Merissa Frengis followed her host through the wrought iron gate. She had heard many stories about the fabled castle, home to so many budding young wizards and witches. Yet in all her years she had never imagined she would teach here. Not until her omens told her so a few days ago. She would get the teacher's position. More worrying were the signs her omens gave her: signs of death and great turmoil. The half-giant who had come to get her was already rattling off about a dozen things, his thick accent making it difficult for her to follow.
The early morning sun shone over the hills in the distance, illuminating the few students who had risen early. A shiver passed through her as they neared the castle, feeling the clawing attention of the frustrated anger of the dead. By experience, she knew not to resist it. Memories of loss and regret filled her awareness. Final moments, lives cut short by bursts of magic or the violence of dark creatures. Souls ripped to shreds by the spectres of Azkaban.
"All right there? Yer look a bit peaky," said Hagrid.
"I'm fine, yes," she replied with a smile, "we can move on."
He smiled back at her and continued on, inside the castle. The cries of the dead abated, traded for the much less intrusive presence of a spirit floating in their direction. His clothes looked antiquated, a large ruffled collar hanging around his neck.
"'Ello, Nicholas," Hagrid said.
"Good morning, Hagrid. Another guest?"
"Aye!" Hagrid replied to the ghost. "'Ere to apply fer the open position."
Nicholas nodded, his spectral gaze impassive. "To fill in for Professor Trelawney, yes. Much luck with that. She still lingers, I'm afraid."
"Ye worry too much Nic'las," Hagrid said with a wave of his hand. "I'm sure she passed on jes' fine."
Nicholas shrugged and tipped an invisible hat. "Good day to you, young lady."
"Good day, sir," Merissa answered.
Once out of hearing, Hagrid turned to her, his deep-set eyes glinting with geniality. "Dun worry about him, miss," he whispered. "Always gets worked up 'round this time o' year. Gets his application in for the Headless — ne'er mind… Heh! Ye'll find out soon enough once yer get ter working here if it all works out. Hope ye'll get it, ye seem like a fine lass."
"Thank you," she answered.
They continued onto a large tower on the west side of the castle, which she understood to be where the Headmistress resided. Even within the confines of a cramped wing, halls twisted and turned in a way that seemed unnatural. A fortress, one that had once been breached. Every stone was thick with regret and anger, but she could feel an ounce of satisfaction pushing it back. They had been avenged, the story went, by a seventeen year old boy.
Carlize had recruited her to find out more about him, and she would eventually, but that's not why she accepted. The Fates had sent her here just as sure as they had bestowed upon her that poisoned gift. Going against the Fates never went well, a costly lesson. She could feel something as she went higher up the tower, something that called out stronger than the rest. She didn't have to guess who it was. If the previous Professor of Divination had any hint of the Sight, she would still be present, trying to warn anyone she could. They stopped at a gargoyle and it moved aside to let them pass to the Headmistress' office.
The woman sitting at the desk looked sharp as a razor and strict. Her dark eyebrows were set in a disapproving V-shape looking her way. She stood up and came forward with her hands behind her back.
"You can leave us, Hagrid, thank you."
Merissa took a deep breath. She could see the Headmistress would be on her guard.
"Ms. Frengis, is it? Minerva McGonagall, pleased to meet you."
She shook McGonagall's hand and followed to a small table where tea was set. "So you wish to apply for our Professorship in Divination?"
"Yes," Merissa answered, putting down her leather bag beside her.
"You were recommended to me by Mrs. Becker, but I wanted to meet with you in person. I'm not about to hire someone without knowing all about them," she added, looking back to the portraits behind her. "What made you want to teach here at Hogwarts?"
Merissa stared at the steaming cup of tea before her, still ill at ease. "It wasn't my choice. The Fates decided I had to come here."
McGonagall's lips turned downwards as she sipped from her tea. "Any theatrics won't win you any points with me, Miss Frengis. Our previous Professor of Divination was similarly extravagant, but she was a true prophet."
"I know, Headmistress," she answered. The steam danced before her in a coiling pattern. In the vapours she could see the frustration seeped within the castle even more clearly. She shuddered. "Sorry," she said, "I suppose I should read your future, if you want to."
"By all means," the Headmistress replied.
She opened her bag and took out two candles and lit them on the table with her wand. She then retrieved the lamb's scapula, three hand-sized flat bones. After a moment of apprehension, she let them fall before her, one of them clanging against the cup. Shadows played on the ivory, sketching a picture clear as day. Seeing the patterns before her she let out a rueful laugh. She looked the headmistress in the eyes, bracing to once again deliver bad news.
"Well?" the Headmistress asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Today," she said, swallowing, "you'll stand on the remains of a hundred dead."
McGonagall wasn't polite enough not to roll her eyes. "A hundred dead?"
"You, and two friends, and you'll save one of your worst enemies."
McGonagall sighed. "Granted I didn't expect much, but this is quite a poor showing. A hundred dead? At least Sybill knew to reign in her vagaries."
"It's all right," Merissa smiled. "No one ever believes me at first."
"Well, I suppose I must have tea anyway. Please finish your cup."
Merissa drank slowly, dreading the awful feeling she got in the tower. She just wanted to run and never come back here, but she knew that was an impossibility. She put her things away and closed her bag. McGonagall was polite enough, but of course didn't think much of her interview. She moved towards the door. Just when she thought she would get away safely, a horrid ghostly apparition flew towards her from the entrance.
It was white with a dark spectral mist surrounding it, and it was floating towards her. She shrieked and fell backwards. The apparition, with white hair trailing behind her closed in, the black apertures of its eyes coming to face her. It gripped her wrist and a deathly cold burned her skin. It let out a breath of death and stilled, time coming to a standstill.
"This castle will turn into the Devil's Maw… and you will be caught in it… Merissa."
She closed her eyes, waiting for it to be gone. Her trembling abated somewhat when she heard the Headmistress' voice call out to her. When she opened her eyes, the vision was gone.
"Are you all right? You fell."
Merissa dried her tears, angry and scared out of her mind. She had about enough of the pleas of the dead or the cackling of the Fates at her plight. Slowly, she stood up and regained some composure. "I'm staying at the Hog's Head," she said, too upset to explain herself properly. "Just come get me when you've decided to hire me," she blurted out.
Without looking behind her for the Headmistress' reaction, she left the castle as fast as she could. She didn't go back for her bag which lay forgotten in the tower.
Jerome Piers had the same Saturday morning ritual for nearly 30 years now. He would make tea, feed his cat and enjoy a few pages from a book, although he often revisited old ones. After that, he would floo into the Ministry's Department of Law Enforcement and get handed his portkey to the choppy shores of Azkaban. There, rain or shine, war or peace, he would clean and take inventory of the guard's quarters. It would take him a few hours, after which he had a free afternoon to do some shopping or socialising at his favourite pub: the Singing Spider. He didn't mind working on a Saturday, as he was unmarried and had no children.
However, on this very morning, his habitual Saturday was cut short in the most unexpected way. At first, when he arrived on the prison island, he thought the idiots at the portkey office must have made a mistake, because there was no prison there and the rock below his feet was heating up the soles of his shoes. He would have a word with the people of the portkey office when he got back. He could have gotten hurt getting randomly sent to a volcanic island!
The portkey still in hand, he hesitated using it again, seeing as it might malfunction instead of bringing him back. That deliberation stopped when he looked down and saw the pier of Azkaban's small cove beneath a familiar rocky outcropping. It was covered in ash and soot, but it was unmistakable. Rapidly panicking, he swirled around in the dawn light to take stock of his surroundings. It was Azkaban, every ridge, every loose rock and the path leading up to where the prison used to be. Except the prison was gone, and in its place was a crater that emanated an eerie glow.
Out of curiosity or stupidity, his feet carried him closer to the glowing light. His feet got hotter with every step, and he felt them swell in the confines of his shoes. He spotted the lip of it, descending many feet below. It looked endless, growing deeper as he approached. He carefully picked his way towards the edge and looked down. He looked into it for only a few seconds, seeing the source of light for what it was: a pile of molten rock at the bottom of it. Startled by the dizzying height, he fell backwards and cursed as his wrinkled flesh touched the sizzling ground.
On his elbows and knees, he righted himself and hobbled away from the burning hole to where the heat was manageable. He rubbed the red patch of skin on his palm and felt a chill run up his spine despite the heat. Deciding he didn't want to spend another second in what remained of his workplace, he hastily activated the portkey. After that, he spent some time roaming the Ministry in a daze, unsure what to do.
A woman in a hurry to get to the Department of Law Enforcement's offices bumped into him, waking him from his stupor. With shaking limbs he hurried to the main floor and towards the Minister's office as fast as his arthritic legs could carry him. He knew the Minister was an early riser and although he had never been there, he recognised his assistant sitting at a desk in the adjoining office.
"Miss," he said with a trembling voice, "I need to see the Minister straight away."
She eyed him appraisingly. "Do you have an appointment?"
"Yes — I mean, no! It's urgent!" He took some time to breathe, but his shaking made that difficult. "Excuse me… Young lady, I really need to speak to Minister Shacklebolt. I've worked for the Ministry for more than six decades. I'm a caretaker for Azkaban Prison. Please."
He was relieved that she seemed to take heed of his words. She stood up and went to the heavy oak door leading to the Minister's office, knocked once, and went inside. Jerome took a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his face, which he now realised was covered in sweat. For a second, he almost lost his nerve, wanting to ask for a portkey back just to make certain he wasn't going insane. But before he could get cold feet, the door opened again and the assistant held it open. "You can go in, sir."
"Thank you," he said, scrambling inside.
The Minister was standing next to his desk, speaking with a tall, sallow-faced man. Jerome stepped forward and bowed his head. "I'm Jerome Piers, Minister. I'm a caretaker at Azkaban. I go in the mornings on Wednesdays and Saturdays."
The Minister, with an air of patience, stepped forward and extended a hand. "A pleasure meeting you. Amanda said you had something urgent to tell me. You've been working at the Ministry for sixty years?"
"Sixty-seven, sir. I —" He was suddenly struck by the enormity of the news he brought. Shacklebolt's gentle smile only made it harder to get him to say the words. He swallowed a gulp from his dry throat. "Sir… Azkaban, it's — it's gone, sir. The prison, I mean, and the island, it's like fire spewed from the earth and destroyed everything."
Shacklebolt frowned. "As far as practical jokes go, this is a bit much. Is this the kind of humour I'm supposed to expect from the new Azkaban Guard?"
He put up his hands, worried that the Minister might think he was being insincere. "No, sir. I'd never — It's… true. Azkaban's gone, sir. There's not a stone left."
The Minister took a step back and briefly looked towards the other man. "Mr. Piers, I will now read your mind," he said, waiting for a sign of approval.
Jerome nodded and closed his eyes. He heard the swish of a wand and it took but an instant. He saw the fresh memory flash before him and heard the rustling of robes. His eyes now open, he saw the grim expression the two men shared.
"Mr. Piers," Kingsley said, "I'm going to have to ask you to stay here in my office until I get back. If you get hungry or thirsty, call for Whimsy, she's the elf who makes my food."
"Yes, sir," Jerome nodded. But the Minister was already going for the door.
William watched the Minister enchant his necklace into a portkey as they raced towards the administrative offices. It was reported and confirmed, but Will still refused to believe it, that Azkaban was no more. Including guards there were two hundred people on that island. There was no way it was just gone. They stopped at Clara's office, who Kingsley quickly beckoned and they continued into one of the meeting rooms.
"Clara, I've just gotten a report that Azkaban was destroyed. We're now going to confirm it."
The look of shock was clear on her face, but she knew better by now than to ask questions. Kingsley extended the necklace and they took hold of it. With a turbulent flash, they were transported to the island. Will blinked a few times and spun around slowly. He came to face the glowing from the centre of the island, an empty space where the prison once stood. Kingsley looked shaken, his eyes wide with disbelief. He was shuffling closer to the source of the glow and Will followed.
"Minister, the ground is scalding," he said, carefully advancing.
The Minister didn't respond, but Will motioned for Clara to stay back, her thin shoes not being fit for it. She held up a hand and pulled a broom out of her bag, mounting it and hovering beside them. "Minister," she said, "take yours." She held out a broom and went to take a third one for Will. Shacklebolt nodded and they continued hovering forward. There truly was nothing left of the prison. Surely some of the rocks around them were once part of the prison, but their warped forms didn't give any hint that a fortress had once stood there.
"What in the world happened here?" Clara asked, looking down into the burning depths.
"An eruption?" asked Will. "Was there a volcano right under Azkaban without us knowing?"
"This place reeks of dark magic," Kingsley said. "Someone did this."
So that was that smell. Something electric and metallic tingling at his nose. "Where are the prisoners? For that matter, where are the guards?"
Kingsley didn't answer. He took off on a flyby of the island, inspecting every angle of it. The docks were the only thing still standing of the prison, but the ground near the back entrance was just as hot as near the lip of the crater.
"Whatever happened, it came from inside," Clara said. "It looks like it burned outwards towards the dock entrance and the prison."
Kingsley darted forward as they neared the coast. "Someone. A body," he said, approaching the shallows.
Will saw what he was looking at, more a charred piece of meat than a person. Only the pink around the corpse's eyes betrayed that it could ever have been a living human being. His leg (he assumed male, by the bulk), was burnt off and bone stuck out like a piece of charcoal. It bobbed with the waves, stuck on a rock jutting out from the ocean floor.
"Guard or prisoner?" Will asked, moving closer.
"I know who that is," Kingsley answered, his breath shaking. "That's Fenrir Greyback."
"Did the same thing happen to the rest of them?" Clara asked.
Before anyone could answer, a squeaking plea escaped the mouth of the charred, apparently still living body. How anyone could still be alive in that state, Will didn't know. The pain must be unimaginable, if there was still a remnant of anything conscious within.
"Clara!" Kingsley called.
He handed her a muggle fountain pen. "Take this portkey and bring back Minerva McGonagall and Poppy Pomfrey. Tell them we have someone who needs medical attention. Tell them about the burns. Don't… tell them who it is or what happened. Just bring them here."
She nodded, and prepared to portkey away, but Kingsley took her arm. "No one must know of this, understand? No one aside from McGonagall and Pomfrey."
She left and Will was alone with the Minister, who took out his wand to apply whatever healing charms he knew, which wasn't much. Transfixed by the scene, he started to wonder why Clara had been sent to Hogwarts of all places. Pomfrey was competent, but they would have better luck bringing him to St. Mungo's.
"Sir," he said, "what's going on? Why aren't we calling in the people at the Ministry to help out?"
Kingsley looked up from Greyback with a worry Will had never seen before. "Tell me, how does one get to Azkaban?"
"A…" He hesitated to say it, not liking where the implication went. "You need a Ministry portkey. Right?"
"Either that or you need to know its location, and approach over sea. Let me ask you: if we put a list together of the people who knew about Azkaban's true location, what might we come up with?"
Will wasn't certain, so he didn't answer. Shacklebolt continued.
"I would imagine a lot of those names are employees within the Ministry. People who got imprisoned during Voldemort's rule, or guards, or people within the DMLE. I don't want to come to any early conclusions, but I don't know who to trust any more. Robards hears only half the words I say, too occupied with keeping the Aurors in line, and Director Fuller has been dealing with the legislative changes from the Wizengamot." He paused and looked over to the west. "But I trust Minerva. We have been friends for a long time. As pitiful as it is, Greback is the only witness of what happened here. If it were to become known he survived… I don't see any way I could guarantee his safety."
"Sir, that sounds…"
"Paranoid?" Kingsley said with a wry smile. "Perhaps, but I've lived through two wars, Will. I feel more like a puppet these days in my position. I can't read the political currents any more, or even people close to me. Well, except for you and Clara. All I know is the destruction of Azkaban isn't an isolated event."
"What do you think will happen?"
"That's the problem," Kingsley said sadly. "I have no idea why this happened."
Minerva couldn't help but remember her turbulent morning when she was informed of the unexpected visitor at the gates. She was even more surprised to learn it was Clara Harding, Kingsley's assistant. She was being very vague and impatient. Nevertheless, they gathered Madam Pomfrey and Clara explained they needed her help with a burn victim. Of course, Poppy had to point out that St. Mungo's was much better equipped to deal with such things. However, this was Kingsley, her friend, and sometimes there was the need of helping out 'no questions asked'.
Out the gates, Clara held out a fountain pen for them to hold on to. "I'm sorry for laying this on you so suddenly."
They appeared in a desolate place. For a moment, she wondered if they were even in Britain. She saw Kingsley near a shore, standing with Will.
"Please come," Clara said.
Poppy passed Clara in a hurry towards the body laying on the shore. Whoever it was that had survived burning so badly must have been in excruciating pain, even with the charms Kingsley was applying.
"Good heavens!" Poppy said, kneeling beside the person. "You need to bring this man to St. Mungo's, Minister. I am not equipped to deal with this."
"Can you save him?" Kingsley asked.
Minerva, having had enough of the subterfuge walked up. "Kingsley, where in the world are we?"
"This is Azkaban," he said. "At least, what's left of it."
"But… the prison."
"Yes, it's gone. Madam Pomfrey, can you save him?"
She was bent down and had taken out her wand, looking him over. "He's alive… barely. I don't know how he's alive, but he is. I can't guarantee anything."
"Kingsley!" Minerva said, pulling him upright. "Will you please tell me why I am looking over a burn victim in the morning?"
"I don't know the details of it, but Azkaban was destroyed last night. That person, that's Fenrir Greyback, and he's the only witness of it."
She looked back, now taking in the burnt features. "Greyback… Wait, what about everyone else? Where are the rest of them?"
"I can't say for certain, but there is a smouldering pit where the fortress used to be. I don't think there will be more potential witnesses."
She raised her hand to her mouth. Her feet shuffled beneath her, moving the layer of ashen dust covering everything. The remains of a hundred dead? Was that what she was standing on? "How?" she said as much to herself as Kingsley.
"That's why I called you. I need you to keep him safe," he said nodding back to Greyback and Pomfrey.
"The Auror Department should do that! You want me to keep this… this individual at my school? If he even lives?"
"Minerva, look at who died here. Their enemies all live inside the Ministry, and I have this sick hunch that Greyback would not be safe under the protection of the Ministry. I need you to trust me."
She'd almost forgotten about Sybil's ominous prophecy. The promise of something dark upon the land. She could think of nothing darker than not trusting the Ministry under Kingsley's office. "How can you say that? How do you not trust the Ministry that you rebuilt?"
"That's my failing, yes. Barnton was allowed to exist under my oversight, and now I don't know what else I don't see. You're the only one I can turn to for this."
Frengis' reading had promised that she would help in this. As much as she hated the idea of going along with divinations, she could see no way out. Kingsley was asking for her help, and it was reasonably necessary. Besides, she was now more perplexed than ever. If this was what it took to shed light on Sybill's last prophecy, she would help. She looked back over to Greyback who Poppy had covered in some places with a healing salve. It's not like he would be able to hurt anyone again. Still, she hated the idea.
"I'll do what you ask, King, but I'll ask something in return."
Kingsley nodded. "Of course."
Pomfrey did the best she could, which was a small miracle in itself. Greyback clung to life, now truly unconscious, while Minerva conjured up a stretcher. Kingsley took something silver out of his pocket she recognised to be an invisibility cloak. They draped it over Greyback and she prepared to return to Hogwarts, thinking what desolate room she might use to house the mangled werewolf in. That was another thing, she would have to delicately ask Slughorn to prepare the Wolfsbane potion.
She turned to Kingsley and gave him a compassionate look. She wouldn't want to be in his place right now, his legacy no doubt tainted by this tragedy. "Come and meet me in the evening in the coming days, when you've dealt with this. Good luck."
"Thank you," he said, turning to Pomfrey too. "I'm sorry to ask you to do something so unpleasant."
It was nearing noon when they left with Greyback. Will was sharing a nervous glance with Clara, as even with the cloak and dagger that they had just engaged in, there would be hell from the public to deal with. "We should expect the press to push us from all sides," he said.
Kingsley rubbed his face and scoffed. "I don't care. I'm done playing the friendly face of government. All that matters is we find out what happened, that's my last task as Minister for Magic."
"Shall we call in the DMLE?" Clara asked.
"Yes," Kingsley said. "We'll see what they make of it, if there is anything else to see."
Lawrence Bigby came in first with six other Aurors. They were frightfully efficient and merely minutes after getting on the island, they had found the bodies of a dozen guards several miles out in the ocean. Some had laceration marks, some had been gored in a magical fashion. Many were unaccounted for, but in the afternoon, someone was sent into the pit and had found remnants of charred bones in nooks of the then cooling crater.
Robards was there too, and the worry in his eyes spoke of fear that he might be publicly blamed for this. Director Fuller had not made the trip, but he probably was thinking something similar.
Kingsley returned to the Ministry later and let the bewildered Mr. Piers out of his office to prepare a statement for the press. It was short and factual. Azkaban was gone. Whoever hadn't heard about it from word to mouth or on the wireless, would find the story in the papers Sunday morning.
He got home late, which wasn't unusual. He smiled for the first time today as he saw his wife, Priscilla, shove a bowl of soup into his hands.
"You look tired," she said. "Do you want to talk?"
About work, she meant. She might ask him if he came home looking more frustrated or beaten down than usual.
"No," he answered. "No, I'd rather not today. You'll find out in the papers tomorrow anyway."
"Oh, I barely even read the things any more," she said with a wave. "Let's catch a quidditch game some time, like we used to?"
"That'd be nice," he said, the smell of burnt flesh still lingering in his nose.
AN: Writing slower, but I am writing. Sorry about that! I wanted to pursue a new format for the story and didn't know how to best deal with it. There are probably about a dozen chapters left before things drastically change for this story. This is going to be a long one.