Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, or anything in this world expect, well, Ichabod. I would really be bummed if I got sued for it, since I don't mean any harm.
Author's Notes: Before I say anything else, can I please just beg everyone not to die of shock? I realize I have not posted anything on this story in... forever... and I have no excuse, no explanation, except to say that my personal life took about eight million unexpected detours, while at the same time my writing inspiration channeled itself into, erm, different avenues. I can only apologize, profusely and repeatedly, and thank in advance anyone who is still willing to read this. (Again, profusely and repeatedly.)
That said, please read and review, if only to let me know that there are still people out there for whom I should continue writing this?
The other prisoners of Azkaban, Harry soon discovered, were all either Order members, Ministry employees, or simply people who Voldemort would most likely be expected to find deeply annoying. Additionally, they were all -- to a man -- completely baffled as to the fact that they were still alive, and even more the how and why behind that fact.
"B-but--" stammered one man, the man Harry had initially recognized as a member of the Order, when he awoke to find Harry standing, arms akimbo, over him. "Aren't I dead?"
"Apparently not," was Harry's terse reply. He glanced around at the other prisoners, all of whom had already made their way into similarly astonished wakefulness. "Should you be?"
"I don't think I've eaten in a week, at least," the man said, in the same disbelieving tone. "And I -- You're Harry Potter. Aren't you dead?"
"Apparently not," Harry repeated, a little sardonically. "As for eating, I hope you weren't counting on it -- there's not a lot of food here. I've looked. I think the dementors were supposed to feed me -- probably not you, of course, but me -- though it would seem they forgot about it. Or just didn't care."
The man blinked at him.
"Fortunately, sustenance does not seem to be an issue either of us needs to worry about," Harry went on, briefly transferring his gaze to meet that of the only female prisoner, since she seemed the most frightened by the predicament. Then he looked back at the man, who was so far the only one willing to actually speak to Harry. "I wouldn't try to puzzle out why, however. It's all rather a mystery."
His sarcasm was lost upon the prisoners.
"We are in Azkaban, aren't we?" piped up one of the other man, quite hesitantly. He looked amazed that the words had actually left his mouth.
Harry smiled in a way that was not friendly, not reassuring, and not in the least directed at them. "For the moment."
Then he got down to business.
Bill Weasley had been awake for several hours, and he hadn't been alone for a single moment of them. First it had been Ichabod and Charlie, and then his parents had arrived to help his brother and friend in harassing him. Ichabod had left a few minutes ago, however, and after receiving several significant looks from his parents, Charlie had done likewise.
There was silence in the Hospital Wing for several minutes. Bill had not been their son for twenty-something odd years without learning to recognize when his parents had something important they wanted to say.
He'd also not spent his whole life as a Weasley without learning to appreciate watching people -- especially other Weasleys -- squirm.
Finally, after a none too gentle prod in the ribs from Molly, Arthur cleared his throat and began, "You haven't asked yet, Bill, why you're at Hogwarts instead of in St. Mungo's."
Missing his mother's exasperated glare at his father, Bill shrugged calmly. "I figured you'd tell me eventually."
"Ah, well." Arthur cleared his throat again, looking vaguely uncomfortable for some reason, which intrigued Bill. "Dumbledore, and the rest of the Order, have decided that after the debacle with the Ministry regarding Harry, they're really not willing to rely on any person or place with very strong ties to the government. And St. Mungo's is, as you know --"
"Funded mostly by the Ministry and private donations from the same sort of Pureblood scum as convinced Fudge to put Harry in Azkaban," Bill finished for him knowingly. He flashed an almost feral grin. "Yeah. I'd thought it might be something like that."
"Harry did have his wand, you know," exclaimed Molly hurriedly, as if she'd been dying to tell him this and only waited for Bill's mention of the boy to let loose.
Bill stared at her, blankly, trying to figure out how that could be relevant to what he'd just said. "... What?"
"Fred and George went to the Muggles' house right after we were called to that Order meeting, found it lying in his room. They ran into Ichabod when the came to try and find us, remembered he was friendly with you and Dumbledore, and gave it to him -- he assures us that Harry got it."
"But, I thought..." muttered Bill, finding himself dwelling unpleasantly on the implications of Harry having his wand when being confronted by Voldemort. He didn't like the sensation, and forced his thoughts back down a different road. "How?"
"Apparently, he had Draco Malfoy do it."
For several seconds there was stunned silence, with Bill once again staring blankly at his parents, before he blurted incredulously, "But, he hates Harry! I-- Harry hates him."
"Yes," agreed Arthur, but the expression on his face was thoughtful, as if this was something he'd spent at least part of the past several days considering. "But apparently, he's rather fond of Ichabod, who is his cousin, you know."
"Yes, I know," Bill mumbled, slightly shellshocked into idiocy.
"Well, anyway." Arthur cleared his throat. "His fondness for Ichabod is apparently greater than his hatred of Harry, since he cooperated, for whatever reason. Albus sees this as important."
"He would. And speaking of important, has there been any more news about..." Bill cleared his throat. "...about Harry?"
"No," murmured Molly, shaking her head sadly. Bill thought he could see tears shimmering in her eyes. "Nothing."
Gritting his teeth, Bill suppressed a surge of impotent annoyance. "Have we even tried to get to Azkaban?"
Arthur exchanged glances with his wife and then said shortly, "Yes."
Bill waited a moment. "Well?"
"No-one can get within a mile of the island," the Weasley patriarch confessed, ruefully. He sounded thoroughly bemused.
Bill's eyes widened. "What?"
Arthur and Molly shared another glance and then in unison made a gesture that was very nearly a shrug, but not quite. After a few more moments, Arthur explained, "We can't approach it. Brooms get near it and they find themselves on the other side, flying away. Portkeys land their passengers in the water off the coast. Boats do the same things brooms do. We can't understand it."
"That's..." But Bill didn't have words for what it was, and he let his sentence hang, as he grimaced.
"Not to worry, though; Albus's got a team working on figuring it out, son," said Arthur, and something in his weary tone gave the impression that he'd said the same thing countless times already and was getting tired of it.
This caused something to occur to Bill, and abruptly he narrowed his eyes. "Where are the others, Dad?"
His parents shared yet another look, in their son's eyes obviously intending to pretend ignorance of his meaning. The warning in the looks they were giving each other belied that impression, however.
"Others?" said Molly casually, her forced tone confirming Bill's suspicion.
"Yes, others. My brothers. Are they on this team of Dumbledore's?" His parents didn't say anything right away, so Bill forcefully added, "Fred and George would probably consider that quite an interesting challenge."
Silence hung in the air of the hospital wing for entire minutes on end.
"Dumbledore's not letting them help," Arthur eventually confessed. His tone was resigned, his next look at Molly long-suffering. "Any of them. They're all back at Grimmauld Place."
This seemed completely absurd to Bill.
"After you were poisoned, it seemed to occur to Albus that Weasleys must be enormous targets," said his mother, in one of her best falsely reasonable tones. "He decided it would be too much of a risk to involve any of you more than externally, at least for the moment."
Bill's face turned rather rather red and he blurted, "Damn it, that's such bullsh--"
"Bill!" cried a new voice, from the doorway, effectively cutting off both his words and his mental train of thought.
Three heads turned toward the voice. All of them were surprised, and only one of them immediately recognized the woman storming into the hospital wing.
"Fleur?" muttered Bill, confusion crossing his still-red face. "What are--"
But the young French woman was not listening. "I came as soon as I 'eard!" she exclaimed, reaching Bill's bed and throwing herself dramatically, but firmly, down next to him. His left hand was caught rather inexplicably in one of hers -- her other was waving under his nose quite threateningly. "Which, I should add, was not soon."
"Fleur, I--" he started to say, not sure what he meant to follow the two words. He was very certain, however, that he would have spoken them without looking at either of his parents… assuming, of course, he'd actually been allowed to speak them.
"'mph," muttered Fleur discontentedly. She leveled a sort of worried glare at him. "I thought you told me that Gringotts would tell me if you got 'urt?"
Seeing from the corner of his eye how Molly reacted to the information contained in that statement, Bill winced. "Yes, they're supposed to, Fleur, but--"
"Do you know 'ow I 'eard?" she demanded relentlessly. Her glare became even fiercer.
Internally sighing, Bill shook his head. "No, I--"
"It was in the paper, like that 'orrible piece about 'Arry." She paused to shoot daggers at him with her eyes, pointing an incensed, disapproving finger at his face. "The paper, Bill!"
"Bill," interrupted his mother, finally getting a word in edgewise, "what is going on here?"
"Ah. Mum." Bill cleared his throat. He that, rather futilely, of escape. "You remember Fleur?"
"Of course." Molly did not look the least bit appeased. Sharply, she started, "But I was under the impression she'd gone back to France--"
"I 'ad! But you could not exzpect me to stay there when I 'eard about Bill! If I did that, I would 'ardly be a good--"
"Ah, Mum!" Bill interrupted quickly, weakly, his face going even redder than before. "Did I forget to tell you? Fleur and I are--"
Fluer gasped, and cut him off angrily. Her hand around his grew painfully tight; her eyes flashed briefly beady. "You did not tell them? Bill!"
"I was going to."
"When?" Fluer demanded, looking not the slightest bit mollified. Pointedly, she added, "The morning before the wedding?"
"WEDDING!" shrieked Molly, suddenly on her feet. "What do you mean, wedding?"
While both women glared at him, Bill stared at his mother with wide eyes and, in a quiet, sheepish voice, said, "I guess I definitely forgot to mention it, then."
When Hermione arrived at Grimmauld Place, she was not expected (contrary to what she'd told her parents). She slipped in the front door, relieved that there was no one in the foyer, and headed up to Ron's room. It would, she felt, be the best place to locate him without herself being seen, given that he had to return there at some point...
Not only was she correct, but she was also in luck: Ron was kneeling on the floor at the foot of his bed, head and shoulders practically buried in his trunk. She entered the room as quietly as she could, closing the door softly behind her.
"Hullo, Hermione," came Ron's voice from his trunk, startling her, as he hadn't turned around. She barely had time to return the greeting before he asked, not unkindly, "What are you doing here?"
"I..." she began, unsure, and then stopped.
"Spit it out," he insisted. "You must have a reason for showing up. And if I know you, which I do, it's probably got something to do with what happened to Harry. Am I wrong?"
"Well, no," admitted Hermione, feeling slightly flustered.
When he said nothing further, Hermione gave his back a slow, grim smile. No point in not jumping right in, after a reception like that. So, "We're going to go get Harry. I mean, the real Harry, because the one in the paper definitely isn't him, right? It couldn't have been -- which means he's probably still at Azkaban. We're going to get him."
"I know," replied Ron, barely glancing up from whatever it was he was doing in his trunk. Hermione blanched slightly.
"You do?" she asked, sounding rather surprised.
"Yeah." Ron sat back on his heels and turned blue eyes that were cool, eerily and uncharacteristically calm, up to her face. "I'm just waiting for you to tell me what makes you think we're going to be able to do it."
"Right." Hermione cleared her throat. Then, collecting herself, she began again, saying, "Well, I was doing some research and I discovered that--"
"Wait a sec," called a low voice from hall. They turned to see Fred and George slipping into the room, still stuffing Extendable Ears back into their pockets. "We want to help."
"So do I," said Ginny, entering behind them. Fred and George gave her a startled look; apparently they hadn't noticed that she'd been eavesdropping on their eavesdropping.
"Right," said Hermione, trying to keep from beaming at them too strongly. Knowing that it wasn't just her and Ron against the rest of the Wizarding world was a fantastic feeling; it almost made up for not having Harry around to lead them. "Of course you do."
Ron cleared his throat loudly, and pointedly lifted his brows at her. "Well, Hermione? What is it that you've discovered?"
"Ah, yes. Right," repeated Hermione, giving her head a little shake to clear it, and then launching into her findings with zeal. "Everyone thinks that the Ministry built Azkaban, don't they?"
"Yeah..." murmured Fred, as his siblings nodded. They clearly didn't know what this had to do with anything, but were willing to play along. "D'you mean to say they didn't?"
"No, they didn't. And it wasn't originally a prison, either." Hermione paused to savor the thrill of imparting information. "It used to be the main castle of a magically gifted nobleman about four hundred years ago, a Viscount Weisly or something, until he had a falling out with the people in charge of the country, and it was confiscated and turned into a prison, which funnily enough was where he was sent."
"That's very interesting, Hermione, but what's your point?"
"It's a castle, really," she repeated forcefully. Then, when they did leap to the appropriate conclusion, impatiently explained, "There's a back entrance."
The Weasleys exchanged thoughtful, suddenly excited looks. "Go on, Hermione."
Grinning smugly, Hermione pulled a scroll of parchment from her bag and unrolled it to reveal that one half was a mapped section of English coastline, with a thick red line leading to an island offshore, and the other half was a detail of that island, including the large structure that took up most of it. "From what I could discover, there appears to have been a tunnel -- absurdly long but magically reenforced, so it's not as impractical as it sounds -- from the coast on the mainland, that comes up in the dungeons of the main keep."
George groaned. "Great, Azkaban's dungeons."
"No, actually." Hermione cast him a reassuring look, and hurried on. "Only the main and upper floors of the castle are currently being used as a prison; the Azkaban as we think of it. The other floors, the cellars and the dungeon, for some unidentifiable reason, were walled off as soon as the Ministry took possession. No-one seems to remember that they were ever there, and no-one's been in them for hundreds of years, I'll bet."
There was a long pause, as Hermione trailed off and Ron leaned over to get a better look at the map.
Hermione explained why this excited her so much. "So, feasibly, if we could find the other end of the tunnel -- it was supposedly hidden in a cave somewhere, and as you can see I've got a pretty good idea of the general area where it should be located -- then we could use that to get over to the Island. And from there it's just a simple matter of searching until we find Harry."
"Or his body," mumbled Ginny, making a face.
As if he were ignoring the possible suggestion that Harry might be already dead, Fred hurried to demand, "But what makes you think the tunnel won't have collapsed by now?"
"Like I said, it was magically reenforced, designed to hold up for centuries." Hermione grinned. "Just the same as the secret tunnels at Hogwarts."
"That doesn't explain how we're going to get close to the island just because we're underwater," George reminded them, with a frown.
"What?" asked Hermione, with a similar frown. Fred and George shared a look.
"You know, how brooms and boats suddenly appear on the other side, and Portkeys land people in the water," Ginny explained for them. "What's to say that the same thing isn't going to happen with this tunnel of yours?"
"Oh." This having apparently been news to Hermione, she had to stop and consider it for awhile. At length, she ventured pensively, "Well, it's a part of Azkaban, isn't it? Built right in, as it were. If we can just get inside the tunnel, we should be fine."
"What do we do if there are Death Eaters guarding the place?" demanded Fred.
"Or the dementors are still there?" put in George.
Hermione frowned slightly. "Well, I don't--"
"What I'd really like to know, Hermione, is why, since you've clearly managed to figure all of this out, you obviously don't think someone else might have done the same," said Ron, cutting her off. When she just stared at him, he added, "It's rather important, if you think about it, since anyone who'd go to the trouble to find a back way into Azkaban would obviously intend to use it. And we really don't want to run into anyone else while we're doing this, do we?"
'Oh, come on, Ron, really," she snapped in slightly offended exasperation. Then, following a moment of silence and the boy's pointed raising of two flaming red brows, she sighed softly to acknowledge that yes, he did in fact have a valid point, and murmured, "I doubt any other living person knows any of this, because of what I had to do to figure all of this out."
Ginny regarded her friend with trepidation. "What did you have to do?"
"Well, I started out just looking into the history of Azkaban, without any kind of purpose really, because I had to do something. And then I sort of got an idea, especially as none of my books covered Azkaban's actual origins," explained Hermione. She paused a moment, and it looked as if she were about to start pacing, but instead she shot them all triumphant, vaguely superior looks. "From there, it took me two days, a ridiculously expensive amount of new books, and eight search subjects before I even had an idea that I should be studying the Weisly holdings, much less as they were before they were taken over by the monarchy."
"Eight?" repeated George, looking and sounding slightly dazed.
"Well, I didn't start by looking for information on the fates of island manors belonging to defunct magical nobility, did I?" she snapped tartly, crossing her arms.
"Okay. I'll admit, that's a lot of work," muttered Fred, as an aside to his twin, both of them still apparently startled -- and impressed. Ginny nodded her rather amazed agreement.
"Even given all of that, I almost missed this," Hermione finished, rather anticlimactically, with a half-hearted flourish toward the map depicting the tunnel. She stared at it. Then, softly, "God, if this doesn't work--"
"You know," Ron muttered, jumping into the middle of the conversation and surprising them with his abruptness, "I think I've got a plan."
His smile sent shivers down Hermione's spine.
It reminded her of how he looked right before he'd obliterate her at chess.
Harry was smiling.
After a rather lengthy interrogation of his prisoners, he had a plan. Well, it was not so much a plan as it was an idea, but that was all he needed. He had decided exactly what he was going to do with -- or, rather, to -- Voldemort as soon as he got out. None of it was pleasant, and a month ago just the thought of it would probably have made him ill.
Oh, he could not wait to get out.
Unfortunately, he still hadn't decided exactly how he should go about doing that.
He had discovered, somewhat to his surprise -- since every other part of the fortress had been eerily comforting and, ultimately, accommodating, especially since he was now convinced that it was the place itself that was somehow making it so he, and the other prisoners, did not need to eat, or do most other things normally associated with survival -- that he could still not stand to get any closer to the gates than he'd been able to the first time he'd seen them. Moreover, while he'd found a surprising number of external windows that should have been large enough for him to slip through, whenever he tried to fit any part of his body into the spaces, they seemed abruptly too small for him or anything else -- like, say, a gnat. Doors and other entrances to the battlements refused to cooperate with him in a similar manner.
Every time he made anything that even looked like an attempt to leave Azkaban, the fortress itself rebuffed him. And it did it with what seemed almost an air of reproach.
And yet, he was certain, to the marrow of his bones, that whatever this entity, this presence in the walls, the stones and mortar, of Azkaban actually was, however it had gotten there or was meant to do -- it did not intend to actually keep him here, not permanently.
In fact, it almost felt as if the place was trying to tell him to wait for something.
Harry could not imagine what that might be.