"You're going to see him?" Ginny nearly shouted the question, fear and worry evident in the tone of her voice.
He dropped his head, partly in frustration and no small amount of shame. "He's my father, Ginny."
She paced across the kitchen angrily, but her heavily pregnant tummy making her determined walk look more like a waddle. "You can't do that. What if he tries something?" she asked, stopping to look up at him, her eyes glistening with tears, the anger in her tone dropping to a desperate plea.
He stepped in front of her, resting both hands on her shoulders in a comforting gesture, and he looked straight into her eyes. "It's been over two years. He's been getting help and I've been talking with his healers for the past few months. There will be plenty of safeguards. We'll still be in Azkaban."
She pulled from his embrace and sat heavily on one of the chairs at the kitchen table, releasing a deep breath, as if trying to calm herself. She knew that Azkaban had changed in the past few years. Prisoners were no longer shut away to be sucked emotionally dry by dementors. Instead, medical help and counseling was offered, and it was no secret that Lucius was being treated for mental illness.
Her husband sat on the chair across from her, his brow furrowed with worry. "I know this is hard, butI have to do this. He's been asking for me."
She rested her hand on her stomach and looked away, unable to face him, knowing that her pleading wouldn't change his mind.
He took her hand, making a connection that she couldn't ignore. "The healers feel that they've been able to help him. If that's true, I have to know."
She said nothing, absently rubbing her hand on her swollen tummy.
"Alex has already had two episodes of magic," he continued persuasively, no small amount of pride seeping into his voice. "We can't stay among the Muggles forever, Ginny. Alex needs to grow up among his own kind. It's not fair to keep it from him."
"Then we can go somewhere else, maybe America," she countered.
He sighed. "And be that far from your family? You know you wouldn't be happy like that. Our life is here."
She nodded reluctantly in agreement, knowing that he was right. The baby was due soon and with Alex getting ready to start primary school and possibly releasing magic or talking about magic with his small peers, there was a growing need for them to move back to the magical world. They needed to settle the matter of Lucius Malfoy once and for all. "I know," she said, finally returning his gaze, "And I agree that it's time to go back but I just don't trust him. What if he's only pretending to be getting better?"
Draco bit his lip and looked down, thinking deeply for a moment before responding. He was clearly troubled, and she gave him time to collect his thoughts. Finally, after the silence had stretched almost too long, he said, "I never told you exactly how my mother died."
Ginny's mouth dropped open slightly, surprised that he would even mention the topic. It had clearly been the most painful moment of Draco's life and he had always avoided discussing anything about that day. Ginny had only heard snippets about the events that had led to Narcissa's untimely death, and she'd never pressed her husband for the details, knowing that it was a subject that he desperately wanted to forget.
He swallowed, and Ginny could see that he was drawing the courage to recount the event. She grasped his hand tightly, hoping to give him the strength to say what he needed to say.
"You know I couldn't kill Dumbledore. I tried. I thought I wanted to and I knew that, if I didn't, the Dark Lord would have retaliated against me or my family."
"It was supposed to be a suicide mission," Ginny confirmed, remembering a time that was painful to all of them.
"It was. Voldemort was angry with my father for not working harder to bring him back and he was even more angry when he failed to retrieve the prophecy from Harry. He knew that my father didn't really want to be a follower and Voldemort wanted him to pay."
Ginny nodded, trying to understand, but her mind resisted. Every encounter that she or her family had had with Lucius Malfoy had never been pleasant. She never saw the man as anything but evil, but she chose not to argue with her husband, to let him finish his story.
Draco continued. "I was given other opportunities to prove my loyalty, and each time, I remember leaving the house and seeing the look in my mother's eyes – how afraid she was of me changing into a monster. When I thought of her, I couldn't do what the Dark Lord asked."
Ginny remembered how Draco had taught her Occlumency, because he had done the same thing for most of his life. The kinder young man had been shut away in a corner of his mind, but that part had always been there, and his mother's love had always been able to connect with that part of him.
"When there came a time that Voldemort needed to make an example of someone, I was an easy target because I'd failed so many times. Mother knew this, and she had been planning to take us all away on a long holiday on the Continent. We were going to leave but..." He paused. "Do you remember when I told you how Voldemort's closest followers were afraid to even think a stray thought?"
"He found out that we were going to leave. That's when he called us in front of him." His eyes darkened, and she could see the deep sorrow in his expression.
"I don't know how he found out, but he accused my father of being weak and my mother of being a traitor. He needed to make an example out of us and he wanted my father to chose which one of us would pay for his weakness."
"And he chose your mother?"
He shook his head. "He couldn't. My father truly did love us both. I could see the panic on his face while he begged the Dark Lord to give us another chance. When Voldemort turned to me, my mother moved in front and begged him to reconsider – that I was still young enough to be taught.
"And then Voldemort..." he paused, his voice breaking, "He ordered my father to kill my mother."
He closed his eyes, as if trying to shut the vision out of his head. "Father raised his wand, but I saw the look in his eyes. He was getting ready to turn on the Dark Lord and kill him instead. He uttered the curse, and his wand was moving to kill Voldemort.
"He wasn't fast enough. Voldemort read his thoughts and I think directed him to kill Mother. I watched her die, and that's when Father went mad. After that, he acted as if she truly was a traitor to both himself and the Dark Lord."
He paused, drawing a shaky breath before continuing. "But that's not the end of the story. The doctors think that more happened than my Father being given a simple Imperious to kill her."
"They think Voldemort Imperioused your father?" she asked.
He shook his head. "Not exactly. It's a known fact that Voldemort was a powerful Legilimens and loved to twist people's thoughts. There's some evidence, that in the moment of grief, when my mother died, that my father's guard was down completely. They think that Voldemort used that moment to twist my father's mind and his memories. My father loved my mother," he said earnestly. "Something more had to have happened to make him turn so fanatical after she was killed."
Ginny continued to hold his hand as a single tear dropped from his eye. He looked up and held her gaze with steady determination. "She wanted me to leave. It was her last wish, so that's when I started making plans to lead a double life here among the Muggles. I could have left sooner, before you made the contract with him, but I kept hoping that I might be able to bring him back, make him remember our family. Now, there's a chance that he is back to himself. I need to know."
For the first time, Ginny felt sympathy for the horrible man who had been her husband. A part of her chastised herself, because logic still told her that he was nothing but a monster, but time had allowed her to soften and let her guard down. She wanted to remain strong but she couldn't argue against Draco's love for his parents. Ultimately, she had to let him go see his father.
x – x – x
He walked through the cold stone corridors of Azkaban trying to appear much more confident than he felt. Dementors no longer stalked the ancient prison, but echoes of the pain they'd inflicted seemed to lurk in every corner. He knew that much of his anxiety was based on his trepidation over his upcoming meeting and, with each step, he felt an increased sense of unease as he neared the room where he would see his estranged father again.
"Right in here, Mr. Malfoy," the guard said as he directed him into a small room.
As he entered, he took in the surroundings carefully. The room was enclosed except for two small windows, although several candles gave a warm, comforting glow. The furniture was simple but neat, clean, and in good condition, which was unexpected, considering the long, terrible reputation of the prison. He found that he spent an excessively long time studying the room before his gaze settled on the small table in the center and the room's lone occupant.
The man seated at the table looked no worse for wear, considering he'd spent the past two years within the prison walls. His clothing was of standard prison issue, but was clean and tailored to fit, making Draco wonder how much of his father's money had been used to make his stay more tolerable. His long hair was impeccably neat, and his posture was just as rigid as Draco remembered. It was only when the man looked up, that he could see the darkened circles under the older man's eyes and the lack of steely calculation in his gaze.
"Father," he said slowly, acknowledging the man.
The hard gaze softened as the man looked up, and Draco found that he was almost unfamiliar with the expression in his father's eyes. He remembered seeing it in years past, when his father had looked at his mother, or when he'd been a small boy, doing his best to make his father proud, but that gaze had been absent for many years. Briefly, Draco wondered if the Healers had been right, but the younger man remained on guard – knowing his father's ability to manipulate, he wouldn't doubt a ruse.
"Draco," he said in response, a sad, worn smile coming to his lips. "It's been too long. Please," he said, motioning to the other chair at the table. "Sit. We have much to discuss."
Hesitantly, the son took the offered chair, facing his father as an equal in far too many years. Unsure of what to say, he looked about the quarters. "I see that they seem to treat you well enough."
The older man nodded. "Indeed. It is far improved since I first visited here. I am the first to admit that I am grateful for the change."
Again, silence stretched, and Draco felt the need to prompt his father. "You asked me here. What did you wish to discuss?"
"It is my understanding that Alexander has been showing early signs of magic."
Draco swallowed. "You aren't supposed to be in contact with us, Father."
Lucius' gaze dropped and he nodded, his tone even and controlled as he responded, "It is my responsibility, as patriarch of the family, to ensure my grandchildren's future."
"It is my responsibility, Father," Draco corrected. "Ginny and I will determine what is best for our children," he responded firmly.
The elder Malfoy's lips curled into a smile. "Of course, of course," he said, almost condescendingly. "Nevertheless, I still would like to know about the boy's progress. It is, after all, normal for a grandfather to be interested in the well-being of his grandchild and I am, after all, quite fond of him."
Draco glared at his father. The healers had prepared him for this, to some degree, and he had expected his father to show interest in Alexander's progress, but Draco did not appreciate his father's blunt attempt to meddle. His father, even at the best of times, was a controlling person but, given the history, Draco had little tolerance. His voice was cold as he responded, "Alexander is doing well and will be starting formal schooling soon."
Lucius ignored his son's icy response. "Yes, he's fine boy. Magic so young... You should be proud."
Lucius held up his hand, stopping his son from voicing his objection. "You've spoken with my healers. You are aware of my condition."
Draco nodded. "They told me that the Dark Lord tampered with your memories."
Lucius snorted. "It is the simplest explanation, I suppose. The healers give me potions to keep the darkness at bay. I won't deny that my nightmares remain... unique."
The healers had detailed his father's condition and what they were doing to help him. Lucius would never be entirely cured, but at least he could be more like his old self, while under treatment. Nevertheless, Draco remained suspicious that his father might only be pretending to be sane so that he could manipulate his jailers and healers.
"You still live among the Muggles," Lucius stated flatly, changing the subject.
Draco drew in a deep breath, unsure of how to answer. "I would prefer to not answer that..."
"I know. I am under sentence to not interfere, but I implore you, Draco, for the sake of Alexander, do not deny the boy his heritage."
His father had hit on the very topic that had been weighing heavily on Draco. He again wondered if Lucius might be manipulating him. "It's not so simple, Father," he replied with uncertainty, unwilling to give his father any information that might affect his family.
"There are complications with you returning to our society," Lucius stated.
Draco huffed in annoyance, disturbed that his father seemed to know far too much about his life, even from behind the walls of a prison cell. His father's money and influence remained, despite their best efforts. "What would you like me to say, Father? That it would be easy for me to return?"
"Yet, you know that you must. You may have chosen exile, but it would be unfair to deny magic from the boy."
Draco took a deep frustrated sigh. "You know full well that in the magical world, Ginny is still legally bound to you in marriage. You know it would be a scandal if she and I returned together. I won't subject the children to rumors about their mother. At least in the Muggle world, there's no question about our marriage or Alexander's parentage. You talk about Alexander's future, but how will he deal with people questioning him about being my son, while Ginny was married to you?"
Lucius chuckled, as if he found the condundrum amusing. "There will be no scandal," he said with conviction, reaching to a piece of parchment on the far corner of the table and sliding it toward his son.
Reluctantly, Draco picked up the page, quickly recognizing it to be a legal document. He scanned it briefly, taking note of the date and Ginny's name. "This is a marriage certificate - your marriage certificate with Ginny," Draco said bitterly.
"The date is the same. Read the names again, Draco," his father said with a hint of impatience.
"Draco Lucius Malfoy..." Draco stammered. He looked up at his father. "You had the names changed?"
Lucius nodded. "It took little effort to have the records altered, both here and in the Ministry's official ledger."
"For the sake of my grandson, of course," Lucius said, in a tone that seemed to imply that his son was being deliberately thick. "It will make the transition back to the magical world easier for all of you and there will be no indiscretion in the Malfoy family records."
Draco's hand shook as he held the document. The meaning of the gift was unfathomable. If it was a legitimate change, then it meant that Lucius was giving up all official claim to Ginny. It meant his father's sanity had returned. "This is a generous gesture, Father, but there were stories in the papers from the time of your marriage that she was your wife. After Voldemort's fall, you released stories of how you married her to protect her family."
Lucius waved a hand carelessly, as if the problem was insignificant. "Those were difficult times, my son. The few who knew the truth are dead now. The story that will be rewritten is that you married her, but we hid your marriage under my name to protect the both of you from the Dark Lord. People are easily manipulated, and I've hired the best to release the story in the most effective way possible. Your children will suffer no scandal."
It was too good to be true.
"How can I believe you, Father? After all that has happened, how can I know that this isn't another game?"
Lucius smiled sadly. "You cannot."
"Why? Why are you doing this?" Draco asked, genuinely concerned that there was some hidden trap.
Lucius reached into his pocket and took out a small photograph, placed it on the table and slid it toward his son.
Draco reached for it, and saw that it was a picture of Alexander, at his last birthday party. He was smiling and looking up at Ginny, gently touching her rounded tummy.
"How did you get this?"
Lucius shook his head. "I must keep some secrets, boy." At Draco's alarmed expression, the elder Malfoy continued, "No need to fear. I only want the best for the children and for the future of the Malfoy name. Alexander should grow up knowing of his heritage."
Draco shook his head, trying to make sense of his father's offer. The man he'd once known, the man who had existed before his mother died, was never exactly a warm man. He'd been ruthless with people outside of his family, but his devotion to his family had always been clear.
"You would do this for the Malfoy name?"
The older man nodded. He was silent for a moment, appearing pensive, then he looked into Draco's eyes, with no hint of malice, when he finally spoke again. "I miss your mother, Draco," he said sadly. "It's been too long."
A wave of grief washed over Draco. The sadness in his father's eyes reflected his own feelings of loss. Narcissa Malfoy had been the heart of their family, and Draco still felt the void in his life, how she would never see her grandchildren, how he could never ask her advice or tell her about his accomplishments.
"Father..." he said again, fighting to keep his voice from breaking.
The moment of vulnerability that showed in Lucius' eyes disappeared, and the stoic, stern expression that Draco had seen on his father's face throughout his childhood returned. "I do not wish to explain myself further. We know that I was not...myself... for some time. Now, it is my responsibility to repair the damage. We must protect the family."
It was an explanation that Draco could accept. His father had been ruthless as a businessman, but he also took great pride in the family name and image, and everything about the past few years violated that image. It only made sense to adjust events to preserve the family image.
There was only one thing that bothered Draco. Perhaps his father was telling the truth, and perhaps his sanity had returned, but for how long. Lucius was on potions that held his mind together but if, someday, he failed to take those potions, would he return to the megalomaniac who had terrorized them?
With great reluctance, Draco replied, "I... I can't, Father. Even if you are telling the truth, I can't risk that you won't change your mind at some point in the future."
Again, Lucius smiled sadly, an expression that Draco only had seen in rare moments many years ago. "You'll know when to take the offer, Draco."
x – x – x
He returned home, reluctant to share his father's plans for altering their history.
And then, two months later, Lucius Malfoy was found dead in his prison cell, apparently murdered by a fellow inmate. His final wish was to be buried next to his beloved Narcissa.
They stood at the grave, each staring at the headstone lost in their own thoughts.
Draco finally spoke. "You know, he wasn't always horrible."
She nodded, but said nothing.
"I understand how you felt about him, but there was a time, when I was young, that he was a good father. At least that's the person I remember from that time. I adored him. I wanted to be just like him."
She took his hand, squeezing it to let him know that she was there to listen. At some level, she understood, after having seen Lucius interact with Alex. It was difficult to think that the man she had despised for so long might have had a gentler side, but his last act had been almost selfless. It left her with much to think about.
"I wish you got to know that part of him," he said softly.
She looked over at the man she loved, who was torn about his feelings for his father. "You loved him," she stated simply.
He nodded. "I did. When my mother died, it was as if the good part of him died with her."
Regardless of what his father was, it was understandable that his son would love him. She wasn't going to attempt to deny that. "It's all right to love your father, Draco. I'm sorry I never got to know that side of him, but I believe you. There had to be something good in him once for you to have turned out to be who you are."
A tear escaped down his face and he made no effort to wipe it away, still staring stonily at the headstone. "He did this so that I'd believe him – so that we can go back to where we belong." He turned to Ginny, letting her see what he saw in his father. "He wanted me to know that he wasn't lost. He wanted to prove to me that there was something good left in him."
"Then take that good part, and make it part of you. Honor him that way," she said quietly, meaning every word. Her heart was heavy for the man she loved, knowing that he was torn about his feelings toward the man he'd called father. She would always hate the ruthless man, but she had to respect the fact that, near the end of his life, he had at least regretted his actions and tried to make things right for their small family.
He pulled her into a hug, tears falling freely. "I love you, my Ginny."
She held him close, letting him grieve.
- x - x -
Yes, this has been a long time since the completion of the story, but this has always been in mind. Hope you enjoyed. Once again, I beg for reviews. Thank you for reading.