Leave a Man to his Fate
Wednesday 8 August 1990
Nairn, Inverness-shire; Azkaban Fortress (unplottable, but certainly in the North Sea); Old Basford, Nottingham.
Wha would be a traitor knave?
Wha would fill a coward’s grave?
Wha sae base as be a slave?
Let him turn and flee!
By oppression’s woes and pains,
By your sons in servile chains,
We will drain our dearest veins
But they shall be free.
Lay the proud usurpers low
Tyrants fall in ev’ry foe,
Liberty’s in every blow –
Let us do or dee!
– Robert Burns: “Scots wha hae”
Rated PG for the real horrors and the fakes.
Even the gatekeeper’s house was freezing. Ariadne was shivering almost before she stepped out of the public Floo in Nairn – the only Floo in Nairn, since the gatekeeper was the only wizard within a fifteen-mile radius. The room was dim and unfurnished, for receiving the public through the Floo was its only function. A steely sky glared through the gatekeeper’s window, showing that his cottage was nested in the river-bank, where Muggles would hardly notice it. It also showed that the leafy alders and red-sandstone banks were strangely grey-toned, and Ariadne found her limbs stiffening against the chill.
The gatekeeper ambled towards her. His black hat was pulled so far down his brow that it completely shaded his face, and he spoke in a deadly monotone.
“Are you visiting Azkaban?”
“My name is Charon. I shall take you.”
He shouldered open his front door, and did not bother to lock it after she had followed him out. Had it really been summer in Nottingham? It was winter here. A boat lay in the six feet of sand that separated the cottage from the river, far enough inland to be considered aground, yet too close to the water to be avoid being washed away on the next current. Since it was not tethered, it must have been held in position by magic. Ariadne felt Mr Charon glance at her, presumably to check that both her feet were in the boat, before he raised both arms and exclaimed, “Decedo!”
The little boat shot out into the water and skimmed down the river. Ariadne saw that it left no slipstream: it was not sailing at all, but was flying an inch above the surface. Then she realised that her limbs were paralysed, not merely stiffened against the plummeting cold of the wind, but every muscle completely locked into immobility. She fought off the panic with the reminder: This has to be how they prevent prisoners from escaping on the way to Azkaban.
The boat sped out of the River Nairn and into the grey expanse of the North Sea. The waves did not seem to reach the boat, so she was dry, but the frozen air was like a knife; she should have brought her cloak. But no cloak could have protected her from the sombre gloom of Mr Charon. He sat opposite her, his head turned down towards the waves so that she still could not see his face under his hat. He seemed not to be doing anything – she could not see a rudder, and he was not holding a wand – but she supposed he was making the boat move. If she had not heard him speak earlier, she would have assumed that he could not, for there was no evidence that he had any interest in social interaction. Was that what working amongst Dementors did to a person? Mr Charon apparently did not distinguish among the different types of people whom he ferried to Azkaban – the accused, the convicted, the visiting – for his lack of interest in her was nothing personal; it was simply his usual attitude to anyone who shivered in his boat.
Time and space stood still for as long as Ariadne was held captive in the cold stern. Then a jetty suddenly appeared to her right, and a huge grey-garbed figure motioned to her to alight from the boat. Her limbs were released at the moment of its gesture, and she managed to climb the slimy steps without needing the assistance of its outstretched scabby hand. Mr Charon followed behind her, and she saw that the pathway from the jetty led in only one direction: to the portcullis of a towering grey fortress.
This was it. She had arrived at Azkaban.
For a moment her heart plummeted; she was not wanting to enter. More Dementors were waiting at the entrance, and it defied all rules of common sense to approach them. But she moved one foot forward, remembering why she had come, and soon found herself walking under the raised portcullis into the gloomy hall.
For a moment sickening memories flashed through her head – Veleta dead, Remus abandoning her, her betrayal of Veleta – but she reminded herself that this was a business trip, and wondered how she should introduce her business to the Dementors standing sentry.
“Visitor.” Mr Charon, still a pace behind, was speaking for her.
The nearest Dementor wheezed out a great rattling breath and handed her a white ball. It was, she realised, the ticket that would allow her to leave the fortress when her business was completed. A second Dementor held out a tray covered with small squares. Most were black, but a few were grey, and all were marked with a name. She saw a grey one marked HIPPOCRATES SMETHWYCK, and picked it out of the tray.
The Dementor did not incline its head anywhere in her direction – she remembered now that they could not see anyway – but it apparently knew by sense of touch which tablet she had taken, because it laid the tray on an occasional table and began to glide towards a staircase. As she followed, she was disconcerted to realise that Mr Charon was remaining in the doorway. He might not be a very comfortable person, but she had not envisioned being left alone with a Dementor.
They are under Ministry control, she reminded herself. They only attack when instructed. Or when annoyed. She hoped she knew how to avoid annoying a Dementor.
They climbed two flights before entering a gloomy hall striped on three sides with iron bars. It took her a moment to recognise that the bars were the fourth wall of the prisoners’ cells, like beasts’ cages at an old-fashioned zoo. The Dementor kept moving, then stopped outside one cell. It raised both arms, rattled out some sound that was – just possibly – the equivalent of a spell, and then stood back as a door flew open.
Hippocrates Smethwyck was sitting behind the bars. Ariadne stepped through the narrow opening and, before she could speak a word of greeting, heard it clang shut behind her. A great ticking sound filled her ears. Startled, she looked around for the metronome.
“You can’t see it,” said Hippocrates Smethwyck. “It’s just to remind you that you have only half an hour.”
She could hear that he was valiantly trying to tell a joke, but this was not the kind of place where humour flourished. The air felt almost too heavy to breathe and, although a glass outlet in the stone ceiling cast a white-hot point of light over Healer Smethwyck’s desk, outside that point everything was dusky and indistinct. The cell was perhaps ten feet square, and it contained a bed, a desk and two chairs. Ariadne sat cautiously on the spare one.
“So is the goal to maximise the psychological irritations?” she asked.
He stopped himself mid-nod, and tried to reassure her, “It isn’t too bad at the moment. I have light and a bathroom – ” he indicated a door in the solid wall to her left, “ – and a bed with blankets. The food isn’t too bad either, and my wife was allowed to bring me books and a gramophone. The worst thing is the way they mess with our minds.”
“Taking away your happy thoughts,” she said soberly.
“Well, they aren’t supposed to do that yet. The Dementors are supposed to keep their distance from those of us who are not yet condemned. The Ministry doesn’t want us going mad before our trials.” But, almost unconsciously, he brought out a block of chocolate and offered it to her.
She took only one square, knowing that he would have to make the rest last until his wife’s next visit.
“They are supposed to bring food and usher in visitors and otherwise leave us alone. But some of them bend the rules a little – hovering just around the corner, hoping to pounce on our loudest emotions. And there are the other prisoners. The man below me keeps groaning, ‘I am innocent, I am innocent.’ He sounds so pathetic – so guileless – that I found myself wondering if he really had been wrongly incarcerated, and whether I should try to help. So I asked my wife to find out more about his case.”
Ariadne felt a little warmth from the chocolate spread through her chest down to her fingers. She wondered what Healer Smethwyck did whenever his ration of chocolate was depleted.
“Well, Clarissa found out all right! The man below me is the mass-murderer, Sirius Black. Yet I was almost ready to argue his case. I’d been letting his mad ramblings about being framed overtake the known empirical evidence. Ariadne, I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to think clearly, so I need to tell you everything today.”
He brought out a parchment from the pile on his desk.
“Make a Zerocso of this and take it away with you. If anyone ever asks, that is your original contract of employment with me. Destroy any older copies you may have – my wife has already destroyed those at St Mungo’s.”
She knew he was asking her to cheat, but the contract looked exactly the same as it had on the day she signed it. That was certainly her own signature at the bottom. While she was frowning, his index finger brushed almost casually against the date.
Then she realised. Surely, she had originally accepted the contract in June 1987? But it was now dated Tuesday 1 September. That was indeed the approximate time when she had begun working at St Mungo’s. Why was Healer Smethwyck wanting to pretend that they had not had an agreement any earlier?
“You’ve already asked me to keep silence,” she said, “and you’ve been arrested. Healer, why…?”
“Because it’s the best thing to do.”
She looked up at him, not following.
“Ariadne, let me tell you a story. Do you know anything about the circumstances under which Ankarad Murray married Cuthbert Macnair?”
She shook her head.
“The Muggles were at war, and Dark wizards were running amok. Young Miss Murray was famous as the greatest brewster seen in Europe for several generations. Probably more than one man had his eye on her, but she was engaged to be married. To me.”
He spoke calmly. Ariadne reminded herself that this had happened a very, very long time ago.
“When Cuthbert Macnair also proposed, she laughed and told him she wasn’t interested. When he asked her again, she became angry, and told him to leave her alone. Macnair persisted, and she resisted. But in the end, he found out her weak spot. He told her that if she did not marry him, he would kill me. In the chaos of those times, he could have easily made it look like an accident, or the work of the Walpurgians. Ankarad was frightened into obeying him.”
“So she sacrificed her life…?”
“Exactly. I don’t believe she gave way to panic. I believe she was rationally afraid for my safety and that she saved my life in the only way she knew how. In peace time, she might have been able to report Macnair to the Aurors, but in wartime they didn’t have the resources to intervene in a personal tragedy. And the war dragged on for another two years, while her husband kept her as a virtual prisoner in his house.” A tired smile crossed his face. “But Ankarad did manage to contain the damage that Cuthbert Macnair was trying to wreak. I think she promised herself never to bring into the world Macnair sons who might grow up to be like their father. It is probably no accident that the greatest brewster in Scotland gave birth only to daughters.”
Something clicked in Ariadne’s mind, but she was not sure what, and it did not seem important. “I’m not surprised that my grandmother knew of such potions,” she agreed. “Yet, in all my research, I’ve never met any such recipe.”
“Oh, it would unquestionably be illegal – for obvious ethical reasons – and Professor Jigger would have had better sense than to teach any such formula to an apprentice. But a Potions Master of his age has certainly learned how to brew one. Now, on the subject of breaking the law… that is what I want to tell you, Ariadne. Your grandmother did not randomly sacrifice her life; she gave it up willingly so that I might live. I would like to think that I made good use of her sacrifice. Although it was ten years before I could love another woman, I have even been happy.”
She nodded, still not following his train of thought.
“But my turn has come. If our work among the werewolves is to stand any chance of continuing – if we entertain any hope of keeping most of our team outside Azkaban – at least one person will have to risk sacrificing himself. And common sense dictates that that person should be me.”
“Why you? I was the one who broke the law by discovering the Wolfsbane Potion!”
“But I broke it too, when I agreed to supervise the brewing. And I have already benefited from someone else’s sacrifice, so I should be the first to volunteer. You have a young family, while my children are long since grown. You have the expertise to take the research into wolfsbane to the next step, which would be quite beyond my own capabilities. And I am the person who has been arrested and is currently in the public eye, while no-one as yet suspects you. Ariadne, let’s be practical. There is no reason to have more than one person in Azkaban over this.”
“I’m sure my guilt will be exposed at your trial,” she said. She had tried not to think about this, but she had assumed that it would happen.
“Not necessarily. I have already shown my lawyer this, and admitted to forging it. I just didn’t admit… when I forged it.”
The second parchment was dated May 1987.
THE MINISTRY OF MAGIC
This invention relates to a potion to treat the symptoms of lycanthropy.
Persons suffering from lycanthropy turn into wolves under the full moon. This constitutes a danger to society. Even when the lycanthropes are restrained, they still pose significant dangers to themselves.
The Wolfsbane Potion, when imbibed in the correct dosage by a lycanthrope, causes the afflicted person to retain a human mind even when the full moon is risen…
“A patent that you admit is a fake? Who is supposed to be fooled by it, Healer?”
“You are, of course. And Healer Valentine. Neither of you would have agreed to brew a potion that you believed to be illegal, would you? So I must have told you that the Patent Office had changed its mind, and you both must have believed me. I didn’t bother trying to deceive Madam O’Keeffe, of course. She just did as she was told.”
Ariadne leafed ahead to the signature. The fake patent was signed Dolores J. Umbridge. The handwriting looked suspiciously like Healer Smethwyck’s own, but Ariadne could not remember any more whether she had ever seen Madam Umbridge’s real signature.
“So I was fooled… what else do I have to remember?”
“Nothing much. You swallowed my ridiculous story that the Patent Office had changed its mind and you signed the contract in September because this job seemed as good as any. When I was arrested for illicit brewing, you naturally wanted nothing more to do with the Wolfsbane project, although you continued your job at St Mungo’s because some of the other projects were interesting. That’s what you say if anyone asks. But they probably won’t ask, because I shall convince them that you have nothing new to tell. Certainly you are not to attend my trial.”
She sat up straight. The invisible metronome was ticking loudly over their heads. Healer Smethwyck seemed absolutely earnest.
“You were completely ignorant that you were doing anything wrong,” he repeated, “and now that you know better, you are completely dissociated. You have no interest in watching my condemnation. You have nothing to say on the subject. But if you play it smartly, neither the law nor the press will even bother to interview you, for I’m the villain of the piece. Ariadne, I will do everything I can to have myself acquitted. But I may not succeed. If I am sentenced to stay here,” – he could not suppress a shudder – “don’t let that be the end of our research.”
Logically, she could see how much sense his proposal made. But it was so wrong that she should enjoy freedom and comfort while he paid the whole price alone.
“I am laying three tasks on you,” he continued. “First, to find ways of continuing to brew Wolfsbane Potion – in secret, of course. Second, to do all you can to make the potion legal and socially acceptable. If I am condemned, that will be my only hope of pardon. And third, of course, you must try to research an outright cure. That might yet be several decades away. But Wolfsbane Potion in its present form never was more than an interim treatment.”
She nodded dumbly.
“And now, I have something for you. I think you were at one time interested in Blood Magic.”
She had forgotten mentioning it to him, but of course he was right.
“I’ve just finished reading this. My wife is a Genetiwitch, and she recommends it highly. It may offer more answers than you were expecting.”
He handed over a leather-backed tome. It was called It’s in Your Blood: a Wizard’s Genetic Primer, and she had never heard of the author, one Phoebe Constellis. It seemed not to be about blood magic at all – and the text was half a century out of date.
Yet at the moment when he was about to be consigned to the Dementors – when he playing an elaborate gambit to keep herself and Althea Valentine out of trouble – Hippocrates Smethwyck was still finding a way to give her a gift. So she thanked him tearfully, and choked out a promise to fulfil his commissions.* * * * * * *
When Ariadne, after another cold trip in Mr Charon’s boat, stepped out into her own hearth, she saw that Remus had taken the bairns to Honeyduke’s. Matthew had apparently indulged in three Chocolate Frogs – or perhaps Remus had eaten one, but Matthew was certainly playing with two Agrippa cards and a Dumbledore. There was an uneaten pile on the end table beside the sofa. Ariadne reminded herself that the Dementors had gone now, but she could not help being glad when Remus guided her to the sofa and handed her a Frog. She pulled Elizabeth onto her lap and hoped she would not have to talk.
“I have a job,” said Remus.
She smiled weakly, reminding herself how delighted she would have been to hear the same news this morning.
“It’s at Carlton Junior School, where I did that teaching round a few years back.” He sat down beside her and gave her another Chocolate Frog. “You’ll be pleased, when you remember which school that was. Oh, and have you seen the newspaper? Kingsley has managed to outsmart the Daily Prophet.”
She leaned against him and read the article on page four.
I’M NO WOLF, DECLARES AUROR
by Rita Skeeter, Special Correspondent
“Reporters are cowards,” Auror Kingsley Shacklebolt has claimed. “The Daily Prophet prints that I’m a werewolf. But how many reporters can provide proof for the readers? Would they dare visit me under the full moon?”
Well, Auror Shacklebolt, not all reporters are cowards. So I’ve agreed to interview him on the evening of the Grain Moon.
I am punctual to our half-past eight appointment in a narrow back-alley in Stockport. The sun is setting behind the dirty garage roofs. My heart hammers helplessly as I wonder why I have let a vicious werewolf lure me out here. I just hope I can Disapparate faster than a wolf can pounce.
“I’m doing this for the readers,” I remind myself. But what am I doing? The red sun hangs low in the west, and Auror Shacklebolt is late. Will he even turn up?
Just as dusk begins to blur the gravel beneath my stilettos, a dark shadow looms out from a roll-top door. I clutch my clipboard as a sinewy limb stretches towards me. Should I Disapparate now? A deep-throated chuckle assails my ears. The voice is still human, but that is because the moon has not quite risen.
“Auror Shacklebolt?” I am proud that my voice rings out firmly and clearly.
“Good evening, Madam Skeeter.” A well-toned young man emerges into the dying light, his voice teasing me. “Have you come to meet a werewolf?”
“But you said you weren’t one,” I challenge. “Were you lying?”
The Auror shakes hands, his strong and virile grasp sending electric tingles all up my arm. He wears jeans and a black leather jacket, with a gold ring winking in one ear, and he’s as bald as an egg. We look at one another for a full minute, while the moon slowly lifts above the eastern horizon. There is not a flicker of a transformation in his lean yet solid physique. By the time the moon is a bright yellow disc in the black sky, Auror Shacklebolt still couldn’t look more human.
“Shall I howl?” he jokes. With a dexterity that no beast would even attempt, he Conjures a white café-style table, at odds with the dingy brickwork around us, two chairs, and a lantern glowing with pink fire. And we sit down to talk.
How did it feel, I ask, when a former classmate treacherously denounced him as a werewolf?
“Idiots will always be out there,” he grins. “My accuser obviously hadn’t bothered to check with the Werewolf Registry.” The firelight makes glowing pink shadows dance on his shiny bare head.
I ask why a supposed friend would spread such malicious lies. Shacklebolt shrugs without really responding, and half-changes the subject. “One part of the story was true. Ariadne Lupin does know a werewolf.”
Ariadne lowered the paper. She was not surprised that Kingsley apparently knew about Remus, for he was no fool; but surely he would not betray their secrets to some journalist?
But the fact that she could feel the indignation proved that the effects of the Dementors were wearing off.
“Keep reading,” said Remus. “She gets better.”
I almost forget to take notes as I lean inwards to gaze into his guileless chestnut eyes.
“Ariadne and I never went on an unsupervised holiday together,” he stresses firmly. “There were seven adults present when we went hiking. But it was while this group of us was on that holiday that we met the werewolf.”
A shiver of apprehension runs up my spine as Shacklebolt smiles valiantly. He’s obviously trying not to re-live the terror of his experience. And I’m fervently hoping that this werewolf won’t turn out to be some familiar person whom I’ve blindly trusted for years.
“He was a Muggle.” Auror Shacklebolt takes my hand confidingly. He has such a firm, warm grasp; I find myself unprofessionally wondering if I might take him out to dinner one evening – some time soon. “And he was quite normal, of course, once the moon had set. We all felt sorry for the poor young man. It was an experience that would inspire anyone to try to help werewolves.”
Such old-fashioned tenderness is rare today. I wonder if Mr Shacklebolt is truly in touch with the dangers of modern Dark Creatures. I want to ask him what he would do if his werewolf-friend decided to attack. But before we can explore this line, a siren blasts from a gadget that hangs on his well-muscled chest.
“Salazar, that’s my boss! I’m on call, Madam Skeeter, and I have to go to work. It was nice meeting you!”
Yes, it was. “Wait,” I plead, “the readers will want to know if you have a girlfriend.”
“You guess!” And with another teasing grin, he Disapparates.
Auror Shacklebolt, 24, was born in Manchester, is not married, and expects to be promoted soon.
A/N. We all know that beta readers make the world go round. And my beta, Spiderwort, is the one who makes the light shine. Without her help, I would never have worked out how the cells at Azkaban are illuminated.