This one-shot takes place during the summer between Hermione's 5th and 6th years at Hogwarts. This is also related to two of my other stories, Curiosity and The Right Hands.

O O O

Why?

The pale man was curled up in the corner of the small cell. His long, white-blond hair covered his face as he slept. His chest rose and fell rapidly, evidence of the disturbing dreams haunting him. His hand twitched as though to wrap around a wand, perhaps to protect him from his nightmares.

A girl stood outside the cell, watching the once powerful man, her enemy, at his nadir, the worst time of his life thus far. He was pitiful. Seeing him like this almost made her feel sorry for him—almost.

She could not feel compassion for a man with his extensive crimes. She could not feel sad about what this man had been reduced to, this man who despised her and her kind. She could not even feel troubled about him being abandoned by his master, to whom he was so loyal.

She turned to leave, but glanced back at her enemy. She had come to learn, to understand. It had been too difficult to gain entrance to the prison for her to leave without asking the question that had been burning in her mind ever since that day at the Ministry.

The man stirred, brushing aside his hair as he sat up, his icy grey eyes locking onto hers. She could not leave without asking now. The man leaned back against the wall to which his wrists were chained. He tugged at the chains a little in annoyance as they limited his movement, but he continued staring at the girl in silence, his eyes seeming to delve into her soul.

"Miss Granger."

Hermione inhaled sharply. For some reason, she had not expected him to speak—at least, not yet. His voice was quiet, almost pained, yet it maintained a touch of superiority, as though he still believed himself better than her. Of course, she thought. That will be his answer. I am a fool to think that there would be more.

"Mr. Malfoy."

Lucius Malfoy inclined his head slightly to her. Hermione's voice caught in her throat. She must have imagined the action. Lucius Malfoy was not known for his respect to towards Muggle-borns. But there it was. He had just shown a hint of respect.

"I assume that this is not a pleasure visit, Miss Granger," Lucius said with a shadow of a smile. "What is it you want from me?"

Hermione blinked, surprised by civility towards her. She had expected an angry man praising the Dark Lord and cursing at her, calling her a Mudblood and other foul names. But Lucius Malfoy was calm and polite. In response to his question, Hermione wanted to tell him that he should die for the wrong he has done. She wanted to say that he was evil and cruel. She wanted to tell him that she hated him, as should the rest of the wizarding world. But she could not. The man in the Azkaban prison cell was so unlike the Death Eater she knew; she did not know how to react to him.

"Miss Granger?" Lucius prompted when Hermione remained silent.

The question. Hermione stepped toward the cell, half-expecting for the man leap at her and attempt to strangle her through the bars, only being stopped by the chains that bound him. But Lucius did not move—did not even blink—as Hermione stepped within arm's reach of the bars. "I have a question for you, Mr. Malfoy," she said finally. Lucius tilted his head slightly as though to show that he was listening. Hermione took a deep breath, suddenly not sure of how to word her inquiry. "Why?" she said after a moment. Lucius simply gazed at her, his face showing no emotion whatsoever, though Hermione knew he must not know what she meant. "Why do you do it? Why are you who you are?"

Lucius finally looked away from Hermione and turned his gaze to the ground before him. He said nothing for a few minutes, leaving Hermione to wonder if he still didn't understand what she meant.

"I assume you are speaking of my allegiance to the Dark Lord," he said at last, his voice low. He glanced up at her as she nodded. He looked down at his left arm. He slowly rolled up his sleeve, revealing the harsh image burned into it—the skull and serpent—the Dark Mark. He studied it for a moment.

"I was once proud of this," he said softly, tracing the snake with his finger. "It was a great achievement, an honor, to earn a place in the Dark Lord's Inner Circle." Lucius clenched his fist, the muscles in his arm flexing and causing the serpent to appear as though it was moving. Hermione shuddered. "Then the Dark Lord fell," he said menacingly. "Defeated by your friend, Potter, an infant." His voice seemed like a low growl. "It was then I realized that I had been serving the wrong man—not the wrong cause, mind you, Miss Granger," he said darkly, looking up at her again. "I still fully believe that my blood is better than yours."

Hermione's eyes narrowed. That's the answer I was expecting.

"But killing Muggle-borns…is not right," he said quietly. Hermione's mouth opened a bit in shock at this admission. "Salazar Slytherin himself did not do so. Why I ever believed that the Dark Lord was rational in his tactics, right in what he was doing…" Lucius shook his head. "I was glad he was gone, Miss Granger. I doubt you will believe that, being so close to Potter, but it is the truth." Lucius fell silent, absentmindedly tracing the Dark Mark again.

"You have not answered my question, Mr. Malfoy."

Lucius looked up at Hermione again, brow furrowed as he thought. "I believe you are correct." He sighed and closed his eyes. Hermione stepped closer to the cell, wrapping her hands around the bars as she peered in at him in curiosity. Lucius was silent for so long, Hermione began to believe that he had fallen back to sleep.

"Do you have family, Miss Granger?" he asked suddenly, his eyes still closed.

Obviously I have a family. "Yes. My Muggle parents, remember?"

The side of Lucius mouth pulled into a grin. "Yes, I do remember. I thought that perhaps they had already fallen victim to the Dark Lord." Hermione's hands gripped the metal bars separating her and the Death Eater, and she was suddenly overcome with the desire to strike him. Unfortunately, he was too far away. "Would you do anything for them? Anything to keep them safe?" Lucius' eyes remained closed as he asked this.

"This isn't about me," Hermione hissed. "I asked you a question. If your answer is that you hate my kind then just say it."

"You want the answer now?"

Hermione closed her eyes in frustration, biting her lip to keep from snapping at him again. She feared that her losing control of her tongue would satisfy some malicious part of Lucius while he remained so serene.

"Family, Miss Granger."

Hermione opened her eyes. Lucius had leaned forward a bit and opened his eyes as well, now staring intently at her.

"What?"

"That's the answer to your question, Miss Granger," Lucius said quietly. "That's the reason why I am what I am today."

Hermione shook her head. "That doesn't make sense."

"Doesn't it, Miss Granger?" His constant use of her name was beginning to annoy her, but she said nothing and let him continue. "I would do anything for my family. Anything. Would you not?" Hermione was not entirely sure how to answer that. Lucius leaned back against the stone behind him again. "And yes, 'anything' includes serving the Dark Lord. It includes obeying his every command."

Hermione shook her head disbelievingly. "Why?"

Lucius raised an eyebrow. "Because if I did not, if I failed, they would pay the price." He looked at his hands, his eyes filling with emotion that Hermione never believed him capable of. "And I did fail," he said, his voice deathly quiet. "And my darling Narcissa and Draco will pay for it."

Hermione's lips parted in surprise as she watched Lucius thinking about his family's fate. Suddenly she could not help feeling sorry for him, feeling compassion towards him, feeling sad about what he was going through. More than that—she understood him.

And that was frightening.

Hermione turned on her heel and strode away as quickly as she could, not looking back. But the image of Lucius Malfoy in the cell, his eyes glistening with tears as he thought about his wife and son, was burned into her mind more strongly than the question she had come to have answered.

Family, Miss Granger…