Some witches and wizards were deemed far too dangerous to be interrogated at Ministry headquarters. Much to Harry Potter's dismay, such witches and wizards were to be taken immediately to Azkaban, where he would sit with them and try to coax a confession. It was not the interrogating that bothered him. It was Azkaban itself.
The fortress was located on the North Sea, kissed by lichens and the frigid tide. Once swarming with Dementors, Azkaban had a long, dark history of false imprisonment, Death Eater escapees, and unmatched joylessness. The history, however, was not what Harry loathed most about it. Despite his harrowing run-ins with Dementors, he much preferred them to the guards that roamed the prison now. At least Dementors couldn't take bribes.
"Afternoon, Potter," greeted a smarmy character by the name of Vikram Boase. His slimy grin and jangling pockets suggested that he had been taking advantage of the prison's many wealthy visitors. "See you brought some fresh meat."
"I'll need three of the most secure cells you can muster, Vikram," Harry said, flatly, his wand aimed directly at the back of Bulstrode's head.
Bulstrode and the Slavic man fumed, silently. They had regained consciousness once they arrived at Azkaban, but still, they complied. Of course, they did not have much of a choice. With their limbs magically bound and strong levitation charms on each of them, they knew fighting would only earn them a harsher sentence. Jeremy Preachwell, however, did not have the same amount of sense. He tried quite desperately to protest, only to be deterred by Beatty's rather powerful Silencing Charm.
"Three cells but I see four prisoners," Vikram pointed out with a smirk. "Not taking bribes now, are we, Potter?"
"This one here was a hostage," Vox cut in, squeezing Theodore Nott's shoulder. "We have no intentions of leaving him here unless he gives us reason to."
Vikram raked over the two of them. "An innocent Nott. Somehow, I find that hard to believe."
"It doesn't matter what you believe," Potter growled. "I need three cells or else we'll be having a conversation about the Sickles in your pockets. Got it?"
The guard narrowed his eyes. "Very well. Follow me."
The party of Aurors escorted their prisoners down the labyrinthine corridors of Azkaban, fixated upon the guard as he led them into the heart of the prison. After a slew of escapes, all of the most dangerous criminals were moved to the center of the building, far away from the crashing waves of the North Sea that, to many Death Eaters' delight, occasionally demolished a wall or two. Harry had a hand in this decision, though he regretted it each time he had to walk inside of the place. The smell of rot and decay made his stomach churn, and the screams only made it worse.
"Here we are." Vikram gestured an empty cell. "Prime real estate."
"Vox, take Bulstrode in there," Harry instructed. "And the other cells, Vikram?"
"Yes, yes. Come on, then."
The other two cells were not far from one another. They locked up the Russian and Jeremy Preachwell, leaving behind Durden to watch after Preachwell and Duncan to watch the other.
"Take Nott back to the Auror Office," Harry said in stride. From his robes, he pulled a clear bag containing a piece of pink yarn. It was one of many just like it. "Get him some water and something to eat. He's not to be questioned until I'm back. Do you understand?"
Beatty nodded and took the bag. She opened the pinch-seal and turned to the rescued hostage. "You're with me, Nott. Fancy a trip?"
"Anything to be out of here."
Never in all of his years had Ronald Weasley ever been to Azkaban. Between the spin of the Portkey and the fear of what was to come, he was on the verge of emptying his stomach all over Eldin Primpernelle's rather snazzy shoes. He held it in, however, because he assumed that would only make the dreadful situation worse.
"Welcome to Azkaban. Here for a long stay?" a pale guard droned. He was sitting in a wooden chair with the Daily Prophet open, his feet propped atop a small crate.
Primpernelle cleared his throat. "Yes, I'm here to deliver a prisoner—erm—an alleged traitor."
The guard looked up. "Well, well, well. Ron Weasley. Suspec' you did somethin' stupid after readin' this morning's paper, eh?"
"The details of his alleged crime isn't important. He's facing treason charges. As you know, we have to bring in felons because they—"
"They could be a danger to 'emselves or others. Yeah, yeah. I know the law." The guard's knees cracked as he stretched and got to his feet. "I ain't really s'posed to help with the high-profile criminals. More Vikram's thing. He's helpin' someone righ' this second, but if you don't mind waitin', he oughta be back in a jiff."
"Oh, you have to be kidding me!"
"Hey, I don't make the rules, mate," the guard said in a bored tone. He collapsed into the chair once more and flipped the page of the newspaper. "By the way, you got a spot just there."
Ron did not mind the guard's laziness. The longer that he avoided a cell, the better. Even during his time as an Auror, he had managed to avoid the infamous prison, and he in was no rush to experience it all at once.
A chuckling guard emerged from the shadows all too quickly. Keys jangled between his fingers as he watched the floor pass by beneath him, clearly unaware of his surroundings. Only when he reached the small entrance did he let out a peep.
"Mr. Primpernelle!" he exclaimed. "Has Morgus helped you yet?"
"Hardly," the Auror said, coolly. "I'm in need of a cell."
"Felon?" Vikram asked, risking a quick glimpse at Ron. "Sweet Merlin! I almost didn't recognize—is that Ron Weasley?"
"The one and only." Impatient, Primpernelle rolled his shoulders. "Look, can we speed this along? I really need to be getting back to the office."
"Yes, yes, of course." Vikram gestured for him to follow. "Come, come. Morgus, you too."
Morgus seemed less than thrilled to be standing again, but he obeyed, nonetheless. Vikram led the way, his pale colleague trailing just behind the three of them. Ron could feel the man's eyes on his back.
Howls filled the dingy halls and the sense of panic that Ron felt only grew. The walk seemed to last far too long, and it was after nearly twenty minutes that Ron finally realized where they were taking him. Windowless corridors meant that one thing was certain: he was not going to see the sky for a very long time.
"Here you are," Vikram said, unlocking an empty cell. "Home sweet home."
Mortified, Ron looked down at Primpernelle. The man fixed his flawless swoop of hair and elbowed him, urging him to enter the dark, dank chamber.
"You want me to stay in there?" Ron asked, aghast. He shook his head. "No way! That's got to be the worst cell in this whole godforsaken place!"
Morgus snorted. "No, Alecto Carrow has the worst cell 'ere. You wanna swap with 'er?"
Ron's face paled.
"That's what I thought," Vikram chortled. "In with you, then. Behave yourself and you might just get a nice letter of recommendation for your hearing."
"Come on, then. We haven't got all day!" Primpernelle snarled, training his wand on Ron's temple once more.
"I-I—can't we wait 'til you—til there's—I mean, there isn't any evidence that Draco Malfoy didn't—"
Primpernelle pushed the wand-tip with more force than necessary. "Into the cell, Weasley. Now."
Reality set in as he dragged his feet just past the bars. The dirty chamber pot. The bare bed. The shackles bolted to the wall. It was hard to believe that it was, at one time, a much more terrible place to be. If there was a hell, he was already in it.
Vikram laughed and closed the gate with an awful, rusty creak. The key made a clunking, metallic noise as Ron watched him lock it with one last, resounding note of confinement. He expected to be left to his own devices, but to his dismay, he was not. Primpernelle took the Portkey from his pocket and unwrapped it from its bag, leaving him alone with the two smirking guards.
Interrogating within the walls of Azkaban never made it easier, despite claims from veteran Aurors. The stench prickled the nose, the shrieks pierced the ears, and worst of all, there was a neverending drip that always seemed to find the top of one's head. Harry Potter quietly wondered if they would ever repair that infernal leaking roof.
"Look, the more you tell me, the better your hearing will go," he lied, palming his wet hair and ducking out of the steady drip. "You're in for a lot of charges, Bulstrode. Use of Unforgivables, collusion, refusal to comply, acts of terror, kidnapping..."
Bulstrode chuckled, baring her bleeding gums and black teeth. "Ah, but do you have proof that I've done all of that? Sounds like a lot of assumptions."
"We will," Harry warned. "We'll request the use of Veritaserum at your trial if we must."
"Don't you threaten me, Potter," she deadpanned. "I have friends at the Ministry, just like you do. You aren't going to let me out of this cell either way, so I see no merit in having this conversation."
"We're interviewing your friends next and I have a feeling they're gonna roll over on you," Vox interjected. "The Russian fellow may be trustworthy but what of the other one, Geraldine? Do you trust him? And I mean really trust him."
Fear glossed over her face, but only briefly.
"I'll take my chances."
Harry sighed and turned to his partner. "We're wasting our time. I say we throw her to the wolves at the Wizengamot and start talking to someone that actually has something to say."
Bulstrode was too bright to take the bait. Instead, she hummed to herself and stretched out on her blanketless cot. The particularly round woman did not seem to fit on it all that well, and if she were not as wicked as Harry knew her to be, he might have felt bad for her.
"I'll check in with Duncan," Vox said. "Think it's time to put a bit of fear into the Russian. The other one'll sing like a bird."
Harry glanced at the Dark witch. "Last chance, Bulstrode. I'm about to go have a chat with Preachwell and I think you know as well as I do that he won't be able to keep as quiet as you'd like."
"He'll sing like a bird," Vox reasserted.
The woman yawned in an effort to hide her nerves. If Harry had not been an Auror for over twenty years, he would not have noticed the twitch of her nose.
"Have it your way," Harry said with a shrug. "I'll be seeing you in court, then."
Vox called for the guard to unlock the cell, and as the telltale clop of Vikram's shoes approached, Bulstrode rolled over to look at the two of them. Harry waited, hoping she would admit to one of the many crimes that he knew she committed. Despite what he told her, a confession would not help her in front of the Wizengamot. If anything, it just further incriminated her. Lying was not one of his strong points, but it came with the job, and he would do anything to make sure Geraldine Bulstrode never taught Dark magic again.
"Something you want to say, Bulstrode?" Vox asked.
Vikram stood at the gate of the cell, looking rather annoyed with the two Aurors for calling him before they were finished.
The large woman looked them up and down, as though deciding whether or not she wanted to confess. After a long moment, she only said, "Your hair's wet, Potter."
Harry firmed his jaw and signaled for Vikram to let them out.
"We'll need in the other cells," Vox grunted. "The Russian and the one with the weird gut."
Vikram nodded and led them back to the other two cells. When the gate creaked open, the Russian made a swift movement. Duncan was, fortunately, much quicker, and she jabbed her wand into the suspect's throat, smirking to herself with pride. Preachwell, on the other hand, was cowering in the corner, his knees drawn up to his chin.
"Jeremy Preachwell," Harry acknowledged as the cell door closed behind him. A droplet of stagnant water fell onto his glasses and he wiped it away. "Unfortunate that we had to run into you under such circumstances. My wife loves your father's taffy."
Jeremy stared at him, unblinkingly.
"I trust that my colleague treated you well?"
Durden quickly said, "With nothing but respect, sir."
Harry nodded. "Good. You would agree, Jeremy?"
The wizard said nothing.
"Well, the truth is, you're in a bit of a lucky position," Harry went on, cuffing his hands behind his back. "Hard to believe, I know, but I reckon you're the only one we arrested today that has no desire to do Dark magic."
Vox could be heard berating the Russian in the background. By the sounds of it, the man said even less than Bulstrode.
"So why are you working for her?"
A questioning glimmer was in Jeremy's eyes, yet no words rolled from his tongue. He only stared.
"Did Rowle or Travers threaten you? Did she threaten you?"
Still, the man he thought would talk the most was silent, and it made Harry wonder if he was under the Imperius Curse. The Preachwell family had no history of Dark magic, and with ties only to Hufflepuff and Gryffindor, the wizard certainly was not some sort of megalomaniac.
"Did she threaten you?" he repeated.
Jeremy lifted his head a little and muttered, "Daily. Part of the job, though, isn't it?"
"But before that," Harry elaborated, suddenly understanding why Bulstrode relied on the wizard. Manipulating the talentless likely came naturally to her. "Did she threaten you into working for her?"
The Hufflepuff man gave him a curious look. "No."
Harry was growing exasperated. "So then why? Why not just walk away when she asked?"
Jeremy offered nothing more than a shrug. His expression, however, was pained.
Durden placed a hand on Harry's shoulder. "We aren't getting anywhere, sir. Just let the Wizengamot deal with him."
Harry shook his head, slowly, his green eyes boring into the suspect. "No. I actually think I figured it out."
The room was spinning, or at least that was what it felt like. Minister for Magic or not, Hermione Granger knew that she was guilty, and guilty witches were held accountable for their actions. The empire she built was being used against her, and rightfully so.
Accusations poured from the mouth of Phoebe Humphries, some of them true, some of them farfetched. There was some sort of distortion to her voice, almost as though she were trying to speak underwater. Hermione could only clench her jaw and listen. Some words struck her. Others seemed to blur together in strings of garble.
"So which one is it?"
Hermione shook her head. "I'm sorry. Could you repeat that?"
Humphries's stinking breath veiled the Minister's face. "Did—you—murder—her—or—curse—her?" The Auror spoke each word slowly, savoring them as they spilled from her lips.
Hermione smoothly replied, "Neither." Lying had become second nature, even in moments of panic.
"Neither," Humphries echoed, disbelievingly. "So you're telling me you were the last one to see her but you aren't responsible for her disappearance?"
"That's exactly what I'm telling you."
If she held her composure, perhaps Humphries would accept her alibi—or lack thereof. To her misfortune, it was more likely that the woman would illegally question her under Veritaserum.
"Was it your little boyfriend, then?"
"No," Hermione responded, confidently, folding her arms. "Are you done yet?"
Humphries sized her up for a long, uncomfortable moment. By the end of it, she grew a wicked smirk. "I think I'll bring in a Legilimens, just to confirm your little story. How does that sound?"
"Brilliant," Hermione said, stubbornly. She locked eyes with the Auror. "I can't wait."
Her web of lies couldn't save her now. Not this time.
Author's Note: This was part of one much longer chapter, but I wasn't able to get through editing the whole thing and I wanted to make sure you guys had something to tide you over while I'm on vacation. Please enjoy and I hope you look forward to Part II of the chapter.
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