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One by one the cell doors opened and the prisoners inside were pulled to their feet by Death Eaters. It was the one time each day in which they would encounter the followers of Voldemort, unless they were unlucky enough to have had their presence requested by the Dark Lord.

Harry found himself being escorted down the corridor with one unidentified Death Eater on either side of him. The sound of their footsteps echoed along the corridors as they made their way down through the prison towards the main chamber. There would be one long table stretched out in there with bowls full of something which could barely be called food. Voldemort always sat above them and occasionally tortured one of them, the others never daring to look.

It was still unknown how long it was between each meal; some of them said it was once a day, some said twice, although Mad Eye was determined that they were fed only once every three days. Everyone else had long since dismissed this theory however, on account of the impossibility of surviving for so long under such meagre rations. They were all becoming very thin, however, and Ron, who had been there the longest, was almost skinny enough to rival Harry, although he was not quite there yet.

Sooner than they would have liked, they reached the large doors to the chamber and the cells ended some time back. The doors were opened from within, as they always were, and they were escorted inside. It seemed that there were some Death Eaters who were always in the prison whilst others, such as Lucius Malfoy, were out corrupting the Ministry or murdering people.

Inside, Death Eaters stood at intervals around the edges of the room, clearly keeping an eye out for any attempts to escape or rebel against their host who sat atop a large, high backed chair at the head of a large table. He did not eat himself, and many of the Order suspected that he did not need to, but merely observed them, sometimes cursing one or two for his amusement.

The large stone table had been made so that it was in the very centre of the room and Voldemort’s position enabled him to see straight down the table and to the large doors beyond. They were not those which led deeper into the prison but ones which lead into a small but heavily guarded entrance and then out to the world beyond. It was a torment to the Order that they were so close and yet so far from their freedom and Voldemort knew it. He smiled a grim smile as they filed into the room, his eyes wandering over each and every one of them but fixing themselves finally on Harry who glared back at him in return. Behind him Snape gave him a sharp kick to the back of his knees, almost causing him to fall down, but his job had been done: Harry had broken eye contact with Voldemort.

The meal was a silent one. That day no one found poison, or awful insects in their dinner and no one faced torture, although the fact that they were there, alive and dining in the presence of Voldemort could possibly have been considered so.

The silence and the fear in the air was overwhelming and those of the Order who stole a glance at Voldemort knew that he enjoyed the atmosphere which he had created from killing some of those they cared about in front of them. Filius had met his end at that very table, poison in his food. He had choked and writhed on the ground until he had finally become still, but that had been many months ago now. Those of them who had not been forced to watch it or had not been in the prison at that time were very thankful for it.

Then there had been Ginny and Arthur, the former of whom had met her end quite recently. Ginny had been blown apart by the Reductor curse, her parents and family forced to watch in shock and horror whilst they could do nothing to help. If anything, that had been one of the most delightful times of Voldemort’s life, one which made him want to go out killing again instead of merely hearing the report from those faithful to him.

Arthur had not met such a bloody or excruciating end. It had been a long time since he had died, just before Filius and it was the one which had hit the Weasleys, and the rest of the Order, the hardest as it had been the first. He had been choked to death in a strange version of a Bubble-Head charm cast upon him by Voldemort. Those who had been present had screamed and cried when it happened, when they stared into Arthur’s eyes as they watched him drowning on what could surely not be air in front of them.

Those who were left were quite grateful, grateful for the fact that they were not yet alone, although not overly pleased that their own lives had been spared. It felt as if a lead weight had been put on their shoulders when they were made to walk, for the lives of those who had been lost, which they had been unable to save.

This depression always weighed down on the Order as they entered the large chamber of the prison, even on those who had not been present at any of the murders. The fact was that murders had taken place of people they deeply cared about and there had been nothing anyone could have done to prevent their agonising deaths occurring. It was a depression which kept most of them from feeling the increase in their energy and in their spirits as they stepped out of their cells every day and it kept them from realising the suppressive nature of the cells they had been placed in, most especially those who had not the skill of wandless magic.

It was something which was necessary to the suppression of the people. Voldemort knew that should they ever discover that during their daily meal they had something akin to power they would not remain his prisoners long. They would also not remain alive for very long; the moment they tried to free themselves they would find themselves rather lacking life despite the fact that their lives could be rather useful to him.

He stared around at them, most especially Harry, whom he was certain could feel his gaze upon him. He was still puzzling over certain parts of the prophecy in his head, Voldemort that was. After all, Dumbledore had never tried to kill him and the prophecy would explain that, but he had also allowed Potter to enter his presence on numerous occasions. He had faced Harry many times, more than he could be bothered to count and neither had killed the other, as of yet. But Harry had made no attempt on his life, although he was aware of the prophecy. Voldemort began to wonder whether there was a second part to the prophecy which he did not yet know, although he would have to find it out.

Around him, those he held as his prisoners had finished their meagre rations and stared down at their empty bowls either wishing for more or wishing for freedom. Voldemort rose from his seat and left the room; he had some serious thinking regarding Harry to do. As he left he heard the dim scraping of chairs behind him. The Order was leaving the room.

As they left, they felt a sense of relief in themselves which they felt every time they left the presence of Voldemort. It was the knowledge that they had faced him again and each and every one of them had lived to tell the tale. Severus stared down at his forearm distractedly, making sure that he did not watch the Dark Lord as he left the room; he had learnt the hard way that he could make eye contact at the most unexpected of times, having the most disastrous consequences.

He had an idea as to why Voldemort had not left the Dark Mark upon his arm and had instead removed it from his skin, although he was not keen upon the implications that it would bring. A wave of cold washed over him and shivers ran through his body as Dementors seized him and dragged him back to his cell, along with the others. It was easier to subdue those gaining spirit with Dementors and to obstruct potential escapes with Death Eaters. Voldemort knew that, and so did Severus before he slipped into an unconscious haze of the past.


***


Albus glanced down at the Daily Prophet which appeared to be becoming more and more useful to him each day. The headlines were shocking to him and he knew that people surely knew that something was going on now, how could they not?

DEATH EATER ATTACK ON HOGSMEADE
Five Dead – Seventeen Badly Injured


Yesterday evening a brutal attack was reigned on Hogsmeade Village close to Hogwarts School. The small community, consisting entirely of witches and wizards, was mostly too shocked to react to the curses which were rained upon them by Voldemort’s followers and afterwards the Dark Mark burned high in the sky.

A total of seventeen of those in the village at the time have sustained serious injuries and are being treated in St. Mungo’s whilst five others lost their lives valiantly fighting.


Albus allowed his eyes to skim quickly over the words in front of him as he waited for the names of those who had been injured and killed to appear. Surely enough he found them towards the end of the article. There was one name which stuck out at him though:

Edward Bones. At the back of his mind Albus registered this as being Amelia Bones’ eldest son. Surely now that such a thing had happened the Ministry would be forced to admit the fact that Voldemort had returned. At the bottom of the article, a small paragraph caught his eye:

The main question being asked by the general public upon recent news of You-Know-Who’s return is: what is the Ministry doing about it? Although many reports of his rebirth have met the ears of the Minister, mostly from the voices of Dumbledore and The Boy Who Lived, it took numerous people at a sighting of the Dark Lord in the Ministry’s Atrium for belief to spread. So now, in such dark times and the year of an election, will Minister Fudge retain his title or will someone infinitely more competent be instated?

For a few moments, Albus felt close to laughter at the end of the article. It had not been written by Rita Skeeter but by a writer of whom he hadn’t heard. The fact that the name was unfamiliar to him meant little other than other stories were afoot and Rita was out hunting them. This also meant that, because such an article had been printed, that Cornelius himself had been called elsewhere, away from his previous paper.

Albus folded the paper carefully, noticing the portraits all staring down at him, waiting for his next move. It had been a few days since he had last paid a visit to the Ministry of Magic, and as there had been an investigation held as to why the Minister himself had rocketed out of his office window only the day before, Albus had thought it wise not to venture back so soon. However the article printed that morning changed a lot. Amelia Bones had lost a close member of her family and would be a lot more receptive to him and his ideas of helping the Order trapped inside Azkaban back to freedom.

Various speeches he could make to her raced each other around his mind whilst Phineas was talking loudly in the background. The other portraits were clamouring for him to shut up, only worsening the din.

“I suppose you could always go back the Ministry and round up some Aurors yourself,” Phineas said to him, “After all, you do have a rather large following, especially now that the Prophet has begun to realise that you’ve been telling the truth.”

“I’d rather not,” Albus told him, “since it would be much easier to do this the law abiding way.”

“But you can hardly leave those poor people to rot in a gaol cell, can you?” Dilys piped up. “Besides, you don’t have much hope without Harry.”

“He could be dead by now anyway,” Phineas reminded her and she scowled darkly at him although she didn’t comment in return.

Albus walked over to the window and stared across the grounds. The school felt truly empty without the students, although the portraits provided some company, and the school itself had always seemed partly alive. Still, without the students it was still just the stone, himself and paint.

He was staring so intently out of the window that he barely noticed when an owl flew straight through it – almost landing on his head as it did so. Albus spun around and stared at the fluttering thing as it landed on his desk and went on to knock over several pots of ink.

Amelia Bones

He read the last of the letter first, as always, so that he knew from whom the letter had been sent before he went back to the beginning.

Albus,

As I’m sure you’ve seen the Prophet this morning and understand my reasoning I will not bore you with the details of my change of heart. I have done as much as I can for you. Many people now consider you trustworthy and most of the Aurors will follow you to the ends of the earth after the last, poorly thought out words in the article today. No doubt Fudge is not pleased.

I have managed to recruit many Aurors to your service and thirty of them shall meet you this evening. They shall arrive at their destination at midnight – the cover of darkness may be your only friend, as predictable as a night attack always is. I have enclosed a Portkey to the destination of their meeting as I think it could be dangerous for the knowledge of the location to fall into the wrong hands, and I presume you know of whose I speak.

Best of luck, you will surely need it,
Amelia Bones


Later that evening Albus found himself remembering her parting words to him in her letter. He would certainly need her luck that night; he would take the Portkey at half past midnight to whatever destination Amelia had picked and meet those who had chosen to follow him to what could well be the ends of their lives.

He paced the room back and forth, his feet moving in time with the swinging of the clock’s pendulum on the wall and he found himself wondering, not for the first time, whether or not there was actually anyone left living in Azkaban who needed saving. It was true that Voldemort was highly likely to leave them alive for his own purposes, mostly for the use of bargaining with the Ministry and other unforeseen reasons but Voldemort had never been one for mercy. They could have been dead for weeks for all he knew. Some of them may have been dead for more than a year.

It was the voice of Phineas, some ten minutes after he had begun pacing which eventually cut through his morbid thoughts on the matter.

“Listen to me, Albus, and listen well,” Phineas said to him calmly when Albus had been pacing for quite some time. He felt that it had been going on for long enough and a stop must be put to it, if only to spare his painted eyes the trouble of watching him walk to and fro. “You are the only one who can give those people in there, who are alive and you fully know it, any hope whatsoever. Without outside help they are going to rot in their cells. They will never have another chance at life and you are going to go back in there and bring them back. Not because you can but because you have to. This is your job, it is your duty and perhaps it was your destiny to do so. The young Potter has the large task of defeating Voldemort and perhaps it is your fate to get him into a position from which he can do such a thing.” Phineas took an unnecessary breath, taking no air from the room into his lungs before he continued.

“Everything which has happened so far has happened for a reason,” Phineas told him. “If it is one person’s fate to do something then the rest of the world must also follow a clear cut pattern to ensure that no one ruins that which is already foretold. Now tonight you will go to wherever it is Amelia has sent you. You will meet those whom she has told to meet you there. You will go to Azkaban and you will get those morons out of there because they cannot get themselves out. Do I make myself clear, Dumbledore?!”

Albus laughed. He laughed at Phineas and he laughed at his own foolishness. He knew what the portrait said was the truth, although he had never heard Phineas be so perfectly profound. Perhaps there was some hope for the man yet, despite the fact it came after his demise.

“Thank you, Phineas.” Albus smiled and the other portraits looked to him also, all appearing to approve of his speech.

“Don’t thank me! It was a perfectly selfish endeavour to prevent my eyes becoming sore at your incessant pacing!” Phineas argued and the rest of them nodded, all quite amused that the man was becoming almost useful.

“Of course it was, you gave him a speech, and you motivated him! You were of use to the current headmaster! Ah how the times are changing if even the most impertinent portraits care about those hundreds of years after their time.” Dilys laughed and glanced towards Phineas who was looking about as unimpressed as she had ever seen him.

“I do not care about him!” Phineas cried indignantly. “In fact there is no one I currently care about less!”

“How utterly charming of you,” Fortescue added lightly, but was ignored by the snide portrait.

“Well perhaps you do not care for Albus, but then surely you care for those he attempts to save. Is it young Harry himself whose safety you desire?” Dilys asked him and he narrowed his eyes further, so that by this point it was difficult to tell whether they were open at all.

“Well, as enjoyable as it’s been listening to you argue for yet another evening, I have some Aurors to meet,” Albus told them calmly as he rose from his chair and summoned his cloak to him. On the desk lay the letter from Madam Bones, still open and the Portkey which had been sent with it still lying where it had been attached.

He picked up the small dragon ornament enclosed with the letter and stared down at it. It reminded him strongly of Harry and Remus, although he could not for the life in him think why. He wondered briefly what had happened to Minerva’s butler and the paperweight it had been made of. The little things were coming back to him, the way in which Arthur had always smiled so cheerfully at Molly in the morning and given her a quick peck on the cheek before he left for work, just before Tonks ran into the room, usually knocking something over as she did so.

“Albus, do you really need instructions as to how Portkeys function?” Phineas asked loudly from behind him. “Now, it’s perfectly all right to be afraid of Portkeying; all foolish wizards are at some time in their lives—” what the rest of Phineas’ speech contained was never discovered as the Portkey glowed momentarily before Albus disappeared with it, his thoughts of the normal daily life with the inhabitants of Grimmauld Place banished at the same time.

His feet landed roughly on hard, cold ground. The air around him was chilled and whipped his face mercilessly. Albus found himself very thankful that he had remembered his cloak and he stared down through the gloom at the hand which closed around the Portkey. His aged hand opened to reveal only dust. The small particles which had made the dragon slipped from his hand and into the night beyond with a gust of wind, leaving him alone. Very alone in the darkness.

“Headmaster.” The voice was a calm one. He remembered it from many years in the past, although he could put neither face nor name to it.

A dim light bathed the area and Albus saw that they were indeed in the middle of nowhere. With the coming of the light came the vision of the thirty faces of those who had been sent there to meet him. He presumed that in such a barren location they would also have been Portkeyed there by Amelia and he was very thankful for her. Now all that remained was to travel to the prison itself.

“This way, Professor Dumbledore,” said another voice to the side of him and he turned to see the face of a young woman. She had clearly not been an Auror long and she was one of the Boot family, if he remembered correctly.

“Please, I am no longer your teacher. Call me Albus,” he told them as he followed the young woman. “Are you fully aware of what you have been sent here to do?”

“We have not been sent,” replied a man from behind him. Albus turned to regard him but his face was not one which he remembered. Perhaps it was because it was badly scarred and the darkness was concealing which made it so. He was one of the elder of the Aurors he stood among; he appeared to be nearing his forties. A little older than Remus perhaps, but his name did not come to him.

“No, we volunteered to join you today.” It was the voice of the young woman who finished for him. “We are fully aware of what we have set out to do: just over a dozen people are held captive by He Who Must Not Be Named in Azkaban prison. It is our duty to get them out, alive, and back to Hogwarts.”

Albus smiled at her and glanced around him. The faces of those he saw did not appear frightened or scared at the prospect of meeting the Dark Lord face to face and battling with his finest Death Eaters. On the contrary, they seemed entirely determined to do what was good and right, and some of them seemed almost eager to fight for the side they ought.

They walked silently; the young Miss Boot in the lead. Albus did not know to where they walked but he knew that many of those round him were very much to be trusted. They would not have gone against him, but then many whom he would never suspect of subterfuge had done just that.

After five minutes of walking through the land which quickly became much less barren, they reached a heavily forested area and all the Aurors pulled out their wands. Albus did the same as they slowly and carefully picked their way through the dense trees, avoiding the roots which twisted above the ground and the plants which seemed to have a life of their own. There was no life in these trees however, and Albus knew what he would find on the other side of the half mile of trees which lay ahead of him.

Sure enough, it was what he expected. He took a deep breath at the sight before him. The water was still, perfectly so and the waxing moon slipped out from behind a thin curtain of cloud. The stars twinkled above and automatically Albus noted the constellations in his mind, as did many of the younger Aurors. In the middle of the still water was an island. It was barely big enough to be seen from their location but it was there, perfectly set into the middle of the lake. The high walls of the castle upon it could be seen though, even from there, as could the watch towers which stood at each corner. They had arrived and now there was no turning back. They could only hope that their mission was not in vain.

“Here it is,” said Miss Boot. “Azkaban.”

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