Being completely Petrified, Harry could offer no resistance as Umbridge hauled him roughly towards the Hogwarts cemetery, pausing only briefly to mutter, "Portus," and zap one of the headstones-she was creating a Portkey to Azkaban, Harry surmised. He had hoped to never see the inside on the terrible place, but it appeared he was about to as Umbridge touched the headstone. The world went all colorful, and Harry had the feeling of being sucked down through space for about a minute before the two of them landed with a thud on a hard outcropping of rock. The roar of waves crashing on rocks surrounded Harry. He could see they were on a desolate island well out in the sea. And above him loomed the grim stone walls of Azkaban. It looked just as somber and soulless as he'd so often heard.
He didn't have much time to take it in, as Umbridge was dragging him towards a massive iron door at the base of the prison. "Summon Swims; I want a special word with him on this one," she ordered a Dementor on duty at the gate. With a small, imperceptible nod, the Dementor glided away out of sight. A second one on duty extended its hand towards the gate, which slowly inched upwards with a deep grating sound. Even from outside, Harry could hear horrible, insane cries inside the prison. Now he could fully appreciate the horror Sirius had gone through for so long...
He was yanked across the threshold into what appeared to be the central atrium of the prison. "Ah, Dolores, what a pleasant surprise," came an oily voice to the right that Harry thought sounded somewhat familiar. A decrepit, hunched-over old wizard was shuffling towards them, a cruel look on his face. "And the famous Harry Potter," he sneered coldly at him, "I'd been expecting you to show up here some day. Charonius Swims, Warden of Azkaban Prison," he gave a mocking bow, "So, I hear you've let a Muggle into the wizarding world. I'd say that call for a good long stretch here, don't you Dolores?"
"Indeed, Swims; he's to have an indefinite term in here, by the Minister's orders," Umbridge shoved Harry towards Swims, "Here's his wand," she handed it to the warden, "No visitors for him without the Minister's personal consent, keep an extra Dementor guard on him to avoid escape, feed him at your discretion."
"Sounds good to me. Let's go, young man," Swims dragged Harry down a long row of cells from inside which terrible cries were ringing out. The cellblock seemed to stretch into the far distance; the prison had to be magically enchanted to hold more people inside than the outer architecture would hint, Harry surmised.
"Welcome to my world, Potter, the wonderful world of penal corrections," Swims was saying out loud, almost bragging, "Seventeen years I've been in charge here, and I've dedicated myself to make sure those who break the law pay for their crimes appropriately. After all, they can't feel sorry for what they've done if they don't pay a price and suffer for it. Sure, they may say I'm harsh sometimes, but it's nothing some wizards don't do-and if they end up coming in here, then they deserve it in my book. And here we are."
He stopped by an unoccupied cell-perhaps jokingly ironic that it was Number 666-and tossed Harry inside it, slamming the door shut behind him. A low hum hinted at the door being locked magically. It was only then that Swims fired at Harry and released him from the Full Body Bind. Harry immediately rushed the bars. "Let me out of here!" he demanded to Swims, shaking the bars hard, "You can't hold me here like this without...!"
Swims abruptly grabbed hold of him by the rear collar. "Crucio!" the warden shouted, jamming his wand into Harry's ribs, and sending the most horrific pain imaginable coursing through his body. Swims held the curse for a full minute before releasing Harry. "You see, Potter, people have to learn respect in here," he snickered arrogantly, "Within these walls, I am God, and my subjects better treat me as such."
"Do whatever you want to him to make him realize that, Swims; you'll have the Ministry's approval for it," Umbridge leaned over the warden's shoulder.
"Understood, Dolores," Swims nodded coldly, "Do you want me to give the Muggle in question a one-over or two before you...?"
"No, I don't think we'll go THAT far, Swims. But send an extra Dementor or two to Hogwarts tomorrow afternoon," Umbridge told him, "We'd better make absolutely sure the Muggle won't tell anyone about us."
Harry's heart froze at what she was insinuating. "You can't!" he shouted again, half-jumping against the bars, "You can't have those monsters suck Derek's soul out! He's not a...!"
Swims made a loud clicking gesture to his right, and suddenly one of the Dementors zoomed up to the bars and started sucking. Harry found himself shaking fearfully as his parents' cries rang out in his head once more-Voldemort was coming for them, and him, and they were about to die...he had to stop it somehow...
"That's enough," Swims spoke up, and he was laughing hard, as if he found the attack hilarious. Harry's mind started clearing as the Dementor glided away. "You see, cause a ruckus on my watch, Potter, and you'll be seeing my friends here a lot," Swims was still laughing, "They're quite effective, and keep the populace in here nicely in check-well, looks like another guest arriving at the Hotel Swims," he turned his attention to the left, "Bring him this way, O'Doone, but don't put him on the cellblock with Potter."
"Please, I haven't done anything!" it was Mr. Weasley. Harry felt horribly guilty to see Ron's father dragged in front of his cell, looking as white as some of the Hogwarts ghosts. In a way, he reasoned, it was his fault Mr. Weasley was in this mess; if he hadn't brought Derek to the hotel...
"Sorry, but I ain't buying it; innocent people don't come here, Arthur," Swims told him smarmily, "And knowing how close you are to Potter..."
"I met the Muggle child yes, but I don't...!" Mr. Weasley protested.
"Let him go!" Harry pressed himself against the bars, the guilt getting worse, "Lock me up if you want, but he has a family; he's...!"
"He's as much a blood traitor as you are for conspiring to bring the Muggle into our midst," Umbridge snapped coldly at him, "So Swims, have the Dementors work him over good," she ordered the warden, "He's practically a half-breed Squib anyway..."
"DON'T YOU CALL HIM THAT!" Harry screeched at the top of his lungs, furious.
"Harry, it's all right, I'll be OK," Mr. Weasley tried to calm him, but Harry could see the fear in the man's eyes as he was led away.
"Oh I know it, Arthur, because if you try to escape, your entire half-Mudblood family'll join you in here," Swims called condescendingly to him as O'Doone shoved him towards a group of Dementors. "Oh, by the way, O'Doone, before I forget," he waved his adjutant back over, "I have some important business to attend to tonight, I've found out, so you'll be in charge for a few hours; should be back by dawn at the latest."
"OK, if you say so, sir," O'Doone nodded, "Oh, and if it's OK, the Prophet sent Rita over; she's waiting outside..."
"Not anymore," came Rita's disgustingly cheery voice getting closer. Harry's blood pressure spiked again. "I'm not talking to her," he growled turning his back to the bars.
"Well unfortunately for you, Harry, I'm not leaving until I do get an interview, and clearly you're not going anywhere," Rita all but sang as she arrived in front of his cell, "Now, for the benefit of all my readers, why did you do it?"
"Get out, now," he growled under his breath without turning around.
"Come now, Harry, I'd hate to have to tell everyone reading my work that you refused to offer an explanation for why you broke the biggest law in the wizarding world..."
"The biggest law!?" it was taking all his self-control to keep from snapping, "I'd say murdering someone in cold blood such as Voldemort did to my parents is much worse than exposing us to one measly Muggle, Rita. Which is why, if you have any sense of actual justice, you'll look into Umbridge here, and why she wants to all but kill Derek to keep the secret and suck his soul out...!"
"I said no such thing," Umbridge declared with a sinister grin, "He's lying again, Rita, just like he always has."
"YOU are the liar!" Harry couldn't control himself anymore, "You think having an official title gives you a...don't you dare write anything!" he warned Rita, placing her Quick-Quotes Quill against her parchment, "I'm warning you, Skeeter...!"
"That's all I need to know, Harry," she was grinning, "You threatened a Ministry official and tried to infringe on freedom of the press..."
In a flash, Harry rushed forward again, grabbed the Quick-Quote Quill off the parchment, and snapped it clean in two. "GET OUT!" he roared furiously, grabbing Rita by the collar and shaking her hard, "THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT, RITA; YOU'VE BEEN TAILING DEREK FROM THE START; YOU WANTED TO EXPOSE ANYTHING OUT OF HIM TO GET SOMETHING ON ME...!"
"I was only following my journalistic instincts, Harry, that something wasn't right with him, and it looks like I was right," she remained calm, "Swims, a little help, please?"
"YOUR NOT GETTING AWAY WITH...!" Harry was stopped as suddenly two Dementors were in his face. He tried to backpedal, but they started sucking in unison. In seconds, Harry was overwhelmed with his parents' terrible final moments again, their frightened cries and Voldemort's cold voice all around him as he spiraled down into nothingness.
When he came to, he was lying on the floor of his cell. How much time had passed, he had no idea, and there was probably no way to know; the outside hallway was just as dark and gloomy as it had been when he'd been brought in in the afternoon. He suspected that time moved just as slowly for everyone else in the prison, with no reference points. No wonder it was said that many prisoners ended up going mad.
He felt terrible as he lurched back to the rear and the cell and slumped down on the bunk. Even though Rita was indeed guilty of exposing Derek's presence in the wizarding world, it felt like everything else was his fault. Now Derek stood in grave danger of death if Umbridge acted through on what she'd hinted...and his best friends were locked up themselves...the school was back to being a Ministry vassal-likely meaning a lot of the students would now not be allowed to go home to their families for the holidays, as well it should have been...Mr. Weasley was locked up himself...Dumbledore was on the run and likely to join them in this godforsaken place if he were caught...Voldemort still very much at large and able to do whatever he was planning...
"All my fault," he rued to himself, trying to fight back tears, "All because I wanted something better for my only Muggle friend. And now everyone else is suffering. And Emma lost her father because my...was Snape right? Would everything really have been better if I were never born...?"
It didn't seem as easy an answer anymore. Miserable, he stared blankly at the wall in front of himself, not paying attention to the shrieks of other tortured souls locked up in the prison, until finally, somehow, he managed to drift off to sleep...
...and was soon standing in the familiar cavern again, the snake coiled at his feet, as dozens of robed and masked figures were Apparating in front of him. "Welcome again, my dear family, and a happy holiday to you all, for what it is worth," he greeted them almost lazily, "So much we have yet to do-but, it appears, much less time to do it in," he was scowling now, "For I do not have what I have requested, Gaspard, Theodoric..."
"Only through a twist of bad fate," Theodoric spoke up as he and his brother stepped forward, "But positively, my Lord, we have discovered the secret of the defenses Dumbledore has put up. They can be simply breached..."
"I see," Harry mused softly, "And yet you still do not have the Muggle child with you, which you have both sworn you would do for me for the last week..."
"We were outnumbered at the Quidditch match, my Lord, but the point is, Dumbledore stole love-based aritfacts from the Department of Mysteries to create a protective wall or dome over the school," Theodoric said with a nervous twinge in his voice, "It can be burrowed under, though; with superior numbers..."
"That will be all, Theodoric," Harry cut in, a thin smile crossing his lips, "You have served your purpose well enough. Come forward; I shall give you a reward."
"Yes, my Lord," Theodoric approached, "The child will be..."
"The child you still failed to get," in a flash, Harry drew his wand, pointed it at Theodoric, and shouted, "Avada kedavra!" as loud as he could, prompting a bright green flash. "THEODORIC!" Gaspard cried, rushing forward, but his brother had already hit the floor of the cavern, dead. "My Lord, he's...!" he tried to protest, tears starting to form in his eyes.
"Crucio!" Harry coldly zapped him with the painful curse, leaving him writhing in agony on the floor. "He got what he deserved, Gaspard," he told his underling coldly, "I gave you far more chances to fulfill my orders than I probably should have, and the both of you repeatedly failed. Or were you even trying in the first place? Yes, I know the story, Gaspard," he released the curse and leaned close to the man, "I've done my research on the Gavertson family once you and he starting failing me. One of your uncles had an affair with a Muggle, apparently. So it appears you and Theodoric were working a conflict of interest."
"My Lord, it is not true!" Gaspard begged fearfully, "Theodoric and I were full Purebloods; we have only been loyal servants to you...!"
"I think not. Your family is not pure and hasn't been since that moment. You failed me because the two of you were protecting the Muggle."
"How can you say that, my Lord; we've killed more of the vermin than many of these...!"
"Lucius, my friend," Harry turned towards the circle, "You were there with the Gavertsons when they went along to murder Tiberius Castlebert. Wasn't their role in that mission smaller than they claimed?"
"Yes...yes my Lord, it most certainly was," Lucius stepped forward, his voice slick and conniving behind his mask, "I myself fired the final curse that killed him; Gaspard and his brother merely stood in the background and watched while the rest of us carried out your orders."
"That is a lie, Lucius; you know Theodoric and I were equal partners in the mission!" Gaspard pleaded desperately, "Why are you trying to claim...!?"
"Oh yes, my Lord, Lucius speaks the truth," it was Wormtail speaking now, stepping forward himself, "In fact, I swear I heard he and his brother talking over in private how many Mudbloods they could save from you if they were just crafty enough."
"That's a lie as well, Pettigrew; you never heard anything that...!"
"Enough, traitor," Harry zapped him with the Cruciatus Curse again, "Your wand, please, Gaspard," he extended his hand.
"No my Lord, please; I have remained loyal to you from the very...!"
"Your wand please, Gaspard," Harry said very firmly, thrusting his hand in the man's face, "You have proven you are not a true wizard, so you have no right to carry one."
Dozens of other Death Eaters in the circle aimed their wands at Gaspard as well. With a weak sob, he reluctantly handed Harry his wand. "Very good," Harry told him dismissively, pocketing it, "Nagini, you may eat," he told his snake, who slithered forward and began consuming Theodoric's corpse.
"Let me kill the traitor now, my Lord," Bellatrix stepped forward, her own wand raised, "I'll do you the pleasure of..."
"Not at the moment, Bellatrix. Mr. Gavertson may still have one more useful role to play for us," Harry waved her off, "First, though, we must determine how best to get through Dumbledore's defenses..."
"If I may, my Lord," it was Lucius again, "I know well how the Ministry thinks; if what we've heard is indeed true, it's possible they may help our cause without us having to do a thing."
"You speak of Dumbledore's departure and the Ministry's seizure of the school," Harry looked deep into Lucius's eyes, "Yes, of course, they in their foolishness will help us. And of course, there is the other matter at hand. Charonius, my friend," he looked at the far end of the line of Death Eaters, "It is my understanding that Potter is now in your custody?"
"Yes indeed, my Lord," the hunched-over figure on the end ambled forward, "And I can think of no better Christmas present for you than to...no you don't, traitor!" he jumped towards Gaspard, desperately trying to crawl away, "Crucio!"
The spell zapped loudly and brightly, making Gaspard scream in pure agony. Hundreds of miles away, Harry bolted upright, sweating. He was in worse danger than he'd realized, he knew with horror, if Swims was a Death Eater too. Yes, of course, he thought back, it had been Swims he'd stopped from killing the Muggles on Downing Street. Come to think of it, he realized further, this perfectly explained how the imprisoned Death Eaters were able to escape Azkaban once Voldemort had returned...Swims had let them out...
He started pounding hard at the solid stone walls, desperate to get out somehow, especially with Gaspard's screams still ringing in his ears. Then he realized it wasn't Gaspard; someone was screaming insanely and running around a level or so above him. He rushed to the front of the bars and glanced up, but could hardly see anything in the darkness-except of course for the ominous sight of a pair of Dementors flanking his cell, no doubt the extra guard on him Umbridge had requested. No soon had he squinted up into the darkness to try and make anything out then there came a pair of loud pops. "Terrific, leave for just a few hours...!" Swims was back, but there was another figure with him. Harry flattened himself against the wall out of the warden's sight, watching Swims walking to the base of an iron staircase nearby, and stood still, waiting, as the screams got louder; the person was getting closer. "This is what I hate about this job, Macnair," he turned to the man behind him, "As I'm sure you do when you destroy crazed beasts: when they snap and go crazy on you. Oh well, a job's a job..."
He raised his wand as a wild-eyed wizard in ragged robes half-stumbled down the stairs, shrieking insanely. "Crucio!" the warden shouted, pouring the curse on full blast even once the escaped prisoner was down on his back for over a minute. He then made the clicking sound again, and Harry held his breath as seemingly dozens of Dementors, including the ones standing guard by him, rocketed towards the escaped prisoner and started sucking hard. Within a minute, the prisoner went silent, his soul sucked out. "Lloyd, huh?" Swims mused out loud. "O'Doone," he called out loud as his assistant came running up out of the darkness, "It's Lloyd the shrinking cauldron salesman. Tell the family he got out and threw himself off the roof, then burn the corpse and dump the ashes in the sea."
"As you wish, Mr. Swims," O'Doone could be heard grunting as he hefted the body, "Oh, hello Mr. Macnair; fancy seeing you here."
"He brought a little something to my attention, O'Doone, so when you're done, send an urgent message to Scrimgeour; tell him I'd like about a hundred or so Aurors here for the next forty-eight hours or so. Macnair feels Dumbledore might try and break Potter out; I want him to be met with everything the Ministry's got if he tries."
"Uh, OK, will do sir," O'Doone called as he dragged the lifeless body away. "This way, we cover the bases, Macnair," Swims mumbled softly to his fellow Death Eater, "Since He said he wants all the Dementors on the island while the ceremony takes place, we're still covered here, and nobody escapes. If they ask questions why our shadowy friends deserted the prison, we don't even have to have an answer; as long as nobody escapes, they won't ask too many questions."
"I guess it'll work, Swims," Macnair seemed open to the plan.
"Well, while we're here, let's check on our famous friend here," came Swims' voice. Harry quickly dove back onto the bunk and turned his face to the wall as the warden and Macnair approached. "Potter in Azkaban, who'd've thought it?" the latter mused out loud.
"And of course, the best part is, I get the honor of turning him over to the Dark Lord in person," Swims all but bragged, "Now don't you worry about it, Macnair, I'll give you equal credit for it," he said quickly, presumably in response to a glare from his colleague.
"You'd better, Charonius," Macnair growled.
"Trust me. A half hour from now, we take him out, tell the rest of the wizards on staff here he's being transferred to London for a hearing, and deliver him over to the Dark Lord. Once he finally offs Potter, we tell the idiots at the Ministry he's dead, and maybe they'll be so grateful, they'll step aside and let us take over without a fight."
He cackled maniacally. "Oh, I love this job," he said happily, rubbing his hands together.
"I'm sure you do, Charonius," Macnair snorted, "I know you had Thaddeus Devlin killed in here. He'd been my best friend among our colleagues..."
"You think I had a choice, Macnair? Devlin was growing a conscience; he was going to squeal that I'd been with him in the group that killed Tiberius Castlebert. I'm not giving up what I've got going here in this prison for anything, so it was a simple matter of having the Dementors suck his soul out in the middle of the night, then arranging it to make it look like he grabbed O'Doone's wand while he was walking past his cell and blew his brains out. Since there's at least a suicide a month in here, no one asked any questions, and with no family, no one demanded an investigation, so in the end I lost nothing."
"You're crazy, Charonius."
"And the Dark Lord appreciates that, Walden," the warden told him off, "You know, if you hadn't been able talk your way out of trouble after he momentarily lost his powers when he first crossed paths with Potter, I could have easily arranged it for you to escape, just like I let Mulciber, Rookwood, and the others escape after the Dark Lord returned, so don't treat me like trash; I'm really a Death Eater's best friend in here."
"Perhaps in that instance you're right, Charonius," Macnair conceded this. After a pause, he continued, "I'm nonetheless surprised at you; Rosier told me right before he was killed that you fired the final curse that killed Tiberius Castlebert that night. Why did you sit back and let Lucius take all the credit just now?"
"All part of the game, Macnair, all part of the game," Swims said confidently, "Sooner or later, Lucius is going to stumble himself, and then I'll swoop in and clear the record, and be rewarded with a close spot at the Dark Lord's right hand, I just know it. You have to wait till the prey stumbles, Macnair, so you bide your time. High and mighty Malfoy plays the game himself, as you and I saw, but he doesn't understand all of it like I do. And to bring down a wealthy, powerful fool like him'll really feel good. Besides, now that the Gavertsons are out of the picture, once Lucius goes down, I'll be the only member of that attack unit left, so no one'll take away the honors from me then."
He laughed coldly again. "You know, Macnair, I really should have had petitioned to have Castlebert's daughter thrown in here as well," he continued as he and Macnair started walking away, "You saw in the museum how she's practically a Mudblood herself, standing up for Potter. Well, no matter; Potter'll be dead in less than an hour once we give him to the Dark Lord, and..."
Harry could hear no more. His heart was beating rapidly. So it was Swims who had finished off Emma's father in the end. But that wasn't his top concern at the moment. He had little or no time to get out of the prison, or else he'd be meeting Voldemort for perhaps the last time...
He pushed wildly at all the walls, throwing his body full-tilt against them. On and on he went for what seemed like forever. Finally, he slumped to the floor. It was no use at all. None of them gave at all. He felt utterly depressed, and not just because of the pair of Dementors back in front of the cell. Everything was so completely useless...
"I need a miracle now," he lamented miserably to himself, "The whole wizarding world probably needs a miracle..."
Suddenly there came a low bark near the front of the cell. A very familiar bark. Harry's spirits soared again. Could it be...?
"Sirius!" he exclaimed softly as the familiar dog hustled into sight by the bars. Staying low so as not to attract the Dementors' attention-which, surprisingly, Sirius's appearance had not, perhaps because he was not in human form-he crawled forward. "Sirius, what are you doing here?" he whispered excitedly, "Did you...?"
Sirius raised a paw close to his mouth, perhaps asking Harry to be silent. Harry obliged, watching as his godfather retransformed back into his human form in a flash. The Dementors turned towards him at last, but Sirius raised his wand in a flash and hissed, "Lumos totalus!" aiming right at the one on the right. A bright flash of light-although not as bright as those Hermione and Dumbledore had conjured-burst forth, sending the Dementor fleeing backwards with a screech. Siruis spun and cast the same spell on the other Dementor, also sending it fleeing. He glanced around warily. "We probably won't have much time," he mused out loud, turning back to Harry, "Dumbledore authorized me to get you out, Harry. We've got to hurry. Stand clear."
Harry rushed back to the far wall, just before Sirius muttered, "Confringo!" and the cell door exploded with a bang. Harry wondered why his godfather would risk such a loud manner of breaking him out. But part of him didn't care; he was going to be free. He rushed forward and hugged Sirius hard. "Sirius, thank you..." he breathed softly.
"I'm glad you're OK, Harry. Let's move," Sirius took his hand and started bustling hard towards where Harry knew the main entrance was. "Sirius how did you...?" he asked.
"Used a Portkey Lupin created," Sirius said softly, his eyes still glued straight ahead, "It's hidden on the rocks outside; it's timed to return us to Grimmault Place in twenty minutes, so we'd better not..."
He stopped abruptly, and Harry could see why: they'd already been found out. "Well, well, Sirius Black, welcome back," leered Swims, standing at the head of a dozen or so wizards and what seemed like hundreds of Dementors, blocking their path, "I should have figured it would have been you coming for Potter. "Take them both," he ordered his forces...