Author's Note: Although this can stand alone, I wrote it as a prequel for my trilogy which begins with Faith and continues with Two Solitudes and The Scent of Lightning. Once again, I do not own any of these characters, nor is any profit being made from this.

When it was Lovely by the Sea

He had thought Potter would show up to gloat at him. That he would be sitting there, looking smug, and Draco could sneer at him and sit a little straighter and show Potter that he wasn't defeated – that he would never be defeated.

But Potter wasn't there.

Hardly anyone showed up, actually. Just the members of the Wizengamot and two Aurors. They shoved him into a chair and chains coiled up around him. He felt frightened – actually, he couldn't remember when he hadn't been frightened – but it still didn't seem real.

How could it be real? How could he be sitting here on trial for being a Death Eater? How could they have lost?

Then there were the questions he didn't let himself think about. The ones about his parents, about Vincent, about why? So instead, he thought about Potter and wondered where he was and why he hadn't come.

The Wizengamot began asking him questions, but Draco wouldn't answer. So they forced Veritaserum down his throat and everything blurred.

v.v.v.v.v.v.

"…to two years in Azkaban. Your right to use magic is hereby revoked."

Draco blinked and the room spun dizzily. He was still in the chair and the chains. What had they said? Azkaban?

"Do you have his wand?"

One of the Aurors stepped up to the Wizengamot, holding Draco's wand. Draco strained forward, tried to reach for it. But the witch placed it in a box and snapped the lid down.

"You may remove him," she said, not even looking at Draco. The chains fell away and the Aurors hauled him to his feet.

Draco lurched along between them, feeling sick. They had taken his wand. He was going to Azkaban. No. No, this couldn't be happening. If it was real, Potter would be here. Hadn't he always been there to see Draco lose, to witness his humiliation?

"Easier if we just Stupefy him," one of the Aurors said.

v.v.v.v.v.v.

"So he's – I mean, it's really over?"

"Yes," said Lupin, smiling and looking young.

Harry flopped back against the pillows, which hurt, but didn't stop the grin from spreading over his face. It was done. He couldn't believe it. It didn't seem possible that he could be alive in a world without Voldemort.

But he was alive. Alive and free – free from the expectations, the terrors, the struggle that had haunted him for so long.

"The hallway is packed with people who want to see you," Lupin went on, "but the Healers have been keeping them out. Except for Ron and Hermione, of course."

"They're all right, then?"

"Yes. They would be here, except – well, it's supposed to be a surprise, so I better not say anymore."

The surprise turned out to be a huge cake frosted in red and gold carried in by all the Weasleys. They surrounded him with hugs and laughter. Ginny sat next to him and Mrs. Weasley pressed more and more slices of cake on him until Harry thought he would burst. Hermione hovered rather anxiously nearby and kept inquiring whether he felt well enough or if they should give him some peace and quiet.

"Hermione," Harry told her, "I'm wonderful. I couldn't be any better." She smiled then and gave his hand a quick squeeze.

But when they had left and he was lying there in the quiet, he thought and remembered. And when he slept, he dreamed the same dark dreams as before.

v.v.v.v.v.v.

A cold wind whipped his hair and the sky hung grey above him. The sea looked dark and strong. If he ventured in, it would tear away his strength and breath. But it was better to look at the sea than to turn around. Because when he turned around he would see it there, up on top of the rocks.

Every other time Draco had been to the sea it had been sunny and warm. He had built sand castles and collected shells and gone swimming out farther than his mother had thought safe. She would shriek for him to come back over the sound of the gulls. If he didn't turn back quickly she would summon him, and he would land in a heap on the sand at her feet, blinking up at the sun.

It's always nice by the sea, Draco told himself, so this can't be real.

An Auror shoved him in the back and he stumbled along the path. Sharp stones jutted up, and he had to keep his eyes downward, so he wouldn't trip. Not until a metal gate clanged shut behind him did he raise his eyes.

He stood in a narrow courtyard and the black stones of Azkaban towered up around him. They shut him in until only a tiny square of sky was visible. And he could feel them. Oh, Merlin, he could feel the Dementors.

He had to change into a thin grey robe. It hung loosely about him, and he shivered. A journey along many twisting corridors and steep stairs brought him to his cell. They put him inside and shut the door. There was no window.

Draco cried once the sound of their footsteps was gone. Then he sat down in a corner and tried to keep warm. Even without a window, there seemed to be a cold wind blowing and the walls were damp. He thought about Professor Flitwick and the charm to create a warm blue flame and wondered how he could be here instead of at Hogwarts.

A little while later the damp on the walls turned to ice and the shadows came for him.

v.v.v.v.v.v.

"I hope you don't mind if I have a chocolate frog, Harry," Ron said from where he was perched up on the windowsill in Harry's room at St. Mungo's. "Seeing as you have about a million more." He gestured at the towering pile of presents, candy, and cards that completely dominated one corner.

"Go ahead," Harry replied, not looking away from the ceiling. He was getting sick of lying on his back in bed and yet didn't really feel like moving either.

There was a gentle rustle of paper – Hermione, sitting next to him and reading the Daily Prophet. "The Ministry is cutting twelve positions in the Muggle liaison office," she announced.

"Do we care, Hermione?" Ron asked. "You know we don't care."

Hermione sniffed and turned the page.

"I'll bring over the paperwork tomorrow, Harry," Ron went on, "there's stacks of it. It'll take us hours to get through. But worth it if we get into Auror training, right?"

"Right," Harry said. The future. He had to think about the future now – about what he was going to do. He didn't want to – everything already seemed so raw and unreal.

"I sent in my application to St. Mungo's yesterday," Hermione put in, sounding smug. "They asked for a concentration, so I put down experimental healing, although there are so many fascinating subjects."

"Want to go out for dinner tonight, Hermione?" Ron asked, trying to sound casual. "Just a quick bite somewhere?"

"All right," Hermione replied in an equally off hand tone.

Ron moved on to Jelly Slugs. Harry twisted a little so he could look out the window. He could see the sun shining on a brick wall across the way.

"Listen to this," Hermione said. "Draco Malfoy was sentenced to two years in Azkaban."

"Two years? Should be a hundred," Ron muttered.

"It says here that because he was under age when he took the Dark Mark, there's some question as to how much responsibility can be assigned to him for his actions."

"Responsibility!" Ron snorted.

"Be that as it may, Malfoy's getting what he deserves at last," Hermione said, "and I for one am not going to complain about it." She stood up, tucking the paper into her bag. "We'll see you tomorrow, Harry. Have a good sleep and remember to take your potions."

"'Till tomorrow, mate," Ron echoed, jumping up.

Azkaban. Azkaban and the Dementors. Harry shivered. When he had woken up, the world had seemed so bright and new around him. It was different, he was different, and yet...

The door closed behind Ron and Hermione. Harry stayed where he was and watched the sun move slowly across the wall.

Author's Note: Once again, if you want to read more move on to Faith which takes up this story two years later. Then go on to Two Solitudes and The Scent of Lightning. Warning – this story does eventually include a romantic relationship between Harry and Draco, so if that offends you, stop here!