The Minister of Magic position had a lot of perks, but also some unpleasantness bundled in. One could argue that the prestige, luxury and attention easily outshone the never-ending meetings, the full-time politicking and the natural distrust people have of politicians. But one would be wrong to say so, for the unpleasant part of being the Minister of Magic wasn’t the talk, the bribing or the hate — those things were field game for a natural politician, and one would need to be a natural player if one wanted to achieve the highest chair in their government. No, the true dark side of the job was the yearly Azkaban inspection.
Most people thought Azkaban was a horrible place. It wasn’t, truly. No words could convey what Azkaban was, and if there were such words, they could only be part of the Dementors’ language. History books could teach that the magical prison once was a fortress built by a long-forgotten Dark Lord, whose ultimate fate was to be locked for a century in his own dungeon. But dusty old tomes couldn’t explain how the dark magic seeped into the very flagstones the fortress was built with. They couldn’t build the picture of darkness and dismay the narrow corridors evoked so naturally, or the sense of danger and pure, loathing hate that the walls themselves emanated. Only one book ever could convey perfectly what the chilling air and damp stone, constant darkness and the smell of death in the air could do to one’s mind, and the book was promptly tossed in the fire by its own author.
The fortress of Azkaban was hell on Earth, even with the Dementors long gone. Disbanded, after aligning with the Dark Forces, dispelled forever to some forgotten nest only they would know. But even if light now shone brightly upon Britain after their departure, nothing could really make Azkaban less haunting, draining and depressing. It was said once that the Ministry never really allocated the Dementors there, for they weren’t the guardians of Azkaban. They were mere its consequence.
The inspection always happened at the coldest nights. Not by design, but because it was always cold and dark there, and the presence of something foreign to the fortress surely could make it colder. Not only figuratively, but literally, as any person who held the position of Minister could attest. The inky waters of the Black Sea would frozen up around the tiny island if not by the constant tempests that ravaged the fortress. And, almost floating in the pure darkness and cold and hate, there was a small boat, with but a light, a Minister and an Auror.
His name was Roland, and he was forty-five. An Auror could make a lot of mistakes during his career, and a long sequence of them landed Roland with this job. It was his fourth year in Azkaban duty, and he had seen enough to never be able to sleep soundly again. He also had a strange tick, a kind of wince he would have at the most random moments. He also constantly touched everything around him, to the wet mast to the fledging enchanted light to his own salt and pepper hair to the Ministry’s coat, as if anything could disappear at any moment. It was his fourth year in Azkaban duty, and he was one of the sanest men there.
The Minister was tall, lanky and grey-haired. It was his first inspection, and he sure missed his well-lit, well-decorated, bone-warming office. Many things could be said about that Minister, but Roland wasn’t one for politics anymore. He had taken two other Ministers to Azkaban while doing his job, and thought nothing about it. Truly fleeting things, those Ministers. Coming and going too fast for him to care. He was sure the man with the fancy coat would soon be just another picture in the wall, while Roland would still be on Azkaban duty.
He steered the little boat, ice-cold waves crashing around the little vessel, as if testing the charms around it. One bold wave sprung upon them, but the water was blocked by the invisible shield, pouring around them as if they were inside a sphere. The Minister had screamed at it, and Roland enjoyed a laugh hidden under the sound of ravaging sea. He felt a shiver, as if a dead body brushed dead cold fingers against his back.
“We crossed the ward line”, he yelled, his voice faint against the fury of the waters. The Minister glanced up, frightened and wet — the shield could only hold part of the waves. Roland felt his wet socks stealing the warmth from his body, but he dared not use magic in the sea. “Just a few more minutes, sir.”
The other man said something, but Roland payed no attention. He held up his arm, his old wand pointing up. Frost was setting at the bottom of the vessel, the Auror touched the mast, the Minister, the border of the boat and his own chest. Everything still in place.
“Lumus”, muttered him. The cold white light at the point of his wand flicked, but held. He kept it for almost a minute, them extinguished it, lighted again, counted, extinguished and repeated. High in the darkness of the storm, a blue ball of light appeared, signalling where Azkaban was supposed to be.
“What is that?” cried the Minister, almost falling on his butt when the boat rocked.
“The lighthouse shows us the way”, he yelled back, manoeuvring the boat with his wand. That took a lot of concentration, as the cold made his hand numb and his movements jerky. He winced, touched the mast, the Minister, his own hand, himself. Everything still in place.
“I’ve never seen it, you know”, the Minister yelled, probably trying to hide his fear under small talk. Roland counted in his head, waved the wand, touched everything. “Azkaban, I mean. What does it look like?”
“You will see in a minute, sir”, said the Auror, his voice lost to the wind. He waved his wand like a maestro, them suddenly opened his arms. Darkness enveloped them, the Minister screamed, waves crashed, a thunder was heard, and then only silence.
The boat floated calmly over frosty waters, and attached itself to a small pier. A thick rope snaked their way and tied itself on a ring just at the front of the little vessel. Roland applied a warming charm to himself and stepped out.
“Sir?” called him, seeing the Minister standing still in the centre of the vessel. “We arrived.”
Shaking his head, the man flickered his wand and his fancy coat became dry, he stepped out the boat uncertainly. He still looked up, in a daze.
“It looks like… A giant box?” muttered him. Roland touched the man, touched himself, touched his wand.
“It looks like a giant dong”, he muttered back, the Minister gave a short laugh, and followed him. The night was calm around them, at the small port, but there was no moon and no stars above them. If not for the trail of torches floating high over their heads, they would be lost in seconds. Azkaban loomed near, tall, dark and all edged, a squarish tower piercing the darkness. Light seeped from the door, but the rest of the fortress was enveloped in shadows.
Another Auror welcomed them at the door, with a gruff. He was seated behind a rickety desk, holding a chipped cup, looking like a pile of dirty robes with a very ugly, very round and very bald head on top. His nose ran, and he sucked it back noisily.
“Archibald”, greeted Roland, with a nod. He touched the desk, the Minister, the cup, himself. “The Minister and I are here for the inspection.”
“Wand”, grumbled him, pushing a device forward, like an old kitchen scale. A single metal plate over a coppery box, Roland dropped his wand on the plate, and a long strip of parchment was spat out the machine. Archibald took a look at it and pocket it. He took a sip from his cup. The Minister placed his own wand on the device.
“Everything’s in order, have a good evening”, mumbled the Auror. Roland gestured for the Minister to follow him. Archibald placed a well-worn wooly cap on his bald head. It had paw prints stitched on it, with the words “I luv me daddy” above it. The man spat on the ground.
“This way, sir”, lead Roland, walking up a set of stone stairs. Torches sprung to life when they were near, but extinguished silently after they passed. “Careful on the steps, they are wet.”
There were some doors to the left and to the right of the stairs, but they passed them without a glance. The ministry inspection wasn’t held for the poor sods who had stolen the neighbour’s chicken or summoned a Muggle’s wallet out of his pocket. Those at the lowest level would stay there for three months to the max. No, the Minister was there to the ones at the top of the fortress, those who would call Azkaban their lair for the rest of their lives.
Roland was puffing, so it meant the Minister was almost dead on his feet. The Auror took a flask from his pocket, touched everything around him, and took a sip. Warmth spread inside his body. He took pity on the taller man, and offered the Firewhisky. The Minister took a long gulp and returned it, showing him an uncertain smile. Roland tapped the iron door with his wand, and pushed it.
Murmurs rose from the cells, the torches blinding the residents of the first wing. The Minister took a look at the gaunt, bone-dry faces, their wide, crazy eyes and filthy hairs and clothes. A woman was crying at the corner of her cell, rocking a bundle of rags as if a baby.
“Who is that?” he muttered, discreetly pointing the poor lass.
“Mrs. Wittman”, answered Roland, approaching the cell. “Been here for five years, if memory serves me right.”
“She lost her child?”
Roland gave the Minister a sinister smile.
“Killed it, an Avada at point blank on the head. The husband had just found out the baby wasn’t his, but a Muggle’s. Mrs. Wittman poisoned the man before he could ask for divorce, then killed the child. The Aurors stupefied her before she could kill herself. Spitting mad, I reckon, probably was even before coming here. One need to be mad to lay with a Muggle, mum’s always said.”
The Minister shuddered, but kept pace with the Auror. Others in the cells where crying or talking, but he didn’t ask about them. They approached around round of stairs, and went up in silence. Roland locked the door behind them. He unlocked the next one, at the next floor, and the Minister quickly inspected the wing, pacing fast and not looking to the sides. Roland locked it and up they went.
Even the Auror was tired now, but there wasn’t much more to inspect. He took a long breath before the next door, took a sip from his flask, the Minister took another, and the man unlocked the Upper Wing. This time, there was no light to spring to life, and Roland held a lumos for them to see. The wing was devoid of cells, except for a single one. That was different, though, and instead of simply being dark, wet and empty, this one held a small bed, a tiny open bathroom and a worn rug inside.
There was movement, and a young woman stepped into the wand light. Roland had already seen her hundreds of times before, but he reacted exactly like the Minister, holding his breath and feeling something pulsing inside him.
She gave them a very saucy smile, and Roland felt himself going hard, even with all that cold.
“Hello boys”, her voice was like warm honey. The Minister took a step forward, but Roland caught his arm and forced him back. “Awn, please do come near. I don’t bite.”
“I have my doubts”, retorted the Auror, pulling the Minister along. He touched the man, the coat, the cell, the lock, his wand and himself, but dared not touch the woman. Strange lights danced in her eyes. “The Minister is here for the inspection, step away from the door.”
“I think we are done here”, coughed the other man, glancing nervously from the woman to the Auror, to the far away door at their backs. “Let’s move to the next wing.”
Roland closed the door quietly.
“I thought the upper wings were the harshest”, muttered the Minister while they went up. “She doesn’t seen too roughed up.”
She didn’t seen roughed up at all, completed Roland in his head. It was difficult going upstairs with a hard on, and he knew things wouldn’t be better up there.
“She’s the White Queen, a demon in a woman’s body. There is nothing we could do to her that she hadn’t done before. We can only keep her magically restricted and content, sir. You really don’t want her to get roughed up.”
“I don’t see the point of a prison keeping its inmates content, Auror.”
Roland looked the man in the eye.
“On her first week, one of the younger Aurors went to give her food. She was bored, he stepped too close. We don’t know what she told him, but we can suppose. He opened the cell… She skinned him alive. We found here seating in the middle of her cell, door unlocked, wearing his skin as a coat. Then we negotiated some improvements to her cell.”
“She didn’t try to scape? Why?”
“Said it wasn’t worth it without her friends.”
Roland unlocked the door. He gave the Minister another smile.
“We are going to visit one of them now, be prepared.”
“Before that… What kind of improvements she demanded?”
“Well, sir, a bed, a rug, a bathroom, three dresses, three coats, three blankets and a box of toys.”
“Sir, Auror Madalene got them, I have no idea what’s inside the box. But we hear her most nights, even from way down, at our lounge.”
“Moaning. Come on, we need to finish the inspection before the sun rises.”
He pushed the door open, and they found another empty wing, except for a single cell. This one had a bed too, a bathroom, a rug, a set of shelves, a desk and a chair. There was a woman working there, but the Auror signalled for them to be quiet. They took a long look around, closed the door and took the stairs again.
“Was that the Black Queen?”
“What was she doing? Writing?”
“After the incident with the White Queen, we decided to ask the Black what she wanted to be more comfortable. She asked for books, so the Head Warden thought it would be funny to grant her request, but gave her only blank books. It was before my time, but the guy who showed me the ropes told me she just shrugged it off, and started to write on them.”
“The guys took some of them to read, maybe to find if she is confessing her crimes, something like that. They never did, you know.”
“I know. Personally”.
“Off course, sir. I forgot. Well, cutting it short, the boys found the books are written in some sort of runes, we can’t make head or tails of them. Sent them all to the Department of Mysteries, but never heard about them anymore. Some think she’s just writing bullshit, all alone in the dark.”
“And what you think, Auror?”
Roland unlocked the next door.
“I think we are lucky we can’t read them.”
The next wing had a single cell once again, but its occupant was sleeping soundly. Once again there was a bed, rug, bath and desk set. There were also some rough drawings, stuck to the wet walls. There was a single everlasting candle on the desk, the only wing that was nothing in pure darkness.
“I… thought she would be the last.”
“I’m sorry, sir, but we are just following your predecessor’s routine.”
“Is… Is she being taken care of?”
“She asked for these, and… Well, she asked for a cat. To keep her company. It was three years ago, sir. I think the Head Warden wanted to gather favour with you, sir, so he granted her a kitten.”
“Let’s not disturb her sleep.”
Roland closed the door.
“The Red Queen—“
“Don’t call her that.”
“I’m sorry, sir. We don’t use names up here. Some say it’s dangerous, that it can grant them powers.”
“Superstition, I guarantee. She was my sister, you know.”
“I do, sir. I’m really sorry.”
They reached the next door, this one had bolts around it, all the way up to the ground. Each bolt had a padlock. Roland took his third shot of Firewhiskey and rubbed his hands.
“This is the last one, sir. It will take some minutes to open, please hold my flask.”
“About the kitten. Do I want to know what happened to it?”
The Minister turned the flask bottom up, drowning the last of the alcohol. Roland unlocked the padlocks and with a gesture from his wand all the bolts opened. The door whined loudly, and the room was incredibly cold. Their respirations fogged before their faces, their boots cracking the thin blade of ice on the floor. There was light inside the uppermost wing in Azkaban, but it produced no warmth.
The Minister approached the thing at the middle of the humongous room. It looked like a black metal box, 16 feet all around. It held no door, no window or bar, and looked solid. Vapour raised from it, as if it was hot.
“What is this?”
“The King’s cell”, muttered Roland, wincing. He didn’t dare even to touch the Minister now, but his fingers danced unquietly. “The food is banished through the cell, we must keep away from it.”
“How do you even know he is inside?”
“We can feel his magic inside it, the cell contains most of it, but some irradiates, that’s why we must not get too close to it. Man have died.”
“He shouldn’t be able to do magic here! What if he is communicating? Or, I don’t know, possessing people from distance? He could be doing anything there!”
“It’s impossible to communicate with the outside if not by some special owls a single Floo, Minister. The Department of Mysteries themselves forged and enchanted this cell, custom-made for the King. You don’t need to worry about it. Let’s get down to the lounge, the boys want to meet you, sir.”
The door closed, the bolts gained life and went to their places. The Minister went downstairs and got weak tea, mushy biscuits and some complaints from the Aurors. Archibald bade them good morning when they left. Roland touched the dark flagstone from the doorway.
“Well, at least I don’t need to do this again for five years”, muttered the Minister. Roland gave him his best smile.
“I don’t think I will need to do this for long, neither”, he rubbed his cold hands together.
“Let’s hope, my good Auror. So, where is the boat? I want to take a good bath before going to office today.”
Roland touched the stone, the Minister, himself, and his wand. He leaned on the doorway. Archibald was gone.
“I didn’t call for one, Minister, we won’t need it.”
“The Floo, then?”
“No. I closed it while you talked with the boys. And I killed all the owls this afternoon, before taking the boat to get you, sir.”
The Minister spluttered.
“You… killed? The owls? Why?”
“You made many questions today, Minister. But you forgot to make the most important ones.”
The lanky man inside the fancy coat raised his wand. He was shaking. It was midmorning, but Azkaban was dark and quiet as always.
“What are you saying, Auror?”
“You asked if the King could be communicating with the outside. But you forgot to ask if he was communicating with the ones inside here. You forgot to ask if I knew what the Black Queen was writing about. You forgot, Minister, to ask me if I had locked the doors after we left.”
There was a loud clank, and ravens flew from hidden nests in Azkaban, croaking loudly. Auror Roland kicked the Minister’s shins, and the towering man fell to the floor, his wand rolling away and disappearing in the darkness. The Auror raised his own wand, strode quickly to the fallen man and plopped down on his chest, his strong legs pinning the Minister’s arms to his sides, his bony hips holding the man to the frozen earth, his wand touching the taller man just under his chin. Their eyes met, blue against cold dark. Fear against elation.
Light was pooling from the windows of the fortress, splitting the never-ending night like sharp knives. The whole island rumbled, the doors banged closed behind them, sealing themselves. Screams filled the ceasing darkness, black and purple sparks of magic popping in existence, illuminating the two men locked together.
“What’s happening?” yelled the Minister, shifting wildly, trying to break free. “What have you done?”
The Auror was just too strong, too heavy, too crazy. A single spark burned the Minister’s chin, and the man under got still.
“Three thousand souls, Minister, three thousand inmates. The Black Queen told me, she told me, Minister, of glories never ending. Of freedom, when was just a lad locked in one of these cells, Minister. Told me the day I left I needed to come back, not as prisoner, but as one of the wardens, she had a job for me, Minister.”
Purple sparks floated around them, screams into the night, banging on the doors. Circles of light springing to life, emerging from the frozen tundra.
“Took me ten years, to be back. Then I started my job, that’s what I did. Do you know how difficult is to carve runes on these flagstones? Or to draw perfect circles around the whole fortress? Of course you don’t, Minister, you spent your life sucking balls to get this job, you know nothing about hard work.”
The Minister sputtered, but Auror Roland just shoved his wand harder against the man’s throat.
“Where was I? Ah, yes, the Black Queen taught me this ritual she designed. Took me five years to complete the rune work and for Azkaban to hold the right number of inmates. Three thousand of them, one thousand souls for each Queen. Aren’t you proud, Minister? Your own sister is worth a thousand wizards.”
“What’s this ritual?” muttered the Minister, sweat dripping from his forehead. His wand was lost, he couldn’t get up, the screams were even louder, the light was pouring from between the very stones of Azkaban, the particles of dark light were circling the square tower as a hurricane.
“Dunno, exactly”, shrugged the Auror. “The Queen gave me orders, not explanations. But I think it’s a time-based ritual. I think the three thousand sacrifices will move them through time and space.”
“Whatever they offered you, I double it! Release me now, let’s get out of here!”
“No can do, sir. How can a man got double freedom? Double happiness? Double… love? I love the Black Queen, Minister, that’s why I do everything she says. That’s why I put my own life on her altar. They will be free, tonight, gone to a world they will call their own. A new world to conquer, my Queen says.”
“But you don’t need me! RELEASE ME NOW!”, squeaked the Minister, trying once again to shove the Auror sideways. Roland pressed his forearm against the man’s throat, holding him down, the point of his wand almost poking the man’s eye. He smiled.
“Of course we do, Percy Weasley”, said Auror Roland, madness dancing in his eyes. “A thousand souls for a Queen, that’s the ransom. And a Minister… for a King.”
Azkaban exploded in light, screams filling the air just to be swiftly cut. A rift opened in the dark sky, and Minister of Magic Percy Weasley peed his trousers. Auror Roland opened his arms, his face towards the broken fortress and the rift of dark magic, sucking everything on the island. He was floating, the particles of purple light twirling around him. He laughed, endlessly, while the souls of the damned were destroyed to be used in the ritual.
“For the Court!” he yelled. The very frozen earth under them was being sucked into the rift. Percy Weasley saw it approaching. He saw his sister’s face in his mind eye, and her two friends, and her dark master. He saw the broken metal box that was once his prison, the twisted cells that feasibly had tried to hold the monsters called the Three Queens. He saw his face, the cold face of the King, the Bearer of Darkness, Bad Omen himself, Kinslayer and Stone Holder. He saw him for the last time, so even if names did have power, nothing worse could happen now. So he said it, as his last act as Minister of Magic.
“Fuck you, Harry Potter.”
Then he saw nothing more.