Azkaban Prison, even without the soul-stealing presence of dementors, was a desolate place. It was still a bleak, rocky island with waves crashing against it, sending up spray that could, without warning, soak any visitor.
Hermione Granger Weasley never thought that she would see it, let alone have monthly visits there with prospective parolees. She used her wand to dry her ministerial robe. She had her hair pinned back but the tendrils that escaped framed the obviously young and feminine face, making her effort to appear somber and asexual completely futile.
In her entrance level position with the law enforcement section at the Ministry of Magic, she was responsible for evaluating the rehabilitation and potential of some of the people she'd fought in the Second Wizarding War.
"Damned Death Eaters," she said resignedly, looking over the names of those with whom she'd meet that day. The minister was anxious to heal wounds from the war and re-integrate some of Voldemort's repentant followers into society. Hermione was skeptical, however, of the likelihood of reform from life-long prejudice.
"Scabior: Snatcher," she read from the file. She had particularly bad memories of Snatchers, having evaded them with Harry and Ron for months before the Battle for Hogwarts, so she was anxious for a quick consultation to then cross that name off her list and out of her mind.
He sauntered into the interrogation room, pushing his dark, curly hair off of his forehead. Per her ministry training, she stood for a perfunctory handshake. He, however, just took the chair on the other side of the wooden table, stretched out his long, lean frame, and grinned up at her. "Hel-lo, Ms. Granger," he said in a tone that could most accurately be described as flirtatious.
She gave him a cold look, as she took her seat. "Mr. Scabior," she began, "you have served three years of your 10-year sentence. You have no killings on your record, though it appears that you did use the Cruciatus Curse on several occasions. Do you regret this action?"
"I have a lot of regrets for what I did as a Snatcher," he said. Hermione looked up at his face to see if the remorse she detected was genuine.
"My greatest regret is taking a beautiful young woman I'd found with two boys to Malfoy Manor, where she was tortured by the mad Lestrange woman."
Hermione gaped. She hadn't recognized the name and the face looked so different—not sneering and jaded. He looked at her as if asking for her personal forgiveness.
"I hope it doesn't still hurt you," he said softly, looking at her arm. "Her snake lash burns every so often," he added, running his fingertips along the pale, red line around his neck, "even if it didn't quite kill me."
Hermione pulled the sleeve of her robe down over her arm, where Bellatrix had branded her with the word "Mudblood," and tucked her arms against her chest. She shook her head and looked down at the table.
Scabior continued his concentration on her. "I should've taken only the boys there and kept you with me. You would've been safe."
She laughed nervously, daring a fleeting glance at his sculpted, swarthy face. "Safe with a Death Eater," she said, a little too loudly, the sound echoing from the stone walls and floor of the stark, window-less room.
He shrugged. "I wasn't so much pro-Voldemort as anti-Gryffindor. But yes, I would've protected you, even though your colors were red and gold."
She looked at him quizzically. He shook his head. "You wouldn't understand," he said (sadly?).
"Shall we get on with it?" Hermione asked, pushing up the sleeves of her robe and attempting to regain her professional demeanor.
He nodded, not breaking his gaze from her.
She looked down at her folder. "Now you understand that for your probationary period, you are not permitted to have a wand."
He frowned without anger and shrugged again. "No matter—I don't need one. Would you like to know an Azkaban secret?" he asked, leaning forward against the table.
He was close enough for Hermione to catch his scent—bracing from the ocean, and pheromone-laden, suggesting someone who regularly worked up a good sweat through exercise or…
She nodded quickly to stop her thoughts. She didn't realize it but she leaned forward a little also.
His voice seemed to take on the cadence of hypnosis. "Some of us have disciplined ourselves so well, that we can do magic with our minds and hands as well as someone with a wand. Do you want me to show you?"
She found herself staring into his dark eyes and nodding again.
He smiled and, curling his fingers in and out, whispered "Masseo." Hermione suddenly rolled her shoulder, as she felt the kneading and loosening of her taut muscles.
Scabior's smile widened. "Yeah, I though that's where the tension was—right there in your left shoulder blade. It's better now, yes?"
She tried to give him a hostile look but it ended up being more curious, with her eyebrows lifting rather than coming together in a frown.
He leaned back and crossed his legs, with one foot resting on the opposite knee. "Do you want to know what my intentions are?"
"I beg your pardon?" she asked, confused. What kind of intentions was he talking about?
He grinned. "Do you want to know what I plan to do with my life when I leave here? It's part of your evaluation, isn't it?"
"Oh, of course," she said, returning to the forms and picking up her quill pen. "What are your…intentions…when you leave here?" She licked her dry lips before looking up at him.
With his elbow on the armrest and his arm upright, he lightly ran the back of a finger over his pursed mouth. "I might go to America, find a woman who doesn't know my reputation."
"Your reputation as a Death Eater," Hermione clarified, pushing an errant wisp of her brown hair behind her ear.
He gave a silent laugh. "I meant my reputation as a 'love 'em and leave 'em' kind of man."
"And you have to move to another continent to counter that," she said with an attempt at sarcasm and derision.
He was unaffected by the tone. "You might have found out for yourself, if you hadn't still been a schoolgirl at the start of the war."
She looked down quickly and shuffled the papers in front of her. "…and you hadn't already been here," she said, not realizing she had just acknowledged the possibility of her otherwise having learned about him as a lover.
He did realize it and smiled ironically. "I hear you married the ginger," he said.
Hermione kept her face down. "That's none of your business," she said forcefully.
"Of course not," he agreed. "It's none of my business if you're happy and satisfied with him either. But I wonder anyway. Is he…appreciating his lovely young wife, and making her feel it the way he should?"
She cleared her throat, her movements becoming hurried, as she stood with her folder. "I believe we're done, Mr. Scabior. I'll have someone else from the Ministry come to conduct your interview—someone who has no previous contact with you."
"But if I don't finish the evaluation, I'm stuck here another six months before I get a chance again," he said plaintively. "Please, I won't interrupt you again. Evaluate me."
She looked at him doubtfully. "Please," he asked with humility.
She sat back down and re-opened Scabior's file. "Fine," she said officiously, checking off the items for which she already had answers. "Would you consider yourself reformed and ready to be a productive member of society?"
"Have you learned enough skills during your incarceration that you can make a valuable contribution, rather than being a burden to your fellow citizens?"
"Do you have a support group of family and/or friends outside of Azkaban to provide you with encouragement and aid, if needed?"
There was no response.
"Mr. Scabior," she said, looking up and seeing a sad expression on his face.
"No. Everyone I've ever cared about or who has ever cared about me is dead."
She felt more sympathy for him after that statement than she knew she should. "I'm sorry," she mumbled, quickly looking back down to note his answer in the file.
"Is that a disqualifier?" he asked.
"No," she answered, not daring to look in his sad, dark brown eyes again. "We'll just have to match you with a community volunteer to help you in your re-introduction to freedom."
"That's a beautiful word," he said sweetly.
Hermione felt the corners of her mouth lift in a tiny smile. "One last question—I see here that you were originally scheduled for evaluation and possible release three months ago and you withdrew your name from consideration with no explanation. Can you say why now?"
He hesitated. "Is this the last question? You're not going to run away leaving me only partially evaluated if you don't like the answer?"
"This is the last question but we need to understand what has happened between then and now," she reiterated.
"Alright," he said. "I withdrew because I wanted you."
She looked at him, surprised but not really offended.
He continued. "I heard you'd be doing the evaluations in the next quarter. I wanted to see you to apologize and see that you're happy and, as I said, satisfied. I've done my part. You, however, don't seem satisfied, Ms. Granger."
"That's Mrs. Weasley," she corrected quietly.
"The nameplate on your satchel says Granger," he said, pointing to the bag on the table.
"That's just for work," she said, as if that cleared up everything.
Scabior grinned. "Does that mean there's something personal between us, Mrs. Weasley?"
"That's not what I meant," she said with frustration in her voice. She looked at him as if asking him to give her a break.
"I know," he responded, relenting on his teasing. "I'm sorry. I just couldn't resist. Now is this the part of the interview when you ask me if I have any questions?"
"You mean besides that one," she said with a self-conscious laugh. "Yes. Do you have any questions—not of a personal nature," she emphasized.
He gave her his biggest smile yet and Hermione saw that when he wasn't trying to get the better of her that he could look pleasant. She refused to say handsome, even to herself.
"First I'd like to make sure you have my future address correct," he stated.
Hermione consulted the file. "The Inn at Helga's Hill, Room 10," she read.
Scabior smiled and nodded. "If you could confirm something for me…I've been told that it's now possible for someone in the Ministry to Disapparate from anywhere in the building and reappear anywhere, as long as he or she was invited to that location, either formally or through mutual understanding."
Hermione closed the file again. "I've not done it myself but, in theory, yes, that's possible."
He leaned forward again and looked at her intently. "So someone in the Ministry, such as yourself, could leave…say, from your office…and Apparate into a room…at an inn, for instance…as long as you had been invited there… either formally or through mutual understanding…without anyone knowing, except the person who made the invitation…correct?"
She nodded slowly, her heart beating quickly.
He smiled, as he rose from the chair. "By the way, I want to make a change in my file. The room number at the inn will be 15, rather than 10. You might make a note of that. Goodbye, Ms. Granger-Weasley. It's been a pleasure seeing you. I hope to do so again."
He sauntered out of the room.
Hermione sat at the table, taking deep breaths until she felt calmer. She opened the file and changed the number on the address line, subconsciously committing that information to memory.