Anti-Litigation Charm: These characters belong to JK Rowling and Warner Bros. They do not belong to either Teddy Radiator or stgulik, nor do they make any money from this or any other fanfiction written by them.
This story was co-written by TeddyRadiator and stgulik for the lj het_bigbang 2012 challenge, and was based on prompts provided by the inimitable Droxy. At the end of Chapter 14 we'll list Droxy's prompts, and you can see for yourself whether we stayed true to them.
This story is fully written and complete in 14 chapters. I'll post one chapter every few days so you can enjoy all the cliffhangers. :-)
Many thanks to our stellar beta, Toblass, for her eye for detail, her enthusiasm and her hard work.
This story is lovingly dedicated to Droxy.
Minister for Magic Lucius Malfoy sat stiffly at attention. His chair, an ostentatious black plush throne, had been transformed for comfort, but he could not seem to bring himself to sit back and relax. His fingers ran along the creases on his black wool trousers before rising to settle the snowy-white cuffs that peeked out from under his black coat sleeves and ministerial robes.
He was seated before a shabby wooden table in the hearing room at Azkaban, members of his staff arrayed behind. It had been an automatic gesture to Transfigure one of the chairs into a seat befitting his station, but sitting taller than anyone else in the room could not begin to ease his mind.
Although the prison was perpetually cold, the living rock walls sweated with condensation that made the rooms strangely humid. Beyond the walls, shouts of anger or fear punctured every single thought Lucius tried to finish. Occasional screams of agony sent a cold spike of dread through his abdomen. And then there was the smell—the stench of unwashed bodies, feces and terror that had permeated the ancient stone over the centuries, causing a sense of despair to creep into his lungs, even sitting so many levels below the cell blocks.
Azkaban was a hideous place. The very walls were infused with the most desolate, soul-destroying magic that could be found this side of the Dark. For thousands of years this fortress of rock and despair had taken in both guilty and innocent alike, and returned them as shades of their former selves - simply because it could. It took no pleasure in their pain; it seemed to derive no power from their hopelessness It greedily absorbed and stored each prisoner's anguish until he left, or died, and another came to take his place. Dementors meticulously gathered and cultivated stores of despair within its honeycomb passageways like bees in some hideous hive.
When Lucius Malfoy was sentenced to Azkaban, he had believed himself to be a strong wizard. Strong, resolute, clever, capable of resisting being beaten by prison. The scion of a peerless lineage. But the day he sat, knees pressed together, in a boat being rowed over the choppy ocean, the day he first laid eyes on the fortress and realised he was about to be swallowed whole, body and soul, something within him crumbled. In that moment, he knew his confidence and his lineage meant absolutely nothing before the power of Azkaban and would never protect him, so he panicked and flung himself across the boat, trying to throw himself into the water, only to be Stunned.
They dumped him in a cell, trussed like a Christmas goose. The Malfoy dignity completely deserted him, and that night, he wept like the motherless child he was.
Nearly a year later, Lucius had escaped in the mass breakout orchestrated by Voldemort and had returned to his former life of privilege and influence. He had donned posh dress robes that seemed too big for his emaciated body, and he had slept in a soft bed too slickly clean to be believed. He left Azkaban behind. But sitting here now, it was easy to imagine that his subsequent life—the war, the final battle, the Dark Lord's victory, a life of power and privilege—was nothing but a long, fevered dream, and that he would wake in his stinking cell to remember his sentence was going to stretch on and on until he went mad.
Lucius swallowed convulsively. Irrationally, he wondered if Azkaban thought it wasn't done with him. For all he knew, the prison believed him a fugitive and would catch him in its cold clutches when he finally rose to try and leave here today. A cold sweat broke out under his layers of elegant clothing and robes. Stone walls began to close in around him...
Get a grip, old man, he told himself firmly. He repressed a shudder and forced himself to settle in his chair, lest the staff he had brought with him notice his discomfort. Azkaban, like all aspects of the government, answered to the Dark Lord; the prison would not restrain Lucius today. He was here to interview a prisoner, someone he did not want to bring back to the Ministry unless a deal was struck. That was the only order of business this day.
Following the war, a new regime had taken shape in Wizarding Britain—a governing body that was everything Lucius had ever envisioned. But then, the Dark Lord had done something unanticipated. Declaring all other potential candidates for the position either dead or incompetent, Lord Voldemort had installed Lucius Malfoy himself as Minister for Magic.
This had been the absolute last thing Lucius wanted. It was one thing to sit on the board at Hogwarts, but quite another to be the head of a government. His talents had always lent themselves to being the power behind the throne. The financier. It was second nature with him to gain influence over others and then use that influence to see that his vision was enforced. After that, he was always free to leave the Ministry. While others toiled of an evening, Lucius spent his own evenings relaxing among his favorite amusements.
But of course, nobody said no to the Dark Lord.
How ironic that, just as he achieved everything he had always wanted for himself and his kind, he was not permitted to relax and enjoy it.
As Minister, Lucius was subject to enormous pressure from above and below. He was unused to it; the life of a Death Eater had been nothing compared to this. The Dark Lord placed demands on him that he himself used to exert on the Minister, with an additional element of a threat of death if Lucius ever failed his master.
So Lucius devised a plan. If it worked, it might help him reach his goals. If it did not work ... well, there would be a person to blame, a scapegoat, to keep Lucius from being in the line of wand fire. That person was the one he was here to see—a prisoner of Azkaban.
He had a long history with this particular prisoner. Once, he knew, an offer like the one he was about to make would have been thrown back in his face with a sneer. But Azkaban had a way of grinding down even the most spirited. In fact, he thought, it might be the spirited ones who broke the fastest. They came in with something to care about; consequently, there was more for the Dementors to take away. Lucius felt confident that, considering how long this prisoner had been in residence, his little proposition would be quite well received today. Still, his fingers worried his trouser creases as he waited.
At last, the door opened. Two guards filed in, flanking a figure between them.
"Prisoner Gebo-Seven-Seven-Isa-Nine-Six-Kenaz-Dagaz-Berkano," announced the first guard. "Granger, Hermione Jean."
She was nudged forward until she stood before the long table, where she was made to wait with her feet in heavy ankle chains attached to manacles at the wrists. Her eyes were blank as they moved listlessly over the row of staff members. When they briefly touched his face, Lucius repressed a shudder. He saw no interest or intelligence in that gaze.
Lucius gestured behind to one of his assistants. A chair scraped and a parchment was noisily unrolled as the man stood and cleared his throat fussily. Her eyes passed again over the assistant and then locked onto him when he spoke.
"Prisoner Gebo 77," the man began, "you have been summoned to appear before the Minister for Magic on an administrative matter. You are required to pay attention, speak only when spoken to. You will truthfully answer all questions put to you. If you do not follow these instructions, you will be taken back to your cell and denied all privileges for a period of no less than thirty days. Do you understand these instructions as I have read them?"
The prisoner nodded, casting her eyes downward. Lucius gestured to another clerk, who stood up, unrolled another parchment, and read out a long record of the prisoner's crimes, omitting nothing.
Lucius feigned boredom while he inspected the prisoner under hooded eyes. She was skinny to the point of emaciation. Her hair, once curly and lustrous, was now matted and stuck out at all angles. He knew from first-hand experience she was crawling with lice. He spotted fresh bruises on the length of arm and leg he could see under her shapeless grey prison smock and above her canvas shoe-clad feet.
He could well imagine what horrors she had been enduring. Lucius had learned from his time here that the innocent and the unloved suffer more, even if they believed they were guilty. Azkaban could tell the difference, and it drew on their innocence like a greedy child sucking on a sugar quill.
It had taken Azkaban only nine months to break him. Granger had been here two years. What would she be like? Had she already broken? Would she be of any use to him at all? He laced his cold fingers together to keep them from fussing with his cuffs again.
After the record was read, it was his turn to speak. "Miss Granger." Lucius waited until her eyes wandered back to his face. "As a war criminal, a Mudblood, and a prisoner with no family influence or patronage, you face a life sentence in Azkaban. You will live out your days within these walls. However, by the grace of our Lord, an opportunity to be granted parole may be afforded you, if the circumstances are right and you agree to the terms. Do you understand?"
"Parole?" she repeated hazily, her voice rusty from lack of use. "Did you say parole?" Lucius inclined his head. "Someone already tried." She seemed to have difficulty concentrating. "Someone … they tried to petition for my parole. It was never approved."
"Be that as it may, I have taken a personal interest in your … dreadful predicament, and I believe I have an offer to make which will both serve our Lord and improve your circumstances.
"The new administration at the Ministry has experienced a smooth transition—better than we had hoped, frankly," he began. "Wizarding Britain is enjoying a modest resurgence. Even your old school reopened, quite a few months ahead of schedule, and is a much better-run institution than ever before. I am sure you are pleased to hear that."
He rose from his throne and began to pace as he warmed to his tale. "But our Lord has felt that something is missing from the heart of our community. Those whose blood status is less than pure are still, however indirectly, a part of us. Our Lord has decided that half-bloods and Muggleborn ought to be brought into the fold and permitted to become—well, if not full citizens, then at least community members in good standing. A kinder regime. A fresh start for all."
Lucius paused while several of the young staff members murmured their approval amongst themselves. He made an idle note to himself to find out how thoroughly their genealogies had been researched.
The prisoner frowned in confusion. "What does this have to do with me?"
He hid his impatience. "You are being offered a chance to help us welcome back the disenfranchised with open arms. As someone who had been close to the famous Harry Potter, you are the most recognisable Muggleborn in Great Britain." Lucius turned with studied casualness to look her fully in the eye. If she still carried untenable feelings about the death of Harry Potter or the tragic events surrounding the Weasley boy, he wanted to know now. But her face betrayed nothing.
Dissatisfied, he resumed pacing. "That fame will benefit the cause. You will become the face of the Ministry's new policy of tolerance. Even some of the worst offenders in prison may be given a fresh start, their records expunged—provided they agree to assume the same responsibilities we all have."
Lucius forced a chuckle. "And you will be their role model. You will participate in media events, give speeches and interviews, that sort of thing. In exchange, you will live in London in a well-appointed flat, and be given a comfortable job at the Ministry.
"But if you fail to perform…adequately, Miss Granger, you will be delivered back to Azkaban immediately and administered the Dementor's Kiss." She shuddered at that last. Good. His next chuckle was more genuine. "Do you understand the terms?"
Slowly, she nodded her head. "And what if I say no?" she asked.
"Then I'm afraid we have no use for you," replied Lucius, resuming his seat. "Your name will go to the bottom of the parole list." He sighed with mock regret. "Many other, lesser offenders will soon be up for parole themselves. It's difficult to say when your name would ever come up to the top again. With any number ahead of you, who knows? It could be years."
The prisoner gave no further sign of paying attention; in fact, she seemed to have withdrawn into herself completely. There seemed no point in continuing. At a sign from Lucius, his staff began to shuffle together their parchments and quills. He made to rise from his comfortable chair, feeling a prick of disappointment. Despite his hopes, he thought she might just be too brain-damaged now to be convincing in front of the cameras.
"Do think about it, Miss Granger," he drawled. "The offer of parole shall remain open until three days hence, after which time-"
"I don't need three days," she blurted. "I accept."
The room went still again. Lucius carefully hid his surprise. "Very well. A wise choice." He stood, picking up his black cane. "Tomorrow, you will be released into the recognizance of the parole board. This ought to give you time to say your fond farewells."
Suddenly, her eyes snapped to attention and focused on a point behind Lucius. "I have no one to say good-bye to, at least not anymore," she replied with new steel in her voice. "Arthur is dead."
Someone behind him made a strangled noise. Surprised, Lucius turned his head to see his assistant's arms open convulsively, spilling rolls of parchment onto the floor. It was only then that Lucius remembered the man's name—Percy Weasley, Arthur Weasley's son, the one who had left the family fold and allied himself with the Ministry. It was a common tale amongst his ambitious staff. A few weeks after he took office, Lucius had honestly forgotten all about it.
But the prisoner obviously remembered him, and had something to say. "Yes," she continued in a firm voice, "Arthur Weasley died of a heart attack this week. He spent two years in prison with no visits from family. I sat with him until the end, Percy. He asked me to tell-"
"My condolences, Miss Granger," interrupted Lucius smoothly. He had come too far to let this interview be derailed by cheap theatrics. "If only Arthur Weasley had been sensible, he could have spared himself and his family so much trouble. But I remember his hearing." He turned, speaking as much to young Weasley as to the prisoner. "He seemed to think it beneath him to renounce his work with the rebellion and join his fellow Purebloods in the rebuilding of our society." With a swirl of Lucius's black cane, the hearing room doors banged open. "Until tomorrow, Miss Granger."
The guards tugged roughly on the prisoner's shackles as they moved to flank her once again, barking orders for her to obey. Percy Weasley shook himself and flicked his wand at the scattered parchments, which floated in the air and followed along as he exited the room without a backward glance, trailed by the rest of the murmuring throng.
Amidst the hubbub, Lucius managed to catch one last glimpse of the prisoner's face. The apathetic demeanour she'd walked in with was completely absent now. So, she did have spirit left, in spite of all she'd been through. The Dementors had not yet destroyed her will to live. When she'd turned her attention to Weasley, there had been a spark of the old righteous indignation he used to find so irksome when he'd catch sight of her during her school days.
On the ship back to the mainland, Lucius' busy thoughts turned to the weeks ahead. His earlier fear of Azkaban's retribution for his escape seemed like nothing more than superstitious nonsense to him now; he wondered how he could have indulged such ridiculous fantasies even for a moment. Soon his apprehensions faded from his memory. He was a Malfoy; he was Minister; all carefully-laid plans must surely come to fruition in the face of his formidable resources.
His confidence surged. How could he have ever doubted his plans would be set into motion? Within weeks there would be press conferences, public events—perhaps even a Ministry-sponsored ball. He had just the dress robes to wear to a ball. After Granger cleaned up, and perhaps fleshed out a bit, she would become a real asset. It didn't matter how she felt about it. As long as she still had brains in her head, Lucius was sure he could manipulate her. It was his one true talent. And she would do as she was told. The motive to stay out of Azkaban was a powerful one. He knew this from experience.