Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter or anything related to him and his franchise.

Murderer

Chapter Two: Memoria

Harry stared longingly out the dark tinted window at Ginny's determined face as the car slowly pulled away. The Dementors weren't with him any longer; the magical handcuffs around Harry's wrists were more than enough to keep the seventeen-year-old in check. At least that was one good thing; Azkaban was guarded by Aurors now instead of Dementors, as the majority of the Dementors had defected to the Dark Side years ago. Harry wouldn't have to spend the rest of his life reliving his worst memories over and over… although he probably would anyway, Dementors or not.

It broke Harry's heart to see Ginny so crushed, but it was necessary. It just went to show how amazing Ginny was – she remained loyal even when he told her to her face that he was a murderer. God, he loved her. And God, he would miss her once he was behind bars.

All too soon the Ministry car pulled up to the desolate, abandoned wharf where Charon the boatman transported prisoners back and forth from Azkaban, in his rundown rowboat "Styx". Heavy mythological references there, but all agreed it was morbidly appropriate.

"Harry Potter?" Charon rasped, leaning close in interest as Harry was pulled from the car. "Never thought I'd be seeing YOU here."

"Silence, old man," one of the two Aurors accompanying Harry snapped. "Get your rowboat ready; we're pushing off in five minutes."

Charon gave Harry a leery grin and shuffled away to prepare his boat. The two Aurors stepped away from Harry and cracked their knuckles, dangerous glints in their dark eyes.

'And so it begins,' Harry thought in resignation as the first punch landed, driving him to his knees. He really should have seen this coming; in the world's eyes he was now a dangerous criminal, and he was therefore being treated like one: with resentment, hatred, and disgust.

Five minutes later Charon returned, and the Aurors dragged Harry's aching body to the boat, tossing him in carelessly, and then settling down across from him. Then Charon took the paddle in hand and the long, cold, miserable journey to Azkaban began.

Twenty soaking-wet minutes later, Azkaban prison loomed into sight, its high black walls sleek and foreboding, and the narrow windows few and far between. A feeling of dread grew in Harry, and for the first time he seriously considered giving in and telling the Aurors the truth. But then Ginny's face flashed through his mind, and then Ron and Hermione's, and Harry knew he couldn't cave in, no matter what happened.

Marching forward with new resolve, Harry passed fearlessly through the massive spiked iron gates, down the endless, dim corridors, and into the dirty, cramped cell that would be his home until the day he died.

The cell door slammed shut behind him, and Harry watched emotionlessly as the Aurors walked off down the hall, chatting and laughing amiably. Leaving Harry all alone, in the middle of the most feared prison on Earth, with only Dark and mentally unstable wizards for company. Slumping down in the corner, Harry closed his eyes and settled down for a lifetime of boredom.

Time passed in a blur. Harry watched the tiny yellow sun rise and set each day in his inch wide window slit, recording the passing days with scratch marks on the walls. His life was one of endless monotony, punctuated with rounds of physical and mental abuse, courtesy of the Azkaban Aurors.

Then one day, almost two months later, Harry lay brooding in his cell about the Graduation he should be attending right now, when a voice jolted him from his reverie.

"When did you get here?"

The voice was low and raspy, and belonged to an old man in the cell across from his. Harry sighed in disappointment when it dawned on him that the man must surely be insane, because he had been in that cell long before Harry had arrived at Azkaban.

"Two months ago. Didn't you notice?" Harry was mildly displeased to find his voice was just as raspy as the old man's was.

"I was busy," the man said noncommittally, crawling forward to peer out at Harry through pale blue eyes.

"Sure you were," Harry agreed, turning back to staring out the window. "Because there are so many interesting things to do in Azkaban."

"Say," the man said, ignoring Harry's sarcasm entirely. "You're Harry Potter."

"Very observant," Harry muttered.

"You're one of the good guys," the man persisted.

Harry groaned and reluctantly turned to face the irritating old man who had suddenly decided to talk to him after two months of silence. "Who are you, anyway?"

"Someone no one cares about."

"A Death Eater, then?"

The man gave a sickly laugh. "I'm as Light as they come, boy. I was kicked in here for GTB."

"GTB?"

"Grand Theft Broomstick. But then the war started when some lunatic named Voldemort rose to power, and the Ministry chucked so many people in here they lost track of who was who. By the time the war was over, they figured that everyone in here must be a Death Eater, so they tossed out all the old records and started from new, giving everyone already in Azkaban an automatic life sentence."

"That's ridiculous!"

"That's the Ministry."

"Fair enough," Harry conceded. "So you've been in here ever since? I'm sorry. The bumbling fools at the Ministry strike again."

The man cackled. "You're a good kid, Potter. You've earned the right to know my name. It's Adam Smith. Pleased to meet you."

"And you," Harry agreed. Perhaps the crazy old coot would help him stave off the impending boredom.

They lapsed into a comfortable silence. Finally, Smith spoke up again.

"So what's your story?"

"My story?"

"Why are you in here? What did you do?"

Harry gave a bitter laugh. "It's a long story."

Smith raised a wrinkled brow. "We've got the rest of our lives."

Harry couldn't help but grin. "Fine. It all started two months ago, the evening of my arrest…"

The embers in the fire were dim, and the common room was empty save for Ginny and Harry, who were still curled up contentedly by the fireplace. Hermione and Ron had long ago disappeared off up the girl's staircase, and Harry could only guess what they were now up to.

Ginny yawned widely, and Harry realized it was past midnight. Kissing his half-asleep girlfriend on the forehead, Harry gently lifted the girl into his arms and carried her up the stairs to her dormitory. Placing her on the scarlet bedspread, he pulled off her shoes and gently tucked her in. Harry kissed her forehead once more, before turning and heading off to his own dormitory for some much needed sleep.

Sneaking in so as not to disturb his roommates, Harry quietly shut the door behind him and turned… to discover Lucius Malfoy standing in the middle of the room. Dean, Seamus, and Neville stood behind Malfoy, eyes curiously blank. Harry hadn't survived his many encounters with Voldemort by not knowing what that mindless expression meant.

Slowly drawing his wand, Harry said quietly, "Take it off, Malfoy."

Lucius Malfoy arched a perfect blond brow and gave him the superior smirk he knew Harry despised. "Take what off, Potter? My clothing? My wife wouldn't appreciate that too much."

Harry's eyes narrowed dangerously. "The Imperius curse you placed on my friends, Malfoy. Take it off NOW, and I may go easy on you."

Malfoy just shook his head with a harsh laugh. "Even if I wanted to, Potter, I couldn't."

"Why not?"

"Because the spell affecting your friends is not the Imperius curse. It is a potion."

"What?"

"A poison, actually, devised by your dear friend Professor Snape just last night."

Harry glared at the evil man. "That's nonsense." Snape would never supply the Dark Lord with poison of any sort – he was on the Light side, after all.

"It's not."

"Then give them the antidote, and I'll go easy on you," Harry improvised.

"That's the beauty of it, isn't it?" Malfoy gloated. "You see, Professor Snape only completed the poison last night, and hasn't even started working on the antidote yet. I stole it from his lab without his knowledge, and then administered it to your darling little friends while they were innocently sleeping."

Harry knew when he was beat. "Fine, Malfoy. What do you want?"

Malfoy smirked winningly. "So glad you're finally making sense, Potter. Here's how this is going to work. The poison I have given your friends allows me to control their minds, as you have already surmised, but also slowly poisons their bodies, as poisons are wont to do."

"What do you mean, 'poison their bodies?'"

Malfoy grinned maliciously. "In one hour they will be dead. Not to mention having suffered excruciatingly through most of the ordeal. Snape used a powerful pain poison as the base, you know."

Harry suppressed an impatient outburst. "Let me repeat myself. What do you want?"

"What I want, Potter, is very simple. So simple even you can't possibly mess it up. You see, I want Thomas, Finnigan, and Longbottom, dead."

"So kill them," Harry snapped. "Or let your wonderful poison do its work. What does this have to do with me?"

"I'm not the one who's going to kill them, Potter," Malfoy sneered. "You are."

Harry gaped at the blond aristocrat. "You're insane."

"Perhaps," Malfoy agreed. "But that does not change a thing. This is what I propose, Mister Potter, and I suggest you listen well, because I will not repeat myself."

"There is no way I'll do anything you propose," Harry snarled. "And there's no way I'll let you get away with this either. As soon as I get out of here, I'm going straight to Snape and wringing an antidote out of him, by force if necessary, and all your plans will have been for nothing."

Malfoy gave him a knowing smirk. "Things aren't going to work quite like that, Potter. Now, listen carefully to me, and once I'm done, you can do whatever you like. If you want, you can go to Snape like you said, or even Dumbledore, and I won't lift a finger to stop you."

"I don't get it. What's the catch?"

"The catch, Potter, is that by the time you've heard it, all of it, you are going to do everything I say, because you are going to have no choice in the matter."

"Blackmail?" Harry scoffed. "There's no way I'd submit to that, Malfoy."

"Oh, I know that, Potter, how well I know. That is why I want you to hear me out, and decide from there."

"And if I don't?"

Malfoy gave him a sadistic grin. "Then I kill you, your friends, and every child in Gryffindor tower."

Harry didn't doubt the man's competence. "Fine," he snapped. "You've got my attention. But whatever it is, Malfoy, it won't work."

Malfoy just gave Harry a condescending smirk. "This time the Dark Lord has the upper hand, Potter, and there is nothing you can do about it. Now, listen closely, and try not to interrupt till I'm done."

Gesturing towards Harry's bed, Malfoy watched in satisfaction as the three poisoned boys lumbered across the room at his command and sprawled upon the feather mattress. What made him even more satisfied, however, was the pained look on Harry's face as he watched his longtime friends reduced to mindless drones.

"Here's how its going to work, Potter," Malfoy began. "As I said, your friends are poisoned. There is no cure. They will die in an hour, and half an hour from now the poison will start to really take effect. Believe me, Potter, it won't be pretty. Imagine bones dislocating themselves, internal organs disintegrating, flesh melting… you won't want to be around when it happens."

Harry said nothing. He figured it would be best to hear what Malfoy had to say before he made his move and defeated him once and for all.

"And now we come to the reason behind this elaborate set up," Malfoy continued. "As you probably noticed, the Dark Lord is having considerable trouble killing you, and this has prompted him to find a new path to get you out of the way. It was in fact Peter Pettigrew who suggested that instead of killing you, we instead put you someplace where you will not be of either help or hindrance – namely, Azkaban. Azkaban is guarded by the few Dementors who remain loyal to the Ministry – although they only do so because they couldn't care less who wins the war – so it would be the ideal place to keep you."

"You can't just put people in Azkaban," Harry reminded him. "You have to be charged with something."

"And they say you are a slow learner," Malfoy mocked. "That is indeed an obstacle we faced, which led us to the current situation. You see, Potter, the Dark Lord believes that while you are loyal to your friends, you cannot bear to see them in pain, and will do everything in your power to help them. This is why I have infiltrated your tower and given Snape's new poison to these fool Gryffindors – to force you to make a choice."

"What choice?"

"Whether or not you will set aside your values and liberate them from the pain they are about to undergo."

Harry was beginning to understand. "You think I'll murder my friends to save them the pain of a slow, torturous death. Then the teachers can show up, name me a murderer, and cart me off to Azkaban."

"That's the general idea," Malfoy agreed.

"You forgot one thing," Harry snapped.

Malfoy looked as if he highly doubted such a thing were possible. "What might that be?"

"What if I don't kill them?" Harry demanded. "Then when the teachers show up, they can't possibly incriminate me, and it'll have all been for nothing."

Malfoy just laughed. "Hardly, Potter. We have that base covered as well. Although after hearing the agony your friends are going through, I don't believe it will even be an option. Nevertheless… oh, I do dislike this part, it's so barbaric…"

"What?"

"Blackmail," Malfoy said reluctantly. "Alas, it is necessary. Here is the 'low down', so to speak. The reason why you will kill your classmates is because they will beg you to kill them – all on their own, nothing to do with me, and you will not be able to find it in your heart to watch their suffering. The reason why you will go to Azkaban and not breath a word of this plot to anyone is because if you do, the Dark Lord will personally hunt down and destroy the Weasleys and the Granger family."

Harry snorted. "That's ridiculous. If Voldemort could do that, he'd have done so already."

"True," Malfoy agreed. "Perhaps he cannot now, but in five years? Ten? But if you follow the plan, Potter, the Dark Lord will personally guarantee their safety, not counting any harm they inflict upon themselves, of course."

Harry didn't know what to say. The Weasleys and Grangers lives' for Neville, Seamus, and Dean. Either way, he lost people close to him. Yet it seemed Neville, Seamus, and Dean were doomed to death anyway. It was the ultimate Catch 22 – he couldn't save both, but if he surrendered his future to a lifetime in Azkaban, he could save one. His life for his friends. Which was more precious to him? It wasn't even a question. Harry had known that answer for a long time.

"So…" Harry stalled for time. "You are promising Voldemort and his Death Eaters will not lay a finger on the Weasleys and the Grangers, if, and only if, I agree to this insane plan, murder my friends, and go to Azkaban for the rest of my life."

"Yes," Malfoy agreed.

"The problem with that," Harry said, "is that as soon as I'm in Azkaban, there'll be no way for me to get out, and therefore no way of knowing if you kept your promise. For all I know, you'll murder them the next day."

Malfoy was clearly getting annoyed. "You know, I could just kill you now, Potter."

Harry rolled his eyes. "Unlikely, Malfoy. I can take care of myself, and besides, only Voldemort can kill me entirely, you know that. Wouldn't want me coming back as some sort of zombie and exacting my revenge, now would you?"

Malfoy sighed. "Fine. What I am offering is a Wizard's Oath, Potter. I believe they are on the sixth year syllabus. I will make you an oath, speaking for the Dark Lord as well, and all the Death Eaters he commands, that we will not intentionally harm any Weasley or Granger so long as you are in Azkaban prison and out of our way. Should you somehow leave the prison, or tell someone in a position of authority the truth of the matter, the oath will be null and void, and we will take great pleasure in personally torturing and killing every one of them. Should we violate the oath… well, we will not be around for you to exact revenge upon. Interpret that as you wish."

It meant they would die if they broke the oath. What should he do? Time, he needed more time to think.

"What I don't get," Harry said, "is why you don't just knock me out, tie me up, bring me to your master, and have him kill me in cold blood. Your problem is that you always give me a chance to fight back, and clearly I couldn't do that tied up. Why go through all this trouble when the solution is so simple?"

This was clearly a sore point for Malfoy. "Do you know how I got into Hogwarts in the first place, Potter? You have to be invited in, you know."

Harry blinked in surprise. "I didn't know that."

Malfoy rolled his eyes. "Apparently. All students receive their yearly letters, which serve as invitations, teachers are invited personally by Dumbledore, and Dumbledore of course is Headmaster, which gives him an automatic invitation."

"Then who invited you in?" Harry asked, though he was pretty sure he knew the answer.

"Draco, naturally," Malfoy drawled. "The boy does have some uses. The problem with the magic of Hogwarts is just as it can be picky about who it lets in, it can also be choosy about who it lets out. In this case, you. That fool Dumbledore has twisted the magic of Hogwarts so that you can only leave the grounds willingly. That means no tying you up, no knocking you out… which is how we arrived at our current plan."

"AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! OH GOD! IT HURTS!" Dean suddenly screamed in agony, clutching his abdomen as he abruptly regained control of his body and fell to the floor, coughing up blood. Seamus and Neville were not far behind him. It was impossible to tell which boy was in more pain, but it was suddenly crystal clear to Harry what Malfoy meant when he'd said Harry would murder the boys to save them from the pain.

Harry was out of time, and both he and Malfoy knew it.

"So, Potter? What will it be?" Malfoy said. "Will you save your friends from their pain, go to Azkaban like a good boy and save your best friends' lives? Or will you let these boys suffer unbearable pain, agony, and death, and sign the death sentence for all those you hold dear? Which is it?"

A thought occurred to him – why wasn't anyone hearing the boys' screaming? It must have woken up half the school by now. Easy answer – silencing charms were one of the most basic spells to learn in a wartime situation, and were used even more liberally than the stunning spell. And by Malfoy's complete ease with letting Harry pace around as he considered his options, it was pretty clear the doors and windows were magically barred. So much for that.

Harry swallowed back a sob. What other choice did he have? He felt Malfoy press a knife into his right hand.

"I… CAN'T… STAND… IT…" Seamus screamed, raking bloody fingers down Harry's legs, seeking salvation from his agony.

Neville was the only one of the three still lucid enough to realize Harry was in the room with them, holding the object that could end it all for them.

"Harry… please…" Neville pleaded between screams of anguish. "Kill… me… stop… pain… can't… AHHHHHH!"

Malfoy was somewhere behind him, whispering in his ear. "Twenty minutes left, Potter. In thirty seconds, their bones start to crack. Two minutes: their eyes liquidate. Five minutes: their digestive organs are completely dissolved. Six minutes: the stomach acid is sweeping through their bodies, eating away at their other tissues."

"You win," Harry whispered. It was the hardest thing he'd ever said in his life. But again, what other choice did he have?

You always have a choice.

Wise words. But his friends were dying, his life was flashing before his eyes, and Harry didn't want to think anymore – didn't want to be the hero, to save the day – because he had failed, and his friends were going to die, and there was nothing he could do about it. There was only one thing left he could do to ease their passing.

"You win," he repeated. "I'll go through with it, Malfoy. You win. Just leave. I… I want to be alone."

Malfoy smirked triumphantly. "I shall inform the Dark Lord. As I doubt you can pull off a killing curse, you will find slashing the jugular is the easiest way to get the job done. Try not to mess up, or you'll only be hurting them more. Good evening."

He was gone in a flash of silver smoke. Harry had never hated anyone in his life – even Voldemort – as much as he hated Malfoy right at that instant.

"Harry… make it stop…" Neville pleaded once more, eyes glazing over as they began to liquefy, and Harry had to look away to stop himself from being sick. There was nothing for it.

Steeling himself, both physically and mentally, Harry forcibly pushed all emotions to the back of his mind and raised his knife. The last thing he clearly remembered was the grateful look on Neville's face as Harry drove the knife towards his exposed neck.

Adam smith gave a low whistle as Harry finished his tale.

"I never thought I'd say this, kid, but your life may suck even more than mine does."

Harry smiled bitterly. "Welcome to my world. I guess I shouldn't be surprised it happened; Voldemort's evil plans had to succeed at least once – law of averages and all – but I just can't help wishing one of his other evil plots worked instead of this one."

"Chucking a teenager in Azkaban is certainly a tough plan to execute," Smith noted. "I'm surprised they managed to pull it off."

"Yeah, well, one thing Voldemort does not lack is cunning," Harry sighed. "Can we stop talking about the past now? It's making me depressed."

Smith laughed. "Sure, kid. Me, I don't mind the past. What else have you got to think about in Azkaban?"

Harry brightened. "Well, you could help me try to find a way out of this mess. Now that I'm not surrounded by dying friends and evil Death Eaters, I can think a lot more clearly. Where should I go from here?"

"Well, you sure aren't going far when you're stuck in a cell," Smith pointed out. "Since that clearly ain't an option, let's consider the situation, shall we?"

"Sure," Harry agreed.

"Alright," Smith said, rubbing his hands eagerly as he began to synthesize information. "So the first step is to get you out of Azkaban. You can't tell the Aurors the truth – not that they'd believe you – because it'd violate the Oath. From what I gathered, the only outside support you have is in your girlfriend, who is bound and determined to support you and have faith in you even though she knows it's hopeless."

"Her name's Ginny," Harry supplied. "And yes, I do think she's the only one who didn't accept the situation at face value. Although I'm surprised Hermione didn't suspect anything."

"Hermione?"

Harry waved a hand dismissively. "Friend of mine. Brilliant witch. Genius, more like. But if she's on my side, she certainly gave no indication of it. So all we have is Ginny, and as much as I'd like to hope she can free me, there really isn't that much one witch can do against the entire Ministry."

"Oh! Oh! I've got an idea!" Smith exclaimed eagerly. "What if she became Minister for Magic? Then she could free us in an instant!"

Harry rolled his eyes. "Aside from the fact that Ginny has no interest in politics, we couldn't even explain the plan to her if we wanted to. No post going in or out of Azkaban, remember?"

Smith seemed to deflate. "Right. I'm getting old, kid. Mind isn't what it used to be. Twenty seven years in prison can do that to you."

"I can imagine," Harry agreed. "So… what you're saying is that there's no possible way out of this death trap?"

Smith shrugged his shoulders reluctantly. "I've got nothing, kid. If I knew a way out, I'd have been gone years ago. Only man that ever escaped was that Sirius Black character, although it beats me how he did it."

"He was an animagus," Harry said absently. "Turned into a dog, and slipped through the bars when the Dementors brought him food. But I'm no animagus, and unless you are, or know how to become one… we're pretty much screwed."

"Well," Smith offered. "At least we'll have each other for company, kid."

"There could be worse things," Harry admitted. "I just never thought I'd be spending eternity with an old broomstick thief who takes two month long naps."

"Don't knock it till you try it," Smith defended. "They pass the time nicely."

"I'm sure," Harry agreed. "So, you got any interesting stories?"

"Enough to last a lifetime?" Smith laughed. "Not hardly."

"Then I'll start," Harry volunteered. "This story is back in my first year at Hogwarts, when Dumbledore agreed to keep the Philosopher's Stone in the third floor corridor, guarded by a giant, three-headed dog named Fluffy…"

To be continued…