December 16, 2010
Author's Note: Written for elle_blessing in the 2010 Draco/Ginny Fic Exchange on LiveJournal and winner of Best Story Overall.

Blanket Disclaimer: Harry Potter and all related characters, settings, and terminology belong to JK Rowling. I make no money.

Unnatural Selection
Dedication to a new age
Is this the end of destruction and rampage?
Another chance to erase and then repeat again

Draco was resigned to the fact that he had long passed the point in his life when the decisions he made regarding his future were still his own. Somewhere along the way, control had been wrested from his tight grasp and secured around his neck like a collar. Since then, others had held the leash, telling him where he could go, what he could do, and when. The decisions he had made seemed to have destined him to a life of subservience, as if Fate itself was against him succeeding. In some ways, Draco was relieved to no longer have the responsibility of "choosing the right path"—or falling down the wrong one, as the case seemed to be—though, as of late, he'd become quite indifferent to life in general.

He tilted his head back until it touched cold stone and closed his eyes. He strained his ears for sound, wondering if he had gone deaf since he'd been imprisoned. It was a thought that used to cross his mind often, but after the first few months of silence, he'd effected the skill to block out the sounds—a skill that involved hours of mindless staring. But, hey, at least he no longer noticed the silence.

It was unnatural... this lack of sound. Unnerving. Wasn't Azkaban known for the moaning and raving of its prisoners—people losing their minds along with all their happy memories? But he supposed that Azkaban no longer existed. Prisoners of the new order were so defeated after the war that they needed no Dementors to drain their hope. Their silence was a testament to that.

Draco thought about the last sound he had heard: the voice of some unknown delegate offering him freedom. The previous morning, a man from the Ministry had paid him a visit to inform him that he had been selected to be a candidate (guinea pig) for a special program designed to rehabilitate prisoners back into the wizarding world. In exchange for becoming the Ministry's test weasel, his sentence would be cut three years short—depending on when or whether he was deemed civilized enough for true rehabilitation.

At this meeting, he had learned that seven years had passed since he'd entered Azkaban, which surprised him, though maybe it shouldn't have. Before the Ministry official had enlightened him of this information, Draco had had no idea how much time had passed. In his isolation, it had been impossible to measure. His tiny cell contained no windows to show him what time of the day it was, and his meals were so bland he could never distinguish between his breakfasts and dinners. Even so, sometimes it had felt like he'd been there for decades, and other times it felt like just yesterday that he had stood trial. To learn that he had completed over half of his sentence, that he was three years shy of obtaining freedom, had sent a jolt through his system. It was like nothing he had felt since Albus Dumbledore's murder. So close, yet still not close enough.

It was a lot of information to take in, not just how much time had passed, but also this offer of freedom, which felt so near to him, just within his reach. If he dared to imagine, he thought he could touch it. It seemed too good to be true that he could walk out of Azkaban within the next week and never have to look back, if he could help it.

Eyeing one of his questionable meals sitting on the floor by the door, Draco wondered who in their right mind would think he was ready for rehabilitation before his sentence was over. He'd tried to kill someone—that was why he was in Azkaban, wasn't it? Four counts of attempted murder, or something like that. He really hadn't paid much attention during the trial. By that time, he'd stopped trying to wrestle back control of his life. Instead, he'd allowed the Ministry to do what they wanted with him, since they were going to do that regardless. Anyway, he'd been safer doing what the Ministry wanted him to do. He'd nearly gotten his whole family killed when he was working under the Dark Lord's orders. After a threat like that, what difference did it make what he did? Why not let the winning side control him? At least this side wouldn't kill him at the drop of a hat.

Draco reminded himself, often, that it was better to not be in control. Look what it had gotten him: he'd been patient, done as he was told, and waited, and now he was going to be rewarded with freedom. For whatever reason he had been chosen, he was going to be free. Soon. And now his body just wouldn't still at the thought of it. Against his will, his foot tapped nervously against the edge of the threadbare mattress and his heart kept jumping like a bird trying to escape from a cage. It felt a little bit like excitement or anticipation, but Draco had long forgotten what that felt like.

Attempting to relax, he leaned back against the wall, imagining that the stone was soft enough to contour to his body, reminding himself once more that it was not safe to hope. Expectations could so easily be ruined, and he was afraid that if this plan didn't go through—if this was a dream or a cruel trick that the Ministry liked to play on its prisoners—the disappointment would make his final three years of prison excruciating. He was afraid to taste hope and then have it forcefully taken away.

His optimism was fleeting—as was his hope in these times.

But three weeks after his meeting with the Ministry official—after Draco had successfully beaten back his hope and that hint of excitement that had tried to escape, three weeks during which he had managed to convince himself that three more years of Azkaban would sail by before he knew it—the official had returned. While receiving one of this bland meals, the guard told him that he would be freed sometime that day, and despite his habit of suppressing all expectations, he waited anxiously. Nervously.

The sound of a key turning in the door of Draco's cell echoed throughout the small space, breaking through the barrier of silence created in his mind. Butterflies fluttered in his stomach. He swallowed thickly, his mouth so dry it made the action painful, and his heart did that jumping thing again.

"Prisoner Malfoy, your Portkey is ready for you."

Draco stood up, the sounds of his chains clattering with a raucous noise he could not remember ever hearing before. His heart was pounding so hard that he fancied the bird in his chest must have finally been released from its prison and was now desperately trying to take to the sky.

Draco's flight from Azkaban.

He licked his dry lips as his mouth watered at the thought: freedom was just on the other side of the door.