Chapter 45: Breakout


A/N: Mild Trigger Warning - The second scene of this chapter features somewhat graphic content involving bodily fluids and misuse of the cells required for childbirth.
The chapter title tells you what happens in that section, so it is kind of skippable. But if you're squeamish, it might be best to skip it.
This is one of those moments that, in my opinion, earns the rating. For creepy and disturbing behaviour more than gore itself.


Sunday, 2nd July 1995.

Hermione felt the oddest sensation as she sat in the nursery.

She and Harry had been there all morning. Perched on a nice comfortable plush rug, just bathing in their magic in silence. The deeper they fell, the further it spread and they could both feel the new connections that they had made the night before branching off in every direction.

As they concentrated on each branch in turn, they could feel the magic of the elf it led to come into sharp focus. The tiny thrum of energy filling their wee bodies was like a heartbeat, giving them an idea of how the elf was feeling. And whether the mistreatment that some had endured was continuing.

So far, not one of the elves had shown any signs of allowing harm to be done to them. But touching the magic one by one was a slow process. Especially given their care to ensure they did not leave a path to be followed back to them as they worked. They had both been doing so since shortly after breakfast and yet Hermione theorised they had only touched less than a fraction of a percent of the number that had attended the ritual.

For they were not only checking on the elves and the fresh links, but using those links for another purpose.

It had been Andromeda who had first suggested it. After seeing how intimately linked Harry and Hermione were to the Potter elves. Even those that were not so completely bound to them as Nemea and Mipsy. Harry had long been able to feel things through their magic. It was one of the ways that he was so immediately comfortable around Remus.

Sure, he remembered meeting the man from when he was a baby. But he had been able to feel Remus's magic playing at the edges of Tybalt's from the moment the elf had located the man. He had just been young and inexperienced enough to have no idea that was what he had been feeling at the time. Busy as he was with Hermione that day. Especially during the nightmare incident and all that followed it.

Even brushing past that memory made her shudder and she felt a little bad as she felt the magic of the elf she was observing shudder along with her. Harry's magic immediately wrapped around her as well, even tighter than it already had been, but she quickly sent him a reassuring reply, so he wouldn't snap out of his own explorations.

With their magic entwined as ever, they had not double-checked a single elf. In moments like this, they felt as one being with two minds. Able to do two things at once as they explored the world through their shared magic.

It brought her comfort to know he was there, even if she knew their dependence on one another was perhaps a little bit unhealthy by most mental health standards. She no longer cared. Hermione Granger had completely tied her magic, soul and life to Harry Potter. Willingly and long before she had even realized the power within her was magic.

She did not regret that unconscious decision for an instant.

As she gently pulled her magic away from the elf she had been watching, she felt Harry's magic do the same. The enhanced sensation of what was around the tiny figure disappeared from her awareness as well, and she was once more only in the Manor, wrapped in Harry and the powerful wards of the property.

Hermione sent the feeling of happiness and warmth that the sensation filled her with to Harry and felt his entire being smile joyously in reply.

She adored her parents. Even more so now after the short separation they had endured upon her first sharing with Nemea. They were still a rock for her to hold onto whenever she needed to steady herself. And yet, this was home.

Surrounded by Harry in the place where his entire family's magic had dwelt for generations. She was a part of Harry now, and the Potter magic embraced her as if she were one of their own too.

The sensations were so bright that they momentarily overwhelmed her and Hermione opened her eyes. Allowing the feeling of the world outside to fall away as her magic retreated back into the room itself.

Harry's eyes opened as well, fixing on her. "You ok?" He asked, his intense connection to her assuring him that she was only distracted and not hurt in any way.

She smiled brightly at him. "Yes. Just a bit overwhelmed by everything."

While she did not speak aloud the exact feeling that had been responsible, Harry still knew what she was referring to.

"Sorry."

"Don't be," Hermione replied, knowing he had a bad habit of apologising for things that were not always his fault. "It may have been unconsciously, but I tied myself to you willingly, Harry. Even knowing everything I do know, even with the threat Riddle poses, I would do it again in a heartbeat. Being occasionally distracted by the sheer breadth and power of you and your family's magic is a small price to pay for what I have gained."

Harry's gaze grew even more intense at her words and she washed her magic over him, a sensation of her feelings for him filling every molecule of the energy. Harry shuddered under the feeling and she soon was awash with a similar wave of energy coming from him in return.

They often became lost in one another now that Magic itself had revealed the truth of their connection to them in Harry's vision. Neither of them regretted the choice, and they had spent just as much time revelling in the feeling of their bond as they had research, sleep and other subjects since the eventful climax of the Tournament.

Time lost all meaning to them as the pair sat there, eyes locked as they created a constant circle of energy and emotion, churning in and out of their bodies. It was only the approach of other magic encroaching on the ever-widening dome of energy that snapped them out of their loving trance at long last.

Hermione finally managed to tear her eyes away as she sensed a figure standing in the doorway and she turned to see Ted standing there, watching them both in silence.

"Hello, Mr Tonks." She said cheekily, knowing the man preferred them to simply call him Ted.

He nodded, not acknowledging the cheek. "How goes it?"

With the Hogwarts year now ended, the three youths had all the time in the world to hang about at home and do as they pleased. But judging by his extremely neat outfit, it seemed that Ted had been called into the office today, despite it being a Sunday.

The man was a whizz at the law, and Hermione had picked his brain on several topics since the Tonkses had joined their growing Family. But she definitely wanted to ensure whatever job she eventually had gave her weekends off.

"Good," Harry replied. "Andi was right. We can feel them all if we try. Though, whether that is a result of the ritual, or just something we could have done anyway… I guess we'll never be entirely certain. Focusing on them allows us to sense the environment around them. I can feel the diary if I touch one of the Hogwarts elves. But only when they're close enough. They need to be within the grounds. Even Hogsmeade is too far."

Harry sighed once more at the fact a man he had once feared so intensely had been nursing one of the anchors his true foe had used to cling to life. Even if it was only through a lack of understanding of how to end the thing.

Hermione pushed her magic over him tightly, trying to squash the darkening of his thoughts.

"So far," she said, continuing Harry's thoughts, "we haven't detected any more. We still can't tell which elf is which. Or who they belong to unless they're standing beside their masters when we touch their magic. But it seems to be working for now."

Ted shook his head softly as Andromeda and Nym joined him.

"You two are incredible. You do know that, right?" He asked.

"Potters don't do normal," Andi said. "I had always thought it a silly saying. But it is surprisingly accurate when it comes to you two."

"You can say that again," Nym added, stepping further into the room and running her fingers along the leaves of the tamer plants near the entrance.

Harry's face caught Hermione's eye. "I could feel the residue from the diary somewhere else though. It seems the Malfoys either had more than one elf, or they have replaced Dobby already. The entire house stinks of Riddle's soul."

"Are you certain it is from the diary?" Andromeda asked, watching Harry curiously. "It's been years since it rested there. Surely it would have diminished by now."

Harry closed his eyes and Hermione knew he was observing the memory again. "The whole house is tainted, but it definitely spreads outwards from a central point in the basement. Whatever left it behind spent a significant amount of time there, leeching its filth outwards."

"Are you suggesting that the diary might have made the Malfoys behave the way they do?" Nym asked, clearly curious if their cousin's behaviour was a result of the taint.

It was Andromeda who answered though. "I am afraid not. Lucius and my sister were besotted from around your age. They met at Hogwarts and bonded over their shared interests. Long before they ever met Riddle." Andi said, sighing.

"You can't change who she is, dear." Ted offered, taking Andi's hand in his own.

"I know. It's just hard. We were quite close as children. And we ruled the school together for many years. But the dark desires they embraced under Riddle were always present in them both. Our parents… Let's say that the Blacks have never had a head of house like Sirius before."

Silence held sway for several moments as Andi reminisced. Hermione felt bad for the woman. She had always wanted more siblings. As she supposed most only children did. Even what she had with Harry and now Nym didn't quite feel as she believed a true sibling bond would. To have had that and lost it, must be hard.

"Could he be hiding there?" Nym asked suddenly, turning attention away from her parents.

"Riddle?" Hermione asked, feeling the thread Harry had followed to the Malfoy elf and testing the local magic for herself. "No. But I have another theory. This does feel a bit too fresh to have come only from the diary."

She looked at Harry, who matched her gaze and she could see him make the conclusion she had.

"You think that it was Lucius." He offered.

"It's hard to be sure. That night is such a mess in my memory. All of it awash with the spectre of the pain." Hermione's soft glare prevented the unwarranted apology she could see burning for a moment in Harry's eyes. "But I think I felt his magic for longer than the others. He and Macnair are the ones I suspect executed the ritual."

"Meaning Riddle was quite possibly in that basement for months until last Saturday." Harry summarised. "That would definitely have left his taint all over the place. But I cannot feel him there now."

"He has been far too quiet since…" Ted noted, leaving the last unsaid.

Harry had been rather sensible about the former orphanage. But the adults still avoided directly mentioning it anyway.

Harry heaved a sigh before he nodded, and Hermione could feel his mind whirring over everything that they knew about Riddle.

"Does make you wonder just what he is up to right now."

ϟ

Lord Voldemort stood stoically on the stony shore, unaffected by the approaching creatures.

The wizards within the structure had clearly ignored the repeated arrivals, exactly as expected. The Imperiused boatman having made the trip unannounced several dozen times in the past few days with exactly that purpose. To engender complacency in the guards.

It was on yet another trip out to the island right now, though this time it was not coming across empty. Inside it were all those Lord Voldemort had managed to wrangle together to support this effort.

A few were like Narcissa. Attendees to his grand return that had fled the graveyard in terror. He had ensured that they once again feared his own wrath more than some talented child protected by ancient magic. They would never again question his power. Or they would be made an example of in front of all. Ally and enemy alike.

Others were like young Draco. New recruits to his cause. Only a couple of whom had proven themselves worthy of Marking as yet. But it had only been a few days. They had time yet to prove their value. Many of the younger ones were eager to act. The true difficulty there would be directing that exuberance into useful tasks.

And the remainder of the dozen were former sympathizers to their cause. Unmarked allies like Greengrass and Flint, who had managed to avoid attention during Voldemort's long absence. Their anonymity would prove useful over the long term, but for now, Lord Voldemort needed wands more than secrecy. Hence the almost haphazard nature of this plan.

A plan that Voldemort had to attend to before the boat landed. Or his few supporters would be gone before he could strike to free the rest. With his many skills, crossing the narrow stretch of the North Sea alone and undetected was of no consequence. And now the dementors had swarmed around him, it was time to deliver his offer.

"Greetings." He started sweetly, decades of practice swaying minds was easier than he had expected to fall back into. "It has been some time since we have worked together."

The cloud of creatures simply held their position, circling menacingly around him. None approaching or identifying themselves as a leader amongst them. From what he understood, there was no such thing amongst the dementors. They were a collective shadow on the world. Anywhere they gathered became diseased and oppressive. Exactly the kind of ally he could use in his works.

"You know my offer. It remains the same as the last time. Freedom to leave. Freedom to eat your fill wherever you choose. Just leave me and mine free to work and you shall have the freedom denied to you for so long. All you need do tonight is stand aside."

No words of consent or dissent came from the emptiness arrayed around his pale figure. For dementors did not speak. Alone he stood. For several long minutes. Before the darkness in front split apart. The towering stone structure once more visible past the masses of dementors.

Acquiescence.

Voldemort smiled to himself as he drew his wand, slowly starting up the poor excuse for a beach. Even by British Island standards, this one was awful and oppressive. All stone and rock, no sand or sun. The centuries-long residence of the dementors maintained a powerful storm system centred above the tower. So thick that it kept the sun from ever shining on this place. Sunlight was yet another comfort that was denied to the occupants within.

Despite the immunity his many rituals had given the man to their known effects, Voldemort still felt the sheer weight of their presence lift as the dementors retreated away, some rising up to watch his work. Others were already taking his offer and heading for the mainland and their promised buffet.

The boat arrived noisily at the enchanted dock, and the handful of followers he still had available to him disembarked.

But Lord Voldemort only had eyes for the doors. Within was the true prize. His most loyal. His army.

A quick stab of his grandfather's wand had the door cave inwards. No amount of pitiful strengthening runes could prevent his might from ripping them from their hinges. And so came the first of many screams of pain that this night would provide. The door guard that had been resting on a chair inside flattened under the doors as they shot inwards.

His followers finally reached his side as Lord Voldemort swept inside the stone corridor. A flash of green behind him confirmed the end of the already heavily injured guard. He had been more than content to leave the sap to die from his wounds, but it pleased him that his followers were eager to dispense death.

The small group moved forward, not encountering any resistance until they reached the small offices near the entrance. Inside were a mere handful of Aurors and the Warden. It seemed that the Ministry had long since given over the guardianship of the prison to the dementors. This token force was only there to bring prisoners in and out. And to alert the Ministry if something went wrong.

Voldemort ran his eyes across their quivering forms, and for a moment, debated whether to make some grand statement to them. Instead, all that came forth was a pleased smirk as he raised his wand and executed the Warden in front of the petrified Aurors.

As the shocked man fell, Voldemort could see the communication stone behind the man crack as the edge of his Killing Curse splashed over it as well. There would be no calling for aid now. The Aurors were left at their mercy, and tonight, Lord Voldemort was not feeling all that merciful.

"Kill them all." He said as he turned and left the doorway, the sounds of a short and decisive battle taking place behind him as his followers finished the rest. The Aurors seemed to give a valiant attempt, but they were outnumbered three-to-one.

And yet, it didn't surprise him when only eleven figures followed him towards the cells afterwards. The loss was of little consequence now though. They were inside and Lord Voldemort had a greater purpose tonight than a simple murder. He would recoup that loss a hundredfold.

The group moved slowly into the prison, stopping at each and every cell as they passed.

Voldemort peered in and beckoned the occupants forward. Reluctance was met with death. Compliance, a sharp and powerful stab of legilimency which allowed him to determine if they were worthy of his army. Or perhaps more, his Mark. Those who passed the test were released.

Those who failed felt his wrath, collapsing dead in their cells. He had no use for them.

Lord Voldemort paused as he arrived at a cell covered in new magic. A rarity in the ancient structure of Azkaban. This was not Ekrizdis's work. He raised his wand and struck downwards harshly, ripping both the door and enchantments free from the cell. It cracked open violently at the discharge, and yet, within there was nothing.

A curiosity. But not one worth a delay. So far, he had only freed petty criminals and vandals eager for a chance to strike at the Ministry that had caught them. There were many more yet to test this night.

Working steadily, the group rose upwards through the tower. And it did not take the growing force long before they reached Voldemort's true goal tonight. The highest security cells. Home to those who chose to face hardship in his name. Those who never once wavered in their commitment.

"Master?" Came the ragged yet familiar voice of one such person.

"Yes, Bellatrix. It is I. Here to reward your unwavering loyalty." He said, stepping over to the door as the others in the cells nearby craned and stretched, trying to see him through the physical constraints of their own confinement. "Have you missed me?" He asked, the hissing of his voice carrying through the stone hallway.

"Yes, my Lord. It has been so boring. I've only killed two since they locked me in here for seeking you out."

Voldemort smiled. Of course imprisonment was not enough to stay her vicious desires. Desires that would once more serve his hand. Once he armed her of course.

As he had with all the others, Voldemort locked his eyes on the mad woman's and he felt his probe welcomed within. Bellatrix shuddered as he peered into her mind, as if being violated by him brought her true pleasure. She was an open book to him, more thanks to her proclivities than any skill requirement on his part. Bella was utterly true to him. An extension of his whim.

Exactly what he needed right now.

The Dark Lord maneuvered his wand in a complex pattern and the door to Bella's cell simply turned to dust, falling to the floor. The mad woman's glee grew even more pronounced at her new freedom. A wash of thick, potent miasma flowed from the now wide-open cell and several behind Voldemort baulked at the smell. One even vomiting against the wall.

Lord Voldemort simply beheld the decoration that the cell's occupant had spent her time putting up with an amused smirk. The writing spread across every surface declaring that the Dark Lord would return shined down from every angle.

He knew enough to ascertain that two measly guards slaughtered had not been enough for all of the words spread over the walls. He understood enough of biology to know where the woman had garnered the blood she had used as ink instead. Painting her cell with every failed descendant that passed during her long imprisonment. A further testament to her love for him.

It amused him to see Black blood used in his name. Quite literally in this case. But Voldemort did not stare long. Instead, he turned to the pair directly behind him.

He held his left hand forward and locked his eyes on the quivering woman there. Narcissa did not need to be told what he wanted. She simply lifted her wand and placed it in his outstretched hand. It would be put to far better use in her sister's grip. The Black that never strayed.

"A gift." He said, turning back to Bellatrix, who was side-eyeing her cowering sister with a scowl now. The interaction had been enough for the loyal Black woman to note the lack of trust he had in her sister. Something that Narcissa would surely be explaining to her later tonight.

"Thank you, my Lord," Bella whispered, before she darted from her cell and paused in front of another they had yet to open.

She jabbed the wand through the bars and screeched. "Avada Kedavra."

The green flash sprayed over the occupant and they fell dead in place. Eyes wide and full of terror. Lord Voldemort simply raised an eyebrow at the action.

"Traitor." Bella whimpered, lowering her wand again and moving to his side. "Lee was often taken away. And every time he returned, more of our number were locked in here as well."

No one had ever truly been his equal in this life. Nor did he care about any of his followers beyond what they could do for him and his cause. But it simply felt right to have Bellatrix back at his right hand. Poised ready to strike at whomever he ordered. Even before he ordered it. He would have learned of Lee's duplicity the moment he peered into the man's mind. Though that was now unnecessary.

Bella would certainly help to keep the new recruits in line.

The group continued their march through the halls, freeing the rest of the captured Death Eaters. They had grown so large now that Voldemort could not see the rear of their group. It extended deep into the halls behind.

Mrs Lee soon joined her husband in death for their part in snitching on others for a reduced sentence. Lord Voldemort saw to it that hers had become a life sentence instead as the traitor died in Azkaban like her husband. He was disappointed that several present had sought to lessen their imprisonment in such a manner. If they were not immediately killed, he and they both knew there would be an accounting later.

As he reached the last of the cells at the far side of the high-security wing, Voldemort paused. One he had almost hoped to see had not been present at all.

He considered the dangers of asking the question, but in the end, curiosity won out.

"Bellatrix." He said softly, summoning the woman forward. He did not need to tell the rest to stay back. The command was implicit.

"Yes, my Lord?" The crazed woman asked.

Were he a lesser man, Voldemort might have baulked at the intense smell covering the woman, but he held his composure.

"My reckoning accounted for another prisoner. Where is Gaunt?"

Bella seemed surprised at the question, but hesitated only a moment in her reply. "Dead, my Lord. Passed about seven years back now. I remember watching as the dementors dragged his limp body out of the prison. I presume they buried him on the beach."

Lord Voldemort was surprised. He had hoped to finish the task he began so long ago and kill his last living family member. But the natural course of things had done it instead. It bothered him that he would not have that final joy. But it reminded him of something else he needed to ask Bellatrix.

"The item I entrusted to you?" He hissed, almost silently.

"Safe in my vault, my Lord." She replied just as quietly, the worshipful nature back in her voice now. Bella had been humbled that her master would entrust her with protecting the Horcrux. Not that she knew what it was. Only that her Lord asked it of her. "If it is not, I shall rip that building down brick by brick and rebuild it with the bodies of the goblins themselves."

Voldemort smiled. It was indeed good to have her back amongst his forces.

"Excellent. Check on it when you can." He knew it would be a while before the woman could enter the bank unchallenged. But for now, he was content. His fool of an uncle may have succumbed to the ravages of nature, but he was as immortal as ever. At least two of his anchors were safe and intact. Even if Nagini was truly gone, his status was still secure.

No-one had ever successfully taken something from under the goblins' vicious gaze. Were they more manageable, he would even consider recruiting them to his cause. But they cared nothing for the squabbles of humans. Only ever marching to war over the stupidest of insults.

Lord Voldemort raised his wand and sent a powerful curse into the last empty cell, blasting the entire rear wall outwards, and sending it down into the churning sea below. Outside, the remnants of the dementors flew back and forth through the heaving air. But they did not move to attack the prisoners. For they were prisoners no more. They were his servants once again.

He turned back and looked over those assembled. His most loyal followers watched him with deference and awe. Those of his former supporters who had found themselves arrested in his absence watched him with curiosity. The petty crooks and deranged murderers he had freed with them were a far cry from some of those he had lost the week before. It would take time and effort to train them to be an effective force. However, their numbers would count where experience lacked, for now. His army was rebuilt in a single move.

And now it was time to depart.

He flicked his wand once again, casting a spell that would ensure the public's fear once more. Then he connected the entire group with a rope of his magic. Securing them all to his next move.

So powerful was he that the force of so many leaving with him shattered the remaining corpse of the building. He had already cut out its heart by killing or freeing all of its occupants. Now he destroyed its body. The roof and upper floors exploded outwards as stone and bodies flew for miles.

The spell he had cast was freed in the process and now the Dark Mark soared above the jagged remains of the former prison.

Never again would this dark tower hold his forces. Azkaban had been broken, figuratively and literally. Let this serve as a reminder to those who stood in his way.

Lord Voldemort was back.

ϟ

Monday, 3rd July 1995.

Albus Dumbledore stood quietly at the edge of the oppressive beach.

It seemed that young Harry indeed knew their adversary well. Azkaban was ruined. He could feel the remainder of the cracked and frayed wards swaying around the shattered finger of stone in the centre of the island. Tom had made sure this move was a show of strength. He doubted this could ever be truly repaired.

Of the three dozen Aurors that had arrived at noon, six already lay nearby. They had been caught unawares by the dementors, who it was now clear had declared their allegiance to Tom as well. Six more souls lost to that man's selfish desires.

Six on top of however many might still be trapped within the dead tower ahead. It was taking longer than expected to sift through the debris, searching for the prisoners and guards presumed to remain inside. All of it lit from above by the looming spectre of the Dark Mark. A signature left over the ruins.

Albus had offered his assistance in clearing the debris, but Bones had been steadfast. The Ministry needed to account for every rock and stone. Every body and bone. He was allowed to remain and observe. Even aid whenever another dementor was freed, shooing the shade away from the workers with his phoenix patronus. Every pale form that was dug free was another dagger of grief to his aged heart.

They had been warned. Harry had told them that this was coming. And yet, they had failed to prevent it. And Tom now had a renewed army of who knew how many. Some of the most deranged individuals known to magical-kind were likely now free amongst the public once more. Free to kill and torture. To spread fear and anarchy.

A whirl of a portkey sounded nearby and Albus turned to see Cornelius staring wide-eyed at the destruction.

"That's impossible." He whimpered, almost squeaking in fear when he saw the shimmering skull and snake in the air high above.

"If only that were true, Cornelius."

"Albus. How…?" The man asked, whirling at his voice before narrowing his gaze.

"You need ask?" Albus replied, indicating the Mark. "Young mister Potter was accurate in his assessment, Cornelius."

Albus let the statement, and the view, speak for themselves. He doubted even he could have hoped to leave such devastation in his wake. Even with all his decades of experience, and the wand at his side. The wand he was now certain served another. Tom had clearly learned much in his journeys.

"Surely you don't suggest one man did all of this, Albus," Cornelius said, clearly still hoping against hope that he could refute Voldemort's return by sheer power of will, even as the man's mark stared down from above. A will that definitely didn't match that of the man that had done this.

"I hope so, Cornelius. As the alternative is an army the likes of which we've never seen. Surely one man is preferable to that. Although, he now has that army at his beck and call once more."

Fudge shuddered sharply at the idea. Both ideas were horrifying. But one held the promise of a great deal of pain and suffering still to come.

Albus felt the guilt of the deaths. Had narrowing his focus to only the school left the Ministry to falter and fail without his guidance? It seems that the adage was true, there was never enough time. If he turned his gaze to one thing, the others withered while his back was turned. Had he done the right thing, turning away from the Ministry?

Surely the students needed his guidance the most. And in a world with Voldemort once again walking free, the world itself needed a safe place against such a menace. His presence in the castle gave them that. A fortress against the oncoming storm. One he had hardened once more against outside forces. Renewing the wards and strengthening the enchantments over the past several years.

"Minister," Amelia said, pulling Albus from his musings. The fierce woman approached, three Aurors at her back, wands out, keeping watch for more dementors. "We have cleared our way to the offices. Alfonz, Grady, Barnes, Tulles, and Braxton are all dead. Killing Curse by the looks of things. We're still sureing up the passageways into the cells, but we've already discovered a dozen inmates dead in their cells. The Unspeakables are on their way. They should help with the structure, and help identify the bits."

She waved in the direction of a pile of human body parts that had been strewn all around the prison. There were still a handful of aurors over at the edge of the beach around the island attempting to summon further parts out of the North Sea. Tom's explosive statement had left quite the mess.

"However," she continued, looking as if she was taking this disaster personally, "we can already confirm more than two dozen empty cells. All their doors were unlocked or destroyed entirely in advance of the main explosion. We have fugitives."

"Who?" Cornelius asked.

"If I had to wager a guess right now…" Amelia said, glancing at Albus who felt every bit as nervous as she seemed, "everyone. Anyone who agreed to follow along. So long as they didn't give the invaders cause to kill them where they stood, they let everyone they could out."

"What about High-Security?" Albus asked.

Amelia glanced at him again. "We haven't been able to get up there yet. There are dementors in the clouds. And that seems to be where the explosion was centred. It'll be a while before we can confirm numbers from that section. But I don't think we'll find many left."

"Not you too." Cornelius moaned.

"Don't be an idiot, Fudge." Amelia snapped back, pointing at the Dark Mark that still lit the scene. Albus had never seen the woman truly angry before, but now all of her rage was focused on the Minister. "You were warned. We could have prevented this. Now hundreds of the worst criminals in modern history are walking free. All because you refused to see the truth."

"There was no proof," Cornelius whined pitifully.

"That Graveyard was full of Death Eaters. Who else could summon them forth? Potter warned you." Amelia seemed like she wanted to continue berating the man, but she didn't have the time. "I'll have our budget increases on your desk tomorrow morning. We're going to need a significant increase in funding to round this lot up."

Amelia gave the peaky man one more long angry look before she shook her head and stormed back up the beach, heading back to the broken prison building.

Cornelius looked lost in the face of the bollicking he had just received, and the evidence laid out before him. Albus hoped that this would convince the man that the time to act was now.

"What do we do?" Cornelius asked quietly.

Albus wished he had a simple answer to give.