First, thanks to all who keep reading this story and those who've just started to. If you can't believe that it's really been updated, well, I myself feel this is surreal. I'm so sorry it's taken this long, I've had the first six pages written in my computer for ages, but I just couldn't keep writing. I'd like to put a good excuse, but the best thing I can come up with is: life happened.
But recently (exactly two days ago) I sat down and said: you're going to finish this chapter and you're going to update the story. I'd just re-read the reviews you all guys left me and I was suddenly totally focused on this.
I know most of you will probably hate me by the end of this chapter, if you don't already, but it was a necessary evil. This was what I intended from the very beginning. I have big plans for this story and things will get so very complicated ―like Doctor Who playing with the timeline kind of complicated but adding magic into the mix― if I manage to get this story to the point I want. Especially since Torchwood will be brought in by then too. So bear with me for a while longer if you can. And let me know what you think. I'm a bit worried that I'm not portraying right the spirit of the Doctor's adventures, which keeps me writing and rewriting this chapters and makes for such slow updates. Four years, seriously? I can't believe it's taken this long to update.
So since I'm sure you're all tired of my ramblings, I'm just going to put this up and let you read. Sorry for not answering your fantastic reviews but I'm sure you're more eager for this. I'll try to answer next time!
Oh, and please, don't forget to take a look at my profile. I'm going to be putting up which story I'll probably update next and put up a poll on which I should publish as soon as I figure out how those work.
Bye and enjoy! Let me know what you think, please.
"What do you mean by Kissed?"
Cray looked at Johnson as if he were stupid after the younger auror asked that. In his shocked state, Mitchel ignored it.
"What the hell happened, Cray?" demanded to know Rogers visibly composing himself.
"We were attacked. They appeared from nowhere and Kissed Stain first. Thompshill and I tried to barricade the door. I have no idea how they got in, but we didn't stand a chance. We were already trapped…"
"But you obviously got out! Why didn't Thompshill?" asked Johnson angrily.
"They grabbed him and he was going to be Kissed. He told me to run. What was I supposed to do!?" shouted back Cray.
"Maybe put your training to use and help him!? You're supposed to be an auror, for Merlin!"
It looked as if a fight was going to break out, but thankfully Moody intervened before that happened.
"Calm down! Now! Cray, you mean that you didn't see Thompshill being Kissed?"
"No, sir. I mean, I did, sir."
Moody arched an eyebrow. Or at least that's what he appeared to have done as his expression changed.
"As I have already said, Thompshill was grabbed and told me to leave, so I did. As I was running, I looked back and saw the dementor Kiss him."
Johnson looked devastated at the news. It was obvious he had been close to the other wizard. Thompshill had probably been his mentor or at least his partner in the auror forces for quite some time.
Harry closed his eyes for a second, feeling sorry for the poor man who had just lost his soul, but they couldn't afford to mourn right now. They had to remain strong if they wanted to have any chance at discovering why the dementors were behaving so strangely.
"Then, if we already have what we came here for, we should return." said Cassandra in a strong voice. "They don't deserve to be left lying on the floor as if they were dirt."
Moody nodded at her and turned to Harry. It was then Cray noticed the thin and gaunt looking man supported between the youngest wizard present and the Doctor. He was easily recognizable.
"What the hell's doing Sirius Black the mass murderer out of his cell!?"
"The dementors were Kissing prisoners left and right…"
"Pity you didn't let them finish him off-"
Harry narrowed his eyes at the auror, cutting him off.
"We'll have time to discuss that later." said Moody. "Now, we are going to return and come up with the best course of action."
Everyone agreed with him, some more readily than others, and they got on their way.
The Doctor helped Harry carry his godfather. The poor man could barely walk, but between the two of them they managed to carry him.
Cray was at the front of the group alongside Rogers and Randall. Cassandra and Johnson were next. Rogers had asked the woman to keep an eye on the distraught auror.
Next came Harry and the Doctor, with Sirius in the middle, and at their back walked Mad-Eye, who kept an eye at the front and the other on the corridor behind them.
The last Potter looked around, thinking he had heard a voice. Not seeing anything, the wizard shook his head.
"Are you okay, Harry?" whispered the Doctor.
Harry startled and looked at the Doctor with wide eyes before giving him a small smile and nodding.
"Yeah, I'm alright."
Thompshill's body was the first one they found. He was lying about two meters away from the door, breathing, his eyes open and unseeing.
Harry had to avert his eyes from the fallen auror, the sight bringing forth memories of the war he would rather forget.
But there was something wrong. The wizard looked around until he pinpointed exactly what it was. The body was two meters away from the door. Outside of it.
Cray said they had been trapped inside and Thompshill hadn't got out. How had his body ended up outside, then?
Harry frowned and glanced around, only to notice Moody throwing suspicious looks at Cray and his Doctor eyeing the same man with distrust.
The younger wizard signalled for them to be cautious and not to let on what they suspected.
Everyone entered where the bodies of the dead dementors were and Johnson insisted on being the one that shakily levitated Thompshill's body inside and onto a table.
Harry and the Doctor helped Sirius sit heavily down on a chair before the wizard knelt down right next to him.
"Are you alright, Sirius?" asked gently looking up at the thin and dirty man.
"I-Harry…? How long have I been here? I-I don't… I don't understand…"
"I am the one who doesn't understand. What the hell is Sirius Black doing here!? He should be in a cell. And what if the dementors are Kissing the prisoners? He, more than any other, deserves it! He's- "
"Do not talk that way about him. You have no idea what you're saying." cut him Harry coldly. "You have no right at all to decide who lives or dies."
"He's a murderer!"
"He's innocent!" shouted Harry back.
"Innocent?" mocked him the auror ignoring the stares of everyone around. "That… man killed twelve muggles, Peter Pettigrew and as good as killed the Potters himself. He was the one to betray their location to You-Know-Who!"
The Doctor put a hand on his little wizard's arm to stop him from revealing too much. Harry looked at him from under his fringe, trying to hide the tears in his eyes.
"Smith, Doctor, with me. Bring Black." ordered Moody suddenly.
Soon, they were standing on the adjacent room. Black was sitting on the floor, leaning against a wall, whilst Mad-Eye leaned on his staff.
Harry stood in the middle of the room, shaking, and the Doctor couldn't help but worry.
Suddenly, his green eyed little wizard looked Black directly in the eyes and whispered.
"I know you didn't do it. I know."
The Doctor couldn't contain himself anymore. He took forward the few steps that kept them apart and wrapped his arms around his little one, cradling him close.
His Harry rested his head on his shoulder and the Time Lord felt the dampness of tears through the clothes.
"Shhh… I've got you. I've got you."
When Harry finally calmed down, the Doctor relaxed his hold on him but didn't completely let go. Instead, he kept an arm around his thin shoulders.
"Sorry." sniffed Harry. "I just…"
"Hey, I know." answered the Doctor smiling softly down at him.
Moody allowed him a moment to recompose himself before jumping onto the matter at hand.
"You said Black's innocent. Explain."
"You taught Sirius and my father when they entered the auror force. Do you really believe Sirius would have betrayed James?"
"War makes people do things you would never believe them capable of."
"Sirius wasn't the Secret Keeper. It was Pettigrew."
Sirius growled at the sound of the traitor's name, sounding more like his animagus form than his real self. Moody, however, ignored him whilst arching an eyebrow at the younger wizard.
"Pettigrew? So what you are trying to tell me is that Black didn't betray the Potters but he was the man responsible of Peter Pettigrew's death who supposedly was the real Secret Keeper and the real betrayer of the Potters?"
"More or less."
Moody's other eyebrow shot up to his hairline and Harry sighed deeply.
"Sirius thought he would be too obvious a choice as a Secret Keeper so he talked with James Potter, who agreed to secretly make Peter Pettigrew into their Secret Keeper whilst letting everyone think it was Sirius. Not even Remus Lupin knew the truth; Sirius suspected him of being a traitor."
"I should never have doubted Remus…" whimpered the Black Heir.
Harry left the safety of the Doctor's arms and crouched down in front of his godfather. The youngest wizard took the older man's face in his hands and brushed a strand of greasy black hair from stormy grey eyes.
"He will forgive you."
"You can't know that."
"I do. He will forgive you, Sirius. As will I." Harry whispered. "It wasn't your fault. Never doubt that."
"How sure are you of what you say?" Moody asked interrupting the moment.
"One hundred percent sure."
"That still leaves the matter of Pettigrew's death unsolved."
"Pettigrew's not dead." Said Harry.
Moody looked at him with the equivalent of a raised eyebrow on his scarred face.
"Pettigrew's an animagus. When Sirius confronted and cornered him he cut off his own finger, blasted the street and turned into a rat to escape though the sewers."
"I don't understand how this can be." Muttered Sirius looking at Harry with wide eyes. "I didn't think it was that long..."
"No, Sirius, it hasn't. It's been near four years."
Harry knew what the man was thinking. That he had gone mad. That he had spent enough time in Azkaban, in the presence of the dementors, to go crazy.
"Sirius, look at me." Harry cupped his godfather's face. "You're not crazy; I'm right here and I'm real."
That did not seem to calm the man down in the least and his eyes started to take on an almost crazed light. He started to rock himself back and forth, never letting his eyes part from the youngest wizard's form.
Harry briefly wished he knew what was going on through his head at that moment, what to say to make him believe. How could he explain everything without it sounding like some crazy thing Sirius' mind had come up with when it sounded crazy even to him?
"Black! Put yourself together!" barked Moody in the very familiar voice he used when pushing someone during training.
Astoundingly, that seemed to do the trick as Sirius' body stiffened, all motion stopping, and his eyes suddenly looking more alert.
"This is real?" he whispered once more.
"It is." Said the Doctor.
The animagus took a shaky breath before letting it out slowly, visibly trying to look put together.
"And why is Crouch Jr. here? Is he innocent too or something?" asked the man, his voice still raspy from disuse.
Harry blinked before shaking his head. He'd almost forgotten how most wizards and witches who'd known Crouch Jr. also confused them.
"Of course not. Did you retain nothing from your training?" answered Moody. "Look at him, Black. He's no Crouch, despite the uncanny resemblance."
"What he said; hello, I'm the Doctor!" added the Gallifreyan with a bright smile full of teeth directed at the ragged man.
Harry couldn't help but smile a little at his cheer in such a situation. Another in his place would probably be annoyed at the man just for that but he found it endearing.
They were definitely a well matched pair. Foolish perhaps, but well matched nonetheless.
Sirius had spent so long in this hell that he knew very well the kind of tricks your mind started playing with you once you were desperate enough. It's not like it hadn't happened before.
He'd seen enough of James and Lily standing outside his prison bars, blaming him for their deaths, blaming him for leaving his godson and not even avenging them, blaming him for little Harry growing up without his parents.
He'd never seen Harry himself, though. And his mind had certainly never thought to torture him with his grown up visage. He always envisioned his godson as that little bubbly baby he'd been.
But he was here, all grown up. He wasn't blaming him, he was speaking kindly and it was almost worse. It hurt more. Until he felt him, solid under his hands.
This was real.
This was real or he had finally gone irrevocably crazy.
The first option sounded the best, but if this was the result, he wouldn't mind if it was the second either.
So he just went with it.
He saw the look exchanged by his godson and this… Doctor, was it? He didn't think he'd caught a name.
He shook his head to clear it of distractions. It was so easy with his scattered mind, courtesy of years around the dementors, to dismiss the real important things and focus on the most insignificant details.
But people were dying and his godson was in danger. He needed to do his best, be his best. He couldn't afford to let the familiar looks exchanged between him and the Crouch look-alike distract him. No matter how much they reminded him of James and Lily or Alice and Frank.
"Now what?" he asked.
"Now we solve this case: we find out what's killing the damned dementors, stop it and report to the Ministry. And try not to die in the process."
"Step by step, Black." Growled Moody.
Sirius couldn't stop the flinch even if he'd tried. Moody's voice sounded too similar to how some of the guards' voices did when angry and that was never a good thing. It usually meant extra time with the dementors.
He felt someone squeeze his arm comfortingly and followed the appendage till his eyes clashed with green. Such a green. He would never forget that particular shade of green. It was that, more than the touch, which helped ground him back into the present.
Moody looked a bit uncomfortable at the look of reproach his godson sent him, though someone who hadn't spent a lot of time around him would never notice. Sirius had had the dubious pleasure of being trained by him alongside James, so he was one of the few who'd notice. Still, Mad-Eye wasn't going to apologise and the old auror wasn't one to pull his punches, even when he didn't know he was dealing them.
"Well, if no one else is going to address the pink elephant in the room…" said Harry distracting him.
"What elephant?" he asked looking wildly around.
He almost expected to have missed a real bright pink monstrous elephant. Wait, who would bother turning an elephant pink? It was a horrible garish colour and a waste of good pranking material.
"Sorry, muggle saying." Chuckled Harry nervously.
"Oh, like 'the erumpent in the room'?" he clarified.
"Exactly, but… but that's not the point." Muttered Harry, like him seeing Moody's growingly impatient and annoyed face. "What I mean to say is: what are we going to do about Cray? Clearly, none of us believed his version of what happened to Thompshill and Stain."
Sirius was confused, but he noticed how both of Moody's eyes fixed on his godson for a second before his glass-eye spun around and went back to the wall behind which the rest of the aurors were.
"I'll deal with Cray." assured Mad-Eye, a darkness Sirius knew well hidden in his lone eye.
Still confused, Sirius followed Harry's eyes to the unknown man in the room, immediately noticing the wary look in the Doctor's face.
"Why?" he finally dared ask. "What happened?"
The Doctor answered before any other could.
"Thompshill's body was in the wrong place."
Sirius only got more confused, not that it was surprising, really. The Black Scion was intelligent, but he was suffering from years of over-exposition to the dementors. From what he understood, Thompshill was one of the aurors that had been Kissed and Cray was the cowardly one that escaped leaving the other behind. Not that he could really blame him; Sirius would also run like the hounds of hell were after him if he was put again before the dementors.
"Auror Cray lied." explained Harry, probably noticing his confusion. "He said Thompshill never got out of the room, but we found his body outside."
"As if… as if he'd tried to escape?"
"Well, if he had then Cray wouldn't have needed to lie about it, right?"
"So then… Cray is a coward, so…" tried to piece together the prisoner. "So he probably… panicked… and…"
"…and used Thompshill as bait to keep the dementors busy whilst he escaped." bit out Moody, apparently eager to be finished with all the talking.
"There was a magical residue on Thompshill's body." Agreed Harry, hesitant. "Looks like a 'petrificus' ―a spell to keep people frozen but conscious― was cast on him."
"But… that's…" Sirius floundered for a moment, his hand tightening on Harry's hand. "That's murder!"
The Doctor nodded grimly. Alarmed at his thoughts being confirmed, Sirius looked at Harry with wide worried eyes, ranging on deranged, but the younger wizard simply squeezed his hand back and gave him a sweet smile.
A sweet smile that only increased his desire to boundle him up and hide him from the world so nothing and no one could hurt him.
"Don't worry about it, Sirius. We'll keep an eye on him."
Somehow, that didn't make him worry less.
"Alright, we must figure out a plan of action."
"What we need is to get out of here. Let the Ministry send in the Unspeakables." Countered Cray, fast as lightning.
"Who says they will? It's the Ministry we're talking about: they'll send more aurors in to try and find what's going on with the dementors. They won't risk their precious Unspeakables." Said Randall.
"Randall's right. We can't leave like this."
"Well I, for one, don't plan on dying here. I'll resign from the forces rather than come back here." Shot back Cray.
"I'm not going anywhere until I know what's done this!" protested Johnson. "I want to know why Thompshill died and I want revenge. I'll find out what's doing this and wipe out those beasts…"
"Johnson, calm down." Ordered Rogers. "Nobody's leaving until we've got things under control here. We've got orders to find out what's killing the dementors and making them disobey our orders. We'll complete the mission and get out; you can ask for a transfer afterwards."
"If we're still alive." Muttered Cray looking quiet cross.
Cassandra watched the argument unfold without a word. She understood their feelings, but she also knew Randall was right. The Ministry wanted answers and their lives where the least of their worries.
The deaths could be swept under the rug as an accident, but one word of the dementors being out of control and the whole population would panic. It would be chaos, something the Ministry couldn't afford with the last war so fresh in everyone's minds.
She'd known it was serious the moment they'd learnt the Ministry had sent Moody. The man was a living walking legend, on both sides.
"Tell that to Thompshill and Stain! They deserve for us to find out what's wrong here."
Cassandra shook her head at the glaring men. Johnson was too affected by the loss of his partner and Cray was only adding fuel to the raging Fiendfyre. It didn't help that he'd survived when they had not and the cold from the dementors was a constant presence in the island.
Her eyes strayed to the bodies lying on the tables, a blanket over them that moved with their breathing and their vacant eyes staring unseeingly up at the ceiling.
'The fire's lit, but the cauldron's empty.' Had said Randall after checking them, the only one with experience on Kissed People: he was the one in charge of the process of administering the Kiss.
Not for the first time, Cassandra complained to herself on the Ministry's rejection of her petition: a healer stationed on a permanent basis in Azkaban. The Ministry's answer was always the same: they saw no need for that, as the only ones that might need and be allowed it were the aurors and they could be apparated out to St. Mungo's. She knew that was just an excuse.
It was always followed by an offer to relocate her on the auror forces, but she refused each time. She'd chosen to be stationed there, where nobody else wanted to be, and she'd stay. She'd allow no one to tell her she wasn't strong enough to stand Azkaban just because she was a woman.
She was as capable as her male counterparts on the island, maybe even more, and she wasn't going to give up after having fought tooth and nail to be there. She was going to bring change to this aspect of their world if it killed her.
She spared a second to wonder what Cray would say if he knew she was there by choice ―unlike him, stationed there as a disciplinary action after he'd fought with his superior on the field. She'd never tell him, though; he already called her dark for her family despite their neutral standing― she didn't count her uncle's choice's as the family's― no need to give him ammunition because she'd chosen to work in the darkest of places.
'Are you finally regretting your choice?' she could hear her younger brother's voice mocking her in the back of her head. "The public see what they wish to: you'll always be considered dark and any change you try to bring about in the prison will be you sympathising with the dark beings incarcerated there.'
She looked away from Thompshill's vacant eyes and set her jaw. She defined herself, and nobody else. After this, the Ministry would have to make changes in the Prison. But they needed to find out what was making the dementors act so out of character or the incident would be swept under the rug like everything else.
Her eyes stared at the door behind which Moody had disappeared along with the other three men. She knew there was something big going on but she couldn't, for the life of herself, figure out what it was.
Knowing Moody, it was improbable she'd get anything out of him but that wouldn't stop her from trying.
Cassandra straightened when the door was thrown open and the subjects of her thoughts walked ―limped, in Moody's case― out of the room.
It didn't take them any time at all to notice the rising tension amongst the group of aurors, bringing a frown to the old grizzened auror's scarred face.
"What's going on here?"
"Cray was proposing we flee like rats in the face of a kneazle." Spat out Johnson before anyone got a chance to shape their thoughts.
The fact that no one spoke up in Cray's defence was telling enough and Cassandra almost grinned, but such a thing would be above a Greengrass. She did take some vindictive joy in the earful Cray was going to get, though. Until Moody pressed his staff to the wall and said those words.
"Alastor Moody, Level 7: Lockdown."
After the initial hysterics at Azkaban being put on a lockdown with all of them inside and the dementors still out of control died down ―which involved too much drama for his tastes, including Cray losing it and bodily throwing himself at Mad-Eye which consequently resulted in him being stupefied and left lying on the stone floor with a broken nose― they were all finally ready to talk like adults. Well, all but Cray who remained on the floor glaring daggers at them all.
"The Ministry will have already been notified of the lockdown and will wait the customary forty-eight hours before sending anyone in. So we've got two days to solve this." Said Rogers tiredly.
Being Head Auror of Azkaban was already hard enough without having Moody and two unknowns spring out of the woodwork and undermine his authority in the middle of the biggest crisis since the war.
"So let's get on with it!" exclaimed the Doctor cheerfully clasping his hands together, looking like a kid in a candy store at the chance at solving a new mystery.
Better yet, a magical mystery.
Harry shook his head fondly at the Time-Lord who smiled brightly back at him.
"What do we know till now?"
"Nothing." Replied Randall.
The Doctor tsked disappointedly at the auror.
"Come on, of course we know things. Facts, we need facts! Okay, let's start easy." He said as if explaining things step by step to a group of children, then pointing his finger at Randall. "What are the dementors?"
"Why are you asking that? That's common knowledge." Scoffed said auror.
The Doctor frowned at him.
"Humour me. What are the dementors?"
"Dark beings that feed from positive emotions directly off a living soul." Recited Randall.
"No, no, we need facts. Facts about 'what' they are!" protested the Doctor looking more and more disappointed as the silence dragged on.
"They are creatures of death." Intervened Cassandra, the Doctor's head snapping towards her. "They are blind, skeletal figures shadowed by a dark cloak: nobody knows what they look like under it because the only people who see them are Kissed."
"The Kiss being…?"
"Seriously? What are we, second-year students?" scoffed Randall.
"From your behaviour, I would say so." Growled Moody making the auror go red in the face.
"The Kiss is the action of sucking out a bodies soul leaving them in a vegetative state they can't recover from." Answered Johnson, his face pained as he looked at where his partner's body lay.
"Why can't they recover?" kept on prodding the Doctor, sounding like a teacher quizzing his class.
"The soul and its magic are consumed by the dementor who administered the Kiss. A body can function without a soul for a period of time, which depends on how much magic the body contains, but if the magic disappears, the body functions are stopped. There is no known way to bring a soul back to the body."
"Brilliant, Cassandra! Simply brilliant!" smiled the Doctor. "Alright and how do they move around if they're blind?"
"They can sense their victims' positive emotions."
"That does not explain how they move around." Frowned the Time-Lord. "It can explain how they find people, but not how they avoid walls and such."
Harry frowned in thought. He'd never really thought about that. What could be…
"They can sense magic?" hazarded the Greengrass woman.
Something clicked then.
"More than that," breathed out Harry. "they can see magic."
"See magic?" scoffed Johnson. "Only advanced sentient beings can actually do that and dementors are beasts."
Harry narrowed his eyes and opened his mouth to protest, but was cut off by the Head Auror.
"This is all speculation: there is barely any research on dementors and the little there is, is only available to the Unspeakables. This will get us nowhere."
"I don't agree, but alright. Let's try another approach." Mused the Doctor.
"Okay, how many dementors have died already?"
"At least six, if we add these two." Said Rogers signalling to the dark heaps in a corner of the room.
"Okay, and how do dementors die?"
"They don't. Or at least, they didn't." replied Randall.
Harry made sure Sirius could hold himself up against a wall before walking towards the two newly dead dementors.
He knelt on the cold stone floor and focused on them, trying to find any traces of magic on them. But there were none. These bodies were just empty husks, no trace of magic left in them. Magic usually took time to vanish, it didn't disappear without a trace in a few minutes.
Absentmindedly, he kept an ear on the conversation going on with the rest of the room's occupants.
"Not once did a dementor die before? In all of history?" was asking the Doctor.
"At least there's never been a known case." Amended Cassandra.
Avery's and Greyback's words repeated again and again in his mind.
'They collapsed like infery without magic.'
'Flailing… scratching… as if it was itching…'
'Like a wolf with fleas.'
Whatever had killed the dementors, it had also drained them of magic.
Or maybe it was the other way: whatever had drained them of magic had killed them too.
"I know how they died." He spoke aloud.
Everyone stopped talking at once and looked at the youngest wizard in the room.
"They were drained of magic. Dementors are creatures of death and magic. Without magic, they die. Something drained them of magic and it killed them."
"Are you sure?" frowned Moody.
"As I explained before, all magic takes time to dissipate even after death. It's why our corpses don't rot at the same rate as muggles'. But these dementors… they are completely void of magic. That could be explained in the others' cases as their magic dissipating slightly faster than in other magical beings, but this corpses are fresh. There should be magic still. Ergo, they were drained of it."
There was a moment of silence as everyone digested the new information and Harry stood up to help support Sirius once more.
"So then… there is something that can actually drain beings of their magic."
The Time-Lords words brought chills to the wizards in the room. As beings of magic themselves, the idea was… creepy, to say the least.
"Remind me, when did the deaths begin?" snapped the Doctor.
"Oh, um, a little over a week ago."
"And there were none before that."
"Then, the question we should be asking ourselves is: what changed in the days previous to the first death? What's different?"
They all stood there, flummoxed at his simple logic.
Harry hid a small smile at the reaction. It's not like wizards ever had much logic to begin with. Natural, if you take into account that their magic broke most of the laws that were considered logical in the muggle world.
"We need to access the records. See if there is something that can help us figure out how something able to drain magic got in here without our notice." Decided Rogers.
"Exactly! Where are the records?"
"Scattered." Sighed Cassandra. "It was supposed to be a measure to make it more difficult for outside forces to raid the prison and find what they were looking for."
The Doctor sighed. Wizards always had to make things more difficult than they need be, apparently. He missed central computers where one could find everything from one place…
"Alright, we'll divide in three groups and-"
"I'm not leaving Thompshill here!" protested Johnson.
"He's gone, Johnson!" barked Moody. "Accept it and move on or we'll all end up the same way!"
"There are only three points were the records are kept. We can divide in three groups of two and leave Thompshill and someone else here to keep an eye on the dead dementors' bodies. The Unspeakables would be a pain to deal with if anything happened to their precious research material." Intervened Cassandra throwing a meaningful look at the Head Auror.
"Fine." Sighed the man. "Cray, Cassandra, you'll take the-"
"Cray's with me." Commanded Mad-Eye. "If he's done playing at being a three-year-old with a tantrum."
Rogers looked more and more irritated the more he was interrupted and his command questioned, but he just pressed his lips together and went on, not challenging Moody's authority. Everyone knew that wasn't done.
"Cray and Moody can take the Inmates' Records. Cassandra, you're with Smith; take the Visitors' Records. I'll take the Guards' Records with the Doctor. Thompshill, you and Randall stay here; you can keep an eye on Black too."
Immediately, he was met with even more protests. Harry didn't want to leave Sirius alone with two unknown aurors who still believed him guilty of all crimes. The Doctor wasn't happy about being separated from Harry. And Moody didn't want a muggle, even if they all thought he was a wizard without wand, out there with the dementors even in the Head Auror's company.
"I'm not happy with bringing two civilians into this either, but it's what we've got." Growled Rogers.
Harry threw an imploring glance at Moody and the old auror looked away before caving like he'd done in the future, though it wouldn't seem so to the others.
"Johnson stays with the Doctor and Black. Bad enough we're bringing a civilian, we don't need to bring a wandless one and a convict. Cassandra is capable, she can take care of anything Smith isn't able to deal with." He said explaining his reasoning in a way none could counter. "Randall can go with you, Head Auror Rogers, and I'll take Cray with me."
Another imploring glance had the Doctor's protests die in the back of his throat.
"Great, if we're all in agreement…" muttered Rogers sarcastically.
The Doctor paced the room like a caged tiger, feeling helplessness wash over him. Knowing that his little gem was out there, risking his life whilst he could do nothing but wait was driving him crazy.
For once, he felt like he understood what many of his companions had felt before, when he told them to stay put for their safety.
And he didn't like it.
Funny how he had ended up in the companions place this time. And Harry took the Doctor's. An interesting exchange. Also nerve-wracking.
"Sit down, you're giving me a headache with your pacing." Muttered a raspy voice from a corner of the room.
The Doctor stopped in his tracks, as if frozen, before doing exactly as told and sitting down in front of the dirt covered man.
Harry's dead godfather. The one he had cried so bitterly over. The one he had loved so deeply. And the one he had known so short a time, but still left a lasting impression.
The alien knew the wizard had been eyeing him since he'd pulled his godson in an embrace before he left. Their foreheads had touched for a moment and Harry had whispered a plea for him to be careful and look after Sirius. He'd demanded for Harry to come back whole.
"Do you love him?"
Now he knew where Harry's direct approach came from. Thankfully, his little wizard had more tact.
Slowly, the Doctor nodded.
"I do. Though love sometimes feels such a simple word to describe what I feel for him…"
"James used to say something similar." Snorted the prisoner, a look of fondness and pain in his dark eyes. "He and Lily were ridiculously in love."
Asking after them didn't feel like the best thing to do in this situation, so the Doctor decided not to say anything.
"So… time travel?"
The Doctor's lips stretched into a wide smile.
"Oh, so you figured it out. Brilliant!"
"Apparently. Azkaban has messed with my mind, but it didn't leave me totally stupid yet. And I'm still having some doubts on whether this is all real or just me going bonkers. So how did you do it? The Ministry perfected their time-turners?"
"Nope. We came in my TARDIS. Harry says the Ministry's technology hasn't got that far."
"Good. I don't know what a TARDIS is, but I also don't want to think of the disaster it would be if those morons figured out how to play with time in a large scale. They already fuck up enough."
The Doctor chuckled. He knew Harry had more or less the same opinion.
"So if you're from the future… I know I can't ask a lot without risking trouble and all that, but… will I ever get out of here?"
The Doctor didn't hesitate.
Sirius breathed more easily.
"And from what I've seen, Harry has forgiven me… but he's… he looked like…"
The Doctor knew what the man was trying to get at and his hearts clenched in pain.
"You didn't get much time together." He said softly.
Sirius closed his eyes before snapping them open again.
"I don't need details, just… is he happy?"
The Doctor thought carefully of all he could reveal before speaking.
"He is. Or he is getting there." He explained slowly. "He fought, he…"
"Another war. Voldemort's return." Whispered the convict lowering his voice and throwing a suspicious look at where Auror Johnson stood vigil next to his partner's body.
"Harry survived. He fought. He lost. And he won. And now he's free."
Sirius closed his eyes again, swallowing, digesting everything he could garner from such short words. And it was a lot.
"Good. Then it was all worth it. If he's happy and free, it was all worth it. It will all be worth it." He muttered, more to himself than to the Time Lord.
The Doctor thought he understood how he felt and kept silent. Their mutual understanding and silence where suddenly broken by Johnson's voice.
"Is it me or it's getting colder in here?"
Harry and Cassandra walked side by side through the darkly lit halls, wands at the ready held in front of them. Harry was actually a bit spooked, having thought he heard whispers a few times only to find nothing whenever he looked.
"Are you going to keep stealing glances at me or are you going to speak your mind?"
Harry almost jumped at her sharp words, realising that was just what he'd been doing. It was just… She was Cassy Greengrass! She was the woman that inspired Daphne into becoming an auror when the war was over. Harry'd heard so much about her: how independent, strong and intelligent a woman she'd been. And brave. Brave above everything else.
"Sorry, I didn't realise I was staring." he muttered sheepishly.
"It's fine. I'm used to it."
"Have you seen many women working in Azkaban?"
"I get it. Though I think it's a silly reason to stare." Said Harry surprising her.
"Here we turn left." Signalled Greengrass. "By the way, how did you end up here?"
Harry threw her a sideways look.
"Not very subtle, am I?" she added, quirking up a small smile.
It made the harsh lines of her face soften, giving her a much younger appearance. Reminding him that she wasn't actually that much older than him.
It also made her family resemblance that much more evident. Her rich blonde hair was like Daphne's and so was the shape of her nose. Her eyes, though, were as dark as Astoria's were.
"Not quiet." Agreed the wizard with a shake of his head.
"I've found that, sometimes, a direct approach can be more rewarding in the end."
Harry hummed, trying to win some time.
"Didn't Alas- eh, Moody explain?"
"Something about an accident in the experimental phase of an invention. Personally, I think you're all lying."
Harry was halted in his tracks by her blunt words and she stopped too.
"Don't get me wrong, I don't think you're doing it out of nefarious intentions, but I know you are lying. I'm a Slytherin, I get those things. Still, I don't like being lied to."
"I know I am." Sniffed the woman in false superiority.
Once more, he was reminded of Daphne and how she liked to play around giving of this false air of superiority that then disappeared with a smile around those she genuinely liked.
It's exactly what happened then, as they both exchanged a smile. As if on agreement, they started walking again.
"So what brought you here? The real version, if you can share it."
"I can't say much, but… Truthfully? We were just passing by."
"Just passing by?" asked the witch incredulously.
"Yeah." Answered the wizard with a small blush. "We were traveling around, no destination in mind, just going wherever things took us, you know? And we were dropped here, well, inside the wards. Didn't know where we were until we looked out."
"Of the TARDIS. It's the Doctor's, we use it to travel around."
"So that wasn't a lie."
"Call me Cassandra."
There was a moment of silence and then…
"So you were just dropped here in the middle of this? I don't think you're lying, but… fuck, you've got bad luck."
"You're telling me." Snorted Harry. "Though we're still in one piece and we're on the way to finding out what's happening here, so… maybe it's not so bad?"
Cassandra looked at him with a raised eyebrow.
"Alright, your luck must be horrible if you think this isn't so bad."
Harry rubbed the back of his head sheepishly.
"What about you?" he asked, honestly curious.
"Why are you here?" he clarified.
"It may sound crazy, but… I applied for this." She said. "I want to try to change the way our world views Azkaban, though I'm not making much of a headway."
Sensing they were entering a delicate topic, he decided to deviate.
"What about your family? What do they think of it?"
Cassandra actually snorted.
"They think I'm crazy. My parents thought I was wasting my potential, my younger brother thinks I'll get nowhere because of how the public views our family and my older brother is too busy with his two daughters to waste his time trying to dissuade me when he knows I won't change my mind." She shook her head sadly, before a small smile lit up her face.
"So you've got two nieces?"
"Yes. The youngest is still barely a toddler. My oldest niece, however… she thinks I'm a hero."
"You inspire her." Agreed Harry.
"She's five." Replied Cassandra looking amused at his words. "She is blinded by the idea that I keep the bad men from being out on the loose, nothing else."
"I think you give her too little credit. She'll follow in your footsteps, I'm telling you."
"Are you a seer?" joked the witch.
Harry scrunched up his nose in slight distaste.
"Ugh, can't stand those."
Cassandra broke down into laughter.
"What about you? What does your family think of you running around wherever the wind takes you?"
"They are… supportive. More than I thought they'd be." Admitted Harry, more to himself than her, thinking of Andromeda and Teddy. "Sometimes, I get the feeling that they were expecting it before I realised it was an option."
"Something to envy." Muttered Greengrass, stopping before a dark wooden door and getting back to her professional attitude. "Here we are: the Visitor's Records."
The room was bigger than he'd expected, though as dark and crowded as all archive rooms were. It was going to take a while to comb through them.
"We didn't agree on how far back we should go." Muttered Harry.
"I think a month before the first death should suffice." Sighed Cassandra, looking around the room and thinking the same as him: it was going to take ages.
"Couldn't we just accio the records now that we're close?"
"If only it were that easy… There's an anti-summoning ward in every archive room. It's supposed to be a safety measure, but in cases like this… it's just a bother."
"Let's get to it, then. The sooner we start, the sooner we'll be finished."
"Did you hear that?" asked Harry after hearing the same whisper for the third time.
"Hear what?" replied Cassandra from where she was hunched over a stack of papers.
Cassandra looked at him in understanding.
"The first few weeks here, I jumped at the barest sound. I thought there were whispers everywhere. But you end up getting used to it. Don't let it distract you."
Harry nodded and tried to do just that, focusing back on the papers. But the whisper got stronger, more insistent, until he couldn't focus on the words in front of him anymore.
"I've got it! They're here, I don't know who the hell was in charge of keeping this place in order, but I'm going to fill a complain the likes of which he's never dreamt."
But Harry wasn't paying the witch any attention. He was listening for that distorted voice. It seemed to come from afar. He wasn't even sure he was actually hearing it.
Slowly, he walked to the door, head tilted curiously. The voice got a bit clearer but not enough to make out what it said.
"You really can't hear it, Cassy?"
"That… whisper. A voice… a voice calling for someone. Calling for… help?"
He opened the door and walked outside. The voice got stronger and then… it cut off abruptly.
"Harry, I haven't heard-"
A scream resounded in the silence.
And, of course, like any sane person in their situation... they run towards it.
The Doctor paced faster and faster as he tried to come up with some plan. The dementors were outside their door, announced by the increasing cold Johnson had noticed first ―the auror being closest to the door― and confirmed when the door knob started to turn.
The Doctor had launched himself forward to hold it, burning his hands from the ice growing there before taking off his coat in a rush and using it as protection.
His breath came out in white clouds of mist as he turned to look at the other occupants of the room.
Johnson was standing in the same place, right next to Thompshill's empty husk, his eyes unseen and his body shaking.
Sirius had pressed himself to the corner, his eyes wide and panicked staring at the door every few seconds before they went back to sweeping over the room in search for an escape.
Understandable, he thought, if he'd really spent so long exposed to the creatures. The Doctor himself was starting to tremble, his mind overcome by all the failures of his long lives.
And it looked like failing Harry was soon to be added to that list.
The thought of his little wizard made him shake his head, shaking off those thoughts at the same time. No. He wasn't going to add Harry to that list. Never his Harry.
"Johnson, snap out of it!" he shouted. "We need to win some time, help me hold the door."
It was taking more and more strength each passing second to hold the door knob and not let it turn and the surface was also slippery from the sheen of ice forming. Not only on the handle, the whole door was covered in ice.
Finally, Johnson reacted and run around the table to help him hold the door. If only the bloody thing wasn't wood, he'd have used his screwdriver. Though he wasn't sure if it would help or just explode. Harry said there was magic all around the prison and he'd also explained how technology tended to go boom when exposed to it.
"Isn't there a spell or something you can use to lock the door?"
Johnson blinked at him and nodded. Apparently, the idea hadn't occurred to him.
"Move out of the way." Signalled Johnson, red creeping up his cheeks.
The Doctor did and immediately, before the door could open, the auror pointed his arm at the handle.
"Colloportus." He incanted.
Everyone in the room held his breath as the door knob turned and… nothing happened. They all released the air in relief.
"How long will it hold?"
"Until someone uses the key or the counter-spell."
"Great. Now we've just got to make sure we don't die of cold or-"
He was interrupted by a high screech and a sharp blow against the door.
"Or they don't blow down the door, apparently." Finished Johnson in a dry voice.
It didn't take Harry and Cassandra long at all to find what was going on. Rogers and Randall were being chased by a group of dementors. They'd almost reached them when Randall, in his panic, separated from his boss. The dementors went after him, thriving off his emotions.
"Shit, Harry, you stick to Rogers. I'll go after Randall." Ordered Cassandra in a non-nonsense voice.
The wizard didn't have time to protest, not liking the idea of leaving the admittedly very capable woman alone. It had nothing to do with his faith in her abilities and a lot with what he suspected might happen.
But as she hadn't given him a chance to oppose her orders before running off, he hurried to Rogers' side, crouching next to his slouched form.
The dementors were near, he could feel them, and that made him tense.
"Head Auror, are you alright?"
The man looked at him with clear blue eyes, wide from the scare he'd just gotten. The whitening hair on his temples and his ragged breathing were a reminder that he wasn't exactly young anymore.
"Yes, I'm fine, Smith. I just need a second to regain my breath." Panted the man.
"Good." Said Harry, patting his shoulder where he was kneeling on the floor. "Cassandra will come back with Randall soon. Did you get the archives?"
"We dropped… them… two corridors back…" said the man trying to get back to his feet.
"What are you doing?"
"We need those-"
"I know." Interrupted Harry softly. "But you're not up to moving yet. Wait here, I'll get them and be back in a moment. As soon as Auror Randall and Cassandra get back, we'll leave."
"I don't feel comfortable sending a civilian to do an Auror's job."
"Head Auror, I can assure you I'm more than capable of taking care of myself. I'm more worried about leaving you alone…"
"Oh, for Merlin's sake, do it. Go get the archives, Smith. I'm Head Auror. I'm old, not incapacitated."
Harry nodded tightly before standing up and looking back at the corridor through which they had come. It only turned left, but he didn't know if he'd have to choose on the next turn. So he asked.
"Take the left turn again." Said Rogers.
And so he did. He jogged, turned left and left again. And there the archives were, lying scattered on the floor of a dark corridor.
He crouched down and gathered them up together before getting back up just as fast. He froze. His breath misted in the air in front of him, coming out in a white cloud.
"Master… help us… help…"
Swallowing, he run back to Rogers. Only, he wasn't alone anymore.
Between the Head Auror and him floated a lone dementor, its movements erratic.
The Head Auror was in the same place he'd left him, his wand lying on the floor not far from him and his hands around his head as he tried to breathe through the cold and the being's effects.
Harry himself was starting to feel lightheaded, but unlike on so many previous occasions, he didn't feel on the edge of fainting. There was something different, something on the edge of his mind… A whisper.
"Master… Death's Master…"
With a gasp, Harry realised it was the dementor talking. And it was talking to him.
"Can you… understand me?" he asked slowly.
"Master… understands… help… we need…"
Harry swallowed. He was speaking with a dementor. And he understood them better each time he listened to them.
"Need… Help us…"
"You want me to help? No, you need me to help." He mused. "Are you… sick too?"
"Not sick… hurts… they hurt…"
Harry tried to understand, he really did, but it was so very confusing. The dementor seemed disoriented, he spoke in curt words. Did they all speak like that or was it a result of the situation?
"Alright, you're not sick, but you're hurt. There's others hurt too?"
"They hurt… us… Help… Master…"
"How? How do I help?" asked Harry, not even noticing that his voice came out in a sibilant whisper. "What's hurting you?"
"They… Master… help us…"
Something inside of him was desperate to do just that, but he didn't know how to do it.
'I think I've gone crazy.' he thought.
"I'm going to approach and try to find out what's wrong, alright?"
Slowly, he did just that. His hands settled on the ripped fabric that covered the dementor's skeletal arm. It felt unexpectedly soft, almost like velvet. He ignored the way his skin had turned black at the contact.
Focusing on watching the magic around them, he saw how the magic was draining from the being at a fast pace. He could see where it went, small dots of concentrated energy. He could see it, but he didn't understand it. He'd never seen something like that.
"I'm going to try something, but I need you to keep calm."
Feeling more than hearing the agreement, Harry let a questing tendril of his magic slowly disentangle from his core and search out the rapidly vanishing magic.
Immediately, he felt a sucking sensation and cut off the connection wrenching his hand away. Whatever those dots were, they had tried to get a grip of the little magic he'd let loose and drain it.
It had an unexpected effect. The dementor was drained faster and faster. It was almost out of magic and filled with desperation.
Harry had a front row seat to what Greyback had described as the dementors movements became frantic, his arms flailing around and scratching at his own body.
One of those flailing limbs caught him and the wizard was sent to the floor. He could only watch in horror as the dementor, in a last desperate attempt to remain alive, turned to Head Auror Rogers and Kissed him.
He was still watching the magic when it happened and he could see the moment the dementor assimilated the wizard's magic into his own body. Just as fast, the draining continued.
The dementor turned to him.
Harry shook on the floor, his fingers fumbling with his wand.
His voice sounded weak to his own ears and he panicked. The Doctor was here too, in danger. If he died without solving this, the Doctor could very well suffer the same fate. He'd put him in danger in the first place, he'd opened up his mind to all the possibilities of magic. He couldn't die!
A selfish part of him also didn't want to die. He wanted a life, right next to the Doctor. He wanted to see more of the stars by his side. He wanted to be loved by him and to love him in return. He wanted…
A silvery swan chased the dementor away from his crumpled form. The dark cloaked figure did not go far, collapsing on the floor in a heap. The magic was gone, and with it, all signs of life.
"Cassy!" breathed out the wizard, relief so very evident.
The witch helped him stand on shaky legs and gathered the papers strewn on the floor. Harry leaned on her for support. He was glad to see her well.
She shook her head grimly. He hadn't made it.
"Rogers was Kissed."
She swallowed harshly, but nodded.
"We need to head back before more come. Can you walk?"
"Yes." He muttered.
"Then let's go. We've got what we came for. It better have been worth it."
The Doctor was having a hard time keeping Johnson calm. The auror had started to panic five minutes into their apparent captivity. He could only focus on how they were trapped with out of control dementors at the door.
Not that the Doctor was doing much better. Those beings really got into your mind and brought out the worst of your emotions. He was constantly battling the feelings of helplessness, failure and fear.
His only bright light was Harry, the one light he wasn't going to allow those beings to snuff out, to deprive him off.
Sirius seemed to be off the same mind, as he had closed his eyes and started up a mantra of 'Harry's here, he's real, he forgives me, Harry's here…'
But even that wouldn't last forever, they needed a plan, a way out. If only they could contact the others to ask for help… they didn't know what was going on. Granted, they could also have encountered trouble and then they'd all be in the same situation…
They felt it before they heard the sound. Or better yet, the lack of sound. The pounding on the door had stopped.
But the feelings hadn't just disappeared.
"They've stopped." Muttered Johnson.
"Yes… why?" wondered the Doctor.
"Who cares why?" exclaimed Johnson. "They've stopped. They're gone! We need to take advantage of this."
"Johnson, I don't think-"
But the auror wasn't listening anymore.
"We'll go and find the others. We'll be safer and we can hunker down until we've got a plan." He muttered, eyes crazed with panic.
The Doctor realised what was about to happen a second too late, but still jumped forward to try and stop the wizard.
Johnson muttered another spell and threw the door open, the Doctor's fingers scratching at the collar of his cape, and the auror had barely taken a step out when he collided against a silent black figure.
An obvious trap.
The auror froze and he could clearly imagine his face, eyes wide and frightened, mouth opened in a silent scream.
The dementor grabbed him by the wrists. The Doctor didn't miss how the wizard's skin didn't turn black at the touch like his little one's had.
But he was too horrified by what was happening, two other dark figures advancing on them, to properly ponder its reason. The dementor holding Johnson was lowering its cloak, his face still shadowed to the Time-Lord but for the endless black hole on the lower part of its head.
Johnson was looking up with one of the most horrifying expressions he'd ever seen, frozen, looking up at death, at something worse.
He saw it, like a distortion in the air, something passing from the wizard to the dementor, something locking them together in that terrifying embrace… sucking, emptying…
And then the dementors were gone and Johnson fell to the floor, heaving, crying, hunching into himself.
Silvery strands surrounded them, chasing the dark creatures away, and the Doctor followed them to their source.
"Get in!" snapped Moody, his crystal eye rolling around the socket. "You're all lucky I was keeping an eye on you, fools."
When Harry and Cassandra got back to the others, it was to find Moody tearing into Johnson. Apparently, he'd almost got them all killed.
Harry hurried to the Doctor's side whilst Cassandra informed Moody of Rogers' and Randall's deaths and was immediately enveloped in a tight embrace. He hid his face in the man's chest for a moment, breathing in his particular smell and letting it wash over him and unwound his body of the tension he'd been holding since getting separated.
Pulling apart, he looked him in the eyes.
"Are you alright?"
"I'm fine." Whispered the Doctor, smiling softly at his obvious worry. "We've all eaten some chocolate. And now that I've got you back, I'm suddenly feeling a lot better."
Harry blushed a little and ducked his head, a shy smile on his lips.
"I'm going to check on Sirius." He whispered, slowly disentangling from the taller man.
The animagus was in the corner of the room, his eyes fixed on them even as he chewed on a piece of chocolate.
Harry crouched down in front of him and took his free hand in his, rubbing it to try and get some warmth into the frozen stiff limb.
"How are you?" he asked.
"Sometimes, I feel like I've gone crazy or I'm dreaming."
"You're not." Whispered Harry lovingly sweeping some dirty strands of hair from his forehead. The older wizard leaned into his touch. "Neither of those things, Sirius."
"I know. But it's hard to remember when they are close."
Harry's heart clenched at the plaintive voice. What would happen when this was all over? What would happen to Sirius? He had been putting off thinking of that, but for how long could he keep doing that?
"Sirius, when this is all-"
"Shhh…" shushed him the man. "Don't worry about that now."
"Harry." His tone made the youth pause. It was a mix of wonder, hope, fear and firmness that he couldn't quiet decipher. "Look at you. All grown up, so beautiful and brave and kind. Your parents would be so proud of seeing the young man you've become. I'm so proud."
The young wizard blinked tears away, confused but also deeply touched by his words. Somehow, they sounded like… like…
"You've turned out better than anyone could've expected, Harry. I'm sure it wasn't easy. I'm sure you must have hated me at some point-"
"Shush. It doesn't matter now. You've made us all proud and I'm so happy I get to see it. That Doctor of yours…"
Harry blushed at the meaningful look his godfather sent him.
"He seems like a good man, you know?"
"He is." Said Harry, so very sure of that if nothing else.
"Good, you deserve someone good. Not that I need anything more than to see how he looks at you to know." Snorted the animagus. "The man is crazy for you."
"What? Don't I get teasing rights as godfather?" asked the man with faux innocence.
"I guess." Agreed Harry, his eyes softening considerably.
"I mean it, Harry." said Sirius, turning unusually serious. "Don't let happiness get away from you, hold onto it with all your strength. If there's something the war taught us all, it's that you never know how long it'll last."
"I will." promised Harry, swallowing the knot in his throat.
Whatever Sirius was going to say next, was interrupted by Moody's growling.
"Are you going to help or will you sit there tearing your hearts open much longer?"
With a sigh, godfather and godson exchanged a commiserative look and rose ―shakily and with the younger's help in Sirius' case― to join the others around the records.
"What exactly are we looking for?" frowned Cray.
"Something strange, unusual. Something that changed between the weeks before the deaths started and now." Replied the Doctor where he was pouring over the Guards' Records.
Cray huffed, throwing a suspicious glance around, but got down to it like the rest of them.
They were all thankful for Moody's paranoia soon after, when the desperate pounding at the door started. The old Auror's locking charm had saved them from being caught unawares again.
The Doctor noticed Harry shaking his head several times, as if trying to get rid of something bothersome.
"Harry?" he whispered, touching his arm.
The wizard gave what he probably hoped was a reassuring smile, but looked too tense to be so.
Cassandra, intuitive and observant woman that the witch was proving to be, noticed their interaction and his worry.
"Why don't you both take a rest? You might miss something if you're distracted."
Harry went to protest, but the Doctor agreed before he could and they both stood off to the side of the room. Sirius sent them a brief look from where he was sitting staring at the battered door ―the aurors' had banked at the thought of an inmate having access to the records―, but he left them to talk with a short nod.
"What is it, Harry?"
"I… something's been… bothering me." Muttered the wizard hesitantly.
The doctor stayed quiet as the wizard ordered his thoughts, not pressing him.
"I communicated with the dementors."
"That's possible?" exclaimed the Doctor, surprised.
Harry signalled for him to keep quiet and the Doctor gave him a sheepish smile.
"Apparently. They seem to talk some variant of parseltongue, the snake tongue. I heard them a few times today, but their voices are like whispers, I thought I was imagining things…"
"But you aren't. They can communicate. Which means…"
"…They are intelligent beings, yes. But I already knew that. I just never heard of someone managing to communicate with them directly, except Voldemort, which now makes sense. He could understand them, more or less, because he was a parselmouth."
"And you're a parselmouth, too?"
"More or less. But I don't think that's why I can hear them. They… they referred to me as Master and one of them… one of them called me Death's Master."
The Doctor took a deep breath at that.
"So this might be related to the Hollows."
"That's what's bothering you? But it's a great thing, we can now communicate with them and find out what's wrong."
"Yes, I know; I already tried, believe me. What really bothers me is what they said. Their exact words were 'help us… they hurt us'."
"'They'?" repeated the Doctor, a worried frown creasing his forehead. "Are you sure they said 'they'?"
"Do you think it means the aurors?"
But Harry was already shaking his head.
"No, I don't think so. They don't know what's going on either and… I have a feeling that the dementors weren't talking about them."
The Time Lord sighed, running a hand through his hair as he thought and mussing it in the process.
"I see. No wonder you're worried. If there's a third party involved in all this…"
Harry nodded. It was already difficult enough without adding more unknowns into the problem.
"Let's get back to the records, then. Maybe something we've seen will take on a new meaning with this."
"Who's Gary Basse? We haven't met him." said the Doctor suddenly.
Cray snorted derisively.
"I thought he was the unluckiest guy in the world, but given the situation, he might just be the luckiest fella out of us all."
"It says here, in the Guards' Records, that he should be in the prison, same turn as you all." Continued the Doctor.
"Basse was in the same turn as us, until he started to have problems with his wand." Explained Cassandra. "He's being put on leave until he can get it sorted."
"When was that?" pressed the Doctor.
"Around… two weeks ago." Said Cassandra slowly.
"Mightily convenient." Said Moody.
"You think he's got something to do with this? Basse is too much of an idiot to do something like this." Replied Cray, Cassandra glaring at him. "Don't look at me like that, you know it's true: he's as stupid as that mangy mutt he spends all his time with."
A gasp from Harry made them all look at the youngest wizard there.
"What is it?" asked Cassandra.
"Basse, he's got a dog?"
"Oh, for the love of- are we really going to lose our time with this?"
"Maybe a crup?" insisted Harry, eyes wide as he wilfully ignored Cray.
"Yes, it's all he can talk about, really." Answered Cassandra slowly, looking at the wizard curiously.
The Doctor didn't take his eyes off him. It looked like Harry had found a mine of gold, going by his expression.
"Silly, silly, silly, we're so silly!" exclaimed the wizard hitting his forehead.
"Oh, please, enlighten us, if you're so great." Drawled Cray. And really, he was starting to get on his nerves.
"You really don't see it?" asked Harry almost jumping in place. "A crup, a malfunctioning wand, magic being drained… no, magic being devoured! What was wrong with Basse's wand? Did it have a chizpurfle infestation?"
Slowly, a look of comprehension dawned on the wizards' and witches faces. They looked stupefied, as if whatever had occurred to them right then had never even entered the realm of possibilities in their minds.
"Greyback said it and we didn't understand. 'Like a wolf with fleas.' Like a crup with chizpurfles!"
Was that what he looked like when he found a solution to something? All hyped and bright and cute? Nah, the cute part was all Harry, the Doctor was sure.
But he was starting to understand how lost his companions often felt when he talked. Really, when had they exchanged places?
"Okay, what are chizpurfles?"
The wizards sent him a 'seriously' look and he just shrugged, but Moody explained, his crystal eye for once not spinning and kept on Harry as the other looked at the Doctor.
"Chizpurfles are small crab-like creatures. Parasite, really. They are attracted to sources of magic because that is their main aliment. They feed on the magic until there's none left."
"But chizpurfles are actually inoffensive. They've never been known to be lethal and Azkaban's treated against them."
"Exactly because of that, they can be lethal." Explained harry. "Usually, they have lots of sources of magic from which to feed and even if they didn't, they're detected before they can cause irreparable damage. But they can't feed on the magic of Azkaban. If somehow Bosse brought them with him and left some here unknowingly, they would have latched onto the closest magical thing they had access to. And what is the only purely magical thing in Azkaban that remains constantly? The dementors. I'm sure some of your wands, if they haven't been correctly treated, must have some chizpurfles already, but that would have been as easily detected as Bosse's. Dementors aren't checked over, so nobody noticed, and the infestation grew until the dementors were not enough to support the colony."
There was a moment of silence before…
"We're so stupid. We had the answer in front of us all this time!" exclaimed Cassandra.
"That doesn't explain why the dementors are disobeying us and Kissing people left and right." Frowned Moody.
"Desperation." Answered Harry simply. "They were dying and they knew it. When they feed on the souls of people, they assimilate their magic, right? It was a last ditch effort to remain alive. That's all."
"That's all? That's all!?" shouted Johnson. "People have died! My partner has died!"
"We haven't forgotten that, but that's not all on the dementors, is it?" intervened the Doctor.
"What are you talking about?" asked Johnson.
"I'm talking about how Cray lied to us. Thompshill wasn't just unlucky to get Kissed."
"What do you mean?" asked Johnson, looking more and more confused.
"Doctor? Maybe this is not the best time to talk about this." Whispered Harry.
Cray's eyes were spinning around the room, looking for an exit. But he'd abandoned another man to his death, he'd given him up to save himself. He couldn't get away with that.
"That Thompshill might not have died if he hadn't been petrified and used as bait by a coward."
It took a moment for everyone to process his words before all hell broke loose.
"I'll kill you!" shouted Johnson.
The situation went from bad to worse in a second. There were shouts and insults, spells cast in all directions, and a good dose of chaos.
Harry pushed the Doctor out of the way of a misdirected cutting hex, just barely avoiding it himself. Too close, going by the cut on his shirt. Sirius grabbed them by the collar of their clothes and tried, with the little physical strength he had left, to grad them further away from the conflict.
Cassandra disarmed Johnson before he could do anything he'd end up regretting and Moody disarmed Cray, but not before the other wizard flung another cutting hex at Johnson. A hex that got Cassandra instead.
Harry's eyes widened and he scrambled to his feet, batting away Sirius' and the Doctor's hands. He skidded to a halt on his knees, next to where the witch was choking, blood gurgling from the deep cut on her neck.
"Cassy! Cassy, hold on!" he said, hands pressing down on the wound, trying to keep more blood from gushing out. She was already looking incredibly pale.
Her eyes fixed on him, full of panic.
"Don't talk, Cassy. Please, you have to hold on. Think of Daphne, she needs her aunt."
"I never- her name-"
"Shush, don't talk. Don't talk, Cassy, it's alright. I've got you." He whispered, not noticing the tears rolling down his cheeks.
The Doctor was next to him in a second, asking what he should do.
"There's a box, in my pocket. I've got potions. They can- they can heal her- I can't take my hands off or she'll bleed out…"
Harry knew he sounded hysterical, but all this blood… it was like being back in the war, with a different Greengrass lying wounded under his arms. He'd saved Daphne then, he'd save her aunt too. He'd…
"Harry." Sirius' voice, soft and concerned in front of him, brought him back to the present. "She's gone, Harry. I'm sorry, it's too late. You can't do anything for her."
The wizard looked down at her and realised he was right. Cassy was gone. Her eyes open, but unseen. Her face peaceful, surrounded by that familiar blonde hair.
Cassy was dead. Just like he'd known she would be.
More tears rolled down his cheeks as the Doctor closed her eyelids respectfully and he let his godfather pull him into an embrace. He didn't bother looking at what was going on in the rest of the room.
He only had eyes for the woman that laid dead on the floor, looking so much like his friend that it cut into his very soul.
Sirius watched his godson kneeling there, in a growing pool of the dead witch's blood, his face blank but his eyes full of agony, and a pain that had nothing to do with the dementors made itself known in his chest.
But even if Harry wasn't aware of what else was going on around them, Sirius and the Doctor were. The Doctor, who looked at the young wizard with such pain in his eyes.
The old animagus shifted without a second thought, standing on his four paws of the so familiar form, teeth bared, back to his pup. Protecting his pack.
Johnson and Cray, both free of wands, were rolling in the ground in a tangle of limbs, fists raising and falling as they fought. Moody stood with his staff pointed at them, but it was clear he didn't have a clean shot.
Sirius growled and gave a couple of loud barks.
The surprise was enough to make the two fighters roll off each other as they scrambled away from the imposing figure of a grim-like dog.
Unfortunately, Cray panicked. The idea of spending the rest of his life on the other side of the bars in Azkaban didn't appeal to him and the visage of a grim was more than he could handle. He wanted out. He didn't care how many he took with him.
With that decided, the auror run for the door. Moody's blasting curse ―and really, he should've expected Mad-Eye to react with lethal force to someone who killed one of his men, no matter how long they'd been his― struck its target, but it also had the side-effect of blowing apart the door.
The sound was disgusting, so much so that even Johnson recoiled from Cray screaming murder. But it turned even worse when the cold started to seep deeper into their bones and the darkness at the entrance shifted.
The dog whimpered, tucking his tail and lowering its ears, but he did not step back.
Two arms slid from under the dark cloak of the figure at the front and grabbed Cray. The shouts cut off, his shoulders shaking terribly before he went completely still.
The Doctor kept half an eye on what happened around them, including the dog-man ―animagus, whispered his mind― that stood protectively before them.
He didn't even flinch at the shouts when the auror died, but he did raise his head when the source of the cold started to come closer and closer, accompanied by a strange sibilant sound, no louder than the wind amongst the leaves of a tree.
Next thing he knew, Harry had risen and stood in front of them all, in the middle of the room, facing off the first of the dementors.
Nobody talked. Nobody moved. Not because they didn't want to, but because they couldn't.
"What is happening?" he heard Johnson ask.
The dementor leaned down, his cloaked head lowering in front of Harry's, and something strange happened.
Harry whispered, a low sibilant sound, rattling and chilling. Primitive.
More astounding to the wizards in the room: the dementor replied in the same way.
And even though none of them realised it at the moment, everything was over as soon as Harry brought a hand up and touched the dementor's chest.
When the dementors finally retreated, Harry closed his eyes in exhaustion. The Doctor was there in a second, wrapping an arm around his middle and holding him up.
"Thank you." He whispered.
The Time Lord shook his head.
"No need, little one." He replied softly.
Swallowing, Harry turned in his arms and hid his face in his chest, hands fisting in his coat.
"What's happened?" asked Johnson, looking about to collapse but staring at Harry with fear in his eyes. "What did you do? What are you?"
"You could show some gratitude. He just saved our lives."
But Johnson wasn't about to listen. Luckily, someone else was fed up with the day they'd had, because a spell hit the auror and he fell over. A snore came out of his mouth soon after.
The Doctor raised an eyebrow at Moody and the wizard stared back, unapologetic.
Sirius turned back into a human and ran a shaky hand through his long and dirty hair before releasing a breath.
"Well that's one less problem to deal with."
"It won't last long, but enough to give me time to clean up here."
"Clean up?" asked Harry weakly pushing away from the Doctor, but not leaving his arms. Moody looked at him like he was dumb. "Oh, that."
"What?" asked the Doctor.
"In the future, there was no record of us in the archives." He whispered lowly.
"I hate to ruin the mood, but… what did you just do, Harry?"
"I… spoke with the dementors."
Blank stares answered him.
"More importantly, is the problem solved?" growled Moody.
"Yes, it won't happen again. The danger has passed."
"Are you sure?"
Harry nodded. The Doctor was so very curious about what he'd done… but he withheld the urge to ask until they were alone, in case it had anything to do with the Hollows.
See there? He could be thoughtful. And patient. When he wanted to.
"It's over, then?"
"It's over." firmly confirmed the youngest wizard.
Harry hugged Sirius with all his strength, uncaring of how dirty he was or how gaunt. It wasn't anything he hadn't felt before. Or later. Time travelling got confusing sometimes.
His godfather held back just as strongly, his bony arms firm and secure. For a moment, it was like he was back to his school days, sneaking out to meet his godfather and Buckbeak.
The clearing of a throat finally made them pull apart, but Sirius didn't release him. Instead, he brought his hands up to cup his cheeks and looked him right in the eyes. His smile was tearful.
"…my mother's eyes?" finished Harry, eyes watering.
Sirius shook his head.
"No. I was going to say you have unique eyes. All of you is unique. And amazing." He said, eyes sincere and earnest.
Harry sniffed, the green-eyed wizard not having expected such a thing. He didn't have to say anything, not that he knew what to say, because his godfather looked over his shoulder at his Doctor and…
"I've got to ask. It's been bothering me all day: Doctor who, exactly?"
"Just Doctor." Laughed the Time Lord, looking incredibly excited at the question.
"Fine. Don't tell me then. Keep your mystery." Huffed Sirius before turning, well, serious. "Take care of him, will you? I'll know if you don't."
The Doctor nodded, a small smile on his lips, and the youth felt a smile take over his own face as he craned his neck back to look at him.
"We'll look after each other."
"Go on, then." Said Sirius. "Don't hold back on my account. I'll be fine; Moody here will take care of me until the aurors arrive. You don't want to be here when the lockdown ends."
They both nodded. It was true enough, but Harry was still hesitant. Not that the Doctor could blame him: he remembered very well how much his little love had suffered from the loss of his godfather.
That pain couldn't be erased, but maybe… maybe it could be dulled.
"What are you waiting for? You heard the man. Get out of here so we can start cleaning this mess up; I'd like to retire this year, you know?"
Harry smiled. It seemed like Moody had been the same for a long time already. He was glad to see it.
"Goodbye, Alastor. Till the next time."
And the Doctor and his wizard disappeared into their blue box, leaving Azkaban in the past.
"Did he do it?" asked the Doctor curiously.
"Retire. Did he really retire?"
"For a few years." hummed his wizard. "Until they convinced him to return when a young promising metamorphmagus graduated and entered the Auror program. He retired again after training her and returned as a professor in my fourth year. Though it wasn't really him, it was actually Barty Crouch Jr. posing as him. Then he retired again, but continued fighting in the war."
"For the Light?"
"For my side."
The Doctor shook his head, a bright smile lighting up his face even as he pulled on the TARDIS' buttons.
"I'll never get tired of this. So what did you do? To the dementors. How did you make them stop?"
"I taught them how to get rid of the chizpurfles by themselves." Shrugged Harry.
"Chizpurfles eat magic constantly, but the sources they eat from don't usually fluctuate past certain levels. They just had to emit a quantity of magic so big that the chizpurfles couldn't devour it."
The Doctor paused in his tinkering and looked at him, eyes wide.
"You taught them to get rid of them by… overfeeding them?" the wizard shrugged. "Brilliant! Now I definitely get how my companions usually feel."
He was rewarded by a sweet laugh.
The TARDIS landed safely, its characteristic sound accompanying it and the floor rocking. Hey, nobody said safe had to be boring.
"Doctor? Do you think something changed?" asked Harry looking intently at the Time Lord.
"I don't know, like… anything. I mean, we must've had an effect on something, right? No matter how small."
"Maybe. Or maybe everything went exactly as it did the first time."
"Moody knew Sirius wasn't actually guilty…"
"Do you want to keep speculating… or do you want to find out?" asked the Doctor with an impish smile and a meaningful look at the TARDIS' door.
"We're back at my time?"
"We should be; I aimed perfectly."
Harry beamed at him.
"Okay, let me go and change and-"
His little one was cut off by a knock on the door and they both exchanged a wide-eyed look. Another impatient round of knocking had them move to open the door.
The Doctor beat him to it and, as he threw the door open, he got a handful ―more like a wingful― of feathers to the head as a brown owl glided past him and into the TARDIS, coming to a stop on the railing in front of the wizard.
Harry laughed and the Doctor pouted.
Eyes softening, the wizard sent him a small apologetic smile before turning to the owl on the railing.
"Hello there, you've got something for me?"
The owl hooted and brought a leg with sharp talons to the front, a small brown nondescript parcel tied to it.
Carefully, the youth untied the parcel, freeing the bird of its weight and scratched under his beak in thanks.
"Do you want some food or water before you leave?" he asked.
The owl hooted imperiously again before opening its wings and taking flight, which Harry took as a no. Obviously, no reply was needed either.
The unfamiliar bird flied once around the TARDIS' control room before flying back through the door ―the Doctor ducking just in time to avoid its wings― and into the darkening sky.
As the Time Lord closed the door and strode up to him, Harry checked the parcel.
"Aren't you going to open it?"
"Yeah, as soon as I finish checking it for spells and such. Too close to an encounter with Alastor to avoid it; I'd get a reaping from the man if something happened when it could have been so easily avoided."
At that, the Doctor took out his beloved-and-dearly-missed-on-their-adventure screwdriver and pointed it at the parcel. Just to be safe.
"A mild stinging hex." Huffed out Harry. "It's nothing bad, just a small annoyance to keep me on my toes. I have a feeling we both know who sent this."
The Doctor, curiosity picked again, stuck his body to his back and looked over his shoulder.
"What's a stinging hex? Is it what the name implies?"
"You want to touch it." laughed the young man, seeing his fingers twitch closer to the parcel. A sheepish laugh was answer enough. "Go on, Doctor."
The man needed no further encouragement to pick one end of the string keeping the paper in place and pulling.
"Ow." Muttered the man, pulling his hand back. "Oh, don't you laugh at me!"
"You were the one that wanted to try it and the name was pretty self-explanatory." Chuckled the young wizard, attention pulled to the short missive in a familiar scratched handwriting. It was as straightforward as the man who'd written it.
Have more care where you jump in.
I've cleared up your mess.
Visit when things are clear. Some
training's clearly overdue.
"You've met him; he's too paranoid to write any of this clearly." Sighed Harry before turning the page to see what was behind and freezing.
It was an envelope, the yellow paper evidently old but still well kept. On the front was Harry's name, written in a familiar neat if shaky handwriting.
The Doctor grabbed his elbow and moved them until they were both sitting in a corner of the main console's platform. He had a feeling they'd need it.
After running a pale trembling finger down the length of his name, Harry carefully opened the sealed envelope to reveal the letter it contained and started to read.
By the time you read this, you'll be back in your time. Back to the bright future in front of you.
Yes, I know you're from the future. Despite what Lily used to say, this old dog's still got some brain left.
As I write this, Moody is wiping all that happened from the minds of Johnson, Avery and Greyback. They'll never know what really happened today, only Moody will.
I will be obliviated too.
Harry stopped reading, a sob ripped from his throat as he closed his eyes tightly. The Doctor, having read over his shoulder, swallowed before putting a hand over his trembling ones.
"You don't have to read this now."
His brave little wizard took a deep breath, visibly forcing himself to try and appear composed.
"Yes, yes I do."
I will be obliviated too.
Don't get angry at Alastor: he tried to dissuade me. But the truth is that we both know this is for the best.
I spoke with the Doctor and I know that I won't get much time with you in the future, but I know whatever I get will be worth this.
I cannot risk the war with Voldemort ending in anything other than your freedom, your victory. I cannot risk you not surviving. So I will stay here, I will forget how amazing, brave and unique you are. But I'll never forget how proud I am of you or how much I love you. The obliviate will hide my memories, but never my emotions.
When your parents died, I went after the rat. I let my own desires cloud my judgement and made the greatest mistake of my life: leaving you. I will not let it happen again, I won't let my desire to be free of this place get in the way of your chance to be happy.
I know you're probably angry at me right now. You have every right to be. You have every right to shout and rave and cry. But in time, I hope you'll be able to forgive me.
Please, just know that whatever I do, I do because I love you.
Love from your godfather,
P.S.: Ask Rubeus Hagrid for my motorbike, if you don't have it already. If playing around with time proves something, it's that you're as much of an adrenaline junkie as I was. You'll love it!
P.P.S.: If that Doctor of yours doesn't take good care of you, Prongs and I will be on him like crups on muggles when he crosses over. That is, if Lily leaves anything of him.
By the end of the letter, the young man was full-on crying and the Doctor brought him closer to his chest. The only thing he could now do was to comfort him.
They'd watched so many people die today… Stain, Thompshill, Randall, Rogers, Cassandra, Cray…
But the worst pain of all was that, to Harry, it felt like he'd just lost Sirius all over again.