This is it, the final chapter of this story! I hope you've enjoyed reading it as much as I've enjoyed writing it. But don't think there's any rest for us, there are many more years to go! Before you know it, I'll be posting the next story. Read down to the bottom to get the name.
In the mean time, I'll be taking a much anticipated break before the HP7 release, but I may write a bit to keep myself ready for final book. I still haven't decided yet. Also, I don't know how long it will take after the HP7 release for me to have GoA5 ready, so if you are interested, I would recommend checking back regularly.
With that said, I give my thanks, as always, to those of you who have read, and even more thanks to those of you who have reviewed:
To the ever faithful KRP – My friend, we are almost finished, thank you for your faithful reviews! But yes, of course Harry is still mad at them, when has he ever not held a grudge against someone? As for R.A.B., I think everyone has already come to the conclusion that he is Regulus Black and that the locket is most likely a Horcrux. Now, the only question left to answer is if it was part of the stuff that Mundungus stole after Sirius died. But, you will notice that I left things just as open to interpretation just like in HBP, just in case. Katie's family will definitely worry about her, but will probably take things in stride. And as for the new power transferring into their normal spellcasting, remember what Transom said: Esdras is no longer fully Dementor and Katie is no longer fully human. What do you think will happen? And of course they'd still have access to the weapon if they changed clothes. It's not really up the sleeve, just in a space accessible only by them. I originally had to come up with a way to quickly and easily store the Glaive for Esdras, and the sleeve was as good a place as any.
All the rest of y'all should review. This is the last chapter of this story, and the last chapter of this series for a while. So please, read, review, and tell me what you think of the series. Anyone reading this story long after I've finished posting should review, as well. I'd love to hear your opinion on it.
And as always, I offer my standard warning. All text in italics is in Azkabaaner and I don't own HP.
Chapter 23 – The End of an Era
Gone again were the easy days that Esdras had enjoyed. In a striking replay of the start of the year, New Demnin was again in a state of controlled chaos. The Dementor king had been jarred awake at sunrise by Aaron, who spoke of an amazing sight. Sure enough, as the king and prime minister floated into the air over the lake, Esdras gasped in awe of the sight before him. A great floating mass of Dementors, hundreds of thousands of meek and humble renegades and their families, were approaching the Dementor town. Esdras drew the Glaive of Silence from his sleeve and let the blade catch the light of the morning sun. Slowly but surely, the former renegades approached, once more coming into the fold.
Esdras turned to Aaron, himself in awe as to the sheer number of refugees. "Are relocation services ready?"
Aaron nodded vaguely. "Yes, but I doubt they're prepared for anything on this scale. We didn't plan for an influx anywhere near this size."
The king laughed slightly. "You say that like it's a bad thing. Have Admiral Sanguis and the Marines help. It may do the refugees well to be greeted by friendly faces. Make sure a Hospital Division is on duty and another is on standby. And feed them. Feed them until they are full and then feed them again. They have been misled and mistreated, my friend."
The prime minister saluted and floated away to prepare the way for the refugees. Esdras watched him ignite his afterburners and fly to New Demnin before turning to meet the approaching cloud of Dementors. At the lead was Bardiel Thermis and his wife Elaine, the latter happily holding her resurrected son. The refugee admiral saluted. "Divine Majesty, I present those who seek asylum, those who wish to return to the unity of the Azkaban Kingdom. We admit our treasonous acts and are prepared to accept the punishment you will impose upon us. We merely beseech you to have mercy upon our wives and the children."
Esdras nodded slowly to the returning admiral. "I am prepared to forgo punishment in favor of your loyal service to the Kingdom of Azkaban and the royal house of Demnin. Swear these things to me with the gods as your witnesses and reaffirm your oath as officers and citizens and I will welcome you home without question." Here the royal Dementor carefully used the blade of the Glaive to lower Bardiel's hood. "But know this and make sure it is well known, should any of you betray Azkaban, her people, or her king, I will make this life a living hell for you and the afterlife shall be no better. Do not equate my mercy with naiveté or stupidity. Behold, this is the word of both the god of Death and the King of Azkaban. Heed it well."
Bardiel Thermis, whose eye sockets never left the glowing blade of the Glaive of Silence, shivered slightly. He knelt in midair, humbled and afraid. "Thy will be done, Esdras, King of Azkaban, heir to the mighty Demnin."
The king nodded and placed his hand upon the cowering admiral's head. "Rise, Bardiel, and return my people to me. Lead them to a better life."
To say that the Hogwarts graduation ceremony was a subdued affair would be the understatement of the century. Unable to be rescheduled, the ceremony had to take place the morning before Dumbledore's funeral. With very little pomp or circumstance, the diplomas were handed out by a distraught Minerva McGonagall. The ceremony paused twice as she attempted to staunch the flow of tears as she presided over the commencement. None could blame her, especially not the students who had expected one last smile from the cheerful Dumbledore before making their way out in the world.
With proof of graduation in hand, Esdras and Katie parted company with her brother and parents until the funeral. Both officers would be taking part in the honor guard to be provided by the Azkaban Navy. The Bell family would, of course, be paying their respects at the service.
The affianced couple quickly changed into their naval dress uniforms and Katie grabbed her broom for the flight to New Demnin. Once there, they met up with the rest of the honor guard, consisting of the highest echelon of the Azkaban military, all dressed in dress uniforms, all wearing silver swords and bearing ceremonial silver pikes. Esdras took the ceremonial Swords of Mercy and Temporal Justice from Aaron and began attaching them to his sword belt. Katie secured her own silver sword and pulled her Scythe from her sleeve. She looked on curiously as Esdras secured the Sword of Mercy. "What about crowns?"
Esdras shook his head. "No crowns, not at a funeral. Crowns are for high honors and festivals. At funerals, the hood is always up." Katie nodded quickly and raised her hood, instantly taking on the appearance of a miniature Dementor. Esdras nodded and raised his own, taking his natural form. Beneath his hood, his mercury eyes reflected everything. He turned to Aaron, who himself was securing his sword, his pike resting on his shoulder. "Are we ready?"
Aaron nodded and raised his hood. "Civilians and all those not on duty have made their way to the lakeshore for the funeral. The honor guard is assembled and ready. Just give the word."
The king nodded slowly. "Forward mourn."
The honor guard rose into the air and exited the town's main entrance. Nineteen Dementors and one mortal, all bearing their ceremonial weapons of choice, slowly made their way across the lake to where hundreds of mortals from all across the country had gathered. Behind the mortals, rank after rank of Dementors, nearly three million strong, filled the sky and all but blocked out the sun. Esdras led the honor guard to where a white marble platform waited. The guard took their places, flanking it with ten on each side, their ceremonial weapons gleaming in the afternoon light.
After the Dementor honor guard took its place, Hagrid began his long, slow march. The groundskeeper, crying piteously and soaking his beard, bore the body of Albus Dumbledore in his massive arms. Slowly, he made his way to the platform and laid the body, draped in purple cloth with cheerful golden stars, on the sun-warmed stone. As the ceremony began, Esdras was granted a front row seat to the last tribute of the most powerful wizard in the world. He chose not to listen to most of the speakers, especially Scrimgeour, who filled his eulogy with politically correct sentiments and declarations of how the world would not be the same. After a number of wizards had made their remarks, Rufus Scrimgeour stepped to the podium and spoke, albeit reluctantly. "We will now hear a few words from His Divine Majesty King Esdras of Azkaban."
Esdras calmly glided forward and took the podium that the Minister of Magic had abandoned. He was silent for a moment and let the Glaive of Silence rest on his shoulder. When he spoke, the grating whisper of his voice carried far across the quiet crowd. "Death and loss are perhaps felt harder by Dementors than by mortals. Our longevity and resilience to mortal injury makes the finality of death all the more jarring to those who survive the deceased. When such sad occasions do occur, every chance is made to examine the life the deceased lived and try to learn from them. In this way do we honor our dead." He paused and cast his mercuric eyes about the seated mortals. "Dumbledore was many things to many people, but he always strived to be a teacher before all else, so let us once again learn from him. What lesson can we learn from Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore?" Silence reigned and the Dementor spoke again after a time. "The greatest lesson that Dumbledore ever sought to teach, especially in these trying times, is that the one thing that can save the world and protect it from all evil is love. I would say that there are quite a few here who would already heartily agree."
Esdras looked around and, sure enough, in the audience, the now ruggedly scarred Bill Weasley gripped Fleur Delacour's hand a little tighter. Likewise did Tonks take Lupin's and lean against his shoulder. The Dementor King now cast his hood towards his subjects floating behind the mortals. "Dumbledore was the first mortal to put trust in my people in over a thousand years. For that, all of Azkaban owes him a tremendous debt which can never be repaid." Here Esdras looked to Katie. "And perhaps I, personally, owe him more than the sum of my people, combined." From beneath her hood, Katie met his gaze with a soft smile. Esdras turned back to the crowd and continued. "Now, almost four years later, Dementors and mortals are living side by side in a spirit of peace, understanding, and cooperation. These qualities and the trust that Dumbledore displayed are all fundamentally based on love. Dumbledore knew this well and strived to teach this lesson to us. Let us honor his memory by continuing his work and teaching this lesson to others."
Turning away from the podium, the royal Dementor floated back to his place at the head of the honor guard. There was a moment's pause, and Esdras was glad they had been briefed on what to expect. With a blinding flash, the marble platform that Dumbledore rested upon burst into a towering column of sparks. When they died away, a great marble tomb had formed upon the platform where the body lay. Below the waters of the lake, a haunting song echoed from the depths as the Merpeople sang their praises of the fallen man. From the Forbidden Forest, the Centaurs saluted with volley after volley of arrows from the trees. And lastly, with full afterburners roaring, four Dementors flew in formation over the lake. At the last moment, the commander to the right of the formation leader angled sharply upward and engaged a Vault cloak, arcing into the heavens with a brilliant pillar of silver flame and leaving the position empty as the formation raced over the white sarcophagus.
As the mortals stared in awe of the graceful aerial maneuver, Katie and Esdras, at the opposite sides of the tomb, both dropped their weapons at once. The Glaive of Silence and the Scythe of Death both hit the ground with the force of a small earthquake, their blades burying deep into the soil to show that, for this man, their powers no longer held influence. From beneath her hood, Katie spoke. The resounding sonic boom of the Vault cloaked Dementor almost drowning out her words. "Rest in peace."
It took Esdras and Katie both a few minutes to pick up and clean the dirt from their weapons. But when complete, Esdras dismissed the honor guard. Aaron paused only to embrace his ancient friend before leading the Dementors back across the lake to New Demnin. As they floated off into the distance, Esdras sighed and turned to face the marble tomb. He reached into the sleeve of his cloak and pulled out a small bundle of Azkaban Green Mint sprigs. He placed the bundle on the tomb and the rested his gloved hand upon the cool stone. "The blessing of the gods of Azkaban be upon you and remain with you always. And may the gods themselves see you safely down the path you must travel and guide you to your final rest."
His last duty complete, Esdras turned slowly from the tomb and into Katie's waiting arms. Together, the two once again fell to tears and remained in that state for a long while. Finally, Katie pulled away and wiped her eyes on her cloak. Her voice was thick with tears. "I don't want to go back to the castle yet."
Esdras nodded softly and took her hand before taking mortal form beside her. "Of course. Let's go for a walk, then."
Hand in hand, the pair slowly made their way around the lake, taking in the idyllic grounds for what could possibly be their last time as students. They were understandably quiet and simply enjoyed each other's company. This was until Ginny Weasley ran headlong into the pair and bounced off Esdras. From the amount of tears in her eyes, it was obvious that she couldn't see where she was going. When the young redhead finally saw who she had run into, she fell into Esdras' arms. Katie stroked her hair. "I know…I miss him, too."
Ginny shook her head and wiped the tears from her eyes. Her voice was bitter and sad all at once. "No, it's not that. It's Harry. He broke up with me."
Katie could see Esdras visibly tense, but what really worried her was how he ground his teeth and how his eyes seem to glow a violent, acidic green. Esdras quickly and carefully placed Ginny into Katie's arms and spoke emotionlessly. "Please excuse me for a moment."
He was gone before either girl could object, floating quickly along the lakefront with murder in his eyes. He finally saw Harry standing with Ron and Hermione a few hundred feet away. He landed and walked with purpose towards the trio. Hermione saw him coming and motioned to Harry. The scarred mortal turned around and glared. "What do you…?"
Harry was unable to finish his question before Esdras drew his hand back and struck the mortal across the face. The Boy Who Lived was sent flying fifty feet across the grass and when he landed, Esdras advanced upon him. "Get up so I can knock you down again!" Behind him, he heard Ron and Hermione reach for their wand and drew the Swords at his waist. With an inhuman back flip, he landed between them and placed a platinum sword at each of their necks. His voice was calm. "Leave. Now."
Hermione was always smart on the uptake, and this time was no exception. Harry had told her of the breakup, and since she was currently unavailable to listen to Ginny's plight, the first place the redhead would have sought refuge and a shoulder to cry on was with Esdras and Katie. Seeing as how Esdras hadn't killed Harry immediately, it was clear that the Dementor only wanted to talk. Despite the swords at their throats, they were all perfectly safe. She quickly pulled Ron away by the arm, silencing his concerns. When Esdras turned to face his quarry, Harry was standing, his wand drawn. He pointed it at the Dementor. "What the hell is this about, Esdras?"
The Dementor growled, bringing his swords to bear at Harry. His voice was thick with the harsh whisper of his native accent. "Ginny. Crying. Explain."
The scarred mortal glared. "I did what I had to do, Esdras. She'll be in danger if we're together. Voldemort won't hesitate to use her to get to me."
Esdras roared in anger. "Foolish mortal, she's in danger no matter what you do! Do you really think she'll be safer if you break up with her? Do you think that Voldemort will think that you no longer love her or that she is any less a viable target because you have broken up with her?" He narrowed his mercuric eyes, his anger causing them to glow white along with the green of his irises. "I have news for you, mortal. No one is safe. Not you, not Ginny, not Katie, not I, not Tonks, not Lupin, not Bill, not Fleur. Should I go on?" He didn't wait for Harry to reply. Instead, his voice grew in intensity and desperation, taking on a more mortal pitch and accent as he gestured wildly with the swords still in hand. "You deny love in a time when we need it more than ever. You spit upon the memory and legacy of Dumbledore. Love is the greatest power that we have against the Death Eaters. All you need is love! I should think that you of all people would know this!"
Harry narrowed his eyes and straightened his back. "Shut up! This is my decision to make and my battle to fight! I know what I'm going to do and you will not stop me."
The Dementor growled and leveled the Sword of Mercy at Harry, keeping eye contact with the mortal over the broken platinum blade. "You are an ignorant ass." He began to sheath the two swords quickly. "But if you want to do this on your own, fine. Gods forbid I try to stop you. Be the hero in this epic story and see how far you get alone. I wouldn't dream of stopping you."
Esdras Demnin spun around with a flourish of cloaks and took off into the air, leaving the Boy Who Lived alone with his thoughts.
Embarkation of the Hogwarts Express was blessedly uneventful, but Esdras had taken no chances. No longer did he assign mere divisions to guard the train. This trip was protected by ten fleets of infantry. In addition to this, three fleets of engineers were flying ahead of the train and checking the track, tunnels, and bridges for sabotage. Another two fleets were standing guard at Kings Cross to guard the parents awaiting the arrival of their children. All told, no less than fifteen thousand Dementors were on duty.
Inside the train, it was as silent as a grave. Esdras occupied a compartment with Katie, Roger, Demelza Robins, and a sullen Ginny. Cho had left to go sit with Marietta the moment the redhead had arrived and Ben was on a quest to get the last few addresses he didn't have yet from his friends. Ginny had hardly spoken since she arrived, but the concerned graduates were able to glean that she had been exiled from the cabin where Harry, Hermione, and Ron were sitting and plotting. She had been crying, something that Esdras doubted she would ever do in front of Harry, and, after being given a soft pillow and a blanket, she had fallen into a fitful sleep, curled up with her head against the Dementor's leg.
The others sighed sadly and looked to each other for conversation. Esdras pointed to the stack of letters on top of Katie's trunk. He spoke in a whisper to avoid waking Ginny. "Who are all the letters from?"
Katie grabbed them and started flipping through them. "Let's see. This one is from Angelina; she's playing for Tutshill now and has put in a good word for me there. They want me to try out. This one is from Oliver Wood; he's off Puddlemere's reserve team so his spot is open. He also wants to know if we're still dating." She shared a smirk with Esdras before going on to the next letter. "The Holyhead Harpies want me to try out as well. Apparently I impressed Gwenog Jones at that Slug Club dinner in March."
Esdras narrowed his hood. "I'm not sure if I'd like you playing for the Harpies. They're rather violent, aren't they? And don't they put out a risqué calendar of the team each year?"
Katie sighed and rolled her eyes. "Among other things. But it's only an offer for a try out, Esdras." She looked over to Roger, who had his arm around Demelza. "What about you?"
Roger smiled. "Actually, I've accepted a position in the research and design department at the Firebolt Corporation. I have no idea how I got it, either. There had to have been better candidates."
The Dementor smirked. "Maybe someone put in a good word for you."
The mortal looked slightly shocked, then quickly recovered. "Another Slug Club contact?"
Esdras shrugged. "I might as well put them to good use since I won't be using them. The way I figure it, I did them a favor. They had narrowed their choice down to between you and Miles Bletchley. The last thing Firebolt needs is someone like Bletchley working for them." Roger smirked at this and nodded his thanks before the Dementor looked to Demelza. "How about you? Will you be coming back to Hogwarts next year?"
Demelza sighed and shrugged. "I have no idea, really. They haven't even announced if they're going to open the school yet. I haven't talked to my parents about it, but you can bet I'm going to fight to come back. I feel perfectly safe in a heavily fortified castle guarded by Dementors."
The Dementor stifled a laugh. "When did Hogwarts turn into Azkaban Prison?" The others laughed softly, being careful not to wake Ginny. Finally, Esdras sighed happily. "Everyone's doing such exciting things. I'll be stuck in New Demnin ruling over the Commonwealth. Maybe if I'm lucky I'll be able to try out for the Azkaban Quidditch team." He sighed. "Once this war is over, at least."
Katie leaned against his shoulder and spoke sagely, echoing words told to her not too long ago. "We won't always live in this world. You have your best years ahead of you, and this war isn't going to last forever. You should do what you want while you can."
Esdras smiled softly. "You use my words against me, my darling."
The blonde mortal shrugged and leaned against his shoulder, running a hand through her black highlights and enjoying the view out the window as they trundled through the countryside. In the reflection on the window she could see her pitch black and brown eyes. She sighed softly, and her voice was soft when she finally spoke. "Nothing will be easy anymore, you know."
The Dementor nodded and looked out the window with her, his eyes of mercury and glowing green providing a counterpoint to her dark orbs. "Perhaps not, but nothing worth doing is ever easy." He held her tighter. "But this, all this…this is worth fighting for."
THE END of CROWN OF THE KING
But don't worry, Esdras Demnin will be back in…
The fifth book in the "Guardian of Azkaban" series.