Harry stared at the ceiling.
He had no idea of the time – his fault, he supposed, since the pocketwatch lay in pieces on the stone floor. The others were asleep, but not a peaceful sleep. Every so often, soft whimpers would come from each of his friends, signs that the depression of Azkaban had followed them into dreamland.
Harry reached inside for the rage, the feeling of wild passion that felt like a demon moved inside him. The rage would keep him company. The rage would sooth him.
But more than that, he was hungry. All the muscle mass he had acquired demanded a lot of food – full meals, many snacks, calorie-laden drinks gulped down in ravenous hunger. And the prison was determined to starve him.
Another thing that was Snape's fault. Snape had made him change and now Harry would have to suffer hunger along with despair.
He clenched his hand into fists. This was intolerable. He couldn't submit to the oppression of Azkaban. He would remain strong.
Harry turned on his side to stare out the bars. How long would he be here? He could break his sentence up into small, manageable pieces. He used to do that during the brutal workout sessions; he had gritted his teeth and forced himself to do one more pull-up or sit-up, five more seconds of sprinting, ten more seconds of unbearable pain.
15 years. That was how many days, how many hours? Anyone could make it through an hour. 15 times about 360 to make the math easier. Simplify the numbers down to multiply them, so 10 times 36 was 360 and half of that was 180 so 540 days. Times the days by 24 to get to the hours – uh, 10,800 plus a little over 2,000, let's say 13,000 hours. That was a lot, but he could managed 13,000 hours – he had already done 10.
No, wait – Harry blinked – he had dropped a zero in the first equation. That meant it was really 130,000 hours.
The terror of that thought froze Harry. He would be stuck in this hell for that many hours, countless seconds of imprisonment, alone, numb, hungry, abandoned.
He sat up. He could feel the power taking over, stronger and stronger.
Calm down, calm down, just breathe for one second.
He looked down at his shaking hands.
If he could just have a little food – a scrap of bread with a slice of cheese and then a hunk of the roast that the house elves at the manor liked to fix for lunch or a late tea when Harry had been out flying. Just a small sandwich, a tiny taste of –
Harry froze as he watched particles swarm into his hands. Something was forming in his hands, over the rough skin and callouses.
A Dementor slammed against the window, shaking the bars.
Harry jumped, and the Dementor bashed again, but it couldn't get in. Could it sense his magic?
He looked back at his hands. A sandwich had formed, its warmth pressing against his fingers.
The Dementor hovered, but Harry lifted the sandwich up for inspection. It looked like food, and it smelled like it, too.
He closed his eyes and let the despair press at him again. The Dementor was pushing against the window, doing its best to depress the mood and chill the air. Harry felt the despair prickle at him and for a minute he was tempted to toss the food away and sink back on the bed in sobs.
He should toss it away. He should just give in and follow the rules and let himself starve. It would be a fitting way to go, thin and starved, just a bag of bones. He deserved to die after so much trouble he had caused. That would make Snape sorry.
Snape would come into the cell and see Harry's lifeless body and blank eyes and then he would feel awful. Snape would live the rest of his life in misery and regret.
Harry lifted his arm to chuck the sandwich out of reach. Then he paused.
No, suicide was not the way. If he committed suicide, he wouldn't be there to see Snape's reaction. And where was the pleasure in that?
Harry took a vicious bite out of the sandwich, smirking at the fuss the Dementor was making outside. He wasn't going to go quietly – not after everything Snape had put him through.
No, he wouldn't die.
He would go crazy.
As he ate the sandwich, the idea grew stronger and more attractive. This was the place to embrace insanity and do stuff that he wasn't allowed to do.
The few times he had acted out were the bright spots of his life – the times he lost his temper and shouted, the times he let his magic go, that one glorious time Snape let him unleash his rage on the dining room and smash everything to bits.
He was Harry effing Potter and he could go crazy better than everyone else. Azkaban couldn't stop his magic – such weak and puny charms to control the prisoners – and it couldn't stop him from embracing madness. And he wouldn't let anyone know.
The morning light was coming in, turning their cell into an eerie grey that wasn't dark nor light, but a weird glow in between.
Harry watched the light grow, and eventually sunlight shone through the one window, the bars making rectangles of light on the stones. Of the five bars, the middle one was slightly crooked, bowing out to the left, just slightly, but enough to offset the symmetry of the others.
Harry looked away. He did not understand why the crookedness bothered him. He had thought the impulse for precision should have been quashed after living his childhood with Aunt Petunia who needed everything straight and proper. Certainly, life at Hogwarts sprawled in crooked corners, angled staircases, chaos of moving pictures, and general unevenness with kooky characters and goofy creatures.
The only other person who needed precision was –
Harry broke off the thought, but already images of Snape and the manor had risen in his mind. The potions closet with jars and vials set half an inch apart from each other, an inch from the edge of the shelves. The ordered precision of furniture and wall décor in each room. Even the secret lab past the sleeping plants had an order to it despite the cacophony of papers, books, and images.
Snape liked order and meticulousness – every time he set a parchment and quill in front of Harry the items were straight. Harry had shrugged it off as Snape being Snape, Snape needing control, Snape being in charge.
Harry stared at the patch of sunlight.
Enjoy the chaos, he told himself. You can't go mad if you keep things in order. All the bars should be crooked.
Eventually, the others woke. They groaned softly as they came to, Draco muttering, "Nothing but nightmares."
"I was being chased most of the night," Ginny admitted. "Ron, what about you?"
Ron gave a low growl as he swung his legs out of bed.
"Are you speaking to us?" Harry asked in Ron's direction.
"Who else can I talk to?" Ron growled as he stomped to the faucet. "But rest assured I have nothing but hatred for all of you. You, my ex-best friend, my traitorous sister, and old One Eye over there."
"What did I do?" Draco asked.
"You exist. And if you had lost the other eye, they'd have put you in St. Mungo's where we'd be rid of you."
"You want me blind?"
"I want you to shut up!" Ron turned the water full blast to drown out anything else Draco might have said.
But as it turned out, the sound of water afforded them all a little privacy each to use the toilet behind the nook, to get dressed, and to brush their teeth. Harry followed suit and turned his faucet on, careful not to watch Ginny as she tried to dress behind her nook.
That was something Ginny had given up when taking Hermione's place – the comfort of privacy, not even having another girl to sympathize with. Girls' bodies were different, Harry reflected, with a flush of his cheeks. They needed things and other stuff and what if she didn't get any privacy in the showers and she had to have hygienic items and they humiliated her by denying them?
The bars were shaking before Harry realized how upset he was at the prospect of Ginny being humiliated. He sat down, fully dressed, and stared down at his hands. Even if he could broach the subject with her, what could he possibly promise? He had no way to bargain better treatment for her, no means of navigating a system where he could act as the protector, her hero, anything other than a fellow wretched prisoner.
The clothes were gray: a gray shirt, gray trousers, a gray sweater, gray socks, and gray socks. They were all too big, hanging off Ginny's shoulders and sliding down Draco's hips as they tried to tug the clothing into place.
Finberg came in, looking especially gleeful. "Good morning, children. Rested are we? Breakfast will be up shortly. Then it's kitchen duty for you two," he pointed at Ron and Draco, "and floor scrubbing for you," his gaze settled on Ginny. "Funny, I thought you had darker hair, not that ugly red mop."
"It changes in the light," she looked away. "I'm sure it will look different on the front of the papers."
"I don't read the papers," Finberg scoffed. "Bunch of nonsense. Chores for you three and then showers. This afternoon you'll get some yard time. But you, our special guest," he grinned at Harry, "you can rot alone."
Finberg looked around, as if waiting for someone to challenge him. No one did so he swept out with a sneer.
Breakfast was served by two prisoners whose grey hair and grey expression sent a thrill of horror through Harry as he watched them trudge in and leave trays of food in front of Ginny, Ron, and Draco.
One of the prisoners looked at Harry. "This is for you." He pulled a dead rat out of his pocket and chucked it inside Harry's cell.
"You can't starve him," Ginny protested. "We're here to serve prison sentences, not to be starved to death."
"Fine, no food for you either," the prisoner reached down for Ginny's tray.
"No," Harry leaned against his own bars, "no, don't. I'm not hungry. Let her eat. If I get hungry, I'll eat the rat." He stooped and picked it, trying to ignore how awful and damp it felt in his hands, fur clammy and body stiff.
The prisoners glared, but they trudged out, shutting the door behind them.
"Don't stick up for me," Harry dropped the rat and went to wash his hands. "They'll just use it against you."
Ginny hesitated, worry creasing her freckled forehead. "I – I did promise Snape I would look out for you. I'm supposed to take care of you because –"
A roar of anger came from Ron, followed by a sharp, "Shut up! Just shut up!" as Ron grabbed his own tray of food and attacked it.
Ginny tried to give Harry part of her food, but he declined, declaring that he felt sick after touching the rat. He lay on his bed, listening to them eat, and when Finberg returned to collect them, Harry pretended to have fallen asleep.
Once they were gone, Harry got up and paced around, debating how to use his alone time. He played around with creating breakfast, but his attempts at making porridge – rich and creamy the way it had been at the manor – failed and left him with a handful of gooey mush. He dropped that into the toilet and went back to work, closing his eyes and concentrating on the taste of something delicious, something cool and satisfying. When he opened his eyes, he found himself holding a large serving of chocolate pudding between his two hands, the coldness seeping into his fingers.
Lacking a spoon and a plate, he begin licking the pudding up, slurping like an animal. He supposed he could try to pull together a plate or bowl, but he didn't know what do with those items after he was done. Extra food could be flushed away, but he had no idea how to get rid of a plate other than smashing it to bits. His newfound powers might work in reverse, but … Harry suddenly had the vision of wishing a plate in his hands away and accidentally disintegrating his fingers. Ugh, scary. Eating with his hands would suffice.
After he finished and washed his hands, he debated his next course of action. Going mad was first and foremost on his list, but he had to approach that slowly, to let it burn up moments of darkness and despair. The feeling of oppression hung in the air, thanks to the Dementors outside, but even Harry knew that he couldn't manage going completely insane in one day. People had to take their time, to allow their quirks to grow weirder, scarier, more threatening, until moments of wild madness became inevitable and everyone freaked out.
The longer he stayed in the room alone, the more he realized how little solitary time he had had in the last six months. Even in the manor over the summer he had never felt alone. Snape was there and overbearing of course, but the house elves had checked up on him frequently and there were chores and lessons to occupy his time.
He supposed he could read if he could get his hands on a book, but guessing that Finberg was less likely to provide reading materials than he was providing food, Harry abandoned that idea as well.
He did a round of exercises, stopping after every two dozen reps to listen for the sounds of his friends coming back. The door stayed shut.
He managed to create a few rolls to eat and he tried butter to go with them, but the butter was off, closer to thick paste than the fluffy spread he had eaten at Snapdragon Manor. At one point, he put the dead rat and broken pieces of the pocketwatch under the bed.
If he had a brush, he would have scrubbed the floor, just to give himself something to do.
The sunlight on the floor moved slowly and then disappeared as noon approached. Harry tried to pace, but he couldn't manage more than seven full steps in any direction. If he only had access to the whole room –
He hesitated with his hands on the bars. His friends could be back at any time, and if Finberg was with them, there would be trouble. He wasn't supposed to be able to do magic in Azkaban, but they hadn't noticed so far . . .
Harry backed up from the bars. Maybe later, once he had given into madness and could blame it on a bout of insanity.
He didn't actually realize what he was creating, but sheets of parchment began forming on his bed. Harry picked them cautiously, flipping them, but seeing nothing odd on the front or back, he set them on the stone floor and sat down beside them.
So he could write. Already a quill was appearing beside the paper. But write what? Hermione was the one who liked writing. Hermione could fill up pages with lists or essays or ideas, taking pleasure in the order and rule-setting that the written word afforded. She loved concreteness of writing; she had looked immensely satisfied when rules had been posted around Hogwarts. Harry had a suspicion that Hermione had actually liked Delores Umbridge and her penchant for rules, at least in the beginning. Hermione did care about people, but it rivaled her need for knowledge and order.
Strange that she had fallen in love with Ron who existed in the sloppiness betweenness of life, never quite brilliant or stupid, not lazy or proactive. Balancing each other out.
But she abandoned them, choosing freedom over love. Selfish, just like Snape.
Harry picked up the quill; he supposed he could move it with magic, but writing manually would take up more time. And he knew exactly who he would write to.
He smirked at the meanness of his opening, the need to be horrid from the very start.
I am writing only to tell you what an utter failure you are. I don't have enough paper to describe all your areas of failure so let me start with a short list. You like lists. I've grown to like them too. Let me describe to you all the ways in which I find you lacking.
1. Your one job was to keep me safe. You failed at that. Even if I ignore the whole trial nonsense, you took my scar so you could defeat Voldemort. It turned out you couldn't. All those days of planning and preparing, and you got scattered in the first few minutes of confrontation. How does it feel to walk around so powerless?
2. You are a horrible teacher. I learned ways to get around you, to trick and manipulate you, to hurt you. I had to, you were just so pathetic in your attempts to control me. How small and useless you must feel.
3. My father was right to bully you. You asked for it, hanging around, wanting to have friends. It's so pitiful it makes me sick. You've always wanted to be more, to be better than what you were, but you'll always be the ugly kid without any friends until the end.
He paused to adjust his glasses and realized that he was crying.
Not the animalistic rage like last night, but tears born of betrayal and hurt. He hurt and he wanted Snape to hurt just as much as him.
He looked at the list. It was full of vitriol and made little logical sense in its progression, but he didn't care. He just wanted to put down all those awful, hateful things, and he couldn't bother with being coherent, not now. Snape needed to feel pain, to understand the despair so alive in Harry that it must be ignited in someone else.
He went back to writing, and the longed he worked, the more he pictured the stark agony on Snape's face as the man would read the letter. With each new line, Snape's eyes would widen and his mouth would drop slightly open, his distress growing with each fresh insult.
Harry listed his failures with gleeful malice, ignoring the tears that continued to well up and fall sullenly. Snape had never been wanted by his parents, Snape was incapable of love, Snape wasn't a good Deatheaster or a good spy, Snape had set up a whole lab to study Harry and couldn't figure out any of his results, Snape was ugly, he was stupid, his house was stupid, Harry hoped it burnt to the ground.
The longer he wrote, the more incoherent his words became. He would start with an insult that turned into a threat that faded into rambling: You'll never find anyone to love you because you are worthless and I'm going to destroy you because of it because I don't care and I never have and you knew I knew I never did though you never, ever did!
At one point, his tears blinded him so much that he had to stop and sob for a few seconds, his own cries pitiful and disgusting to his ears, before picking up the quill again. The ink stayed steady as he wrote, but changed from blue to red and even black depending on his rage and despair.
Outside, the Dementor breezed back and forth in contentment.
He had filled up four pages when he couldn't stand it a second longer. He stuffed the paper and quill under his mattress and collapsed on the bed, sick with emotion and horribly lonely. Where were his friends?
He must have fallen asleep because the door opening jolted him awake, and he saw Ron, Draco, and Ginny drag themselves in and each get locked up. Their hair showed damp streaks, but they looked clean so they must have ended with a shower.
Once their escorts left, Harry sat up. "Where have you been? It's been hours."
"Shut up," Ron growled as he sprawled on his bed.
"I agree," Draco fell back as well.
"Hours of chores," Ginny leaned against the wall and sank down on the floor, resting her forehead against one bar of her cell. "Floor after floor to scrub."
"Thousands of dishes to wash," Draco stared up at the ceiling. "They haven't washed up for weeks. Food gets delivered, but no one cleans up. They save that for the new blood. My hands are raw."
"They let us eat," Ginny went on, her face blank, "then back to work. When I couldn't lean over anymore, they took us to the yard."
"It's not really a yard," Draco said. "It's part of the roof under about fifteen Dementors. We had to walk around for exercise. A big circle, round and round, just keep going."
"I was numb by then," Ginny said. "I couldn't even think. They let us stop when Ron started crying."
"Shut up!" Ron snapped at her.
She turned big, tragic eyes on him. "I wanted to cry, I did. But I couldn't remember how. I kept moving, like I was under the Imperious Curse or something just as awful. Are they cursing us?"
"No curse," Draco told her. "It's just the Dementors. They take all your emotions, but they feed on your despair. That's why people waste away here."
"I'm sorry," Harry mumbled, as a loss for what else to say. His hours of loneliness seemed pale in comparison to their drudgery, but he felt raw for having to swallow his own suffering. Maybe he could make a list about them, too . . .
"It wasn't over then," Ginny went on. "They took us to the showers and sprayed us with cold water. I couldn't breathe at one point. Snape told me it would be hard, but I had no idea."
"It's just the beginning," Draco said, sounding as if he were trying to convince himself. "It's always rough in the beginning. They get a rise out of tormenting us. Don't respond – just take it, and eventually they will lose interest."
Ginny nodded, looking as if she wanted to believe him.
"That's why I used to go after all of you," Draco went on. "With Crabbe and Goyle, I mean. You fought back and it's always fun to rile someone up. When you reacted, it made it all worth it."
"I have never been so happy to remember that you lost an eye," Ron said. "I have this scar across my face, but you are half-blinded."
"I was only trying to point out –"
No one spoke much after that. Despair fell over the room as they all took to their beds despite the sun barely setting. It couldn't be much later than 5 o'clock, Harry thought, but he saw no reason to mention it.
The depression of the Dementors took away the need to talk, Harry realized the longer they sat in stark silence. To stay silent, to be alone in your own head, to be near to other people but not wanting to talk – that was the real agony.
Food came later, and this time Harry got toast, browned and hard as a rock. He nibbled at it while the others groaned and slouched towards the food, stuffing it in their mouths as quickly as they could without choking.
Harry leaned against the bars toward Ginny. "Hey," he whispered, "talk to me."
She looked up, and in that moment, he was struck by how beautiful she was, even in her exhaustion. Her eyes were endless pits of feeling, her mouth had a thousand expressions, her skin so pretty – he just wanted to touch her, to feel not alone.
"I'm sorry," she said. "Not tonight. I promise tomorrow I'll try. But tonight, I just can't. I know you were here all alone, but I can't feel sorry for you right now."
The need to connection with her disappeared in a hot way of resentment and anger. He needed to hurt her, too.
"No one asked you here," Harry hissed, gripping the bars. "You came because you were angry at being left behind before. We left you behind because you serve no purpose. You aren't worth anything to us."
Something hit the side of his head. Staggering back at the sharp pain, he looked down to see a spoon on the ground. Ron was against his own bars, clenching his empty plate and knife.
"You say another word to my sister and I'll sent the knife over next. I will spend every spare seconds trying to hurt you - I don't care if you spent the next fifteen years in the infirmary here. You leave Ginny alone."
Harry didn't speak.
Ron shoved his plate and utensil out on the empty tray before retreating to his bed.
Draco and Ginny also went to bed.
Harry was left alone with the thought that Ron was most the noble person in Azkaban and he, the hero of the Wizarding world, was the most contemptible.
The next morning was even worse after a long night of restless sleep and plaguing nightmares. Finberg came to collect the other three, and Harry was left alone again.
He made food and ate, trying to decide if he were getting better or worse at creating breakfast from nothing.
He thought about writing, about spewing more hatred, but instead he stare up at the stones and the window, trying to ignore the crooked bar.
But the bar wouldn't be ignored.
He got off the bed and went to the barred door of his cell. He just thought about the lock turning and it did.
In the space between the cells, Harry went up to the bars. He could see some of the sea and sky beyond the glass, but his intent was to straighten the bar.
He put his hands on it.
A Dementor flew up to the window, agitated.
With a smirk, Harry whispered, "Expecto Patronus" and sent a bolt of light towards the dark, hulking creature.
It whirled back with a screech.
"Come get me," he grinned. "Come on, you ugly rotters. Take on the great Harry Potter."
Another bolt, and another, and the Dementor reared back. Several other Dementors showed up, but they backed away.
Satisfied, Harry straightened the bar with his hands and a little magic.
Then he heard footsteps.
He barely had time to get back to his cell and lock himself in before Finberg burst in, flanked by two burly prisoners that Harry hadn't seen before. The man on the right carried chains. The one on the left had a large closed box.
"The Dementors reported magically use against them," Finberg said.
"Just now?" Harry hedged. Maybe the Dementors could only sense magic when it was used against them.
"Yes, they indicated that it came from this cell. Did you use magic?"
"I thought magic use was suppressed here, like it doesn't work?" Harry hazarded.
"There are wards here," Finberg's eyes were glittering with malice. "But sometimes, in their despair, prisoners release more magic than the wards can suppress. It doesn't happen often."
"Because the wards are so powerful," Harry nodded. The more information he learned about Azkaban, the better; it might come in handy later.
"Yes, the wards do win. But we also punish prisoners for rebellion. A good reminder in case you can't control yourself."
"I'm sorry. It was an accident," Harry lied. What did it matter anyway? Anything to appease Finberg. "I was so hungry and uh – lonely."
"You'll be getting food tonight," Finberg said as if he were bestowing a precious gift. "But for now, you'll be punished."'
"I'm ready to do chores. I'll work without complaint."
"Ha," Finberg smirked, and Harry wanted nothing more than to send a wave of painful magic right at his face. "It's more than that. Hands out for the manacles."
Finberg opened the door, warning, "If you attempt to resist, Branes will toss a controlling potion over you. It works like the Imperious Curse and we'll control you then. If I feel the smallest bit of magic –"
"No, no magic," Harry put his hands out.
"Jibb has the only key to chains," Finberg nodded to the man on the right. "If he lose it, you'll spend the rest of your stay dragging around iron chains."
"I understand." Harry held still as Jibb grabbed his arm and fitted the metal cuff over his wrist and locked it with a small gold key. The same happened with his other arm, and then Jibb pulled the chains and Harry followed obediently.
The four of them went out and headed for the stairs.
Azkaban's version of the Great Staircase was morose as ever though it was slightly easier going down the stairs instead of going up. The Dementors hovering at the top stopped moving and trained their empty black hoods on Harry as he was taken down the numerous stairs to the bottom.
"In a moment, all the prisoners will be released so they can come watch your punishment," Finberg said.
"Aren't you worried about a riot?" Harry asked. They had reached the bottom of the stairs and Jibb pulled him towards a metal stand with hooks about nine feet overhead.
"They can riot all they like," Finberg shrugged. "There's nowhere to go. The wards prevent Apparating, and until you can swim fourteen miles while avoiding Dementors . . . well, prisoners are welcomed to try. Riots ten to stop when their food stops coming and the Dementors are allowed in their cells."
Jibb pulled a ladder over and he went to attach the end of the chains at the top.
The sound of doors unlocking and footsteps came from every floor above. Harry looked up fearfully and then back at Finberg, too afraid to ask what his punishment would be.
"Normally, we punish with a bullwhip or a cane," Finberg went to Branes and opened the box. "But you're under-age so I'm going to use a strap."
The box held various items, but next to the subduing potion lay a long, wide leather strap. Finberg took it out and rang his hand over it lovingly.
"I'll let you keep your shorts on. You're allowed to scream as much as you like, but keep your voice. At the end, you will thank me for punishing you or I will just keep going."
"But –" Harry's arms were jerked up, cutting off his protests. He was so stretched out he had to get on tiptoes to get any slack in the chains
Jibb came down the ladder and removed a pair of thick iron scissors from the box. He grabbed a handful of Harry's hair to force his head down and slid the scissors against his neck, hacking through the back collar of Harry's shirt. Jibb cut the clothes off him, leaving him quivering in skimpy shorts.
Harry looked up.
All around the balconies of the floor, prisoners had gathered. They were all looking down, some cheering, some impassive, some sad. Harry thought he saw Lucius Malfoy up at the top, but he couldn't be sure.
Looking down, he saw Ron, Draco, and Ginny come in from a side door, goaded on by other prisoners. Ginny held a pail of dirty water and a scrub brush, but her lips were trembling as she watched him. Ron stared at him dully, and Draco leaned back against the stone wall in fatigue.
"Let's begin," Finberg turned to the waiting audience.