As always, thanks go to the guys 'n' gals of The Place That Must Not Be Named, and my beta Dave.
In one of the world’s most predictable events, Fudge didn’t take too well to the discovery of the Dementor’s demise.
Of course, it could have been because when he finally deigned to visit me again, I had drawn myself into a meditative pose, and looked more calm and composed than could possibly be expected under the circumstances. Especially when you consider that those very circumstances included the ragged scraps of dark cloth that were all that remained of the Dementor he’d summoned to torment me. The sight of an empty Dementor’s cloak on the ground outside my cell shocked him deeply. Though perhaps not quite as much as the fact that the Dementors now had to be forced, rather than invited, to go anywhere near me. That little factoid sent him down the road to full-blown panic. And it probably sent his under shorts to the laundry as well.
The irony of my greatest fear being deathly afraid of me was lost on our dear ex-Minister. It gave me a nasty, wonderful glow of satisfaction.
While Fudge had to be taken away and probably sedated to prevent him from hyperventilating, I reacquainted myself with some of the meditative techniques I’d used when trying to improve my efficiency in Occluding my mind. Now, I used the same techniques to slow the parasitic wards sucking out my magical strength.
Neither Fudge nor his boyfriends came near me for the next few days except to drop off some food and water. I amused myself by tormenting them at every turn, incredulously demanding why there was no ice in my water, or berating them because the bread they left me was exactly the wrong sort, not being my favourite sour-dough rye twist roll with sunflower seeds on top. Hey, I was being held in a prison off the books, I wasn’t going to let them get away with it without at least giving them high blood pressure in return.
The meditation gave me time to think. I knew that the Horcrux was safe with Dobby, so that wasn’t what occupied my thoughts.
No, I pondered just how to escape.
The idea that they’d used a bloody age line to contain me was both unexpected and profound. Fudge believed that I could banish without a wand, which was close enough to being true, even if he didn’t actually come close to describing the procedure. From his perspective, if I was powerful enough, I could have cast the spell hard enough to knock a cell door from its hinges. Thus, the age line. Of course, even with a wand, I’d be hard pressed to dispel the magic of the line, since the theory behind it had never come up in my studies. A rather inconvenient oversight.
There may also have been a logistical consideration too; if the Minister or a deputy ever did a tour of the place, having a head count of one higher than expected would have made for an interesting confrontation.
In between inventing and discarding strategies to leave, I wondered if there was a way to fuck over the wizarding world. I’d had enough.
The fact that Fudge still had both the power and influence to commit people to Azkaban simply to further his political goals frightened me. He no longer had the authority to do so, but that had never stopped him from furthering his own goals. Despite his assurances that I’d be released as soon as I decided to tell him where the Horcrux was, circumstances dictated that he must be prepared to break his word. I knew the only safe conditions, from his perspective at least, would be me leaving either in a box or as a mindless husk. Anything else would be far too risky for him and his plans.
The prison Azkaban had been an information black hole since the Dementors were commissioned to guard the island. No one wanted to know, no one wanted to care. Without oversight, corruption ran rampant.
Of course, it wasn’t as though corruption was only confined to Azkaban. Just personally, I’d been affected in many ways, even discarding the small matter of unlawful imprisonment. There was no oversight when Umbridge sent the Dementors after Dudley and me. There was no oversight when I was dragged in front of the whole Wizengamot to defend myself merely for defending myself. No one in any position of power said peep when a heap of educational decrees were passed that were so extreme that even Mussolini would have raised an eyebrow.
Not that the Ministry was fascist, though before my apprenticeship they were moving in that direction. No, it was the sheer weight of inertia, the bloated bureaucracy that favoured the privileged families over all others. Many of the pure-bloods believed that since it was how it had always been, it should continue to be.
That was the most fundamental problem, the deeply ingrained superiority complex and bigotry that infested the population. Despite the fact that the children of those idiots tended to be less talented than the half-bloods or Muggle-born in terms of raw magical power, they still stubbornly clung to the belief that they were somehow better. As if having five or six individuals fill the role of all eight great-grandparents was actually desirable.
To change that seemingly genetic belief would take something earth-shattering.
My eyes flickered open, and a slow, lazy smile spread over my face. Perhaps that was a way to change the world. An idea germinated in my mind, one which would scare every pure-blood bigot in the country. A plan to terrorise them so that their own actions proved just how stupid their beliefs were.
The idea would need refining, of course. And I needed to work out how to escape to put it into practise. However, it was terribly apparent that I had plenty of time.
The days turned into weeks, though without a calendar or window, I relied on my meal deliveries to keep track of time. I had been obliged to perform a couple of encores in the days that followed, which left another three Dementors temporarily with faces like a warthog’s arsehole before they dissolved into dust. I bet Fudge was rather grateful that Dementors evaporated on their death, since it negated the need of a xenobiological mortician — not to mention the inevitable paperwork that would surely follow.
It had got to the point where I hadn’t even felt the presence of a Dementor in the past week or so. As a matter of fact, besides Fudge and his two brown-nosers, I hadn’t seen another soul. Assuming that a prison the size of Azkaban would need more than three personnel to run, I inferred that dear Cornelius had less control or influence over the rest of the staff. Of course, he could simply be hiding some of his influence from me, but I doubted it for a couple of reasons. One, imprisoning me here was highly illegal and had the potential to backfire spectacularly if his actions became public knowledge. Two, I can’t imagine he’d hold back on any show of power if he thought it would intimidate me.
The food was still paltry; I’d received about the same during the summer of Dudley’s diet, but this time around I wasn’t doing hard yard work for six to ten hours a day. Even with the undersized servings, I felt more lacklustre than I should have, due to the wards. Each time I was forced to rearrange the skull bones of a Dementor, I was all but powerless for a full day afterwards. The wards around the prison fed on my strength like magical tapeworms, gorging themselves and leaving just barely enough for me to live. It took deliberate and conscious effort on my part to hold back power from them, and even then after I relaxed my concentration, the magic seeped away.
My musings one morning were interrupted unexpectedly by Fudge. I could see both him and his bodyguards through my lidded eyes. Odd, with the exception of the first day here, only one of the three had visited me at any one time. Fudge had often stopped by to revisit his woefully underwhelming offer of freedom for information. The fact that his two shadows had joined him this time would normally have raises my spirits, but the expression on his face gave me pause. I had enough strength to cave a Dementor’s skull in, but trying the same on an armed wizard was just asking for trouble. They could seriously injure, or even kill me, in the time it would take for my attack to succeed. There was absolutely no way I could push three wizards around. Spreading my efforts drew out my power far too quickly here.
"You may want to reconsider telling me what I want to know, Potter. There was an attempt on your life this morning."
I slowly opened my eyes fully, trying to give off the impression of extreme nonchalance at his announcement. "Really? I don’t recall seeing anyone new. Of course, that may simply mean that they were as incompetent as you, and didn’t even make it to the front door. Or perhaps you prepared my last meal yourself, and your culinary skills are a match for your political efforts?"
His smirk froze. "I mean your impersonator at St. Mungo’s," he clarified. "A pair of assassins tried infiltrating the building to kill you. I discovered today that on the continent, there is a rather large bounty on your head. If you want to leave here, you’d best become more cooperative, before the public thinks you dead. If that happens, I can keep you here as long as I like," he finished with a self-satisfied sigh.
I smirked myself at the idea that Falcone was probably spending a great deal of money trying to kill me, and yet even if he thought he was successful, he still wouldn’t have reached me. If he did manage to kill the husk imitating me, I’d have to try and organise to turn up at his next birthday party, just to see the expression on his face.
"And the reason you don’t collect yourself is that you think getting your fat, sweaty hands on Voldemort’s Horcrux will get you more," I said easily.
Fudge’s jovial demeanour vanished. With a jerk of his head, one of his guards raised his wand. Sitting in the lotus position, I had no way of dodging any spell he cast, so I gave his wand a subtle push to the side as he cast the jolting hex. In terms of effort, it was like moving a bloody statue.
I managed to turn aside a half dozen more hexes coming from both guards before Fudge’s irritation at being foiled got the better of him. He drew his own wand and joined the fun. With my concentration split three ways, I couldn’t keep up, and had to roll to one side to keep from being hit.
One hex hit my thigh, sending painful twitching and cramps up and down the left side of my body. Even after only pushing aside a wand less than ten times, I was exhausted. Another jolt hit me, sending me sprawling face first onto the floor.
I was hit again, making my back arch painfully. And again, twice more in quick succession. An urgent warning bell in my mind told me I was in danger here. Normally, Fudge and his shadows hit me a few times and left. Now, they were not stopping. "Where is it, Potter?" Fudge yelled at me as I was hit again. I growled at the pain, ignoring the idiot while my mind searching for an escape route. The damned wards were keeping me helpless. My right arm started jerking uncontrollably as yet another hex struck me.
Frustrated beyond thinking clearly, I unthinkingly held out a hand, and tried to push Fudge’s wand from his grip. Experimenting with Zab, I’d never managed to push anything towards me; the closest I got to it was pushing an object almost directly perpendicular to my body. Zab theorised that when pushing my magic out, it emanated from my body, making it impossible to use the raw magic to summon objects to hand. At the time, I’d practised pushing something into a hard surface in an effort to get it to bounce. It never really worked well.
Now, with one arm reaching impotently towards my tormentors, I changed my thinking, and pulled instead.
The sensation was as uncomfortable as it was different. It was like trying to fill your lungs, but breathing in through a tiny straw.
A jolting hex hit my shoulder. I gasped in surprise.
That last spell had hardly hurt. I rolled onto my side, facing the trio of bastards, pulling with all my mental might.
Two more hexes hit my chest. Apart from a few twitches, they had little effect.
Suddenly, the three wizards swore. Fudge cried out in alarm, "The wards!" before they scurried off without even saying goodbye.
I stopped pulling and rolled myself onto my back. I was gasping for air, but my mind was whirling.
Why hadn’t those last few spells hurt?
And why did I feel so energised?
An hour or so after Fudge left, I managed to stand without falling over and walked on wobbly legs around my little alcove, deep in thought.
Something had changed. I felt more magically powerful now than at any time after my arrival in this hell hole. Indeed, I felt as though I’d just woken up from a restful night’s sleep.
As gently as I dared, I pushed out against some of the sand on the floor. After a few seconds, the Abrogo wards fed greedily, though intermittently, on my magic.
I stopped pushing, and began thinking. Something significant had happened. Zab’s lessons into ward-breaking had covered the basics and given me a base from which to build my knowledge if I felt impelled to do so. He wasn’t a professional ward-breaker, which was a specialised skill requiring several years of dedicated study. But he did know how to identify and negate the effect of some of the more common or generic wards. Things like having a piece of jade against your skin preventing any of the Abrogo family of charms from draining your magical power. In normal usage, those wards slowly drained off your latent magic, or sucked heavily when you were actually expending magic. Now though, the drain was erratic. It was as though the wards had been somehow… damaged.
Well, that would explain why Fudge and his cronies took off so suddenly. I probably would too if wards keeping a large number of dangerous criminals in place were suddenly not functioning correctly. Especially if it was my responsibility to keep the prisoners in place. Though I must admit, I’d have given even odds that Fudge would have run away from the problem.
What had changed though? What could have caused the damage?
The only thing I’d done differently was to pull when I would normally push.
I stopped still for a second. When I pushed, I moved things away from me. But at a more basic level, I expended power. Maybe then when pulling… Could I have actually drawn magical energy back? Had I negated the hexes cast at me because I’d pulled the magical strength into my core?
The idea was as shocking as it was fundamental. I wasn’t sure it was even possible for something like this to happen, but the fact was that while I was pulling the jolting hexes cast at me were far less painful. And I felt great afterwards. Well, that was an overstatement. Less exhausted would be more accurate.
I sat down and steadied myself. It must be possible to draw ambient magical energy from the surrounding area, or the Abrogo wards wouldn’t function themselves. Most wards mimicked a spell or spell effect, so perhaps I could manipulate my magic to act like the wards surrounding me.
I used a few meditative exercises to calm my thoughts, readying myself. I exhaled, and then pulled.
It was different this time. There was no sense of urgency, there was no danger. And there was no sense of filling up slowly. As obscene as it sounded, I couldn’t pull hard enough.
Something was different. I had to think about this.
Over the next few days, the wards were repaired. It was fairly obvious when they were functioning again, since my magic was, once again, all but gone one morning. The fact that it took a full three days to put them back in place heartened me. If I could damage them again, I though then maybe I’d have the same sort of window to escape.
As for the odd sensation when I pulled, I had made a working assumption that I was drawing in magical power. Hypothetically, it had only worked when I had been magically exhausted; I had to wait until the wards were repaired before I could experiment. Fortunately, Fudge and Flunkies one and two didn’t stick around long enough to be insulted over the period while the wards were repaired, giving me plenty of time to relax and prepare myself.
I’d gone through a mental checklist of things I’d need to do to escape. A quick exit may be to pull down the anti-apparition jinx and just leave, but I had no way of testing if that would work completely. Becoming splinched during an escape attempt would be a most undignified, not to mention terminal, error. Leaving that option as a last resort, I would first need to neutralise the age line. Without a wand, I had no way of dispelling it, and even if the wards hadn’t been drawing power from me, I wouldn’t have been able to push myself past it.
Next, I needed a wand. Both Fudge and his pet pustules had them, but Azkaban wardens and staff had charmed wand holsters, preventing anyone other than themselves from drawing it. I could only take a wand from them after they were holding them ready. Hardly the most opportune time.
After that, I’d need to make my way through an unfamiliar prison, past an unknown number of guards, to an undisclosed distance from the prison before I could apparate out of there.
So, hardly any more difficult than anything else I’d managed in my life. It would have been so much easier if I had taken the time to become an animagus. That oversight was another I had added to a long list of inconveniences.
At any rate, now with the wards back in force, I was again drained of magical energy. I had a chance to finally test my theory.
I slowly breathed in and out a couple of times, settling myself. A little tentatively, I reached out with a finger, not quite touching the age line. I could imagine the magic of the line, pulsating and writhing, waiting for me to attempt to cross it. Focusing entirely on my hand, I started pulling through my extended digit.
While the process wasn’t exactly perfect, I could feel the magical strength of the age line seep up my arm, leaving it feeling like it was submerged in a hot bath. I grinned tightly at the sensation, feeling my magical reserves slowly recovering. I wasn’t drawing power from the wards around me this time; it was a directed absorption. At an almost agonisingly slow pace, I fed off the magic in the barrier.
I’m not sure when it happened, but I was starting to cramp from holding myself in one position for so long when I noticed small tendrils of smoke rising from slowly blackening chalk. I stopped and changed position, noting that the age line was looking decidedly worse for wear. I leaned forward for a closer look, noting that the edges around the spot near my finger had charred, and had even developed a rather toasty aroma.
Foregoing patience, I reached out with both hands and violently pulled. Instead of a slow heat flowing up my arm, it was a fast burn. I ground my teeth together and kept my mind on the task at hand. A few seconds later, the magic of the line vanished in a tiny cascade failure, the chalk line burning away quickly like a line of white gunpowder.
I stood and stretched, feeling energised and weary at the same time. Soon though, the physical tiredness left me, overtaken with an adrenaline rush almost equal to the time in the Little Hangleton graveyard. I took a deep breath, and let it out slowly, letting the elation at the first part of my escape warm me. Now, energised to the point where I could use my magic effectively, I stepped over the charred line, wondering if there was any residual magic left within.
I couldn’t stop a wide grin from forming on my face. I stepped back into my alcove and kicked the damp, gritty sand from my cell over the ruined line. Once it was covered I was ready to put the next part of my plan into action.
"Oi! Fudge!" I shouted down the corridor. "I want to talk to you! I have a proposition for you!"
Fudge appeared after a few moments, puffing slightly, yet looking rather wary. Since he was alone, I could imagine why he was so cautious. "Well Potter? What is it?" His attention was drawn down to where the age line had been. With a deep frown, he sneered at me. "You think that covering an age line with sand will defeat it?"
I shook my head, keeping my tight grin from wavering. "Nope."
He took in my expression carefully, and feeling a little discomforted at my expression, he drew his wand from his charmed holster, conjured a shield designed to defeat summoning and banishing charms, and took aim at me. I kept my expression still, though my soul soared with victory. Without that wand, my escape would be difficult, if not impossible. "Then what?" he asked warily.
With a sharp push, I shoved his wand off target. In the second it took him to recover, I jumped over the burned out line and slammed my fist upwards through the useless shield and into his portly stomach, pushing hard as I did so. Given I wasn’t sure how much the wards would draw out of me, I pushed rather hard. A bit too hard, it would seem.
Fudge doubled over with a wheezing grunt, while his feet actually left the ground momentarily. He fell to his knees, retching violently, clutching at his abused tummy.
Hmm, he’d had a bacon sarnie for breakfast. He really needs to learn to chew his food more.
A wave of dizziness swept over me briefly, as the wards sucked at my power. Well, that wouldn’t affect me for much longer.
With his wand out of its tamper-proof holster, it was a simple matter to take it, though I had to step rather heavily on his hand to persuade him to open his fingers. With a super-human effort, he raised his head and glared at me.
I raised my knee swiftly under his chin. The crack of his teeth crashing together resounded loudly in the corridor. I caught a brief glimpse of his eyes rolling back in his head before he fell backwards onto the floor. I reached down and yanked the jade ring off his finger.
The instant I touched the polished stone ring, the drain on my magical core ceased. It was like swallowing a double dose of Pepper up Potion.
"All right!" I said loudly, feeling invulnerable.
I reached to the stone heavens, and pulled with all my might, with all my body. The process was still inefficient, filling me with stops and starts, but slowly, I drained the wards of power. One by one, I felt them fracture, causing all sorts of alarms to sound around the island. I knew that making all the alarms go off would make my escape harder, but not as hard as being low on magical power would have. I only stopped when I felt like I was fizzing with energy. Getting your own back on inanimate magical constructs wasn’t supposed to be fulfilling, but damn, it was nice to get even with the bloody things.
A few detection charms told me that the wards were still up, just not functioning at full efficiency. I suppose there was no way my core could drain them in their entirety. They were simply too big and strong.
I rummaged through Fudge’s pockets, finding nothing of importance among the piss poor collection. A pocket watch that had seen better centuries, a handful of coins (just sickles and knuts), and a spare wand. I briefly entertained the idea of transfiguring him into a stick or a rock and taking him with me, but if there were any defenses around the prison that reversed transfiguration, suddenly having my robes weighed down with fifteen stone of wizard would be inconvenient. I waved both wands, getting a few sparks from the first, and nothing from the second. I repeated the trick I used on Falcone Jnr., temporarily reversing the non-responsive wand’s core, before returning it to its hiding place. While I’d really love to be around when he discovered that the wand had been tampered with, I wasn’t exactly in any position to begin dictating events. I needed to escape before I started playing around like that.
I cast a disillusionment spell on myself and crept down the corridor, in the direction Fudge and his goons always appeared from when visiting me. I risked a quick glance around the sharp corner, noting that the empty corridor continued for a short distance. I moved cautiously along the sandy floor, before coming to the end of the hallway.
I stared at the blank wall in front of me and shook my head. I knew that escaping from Azkaban would be bloody hard, but I hadn’t expected to have my attempt come to an end after just turning the corner. There was nothing but blank stone in front of me, rough hewn from the bedrock.
The only indication that this was a thoroughfare was the fact that there were several footprints in the sand seemingly coming out of the wall. At this point, Muggles would start searching for a secret door. I just swore to myself.
Magic made things so bloody difficult sometimes. The hidden door could work like the one at King’s Cross Station, or it could work like the one at Diagon Alley, or like any of a hundred other kinds. Maybe you had to be manually keyed into them, or had to think of a word or phrase. It could be anything. Even if my newfound ability was able to draw the magical power from objects as well as spells, it would be useless. Even if I was exhausted and pulled the magic from a door like this, no one could open it.
I gritted my teeth and turned around, figuring I had to take my chances going the other way. Sure it was where the Dementors always came from, and I really didn’t want to have to deal with them if I didn’t have to.
A voice on the other side of the hidden door stopped me in my tracks. "Warden! The wards are disrup-- Warden? Are you here?"
I paused, wondering if the speaker would come through the closed door. I pressed my partially invisible body against the corridor wall and crossed my fingers.
Sure enough, the stone face shimmered and flowed like a spiral drain, forming a portal. A bright, cheery light flooded the corridor, forcing me to blink a couple of times. What nearly overwhelmed me was the sudden warmth that washed over me. One of Fudge’s silent buddies finished waving his wand and called through the opening, "Warden?"
I surged through, catching the fellow by surprise. I pushed at his face, knocking him off balance. His arms flew up in an effort to keep himself from falling over onto his arse. I took the opportunity to curse him thoroughly, enough so that by the time he actually landed he resembled Malfoy on the Hogwarts Express. I stunned him, and took stock.
The portal had opened into the back wall of a comfortably appointed office. The hole flowed backwards to its original state, leaving a seamless wall behind me.
I cast a locking charm on the wall anyway, even though it was highly unlikely to do anything more than annoy Fudge. But hey, I’d go out of my way to do that any day of the week.
The room itself was delightfully warm from the blazing fireplace on the wall to my right, but coldly decorated. I resisted the urge to warm my hands in front of the fire, and examined my surroundings. The walls were bare, except for an ugly painting above the fireplace and a row of book-lined shelves on the other. A heavy oak door dominated the wall opposite. The ugly green bowler hat on the hatstand next to the main door helped identify the current occupant. The desk in the middle of the room had several ledgers open upon it, with a quill dropped haphazardly on an open page; Fudge must have been doing the books when I called. I took a quick peek, but noted that the ledgers were charmed to prevent unauthorised people from reading them. I briefly contemplated burning them, but decided against it. It would do nothing if there were copies, and it would take some valuable time to burn them all.
Oddly, for someone consumed with image like Fudge, there weren’t any knick-knacks or ornaments on the shelves or desk. I looked around for anything of value for a potential escapee. Nothing really leapt out to attract my attention. I went to open the main door and leave when something about the painting drew my eye. A closer look indicated that it was a map of the prison, drawn centuries ago when things like scale and accuracy were given a much lower priority than artistic merit. It looked like someone had lovingly painted an ant farm.
Well, even if it wasn’t to any particular scale, knowing a rough layout of the place would be most useful.
I pulled the canvas from the wall and threw it on the desk, running my finger over the corridors and levels. It took a few moments to find the warden’s office, noting two things in the process. One, the passageway I’d arrived from did lead directly down into the Dementor colony, from which there was no other route out except through the cell blocks, and two, there was only one entrance to the prison complex. It took me a further minute to track a route to that entrance. While I doubted it was the only way in or out of the prison, it was probably the only official egress, and I didn’t have time to take up cartography and make my own map. I tore the frame off and shrunk the canvas, stuffing the makeshift map into my tattered robes. Being caught examining the layout of a prison in the warden’s office would end my escape almost as quickly as a splinching.
A knock on the door made my heart jump in my chest. "Warden?" The door opened and a familiar, harried-looking wizard poked his nose through the door. "Warden? Are you there?"
I raised Fudge’s stolen wand. "Imperio!" I cast. Instantly, Ron’s brother’s eyes went blank. I should have guessed that such a weak-willed idiot would be easy to dominate. I had no real qualms about using the Unforgivable. After all, I was already in Azkaban, wasn’t I?
"Come in the office and close the door, Percy," I commanded.
Percy obeyed, but I could feel him fighting the curse. He wasn’t strong enough to break the spell, but he was trying.
I looked over the ex-Head Boy. He had lost even more weight since I’d last seen him, and his hair was even thinner. He didn’t look all that healthy, though I suppose that could be because of where he worked. This place wasn’t exactly a holiday destination. "Tell me where the nearest apparition point on the island is," I demanded pointedly.
"The anti-apparition jinx extends over the entire island," he said woodenly.
I frowned. That would make leaving difficult. I needed another route. I cast a locking charm at the door. That should give me warning if someone tries to enter the office.
"Tell me how you leave the island."
"Through the fixed floo to the Ministry."
I pinched the bridge of my nose. How damned inconsiderate of them to make it hard to leave this place.
A thought struck me. "If you get here via floo, why do you need a guarded entrance leading outside?"
"We receive supplies by sea."
I nodded. That made sense. It would be a real bugger to try and bring in building materials via a fireplace. "How far do the wards extend out to sea?"
Percy blinked. "I don’t know."
"Is there a way toâ€”ah, to hell with it. Legilimens!"
Weatherby’s mind was rather ordered, making it fairly easy to shuffle through his thoughts. Under the Imperius, he lowered any defenses he may have had and allowed me full access. It was an interesting combination of spells, which I’d have to remember.
I examined his memory of the layout of the prison complex. There were two main sections, the cell blocks and the administrative areas. Nearly all of the security surrounded the cell blocks, which heartened me. I was already behind the Dementors and guards.
Percy’s memories of the administrative areas were clearer. He’d obviously spent more time in that area than in the cells. Hardly a surprise, really. There were only two checkpoints between me and freedom. One was at the main entrance, the other in front of Percy’s office, through which was the only other way into this room. I pulled my awareness back where it belonged and waved Fudge’s wand at the door, removing the locking charm.
"Go and tell the guards outside your office that the prisoners are breaking out of their cells. Make them to go and reinforce the guards there."
Percy stiffly strode to the door and opened it. He bellowed my instructions in a most un-bureaucratic manner. There was a shocked pause before I heard, "I know sir. Everyone else is already over there, dealing with the problem. We’re the only ones on this side of the building."
"I’m giving you an order!" Percy yelled back.
"But sir, procedure is that at least two-"
A single response of "yes sir" carried back, followed by hurried footsteps. I shook my head. The idea of Percy the bully would take some getting used to. Percy the sanctimonious twit, not so much.
The exchange had given me a great deal of hope that I would be able to pull this off without having to kill anybody. With the wards functioning erratically, all the guards had gone and secured the prisoners. I suppose they would have had a practise run for that scenario recently.
Still disillusioned, I ordered my captive to the main entrance. He fought harder against my spell, but immediately obeyed my command. I followed behind, through Percy’s office, past an empty reception area and into a main hallway.
As soon as I caught sight of the security post at the entrance, I bade Percy stop. The thought of the great outdoors being just beyond that barrier was divine to someone who had been underground for weeks.
The checkpoint looked vaguely like the customs stations I’d passed through in Europe. The only thing that really struck me was how new it looked. Sirius told me that he had just walked out past the Dementors. Obviously, they’ve upgraded security recently. On either side of the large entryway there were two enclosed booths, both populated by a pair of guards with the same uniform as Percy. Each pair talked between themselves rather urgently. Despite their agitation, they were alert and ready. Even just a cursory glance told me that there was no way I was getting through the gate undetected. Damn.
"Tell me how to get past the guards," I instructed.
"You present the guards on this side with your papers. They let you through into a closed chamber where you are sealed in. The guards on the other side examine your credentials, and if you pass, you are released from the chamber and allowed outside."
I frowned. "What prevents an invisible person from walking through with someone?"
Percy started sweating, but answered. "Charms in the chamber cancel transfigurations like Polyjuice, and camouflage like disillusionment."
I almost swore out loud. I shouldn’t have been surprised, Azkaban was supposed to be inescapable. I expended valuable minutes inventing and discarding methods to bypass the main entrance. Nothing came to mind. If I had both my wands, I suppose I could blast my way out with raw power, but with only a moderately suitable wand to hand, I couldn’t channel enough power to accomplish that.
I was debating ordering Percy to feign madness and attack the guards when I heard something both wonderful and terrifying.
A stampede of prisoners.
The main passageway leading to the cell block was opposite our current position, and it began spewing forth guards performing a rearguard action. A couple of injured were being helped by one of their comrades, but the rest were firing spells back down the hallway. Shouts and screams flooded my senses.
Despite being disillusioned, I stepped back into the passageway leading to the administrative area. I didn’t want to catch a stray curse if I could help it. A veritable rainbow of spells erupted from the passageway opposite, and suddenly prisoners were among the guards, fighting, clawing and biting. I could only assume that back in the cell block, one or two had managed to escape their cells and disarmed some guards. Unarmed, a mob was little more than target practise for a small group of armed guards. Throw a couple of wands into the mix however, and said mob would be a handful.
Attrition could be a problem, I noted as I glanced out into the main hallway. While there were probably twenty or more prisoners for each guard, the home team were holding up well. Not well enough, I thought, but well. Unless reinforcements got here soon, the remaining dozen or so guards would be overrun.
Their morale broke before their line did. One young looking fellow turned and bolted for the relative safety of the final security point. Another guard joined him, and the rest simply collapsed under the sudden strain. Four of the fleeing guards were dropped by spells, and their wands appropriated.
The checkpoint was subjected to a magical barrage that could only be produced by a large group of people determined to escape hell. More than one prisoner dropped to his knees from magical exhaustion, only to have the wand in his hand snatched up by another and used again.
I tore my eyes away from the rainbow storm and looked back at the hallway leading down to the cell blocks. It was littered with dead and near-dead bodies, a dozen prisoners for every guard. A few were slowly recovering, or at least trying to move to safety. A few more prisoners cautiously emerged, many of them holding splinched limbs. Looks like the anti-apparition ward was fractured; it no longer stopped apparition, but exacted a price from those who tried to take advantage.
I looked back down at the checkpoint and shook my head. It was a slaughterhouse. The prisoners had finally decided to work in a coordinated fashion, and were firing blasting and cutting curses from behind group-conjured shields. The guardroom on the near side of the checkpoint was now rubble, and the sealed chamber beyond subjected to a sustained barrage.
I stunned Percy, obliviated him, and then covered him with an illusion of blood and gore. I didn’t want him dead, but I wanted any escapee to leave him alone. I pushed his body back down the corridor as far as I could before hugging the wall and easing out into the main hallway.
I was still disillusioned, so I trusted that anyone in the midst of a magical battle would ignore me for now. I slid along the length of the wall, moving past the main group, reaching the fallen masonry that had up to recently been a fairly sturdy security station. A couple of metres away, a large number of dishevelled prisoners hurled every spell they could think of at the last physical barrier to their freedom. The guards within the checkpoint were holding steady, despite being outnumbered. The status quo would eventually result in a mass exodus.
Suddenly, spells were flying in both directions up and down the hallway.
Reinforcements had arrived. Aurors spilled forth from the passageway I’d vacated only minutes before, and ferociously attacked the mob of prisoners from behind.
Instantly, the main press divided down the middle, each half seeking whatever cover could be found in the rough hewn wall. It was like a deadly game of musical chairs. In less than a minute, the number of standing prisoners had halved. A second wave of Aurors arrived, further tipping the scales against me. If I took no action, I’d be caught by Aurors with a group of people trying to escape from prison. I’d be lucky if they didn’t just kill me on the spot.
I took a deep breath and began levitating the larger chunks of masonry, and then pushing them as hard as I could at the final remaining section of the security station. Using spells that left coloured trails would give away my location. Several cracks appear in the outer structure after a dozen or so blows, but my actions attracted some attention, all of it unwelcome. At least a dozen spells angled towards me, away from the howling mob. It was a well executed spread, designed to maximise the chances of hitting an invisible opponent.
I ducked into a tiny niche in the wall, taking stock. My position was rather precarious. A large group of law enforcement personnel at one end of a hallway, a rapidly diminishing mob of prisoners nearby, and a half-dozen or so prison guards holed up in the remains of a secure checkpoint designed around preventing unauthorised people from passing.
Well this was a rather Potter-ish position to be in.
I took a deep breath, and pushed as hard as I could at the remaining rubble on the floor, sending tonnes of hewn rocks into the checkpoint. A few screams emanated from the checkpoint. Obviously, one of the guards felt a little uncomfortable at the sight of large chunks of rock heading his way. One large piece of masonry blasted through the damaged wall, letting a ray of light into the hallway. The beam of sunlight illuminated the dust in the air, creating an almost golden shaft in the dim hallway. I leaned against the wall to catch my breath. That had been hard.
Well, time to see if I could do two things at once. I rose from my hidey-hole and charged, pulling with all my might. I was hit with a randomly thrown curse, but managed to draw in enough power from it to avoid incapacitation. Fortunately, several other prisoners noticed the glowing arrow to freedom, and promptly abandoned their battle. The sight of several visible hardened criminals charging for a new exit focused the attention of the Aurors and guards, who promptly gave up trying to hit something they couldn’t see.
I scrabbled through the small hole in the outer defenses, my heart rate around the double century mark. Once I’d wiggled through the tiny gap, I took a single second to luxuriate in the sensation of sunlight on my face, before hitching my robes and bolting.
The path ran down to the side of the rocky island all the way to the sea. The raw, untamed geography necessitated that the path have jinks and twists, though it was a relatively clear way. I heard some shouts behind me, indicating that at least two people had joined me outside. I skidded to a stop at one bend and ducked behind a rocky outcrop. The last thing I needed now was to be hit from behind.
I looked back up the pathway, squinting in the bright light. Well, it was probably not all that bright, but after weeks where the only light was gentle magical illumination, even weak sunlight stung my eyes. Through the glare I could see four people garbed in prisoners robes scatter away from the exit. Two scrambled away from the exit over the rough terrain, obviously hoping to escape pursuit by running in an unexpected direction. The other pair came down the path towards me.
They were running at an incautious speed, desperation fuelling their flight. Even though they had to wave their arms around in wide circles just to keep their balance, they kept on sprinting. I swore to myself. The last thing I needed was Aurors converging on my location looking for temporarily unrestrained prisoners.
As they reached my curve, I pushed out at their feet, sending them both stumbling and skidding along the gravel face first into a rocky outcrop. I winced at the dual cracks of craniums meeting stone, but quickly rose from my hiding place and pushed on down the path. I noticed that my hands were becoming a little opaque, so I reapplied my disillusion, fighting to make the charm work. It was not particularly attuned to my touch, and even with the adrenaline in my system it was much harder to force the spell through the recalcitrant wood. I gained a new level of respect for what Neville and Ron had to accomplish in their first years at Hogwarts.
I was almost at the base of the hill when I heard mocking laughter above me. I instinctively fell to the ground and rolled into a rocky ditch.
No spells came shooting down towards me.
I risked a glance over the top of my meagre protective wall. A group of five Aurors were laughing and joking at the predicament of the pair of escapees I left half way up the road. I waited with my heart in my throat as they trussed and bound the pair, and levitated them away back up the path. Distant shouts attracted the Aurors attention, and three of the five broke off and headed overland, obviously hunting down one of the more cerebral breakouts.
I swallowed past the lump in my throat and rose unsteadily to my feet. The concentration of adrenaline in my system was falling, though I still had a fair amount. I pushed off the rocks and jogged down the rest of the path, down to a well maintained pier. I shivered even in the direct sunlight; the wind combined with the spray coming in off the water was bitingly cold. Even colder than the open living quarters I’d grown accustomed to recently.
At the base of the path, large signs had been posted, admonishing all visitors that the Dementors would not hesitate to attack anyone assisting an escape. I couldn’t help but grin at the sentiment. Perhaps I should use Fudge’s wand to etch a footnote. Something along the lines of, â€˜Except anyone who can crush their craniums like an eggshells’.
It’s a pity that the Ministry decided to keep them on at the prison. The British Wizarding World had obviously not heard of the phrase â€˜Cruel and Unusual Punishment’. Or more probably (knowing the kind of people it employs) they have heard of it but decided it was a good idea. At any rate, I can’t imagine that after having to guard me, or at least, having to attempt to guard me, that the Dementors are happy with the decision either. Still, I’ve got a handful of dead Dementors to my credit, and a fair crack at being the one wizard in Britain that they avoid like, well, like Dementors.
The heavy wooden pier was the only man made artefact on the shore. There were four small boats tied to the side, with rope ladders hanging down to provide access.
The wood creaked gently under my feet as I strode across the pier, so close to freedom. I picked a boat at random and cast a few detection charms. The only magic was in the oar mechanism. The boat was obviously propelled by magical paddling. Noting no alarms or traps, I clambered down the rope ladder.
It was about the third time in my life that I’d been on a boat. The blasted thing swayed underneath me like a slippery log, and I fell flat on my hands and knees.
A muffled crack sent a shiver down my spine.
In my smarting hand, I lifted Fudge’s wand, cracked and bent. My wand hand had landed hard on the edge of a wooden seat, breaking the wand in my fist. It sagged pathetically, looking like Ron’s old wand in second year.
"Oh, fuck me," I said with feeling.
I tapped the oar mechanism with the tip of the useless wand, hoping against hope.
Nothing. And here’s me without any spell-o-tape.
Karma shits in the dinner of my life again.
I rubbed my chin in thought. I wasn’t about to go back up to the prison and ask politely to borrow a wand. Or even impolitely. I had to make do with what I had to hand. I tried to pull the oars off to use them the muggle way, but they were well and truly connected.
I pinched the bridge of my nose, figuring that there was one magical means left for me, but it would be rather exhausting.
I gingerly pushed behind the boat at the water. Nothing.
Zab had noted during our exhaustive (and exhausting) exploration of my power that it ignored something he called Newtonian physics. Essentially, when I pushed something away, I wasn’t shoved back in the opposite direction. While that was useful when I was pushing a certain ferret off a landing somewhere in rural Albania, it was less so when I was trying to generate some propulsion.
I tried a few other things, including one that worked in a fashion. I clambered to the pointy end and pushed steadily down at the water. A sort of bowl-like depression appeared, which the front of the boat dipped down into. As the boat moved forward, so did the bowl. Gently, but steadily, the small dingy drifted away from the pier and out into the open water.
I ran into trouble almost immediately.
A constant push was difficult to maintain, and the moment I relaxed for a rest, the water rushed back into place. A small geyser shot up into my face, drenching my face, chest and arms with icy-cold North Sea water.
I fell back into the boat, gasping and coughing, trying to get the water out of my nose and eyes. Almost immediately, I started shivering.
I shook my head. I was out on open, freezing cold water, with nothing to protect me from a bitingly cold wind, in old, tatty robes and now soaking wet.
I’ve had better days.
I declined to try that method of propulsion again. I sat back in the boat, wrapped my damp arms around myself and thought hard. Pushing down the water was very hard, for not much gain. The boat would be clearly visible from shore, and it would only take one person to notice before I would be in a lot of trouble. I needed to hurry.
Gently, I pushed out at the inside of the boat’s pointy bit. Instantly, the boat surged forward, giving me a far greater return on investment than my first effort.
I guessed it was about quarter of an hour later by the time I’d exhausted myself. The island behind me was smaller, but still visible. I pulled, gently at first, then harder, drawing a small amount of power from the wide wards. Bugger me, how far do they extend?
Figuring I needed more power right now, I reached out and touched the oar mechanisms on either side of the boat, and pulled through my trembling arms. The hot burn as the magic flowed into my core was heavenly.
I pushed out at the boat again, sending it forward. My fingers were blue with cold.
About ten minutes later, the island had retreated much further. I tried pulling again.
I was past the wards.
I let out a scream of victory, long and loud. Padfoot, you’d be proud of me.
I was three-quarters frozen by the time I manage to concentrate enough to apparate from somewhere in the North Sea to my study in Grimmauld Place. The sudden flash of warmth I received on appearing in the building caught me by surprise. It felt like stepping into an oven. I fell flat on my face before I could even utter a word.
A whirling bundle of exuberating excitement appeared at my side. "Master Harry is better!" Dobby shrieked in my ear.
"H-h-healing p-potion," I croaked, clutching my freezing arms to my chest.
Dobby squeaked with alarm and vanished with a flash. He appeared a moment later with Blaise’s entire home apothecary. I reached out with trembling hands to grab the neck of a Pepper-up potion, downing it as soon as I popped the cork. Steam, raw and burning, whistled from my ears. I groaned with relief as the numbing cold was replaced by vibrant warmth.
No longer in danger of succumbing to hypothermia, I rolled onto my back and sat up. Dobby stood in front of me. Well, stood was the wrong term. He was hopping from one foot to another in agitation. "Is Master Harry well? Does Dobby need to summon Mistress Blaise?"
I shook my head, taking in my surroundings. The grandfather clock indicated that Blaise would be in the middle of her shift, if I remembered her timetable correctly. If the world believed that I was in a ward at St. Mungo’s, Dobby asking her to come home would set more than a few alarm bells ringing. No, I’d surprise her when she got home. "No, thank you Dobby. Just let me look at the rest of the potions."
I selected a few of the remaining vials, a pair of nutrient potions, another Pepper-up and a generic healing elixir for minor flesh injuries and swallowed them all, one after another. With a cocktail of magical fluid in my gut working magic, I felt like a new man. I stood and stretched, noting that while my magic was fine, I felt shockingly weak.
"Dobby, could you run me a bath? And tell me what’s been going on," I requested, divulging myself of the items I’d procured during my escape. I placed the shrunken painting, an ugly bowler hat, and the broken wand on my desk.
"Yes, Master Harry," he said, suddenly looking unsure. "Um, which first?"
A grin grew on my lips unconsciously. Before I could answer, Winky spoke from the doorway. "Winky will run Master Harry’s bath." She vanished with a shimmer.
Dobby nodded. "Master Harry has been hurt for a long time," he started, before looking incredibly sad. "Mistress Blaise has been very worried."
I nodded, suddenly feeling rather uncomfortable with my decision to not inform Blaise of my arrival home. Maybe I should send Hedwig.
As I was musing, the floo in the room above activated. An anguished cry of "Dobby!" echoed through the house.
Dobby squeaked, and vanished at the call. I tried to run up the stairs, but after three steps, my legs nearly gave out. I staggered slowly up to the next floor, and looked into the drawing room.
Blaise was on her knees, still in her Mediwitch trainee uniform, crying. "H-Harry, is g-gone," she sobbed, before clutching the house elf in a hug.
Instantly, I felt like a bastard. I should have known the Fudge would act without thinking and try to tie up any loose ends as soon as I escaped. A pity for him that I had some items belonging to him. With my doppelganger now deceased, I had him over a barrel.
"But Mistress Blaise, Master Harry is here," said Dobby uncertainly.
Her head whipped up, her red rimmed and bloodshot eyes fixing on me in an instant. I gave her a warm smile, but she shrieked and leapt to her feet, her wand trained on my heart in an instant. Always petite, she looked as though she had lost a lot of weight; an unhealthy amount of weight. I suppose we looked like a matched pair.
"Who are you? How did you get here?" she demanded.
I blinked. I expected some disbelief, but not to this degree. "I’m Harry, Blaise."
She shook her head. "No, my Harry is dead," she sniffed, the wand in her hand trembling.
I shook my head in return. "No, the Harry you were caring for was an impostor. I can prove it."
"Don’t move!" she screamed, losing composure.
With a gesture, I gently pushed her backwards into a sofa. She landed in the soft upholstery with a grunt, but the expression on her face blossomed into one of disbelieving joy. "Harry?" she whispered in awe.
I nodded sadly. "I’m so sorry for what you’ve been through."
Trembling, she stood and stepped uncertainly towards me. "Is it really you?" she asked as she gently shifted my fringe out of the way.
I cupped her sunken cheek with my hand. "It’s me."
She enveloped me in a hug reminiscent of Hermione at her best. "I thought you’d never wake up!" she sobbed.
I just held her close. "I was never asleep. But I’m home now."
She pulled back and examined my face carefully. "What do you mean?" she asked, before wrinkling her nose. I suppose several weeks without bathing gave me a rather distinctive aroma.
"Winky is drawing me a bath. Would you care to join me? I’ll explain everything."