A/N: This was inspired by LessWrong's Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, and set in that universe, but I strongly suspect it's AU. That said, I highly recommend you check out that fic, as it's quite possibly the best fic I've read. Ever.
Disclaimer: I don't own this twice over-not only do I not own Harry Potter, but I also don't own Harry Potter the Methods of Rationality.
Nightmares of Azkaban
You've been to Azkaban before. Only once, but that was more than enough.
You were just a trainee, then (now, of course, you're a full junior Auror, even if you've only been here a couple of months), and you were in the apprenticeship period, trailing Auror Greenaway, a grizzled old man who looked older than you knew he was—but then, that's not atypical for veterans of You-Know-Who's War.
You weren't delivering a prisoner, thank God, but only bringing some information over. You were having trouble remembering why the wards wouldn't just let you Floo over, and you glanced nervously at the creaky rowboat; you weren't in any danger, of course, any more than the strong winds of the Atlantic Ocean were breaking through the powerful warming charms that Auror Greenaway had placed on the both of you before you set off—but you're not Wizardborn, and felt that they should, and from time to time you'd shiver in an imaginary wind.
Then you got close to the island and felt the Dementors, and that was real cold, cold like you'd never felt before and hoped like hell you'll never feel again, and all of a sudden you forgot about imaginary winds off the Atlantic. You were stuck frozen, unable to think, all while Auror Greenaway handed the package over, and you followed him like an automaton until you were out of the range of the Dementors once more.
That was when you leaned over the side of the rowboat and threw up.
Auror Greenaway offered you some water from his canteen. You rinsed your mouth and spat over the side.
Then you started to talk.
You can't remember, now, exactly what you said, but it was about the Dementors, and hope, and sickness, and right and wrong. Auror Greenaway listened for a while, then he put up his hand. Then slowly, gravely, he recited to you some of the crimes of certain prisoners in Azkaban, what it was they'd done to be locked up in there.
It didn't exactly make you feel better. Actually, you threw up again.
You rinsed and spit once more. You still felt sick.
For a while, everything was silent except the winds off the ocean. Then you said: "But sir, what if someone innocent ends up in Azkaban? Or what if—not everyone's like the Death Eaters. Sir."
Auror Greenaway patted you on the shoulder and said in a gruff voice, "We take care of that, lad."
You found out how a few months later.
You'd been a junior Auror for about three weeks, then. You were partnered with Auror Greenaway, long-term now; it wasn't uncommon for ex-apprentices to be partnered with the Aurors who had overseen their apprenticeship, unless there was a real clash of personalities.
It was a solo interview. Not your first; Auror Greenaway wasn't like those senior Aurors who would, as Auror Greenaway put it, coddle their junior partners. He'd had you doing interviews since the day you'd passed the exam. He'd have probably done the same thing when you were still a trainee, actually, if it weren't against regs.
The interview was pretty basic. The interviewee, a man by the name of Gerald Jones, was by far the most likely suspect in the murder on an unpleasant Knockturn Alley-type, though at the time you hadn't known just how unpleasant. He'd been seen fleeing the crime, and the Priori Incantato cast on his wand had shown a Reducto, the spell used to kill the victim. He'd been unable to account for his whereabouts at the time of the murder, too. In other words, things were looking pretty bad for him.
"Sir," you said patiently, sitting across from the suspect, "can you please tell me what you were doing at the scene of the crime?"
"I told you," said Jones tightly. "I was at the pub."
"Sir," you said again, "no one remembers you there, and witnesses place you at the scene of the crime."
He took a straight look at you and cracked, tears beginning to run down his face.
"He was threatening my wife," he said, voice so rough and low you could barely hear him. "He was making me give him money. Then yesterday he wanted me to steal something for him." A pause. "I said I wouldn't. I said I'd go to the Aurors. He said he'd rape my wife! And Annie! She's only three!" He reachesd for something in his coat. You don't react; it can't be his wand, they took it from him.
In fact it was a picture of him and his wife and kid, and your blood froze, because you know them: that was Cordelia, she was a few years ahead of you at Hogwarts, and you'd run into her the other day and she'd had her daughter with her, whose name, yes, had been Annie.
You were pretty sure this was a tactic to manipulate you.
It was still working.
Jones must have seen something in you face, because he added, "You have to believe me, sir!"
Merlin help you, you did. "Why didn't you come to us any sooner?"
He looked down, then back up. "I didn't have any evidence," Jones said, quiet now—ashamed, you thought. "And he said if I did, he'd know."
The former, at least, was true; there wasn't any evidence, in the dead man's home or at his office. The Aurors had gone over them with a fine-toothed comb; they'd known he was an unsavoury character, and they'd wanted to find some evidence on the man's now-former colleagues.
You stared at him, feeling sick. You believed him, but without evidence...the man already had an Aggravated Assault on his record, the stupid kind people get when they've drunk too much on Harry Potter day. The courts wouldn't be kind to him.
"Please excuse me, sir," you told him. "I'll be back shortly."
Then you went to find Auror Greenaway.
You told him the story from start to finish, and you were pretty sure you sounded as desperate as you felt. "We can't just send him to the courts, sir!" You added. "They'll send him to Azkaban! You know they will! And he was just protecting his family!" Auror Greenaway looked at you steady, and after a minute you looked down and added, "I still have nightmares about the Dementors, sir."
He nodded. "So do we all, laddie." Then he sighed. "This story of yours. Is there any evidence?"
You shook your head, then opened your mouth to speak.
He held up his hand palm out, stopping you before you could get a word out. "But you believe him?"
"All right," said Auror Greenaway. "I trust your judgment. Here's what we do..."
Two hours later, you and Auror Greenaway were returning Mr. Jones his wand. "Very sorry for the inconvenience, sir," said Auror Greenaway. "Here's your wand back, and have a nice day."
Jones was gaping at you. "But I confessed!"
"No you didn't," said Auror Greenaway. "you didn't confess, your wand didn't have Reducto, and our witnesses must have been mistaken. Possibly they were Obliviated by the real murderer; rare, but it does happen."
"Look," said Auror Greenaway. "Do you want to go to Azkaban?"
Mutely, Jones shook his head.
"Right. Then I'll thank you to be leaving now."
Without saying another word, Jones took his wand and left.
There was silence.
A few moments later, Auror Greenaway broke it. "Do you remember, lad, after Azkaban, when I told you we took care of things like that?"
"You were right. We can't let a man like that go to Azkaban."
What if I'm wrong? you wondered.
But you didn't say anything.
Your first thought on hearing that Bellatrix Black escaped from her cell in Azkaban is not 'good'.
Your first thought is, "Oh, crap," and then you're off to Azkaban, along with Greenway and the other three dozen Aurors who were in the Department when the news came, and then you're far too busy to think.
That night, you have another nightmare. It's the same one you always have, about Azkaban.
You know you used to have more nightmares then just this one, but not anymore.
It's not something you'd normally think. It's probably the result of visiting Azkaban again, and the stress, and the nightmare about the bloody Dementors.
But just for a moment, contemplating the though of someone, anyone, escaping the horror of Azkaban, you think of Bellatrix Black's escape and you think, good.
You're pretty sure that later, you're going to be really horrified that you thought that.
For now, the idea of someone out of the Dementors' reach is enough to lure you back to sleep.