Year of the Refugees
(Year Three at Kaaterskill)
"Numquam Fidete Equite
"Who can tell when he sets forth to wander,
whether he may be driven by the uncertain currents of existence,
or whether it may ever be his lot to revisit the scenes of his childhood?"
-Washington Irving, "The Voyage," The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.
A Fool in the Storm
August 1, 1997
Inky black darkness enveloped the walls of Azkaban as the clock passed midnight. Cold North Sea waves crashed against the rocky cliffs far below.
Three men men stood shivering on a patch of open ground just outside the iron gates of the prison. Two wore heavy cloaks and held lit wands in their hands. Between them, the third man stood restrained in a strait jacket. Back bent, head bowed, he wore tattered clothes and an expression somewhere between curious and crazed. Long, matted hair that might once have been blonde covered his head and an unkempt beard his face.
"Blimey, Sanders, why did the Yanks have to pick this time to transfer their bloody prisoner?" asked one of the sentinels.
"Jiggered if I know, Whitney," the other guard said. "Orders from the top: Exham to be shipped to Autongamon at midnight. Can't say I know what he's still doing here anyhow. They broke all of his buddies out months ago and somehow he got left behind."
"Maybe they didn't think any Yank could be pure enough for 'em," said Whitney. "I won't be sorry to see him go, just the same. He's been actin' up ever since the Dementors defected. He's as dangerous as any of them, I guess."
The prisoner turned his head suddenly towards Whitney, his shock of greasy hair waving in the breeze, his eyes glinting dangerously. Whitney caught his glance and shivered as he turned away.
"I'd like to know why they couldn't just get a special certificate and apparate with him," Sanders said. "It's a fool's errand to carry him anywhere on a broom in this weather."
"Well, tell me now, how'd you like to go side-along with him?" asked Whitney. "Bad enough to have to look at him."
At this the prisoner gave a whoop and giggled crazily to himself. "Kaater-Kaater-Kaaterskill, that's where Ethan is," he muttered in sing-song.
"Wrong again, Exham," Sanders spat. "Azkaban's where you are and you'll not be seeing Kaaterskill any time soon."
Exham seemed not to hear; he coughed and said to no one in particular, "Doomed! Doomed I am for a certain term to walk the night, 'til my foul crimes be purged."
As Exham dissolved once again into childish laughter, Whitney pointed out to sea.
"There they are, Sanders!" he exclaimed. Not far from the walls of the prison, five points of light appeared. As they moved closer the guards could make out five figures hunched over brooms, coursing through the sea spray and mist.
Exham looked up and cried out, "Angels and ministers of grace defend us! To what issue will this come?"
"Stop your babbling!" Sanders said sharply as the visitors touched down. Now they could see that there were 6 American aurors, 4 on normal brooms and two on a most unusually large broom.
The newcomers approached, a tall, square-shouldered wizard at their head. He stopped before Sanders and Whitney, casting a wary eye at the prisoner.
"Auror Squad Leader Eldredge at your service," he said. "Reporting for prisoner transport."
"Guard Captain Sanders at yours. This here is Whitney, Night Shift Leader. Pleasant trip, was it?"
"I'd hardly say that," Eldredge confessed. "Then again, you wouldn't want it to be too easy to get out here, would you?"
He glanced quickly at Exham, then said, "Well, let's get the paperwork signed and get him out of here. We've got a long journey ahead of us."
Sanders produced parchments which he and Eldredge reviewed, signing each of them.
Then Eldredge turned to the two burly Aurors who had arrived on the extra large broom.
"Wilkins, Lovullo, secure the prisoner and prepare for take-off," he told them.
His two subordinates nodded and advanced to where Whitney stood next to Ethan Exham. The prisoner looked up at them, eyes dull, no longer manic but seemingly dazed.
"Come now, Exham," said one of the Aurors. "Let's do this nice and quick. Lovullo, take his right side."
The prisoner's eyes cleared as he looked at Wilkins. "A pox o' your throat, you bawling, blasphemous, incharitable dog!" he shouted, but he didn't struggle as his new guards led him to the the oversized broom.
"Down you go," Wilkins said as he and Lovullo lowered Exham over the broom. Lovullo raised his wand, spoke a spell and magical ropes bound the prisoner to the broom.
"Poor fool and knave, I have one part in my heart that's sorry yet for thee," Exham said.
Lovullo harrumphed. "Guess he's as mad as everyone says he is."
"All right, let's get under way," Eldredge said. The aurors mounted their brooms. Wilkins sat forward of Exham with Lovullo at the rear of the large broom.
"On my mark," Eldredge called. "Good night, gentlemen. One, two, three...lift off!"
The Americans rose from the cold ground of Azkaban and swooped off into the night. Sanders and Whitney watched them go.
"I still say it's a fool's errand," Sanders said. "Better them than me, though."
"Aye," Whitney agreed with a shiver. "Well, let's get back inside."
The prisoner transport flew on through the night, mostly passing over ocean waters. Only a brief fly-over of the Scottish Highlands interrupted their travel over the sea for many hours. Daylight came, but there was nowhere for the Aurors to alight, so they pressed on.
Occasionally their prisoner would mutter or shout some epithet, but his guards paid no heed; indeed, it's doubtful they even heard his outbursts.
Crossing the Atlantic on brooms wasn't routine for anyone; it was just over 60 years since the intrepid Jocunda Sykes had made the first trans-oceanic passage. Even with top flight brooms, the Aurors steered a great circle over the North Atlantic so that they could stop at several points: first on the slopes of an Icelandic volcano, next on the southern tip of Greenland, then near L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland where the Vikings had settled a thousand years earlier.
At each stop the Aurors stretched their legs, had a brief meal and allowed their prisoner to do the same. On the foggy morning when they alighted on the northern tip of Newfoundland, a tawny owl flew up to Eldredge carrying a small parchment. The Squad Leader unrolled the note, read it and whistled in surprise.
"Would you look at this?" he told Wilkins as the latter munched on a bit of cake. "We're lucky we took Exham when we did. Ministry of Magic fell to You-Know-Who later that day. Scrimgeour's dead."
Wilkins swore. "Any change in our plans?" he asked.
"Well, we're to make all possible speed to Autongamon," Eldredge said. "As if we weren't doing that already. Says here to maintain high alert."
"Again, already done," Wilkins added. "You don't think anyone would try to take him?"
"We've not been followed, I can tell you that," Eldredge said as he wrote a brief reply and tied it to the owl's leg. The bird flew off into the gray dawn. "We should probably worry as much about the weather as an ambush."
The lead Auror didn't seem to notice that his prisoner had been watching the conversation intently. Exham had seemed barely conscious for most of the flight, occasionally lapsing into what his captors took to be random gibberish.
As Lovullo and Wilkins bound him to the transport broom once again, Exham muttered, "He's back! Sleep no more! Sleep no more!"
The next leg of the trip saw the Aurors crossing the Canadian Maritimes; as they did so, the weather conditions deteriorated, just as Eldredge had foreseen. At first, gentle swirls of breeze from the southwest brought a light mist that turned to drizzle.
By the time they'd reached the Bay of Fundy, their brooms were buffeted by gale force winds, accompanied by rain that drove into them like grapeshot. Far below them, muggle fishermen hurried into their harbors and ferries were ordered to stay in port.
Suddenly the broom riders flew out of the downpour into a calm, clear sky. Eldredge and the others looked around them. Their prisoner was wide awake, white-faced and frightened into apparent sanity.
"There's an island down there," Eldredge shouted to the others as he pointed ahead to the far edge of the calm area. "Inhabited by wizards, if I'm not wrong. Make for that!"
So they flew towards the island, reducing their altitude as they went. But the storm continued in their direction and before they reached their goal, the island was enveloped in cloud and rain.
"Steady on!" Eldredge yelled. "Follow me!"
But as he spoke, a tremendous bolt of lightning crashed through the midst of the party, splitting the transport broom in two. Lovullo managed to steady the rear remnant of the broom, but Wilkins, who'd been at the front, tumbled off and flailed helplessly. Eldredge quickly dove and caught his colleague before he plunged into the sea.
Ethan Exham, still bound to the broken broom, fell straight down into the raging waves. The Aurors caught a glimpse of him struggling vainly against his straight jacket and they heard one last, crazed utterance, "Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!" The next moment Exham disappeared below the surface and a tremendous gust of wind blew his guards far from his entry point.
They managed to fly down to the island Eldredge had spied from afar.
Alighting, Eldredge threw his broom down on the pebbled shore and swore.
"Damn! There'll be hell to pay when we get back," he said. His stunned companions nodded and stared out at the roiling sea that had swallowed up their captive.