AND THE DEATH EATER MENACE
Harry Potter and all associated characters and situations are the property of J.K. Rowling. I make no claim to ownership.
CHAPTER 7: Azkaban
The island of Azkaban first came to the attention of Wizarding Britain in 1443 when non-magical (for Muggle was not yet a word) traders reported sighting a previously uncharted isle halfway between the Orkney and Shetland Islands. Even more surprisingly, those traders claimed that there was a mighty fortress already built there with a foreboding tower far taller than even the greatest castles of the British Isles. While the non-magical authorities dismissed the reports as the result of too much liquor, word soon passed to wizarding ears. Curious and concerned, the Wizengamot sent an expedition to the island.
What they found there was the stuff of nightmares.
The island had apparently been raised from the seabed by the dreaded Emeric the Evil sometime during the previous century, and he constructed a great tower there for some fell purpose. After Emeric's fall and execution, his disciple, the dark wizard Ekrisdis, claimed the island and tower for his own ends and hid both behind impenetrable wards and invisibility charms. Ekrisdis dwelt in the tower of Azkaban for nearly a century while continuing his vile experiments into the darkest arts (usually on captured non-magical sailors) until death from old age finally claimed him. Azkaban's protective charms endured for nearly twenty years after Ekrisdis's death before failing and leaving the island visible to the world.
Most of the horrors contained within Azkaban were scoured away by the Wizengamot's expeditionary forces, though many wizards lost their lives in the attempt and many others later took their own lives rather than live with the knowledge of what they had seen. Yet the greatest horror of Azkaban could not be purged. For in the caverns and tunnels beneath the tower lay something that was beyond a nightmare – a nest of Dementors numbering in the hundreds. Though Dementors were known to the wizards of Britain and Europe, their numbers had been thought small. Previously, most Dementors had been encountered individually or, at worst, in packs of three to five. Before Azkaban was revealed, most wizards would not have believed there to be more than a few hundred Dementors in the world, let alone in a single place. But the great pit that lay beneath the foundation of Azkaban teemed with the creatures. Frightened and unable to cleanse the island of its Dementors, the Wizengamot withdrew, sealing the island away with its most powerful wards and Notice-Me-Not Charms in the hopes that the folly of Emeric and Ekrisis could be safely forgotten.
And so it was forgotten for nearly three centuries until the International Statute of Secrecy was passed into magical law and the wizarding world was changed forever. Among the unforeseen difficulties imposed by the Statute were certain problems inherent in wizarding criminal justice. Despite the best efforts of the aurors, jailbreaks had always been surprisingly common among the wizarding criminal classes, for few local jails could be built to withstand the power and versatility of magical rescue attempts perpetrated by outsiders even when the inmates had been stripped of their wands. Before the imposition of the Statute, such escapes would result in local authorities, both magical and mundane, joining forces to track down escapees under what British common law would later call posse commitatus. But after the Statutes' passage, the magic used during such jailbreaks risked drawing the attention of Muggles (so named now because it was deemed essential that such non-magicals be fooled, or "mugged" in the vernacular of the day, into thinking that magic did not exist), and wizarding law enforcement was forbidden to seek the assistance of their Muggle counterparts except in the most extreme circumstances. To address these concerns, the Wizengamot directed the newly established Ministry of Magic to devise plans for a new prison in some remote location from whence escape would be impossible.
During this same time, the British Isles were increasingly plagued by wild Dementors who were eventually traced back to lost and fabled Azkaban. Frightened both by the danger of these Dementors and by their challenge to the nascent Statute of Secrecy, the Wizengamot charged Damocles Rowle, then the Minister of Magic, with addressing both the Dementor threat and the need for a new prison. His solution to both problems pleased virtually no one.
In 1718, Minister Rowle journeyed to Azkaban and somehow initiated a dialogue with a representative of its Dementor population. Together, they brokered the Treaty of Azkaban. The exact text of the Treaty was classified at the highest level by Ministry security, but the general terms are fairly well-known among modern British wizards and witches. The Tower of Azkaban would become the new prison for Wizarding Britain. The Dementors would act as guards under the direction of a skeleton crew of aurors and other DMLE personnel. The Dementors would only give the Kiss to inmates under very specific circumstances but were otherwise free to feed upon the misery of the inmates. And those inmates would consist of every wizard or witch convicted of treason, murder, rape, assault on the person of a member of the Wizengamot or their families ... or nearly any lesser crime upon a second offense. Life imprisonment in Azkaban was also the penalty for escape attempts, successful or not, from any of the Ministry holding facilities where persons convicted of lesser crimes were detained, while escape attempts from Azkaban itself were punished with the Dementor's Kiss.
While all of those terms are well-known across Wizarding Britain, there were three additional treaty terms that were deemed highly classified information and kept from the public. First, should any prisoner actually escape from Azkaban, the Dementors would have the absolute right to pursue them wherever they might run in order to administer the Kiss, even onto the British mainland itself. Second, the Ministry was obligated to ensure a minimum number of magical inmates for the Dementors to feed upon, and from time to time, the Ministry was compelled by its treaty obligations to imprison wizards and witches in Azkaban who would not normally be eligible for such extreme punishment. Over the 175 years since the Treaty was brokered, shortfalls in the necessary prison population were usually satisfied through imprisoning lower class wizards and witches with criminal records and no family connections who could be charged with recidivism no matter how minor their subsequent crimes were. Failing that, the Ministry typically relied on political prisoners or, more rarely, people cursed with enemies rich and powerful enough to bribe the right people. The final secret term held that if the shortfall of prisoners persisted for long enough – defined by the treaty as one year and one day – the treaty itself would become void, and the Dementors would no longer be bound to Azkaban. Those last three terms were deemed of the highest security by the Rowle Administration, and knowledge of them was passed down to a relatively small number of people over the intervening 175 years.
The three people who came to visit Azkaban Prison on the night of July 31st in the year 1993, alas, were not among those privy to those secret terms.
31 July 1993
Seabase Acheron was a raised sea platform which had been installed at the command of Minister Rowle at the start of Azkaban's service as magical prison. So-named because those who first worked the base considered it the entryway to Hell itself, Acheron was situated just outside the anti-Apparation and anti-Portkey wards which covered Azkaban Island. And like Azkaban itself, Seabase Acheron almost never had any visitors other than a semi-annual surprise inspection by the Minister of Magic and the Chief Auror. That the Chief Auror chose to hold the surprise inspection on this day of all days was a very big surprise indeed.
After Chief Auror Potter, Minister Fudge, and their bodyguard, Auror Michael Proudfoot, arrived with a pop on Seabase Acheron's apparation platform, they waited for several minutes in the cold North Sea drizzle before the aurors stationed there arrived to "greet" them. Several of the guards who came running up were still adjusting their clothes, and one poor sod was still trying to put on a boot while hopping pitifully in their direction. Those in the lead initially had wands pointed in the direction of the intruders, but while none of the Azkaban staff had actually met James Potter yet, they'd all seen his picture by now, and they immediately stowed their wands. One particularly startled auror actually tried to give a salute with his wand still in his hand, with the end result that he nearly stabbed himself in the eye with it. While Fudge tried to hide a smile, Potter was far less amused as he glanced down at a pocket watch.
"Three minutes, twelve seconds before a single auror showed up after an unannounced and unauthorized apparation," Potter said contemptuously. "I'm not impressed so far."
"We'll work harder to live up to your expectations as we move forward, Chief Auror," came a voice from the doorway to the building nearby. Then, a stocky older wizard with a fierce expression stepped out, and the aurors parted to make way for him. "I am Warden Stark, chief of this facility. I don't believe I've ever had the pleasure of meeting any of you distinguished gentlemen in person, though of course, Minister Fudge and Chief Auror Potter need no introduction. Nevertheless, identity papers, please."
Fudge reached into his pocket – causing the assembled aurors to stiffen and prepare cutting hexes – and removed a scroll which he handed over. "We're here for the annual inspection."
"How interesting, considering our last annual inspection was five years ago. I despaired of living long enough to see another one." The Warden carefully reviewed the paperwork which all seemed in order. Then, in a startlingly smooth move, he flicked his wand out of its holster and pointed it directly in the face of James Potter. "Your wands, gentlemen. There are protocols to be observed, after all. And I'll have the briefcase too, Minister Fudge."
Potter narrowed his eyes somewhat angrily. Then, he drew his wand and handed it over butt first. Fudge and Proudfoot did likewise, the latter with obvious nervousness and discomfort.
Fudge, on the other hand, seemed almost amused by the proceedings. "I'd appreciate it if you wait until we're out of the rain before you search the briefcase, my good man. I have files in there I'd rather not see waterlogged." The guard who took the case nodded.
"I'm just happy to see that there are protocols to follow based on what I've observed so far," Potter said with a degree of contempt.
The Warden smirked. "Yes, I've no doubt you're pleased to think you've caught us with our trousers around our ankles, Chief Auror. However, the situation was perfectly under control."
"It hardly looked like it," the other man replied.
"That is because you mistake us for the guardians of Azkaban instead of its overseers. Our entire conversation has been observed by personnel in the top of the tower by the duty officers with whom I am in constant communication. Standard protocol, naturally. Had I but given the word or had you done anything the tiniest bit threatening to me or my men, you lot would have about twelve seconds before a score of Dementors showed up to give you a good look at what they keep under their hoods. As for my men down here whom you've caught in a something of a disarray, it is only because you arrived right in the middle of the annual birthday fete we hold to commemorate the victory of your son, the Boy-Who-Lived, over You-Know-Who. However, if that much ... frivolity offends you, I suppose we can abolish it going forward and just let the Christmas feast be our only celebration here." He paused and then gave Potter a sneering smile. "Unless, Chief Auror, you want us to cancel Christmas too."
Without waiting for an answer, Stark turned and headed on into the bunkhouse. The others followed, with the Azkaban aurors holding Potter, Fudge, and Proudfoot at wandpoint. Inside, the trio found themselves in a circular room with a metal grate for a floor. The other aurors surrounded the trio and stood with their backs against the wall. Then, Stark gave out a command, and a deluge of bitterly cold Thief's Downfall poured in through another grate in the ceiling. All three visitors cried out in surprise and shock. After five seconds of this, the downpour stopped, but the aurors kept their wands trained on the now-drenched trio. Casually, Stark removed his own pocketwatch and began timing.
"Kindly remain still, gentlemen, for another twenty seconds. I wouldn't want one of my men to become alarmed at some furtive movement and slice your head off. We don't use Stunners at Azkaban."
The three men stood perfectly still save for bitter shivering before Stark finally put his watch away. "All clear. No Imperiuses or illusions. No immediate signs of Polyjuice." He nodded with mock respect towards Fudge and Potter. "Mind you, we will be waiting for a solid hour before proceeding to the prison itself, just to be on the safe side. Protocol, you know."
He turned and headed towards a heavy door. "Get them dried off and then send them to my office." At his command, the aurors stepped forward and administered Drying Charms followed by Pepper-Up Potions. Proudfoot swallowed his with a faint but detectable nervousness at the Warden's words, but if they troubled either Potter or Fudge, neither man showed it. Moments later, all three were in Warden Stark's office partaking of lukewarm tea and stale biscuits.
"My apologies for the quality of our libations, gentlemen. One of the many side effects of proximity to Azkaban is that most foodstuffs tend to lose their taste quite quickly. Indeed, I suspect that our little supper we were holding in Jim Potter's honor will be nearly inedible by the time I can return to it."
Potter frowned at that, but it was Fudge who finally spoke. "With all due respect, Warden Stark, your conduct towards us since our arrival, well, frankly flirts with insubordination."
Stark snorted. "I don't flirt with insubordination, Minister. I grab it round the waist and kiss it so deep I can massage its tonsils." Then, he leaned forward in his chair. "I have been the Warden of Azkaban for fifteen years, Fudge. Three times longer than the longest serving of my predecessors, seven of whom died by their own hand over the centuries since this hellhole was refashioned into a prison. In fact, my very first official action as Warden was to scourgify my predecessor's bloodstains off the walls of my new living quarters. If you find me insubordinate when I register my displeasure with you pompous lot staging a surprise inspection right in the middle of our Jim Potter Day festivities, by all means, replace me ... if you can find someone to take the job."
Potter studied the man carefully and recalled what he knew about him. Matthias Stark had been an exemplary auror back in the late 1970's, but Death Eaters had wiped out his entire family – a wife, three children (and their spouses), and seven grand-children in the space of just a few months. The Healers at St. Mungo's refused to clear him to return to active duty, but after the last Warden's suicide, no one else would accept the position that Stark himself had sought out and claimed with apparent gusto. Potter met the man's gaze steadily, but for the life of him, he couldn't tell whether Stark had stayed on at Azkaban for fifteen years because of his devotion to the cause of the Ministry and of Justice ... or because of the personal satisfaction he took from overseeing the torment of the Death Eaters condemned to the prison. And even if it was the latter, was such sadism the result of losing his family to Death Eaters? Or losing his happy memories to Azkaban?
"Warden," Potter said, "obviously we got off on a poor footing for which I apologize. As you know, last year's Jim Potter Day saw a terrorist attack on my son and others by means of a Death Eater weapon. It was the same attack that maimed my predecessor for life and forced him from his position. And today is the anniversary of that attack."
"I am well aware of these events, Chief Auror," Stark said coldly. "Rufus and I have had opportunity to discuss them at length."
"Ah," thought the other man, "Stark is friends with Rufus Scrimgeour. That would certainly explain his attitude towards me. Pity it's too late to be someone else."
"We're here tonight, Warden," James said aloud, "because in the year since, we have no further information on who staged that attack and why. It was my hope that, under cover of a 'surprise inspection,' we can interview the members of You-Know-Who's inner circle with Veritaserum and perhaps get some useful intelligence without causing any sort of panic or press overreaction."
Stark sat back in surprise. "And you don't think that the media will notice you leaving your son's official birthday fete to visit Azkaban and ask questions?"
"Let them," Fudge replied. "If anyone does notice, our story is that James wanted to do a snap inspection on his son's birthday to prove that he would not let his role as Jim's father and protector distract him from his official duties. Besides, as you've noted, today is one of the nation's busiest holidays. It would make sense to do a surprise inspection at a time when your security might be under unusual stresses or otherwise distracted. But our hope is that the Prophet will simply focus on all the other human interest stories arising from today's festivities and not even notice we're here."
Stark nodded. "I suppose that does make sense."
"So with that in mind," Potter said, "we'd like to start our 'security review' with the Maximum Security Wing."
"That shouldn't be a problem," the Warden said, "once we've finished clearing you for admittance to the facility. We have another forty minutes left to confirm that none of you is a Polyjuiced intruder, followed by transport to the top of the tower and then another quick dunk in some Thief's Downfall." He smirked at their dismayed looks. "Security protocols. I'm sure you understand."
The men did, for they had been studying the Azkaban security protocols thoroughly for most of the summer. Their plans demanded it.
23 June 1993
(29 days ago)
After some amiable chit-chat over brunch (Jim noticed that Augusta and Harry both resolutely avoided asking how his parents were doing), the three boys headed upstairs to get their broomsticks. Harry tarried in the rear, and before he left the sunroom, he turned back to Augusta.
"How long should I keep him occupied?" he asked quietly.
She glanced up at the wall clock which read 11:15. "Until sunset if possible. I'll have a house elf send you a picnic lunch around two o'clock."
Harry nodded and followed his friend and his brother upstairs.
By 11:30, all three boys were out of the house and would be for some time. From the parlor window, Augusta watched them as they flew happily over the topiary garden. Then, she drew the curtains and moved to the fireplace where she tossed in some floo powder.
"Malfoy Manor," she said. Barely a moment later, Lucius Malfoy poked his head through the fire. "They're gone. You may come through now, though I remind you of the oaths you sworn while in Longbottom Manor and the price you will pay if you are foresworn."
Lucius nodded gravely. "I fully understand." With that, he stepped through the fire into the parlor with a leather satchel at his side. Augusta sat down in a nearby chair, and Lucius sat opposite her across a coffee table.
"I must say, Lord Malfoy, that I was ... impressed by the urgency with which you requested to meet with me. Not to mention the stringency of the oaths you were willing to swear before I would allow you to enter. If I may be blunt, what business could the Houses of Longbottom and Malfoy possibly have in common that could be so important to you?"
"In all honestly, Lady Augusta, that rather depends on whether or not you are familiar with this item." He reached into the satchel and withdrew a book which he placed on the coffee table facing her.
The Anathema Codex.
"Ah," she said quietly, "I see."
"You are familiar with this work?" he asked, only mildly surprised at her calm and poise. Lucius had always thought Augusta Crouch Longbottom had been Sorted incorrectly.
"Archie and I had no secrets from each other, and there were ... trust issues between him and his brother Algernon. Also, I was the second oldest child of House Crouch in my generation, and it had been our family's policy to make certain at least two family members knew of the book, if not its contents. Now, what relevance does that accursed tome have to our discussions, Lord Malfoy?"
He took a deep breath. "Perchance, m'lady, did you ever have opportunity to read the passages about ... horcruxes?"
31 July 1993
Fudge, Potter, and Warden Stark spent the next forty minutes making idle chit-chat about the state of Wizarding politics and the likelihood of Death Eater resurgence, while Auror Proudfoot sat quietly off to the side and occasionally made furtive glances towards the clock on the wall. Halfway through, an auror entered with Fudge's briefcase and informed the Warden that the case had contained several files, a few quills and an inkpot, and a number of vials containing Veritaserum and Pepper-Up Potions.
Fudge smiled. The most dangerous moment, as he saw it, had passed.
"The Pepper-Up is for me," he said genially. "The North Sea air disagrees with me. I'd rather not catch a cold if I can avoid it." Fudge's reasons for bringing Veritaserum were not expanded upon in front of the auror, who Stark dismissed without further comment.
Once the hour had passed, the Warden led the trio out to the dock on the side of Seabase Acheron that faced Azkaban Island. There was a small sailboat waiting for them, one that hardly seemed up to the challenge of crossing the choppy waters. To the visitors' surprise, however, the self-propelled boat made it about twenty feet away from the dock before suddenly becoming airborne. Within a few minutes, the flying vessel had made its way to the top level of the grim tower and "docked" next to a small balcony.
Once disembarked, the trio as promised was led through another thoroughly frigid dousing of Thief's Downfall and then forced to stand in front of a large oval mirror in which their reflections appeared nude but with any metal or wooden objects on their person still visible. Finally, they passed through to the command center where their wands and Fudge's case were returned.
"Alright, you lot," Warden Stark addressed the aurors in the command center. "Our guests are here on business, so let's hop to it." Then, he moved over to the center of the room where there was a circular hole in the floor roughly fifteen feet across. Stark activated the Sonorous Charm and then called down the hole, his voice reverberating through the entire prison.
"THIS IS WARDEN STARK. TWO SECURITY PERSONNEL AND THREE APPROVED GUESTS WILL ACCOMPANY ME TO LEVEL TEN. NO DEMENTORS ARE TO RISE ABOVE LEVEL THREE UNTIL ORDERED OTHERWISE OR UNLESS THERE IS A LEVEL 3 OR HIGHER DEVIATION FROM PROTOCOL. SECURITY CODE ALPHA-HIPPOGRIFF-NINER-TWO-FARAMIR. CONFIRM!"
Curious, Auror Proudfoot moved over to the hole and looked down. Then, he staggered back as if struck by vertigo. The hole appeared to cut all the way down the center of the fifteen-story tower, and staring down into the depths made his head spin. Nevertheless, he leaned over for another look just in time for a terrible rasping voice to rise up from the depths below.
"[I/WE] ReCogNIZe sECuRiTyyyyyyyy CoDe [HATE YOU!].
[I/WE] CoMPreHenD InStrUc-StrUc-StrUc-TioNs [HUNGER FEAST CONSUME!].
[I/WE] ShaLL OooooobeY [ALL SOULS MUST MUST BE DEVOURED!]"
The voice and its sick mixture of obedience and vicious bile was disturbing enough. What made it worse was that Proudfoot suddenly realized that he had not heard the Dementor speak with his ears but in his head. And what made it worse still was that the Dementor spoke with the voice of his long-dead (and much hated) grandmother.
"Have you faced a Dementor before, lad?" Stark asked quietly and with much more kindness than he had shown so far that day.
"No," Proudfoot replied. "But I can do the Patronus Charm."
"You don't know if you can do a proper Patronus in front of a Dementor until you're actually in front of one. No amount of theory can prepare you for such an experience. But don't worry. As long as I and my men are on hand, you will be safe. And besides, the Dementors will obey their orders. You have nothing to fear so long as you do nothing to break protocol."
Proudfoot nodded very slowly at that. The Warden turned to his men. "Abernathy. Brown. With me. Wands out." Then, Stark led the assembled group to a nearby lift door which he unlocked by touching it with a brass rod attached to his belt by a chain. Seconds later, the six men were descending down into the bowels of Azkaban Prison.
"Well, Chief Auror," Fudge said softly and with some amusement. "Are you satisfied with the prison's security protocols so far?"
Potter nodded. "Very much so. Everything so far is exactly as it should be."
Behind them, Proudfoot swallowed nervously once more as he thought about what protocols he and his co-conspirators were about to break.
21 July 1993
(10 days ago)
"This?! This was the job offer you wrote me about?!" Marcus spluttered in a fury. "A bloody JAILBREAK FROM AZKABAN?!"
Harry pursed his lips. In retrospect, he'd hoped to ease Marcus into joining their little conspiracy. Lucius, however, decided instead to rip the band-aid off by leading with the fact that what they planned constituted an act of treason for which they themselves could be sent to Azkaban for life if they got caught. And the likelihood of that rose considerably if they didn't have at least one more participant who was proficient with the Patronus Charm.
Marcus took a deep breath to calm himself. Then, he shook his head. "I swore an oath of secrecy and I'll stay bound by it. But I want no part of whatever madness you've got cooked up." Then, he met Harry's eyes. "And I hope you'll reconsider your own involvement, Harry. You're ... you're better than this."
With that, he turned back towards the doors, while behind him the conspirators looked back and forth at one another, with "Mr. Cato" in particular looking intently at Harry. Just as Marcus reached for the door handle, the other boy finally spoke.
"Voldemort is still alive."
Marcus froze instantly. For a second, he felt dizzy, like his hand was at once inches from the door handle and also miles away.
"You're lying," he whispered just loud enough for the others to hear.
"In 1981," Harry continued, "his physical body was destroyed. But he survived in a kind of spirit form through the use of cursed objects called horcruxes into which he'd put pieces of his soul. Two years ago, he possessed Quirinus Quirrell and used him in a failed plot to steal an artifact from Hogwarts that would restore his body. Jim stopped him with my help. Last year, one of his horcruxes fell into the hands of a Hogwarts student. and Voldemort possessed him as well. It was really Voldemort who was responsible for everything that happened including all the petrifications. He was also the one who was really that prank on the Slytherin Quidditch team that almost saw us get frozen to death and Jim Potter blamed for it. Again, Jim and I put a stop to it, but if we'd been thirty minutes later, Voldemort would have returned and probably killed everyone at the school."
"Well," Lucius interrupted, "probably not everyone. I'm sure he'd have stopped to speak with the children of his former servants to see if any would swear loyalty to his cause."
Marcus whirled around angrily. "I would NEVER ...!" But the words caught in his throat. "Wouldn't I? The way I was raised, if the Dark Lord had shown up in the flesh?!"
"We will never be rid of him," Harry said calmly, "until someone tracks down his horcruxes and destroys them all. And right now, other than Voldemort himself, the only people alive who might know anything about them are in the Maximum Security Level of Azkaban Prison."
"But why is that your job?!" Marcus spat out. By now, he was physically shaking. "Just tell the DMLE what you know and they can legally get whatever information you need!"
"We can't take the risk," said the Asian man. "Death Eaters who escaped punishment during the War have infiltrated the Ministry at its highest levels." He glanced towards Malfoy. "No offense."
"None taken," Lucius said dryly.
"As a consequence," the other man continued, "if any of those hidden Death Eaters found out about the existence of horcruxes and located one belonging to the Dark Lord before we finished destroying them ..."
"Who are you, anyway?"
"I won't be revealing that until you've taken a few more secrecy oaths, my boy, but when I was wearing another face, I used to be your DADA instructor."
Marcus looked at the man as if he were insane. "Whatever. This is still crazy. It's ... it's something a Gryffindor would do!"
"Marcus," Harry said calmly. "Gryffindors do what's right. Slytherins do what is necessary. We need you for this. Please, help us."
Flint shook his head and then rubbed his face for a few seconds. "The Dark Lord! Alive!" he thought. "What would Old Ironside do?"
"What's your plan?" he said in a nearly broken voice.
The lift's descent was slow, and the grinding of ancient rusty machinery, punctuated by the occasional scream or plea for mercy from beyond the lift doors, only made it seem longer. Finally, the doors opened up to a large circular room with holes in the middle of the floor and ceiling. About twenty cells ringed the room along the exterior wall, twelve of them occupied. Instantly, the newcomers were nearly overcome by the smell of waste and the pitiful moaning of the inmates. Well, mostly moaning. Potter detected one female voice among the din that was ... singing? And then, with a sick feeling, he realized that he recognized the voice.
"Who do you want to start with, Chief Auror?" Stark said.
"Sirius Black," Potter replied, his voice tight.
Stark barked out a harsh laugh. "Of course. Silly of me to ask." He led the group over to a particular cell. Within, a painfully thin man with long stringy black hair, a scraggly beard, and a dingy prisoner's uniform was seated on the floor. The walls of his cell were covered with markings. The most prominent were crude depictions of a stag and what looked like two dogs that had been carefully etched into the back wall. Around them were hundreds and hundreds of tiny hash marks, presumably meant to denote how long he'd spent in the cell. Finally, interspersed among the hash marks were three words repeated over and over again.
"I'm Sorry Harry."
In response to the group's approach, Sirius Black looked up and his eyes widened. "I -cough- I know you," he said with his eyes fixed blearily on James Potter. "You're my brother."
Potter's breath caught in his throat, while Stark shook his head. "This is Chief Auror Potter, Black. You will show him respect."
But Sirius ignored the Warden completely. "Yes -cough- my brother ... in all but blood. My brother ... who was more ... of a brother ... than my real brother." Then, with a sudden flurry of movement, Sirius scurried over to the edge of his cell and grasped the bars.
"James! Please! Fight it! Remember the truth! Remember that it was Wormtail who betrayed you! Not me! WORMTAIL!"
James turned to the Warden with an inquisitive look on his face.
"Yes," said Stark, "he's been ranting off and on about 'Wormtail' pretty much since he got here. By any chance do you know who he's talking about?"
The other man shook his head. "Not a clue."
At that, Sirius let out a low moan and started beating his head with his fists. Then, he suddenly looked up at Potter with a suspicious expression. "You're not James! Who are you?!"
Stark sighed. "Quite mad, I fear. I don't see how you'll get much useful information out of him. Or any of them really."
"It's a long shot," Fudge agreed, "but right now, it's all we have. Now, what's the protocol for opening the cell doors so we can administer the Veritaserum? I don't seem to see any locks on the doors."
"YES!" Sirius screamed. "FINALLY! GIVE ME VERITASERUM! ASK ME ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED THAT NIGHT!"
Stark flicked his wand angrily, and Sirius was flung back against the far wall. "Not another word out of you unless you're spoken to, Black! Or else I'll have a Dementor up here to spend the night right outside your cell door. You don't want to go through that again, do you?"
The prisoner said nothing but just slumped back down to the floor. Potter narrowed his eyes angrily at the Warden before wiping his face clean of emotions. The Warden didn't notice as he'd already turned back to Fudge while producing the plain brass rod he'd use to activate the lift.
"We open the cells with this, Minister. A single touch with this will open any cell in the prison."
"One key for every cell?" the Minister said in surprise. "That seems a bit lax."
Stark smiled. "The key is linked to my biomagical signature. If anyone else even touches it, the alarms are triggered and the prison goes into lockdown." He took a step towards the cell with the key raised. "Now, shall we begin? We don't have all night."
"Truly spoken, Warden Stark," Fudge replied as he glanced towards Potter and Proudfoot. Then, in a blur of motion, he produced his own wand and aimed it at the Warden's back. "STUPIFY!"
The Warden dropped like a stone, as did the other two guards who were taken completely by surprise. In his cell, Sirius sat up in sudden shock, and immediately, James Potter turned his wand on the prisoner.
"Sorry, old man," he said almost sadly as he fired off a Stunner. "It really will be better this way."
"Proudfoot, guard the pit," he ordered. Then, he and Fudge nodded to one another before heading around the circular chamber, stopping in front of each inhabited cell to stun the prisoner inside. Some begged for mercy or freedom, some screamed obscenities or just gibberish, some seemed utterly oblivious, but all went down the same. When Potter came to the lift doors, he cast the strongest Colloportus Trimendium he could before continuing on his route. Meanwhile, Proudfoot stood guard nervously over the hole in the floor. Suddenly, a hideous rasping sound echoed up from the Pit some ten stories below. Proudfoot shifted his wand grip nervously.
"I ... I think they're coming," his said as his voice cracked.
"They must have sensed our use of magic," Potter replied without taking his attention from the Death Eaters he was busy stunning into submission so that none would have any memories of events. "Breach of protocol and what-not. Still no alarms, yet, so we shouldn't have anyone coming from above. When you can see them, cast your Patronus."
Finally, Potter and Fudge met up at the opposite side of the room, where the maximum security level's sole female prisoner waited. Within, Bellatrix Black-Lestrange was rocking back and forth, giggling inanely while singing what sounded like a children's song in a disturbing "little girl" voice.
"Dead Muggle, dead Muggle, swinging in a tree
How many dead Muggles do you see?
Tongues turned blue and faces gone grey
Watch them all as they twist and sway!
Potter stared aghast at the madwoman. "Well, this is just ... disturbing," he finally said.
Fudge snorted as he stunned the woman. "You have a gift for the understatement," he said drily.
"Uh, they're definitely coming now!" Proudfoot exclaimed, his voice rising in terror. From somewhere below came the sound of furious chittering. "I ... I'm sorry ... I don't ... I don't think I can..."
Potter quickly moved to stand beside the younger man, and he placed his hand reassuringly on Proudfoot's shoulder. Then, he leaned in and whispered. "It's alright, Marcus. Just remember. Everything you've ever wanted will be yours if you can just make it another hour."
The young man bit his lip and nodded. Then, both of them pointed their wands down into the hole and cast together. "EXPECTO PATRONUM!" In response, two blasts of silvery fog shot from their wands down towards the approaching Dementors who screamed in terror and fury.
22 July 1993
The Flint Home
(9 days ago)
Marcus had waited until lunch to tell his mother and father that he had accepted a new job and would be moving to Hogsmeade. To be honest, he'd stayed up must of the night unable to sleep. And while he'd planned to say something at breakfast, Aries Flint had slept in, as was usual for the mornings when his hangovers were particularly bad.
Marcus's mother, Alisandre, took the news well and was as congratulatory as she could be without provoking Aries's anger, which was a practice she'd been familiar with for most of their marriage. Not that it mattered. Aries himself was already furious.
"This is about that nonsense of you getting into the Auror Academy, isn't it, boy!?" Aries snarled.
"If I get in, I get in," Marcus replied. "If not, I'll do something else. Either way, I've got prospects now, and at least I won't be mooching off your coin, which you've been complaining about since I was a child."
Aries' eyes widened in anger. "Are you disrespecting me, boy?"
"Not at all, Da'. I'm just telling you my plans and letting you know that I'm no longer your concern. I'd thought you'd be pleased to see the back of me."
Aries snorted. "I will be, you useless lump. You with your fancy book learning and your prefect's badge. Thinking you're so much better than us."
"I don't think anything of the kind, Da'." And if Marcus put a little too much emphasis the word "think," it went right over his father's head.
A few insults later and Marcus had had enough. He rose from the table and flicked his wand, and a few seconds later, his already-packed trunk and his broom floated down the stairs.
"I'm going now," he said.
"An auror! As if the Academy would ever take a Flint! And even if you got in, do you really think being an auror would save you when the Dark Lord returns?!"
Marcus turned back to his ranting father, a flash of anger in his own eyes. "The Dark Lord will never return! And if somehow he does, I will be honored to raise my wand against him!"
He turned back to leave ... only to be caught by surprise when his father grabbed him roughly by the shoulder, spun him around, and sucker-punched him in the face. Marcus fell to the floor, stunned for a moment, at which point Aries kicked him a few times.
"Aries! No!" Alisandre screamed.
Aries yelled at his wife to shut up and then turned back to continue his assault, only to freeze when he saw his son looking up at him in a murderous rage. And with his wand pointed at his face. Without breaking eye contact, Marcus rose to his feet. Then, he put his wand away before walking right up to his father to look him in the eye.
For a second, Marcus felt a strange dislocation. He'd not been this physically close to Aries in a long time and not looked him in the eye for longer. "When did I get taller than Da'?" Marcus wondered in surprise. "Has he shrunk or something?" Then, he shrugged off the feeling.
"Hit me again," he said aloud in a low dangerous voice. "Go on, Da'. Hit me. I. Dare. You."
But Aries didn't hit his son again. Because for the first time since his son's birth, Aries found himself afraid of Marcus. After a brief staring contest, Aries finally looked away, his face suddenly flushed. Then, Marcus went to his mother and kissed her on the cheek before moving to pick up his trunk.
"I won't be back here," Marcus said with finality as he walked out of the Flint home and into his future.
"Remember, no corporeal Patronus. Nothing to identify us." Proudfoot nodded again even as his brow furrowed in concentration. Then, Potter shouted over his shoulder. "Oh, Minister. We can't do this for very much longer. Plus, we're making a bit of a ruckus now. We don't want the aurors to simply fly down from the top level on broomsticks, now do we?"
"Noted," Fudge said tersely. By that point, he had returned to his briefcase and extracted the inkwell which he'd opened and turned over, letting the ink pour out onto his hand. After a second, something solid came out as well: a small spherical object coated in black ink. He dropped the inkwell and pulled out his wand to cleanse both the item and his hand with a Scourgify. Within seconds, the object was revealed to be a luminous black pearl, which Fudge promptly tossed towards the open hole while casting a spell upon it. "ENGORGIO MAXIMUM!" In a flash, the pearl expanded to enormous size so that it completely blocked both the hole in the floor and the one in the ceiling. Potter and Proudfoot stepped back.
"And that's going to hold both the aurors and the Dementors?" Proudfoot asked dubiously.
"It's an Antipodean Black Pearl. It can withstand dragonfire. Anything that could damage it before we're done would probably destroy the whole tower in the process. It would be easier to dig a hole through the floor or wall and they're both transfiguration-resistant."
"Still," said Potter. "No reason to dawdle. Potion?"
Fudge pulled a potion vial from his bag and tossed it over. It was one of those that the guards on Seabase Acheron had identified as Veritaserum but which was, in fact, Draught of Living Death. The potion's true nature had been concealed by several very expensive and highly illegal vials often used by magical smugglers and criminals to make contraband potions look innocuous.
"The key is going to be a problem," Fudge said. "Can metamorphmagery duplicate a biomagical signature?"
"Nope," Potter replied. "Which means we are now officially on a tight schedule."
As he spoke, he moved to the unconscious body of Warden Stark and retrieved the brass key. Instantly, a deafening klaxon went off. Potter ignored it and touched the key to Sirius Black's cell, causing the cell door to vanish. He tossed the key to Fudge and entered the cell. There, he fed a few drops Draught of Living Death to Sirius Black before checking his vitals with a diagnostic spell. Satisfied, Potter touched his wand to Sirius's forehead and began the transfiguration.
Normally, full-body transfiguration of living human beings was incredibly difficult and taxing even for masters of the art. Transfiguration of the dead, however, was no more difficult than transfiguring any other inanimate object. And luckily for all concerned, a living body put into stasis with Draught of Living Death was "dead enough" for transfiguration purposes. Ten seconds later, Potter exited the cell carrying a small red brick with the name "S. Black" stamped onto it which he deposited in the Minister's case. Across the room, Minister Fudge was transfiguring Rabastan Lestrange into a similar looking brick.
Four minutes later, bricks representing Sirius Black and all three Lestranges were stowed away in Fudge's brief case. However, it was clear that time was growing short. There were sounds of spellfire coming from outside the lift door and from above the giant pearl, while the room had grown bitterly cold from the presence of what was likely an army of angry Dementors on the floor below. Fudge took a moment to pass out the three "Pepper-Up Potions" which were actually disguised Calming Draughts that would aid in resisting the Dementors' effects. Then, Fudge and Potter converged outside the cell of the last prisoner they would have time for today.
"Are you absolutely sure we need him?" Fudge asked.
"I hate to say it, but other than Sirius, he's probably the one we need most."
Fudge frowned but then gestured for Potter to open the door. Then, he went inside and stunned the unconscious man two more times for good measure.
"Is that really necessary?" asked Proudfoot anxiously.
"Yes," Fudge replied tersely. He knelt and fed a few drops of the Draught of Living Death to the prisoner before casting a diagnostic spell. His eyes widened slightly, and then he poured more of the elixir down before casting the spell again. "Shit!"
"What?" Potter asked urgently.
"It's not working. He still has residual brain function despite being under Draught of Living Death."
"That's Rookwood," Fudge hissed. Then, he sighed in frustration. "We won't be able to transfigure him. Can the portkey handle his additional weight?"
Potter hesitated. "It should, but there will be little room for error. It is an experimental portkey after all."
Fudge nodded and then waved his wand all over the unconscious Augustus Rookwood. Instantly, his prison garb was transfigured into a heavy straightjacket that bound his arms tightly. With another wand-wave, the prisoner's food tray wrapped itself around his head and transformed into a heavy iron mask that both blocked Rookwood's vision and prevented any sort of speech.
"Is he really this dangerous?" Proudfoot asked nervously.
"Other than the Dark Lord," Fudge hissed angrily, "there is only one man alive I fear. And against my better judgment, I am about to free him from prison!"
Meanwhile, Potter had retrieved Fudge's briefcase and removed a parchment from within. He placed it on the floor of Rookwood's cell and then cast an overpowered Finite at it. Instantly, it resumed its true form: a large area rug within which a number of runes had been woven, runes that George Weasley would have recognized at once. He then laid the briefcase in the center of it and transfigured it into a steamer trunk into which the unconscious and bound Rookwood was unceremoniously dumped.
"We'll leave from in here. It's farthest away from the lift and there's an empty cell on each side. Less chance of anyone getting hurt, whether auror or prisoner."
"Your concern for convicted murderers is touching," said Fudge. "But are we quite certain we don't want to eliminate the other Death Eaters now while we have the chance? Better that than face them in battle later."
"Oi!" exclaimed Proudfoot. "I didn't sign up for mass murder."
Potter hesitated for an uncomfortably long time. "Agreed," he finally said.
"Hmmph," snorted Fudge. "Life in Australia has made you soft, Potter."
"Yeah," the other man replied. "And life with my cousin has made you hard, Fudge. Now everyone aboard the carpet. Proudfoot, hold onto the trunk and keep it from sliding around. I'm ... not exactly sure what that will do to the carpet ... or us."
"Hang on," the Minister interrupted. "I need to get the pearl."
"Are you mental?!" Proudfoot exclaimed. "The aurors and Dementors will get in if you do that!"
"If this experimental portkey upon whom we've staked our freedom, reputations, and lives can't get us out of here fast enough to evade Dementors, then we were always doomed anyway. Meanwhile, the pearl is not only a priceless art object for which I paid 200,000 galleons, it's also something that can be traced back to me if it falls into the DMLE's hands!"
And with that, Fudge fired off a Finite and an Accio in quick succession. The pearl shrank back to its normal size and then flew into Fudge's hand. Instantly, the temperature plunged as a horde of furious Dementors poured into the room like a black storm cloud full of cruelty and hate. Despite himself, Proudfoot screamed in terror.
"NOW!" Fudge yelled.
"CUE DRAMATIC ESCAPE!"Potter shouted to activate the portkey. The nearest Dementor was less than a foot away when suddenly there was a sizzle of electricity, a strong smell of brimstone, and a blinding flash of light. And from the deck of Seabase Acheron, the aurors who were mustered on deck and preparing to send reinforcements looked up in astonishment as a massive explosion shook Azkaban Tower and blew a huge gaping hole in the exterior wall right where the Maximum Security Level should be.
From a letter dated 24 July 1993
(8 days earlier)
As you claimed, the modified Polyjuice Potion you provided lasts for roughly three times the normal length and is completely resistant to Thief's Downfall. However, the total duration of the transformation effect is inconsistent, and I would not rely on it for more than 150 minutes. More importantly, when the effect ends, the drinker will be overcome by violent nausea that lasts for nearly a day. In the immediate aftermath (roughly the first fifteen minutes after termination of effect), the sickness is so severe that spellcasting is impaired. I absolutely would not risk Apparation while under the side effects. Luckily, I know a portkey artificer who would be willing to provide us with conventional portkeys and even submit to Obliviation if the price is right.
"My Lady," the house elf Hoskins said with appropriate pomp and circumstance, "your guests have arrived."
Momentarily, three exhausted figures, two of whom seemed quite sick, entered the study where Augusta and Harry waited. The trip had been arduous due to the understandable paranoia of the travelers – they had taken a total of three portkeys (in addition to the experimental one that had enabled their escape from Azkaban .. and that had later started a small fire in the Galloway Forest upon its arrival there) on a circuitous path around the British Isles, pausing at each new portkey site to carefully erase any magical evidence of their passage. They had also paused for fifteen long minutes to transfigure their clothing into something less conspicuous and, in the case of "Fudge" and "Proudfoot," to allow the effects of their modified Polyjuice Potions to wear off. There had been much vomiting involved.
"Success, gentlemen?" Augusta asked without looking up from her solitaire. Harry was less relaxed and actually shot up out of his chair when Regulus, Lucius Malfoy, and a green-looking Marcus Flint burst into the room, with a large steamer trunk floating close behind. Flint, in particular, looked like respect for the expense of the Longbottom carpets was all that kept him from getting sick once again.
"Qualified success, m'lady," Lucius said in a shaky but dignified voice. "Rookwood is ... contained, but not as completely as the others. I believe you indicated that you had a suitable storage place if that became an issue?"
She nodded. "Hoskins, show our guests and their ... luggage to the dungeon."
"There's ... a dungeon here, Lady Augusta?" Harry asked in surprise. Actually imprisoning the retrieved Death Eaters had not been part of the plan.
"The foundations of the manor date back to the original Longbottom Keep which was built in the 7th century. The first Lord Longbottom was, well, a bit of a blood-thirsty warlord by modern standards, but probably no more so than the rest of the old Wizards Council. I suppose the dungeons have been kept intact all this time because his heirs wanted a reminder of how civilized they've become. Or perhaps they were just concerned that civility might not always last and it was best to be prepared for future barbarism."
From a nearby padded chair, Marcus downed a Stomach Soother Potion and then sipped gently from a snifter of brandy that Harry had handed him.
"I still can't believe you talked me into this," he said to Harry almost reproachfully.
"Was it that bad?" Harry asked.
"Bloody Dementors were almost close enough to touch me because Lord Malfoy had to reclaim his special magic pearl!" Marcus shook his head. "No offense, Lady Longbottom, but I surely wish Neville could have come with us. We could have used his Patronus."
"I had two ironclad conditions before I agreed to participate in this mad scheme," Augusta said, returning to her solitaire as if nothing had changed. "One was that Neville would have nothing to do with this and would never even know about our role in it."
Marcus nodded. "And the other one?" he asked out of curiosity.
"That none of the Lestranges leave here alive," she said as if discussing the weather. Marcus gulped and then returned to his brandy.
Moments later, Regulus and Lucius returned from the dungeon.
"Rookwood is stored safely away," Reg said. "He's bound in chains and a straight jacket, gagged, blindfolded, and under Living Death. Plus, just in case he has any awareness of his situation, his mask is Charmed to sing a song called 'Tip Toe Through the Tulips' on a continuous loop. If that's not enough to keep him from being a problem, then we might as well give up now."
"And on that note," Lucius said. "I must depart for home. Draco returns tomorrow from his visit with his little Muggleborn friend." He paused and then let out a soft laugh. "Which is something I could not have possibly ever saying imagined a year ago."
"So what's next?" Marcus asked blearily.
"We take a few days off to recuperate," Regulus answered. "Make sure there's no fallout from the jailbreak that might change our plans. Then, we'll meet up with the Legilimens Harry has recommended. If he's up to snuff and will agree to the necessary oaths, we can hopefully start interrogating the Death Eaters by the end of the week."
"There will be no fallout," Lucius said confidently. "The hard part is over. I expect everything to go smoothly from here on out."
1 August 1993
From the front page of the Daily Prophet
!DEATH EATERS ESCAPE FROM AZKABAN!
SIRIUS BLACK! BELLATRIX LESTRANGE!
THE LESTRANGE BROTHERS! AUGUSTUS ROOKWOOD!
YOU-KNOW-WHO'S ENTIRE INNER CIRCLE!
WHO WILL SAVE US FROM THE DEATH EATER MENACE?
3 August 1993
From the front page of the Daily Prophet
WIZENGAMOT TO ENTER EMERGENCY SESSION!
MINISTER FUDGE TO DEMAND REINSTATEMENT OF DEATH EATER LAWS!
CALLS FOR NEW AUTHORITY TO DEAL WITH DEATH EATER MENACE!
5 August 1993
From the front page of the Daily Prophet
FUDGE UNVEILS CONTROVERSIAL NEW PLAN!
WILL USE DEMENTORS TO GUARD HOGWARTS AGAINST
DEATH EATER MENACE!
5 August 1993
Lucius Malfoy sighed as he reviewed the days headlines. "Well, for some definitions of 'smoothly,' I suppose.
Next chapter (title TBA) sometime around May 15.
AN 1: I'm going to experiment with shorter chapters for a while to see if I can get back on a regular routine. I'm thinking one more chapter before the Hogwarts Express.
AN 2:The part of Warden Stark will be played by Brian Cox (Col. Stryker from X-Men 2).
AN 3: Updated 5/2/17. Just an FYI, I've fixed all the references to Nemesis the Owl I could find. I also corrected a few mistakes in "Three Princes" and also retconned a minot point - Voldemort gave the Diary to Abraxas Malfoy instead of Narcissa, which explains why Narcissa never attempted to use it to resurrect Voldie. I also finally corrected that stupid mistake about Lockhart's pensieve in "Investigations into Dark Matters."
AN 4: In response to comments from Nick 450, I have tweaked the Dementor "dialogue" to make it more ... Dementorish.