Chapter 1 : Empty Cells of Azkaban
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Morning hadn’t quite broken when Harry looked around bleary-eyed. What had woken him in the pre-dawn hours? He found his glasses which still didn’t help his bleary vision. Another strident noise woke him completely. He glanced at his right hand where a thick gold ring with a red jewel never left his finger. The ring itself was vibrating with the shrill notes used only for dire emergencies. The ring had remained relatively quiet for several years now. He quickly got out of bed, flicking his wand several times. There was no time to get ready in the Muggle way. He kissed Ginny on her cheek, smiled when she sighed then Disapparated.
Harry Potter appeared in his usual spot in the Ministry Atrium. He stepped quickly away from the Apparation point and watched the atrium for a brief time in an effort to gauge what had happened. No one appeared to be running amok or in a blind panic. He touched his ring to appear directly in the Minister’s office, “Minister Kingsley?”
“Harry!” Minister Kingsley didn’t smile. He motioned for Harry to sit in one of the plush chairs. “Mr. Robards and Mrs. Weasley will soon be joining us.” And indeed, on the echo of his words two more people appeared out of nothing. They joined Harry sitting in front of the Minister’s desk. Minister Kingsley wasted no more time. “It’s grave. There was a mass breakout from Azkaban not even an hour past. Twenty Death Eaters have escaped.”
“Do you have a list of the missing Death Eaters?” Harry forced himself to think quickly. Minister Kingsley pushed a parchment scroll towards him. Harry unrolled it, looking ill at both the number of names as well as who was missing. “Do you know who is behind this breakout? Voldemort is distinctly dead – no chance of him returning this time.”
Minister Kingsley gave a ghost of a smile when Harry referred to the terror-filled days leading up to the Final Battle. “We have no idea. We first got word from the Deputy Head of Azkaban.”
“The Deputy Head? Why not the Head of Azkaban?” Hermione Weasley demanded. She had started in a lowly position in the Ministry and over the years had now attained the position of Deputy Head of the Magical Law Enforcement office, second only to Gawain Robards who had retired as Head Auror.
“He has not been found as of their last note,” Minister Kingsley replied evenly, “Was he involved or taken? Was he just an unwitting accomplice? That is unknown at this time.” Hermione sat back as she considered the ramifications.
“My office will have their hands full tracking down the Death Eaters and returning them to Azkaban,” Harry pointed out, “Given her logical ability, I suggest that Hermione figure out who was behind this breakout as well as why they were released and how it was accomplished so we can ensure that it won’t happen again.”
Minister Kingsley and Gawain nodded their agreement, “If Mrs. Weasley agrees?”
Hermione blushed at Harry’s praise, “I’ll do it.”
Harry nodded once then concentrated as a stag appeared from his wand and flew from the room quickly. The other three looked at him puzzled. “Ron. Every available Auror is going to be searching for the Death Eaters. Hermione’s going to need protection herself that only an Auror can provide.” They nodded once more, understanding what Harry wasn’t saying.
Ron appeared looking confused. He was distinctly disheveled from being woken up earlier than usual. “What?” He was surprised to see himself in the Minister’s office.
Harry explained the situation quickly. “I’m reactivating you until the situation has been resolved. It will be your only duty to protect Hermione while she figures out this mystery. Do you understand and accept?”
Ron’s face had paled during Harry’s explanation. “Someone’s going to hurt Hermione? I’ll protect her! I’ll do it!”
Harry flicked his wand at Ron, transfiguring his clothes into Auror robes. Ron’s old ring appeared on his finger. “Ron, your only duty at this time is to guard and protect Hermione.” He looked at Minister Kingsley. “I’d best get the Aurors going.” He pulled a small empty-looking globe from the air as he hurried to the door. To their surprise, he threw it against the wall, smashing it to shards which disappeared before hitting the ground. The door shut behind him.
Minister Kingsley looked at Ron with a raised eyebrow. “Oh, it’s a Call to Defense globe.” Ron explained with a wince at the alarm from his ring which continued until he touched the jewel. “Every Auror is required to respond and will be waiting in the debrief room when Harry gets there.”
“What about you?” Hermione asked.
Ron shook his head. “Harry’s direct order,” he held up his ring that was quiet now, even though the others hadn’t heard the alarm, “He’s already given me my assignment. He’ll give the others their assignments now.”
Gawain excused himself, “As I have no Call to Defense globes, I’m going back to my office to call in the MLEPs. I’ll have to see about one of those globes. Mrs. Weasley? Everyone should be gathered by the time you’re ready.” He hurried out the door.
Hermione pulled a Smart Quill from her beaded bag along with a notepad. She tapped the Smart Quill to the paper where it began writing on its own. “Minister, would you have a copy of the escaped prisoners?” She accepted another roll of parchment. “Anything else you can tell me?”
Minister Kingsley shook his head, “I will be keeping Head Auror Potter, Mr. Robards and you apprised of new developments as I am aware of them. Call in who you need until you have solved this case.”
Hermione stood, Ron still standing behind her with his wand ready. “Thank you, Minister. I may need to call on members of the Order for quick information also.” Minister Kingsley nodded. They had expanded the Order of the Phoenix only slightly to keep a pulse on the wizarding world. She followed Ron from the room, allowing him to guard her on the way to the Magical Law Enforcement office.
She walked into the debrief room where every available MLEP was gathered to standing room only. Her quill was still furiously writing in the notebook. Gawain stood to one side. Silence filled the room. “I expect Gawain has filled you in on what happened?” She watched their terror-filled faces nod. “Good. Then I want those of you not named specifically by me to go to Gringott’s and get information on if gold has been withdrawn from the accounts. Information of any type is required. Also look up any information having to do with the escaped Death Eaters. Head Auror Potter and his department will be tracking the Death Eaters down and capturing them.” She forced herself not to laugh at the relief on their faces. “Then Edward Quigley, Peony McLeod, Amberose Smyth, Grace Newton, Sergius Cuffe, Cardia Bole, Michael Ward, Adria Paley, Philbert Wimborne and Elsie Wright, you ten are with me.”
“Where are we going?” Peony asked as she stood.
“Azkaban,” Hermione didn’t wait for her answer. “Everyone understand their task? Dismissed,” She turned on her heel, expecting those she named to follow her quickly from the room.
Minister Kingsley waited until everyone had left his office. He carefully locked his door and Sealed it before he walked over to a seemingly empty picture frame, “Professor Dumbledore, you heard everything I presume?”
“Indeed, you have quite a problem,” his voice drifted from the background.
“Please inform Headmaster Longbottom that I will be waiting for him at Hogwarts,” Minister Kingsley stated, knowing that there was not only the portrait in the Headmaster’s office and the Minister’s office, but also one in the Longbottom’s residence. He didn’t wait for the answer as he Disapparated.
He appeared outside the gates of Hogwarts. He waved his hand and the gate opened just enough for him to get through. He watched the gates bar themselves before continuing. He hurried across the grounds into the castle. There was no time to be wasted. He knew the Golden Trio was focused on the tasks needed to save the wizarding world once again; they hadn’t had the chance to worry about their children yet. He didn’t have to wait for long at the stone gargoyle. Neville ran up to him with his robes flying behind him, “Minister! I wasn’t expecting you!”
“I’ll explain in your office,” Minister Kingsley replied.
Neville nodded. He walked to up to the stone gargoyle which opened as he approached. Minister Kingsley followed him up the winding staircase. Neville settled behind his desk, motioning for Minister Kingsley to take one of the comfortable chairs, “What happened?”
He quietly listened to the situation. When Minister Kingsley finished, he leaned back, considering the next step. “Hogwarts will remain in lockdown until the last Death Eater is apprehended, of course. Too many students here are children of the Hogwarts Defenders.” Neville opened a drawer in his desk, pulled out a clear globe and placed it on what Minister Kingsley had believed to be an inkwell. Neville tapped the globe four times, nodding as mist in the house colors clouded the inside. Another four taps caused the outside to shimmer in the house colors. Another tap turned the globe gold. “Hogwarts is now protected,” Neville looked up at Minister Kingsley.
Minister Kingsley looked impressed, “That wasn’t done at the Final Battle.”
Neville shook his head, “Professor McGonagall and I decided there needed to be more safeguards, just in case. We worked it out with Professor Sprout, Professor Flitwick and Professor Slughorn.”
“I must be leaving now,” Minister Kingsley replied, “I expect you’ll have your hands full.”
Neville chuckled, “I expect one or two students will be pushing the envelope.”
Minister Kingsley chuckled, knowing exactly who he was talking about. A quick walk back to the gates, he looked back at Hogwarts. Perhaps it was having seen the globe on Neville’s desk, but he thought he could see just the faintest hint of gold gleaming like a delicate soap bubble in the dawn. He Disapparated.
There was a knock on his door as he finished Apparating into his office. He opened his door. “Yes?” he asked the four MLEPs standing in front of him.
“We’ve been assigned to guard you,” the one closest to him stated, “You go nowhere unless we are with you.”
Minister Kingsley nodded his understanding. He knew he would be a target. And he had a greater responsibility to the people now than when he fought in the Second Wizarding War.
Hermione pulled her cloak tighter to her. It was cold and dreary here on the island where Azkaban sat. She didn’t think there could be a place that was so bereft of color. Even the sandy beach looked wrong. She knew Ron was unnerved by the imposing stone building. When he had first been an Auror, he had come home looking distinctly ill each time he had to visit Azkaban to deliver another Death Eater to the fortress. She shivered as she caught a fluttering in the side of her vision. “Just one of many Dementors,” she told herself firmly. She forced herself to walk closer to the place she never wanted to set foot in. The others trailed behind her, wishing they could be anywhere but here.
She stopped at the door. Ron motioned for her to step back as he pounded on the door. The faded and cracked door creaked open. Ron pointed his wand towards it, bright light dimly shining into the corridor. Ron finally nodded, leading them into the abyss. Hermione soon realized that she would have gotten the group lost on their way to the main office. She was glad that Ron had taken the lead. She remained silent. He needed to concentrate on their surroundings.
A pale-faced man with thin hair hurried to them, stopping several paces away when Ron pointed his wand at him, “Are you here from the Ministry?”
“Who are you?” Ron demanded harshly.
The man had trouble swallowing. He had seen Auror Weasley before and knew what he was capable of when pressed. After all, hadn’t Auror Weasley brought in several of the Death Eaters who remained calm in his presence only to act up once he was gone? “I’m the Deputy Head of Azkaban.”
Ron’s eyes narrowed, “And the Head of Azkaban would be where?”
“We don’t know!” the man wailed, annoying Ron immensely, “One of the guards told me there was this woman that he was escorting to the visitor room to visit Mr. Fudge and that he was dismissed when the Head of Security decided to escort her himself.”
Hermione poked Ron in his back, “I need to speak with this guard, immediately.”
“Of course,” the Deputy Head promised, “His name is Mark Trent.” He continued babbling while Hermione nodded her head to the two squads that came with her. He fell silent as the MLEPs fanned out to process the scene.
“You were saying?” Hermione demanded.
The Deputy Head paled further. “This way,” he led them to a broken door that had severe spell damage to it. Inside, several guards were hiding. Ron made the terrified man enter first then followed with Hermione close to him. “Mark? Auror Weasley needs to speak with you.”
A blond man shuddered but approached warily, “You want to know about the lady.”
“Everything you remember,” Hermione pulled out her Smart Quill and notepad, readying it for more notes.
The man shook his head. “Well, she was pretty. Green eyes, blond hair, just a bit taller than me,” The man motioned a couple inches above his head, “Looked to be someone important. She wanted to see Mr. Fudge and so I was taking her to the visitor room but on our way, the Head of Azkaban passed us. He stopped and then looked back at us as if he were surprised to see us. I swear he took one look at her and dismissed me on the spot! I watched them as they continued to the visitor room thinking how unfair it all was.”
Hermione was more than a little annoyed with the man. But she had long since learned to keep her face blank, “Anything else about her?”
Mark thought hard, encouraged by Ron’s tapping wand. Finally he shook his head.
“Very well,” Hermione said, “Do I have your permission to collect this memory?” She waited semi-patiently.
Mark was surprised at her request, “My memory? But what if I lose it then? Would I still have it?”
Hermione fought to keep from rolling her eyes, “It would be a copy of your memory.”
Mark fidgeted for a few more minutes. Finally he nodded, “Yeah, you can collect it.”
Hermione pulled a vial from her beaded bag and instructed him to think very clearly about what he had just reported to them. She touched her wand to his temple and pulled a thick, gluey silver strand from his head that she placed in the vial. She tapped the glass and writing appeared marking the evidence. She placed it back in her beaded bag. “Now, you have a visitor book?”
Mark nodded violently.
Hermione turned to the Deputy Head, “I want a copy of the entire book.”
The Deputy Head nodded frantically. “Of course, this way,” he led them to the front entrance where the book had surprisingly sustained no damage, “Oh, there’s spells on it to keep it safe, just in case.”
Hermione tapped the book and tapped the desk to the side of it. A duplicate appeared. She tapped the duplicate book and a label appeared on it. She placed it in her beaded bag. She opened the book to the last page. “Ms Libby T Ina to see Mr. Fudge,” Hermione frowned.
They turned swiftly when sounds of struggling and yelling caught their attention. Several MLEPs were holding Mr. Fudge who was struggling to free himself and shouting at them. Umbridge offered no resistance and didn’t appear to be aware of where she was.
“Mr. Fudge. That is enough!” Hermione snapped. Mr. Fudge fell silent.
“Found them near where we found the Head of Azkaban,” Michael said with a look of disgust at the former Ministry staff, “She wasn’t doing anything. He was stomping all over the place.”
“Where’s the Head of Azkaban? Why didn’t you bring him with you?” Hermione demanded.
Michael shuddered. “Wasn’t pretty. Dead. Heavy spell damage. Taking him directly to the Ministry for further examination. Detailed report should be crossing your desk soon.”
Hermione looked at Fudge. “What do you have to say for yourself?”
“BUGS!” Fudge shouted. “Bugs! Bugs!” He pointed emphatically around him with a wild look in his eye.
Hermione looked at Michael for an answer. Michael shrugged. “He’s been going on about bugs since we found him.”
“Well, find them both new cells,” Hermione told the Deputy Head as she gave Mr. Fudge a half-worried look, “Lock them back up.”
The Deputy Head nodded as he motioned for the MLEPs to follow him with the prisoners. Ron was disgusted. Hermione sighed, “Let’s go.” Ron was more than happy to comply. He hoped never to see the depressing place ever again.
A/N: I hope you enjoyed this chapter. Please let me know what you think. Feedback is always welcome! Thank you!