3. With the Dementors.
Over the next several weeks, the Dementors would come to her cell regularly. They would feed on her, but never an entire group at once. One or two of them would come into her cell, and they'd take the thoughts she sent to the surface. She'd agreed readily to the arrangement when the first Dementor suggested it. She learned to control her thoughts pretty well, and most of the Dementors would be careful in what they took. There were two who were not so kind, who disliked her even though she was polite and respectful towards them. They pulled memories from deep inside, from her childhood years and her days at Hogwarts, frequently leaving her shaking and crying. But the others took only what she offered freely, and the damage was not permanent. She had plenty of time to recover before the two harsh ones –she knew their images too, from the first Dementor and his sister- would return.
Not that it was pleasant. The longer she was here, the more appalled she was by the conditions. The food was terrible, bland grains or beans cooked to a mush. There was only water to drink, from a bucket, without even a cup. It was always cold, even when no Dementors were near, and the straw mattress and thin blanket provided little comfort. And there were bugs. She didn't even care much about the roaches but the mattress and blanket were infested with lice and other vermin. Soon she was too, there was no way not to use the bedding, as cold as the cell was. She asked the Dementors but they had neither cleaner bedding nor any potions to use against the infestation.
She was taken out of her cell to a shower stall once a week, and soon developed the habit of washing her clothes and blanket on alternate weeks. In the cold cell, it took them a full day to dry so she couldn't wash them both at once, but she wrapped herself in the blanket while her clothes dried. There was no one to see her. She had no way to clean the mattress but it helped a little.
She had hoped that Professor Dumbledore would hear about her predicament, and would be able to do something, but the longer she was here, the more her hope diminished, and it had nothing to do with the Dementors' feeding. Dumbledore and the Minister had been at odds for years. Apparently he could not do anything or she would've heard something by now. Security had tightened after the escapes of Sirius, Crouch and the entire group of Death Eaters.
She'd asked the Dementor about them, only Sirius had truly fooled them, they knew little to nothing about Animagi. They'd done nothing to stop the Death Eaters when they knew Voldemort had returned and simply hadn't cared when Crouch's mother took his place. It was hard to believe the Aurors thought the Dementors hadn't noticed; a new person's thoughts were very different from anyone who'd been here for years, even if they were ill and depressed. But they'd simply gone along, satisfied with the fresh mind to feed on and not at all eager to help the Aurors, especially not when doing so meant exposing the extend of their own abilities.
So the Aurors had taken their own measures, and no one was allowed to visit, nor were prisoners allowed to receive mail. Yet for a while she'd still hoped that Professor Dumbledore would somehow be able to get through to her. As time passed, she realized it would not happen. And if he could not even contact her, how could he possibly get her released?
Most of the Dementors would speak with her. At first she'd asked them about the outside world, curious about current events in the Wizarding and Muggle world alike, but she soon learned they knew very little about either. They had no contact with anyone but the Aurors, and, understandably, cared little for a world that did not care for them. They knew even less about the Muggle world, they didn't even know there'd been a war on. So instead she told them about the Muggles when they asked, recalled events from her early years and things she'd read about while she sorted through her own mind coming up with things for them to feed on, and she asked them about their culture.
She also started to learn their language. The Dementors could understand and send English, or she wouldn't have been able to talk with them in the first place, but their own language was more like the images which formed their names. Mental pictures, concepts, thoughts. It wasn't hard to learn any particular word or phrase, but it was difficult to understand how to string them together to form a new sentence or to tell a longer story. The entire image changed when it was used next to another one, flowing into one another in what seemed to be infinite combinations. She soon learned the Dementors, who had no books or visual script, had a rich oral –or mental- history, but she was as of yet unable to understand more than the most simple children's tales.
They no longer scared her. No matter the history of hostility between them and the humans, they were no more scary than humans could be, and far less than some. Even the name, Dementors, that humans had given them was negatively loaded, their own image for themselves would be better translated as 'Mind People'.
She never saw the other prisoners, except as shadows passing through the hall when she looked out through the tiny barred window in her door, but she heard them. Almost always someone was screaming or crying, when the Dementors fed on a prisoner, or sometimes just because of the madness. It made her uncomfortable, knowing the Dementors could select and feed as they did on her, but they saw no reason to do so on the rest. They had been ordered by the Minister to treat the Death Eaters like any of the others. After Voldemort's first reign, they'd taken some care not to cause permanent harm to those who had served him, as many believed he'd return. Even then the Dementors had hardly been gentle and not all had been able to recover fully, now there was no such respite for the imprisoned Death Eaters. The wizards saw them only as a kind of predator, they saw them only as food. For those who'd been here for a long time, it wouldn't make a difference, they were too far gone.
So she accepted the grim status quo as far as the other prisoners were concerned. For herself, she was still looking for ways to improve her situation. She talked the Dementors into giving her a second blanket, so she was no longer chilled all the time.
She'd developed a bad cold almost immediately after her arrival, and they hadn't had any Pepper-up Potion to give her. They explained the Aurors would only provide potions for the worst cases, and even then were stingy in what they supplied. She could sometimes hear other prisoners cough as well as scream, and it was a miracle there weren't more deaths. Fortunately, she got over her cold after she got the second blanket and skipped that week's laundry.
Simple personal effects like toilet paper, a toothbrush and a comb were also unavailable, but she got a second bucket of water and some rags, she picked a splinter off the rough wood of the cot to use as a tooth pick, and she disentangled her hair with her fingers. If there was one thing she had plenty of, it was time.
Even with her active mind and the Dementors' visits the days were long. She was quickly irritated and it was harder to come up with thoughts for the Dementors to feed on all the time.
One day, about three months after her arrival, when the first Dementor came to see her she gathered her courage and asked. 'Isn't there anything I can do? It won't matter what, clean the halls or the showers, something in the kitchen.'
'We're not supposed to let you out of your cell except for washing.'
She knew by now how the Ministry worked. Or just about any other authority for that matter. 'Not supposed to or is it simply never done?' People didn't make rules for things they couldn't even conceive would happen.
'I don't think they mentioned it specifically,' he admitted.
She couldn't help a smirk. 'You know I won't escape,' she stated. She had no idea where, in either world, she could go, and no desire to be hunted for the rest of her life. She couldn't go to Hogwarts, and even the Weasleys in Romania were already in enough trouble with the Wizarding world for opposing the Ministry, without the added burden of taking her in as an escaped prisoner. Sirius had managed for two years, but mostly because he'd been an Animagus. She didn't have that advantage. 'I just want to get out of this little hole.'
'I wouldn't know what you could do. No one ever cleans the halls, there's no need for them to be clean nor anything to clean with. The food's made by house-elves who'd freak if a human helped them, even a prisoner.'
'House-elves, here?' She blinked.
'We don't eat organic foods, we don't prepare them,' the Dementor explained.
Well, so much for that idea.
'Perhaps the reports,' the Dementor started. 'No, the Aurors would notice if they were done in human handwriting.'
'Reports?' she asked.
'We send a report every week, listing any supplies that have run out, serious illnesses we need potions for, any deaths. It's difficult for us to write, not being able to see and we're not used to it. Sometimes there's a blot and they send it back saying it's unreadable.'
A Muggle pen or even a typewriter would make it much easier, and what about a quick quote quill, could it made to respond to the Dementors' sending? But she didn't even mention that in the forefront of her thoughts. Why would the Aurors do anything to accommodate them? 'I could look it over and check if it's legible before you send it out. Or I could probably fake your handwriting, minus the blots of course. Copying someone's handwriting is pretty easy, not in the smallest detail but I doubt they check closely.' She snorted.
'I'll come get you when I write the next report,' he promised.
'Thank you,' she replied.. The Dementors didn't have a true command structure, but he was one of the few who dealt directly with the Aurors, which meant he could pretty much make decisions about anything within the building without having to ask permission.
So two days later he took her to the office. It was orderly, as it would have to be where the Dementors handled written materials. A few regular quills lay on the desk, next to an ink jar.
The Dementor sat at the desk and took out a piece of parchment and a quill. Writing was indeed difficult, the letters were thick as he dipped the quill in the ink more frequently than needed, and he had a hard time finding the exact place where he'd left off each time he had to remove the pen from the paper to dip it into the jar. All things a simple Muggle pen would fix, but they weren't likely to get one. The text also sloped downward on the right, as with someone used only to writing on lined paper.
'If I tell you what you're doing, you could probably fix it quickly enough,' she observed. It'd be somewhat difficult but the Dementors were used to being blind, he'd pick up quickly enough as long as there was someone to direct him.
He considered it for a moment. 'Rather just stick to checking it for legibility. They'd know someone with human eyesight was involved otherwise.'
'Al right,' she agreed. The report was very brief, as they had few enough items which could get depleted, apart from the food.
Afterwards, the Dementor led her back to the cell. It hadn't been much but she was still glad for the diversion.
The next week she did the writing, making sure it didn't look too much better, but was still legible. There was no temptation to request any additional items. The Dementors had told her the Aurors were stingy enough with those things they really needed, and anything requested too often would receive comment. As if there was any way to make do with less than they already had.
Returning, the Dementor allowed her to stop by the showers, even though it wasn't her usual day.
'I'd let you go by yourself,' he said when she was done and they were back in her cell, 'but (image of the two Dementors who disliked her) would not agree. They'd hurt you if they found you out alone.'
She grimaced. 'They know I won't try to escape, they just hate me for being human. Would they dare try their Kiss?'
'They wouldn't go that far, even they won't do that without explicit orders,' he replied. 'But they'd forcefully take a lot of your deeper thoughts. Or they might take what you learned here, that's what bothers them most. Maybe if you could learn to block them.'
The Dementors could block each other, but they had much greater mental abilities than she did. 'I doubt I'll ever be able to keep them out if they are determined to get what they wanted.'
'You don't have to. They won't break through if you throw up a good shield. Even if you are a human. That just isn't done, any more than they'd try the Kiss on anyone without being ordered to.'
She frowned. 'I saw one try that once.'
The Dementor's response was immediate, angry. 'Not here.'
She drew back at the ferocity of his reaction. 'No, not here,' she replied. She didn't explain in words, simply remembering the time she'd watched from Hagrid's cabin, at the end of her third year. A huge group of Dementors had swarmed them, and one had been about to give Harry the Kiss, she never doubted that was what it had been about to do.
'You were there?' he asked her, although of course it was a rhetorical question, he'd just seen exactly what she had seen.
'I saw it.'
'And you still spoke to us when you came here.'
'I think I didn't think of it at all, at the time.' She had reacted almost automatically, her curiosity latching on to the things she discovered about the Dementors, so she wouldn't have to think about her fears. She wasn't at all sure she'd been in conscious control at the time, so she wouldn't take the credit. But even afterwards, she'd almost forgotten about that time. The Dementors fed forcefully on the other prisoners, but she believed the Dementor when it said no prisoner had ever received the Kiss without orders from the Ministry.
'The one who did that was new here, and she was not allowed to return,' the Dementor told her. 'No matter how angry we all were about the escape and the way the humans ordered us about, we had agreed to follow those orders. To lose control like that is unacceptable. Those who dislike you will be angry, but they are competent.'
She was learning how to control her thoughts, not letting every fleeting thought bob to the surface, which was about the equivalent of talking aloud to any Dementor in the vicinity. But how could she stop a Dementor from taking what he wanted? She'd never managed to get good at Occlumency, in spite of her criticism of Harry when he'd had a hard time learning. And she had no way to perform such magic here. 'I have no idea how to even start blocking or shielding my thoughts without using a wand,' she admitted.
The Dementor seemed hesitant. 'There is a way we use to teach out children, or to exchange a part of ourselves, more than we can using thoughts and images only,' he ventured finally. 'The thing is, it is rather intimate, irreversible, and I'm not sure what the effect will be on a human. It should be safe if I'm careful enough, but it may not be pleasant. And some of the others may not like it any better than letting you walk around on your own.'
'I'd be willing to try,' she sent back. 'If you are.' He had seemed very reluctant to bring it up, but she was always up for a challenge. Eager, even.
'Then we will try,' he decided. 'Better sit down.'
She sat on her cot, which was still the only piece of furniture she had. He bent over her, reaching for her and pulling her close. He didn't wear his hood –most of the Dementors didn't, not here in Azkaban. She was long used to his features, and when he came even closer, placing his mouth over hers, she wasn't afraid. She trusted him, before or after their last conversation.
Even so, it was a disconcerting feeling. He breathed in, lightly, and it was as if something from deep inside her was torn lose, peeled from the base of her skull and pulled from her spinal cord. Then he breathed out, forcing his cold breath into her lungs, and she felt the cold flood through her entire body.
He straightened, but held her up as she swayed, shaking from the experience. Dimly she realised she could feel him now, not in great detail but she recognised concern, fascination, more.
'It worked,' he stated, satisfied. 'The exchange gave you some of our abilities. Not as strong, I didn't dare go too deep the first time, but you will be able to have more control.'
'Thank you,' she replied sincerely.
'If anyone gives you trouble, call me, I will hear you if you concentrate on me. But it would be better if you'd learn to use it first, don't volunteer this to anyone.'
'I won't,' she promised.
He bade her goodbye and glided from the cell. She remained behind and sorted through her mind, careful to keep her thoughts at a deeper level where no one could 'overhear' while passing in the hall. That was definitely easier now, too. She was in more control of all her thoughts.
He returned later that day. 'Can you handle some more?' he asked.
'I think so,' she replied. She'd quickly adjusted to the new sensations, and apart from the initial dizziness had felt no adverse effects.
He reached for her and once again she felt as if a part of her was torn from her, quickly replaced by the cold essence of the Dementor. Even though she knew he'd gone further this time, she was less shaky when he was done.
'Now try to block me,' he instructed when the dizziness had gone.
She frowned, concentrating. She could feel him as so often when he fed on her, but this time she pushed back. She couldn't hold him for long, but since just that morning she'd had no idea how she could even try, she wasn't too unhappy about the results.
She felt his satisfaction, but also an urge to go on. She tried again and again, slowly increasing the length of time she could hold him off for.
The next morning he returned again, and once again he breathed in and out, sharing his abilities with her. The cold inside her went deeper, but it was not an unpleasant sensation.
Once again he instructed her to block her, and they practised for at least an hour. He told her he'd shared all he could, she now had to train her abilities. As always when she had a challenge, she threw herself into it completely, and she made quick progress.
They were still at it when another Dementor came in to feed on her. She could feel his shock before he sent anything. He didn't address her, and she wasn't sure if it was because of her new abilities or because he was yelling that she could hear him. Usually she couldn't overhear when two Dementors spoke together, only when they sent to her directly.
'What are you doing?' he asked. 'You shared with her?'
'I only shared with her for the purpose of teaching her control, nothing else,' the Dementor replied.
The other Dementor drew a loud breath, something she'd come to recognise as a snort. 'Do you intend to claim her for yourself? She's human!'
'It is as I said, I only shared what she needed to learn control. Since she is human, she has no one else to teach her.'
'No one's ever taught a human.' Yet he felt marginally less upset.
'None have ever cared to learn.'
The other Dementor turned to her. 'So will you still *allow* us to feed on you?' he sneered.
'I won't block you,' she said. 'I agreed to offer thoughts for any of you, and I will do so.'
The Dementor snorted again, but he did not argue any further. She pulled up some memories, easier than it had been for weeks, with her increased control and her better mood. The Dementor pulled them from her, a little roughly as he was clearly still irritated, but he didn't try to take anything beyond what she offered and she didn't protest.
'There'll be more of that, won't there?' she asked when the other Dementor had left. He hadn't been one of those with whom she's spoken most often, but neither had he been one of those who'd had a serious problem with her.
'Most will get over it. When they find out I only shared to teach you.'
She recalled the other Dementor had asked about claiming her. For the first time, she started to understand. 'You said you use the sharing for teaching children and for exchanging part of yourselves –you don't use it often, do you?'
'Among adults, it is done only between partners, a sharing of souls,' he admitted. 'I should have told you, but I wouldn't share in that way without your knowledge and consent. The teaching is easy to control and little else is exchanged.'
'I understand,' she sent. 'Thank you for doing this for me, it can't be easy. You'll get a lot of flak for doing this.'
'They will get over it,' he repeated, shrugging it off.
There were a few more confrontations later that day, when word spread. She didn't hear all of it since he didn't remain with her the entire day, but several came by her cell, coming to see for themselves. Those who disliked her most didn't show up, which was a relief.
The next morning the Dementor came early. 'You can go to the showers if you're up to it. There's rarely anyone in there until the second half of the morning.'
'Thanks,' she replied. She was a little nervous but she had no difficulty pushing her nervousness firmly down, to where it wouldn't be apparent to everyone she passed.
'Don't go anywhere else, not just yet,' he cautioned her.
'I won't,' she ensured him.
She grabbed the buckets, she always brought her own fresh water when she was going to the showers anyhow, and strode off down the hall.
She reached the bathroom without incident. She took a long shower, relishing the warm water running down her back. Surprisingly enough they had warm water here, and soap, even though it was a coarse and cheap kind. Not that most of the prisoners were much cleaner for it, the stench coming from the cells of those who were no longer capable of washing themselves was horrible.
She dried herself with one of the rare clean towels, then rinsed out the buckets and filled them. She'd see about washing her blankets and clothes more often, although even with a second blanket it was chilly on laundry nights, when the washed blankets or clothes were still drying. Or was it? She frowned as she realised she felt less cold than usual. Her imagination or did the sharing have something to do with that?
She shrugged, she'd pay more attention to it today. Now, she had to get back to her cell, it wouldn't be long before the Dementors would come to feed. She hoped it won't take long for them to get used to her new abilities and she would do what she could by making sure she upheld her part of the agreement.
When she made her way down the hall, she felt one of the Dementors approach before she saw him. She put up her mental shields, hiding her nervousness. To her dismay –hidden from casual contact, but she knew it would be found if he tried- it was one of those who hated her.
'What are you doing here?' he inquired.
'I took a shower and I'm going back to my cell,' she replied, sending to him directly instead of just thinking it.
She felt him reach for her thoughts and she blocked him. For just a moment she thought he was going to break through, but then he pulled back.
'So it's true, he has shared with you.'
'Yes,' she replied.
'I can break that flimsy block in a heartbeat.'
'But you won't,' she sent.
'And why shouldn't I? You're not a Dementor,' he spat.
'No, but you are,' she replied quietly. Since he had pulled back the first time, she was pretty sure he wouldn't forcefully attack her.
'You're still a prisoner here. We will feed on you.'
'Of course,' she replied. 'I will not stop you when you come to my cell.'
'I take what I want, I don't beg for hand-outs like the others,' he hissed.
'No one begs for hand-outs. It's an agreement to give what I can without losing my sanity and it's a hell of a lot better than what you can get forcefully from anyone else, except for the newest arrivals. If it weren't for that, you wouldn't be able to get anything much from me by now,' she pointed out.
'It's disgusting.' He whirled around and zoomed off. A little ways down the hall a door slammed and a man started screaming. Hermione felt a stab of guilt. She knew how the other prisoners were treated, not just by this Dementor but by all of them, even those who treated her well. The difference was probably academic. But it still bothered her that this morning, the man would pay for her privileges.
She was glad she met no others on her way back. Satisfaction took over as she realised she had managed quite well, facing this particular Dementor, and she put the man's fate out of her mind. She hadn't been the selfish type, but she'd had to learn to accept those things she could not change.
The other Dementors were less upset today, as they found out she kept the agreement, allowing them to feed as always. Those she regular spoke with were pleased, once they got over their initial shock. Being able to send to a specific person and block unwanted thoughts meant the conversations would be smoother and more civilised.
She showered again the next morning, not meeting anyone –Dementors weren't much of a morning people. Like the previous day, she was back in her cell well before any of them came to feed.
The Dementor who'd shared with her returned in the afternoon. She showed him how the other Dementors had responded, sending entire conversations much quicker than telling about them would be. When she was done, she knew he was satisfied both with the way the Dementors responded and with the way she handled the situation. She didn't hesitate when he offered to take her around and show her the entire complex.
It was much bigger than she'd thought. There were rows and rows of cells, a good number of them empty but lots of others occupied. There were about five hundred prisoners in all, mostly Death Eaters and many who had been there since the end of Voldemort's first reign. A few bathrooms were spaced around the sprawling building, but other than that there were only cells at this level. The office, the room the Aurors had brought her to, and the kitchens were the only rooms above ground level, but since the escapes all windows were blocked so it didn't make a lot of difference.
The kitchen held only four house-elves, who did the cooking, the cleaning of the bowls and the laundry of the towels. They wore ragged pillowcases and jumped at the sight of her. Hermione had long given up on her efforts to press the house-elves into accepting clothing, money or holidays, but she scowled when she saw their pillowcases were barely in better shape than her own clothes. The Dementor didn't upset them; while Dementors could read and send to the house-elves, their minds were different enough from humans that their thoughts were not palatable at all.
At the lowest level of Azkaban were the Dementors' quarters. Hermione was surprised he showed her, even though he cautioned her not to come there alone. The level was divided in small apartments consisting of two or three rooms all the same size. It was a bare, depressing sight, with little more furnishings than she had. A simple table, a few chairs, a bed, a hook for some robes, that was all. Of course they didn't have a written language, so no books or book cases, and they didn't need a kitchen for their food, but it still seemed like a very marginal existence. When she mentioned it he shrugged it off, sending it worked for them and they didn't need much.
She met two of the three children who lived here, all boys. The Dementor warned her to always block them, as they were too young to have full control over what they took. At six and seven, the boys were curious to meet her, but quickly drifted off again. They seemed not unlike human children, rushing through the halls and full of energy. Of course, this was hardly a place to play, even for Dementors. Impressions from the stories she'd learned were filled with fields of snow and ice, and forests of great pine trees. But there wouldn't be many people to feed on in those kind of places, and most of the northern territories, like Scandinavia, Canada and Russia, had strong Ministries that didn't like the Dementors any better than anyone else did. So these families had remained here at Azkaban.
The strangest thing about the Dementors' quarters was the sound. Since no one spoke aloud, and no sound from the upper levels penetrated, the only sound that could be heard was the rattling breath of the Dementors, even though there were dozens of them around. There wasn't even the sound of footsteps; the Dementors hovered a little off the ground when they moved and landed soundlessly when they settled down to rest. The rasped breathing was unsettling with no other background noise, and she jumped at the occasional scrape of furniture or the closing of a door.
They received a lot of comment, but no one really argued at the fact that the Dementor was showing her around. Eventually he brought her back to her cell but did not lock her in.