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Chapter 15 ~ The Prisoner of Azkaban
Lucius Malfoy Apparated into the cold wet cobblestone courtyard of Azkaban prison. It was enclosed by grimy grey cellblocks, built several stories high, on all four sides. It was horrible and desolate, like something out of a medieval nightmare. Lucius Malfoy? No, it wasn’t really Lucius Malfoy; but it looked like him – exactly like him. Rick had discovered some months ago, that, like Tonks, he was a Metamorphmagus. He’d practiced a bit, and found it was really easy to transform himself to look like anyone whose appearance was familiar to him – although he’d never seriously attempted to use this ability until now. He’d forgotten to ask Professor Dumbledore if Dementors had eyes and could actually see, but he didn’t want to risk it. Plus, there was always the possibility of running into Death Eaters. Rick didn’t want to be seen and possibly identified, so he decided to morph himself. Lucius Malfoy seemed like a good choice. If he was recognised at Azkaban, it would simply serve to confuse Voldemort and his followers. They probably had no idea that Lucius Malfoy had been Squibbed. Narcissa Malfoy had hushed it all up, and was almost certainly the source of recent rumours to the effect that her husband had disappeared in dangerous circumstances, and was presumed dead. Having Lucius turn up at Azkaban to spirit away Voldemort’s prize prisoner would have the Dark Side dumbfounded, and would likely send them on a wild goose chase. Then, there was always the possibility that Dementors could see. If they recognised him as Lucius Malfoy, they might leave him alone. Rick immediately closed his eyes and projected a magical map of the prison. He had no difficulty spotting Hermione – hers was the only name visible. She was in a cell, one level up on the northern side of the courtyard. Rick was about to Apparate to her cell, when the wave of numbing coldness hit him. It was unlike anything he had ever experienced. His whole body shook uncontrollably, he was struggling to breathe. Either, the Dementors didn’t recognise him as a high-ranking Death Eater, or, they just didn’t care – a meal was a meal. Looking around, Rick saw that he was completely encircled by Dementors. How had they got there so quickly? Could Dementors Apparate? The stench of rotting flesh was overpowering, and a hideous rattling noise came from all around him. Waves of coldness, of fear, and of helplessness surged through him. Rick struggled to keep his feet. Finally he fell, hard, on the filthy, freezing cobblestones. “Mike! Mike! We’re going to crash!” screamed a woman’s voice – which seemed oddly familiar. “I can’t control it! There’s black ice on the road! We’re sliding —” yelled a man’s voice – also, somehow familiar. “We’re going to die!” screamed the woman. His mother – Rick was certain of it. She was screaming hysterically. Rick was gripped by the most terrible fear. He couldn’t see anything, but he could hear, and he could feel the motion of the car as it hurtled ... out of control, down the road. He was frozen with terror. “My God!” screamed the man. “We’re going too fast! That safety rail won’t stop us – noooooo!!! ....” Rick was certain now – it was his father. There was a bang and a jolt. It felt like the car had left the road and launched off into space, before beginning its sickening downward plummet. All he could hear were screaming voices – his mother’s, his father’s ... and his own. He was witnessing the last harrowing moments of their lives. Rick became aware of something dragging him up by the shoulders. He was assailed by an unbearable fetid stench. Forcing his eyes to open, he saw the huge Dementor. It held his shoulders in a vice-like grip; it was bringing his face up to meet its own. The Dementor had thrown back its hood. There was a terrible rasping, rattling noise coming from its mouth – if you could call that hideous hole in its face a mouth. Rick felt terribly weak. He had to struggle hard to remain conscious; it was too late now to Disapparate away. He felt so utterly miserable and bereft of happiness – there was no hope of casting a Patronus Charm – what could he do? Suddenly, he remembered how Sirius Black had used his Animagus form to protect his mind from the terrible effects of the Dementors of Azkaban. Closing his eyes, Rick tried to visualise the Animagus forms of his spiritual benefactors. But he couldn’t concentrate. Something cold and slimy touched his lips – desperately, he tried to turn his head away from the nauseating creature. For a moment he succeeded, and managed to draw a breath of stinking air. Then he felt the slimy, scabby hands of the Dementor grabbing hold of his head, and pulling it back to its own fowl, putrid face. Desperately, Rick tried to force his mouth shut – to seal his lips. He felt the cold, slimy ‘mouth’ of the Dementor, pressing hungrily against his lips again. Somehow it was forcing his mouth open. Merlin, help me, he thought to himself, desperately trying to conjure up an Animagus image in his mind. What’s that? he asked himself, as he caught the image of something small and furry – A mouse! He willed himself to transform, to become the tiny brown mouse, which he saw in his mind. The Dementor was about to begin its loathsome feast upon Rick’s soul. But suddenly, it found it was empty-handed – and empty-mouthed. Its prey had unexpectedly vanished – or so it seemed. The Dementor didn’t notice the tiny brown mouse, scurrying fearfully away, across the cobblestone courtyard. The frightened little mouse passed unobserved and un-sensed, through the vicious circle of Dementors, which had been surrounding it. The soul-numbing coldness and unutterable misery, caused by the Dementors, had all but vanished. The vile creatures seemed to hardly affect Rick in his mouse form. It feels really weird being a mouse, thought Rick. He knew who and what he was – and what he was trying to do – but his senses and perceptions had completely changed. Everything looked entirely different – so huge – and the smells ... they were far more intense and far richer – but somehow they didn’t seem unpleasant to his rodent senses. Rick’s psyche and emotions, however, were still very much his own. And they were in turmoil, as he struggled to overcome the fear and shock from the traumatic experience of the hideous Dementor, which had almost sucked out his soul. When he reached the corner stairway leading up to Hermione’s cell, he realised he had a problem. The steps were immense for such a tiny animal – how was he going to get up them? Yes! He could jump very well, he discovered. But still, it was hard work, and very tiring to leap up all the steps to get to the next level. When he finally got there, he was quite exhausted and had to stop to rest, before proceeding. When he finally reached the door of Hermione’s cell, he discovered, to his dismay that he couldn’t get in. He had hoped there would be a gap under the door for him to squeeze through – but there was none. There was a small barred window, set in the door at head height. But he wasn’t able to climb up the metal surface of the door to reach it; he couldn’t get any traction at all with his tiny claws. He needed to stop for a moment and think of a plan for getting Hermione out of Azkaban. Things weren’t working out as well as he’d hoped. At least the Dementors hadn’t followed him, nor had they come to check up on their prisoner. Obviously, they weren’t bright enough to connect Rick’s appearance with their prisoner, or think that it might be a rescue attempt. But the minute he turned back into his human form, they would sense him and be onto him again. Rick wondered if he could change from one Animagus form to another, without having to change back into his human form. Rick tried to visualise his potential Animagus forms again. Yes, even as a mouse, he could visualise them, so perhaps he could make a direct transformation. His deliberations were interrupted by a loud scurrying sound. He looked around to find five very large, nasty grey rats stalking him. They looked hungrily at him with their beady black eyes – whiskers twitching in anticipation of a nice juicy meal. Rick’s rodent instincts kicked in, and sent him scurrying away. He bolted down the corridor, only to find more of the horrible rats at the other end – he was trapped. The rats moved in for the kill. Just as they were about to pounce on the tiny mouse – to their great surprise – it vanished. In place of their quarry sat a large grey tabby cat – getting ready to pounce – on them! The rats didn’t bother hanging around to investigate this mysterious transformation – they turned tail and fled. Rick breathed a sigh of relief – that was a close call – too close! Rick padded back along the dark corridor to Hermione’s cell. He liked the feeling of being a cat. He felt sleek and lithe – and powerful. There was no sign of the rats; it looked like they had disappeared. The cat positioned itself a couple of feet back from Hermione’s door. He leapt up to the window, wrapping his paws around the bars. But it was obvious that he was too big to get through them. Rick changed back into a mouse. Now, in his smaller form, he could easily get through the bars. Looking down from his vantage point, Rick was able to make out the shape of someone lying huddled on a filthy mattress in one corner of the dark, dank, stinking cell. Rick jumped down from the barred window and changed back into a cat – just in case there were more rats around. Rick bounded over to Hermione. Her wrists were manacled and attached by long chains to the wall. She seemed to be unconscious. Rick rubbed himself up against her, purring loudly. Hermione slowly opened her eyes – they were full of fear and anxiety. When she saw the cat, she gave a start, and sat up. The cat immediately jumped into her lap, continuing its contented purring. “Wherever did you come from?” she asked. She looked closely at the cat. It was very clean and in excellent condition. If there were any cats in Azkaban, she thought, they would be filthy, mangy creatures. There was something oddly familiar about this cat. Just having it sitting in her lap raised her spirits. It seemed to radiate a sense of warmth and calm ... and love. “Rick?” she whispered. “Is that you?” The cat nodded its head in a very human way. “I should have guessed that you’d be an Animagus,” said Hermione picking up the cat and hugging it to her chest as she sobbed. “Oh, Rick, Rick, you heard me calling you, and you came! You have no idea how absolutely horrible it’s been. One moment, I was with my parents, happily opening presents under the Christmas tree and the next, I was imprisoned in this wretched cell. Then that horrible Bellatrix Lestrange came and took some of my hair. She said they were only keeping me alive so they could use my body parts to lure Harry to his doom – that once they had him, I’d be given to the Dementors to feast upon. She was laughing and cackling like a maniac – I’m sure she must be half crazy from her time here in Azkaban – who wouldn’t be?” she asked, shuddering. Hermione patted the cat while she talked; its presence gave her comfort. “I’ve been feeling so miserable and desolate since I’ve been here. It was almost impossible to summon you. I found it so hard to think about you, because all my thoughts of you are happy ones. It must be the Dementors. My mind keeps going back to that dreadful dungeon and Malfoy, and all the fear and terror of that night. I just don’t seem to be able to push it out of my mind. But I feel so much better now that you’re here – you always seem to have that effect on me – even as a cat. Rick, how am I going to get out of this loathsome hell hole? We need to plan our escape, but how can we do it, if we can’t talk? You have to change back to your human form to talk to me – Oh no! Don’t do that! The Dementors will sense you and come after you!” The cat squirmed out of Hermione’s arms and suddenly changed into a brightly coloured lorikeet, which fluttered down and landed in Hermione’s lap. Its chest was red, yellow, and purple and its back was bright green. Hermione gasped is surprise. She was even more surprised when it began talking to her. “Is this better?” squawked the lorikeet. “My!” said Hermione, somewhat stunned. “You can talk! Though it doesn’t sound much like you, Rick, it sounds more like a ...” “Parrot?” asked Rick. When he’d seen the form of a parrot in his mind, he was wondering if it might be magical, and able to talk properly, like a person, rather than a parrot. Fortunately, it could. “It’s so good to see you Hermione, you have no idea how worried and distraught I’ve been since you disappeared. Your summonses were so weak – and then they stopped completely – I was so afraid, that ... I’d lost you. I’m just so relieved to find you alive.” “Rick, is Harry safe? Please tell me that he didn’t rush off like an idiot to save me and fall into Voldemort’s trap.” “He certainly tried. Voldemort knew exactly how to set him off. He sent a message with a lock of your hair and a Portkey, telling him you’d be killed if he didn’t come.” “But he didn’t go —” cried Hermione. “He tried – but I blasted the Portkey to bits before he could grab it,” said Rick. “Thank goodness,” said Hermione, with a sigh of relief. “Apart from remembering being in that dungeon with Malfoy, the other horrible images that kept preying on my mind have been of Harry, rushing off blindly to my rescue, and being captured by Voldemort. My mind has been full of the most gruesome images of Voldemort torturing Harry and killing him. I didn’t know if they were real or just some awful nightmares, caused by the Dementors. I couldn’t bear having Harry’s death on my conscience – it was all so awful!” “Rick, I’m so relieved to know he’s safe, you have no idea,” said Hermione, gratefully. “But how are we going to get out of here? It’s not going to be easy, with all these Dementors.” “I’m going to fly you out on my back,” said Rick “Well it won’t work if you’re a lorikeet, that’s for sure,” said Hermione. “You’ve got other Animagus forms you can choose from, I imagine, apart from the cat and the lorikeet. Can you use any of the Animagus forms of the great witches and wizards who blessed you with their powers, then?” Before Rick could reply, Hermione continued. “So which one were you planning to use? I don’t like flying on Hippogriffs at all, and Thestrals aren’t much better.” “Actually,” squawked Rick, finally managing to get a word in, “I was thinking of something with a little more firepower.” Hermione thought that the lorikeet seemed to be grinning – but then again, lorikeets always look like they’re grinning, so it was hard to tell. “You’re not planning on turning into a dragon, are you Rick? Because there is no way I’m going to try holding onto the back of a dragon – while flying through the air – so you better come up with a better plan than that!” Hermione was finding arguing with a lorikeet a little bizarre. She knew it was really Rick – but it was still a lorikeet. “But the dragon will be perfect, Hermione, just listen to my plan,” said Rick. “No matter which Animagus form I use, we have to get down to the courtyard – it’s the only place I can take off from. No matter which form I use, you’re going to be on my back and the Dementors will attack you – before I can get away. But a dragon should be able to hold them off with its fire.” “That’s all very well,” said Hermione to the lorikeet, “but how exactly am I going to manage to hold onto a dragon?” “I’ve never actually turned into my dragon Animagus before, but I can visualise it very distinctly in my mind. It looks like a Norwegian Ridgeback and it’s got what looks to be a harness and riding saddle attached to its back. So if you jump up on my back, just before I transform, you should find yourself pretty much in the saddle. Just strap yourself in and hang on for the ride of your life!” “I really don’t like this idea,” said Hermione, fretfully. “But I suppose it’s our only option. You could just Apparate away, I suppose, I imagine that’s how you got here. If you can get past the Hogwarts Wards, Azkaban wouldn’t be a problem for you. You can’t Apparate me past the Wards though – can you?” asked Hermione hopefully – desperate to avoid the prospect of becoming a dragon rider. “Professor Dumbledore said it wasn’t possible,” replied Rick. “So it’s the dragon, I’m afraid. Now here’s the plan. The only magic I can do in my Animagus form is transform into something else. In order to get you safely down to the courtyard, I’m going to have to change back to my human form. I’ll blast the door, and we’ll make a run for it.” “But what about the Dementors? They’ll be on to us as soon as you transform,” said Hermione, beginning to worry about all the things that could go wrong. “The minute I see them, before they have a chance to affect me too much, I’ll start blasting them with a Patronus Charm. With you by my side, I’ll have no trouble thinking of happy thoughts. I should be able to hold them off. As soon as we’re out in the open, I’ll give you the signal to jump on my back. I’ll hold on to you as if I’m giving you a piggy-back and then I’ll transform – and start warming this place up a bit.” “Rick, you have to promise me one thing,” said Hermione, very seriously. “If things go wrong – if your Patronus doesn’t manage to hold off all those Dementors, I want you to Apparate away, before they overcome you. If I die here, it will only be the end of Hermione Granger. But if you die, it will be the end of all hope for the Light. Ultimately, it will be the end of Harry, Ron and all his family, Albus Dumbledore, all the Muggle-born witches and wizards, the Squibs ... so many thousands of good people. Rick, you can’t risk all that for me, I won’t let you. God! If only my mind had been clearer – if only I’d thought of it, I never would have tried to summon you! Rick you must promise me; otherwise, I’m not coming with you!” “I promise you my plan will work Hermione; now stop worrying, it’s time to go!” “Sorry, Rick, but unless you give me a Wizard’s Oath that you won’t risk your own life, I’m staying here!” said Hermione, with rock-solid determination. Rick could see he was not going to convince her. He was also wondering if he, as Rick, would be bound by a Wizard’s Oath sworn by his Animagus Lorikeet, but he didn’t have time to think about it. It was time to go. “OK,” said Rick, reluctantly, “I swear it. Oh, and by the way, I am going to look like Lucius Malfoy, I’m sure you can figure out why —” “Of course I can,” said Hermione, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. “It’s a clever idea, disguise yourself and confuse the enemy at the same time. Although I can’t say I’m going to enjoy having you looking like that arrogant creep. So when, exactly, were you planning on telling me you’re an Animagus – and a Metamorphmagus?” she asked, sounding somewhat vexed. “I’m sorry Hermione, I wasn’t trying to hide it from you, I just didn’t think of telling you. It didn’t seem important – until now. Umm ... we really should get out of here, you know. Are you ready?” “I’m ready, but you’ll have to do something about these manacles,” said Hermione, holding up her wrists. “Right!” said Rick. He changed back to his human form, but then immediately morphed himself to look like Lucius Malfoy again. He magicked away Hermione’s manacles, drew his wand, and blasted away the door. He figured that his Patronus might be stronger if he used Godric Gryffindor’s wand. He grabbed Hermione’s hand and dashed out of the cell and down the corridor towards the stairs. But before they even reached them, Dementors began swarming out from the top of the stairway. Rick immediately pointed his wand and bellowed “Expecto Patronum!” The result was staggering. Around fifty silvery, and very corporeal Patronuses burst from the end of his wand and launched themselves at the Dementors with fury. There were bulls, birds, bison, bats ... almost every animal imaginable. But Rick didn’t have time to admire his handiwork, because Hermione had just pointed out another group of Dementors that were bearing down upon them from the other end of the corridor. Rick turned his wand on them and yelled out “Expecto Patronum!” Again, a host of Patronuses erupted from the end of his wand and beat the Dementors into a retreat. They continued to the top of the stairs. There were no Dementors in sight. But just to be sure, Rick sent forth another phalanx of Patronuses ahead of them down the stairs to clear the way. Then hand-in-hand they raced down the stairs as fast as they could go. The courtyard was packed with Dementors. The Patronuses had driven them away from the stairway. Although the Dementors could not approach Rick and Hermione, they could still affect them. Rick started to feel their chill creep into him, he felt himself begin to waver under the combined influence of the hundreds and hundreds of Dementors packed into the courtyard. Hermione felt them too, and sensing Rick’s hesitation she said desperately, “It’s no good Rick, there are too many of them, you have to go. Please, Apparate away – now!!” But Rick didn’t go, he squeezed Hermione’s hand to give him strength as he unleashed another volley of Patronuses. Some of the Dementors were driven out of the courtyard, while others cowered in the corners. Rick felt the chill subside a little. He dragged Hermione to the centre of the courtyard, handed her his wand, and told her to jump up on his back. He held her tightly as he closed his eyes and concentrated on transforming into a dragon. One moment, Hermione was taking a piggy-back ride on Rick’s back, the next, she felt herself being heaved up into the air. She flailed around desperately with her hands, managing to grasp hold of something thick. Momentarily, things stopped moving, and she saw that she was holding on to some kind of strap, that seemed to be part of the harness holding a large saddle in place on the dragon’s back. Everything started moving again. With difficulty, she dragged herself over the rough scales along the strap and finally seated herself in the saddle. There was a kind of belt, which she strapped across her lap. It held her securely in the saddle. The dragon was a Norwegian Ridgeback, and it was immense – over thirty feet long. Several very distinct black ridges ran down its back, which was protected by thick black scales. It had two huge yellow eyes with vertical pupils, and its head was crowned by two large, vicious-looking, bronze-coloured horns. It was a fearsome sight, completely dominating the Azkaban courtyard. From her vantage point, high on the dragon’s back, Hermione saw that the Dementors were no longer cowering in the corners of the courtyard. The Patronuses were dissipating and were no longer able to keep them in check. She felt a fearful chill oppressing her as they began closing in on her. She pulled Rick’s wand from her robes and pointed it at a Dementor that was heading straight towards her. Desperately, she searched for a happy thought, but there was only fear and misery in her mind, at that moment. Suddenly, flames erupted from the dragon’s mouth sending the Dementor fleeing. It made a terrible screeching noise as it glided rapidly away. The dragon turned in a circle, breathing vast sheets of fire at the approaching Dementors. The flames repelled them almost as effectively as the Patronuses. While they were beating their retreat, the dragon unfurled its gigantic black wings and began flapping them. Slowly, it rose up into the air, while blasting a solid wall of fire downwards to dissuade the Dementors from following. As the dragon gained altitude, it began flying quickly to the east. Hermione looked behind them; there was no sign of Dementors giving chase. The dragon’s flight was surprisingly smooth, and Hermione felt quite secure strapped into the saddle on its massive back. It wasn’t quite as comfortable as a jumbo jet, but it wasn’t too bad. The main thing was that she was free of the Dementors and the terrible misery she had been feeling during the past few hours at Azkaban. Hermione realised they had not discussed where they would go once they got away from Azkaban. Would Rick risk being seen as a dragon by Muggles? What was he planning to do? Where would he go? Damn it! she thought, it’s a pity dragons can’t talk. But her questions were soon answered. As they neared the coastline, the dragon gained altitude, so they would not be visible – or at least recognisable – from the ground. Hermione was getting very cold. She used Rick’s wand to cast a heating charm around the saddle. She guessed that Rick would head for Hogwarts – and she was right. Twenty minutes later, she spotted the castle and the lake. Rick began to descend in a wide corkscrew spiral, coming down behind Hagrid’s hut. He figured Hagrid would be up at the castle with the other teachers and any students staying over, enjoying his Christmas meal. The last thing he needed was to have Hagrid start petting and pampering him, and then being heartbroken when the dragon suddenly disappeared. Fortunately, Rick’s guess was correct; no one spotted a large Norwegian Ridgeback making an unscheduled landing at Hogwarts that Christmas Day. Hermione suddenly found herself sitting on Rick’s back. She had him pinned to the ground. She quickly jumped off and helped him to his feet. Then she threw her arms around him and kissed him. It was a long kiss. Neither of them noticed that it was, in fact, a very cold and wintry day. Hand-in-hand, they trudged happily up the snow-covered path to the castle, and made their way directly to the Headmaster’s office. “Fickle Fudge,” laughed Rick at the Headmaster’s ‘sweet pun’ on the Minister of Magic, as he gave the password to the stone gargoyle, which jumped aside, to reveal the moving stone staircase. The door to the Headmaster’s office was slightly ajar. Rick knocked, and as there was no reply, they entered. Professor Snape was sprawled, lost in thought, in a comfortable armchair, obviously waiting for the Headmaster to return from the Christmas dinner. When he saw Rick and Hermione enter, he jumped from his chair in complete shock. “Miss Granger, what on earth?! ... However did you manage to —” he began with an expression of incredulity on his face. But then he stopped himself. “Escape from Azkaban, Professor?” asked Hermione, finishing his question for him. “Yes, exactly,” said Snape. “Are you alright Miss Granger?” He asked, more in disbelief than concern. “I am now Professor, thanks to —” But Rick quickly nudged her, and she stopped abruptly. Snape turned and stared hard at Rick with a withering gaze. “Mr. Godfry, you are always so full of surprises.... perhaps you had something to do with Miss Granger’s inexplicable escape?” “Err ... no, I’m ... err, I’m just, err, offering her emotional support, sir,” said Rick weakly. “Mr. Godfry! Allow me to give you a little advice. Whatever other abilities you may possess, you are an utterly incompetent and unconvincing liar. Your attempts at deceit are totally transparent. Deception is an art ... an art which you do not possess. Please do not insult my intelligence by expecting me to believe such patent drivel,” said Snape, with his customary sarcasm. “Err, thank you, sir,” replied Rick. “What?” demanded Snape. “Thank you, for the good advice, sir,” replied Rick innocently. “Godfry, that’s enough of your cheek —” But at that moment, the Headmaster entered his office. His face lit up with a joyful smile and an expression of immense relief when he saw Hermione and Rick. “Thank goodness you have been safely rescued from Azkaban, Miss Granger. How are you feeling? Have you been harmed in any way?” he asked, his voice full of concern. “No, sir, I’m a little tired, but other than that I’m fine,” replied Hermione. “Excuse me Headmaster,” said Snape, approaching Dumbledore. “But how did you know that Miss Granger had been taken to Azkaban? I had just come to your office, to give you that very news. And how on earth did she manage to escape from that place? It’s simply not possible! No one has ever escaped from there ... no one except for ... Black. I am very curious as to how Miss Granger escaped – in fact, I was just asking her – and Mr. Godfry,” he added, turning his questioning gaze, once more, upon Rick, “that very question, when you arrived. They seem reluctant to tell me.” “Yes, Severus,” said Dumbledore, with a smile, as he seated himself comfortably in the chair behind his huge desk. “I imagine they are. But I am certain that you – of all people – understand the value of a well-kept secret. I must request that you do not press them further on this matter. Rest assured, I will fully debrief them, and pass on anything you need to know.” “Certainly, Headmaster,” said Snape, curtly. Much as his curiosity begged to be satisfied, he understood very well the importance of secrets. His situation as a double agent was a precarious one. Every time he went to the Dark Lord, or to meet with fellow Death Eaters, there was always the possibility of exposure – which would result in him being subjected to torture or Veritaserum – most likely both. The less he knew of Dumbledore’s secrets, the better. Snape nodded his head towards the Headmaster, then turned and left the office. When the door closed behind Snape, Dumbledore rose from his chair and approached Hermione. “I am greatly relieved to see you alive and well Miss Granger. Are you quite certain that you are unharmed by your ordeal? Perhaps it would be wise to visit Madam Pomfrey in the hospital wing and let her at least check you over.” “No, honestly, I’m fine Professor Dumbledore,” said Hermione. Then smiling at him she added, “And just in case you were trying to get rid of me, so that Rick can give you the no holds barred details of how he rescued me, I think you should know that I am aware of all his secrets; including the origin of his amazing magical powers. I am also aware of his ghostly nom de guerre.” “Well done, Miss Granger, well done!” said Dumbledore. Much to Hermione’s surprise he seemed delighted, rather than annoyed. “I knew it was only a matter of time before you solved the enigma of Rick Godfry. I am most impressed that you succeeded so quickly. It’s only a pity that it’s all such a secret – otherwise I would award house points to Gryffindor, for your brilliant sleuthing. You have a remarkable mind. However, please understand,” he added in a more serious tone, “that you must keep your discoveries about Mr. Godfry a secret – from everyone – including Messrs Potter and Weasley.” “Yes sir, I understand completely,” replied Hermione. “You can rely upon it. I promise not to tell a soul.” “Very good, Miss Granger, thank you. Now please be seated, both of you,” he said, summoning a comfortable couch for them, before returning to his own chair and settling himself comfortably behind his desk. “I believe you have missed your Christmas dinner. So first of all, let’s put that to rights,” he said, picking up a small bell from his table and giving it a tinkle. A moment later, there was a pop, and Dobby the house-elf appeared before the Headmaster. “Professor Dumbledore, sir, Dobby is wanting to wish Headmaster Dumbledore a Merry Christmas. And how may Dobby be of service to you, Professor, sir?” “Thank you Dobby, and a Merry Christmas to you. I was wondering if perhaps there was a little something left over from the excellent Christmas feast. If there is, could you please bring some for Miss Granger and Mr. Godfry here,” he said, pointing to the couch behind the house-elf. Dobby turned around and saw Hermione and Rick. “Oh, Miss Hermione Granger, Dobby is not seeing you there!” squeaked the house-elf in delight. “Merry Christmas to you – and to Master Rick Godfry. Dobby is wanting very much to thank you for all the beautiful socks and hats you is leaving for Dobby under the house-elves’ Christmas tree. Miss Hermione is too kind to Dobby – Dobby is not worthy,” said the house-elf bowing his head humbly before Hermione, whom he held in great awe and esteem. “But Dobby,” said Hermione, “the socks and hats under the tree were for all of the Hogwarts house-elves, they weren’t all supposed to be for you. Remember, you gave me a list of the names of all the Hogwarts house-elves. I put a present under the tree for each one.” “I ... I, is very sorry Miss Granger,” said Dobby awkwardly, hanging his head and avoiding Hermione’s eyes. “But the house-elves are very suspecting when they see the presents under the Christmas tree. They is never getting Christmas presents – ever! They is making Dobby open his present first. When they is seeing clothes inside, they is getting very angry – they isn’t wanting to open their presents. They is saying Dobby is having all the presents. Dobby is very sorry, Miss Granger,” said the poor, dejected elf. “There, there, Dobby” said Dumbledore, his eyes dancing with amusement. “I’m sure you did your very best. Despite Miss Granger’s great efforts at educating them, your fellow house-elves do not seem at all keen to follow your example and throw off the shackles of servitude. I’m sure Miss Granger doesn’t blame you in the least. However ... if we don’t find some food for her soon, she may just die of hunger ...” “Oh, no sir, Dobby is not letting Miss Granger die of hunger!” squeaked the elf with concern, and with a pop he was gone. Half a minute later, he reappeared with another pop, balancing a huge silver tray on one hand. He snapped the fingers of his other hand and a low table appeared before Hermione and Rick. He placed the tray down on the table, bowed to them, and then turning and bowing to Professor Dumbledore, he vanished – with a pop. It was a veritable banquet and Hermione was famished. For once in her life, she was more interested in eating than talking. After telling the Headmaster how she had been abducted by the Portkey present, and of her encounter with Bellatrix Lestrange at Azkaban, she fell upon the food, with relish, and let Rick tell the Headmaster the story of the rescue from Azkaban. “You certainly made good use of your Animagus forms,” said the Headmaster to Rick, when he finished his account. “It is fortunate indeed, that you were able to perform the Animagus Transformation into a mouse, even in such a weakened state. It sounds like you were only moments away from losing your soul.” “Professor Dumbledore,” said Hermione, quickly swallowing a mouthful of roast turkey. “Please don’t think me ungrateful, but you really shouldn’t have allowed Rick to risk his life to save me. It’s not just his life that was at stake. Countless other lives would have been lost, if Rick had died at Azkaban. The future of the wizarding world depends upon him. How could you have allowed him to risk so much, for one person?” Rick, meanwhile, had become very interested in the food. Dumbledore sighed. “You are quite right, Miss Granger, it was an enormous risk. I pointed this out most forcefully to Mr. Godfry – but I was unable to dissuade him from rushing to your rescue. There is clearly a very strong magical bond between the two of you. In the end, that terrible decision was his to make, not mine. I must say, in hindsight, that I am very happy with his choice,” he added with a benevolent smile. “When you have finished your meal, I suggest you go together to visit your parents, Miss Granger. They must be very worried about you by now. It would be best, if the two of you then proceed to the Burrow, for the remainder of the holidays,” added Dumbledore. “I want Rick close to Harry, but it is clear that you too, are now a target, Miss Granger. Perhaps Rick will find an opportunity to begin some special training, with both you and Mr. Potter.” “What special training is that?” asked Hermione, immediately curious. “Ah,” said Professor Dumbledore, smiling at her, “it appears that Mr. Godfry has not yet told you about it. Professor McGonagall informed me last term that she believes both you and Mr. Potter are capable of mastering the Animagus Transformation.” “Really?” gasped Hermione with excitement. “I’ve wanted to be an Animagus – so much – ever since our third year. I read every book in the library about it. But it was all rather discouraging. Firstly, those with the innate ability to perform the transformation are very rare. Then you need a teacher, who must be an Animagus themselves. You have to be at least seventeen years old before you can even apply for permission to begin training. The special Ministry committee you have to apply to only meets once a year; and they take ages and ages to decide. They haven’t approved a single application in the past ten years. It’s virtually impossible —” “To do it legally,” said the Headmaster, his blue eyes twinkling with amusement. He had waited patiently until Hermione was forced to pause for a breath of air, before interrupting her. “Professor McGonagall is, you may have noticed, a very proper witch, who believes in following the rules – no matter how absurd they may be. She would, of course, teach you if I requested it of her as a special favour. However, she would feel most uncomfortable. Fortunately, we have an alternative – in Mr. Godfry, here. Given his special gifts, I believe that he may be able to accelerate the process. I have asked him to work with you both, next term. I hardly need tell you that it is completely illegal, and must, therefore, remain a secret between the four of us.” “Enough of that for now,” said the Headmaster. “Your parents must be very worried, Miss Granger. If I may, I would suggest that you explain your disappearance to them as a prank, gone awry. If they knew the truth, it would only cause them unnecessary worry.” “Yes, Professor,” agreed Hermione. “But what shall we tell everyone at the Burrow? They’ll want to know where I was held, and how I escaped. I can’t tell them the truth, without exposing Rick.” “Quite right,” agreed Dumbledore. After musing for a few moments he said, “I would not advise you to lie to your friends, Miss Granger. However, neither can you tell them the truth. You may tell them that I expressly requested both of you not to divulge what happened – because, it would risk revealing things which I consider advantageous to our side, to remain secret for now. I am, in fact, asking you to do just that. So it will be perfectly true. Now it’s time to say goodbye,” he said, rising from his chair. “I hope you both enjoy what is left of your holiday,” said the Headmaster, smiling at them fondly.
~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~
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