Disclaimer: Not mine. Sigh.
Thanks to PandoraCulpa, the beta who makes the world go 'round.
"In Walls of Stone" was originally published on FictionAlley on 18 July, 2004.
Azkaban is like nothing you've ever seen before. Oh, you've imagined places like this hundreds of times; they edge into your mind when you read about medieval witch hunts, or when you imagine the fortress of a particularly evil fictional villain, or when you're having a nightmare. But even in the worst of those nightmares, the places you dream about don't strike the kind of fear into you that Azkaban does.
Its tall, spiked turrets stretch malevolently into the still air, and you can't help but notice the complete lack of light emanating from the place, turning what might have been a thing of cold, terrible beauty into nothing more than a mass of black against the velvet blue of the sea and sky. Its great bulk juts out of the water like some kind of ancient demon, just lying in wait until you get close enough for it to devour you.
It is probably no coincidence that they chose to bring you here by night; before you even arrive, they want you to have a very good idea of how you are going to spend the rest of your life.
As the little Ministry boat draws closer and closer to the island, phrases like "I'm innocent!" and "I didn't do it!" (which you've been shouting ever since they sentenced you) continue to leap from your lips with a mechanical urgency, but your mind is utterly consumed by the massive structure that has suddenly become your – and you've never really believed in the word before now – fate.
Your protests cease as soon as you enter the fortress. They shove you through the massive front entrance and into the hands of an expressionless guard, whereupon the latter clamps a meaty hand on one of your arms. As your wrists are cuffed together with both metal and magic, you know it's useless to resist, especially now that you've reached your final destination. But that isn't why you've stopped yelling.
You've stopped because the words you've been screaming have suddenly frozen on your tongue.
You know, of course, that words can't literally freeze – but if ever they could, then this is the place that could make it happen. The wave of cold that washes over you as you enter the main hall of the fortress is deeper than you've ever imagined cold could be. Dressed as you are in the plain shirt and slacks that you've been wearing since they arrested you, you feel quite certain that you will die within minutes. And as you consider what is in store for you, you realize that you don't find this possibility entirely unappealing.
But minutes pass as the guard pushes you roughly and wordlessly down a dizzying maze of corridors, and you don't die. Oddly enough, the guard seems entirely oblivious to the arctic temperatures, and you wonder vaguely if he's used a charm to protect himself. Instinctively you comb your mind for any kind of warming charm you might have forgot about, but you soon stop yourself even wondering. After all, they've taken your wand. Without it, the charm would be useless.
The guard pushes you up long flights of stairs, down even longer ones, around corners, and through passageways both wide and narrow. But no matter where you walk, one thing always stays the same: there is no light. It isn't simply a lack of candlelight; it's a darkness that, while not thick enough to entirely prevent a person from seeing, seems almost tangible in its depth. Not a natural darkness at all.
After what seems like an eternity of stumbling, falling, and getting back up again, the guard (who has remained mute and stone-faced through the entire journey) draws to a halt. Though you can barely see, you hear the jangling of keys and the subsequent creak of a door swinging open... and your mind registers for the first time a low murmur of other sounds around you. Voices, human voices, muttering to themselves in the darkness. Despite your efforts to strain your ears, you can't make out any words – but when an earsplitting cackle sends a jolt of freezing fire through you, you think that maybe it's best if you don't know what they're saying.
Without any warning, you find yourself shoved into a cell. This is it, you think, somewhere in the back of your mind. This is the end.
The door slams behind you, causing another tremor to course through your already shivering body, and the cuffs on your wrists instantly vanish. You instinctively turn and wrap your hands around two of the bars on the door, and for the first time you find yourself face to face with your captor, whose pale face leers at you from the other side.
Though you know it's too late, you suck air into your lungs and prepare to scream one more time. It will be the kind of scream that will sound from the depths of your very soul and resonate around the fortress. The kind of scream that will be repeated forever, from one mouth to another, until everyone knows what your last words were before you were locked up. The kind of scream whose echoes will send shivers down the spines of the Ministry officials who sent you here, causing them to wonder, "Maybe I was wrong?" The kind of scream that , if nothing else, will afford you an appropriately dramatic sense of your own imprisonment, and will allow you to feel as though you tried to do something about it.
"I DIDN'T DO IT!"
But all that comes out of your mouth is a creaky, frightened whisper.
Ashamed at the sound of your own voice, you do not speak again.
The guard grins mirthlessly at you, but does not otherwise acknowledge your claim. "They come round with bread and water twice a day," he says, and you wince at the sound of his raspy, metallic voice, which doesn't strike you as entirely human. "And don't bother trying to escape. Nobody ever does, in the end. They always find you."
And with these cryptic words the guard stalks away, leaving you to your uncontrollable shivers and solitary cell. The murmurs of mad voices around you add even further to the chill of the place, and you back away from the bars in attempt to get as far away from them as you can.
Since the cell is none too deep – seven or eight feet at the very most – this does not help at all. Somewhere down the hall (or up the stairs? or around the corner? or in your own mind?) someone screams, and you feel the last trace of heat leave your body. Unable to do anything but simply be numb, you sink down against the wall until you find yourself seated on the floor.
The floor. It's cold, as you expected, and more than a little damp. There is a thin blanket sitting in one of the corners of the cell, and beside it is a small metal bowl which you can only assume is meant to be a chamber pot of sorts, as there are no other such facilities in the tiny square room. None at all. Not even a bed to sleep on.
As it sinks into your mind that the blanket is probably all that will ever be afforded to you where comfort is concerned, you begin to feel... something. In truth, you aren't entirely sure what you're feeling, but at least it's finally something besides cold – although as soon as you think the word "cold," you feel that again too. You don't know what name to give this new feeling, but it isn't quite anger... and it isn't quite shame either. Maybe it's both, or maybe it's something else entirely. You just don't know.
You do know, though, that the first name that comes to your mind is Peter Pettigrew. With a loud wordless roar, you toss the name as far from you as you can, willing yourself with all your might to think of something, anything else. James Potter. Lily Potter. Harry Potter, who has somehow survived.
The names bring a broken sob to your throat and you feel tears starting to prick at your eyes, but you screw your lids shut in order to hold them back. They will only freeze if they fall, after all.
Remus Lupin, you think instead. Gentle, caring Remus who has been through so much, whom you mistakenly suspected all because of that bloody traitor, and who is now... who knows where? Does Remus even know what has happened?
Of course he does. Remus was doubtlessly one of the first to know. Albus Dumbledore, if nobody else, has already told him everything.
But not everything, you realize with a start. Remus has no way of knowing that you haven't... that you would never...
But he has to know that you would never do such a thing. You and he have been such good friends for so long...
...and yet you suspected Remus of the very same thing. How can you expect your friend not to believe just as easily in your guilt?
A new wave of bitter cold fills you, and you screw your eyes shut against it. Remus can't believe that you're guilty. He simply can't. He's always been smart, hasn't he? Perhaps he's not as naturally book-smart as you are, or as James is – was – but he's always been more in tune with other people. Surely he knows you well enough to realize...
He'll see, you think frantically to yourself, huddling against the wall as the air around you grows even colder. He'll know it wasn't really me. He'll tell them. He'll get me out. He'll get me out!
The thought brings the first hint of a ragged smile to your face.
A smile that vanishes almost as soon as it appears.
Even as you begin to entertain thoughts of getting out, you catch sight of something moving outside your cell. You eyes flicker upwards, and you suck in a breath at what you see.
You learned about dementors in your NEWT-level Defence Against the Dark Arts lessons, of course. You learned how to defend yourself against them; in seventh year the teacher even brought one in for the class to practice on. You learned that they were employed by the Ministry to guard the halls of Azkaban, to destroy the fortress's prisoners by trapping them inside their own minds. But this place alone already has you trapped inside your own mind, and maybe that's why you forgot about them until this very moment...
Nonetheless, you immediately recognize what is in store for you. "Expecto patronum!" you yell automatically, but without a wand the incantation is useless. The dementor sucks in a rattling breath, and you begin to feel sick.
The rumbling of a motorbike.
You slump against the wall.
You see a pile of rubble where the house once stood.
You brace your hands against the stone floor.
"James! Lily! Hagrid, where are they? Harry! James! JAMES!"
You struggle to keep breathing.
The high-pitched cry of a baby, and two motionless shapes on the ground.
You feel your head begin to spin.
"Don't look, Sirius, don't look..."
You screw your eyes shut.
You're shaking when you regain consciousness, and another moment passes during which you wonder just why consciousness was something you'd needed to regain. Then all at once you remember the cell – the cold – the dementor. You manage to crawl over to the chamber pot just in time to be sick.
You push the pot into one corner and yourself into another, but though you're as far away as you can get from the stench, it isn't nearly far enough. You wipe your mouth gingerly on your shirt, not even bothering to wonder how you will ever clean it off.
Pulling the blanket over your shivering body, you make yourself as small as you can in the corner, purposefully thinking of nothing but heat. For you know what dementors are like. If you dare to think of anything that might cheer you up, they will... well. The point is, you have no desire to relive what has just happened.
And so you try to concentrate on being warm – an exceptionally hard task to accomplish, given that you already cannot quite remember what it feels like to be warm. But then a thought occurs to you that nearly makes you laugh out loud (and you can't laugh, not if you don't want them to come back) with its absurdity. And it is absurd, isn't it? You've been imprisoned for life for something you didn't do. You haven't even been given a proper trial. James and Lily have lost their lives, Harry has lost his parents, Peter has lost everything that once made him a decent human being – and all you can think about is fur?
"Fur," you say aloud to yourself in a darkly amused whisper. "Fur's warm!" And you have to stifle another oncoming laugh, even though you aren't entirely sure what's funny about it.
"What's funny?" you wonder aloud, and the sound of your voice seems to cut through the cold stillness just a little bit. You pause, somewhat amazed at this new revelation, and you want to see if it will work again. "WHAT'S SO GODDAMN FUNNY?"
The stone walls echo the words back at you, and you lean your head back against the stone wall, laughing and laughing till the coldness comes back again in full force.
You nearly choke on your laughter as you realize that the dementor is returning... and suddenly your idea doesn't seem so absurd. After all, dementors can't see, can they? Maybe they won't know the difference...
Without another thought, you change. You whimper – or rather, Padfoot whimpers – as the dementor sucks the warmth out of the air once, twice, thrice... and you whimper again as it moves on, evidently satisfied.
Locked safely within Padfoot's mind, you draw a sigh of relief. I can get through this, you think. And tomorrow, Remus will come and get me out.
Padfoot curls up in the corner of the cell, and you curl up inside Padfoot's mind. And you wait.