Chapter 1: 1991
She was on her knees in front of him, adjusting his brand new robes. He stood very still, allowing her to concentrate, watching her eyes as they carefully scanned for any imperfections.
‘Perfect,’ she told him, finally satisfied with his appearance. Leaning forwards, she kissed his forehead. ‘What a handsome boy you are, Theodore. You look so very smart in your school uniform. We have only one more thing to do before we leave for King’s Cross Station; we must go and speak to your father.’
‘Won’t Pater be busy, Mama?’ asked Theodore anxiously. He’d been warned that this might happen, but he hadn’t quite believed it.
‘Your father is always busy. He is a very important man, and always has a great deal to do, but his instructions were very clear, Theodore. He wants to speak to you. This is a momentous day, so he has made a few moments to see you. Hogwarts! The past eleven years have flown by.’ Theodore’s mother stood, carefully adjusted her own robes, and held out her hand. ‘You must pay careful attention to what he has to tell you. Come along.’
‘Yes, Mama,’ said Theodore. As he took his mother’s hand, her long, slender fingers encircled and enclosed his hand, and squeezed it reassuringly.
Araminta Nott led her son down two flights of stairs, along several dark wood panelled corridors, up a flight of stairs, and down another corridor. They marched in sober silence through the labyrinthine passageways of Pennerley Hall, portraits watching them all the way. To Theodore’s surprise, instead of rudely asking him where he thought he was going—as they had on the only occasion he’d dared attempt to approach his father’s study—many of the portraits were muttering words of encouragement.
‘Takes me back, lad, I started there in 1693.’
When they reached the imposing eight-panelled door to the study, his mother knocked. To Theodore’s amazement, she didn’t wait, but simply opened the door and walked straight in. Theodore prepared himself for an angry outburst that didn’t come.
‘I have brought our son to see you, Thornton,’ said Araminta. She stopped abruptly fifteen feet away from the desk.
Thornton Nott looked up from his papers and turned to the house elf standing at his elbow. ‘Leave us, Skribell,’ he ordered. ‘We’ll finish this later.’
‘Yes Master,’ murmured Skribell softly. ‘Good morning, Mistress, good morning, young Master Theodore.’
‘Hello, Skribell,’ said Theodore, smiling shyly. The house elf beamed, bowed low, and vanished.
Thornton Nott looked at his wife and son, frowned, and stared pointedly at their joined hands. Araminta released Theodore’s hand, gently shaking herself free of his nervous grip. Theodore stared at his father. He knew better than to try to maintain his grip on his mother. Uncertain what he should do with his dangling hands, he clasped them behind his back.
‘You mollycoddle the boy, Araminta,’ said Thornton Nott severely. He stared down his nose at his now very nervous son. ‘Don’t just stand there. Come forward, Theodore, let me see you,’ he ordered.
With a worried look up at his mother, Theodore did as he was told. He stepped nervously towards the leather topped mahogany desk, behind which his father sat in a throne-like chair.
‘This is Nott business, Araminta,’ Thornton told his wife pointedly. She nodded and strode silently from the room.
For the first time in his eleven years of life, Theodore was alone with his father. His eyes flickered around the room, taking in bookshelves, cabinets, chests and wand boxes. With a scrape of wood on wood, Theodore’s father pushed back his chair and stood. To Theodore’s amazement, he walked around his desk and strode purposefully towards his son. Theodore braced himself for the encounter.
‘So, you’re off to Hogwarts for your first year!’ said Thornton Nott. ‘About time, too. It seems like you’ve been under my feet forever.’
‘Sorry, Pater,’ said Theodore.
‘Sorry!’ said his father severely. ‘Why are you sorry?
‘I don’t know, Pater, I thought…’
‘No, Theodore, you didn’t think at all. You spoke without thinking. Never do it again. Never speak without thinking, and never apologise, not even to me. If you make a mistake, put it right. You are a Nott, so you must act like one.’
Thornton Nott stared down at his son. Theodore lifted his head, set his jaw, and determinedly stared back.
‘You will meet all sorts at Hogwarts, Theodore. Some of them will believe that they are in some way superior to you. They are not, but it won’t hurt if you allow them to think otherwise. You will respect your teachers and you will respect your fellow pupils, provided that they respect you. If they do not, you will not react, but you must write and tell me; immediately! You will not mix with riffraff or, worse, Mudbloods.’ Thornton Nott spoke precisely and firmly, still staring into Theodore’s eyes. ‘You are about to leave Pennerley Hall, Theodore, and you will not be back until Christmas. Tell me who you are.’
This, Theodore realised was the moment, he knew exactly what he had to say. He knew the words by rote. ‘I am Theodore Cai, of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Nott, Pater. We are the progeny of the seneschal; we are the offspring of the foster brother. We hold the key to the treasures of the once and future king, of Arthur, friend of Merlin. We are noble, and we are ancient. But no one other than a male of the line of Nott can know this. Not spouse, nor lover, not friend, nor enemy. This is our secret, and no one must know it. To the world, I am Theodore Nott of Pennerley Hall.’
‘Good boy,’ said his father. ‘I see that you have remembered your lessons. Skribell has taught you well. At school, you will come under the influence of others. You have lessons to learn, but you must always remember who you are.’
‘Which house do you hope for?’ Thornton asked.
‘Ravenclaw, Pater, like you,’ said Theodore. He chose his words carefully, as this was a topic on which he had not been briefed by either Skribell or his mother. ‘Although I think that Mama’s house, Slytherin, would also be acceptable.’
‘My father, and his father before him, were in Slytherin House, Theodore,’ said Thornton. To Theodore’s surprise, his father sounded almost wistful. ‘Most Notts are placed in Slytherin. I was the aberration; I was the first Nott in Ravenclaw for almost two centuries. Your grandfather told me that it was because I was too clever by half. I now believe that he was correct.’
Theodore remained silent and deferential, realising that his father had fallen into an unusually contemplative mood.
‘You can rest assured that Slytherin certainly would not disappoint me. At least they keep out the riff-raff, unlike Ravenclaw and the others. A Slytherin’s blood is pure, Theodore, unlike that of the other houses.’
‘I will give you some advice, Theodore. It is the advice my father gave me when I first went to Hogwarts, over forty years ago. You must remember it, for you must tell your own son this when he reaches his eleventh year. You are a Nott, you are beholden to…’ Thornton Nott paused, his face momentarily failing to mask a look of regret. ‘…you are beholden to no one. Choose both your friends and your enemies wisely. It is best to strive to have neither, because friendship makes a fool of the wisest men and making enemies brings conflict, which can lead to calamity.’
‘Make neither friends, nor enemies,’ said Theodore slowly. ‘Pater, what do I do if someone wants to be my friend?’
‘It is likely that they will want no such thing, Theodore,’ Thornton Nott said. ‘It is likely that they will merely wish to ingratiate themselves, to get something for themselves.’
‘I understand,’ said Theodore, although he didn’t, not really. He had, however, been advised by everyone to simply agree with his father.
‘Remember this, Theodore; whatever nobility and breeding anyone else claims, you are a Nott, your blood is the purest of pure, and the House of Nott is strong.’ Thornton Nott hesitated. Theodore held his breath, realising that his father was about to reveal something really important. ‘I will admit that we are not well respected at the moment, but we remain strong.’
‘Not respected, Pater, why not?’ Theodore asked.
‘Because, my son, I made a mistake; I disregarded my father’s advice. It was a long time ago, before you were born. I placed my trust in a man; I became beholden to him. He was a man who promised me more wealth and more power. He offered unimaginable power, and I believed in him. I trusted him. Trust is a dangerous thing, Theodore, and although you would not want this man as an enemy, there was—I very soon discovered—little benefit in having him as a friend. Do you know who it is that I am talking about?’
Theodore nodded, and tried to swallow a lump the size of an orange which had appeared in his throat. ‘You are talking about He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, Pater,’ Theodore concentrated, spoke firmly, and managed to keep the stammer from his voice. The rumours, it seemed, were true, despite what his mother had assured him.
‘Well done, Theodore. The Dark Lord, that’s what we called him. I tell you this in confidence, Theodore. You must say nothing to anyone. Not even to your mother. I will be very angry if you tell anyone.’
‘What happened, Pater?’ Theodore asked.
‘You know the story. The Dark Lord rose, and then fell. He tried to destroy a baby, a child who was mere months younger than you, a boy named Harry Potter. Instead, somehow, the baby destroyed the man. Like all of my former “friends”, I have always denied my allegiance to the Dark Lord. However, the rumours persist. Rumours bring attention with them.’ Thornton Nott paused, and firmly shook his head. Theodore took this as an indication that attention was a bad thing.
‘As you grow, you will learn,’ Thornton Nott continued. ‘It will take years for me to rebuild the respect we deserve, perhaps I won’t achieve it. You are my son and heir; you are the future of the Notts. You must know our secrets, the light and the dark. When you are older I will tell you even the ones your mother does not know,’ Thornton fixed his son with a fear inducing stare. ‘The ones she can never know!’ Stepping back, he waved his hand in dismissal. ‘Now, leave me; I have much to do. Your mother awaits you outside. She will take you to by Floo to our apartment near St Pancras. I will not wish you luck, or good fortune, because a Nott makes his own luck and gathers his own fortune. Fare well, Theodore. Make me proud.’
‘Yes, Pater. Goodbye, Pater.’
Chapter 2: 1995
A narrow track led uphill from the village of Pennerley. It ended at a small graveyard, which lay in a rocky little valley above the village. The Nott family crypt lurked in the most shadowy corner of the cemetery, built into the rough and rugged crag. Beyond the graveyard was the deep V of a steeply sided valley, a gash in the hills known locally as Black Dingle. The hills, the Stiperstones, glowered balefully down at the black-clad witches and wizards. Black rocks like rotting teeth protruded from the purple heather hillside, and black clouds were hanging threateningly above their rubble strewn summits.
In the cemetery, Theodore steeled himself. He had been strong during the memorial service, and he would continue to be strong. He would shed no tears. His father would disapprove of tears, even on an occasion such as this.
Theodore watched in silence as distant relatives, people he barely knew, carried his mother’s coffin into the crypt. Within moments the pall-bearers, now unburdened, returned. He and his father watched as the last wizard left the mausoleum. The very instant the threshold was crossed, the carved iron door slammed shut with a clap like the thunder which would herald the end of the world. The noise was echoed by a bright flash on the horizon and a distant rumble above the hills. The storm clouds had gathered. Another storm was rapidly approaching.
Theodore walked silently alongside his father as they led the procession downhill, winding through the fields towards Pennerley Hall. En route, they passed several Muggle dwellings, but the Muggles did not see them, the ancient enchantments around the Nott’s home made certain of that.
Two hours later, their guests had left. Theodore and his father stood in the great hall, watching the house elves as they removed the trestle tables and returned the medieval hall to its usual echoing emptiness.
‘This really is most inconvenient,’ murmured Thornton. ‘It could not have happened at a worse time.’
‘Inconvenient!’ exclaimed Theodore, finally failing to stop the tears from flowing. ‘Mother is dead! Your wife is dead, Father. It’s more than simply inconvenient, it’s … it’s …’ he sobbed, unable to say more.
‘She was very useful,’ said Thornton. ‘She bore you, Theodore; she gave me an heir and she looked after you. She was quiet, obedient and decorative. Araminta was everything a wife should be…’ Thornton Nott stared solemnly into his son’s tear-stained face. ‘I will miss her, I will miss her a great deal,’ he admitted. For a moment, Theodore thought that his father would show more emotion but, after one slow blink, Thornton Nott’s face hardened.
‘Dry those tears, Theodore!’ Thornton ordered harshly. ‘We have no time for mourning, no time for pity. We stand at a turning point. When you have composed yourself, attend me in my study. We have much to do.’
Turning on his heels, Thornton strode up the ancient wooden staircase, leaving his sobbing son alone.
‘Master,’ a voice said hesitantly. Theodore looked down into the large dark eyes of Skampa, his mother’s house elf. She was holding a handkerchief.
‘Thank you, Skampa,’ said Theodore. He took the handkerchief, wiped his eyes, and blew his nose. ‘How did it happen?’
‘Master said that the Mistress…’ the house elf began.
‘I don’t want to know what “Master said” happened, I want to know what actually happened,’ ordered Theodore.
‘It began in March, young Master,’ Skampa’s voice was barely more than a whisper.
‘I noticed, when I came home at Easter,’ said Theodore. It was true, he knew, although he’d said nothing. There had been nothing to say. He had sensed something; an invisible wall seemed to stand between his mother and father. His parents had never been demonstrative, if there was any affection between them, it was difficult to see; for that reason, he’d been uncertain what it was he had been noticing.
‘Not long before Easter my Mistress glimpsed a mark on your father’s arm. She said nothing to him, of course, but she was suspicious. Afterwards, he kept the arm covered. When he refused to attend The Third Task with her, she was angry. He said that he had an appointment he could not break, not under any circumstances. She demanded answers, but he would not tell her where he was going. She went alone, as you know.’
Theodore nodded encouragement, and Skampa continued her story.
‘After the tragedy at the third task, the death of the Diggory boy, she came straight home. Your father, however, did not return for five days. When he finally arrived, they argued. She told him that he had lied to her. She said that he had told her, he had promised her, that the rumours were untrue and that the accusations against him were false. But the even then, five days later, the Mark was still there, dark and burning on his arm; it proved otherwise. It proved that your father was… that he followed…’ Skampa’s dark eyes were glistening, and she was shaking with the effort of speaking. Theodore took pity on her and did not force her to say the word.
‘I know what my father is, Skampa,’ said Theodore. ‘I have known since before I went to Hogwarts.’ Realisation struck. All those years ago, when he was eleven, his father had taken him completely into his confidence, and he had not realised. ‘Mama was not supposed to know this secret, and no one else knows. You must never, ever reveal this to anyone else,’ Theodore ordered.
‘Of course not, Master,’ said Skampa. ‘The Mistress was angry. She was crying and confused and uncertain. She did what she always did when she wanted to think.’
‘She went flying,’ said Theodore. ‘Despite the storm, despite the thunder, the lightning, and the rain, she went out on her broom.’
‘Yes.’ Skampa nodded.
‘Then Pater told me the truth, didn’t he?’ The pieces finally fell into place for Theodore. ‘Not all of it, of course, he never tells me everything. He simply said that her broom was damaged by a lightning strike, and the fall killed her. I didn’t believe him, because I could not think of anything which would make her take to the skies in a storm. Now I can. Now, I understand. Thank you, Skampa. Please say nothing of this conversation to anyone, not even my father.’
Theodore strode up the stairs from the great hall and along to the study. Briskly knocking on the door, he entered before his nerve failed.
‘I believe that I now understand why you insisted that I remain at Hogwarts until term finally ended, Pater,’ Theodore told his father. ‘I know why you did not want me to come home immediately after Mama died. I acquired some useful information in those last few days. At the leaving feast, Professor Dumbledore told us that the Minister was wrong, that Fudge was hiding the truth from everyone. The Headmaster said that …The Dark Lord… is back, and that he had killed Cedric Diggory. When he told us, I did not know what to believe. It seemed impossible, but the Headmaster is an honest man. It is true, is it not?’
Thornton Nott nodded. ‘Albus Dumbledore is correct, he usually is. The Ministry is denying it, of course. Fudge refuses to believe the evidence. We are fortunate that the Minister is incompetent. Cornelius seems to believe that if he says something is untrue often enough, it will actually become untrue. It is a common failing in politicians, but none of us can have our own facts. What is, is, and I know that he is wrong. I spent five painful days assuring the Dark Lord of my unwavering support.’
‘Your unwavering support?’ asked Theodore carefully. He was rewarded by a rare smile from his father.
‘Lucius Malfoy has promised the Dark Lord everything,’ said Thornton. ‘He was vociferous in his praise, abject in his repentance, and as self-serving as always.’
‘When we travelled home on the Hogwarts Express, Draco Malfoy made several cryptic remarks. He hinted that he was... that he was fully in his father’s confidence,’ said Theodore. ‘Draco has been implying that he knows what’s really going on, and that the Malfoys will soon be pre-eminent, sitting at the right hand of the most powerful wizard in the world.’
‘Thank you, Theodore. That is information which may well prove useful. So, Lucius has pushed himself to the fore! And it seems that Draco Malfoy is a blustering, bullying, boastful fool, just like his father.’ Thornton Nott scratched his nose, a sign that he was making plans. ‘What actually happened during the Triwizard Tournament? Your mother asked you at Easter, but she said that you were not making much sense. She said that you were fixated with Malfoy, or, more accurately, with the girl Malfoy took to the Yule Ball, Piers Parkinson’s daughter. The Parkinson girl’s blood may be pure, but her father is riff-raff, a common criminal.’
‘Her mother is a Smith, they are an old family,’ said Theodore defensively, trying not to blush. ‘But that does not matter, not now. What are we going to do, father?’
‘I have already returned to the fold, I have begged forgiveness and, once again, I have become a loyal Death Eater. I could do nothing else. At least, I could do nothing else except die at the Dark Lord’s hand, and I am not yet ready to die. I have much to teach you, much to tell you. It is imperative that I teach you Occlumency, Theodore. You must learn to hide your thoughts, and you must do it quickly. We will begin your lessons later this evening.’ Thornton smiled sardonically at his son. ‘Unless you learn very quickly, I will find out everything you know, and everything you feel, about this Parkinson girl. But first, you are going to tell me about Harry Potter. Tell me everything you know about the boy.’
‘I do not know him well, Father,’ Theodore admitted. ‘He is a competent student, below average in some subjects and above average in others, but he does not seem to excel at anything other than Quidditch, and getting himself into difficult situations. He hates Professor Snape, and the feeling is mutual. He is extremely curious, always poking his nose into other people’s affairs. So far I have avoided his attention.’
Theodore watched his father as he spoke. Thornton Nott’s thumb was under his chin, his forefinger rested on the side of his long nose. It was apparent to Theodore that his father was devoting his full attention to him.
‘I can tell you little more, Father. Potter is always surrounded by his fellow Gryffindors, particularly the Mudblood girl, Granger, and the youngest of the Weasley boys. Potter does not mix with Slytherins, not under any circumstances. Draco has made certain of that,’ said Theodore. He hesitated, and added a final comment. ‘However, there was a rumour I heard on the train home. People were saying that the …Dark Lord… tried to kill Potter again, and that he failed again.’
‘That rumour is true, Theodore. I was there. Potter certainly bested him in the cemetery,’ said Thornton. ‘The Dark Lord claimed that his defeat was a fluke, a coincidence, that it something to do with the wand core and with his recent return to full life. Nevertheless…’
‘Nevertheless, the Dark Lord has tried to kill Potter twice, and has failed twice,’ said Theodore carefully. His father nodded approvingly.
‘You are beginning to think like a true Nott, Theodore. The Dark Lord did indeed fail, yet he has forbidden us to kill Potter. It is, he claims, something he alone must do. And so I must wait, and watch the cards being played. I have already placed my bet. My fate is inextricably linked to that of the Dark Lord. For me, everything depends upon who holds the winning hand. If the Dark Lord is victorious, I win, and therefore we win. If, however, Potter wins, then I lose. If that happens, Theodore, my fate is out of my hands. Yours, however…’
‘I cannot back Potter,’ said Theodore, nodding in understanding. ‘If I do, and he loses, then I lose my life, and you lose your heir, and the House of Nott loses. However, if I follow you, and the Dark Lord loses, then the Noble and Ancient line of Nott dies with us. There is only one option open to us, Father. I cannot choose. I can neither support nor oppose.’
‘It will require balance, precision, and very careful steps, Theodore. You must walk the thin and wavering line between both sides,’ said Thornton Nott, nodding approvingly.
Chapter 3: 2001
Theodore Nott arrived at the Portkey Office at exactly nine o’clock in the morning, just as the main door was being opened. He crossed the lobby, nodded at the receptionist, strode up to the door marked “Portkey Authorisation” and entered. The clerk at the authorisation desk looked up and smiled politely.
‘I could set my watch by you, Mr Nott,’ he said. ‘I said to my wife last night, “Second Thursday of the month, tomorrow, Jessie,” I said, “Mr Theodore Nott will walk into my little office at exactly nine o’clock,” and here you are.’
‘I do my best, Mr Hewitson,’ said Theodore politely. ‘My father may have been unwise in his choice of friends, but he brought me up to appreciate punctuality, and good manners.’
‘Yes, well, most youngsters these days don’t seem to set any store by punctuality, or tradition, or anything,’ Hewitson grumbled. ‘All these modern ideas floating around the Ministry, the number of Mud... Muggle-borns in here, and...’ he paused, a scandalised expression on his face. Have you seen? A lot of them are even wearing Muggle clothes, it’s…’
‘Times change, Mr Hewitson,’ said Theodore, refusing to be drawn into such a discussion. ‘But I hope that you appreciate that some of us respect tradition and routine.’ Theodore stepped up to the desk and smiled apologetically at the clerk. ‘However, today, even I may surprise you, in a very small way.’ He smiled, and handed two scrolls to Hewitson, who looked at him in amazement.
‘Two visits?’ Hewitson asked.
‘Two visitors,’ Theodore corrected. He unrolled the second scroll and pointed to the name on it. ‘My fiancée,’ he explained. ‘I have persuaded her to visit her father while I visit mine. They are estranged, as you know. Perhaps it’s a little old-fashioned of me but, no matter who he is and what he has done, I would like to get the blessing of my prospective father-in-law.’
‘Not old-fashioned,’ snorted Hewitson as he carefully checked the prison visitor forms. ‘Right and proper, Mr Nott, that’s what it is. Right and proper, just like these forms! I know that I can always rely on you to have the paperwork correct.’
‘I know how busy you are, Mr Hewitson. I would hate to create more work for you,’ said Theodore politely. He waited patiently while the Portkey applications were authorised, stamped, and sealed.
‘Will a shared Portkey be acceptable, Mr Nott?’
‘Of course,’ said Theodore.
‘Good. As you know, your Portkey will be available from young Tinkler in the Collection Office at any time after ten o’clock tomorrow morning. The Portkey will be a timed departure leaving at three o’clock tomorrow afternoon. Now, I’ll need your signature here, and here, and that will be eight Galleons, and seven Knuts.’
Hewitson indicated the relevant sections of the forms. Theodore handed over nine Galleons and waved away the change. After signing, he handed the form back, and waited for the countersignature and the final “approved” stamp.
‘Thank you, Mr Hewitson. I will be back tomorrow to collect the Portkey, and I will see you again next month, I’m sure.’
‘Goodbye, Mr Nott,’ said Hewitson.
At three o’clock the following afternoon, Theodore and his fiancée arrived on a tiny wind-swept spike of black rock. The magically levelled platform on which they stood was no more than six feet in diameter. The wind whipped wildly at their robes, threatening to blow them into the sea. Releasing the silver key that had served as their Portkey into her fiancé’s hand, Pansy squealed and grabbed his arm for support. Her gesture was a welcome sign of her reliance on him, but it was also futile as she was both taller and heavier than he was.
About fifty feet ahead of them stood the infamous island prison. The tall tower of Azkaban stood atop black kelp-covered rocks streaked with the stinking guano of sea birds. The air was filled with the noise of gulls, while puffins zoomed and dived like erratic bullets, skimming above the waves before crazily colliding with the water in their search for fish.
The spike on which they stood, the Portkey arrival point, was a lonely outcrop of rock. It was a thin needle separated from the main island by a narrow rope bridge which swayed in the wind. Theodore guided Pansy to the bridge and pointed to the sign “Leave wand here or do not cross.” He pointedly placed his wand in the cylindrical silver receptacle attached to the pillar from which the bridge was suspended. Pansy, her thick black hair whipping about her face in the gale, looked at her wand, and at the cylinder.
‘The bridge will tip you into the sea if you try to cross it while carrying a wand,’ Theodore reminded her, shouting to be heard over the birds and the wind.
‘Are you sure?’ she asked.
‘That’s what the goblins say, and I’ve no desire to discover whether or not they are lying,’ he told her. ‘I’ll go first, if you want me to. I’ve done this before, many times.’
‘Is it true that the goblins guard the place for nothing, that they don’t charge the Ministry?’ she asked.
‘I’m not certain,’ he admitted. ‘But that’s what the rumours say.’
Pansy reluctantly placed her wand in the receptacle and looked nervously at the bridge. She indicated that Theodore should go first. He nodded, and offered Pansy a hand. She imperiously dismissed his offer. Pansy was worried, he knew that; she would have to face her father alone, and Piers Parkinson had always bullied his daughter. Theodore had schooled and primed Pansy as best he could, and he knew that, provided she kept her nerve, she would get the result he desired.
Theodore strolled nonchalantly across the bridge. He was used to the sway and bounce, but was momentarily worried by an unexpected movement. Looking back, he realised that Pansy had stepped heavily onto the bridge behind him. He gave her a smile of encouragement and continued to cross.
The bridge ended in a sheer cliff face, the gaunt granite block of Azkaban towering above. When he reached the other side, he waited on the ledge narrow where an iron door was set into the cliff. Looking up, he saw the prison towering above him. Moments later, Pansy, white-faced, but determinedly unemotional, joined him. He inserted the silver key which was both Portkey and initial means of entry into the door, opened it, and stepped into the dimly lit chamber beyond. As they entered the small room, they were instantly deluged with water, and Pansy squealed.
Theodore dispassionately appraised his fiancée, who had now been washed clean of enchantments. He had warned her about the enchantment wash, but he’d known that she had not believed him. He was unsurprised to discover that her skin was less smooth, and her features less even than the ones he was used to seeing. He’d always known that she’d been lying when she’d told him that her face was unaltered by magic. Nevertheless, he noted appreciatively, it was obvious from the way the wet robes were clinging to her curves that she was not magically altering her figure.
A warming wind filled the room and they were rapidly dried.
‘Of all the outrageous…’ Pansy began.
‘Passes,’ a goblin voice demanded. A small hatch, no bigger than a letter box, opened in one wall. Theodore passed his authorised visitor parchment through the hatch, and indicated that Pansy should do the same. Her mouth, which because of the enchantment wash was more thin-lipped than usual, almost vanished in its attempts to show disapproval. Her black eyebrows, which were bushier than he remembered, formed a black V above her pug-nose. She, too, handed over her pass.
‘Names!’ the voice ordered.
‘Theodore Cai Nott,’ he said, realising as he spoke that he’d never mentioned his middle name to her.
‘Pansy Alannah Parkinson,’ his fiancée said, looking quizzically at him.
‘It’s a family name,’ he explained.
‘Visiting which prisoners?’
‘Thornton Cai Nott,’ said Theodore.
‘Piers Alan Parkinson,’ said Pansy.
‘Correct,’ said the unseen goblin. ‘Enter, visitor Nott; enter, visitor Parkinson,’
A door appeared in the wall, directly opposite the one through which they had entered. It swung open, revealing a narrow corridor, lit only by one flickering torch. Beyond the torch lay darkness. Theodore took Pansy’s hand and led her into the dingy tunnel. The torch flickered as they passed it, and abruptly went out. Pansy’s whimper was instantly stilled, because at the very moment it went out, a second torch flickered into life ahead.
The constantly moving light followed them as, with darkness both ahead and behind, they walked for almost a quarter of a mile until they finally reached another door. A hatch opened.
‘Names,’ another goblin demanded.
‘Theodore Cai Nott,’ he said again.
‘Pansy Alannah Parkinson,’ said Pansy petulantly.
The door opened, revealing a long rectangular room with six doors on either side. The room seemed to have been hewn from the very rock of the island. Smooth and seamless, the walls and floor were polished black stone.
‘Visitor for Piers Alan Parkinson, room two. Visitor for Thornton Cai Nott, room ten,’ the black-clad goblin in front of them said.
‘Good luck, Pansy,’ said Theodore. He pointed Pansy towards the door marked “II” and strode across to the door marked “X”. The door slammed shut behind him, and a door on the opposite wall opened.
‘Good afternoon, Pater,’ said Theodore. ‘I hope that you are well.’
‘As well as can be expected, Theodore,’ said Thornton Nott. ‘Thank you for your letters, and for renewing my subscription to The Daily Prophet. You’ve been extremely busy since your last visit. I don’t know where to begin. You appear to be giving away some of our oldest businesses.’ There was an element of disapproval in his voice.
‘Only the ones which the Auror Office are suspicious of, Pater,’ said Theodore. ‘And I’m sure that you are also reading the business pages, you know who now owns those businesses.’
‘I do. You’ve sold them to J X Parkinson and Sons, an interesting choice. Old Jefferson Xavier is long dead and his last surviving son is, like me, enjoying the hospitality of the goblins. And that brings me to the surprising, to me at least, announcement of your engagement to the Parkinson girl.’
‘In the absence of her father, Pansy has been attempting to run the family businesses, at least until her brother, Alan Beresford, comes of age, but that’s not for six years. She somehow got into a little trouble with her father’s property business, several tenants began to cause problems and the profits fell. As a gesture of my love for her I transferred Reef and Halter, our security business, into her ownership. I then suggested that she appoint the head of Reef and Halter, Magersfontein Grimley, to manage her tenants.’
‘Good old Grim,’ Thornton said. ‘The Aurors never managed to pin anything on him, then? I’m glad. He and I were at school together you know.’
‘Yes, Mr Grimley still speaks highly of you, Pater. He has even started to talk about coming to visit you, now that, in his words, “Th’ Minstry’s got ridda them bleedin’ Dementors”.’ said Theodore. He was rewarded by a slight inclination of his father’s head. It was as much approval as he could ever expect. ‘Mr Grimley had a narrow escape from Azkaban. Three people accused Mr Grimley of being a Snatcher. One vanished, one died of heart failure, and the other subsequently denied making the accusation. Mr Grimley, for some reason, believes that I was in some way responsible for his escape from incarceration. He is extremely grateful, and very loyal. Thank you for telling me about him. However, given his record, I could not allow Mr Grimley to be employed by us; not directly.’
‘Understandable, but even so, Theodore,’ said Thornton, shaking his head. ‘Why the Parkinson girl? I thought that she was a passing fantasy of your teenage years.’
‘She was, father. This is business, not love. You know the nature of Pansy’s father’s business interests,’ said Theodore. ‘Magical Law Enforcement was watching him constantly, but even so he made a profit from some very questionable enterprises. Pansy believes that she can take control of those businesses.’
‘She can’t,’ said Thornton with certainty.
‘I know, but with some discreet guidance from me, and Mr Grimley’s assistance from within, she can make a profit. Mr Grimley’s criminal record reflects badly on Pansy, not on us. And she truly believes that she is in complete control of her father’s businesses.’
‘Can you trust her?’
‘I can trust Mr Grimley, Pater. You know I can. I don’t need to trust her. I’m under no illusions. My fiancée is vain and greedy, and she wants to inherit ahead of her brother. I give her gifts, mostly of Mama’s jewellery, and I flatter her constantly. It is tiresome, but necessary. I brought her with me. I have persuaded her that she should confront her father, that she demand to take over. He cannot run his businesses from inside Azkaban, and she is of age. She is ten years older than her brother, and she is determined.’
‘Piers Parkinson won’t allow it,’ said Thornton.
‘I know,’ said Theodore. ‘He will shout and swear and bully her, and she will fly into my arms and demand that I do something. We have six years in which to help her achieve her goal, and by then we will be married. Who knows what will happen after that?’
There was a hammering on the door.
‘Theodore, darling,’ Pansy sobbed.
He stood and opened the door. Pansy collapsed into his arms.
‘My dear girl,’ said Thornton Nott, showing a degree of concern and compassion Theodore could not remember having ever seen before. ‘Whatever is the matter? How can we help? Dry those tears, please. I’d like to see the remarkable beauty my son has been boasting about.’