Ah, why should all mankind
For one man's fault, be condemned,
-John Milton, Paradise Lost Book X
The Ministry of Magic, Thirteen Months, Five Days and Fifteen Hours AV (Apres Voldemort)
The Day of Judgement, and a day away from that ‘orrible place. Purgatory
, some men call it now. Azkaban.
Nervously, I watch the other folk shackled around me, the guard wizard flicking ‘is wand at us threateningly. Enjoying ‘imself, smug bazza. Another man’s sweaty arm pushes up against me, and ‘e apologizes gruffly. We don’t look at each other.
The ceiling above rumbles with ‘undreds of feet, sharp snaps as rolls of parchment are opened, the brisk buzz of conversation, ‘umming through the floor and to our frightened assembly. There are so many men to prosecute
that they’re judging us Round Robin style, and the entire Wizengamot and a great deal of the wizarding populace is assembled from what I’ve been told.
None of the men who go up ‘ave been coming back down. A guard told me there’s a separate chamber off the court with a Dementor in it, but thinking like that just feeds this wretched fear.
Me palms are slick against the rough fabric of me uniform. Must look a sight: unshaven, pimply, skinny as ‘ell. Long months spent staring at gritty cell walls, imagining pictures and faces in its dreary emptiness, ‘ave left me eager to absorb any last glimpse of the other, more beautiful world that ain’t Azkaban.
Yeah, innocent. Most of us are mad, dead, or guilty. We here, in this cellar, we’re the bait, the scapegoats as one gent preached at me.
“Stan,” ‘is posh voice told me, stretching out his hand like he wanted to pat me on the arm, “you’re a good chap at the end of the day, you know. We were desperate, and scared, and now you’ve got to face the failures. You’re a good chap, old boy.”
“Yeah, cheers guv,” I told ‘im. Didn’t know ‘ow being a good man could change anything.
The next day ‘e ‘ung ‘imself in ‘is cell. I remembered what ‘e told me though. A good chap, yeah.
I can feel meself trembling between the great serpentine chains ‘olding me to the chair. Pull yerself together, mate! I am rising, feeling a little dizzy, gliding upwards. I shift uncomfortably in me seated position and blink several times as the room floods into focus, faces detailing themselves out of the grim-faced masses. I am a criminal, and this is my penance, this darkening of the eyes, this assumption of my soul. I try to see meself through their glares: scrawny, scruffy, the scars of old spots punctuating my unshaven skin, my eyes dark and sunken in my face. I ‘aven’t seen me reflection in a year, there. Easy to forget yerself, in Azkaban.
It’s been a year since I held a wand, since I felt the wondrous pull of magic thread through my veins like… like liquid fire, it was. I always took magic fer granted, ‘til magic conquered me.
‘aven’t felt this scared, not that day on the Knight Bus when we were stopped by Dementors, not when I was brought along on my first raid, not the day me Mum killed herself and I ‘ad to identify the body. First time back in Clap’am in months, that was. I remember: things were very white, and I felt very close to ‘eaven. I knew Mum would be watching me, see. Now, I ‘ope she’s blind up there. I don’t want ‘er eyes exposed to Azkaban.
I can’t decide if I meant it and if I ‘ad me right mind. Don’t want to decide, really. I’m not a murd’rer. I never ‘ated anyone in particular. I was just scared. I still am.
“I ain’t killed no one,” I insisted when I was arrested and escorted to Azkaban, but the cold-faced chap laughed in my face and shoved me, ‘ard against the matted dirt of me cell.
“Cheers to yer new home, lad,” he scoffed, and I felt scum creeping in through me mouth, decay slipping under me tongue. This here is Azkaban, I remember thinking. I’d always thought of it as a great, frightening fortress thing, when really all Azkaban really means to me is four walls and that black floor. No bigger picture.
The Dementors are gone now, but them guards is almost worse. I’ve heard horror stories of beatings, tortures, and worse just because there ain’t no orders to stop it from ‘appening. ‘ell, Merlin knows I’ve survived some of them ‘orror stories. Nobody cares for criminals nowadays. If I don’t speak of it aloud, then maybe nothing was real.
I wait patiently for me eyes to adjust to the light. I’m sat like a bloody conquered king in the center of a great dais, and all round are angry, ‘ateful faces, faces contorted, narrow eyes and faint hisses slipping between their sharp teeth, faces pale and hungry, flushed by wicked flood flowing beneath their taut cheeks, talons of hands clutched together in their laps and glares shooting beams of hostile light that pierce me. I don’t know how else to describe it. ‘unters, predators.
But this is a tense room, and inside the public masses some are ‘oping for my release, and others to exterminate me. It’s the state of England, now: divided, confused, filled with fiery vengeance.
“Stan Shunpike,” a girly voice chimes across, scalding my ears in a sugary rush, and I see her: a squat, toadlike witch, blood red bow perched on her head at an angle, chubby hands held pertly together. She’s sat at the highest point in the court, directly across from me, wide eyes glinting wickedly. I shift nervously and try to get comfortable, holding me wrist at the exact angle so that the chain can’t dig into me arm. What a bloody fool I must look to all these clean people.
“Madam Umbridge, Chief Witch of the Wizemgamot,” the witch announces herself, and the scribe at her left ‘and ‘urries, ‘is quill fluttering in the still, tense air.
“Questioning Stan Shunpike.” She turns ‘er ‘orrid stare on me. “You have been brought before the Wizengamot on trial for counts of high treason and crimes against wizardkind.”
She smirks cheerily out at the assembled crowds, and I find the long, complicated words vanishing through me like smoke as I examine the arena and search for a familiar face. Part of me thought ol’ Ernie might be ‘ere: ‘e did let me crash on ‘is couch when I was on the run last year, after all, though ‘e knew why I was running and everything. ‘e’s a good bloke, Ern.
“…may include but are not limited to deportation, execution, and, if crimes are deemed of such severity by the Wizemgamot, being subject to the Dementor’s Kiss.” ‘er voice trills, interrupting my thoughts.
When Mr. Nott was Kissed, they dragged us all out to watch. It was ‘orrible. They brought in a Dementor special, ‘nd ten men from the Ministry stood, their eyes never leavin’ frail old Mr. Nott, wands lit and pointed right at ‘im, sending ghastly blue lights across ‘is silver beard. They wanted us to get a good view, see.
I think ‘e didn’t realize what was ‘appening, by the end. I remember ‘is ‘ands, they were very thin, like skeleton claws. When the Dementor was finished with ‘im, them Ministry men cast the Dementor away with a Patronus, and it fled, ‘igh-tailing into the night. I know Mr. Nott was a very bad man, but I would’ve liked to ‘elp the shell of ‘im that the Dementor left behind. It looked frightened, lying there all cold. But then I guess I’m a bad man too.
“Thank you, Madam Umbridge. Now, Mr. Shunpike, do you deny your involvement in the service of the dark wizard Lord… Voldemort?” The speaker, a portly, red-faced man, cringes a little when ‘e says the name, and I notice several others flinch as well.
“No, no sir,” I stutter, unused to the sound of me own voice. It scratches at my skin, and grates drily as I clear my throat ‘astily. “No, I do not deny it, no.”
The portly man looks nearly disappointed, as if ‘e wanted me to protest.
“Very well. How do you plead, sir, to the charges outlined by Madam Umbridge?”
“Er…Not guilty, sir. I suppose.” This ‘rouses a great chattering in the room, echoes which bounce between the walls and slip past me ears.
“Hem hem,” the court grows silent as the red-bowed witch, Umbridge, clears ‘er thick throat and smiles out at the crowd. “Mr Shunpike, is this to deny your involvement in the Wickley murders of April 1996?”
I take a deep breath. “Yes, ma’am, well I was-”
“First witness to the stand, please! No, Defender, no protests!” The witch calls, tapping ‘er pink gavel, and a kid comes up to the stand. ‘e’s skinny, and ‘is brow furrowed in a fierce, straight line across ‘is face. I notice ‘e walks with a limp. ‘e’s probably thirteen or so. Whispers stir through the room.
“Henry Wickley, do you recognize this man?” the portly man, who must be my Defender, asks, fiddling nervously with ‘is watch chain. Them ‘igher ups sure do go all out. Suddenly, I realize where I know ‘im from, this rotund champion of mine: ‘e used to ride the Knight Bus every Saturday morning and night, because ‘e never learned to Apparate and ‘e was visiting ‘is old Mum. Every Saturday for two years, I must’ve spoken with ‘im. I wonder if ‘e recognizes me.
‘enry, the boy witness, leans ‘eavily on the podium, letting it take ‘is weight. “Yes, sir.”
“And can you describe to the Wizengamot the circumstances under which you last saw him?”
‘enry bites ‘is lip, and tips ‘is ‘ead slightly back. ‘is voice wavers.
“I was home for the Easter hols, sir. We were sitting down for tea—me, and my Mum and Dad, and… my sister, Sara, when they burst in, all cloaked and wands pointed at us. They must have made quick work of our protective charms, the Ministry told me… later.” He clears his throat, and I sense the tide of the court turning against me once again.
“My Mum knew right away when the door opened, and she shoved me in the cupboard and tried to shove my sister in, but there was only room… for one.” The courtroom is stirring, some witch in the front row is sobbing into ‘er ‘ankerchief. I feel a bit ill, knowing, remember what’s coming next, how the boy’s sister ‘ad screamed and screamed-
“I could see it all through a gap in the cabinet. My Mum started to cry,” and ‘ere ‘e pauses again, and clears ‘is throat. “There were three of them, and they tortured my sister right in front of my… my parents, then they killed them, them all, and… left their bodies there.” ‘enry puts on a brave face. ‘is bottom lip trembles, but perhaps I’m the only one to notice.
The Wizemgamot stirs, they look uncomfortable. Dread coats the inside o’ my stomach, and I’m worried for a moment that I might upchuck all over these chains.
“And you can clearly identify Mr. Shunpike as one of those men?”
‘enry Wickley looks at me, hard, and expressionless ‘e nods. “The man who did the… cast the spells was Mulciber. They called him that, I remember.”
A long-bearded wizard from the Wizengamot shifts, consulting ‘is parchment. “Messrs. Rookwood and Mulciber have already been… adequately disposed of for their involvement in the Wickley tragedy and other similar crimes,” ‘e calls out, and ‘enry seems to nod firmly.
“So you are saying that Mr. Shunpike played no active part in the murders themselves?” My Defender, the portly man, asks ‘enry anxiously. ‘enry ‘esitates.
“Oh, don’t be ridiculous, Defender,” the plump, bow-topped witch snaps, ‘er girly voice whipping through the air. “Of course Shunpike is liable, he was there after all…”
She gives me a very nasty look, like a toad eyeing a fly it’s about to gobble up. I look down at my hands, examining the imprints of the chains upon my wrists. I wonder what would ‘appen if I jumped up and tried to run: likely as not them chains would strangle on the spot. At least I’d be spared the Dementors.
“Mr. Wickley, is there a possibility that indicates Mr. Shunpike could have been under the Imperius Curse?” My defender demands earnestly, tipping forward in ‘is seat. “There have been statements, after all, by Harry Potter himself, saying that Mr. Shunpike appeared to be Cursed-”
“Er, I spose it’s a possibility,” ‘enry murmurs, and the whole court begins to buzz once more.
“Order! There is absolutely no excuse for this… this scum!” Umbridge squeals, and other voices are joining hers. It’s hard to make them out, but someone says that they’re only making an example of me, that too many innocent are dying in these trials, and I think another voice says ‘e wants to curse and kill me right then and there.
And soon the words begin to get too complicated for me and the terms and the meanings and the anger swirl about. I left Hogwarts at fifteen: I was a bloody night shift conductor, then some sort of Death Eater, then a prisoner, and I can’t understand this new world in which innocent and death are entwined. People are getting upset, standing up and shouting, and someone draws a wand, and words like autocracy and bigot and human rights and inner-Ministry corruption and scapegoats are being thrown ‘cross the room like flaming arrows.
I find myself staring at little orphaned ‘enry Wickley and for a moment I catch ‘is eye and I see my confusion mirrored in ‘is eyes.
“Half the population will be imprisoned if this keeps up: I say we do something! I say we fight back!” someone shouts, and it seems like this is the call to arms, for suddenly wands are pointed and the courtroom is in an uproar, people arguing and charging either for Umbridge or the outspoken man.
“Free the innocent!” some witch cries, rising above the crowds.
These words, powerful words unleash them others like ‘ounds, and with great baying and cries they turn on each other, a wild, thrashing throng, the dark room alight with tumbling, featureless bodies, clinging to each other, cursing. Spells begin to fly, great beams of magic soaring through the underground air.
Tables of the Wizemgamot overturned. People cowering for cover, swarming the exits, dueling fiercely. This is my last glimpse of the wizarding England I always loved: an unruly, fractured people, scorched by violence, at each other’s throats.
And then a spell ‘its one of the torches, overturning and beginning to spread, an unnatural, magical fire that begins to devour everything in it’s reach.
This is no civilized trial anymore: this ‘ere morph in an angry mob, and a witch’s robes alight and she screams but nobody ‘elps ‘er. It’s too ‘ot, the ‘eat is rising and me lungs begin to ‘arden with smoke.
And the fire spreads, and a wizard crumples at my feet, and I recognize ‘im as the man who used to ride the Knight Bus and who was my Defender, and ‘is wand is snapped in two.
And ‘enry Wickley is crying, crying like ‘e couldn’t when ‘e talked about the murders of ‘is family, and I wonder for a soul-splitting moment if I was ever truly innocent, and if I ‘appen to die ‘ere today who is to blame.
Nobody thinks to free me. And as the fire grows closer it’s all I can do to ‘ide me face in me ‘ands, the cold chain diggin into me cheek, ‘nd close my eyes in a last resistance ‘gainst the inferno, feeling very young indeed.
A/N: Hi loves! Thank you for continuing to read this story collection! I kind of took a risk with this chapter, but am actually quite happy with the finished result. This is a work in progress, so if you think there’s any parts that didn’t fit or went out of character please let me know so I can come back and fix them. Other than that, I’d love to know what you thought of this regardless! The next chapter will be the final one and will jump forward in time several years, as well as be written in a slightly different style. Hopefully you enjoy! :)