insanity with the Cruciatus curse, you would not yourself go insane, but you would know what it had felt like.
He wondered what you would feel reliving the killing curse from the victim's point of view. Probably the feeling of dying would not be pleasant, and the realisation you were could be intolerable.
A variation of this potion might be useable as a most exquisite torture itself; the potential was even greater than the previous potion; it was exciting.
"You will be given one week to decide if you wish to accept to take the Phoenix's Choice in place of your current sentence. Sign whichever parchment corresponds to your choice and notify the warden. You will then be administered the potion of your choice within a few hours."
He took a black quill out of a pocket in his robes and laid it on top of the documents Lucius now knew to be magically binding contracts.
"This is a blood quill. Signing with this quill with cut your hand slightly and use your own blood as ink to make the contract as permanent and binding as possible. You will now be taken back to your cell. You have one week to make a decision."
With that Kingsley stood up to leave, not bothering to see if Lucius had anything further to say.
Lucius cleared his throat loudly.
"There is no need to wait, Auror Shacklebolt. I already know my decision. I'll take the Kiss thank you."
Kingsley stopped and turned to face Lucius.
"You should be sure to take your time Mr. Malfoy. We wouldn't want anybody to accuse us of rushing you into this."
Lucius waved his manacled hand dismissively; the forgotten chains clanking loudly again.
"I am well aware of this Phoenix Choice, Auror. It has been quite well documented in recent years and although I never expected to be given the option, I have thought long and hard on what I would choose."
At least part of that was true. Lucius had indeed been closely following the debate and introduction of this new method of rehabilitation, and had worked very hard to ensure he was given the chance to take it.
While a few decades spent in prison might not be the end of his career, he preferred to shorten his stay as much as possible, and the Dementor's Kiss option was his best chance.
Weak minded fools might not be able to handle it, but he was a Malfoy, and had once been second only to Voldemort in the noble ranks of the Death Eaters. He believed, without a shadow of a doubt, that he would be able to survive every punishment he had given out to his weak and pitiful victims, and he would emerge for this ordeal stronger.
For a while he would play the contrite penitent, truly sorry for his crimes. It would even help to speed up his return to the top echelons of wizarding society. Before too many years had passed, he knew he would once again have the power and authority he had always enjoyed.
It would be even better than the first time the Dark Lord had fallen.
Smiling, Lucius picked up the blood quill and signed the appropriate document. The cut from his cut hand faded even as he wrote, and the pain no more than a bee sting. To a man who had often suffered under the pain curse for long minutes at a time, it was barely noticeable.
Kingsley took the papers and left the room without another word. A few minutes later, several Aurors came in and unlocked the chains to lead him away.
As Lucius walked between the marching Aurors, he held his head high, never seeing the group of people who emerged from the mirrored side of the room.
Kingsley held the signed parchment out to the Chief Warlock and shook his head in disbelief.
"You were right, Harry. He never even hesitated. How could you have been so sure?"
Harry Potter took that page and watched the receding figure of Lucius Malfoy.
"They never believe it, Kingsley. They never believe that the Dementor's Kiss will change them even more than Lockhart's potion. They think they are too strong, that somehow they were right, and their victims deserved what they had done to them. Every captured member of Voldemort's inner circle took the same option. Except for Peter, he took the Amnesia."
Kingsley's surprise at this revelation must have shown on his face, because Harry looked at him and continued.
"You didn't know did you, that we gave them all the choice? I myself pushed the Wizengamot into allowing it. Malfoy thinks he used his remaining power and influences to get the option, but it actually just put him last on the list. We had already agreed to give it to him well before he had decided to take it."
"Because it is better for the wizarding world. Having scum like Malfoy live as he was, even locked up in prison, warps our society. Once he has taken the potion, and lived through what he has done, he will be a different man. He will never again be able to ignore somebody else's pain, or to inflict it himself."
"Why not just execute them? Aren't we just stooping to their level by causing them the same pain that they have caused?"
"No, Kingsley, we are not causing them any pain. Everything that happens to them is by their own hand, and is only in their own mind. By their choice, the punishment will fit the crime perfectly. It will make him very aware of exactly what he is doing, whereas before, he literally couldn't care."
"So it is like we are giving them a sense of compassion, of empathy? How can this be punishment? How could making somebody into a better person give closure to the families of one of their victims?"
Harry sighed. He had been through this with many different people over the last few years. It was hard to explain and just had to be seen to be understood.
"It can't, Shack. It could never really make it up to those left behind, or those that have suffered, but nothing ever could. When Malfoy comes back, in a few months time, you will be assigned to review his case. Over the next year, I want you to drop in and check up on him; to make sure, to your own satisfaction, that he is a different man. I'll bet you a hundred galleons that by the end of one year he will have taken it upon himself to make restitution in some way for all the suffering he has caused. I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up dedicating his life to helping others."
"Either that, or he will have off-ed himself," said Ron, coming up behind Harry. "Personally, I got two hundred riding on that, and another fifty on him doing in Draco first."
"Ron!" said Hermione, standing next to him. "A man's fate is a horrible thing to bet on."
"It's not his fate I am betting on," said Ron, "It's the manner of his ending! Lupin's got fifty on somebody else taking his head, but I made sure it wasn't allowed to be Lupin himself doing the chopping!"
Hermione took a swing at the back of Ron's head for this, and Harry just laughed.
Kingsley shook his head in amazement. Sometimes it was easy to forget that three people standing in front of him, the most politically powerful individuals in the wizarding world, were still in their twenties. They had done so much to remodel society into something better, that it was easy to think of them the same way most people had viewed Dumbledore; as something more than human.
"Anyway, Shack," said Harry, momentarily ignoring his two friends. "No matter what happens to Malfoy senior, you have to admit we are never going to have a problem with somebody getting wrongly convicted now are we? Worse that can happen is they are forced to face the consequences of their actions. Got to be better than living with real Dementors for twelve years, eh?"
Kingsley looked thoughtful for a second before answering. "Better for whom?"
"For everyone I hope!" answered Harry, smiling. "Come on, knock off work early and get some lunch with us."
"Forget lunch," said Ron. "Who's up for a beer?"
"Ronald! It is only eleven thirty."
"Sorry, 'Mione, but seeing that git again has made me mighty thirsty, and I don't mean for water. Felt like I was going to be sick."
Harry laughed again. "Was that before or after you tried to throw your chair through the mirror so you could get a clear shot at him?"
"During, mate, during. Right nasty git he was; going on about how his rights were being violated. I was ready to violate him alright, right between the eyes with a bludgeoning curse. You could have told me the mirror was magically strengthened though. Nearly knocked me head off when the chair bounced back."
"Next time, wait for him to be in the corridor, mate."
Kingsley laughed as he followed the trio down the corridor, forgetting the seriousness of his concerns a few scant minutes earlier.
The world had definitely become a better place since the war, mainly because of the three in front of him. The courage and determination they had shown fighting Voldemort was nothing compared to the strength of character and moral fibre they had displayed while using their fame to rebuild a world almost destroyed by corruption and evil.
Taking a quick look at his watch, Kingsley decided Ron had the right of it and a drink was in order.
In a distant room, bloodshot eyes stared in terror at the blank padded wall. The potion had been injected a few minutes earlier and was still coursing through his veins, but the visions had already begun.
For the first time in his memory, tears flowed freely down Lucius Malfoy's face, and a weak noise escaped from his swollen lips.
"Oh no," he croaked, with a voice broken by unaccustomed weeping. "What have I done?"