Elizium for the Sleepless Souls
Prologue: At the Gates of Silent Memory
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The world was an inky void, the darkness only interrupted by his ragged breathing, which exhaled plumes of fog across cold lips, through the burlap sack clinging to his face. He was soaked to the bone, rainwater dripping from every inch of his skin, leeching the last remnants of heat from his body.
Ten fingers clamped down upon each arm, the viselike grips dragging him deeper into the chilly depths.
A door creaked open and he was unceremoniously driven into a hard wooden chair, forcing the air from his lungs. Before he could recover his senses, twin coils snaked around his wrists, binding them to the arms of the chair.
"Leave us," a sugary, girlish voice ordered. Before the echo of her words died, the burlap bag was ripped from his face, bringing the world back into focus.
"Good evening, Mister Potter," Dolores Umbridge greeted from the opposite side of a polished wooden table. A wide, inviting smile stretched across her flabby features. Upon her short, tightly curled hair perched a black bow. She had done away with the fluffy pink cardigan favored during her tenure at Hogwarts, and instead wore dark, formal robes more befitting of a Wizengamot member.
"Dolores," replied Harry, unable to keep the vitriol from his voice. His muscles tensed against the bonds, itching to leap up and wipe the self-satisfied leer from the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.
"How cold you must be, Mister Potter," she continued, acting as if they were not bitter enemies. "Please, have a cuppa."
Umbridge's flabby hands wrapped around the handle of a large teapot adorned with pink floral patterns. She poured the steaming liquid into a light pink mug, before pushing it towards him.
"It'd be far easier to drink this with my hands free."
Umbridge let out a chuckle.
"Perhaps, but it would also be far easier for you to make an attempt on my life. No, Mister Potter, I'm afraid that you'll have to make do."
Harry spared the steaming mug a brief glance, before shaking his head.
"Slipping something into my drink didn't work at Hogwarts. Why bother trying again?"
"Suit yourself," Umbridge replied with a shrug, reaching over to slide the mug back to her side of the table, leaving faint marks on the polished surface. "Remember this moment, Mister Potter. That cup of tea is going to be the closest thing to warmth you'll see for quite a long time."
From the moment of his capture, Harry had known the truth of the matter, but to hear it vocalized was more demoralizing than he would have ever admitted.
"How cross you must be with me. A terrorist group to run, attacks to carry out, and yet here you are, in Azkaban. Tell me…what madness drove you back to the Ministry? As corrupt and immoral as you are, you possess a certain degree of cunning. One would have assumed that one spectacular failure would be enough."
Despite his best effort, Harry's teeth ground together. As bad as things had seemed on that night two years ago when he took five of his closest friends with him on the wings of thestrals to rescue Sirius from the Department of Mysteries, it had been a mere prelude to the horrors to come.
In the space of an hour, both Dumbledore and Sirius were dead, half of the Order of the Phoenix had been arrested, and he was a fugitive, the most wanted person in Wizarding Britain.
"Every potential success has risk attached to it," Harry replied, keeping his voice level. "You know, if I were you, I'd be more interested in why I bothered to take that risk in the first place."
A slight flush rose in her jowls, her small eyes narrowing.
"We plan on winning this war, Potter. Whether you planned on destroying the Ministry of Magic itself, or seizing an experimental weapon from the Department of Mysteries, the end result is the same: you failed."
Bile built up in the back of Harry's throat. Half of the Order had been against his plan, but he had nonetheless pushed on. The war was at an impasse, with the key players for both the Ministry and the Death Eaters hidden from sight.
Someone had to break the stalemate.
"Whatever the case may be," Umbridge continued, "the Order of the Phoenix has lost its leader. Without proper leadership, how long do you think it will take for the remnants to unravel?"
Loathe as he was to admit it, not long. There was no fiercer opponent in the field than Mad-Eye Moody, but he could not relate to non-combatants, the same of which could also be said of Minerva McGonagall.
"It's hard to say," Harry conceded. "Maybe long enough for the Ministry and the Death Eaters to take each other out first."
Umbridge let out a light chuckle.
"I think not, Mister Potter. The ranks of the Death Eaters thin with each passing day."
"And even more flock to Voldemort's call," Harry objected, leaning forward as much as his bonds would allow. "More and more wizards are concluding that bending a knee to Voldemort is kinder than living beneath the Ministry's yoke."
"And they have a point," he spat, cutting her off mid-sputter. "I thought it was bad when you first arrested Stan Shunpike, but that was just a taste of things to come."
"Stan Shunpike was tried and convicted of conspiring with the Death Eaters. Do you know what percentage of the wizarding population travels on the Knight Bus, Potter?"
Harry let out a derisive snort.
"If brains were Floo Powder, Shunpike wouldn't have enough to travel across the room. Voldemort would have no interest in someone that soft headed. You had to know that."
"What I know is that Stan Shunpike, to openly boast of Death Eater plans, was at the very least a Death Eater sympathizer. To support Voldemort is no better than serving him."
Harry chose not to retort. An appeal to reason had no affect upon Dolores Umbridge. Whatever policy the Ministry held, she adopted her thinking to coincide with their creed.
"High treason, Potter. That is what your group of vigilantes is guilty of, a crime equal to that of the atrocities Voldemort has wrought."
"You've lost all sense of perspective, haven't you?"
Umbridge's lips thinned at his question.
"No, Mister Potter, it is you who are delusional. The Aurors and the Hit-Wizards had their hands full fighting against the Death Eaters, having to spend time and resources defending against your Order's attacks are an intractable offense."
"They won't give up, you know," stated Harry. "Even with me gone, they'll fight against you every step of the way."
"Oh, I have no illusions of that, Mister Potter. That's why you're going to help the Ministry stop them."
Harry favored the older woman with an incredulous glare. Him, help the Ministry? There was a better chance of him besting Hagrid in an arm-wrestling match.
"You must have me confused with someone else."
"Would it be correct to assume that you haven't been reading the Daily Prophet as of late?" Umbridge asked, ignoring his comment.
"I have no interest in what that rag has to say."
"Tsk, tsk," she scolded, shaking her head. "It pays to be informed of current affairs. Had you bothered, you would have heard about the new edict upon the floor of the Wizengamot, which goes to vote next week. The Daily Prophet has been quite vocal in their support of this new measure, as the editorial section can attest to."
Alarms were blaring in his head. No, it couldn't be…
"As of next week, all enemies of the state will be under a 'kill on sight' order. A distinction your precious Order more than qualifies for, I'm afraid."
"It will never pass," Harry spat, straining against his bonds.
"Oh, I assure you, Mister Potter, the voting process is a mere formality. The support for it is universal."
Harry leaned against the back of the chair, gob smacked by the news. Order members, supporters, business partners…all of them could to detained and killed without proof, without due process. Even the shadow of suspicion would be enough to condemn them.
"So Mister Potter," continued Umbridge, gloating at his mental anguish. "How much do you value your followers? Are you content to let them throw away their lives on poorly conceived ploys? To let them be cut down in the street like cattle? Or…do you want to help your friends?"
His eyes hardened at her words. As much as it stung, if the edict passed, half of the Order and its supporters would be wiped out before they could fall back to Grimmauld Place.
Harry remained silent, deep in thought. Umbridge took his lack of reply as an invitation to continue.
"All you have to do is give us the location of the Order's headquarters. We know that you are utilizing an illegal Fidelius Charm to cloak your hideout. Break the charm, and we'll use Stun Gas to overtake the hideout. No blood needs to be spilt."
"I have no intentions of trusting the word of the Ministry," Harry spat, anger beginning to cloud his vision. "Even if you hold up your end of the bargain, would the Ministry really allow former members of the Order of the Phoenix to wander free about the country? That doesn't fit into your 'total control' motif. What would happen when they got out of Azkaban? Would the ship back sink? Would they be run over by the Knight Bus? Would they mysteriously contract Dragon Pox?"
Umbridge's mouth thinned to a frown.
"Mister Potter, I assure you-"
"No, forget it. I won't sell them out. Not for myself, and not for you."
The older woman let out a sigh of displeasure.
"I feared as much," she said, before rising to her feet. "Though I thought perhaps you might be smarter. Perhaps a few months here in Azkaban will sway your opinion, allow to you see more clearly."
"I doubt it."
A predatory smile stretched across Umbridge's face, as if she had just won some great victory.
"Time shall tell, Mister Potter. We can be very….persuasive. Nonetheless, you'll have plenty of time to consider my offer."
With a sudden sweep of her arm, she swept the teapot onto the floor. It shattered into a hundred pieces, spraying tea and miniature shards of pink masonry across the floor. No sooner had the teapot exploded, the door flew open, admitting the two silent guards that had escorted him in, wands drawn.
"Mister Potter wasn't interesting in warming himself up with tea. Please show him to our coldest room, if you would be so kind."
As they stuffed the burlap bag over his head, Harry wondered if perhaps breaking into the Ministry of Magic was a bad idea.
"He who dares, wins," he said to himself, before darkness claimed him.
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This story will be eight chapters long, including the prologue and epilogue. As opposed to the epic-length chapters I usually produce, the chapters in this story will a far shorter, in the 3-6k word range. Chapter one should be up in a week or so.
Thanks to T3t, PrincessCupcake and SenseandCommon for the beta assistance.
Thanks to Master Slytherin, scaryisntit and vikingsfn for the additional guidance.
Thanks for reading.