Azkaban

The sentence was eighteen months.

I got a lifetime.

(Originally posted elsewhere, but I thought it'd be fun to put it up here whilst I edit. Will be ten chapters in total when all uploaded!)

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3. Your Glimmer

Winter 2028
*

The rain run, run, runs down the window. It catches, speeds up and runs down and down.  The drops bleed into one another and leave trails of water left behind in their wake. They are lined with white and green. Sometimes they move at speed: sprinting across the glass in spurts of energy before they lose momentum and stop short of their goal, or else they make it and find that all there is to do now is wait. Some droplets remain stagnant: tiny scatterings of water across the window waiting to be pulled, dragged and taken to a location anew. 

You are that drop. You wait, wait, wait for someone to save you. You are transparent and lined with white and green. You are weak, water, and you drip drip drip. Drip drop. Drip drop. Drip drop. 

Drop.
 
***

It was not uncommon for Alfred Cattermole’s wife, Claire, to find him pouring over case notes in the middle of the night: his dedication to his job was such that she was often unsurprised to wake up at dawn to find that he’d been up all night, surrounded by a sea of parchment from where he’d been trying to find connections or ways forwards for the most difficult patients. He rarely told her names but occasionally let slip details: a teenager from a privileged background who was refusing to eat, a hag with chronic self esteem issues and a little girl who had taken to pulling her hair out (Claire had found out afterwards that this particularly client had actually been the Minster of Magic’s daughter – after the Minister himself had popped round to give Alfred a rather large bonus). Half the time Claire found herself admiring his dedication and on other occasions she’d wonder how he could physically care so much. 

Still, she had rarely seen him go to such extreme lengths as with this particular client. She supposed the mystery of the case had enthralled him: he’d exploited her influence at the Ministry to get hold of backdated copies of the Prophet from Spring and Autumn 2026. Then every single mention of Euan Abercrombie had been circled in red pen, cut out and stuck in his case notes with great care. She hadn’t been able to help herself, peering over his shoulder and glimpsing snippets of articles: Euan Abercrombie separated from wife and children pending his first court case; Euan Abercrombie to face Wizengamot for second time on Thursday; guilty sentence causes outcry from sympathetic Ministry official...

Claire had remembered following the case at the time and found it impossibly sad that during the eighteen month sentence in Azkaban everyone seemed to have forgot that there was such a person as Euan Abercrombie. 

Claire frowned as she carried a cup of coffee to her husband’s aid. He barely registered her presence for a long moment and when he did look up Claire found herself wondering whether or not he had bothered even attempting to sleep the previous night. “How... how’s it going?” She asked, trying not to sound too concerned for fear of goading him.

“I... I don’t know, how to help,” Alfred said heavily. Alfred Cattermole found this sudden lack of ability more frustrating than he cared to admit to his wife, “He’s...” Then he stopped, dropped his pen to the desk and turned up look up at his wife with a forced attempt at a smile.  “How are you?”

“We know his wife, you know,” Claire said, “she’s younger than him, isn’t she?”

Alfred looked sufficiently surprised at this and began shuffling though his notes earnestly. “Yes, quite a bityounger actually... yes, nine years younger... oh,” Alfred paused for a long moment with his eyes fixed on his particular line of his notes “I’ve called her a bitch in my notes,” he muttered heavily. For Alfred, such a diversion from profession distance was not something to be taken lightly. “Claire, I called her a bitch,” he repeated staring at the offending line in his notes. He’d underlined it twice.

Had he really written that? Yes, of course he had: now, he remembered vividly scribbling down the vicious word with his quill. He knew why he’d written it too and he couldn’t quite bring himself to be ashamed of his observation. 

Euan had never said a word against his wife, yet every week he returned with the same worried expression etched across his features and the declaration that ‘Jessica is mad at me.’ As far as he’d been concerned, the woman was both selfish and unsympathetic. 

“Read it out,” Claire implored.

“Nine years younger, met at a hospital (see – father) and married six months later. After being married for a year they started trying for a baby. Three miscarriages. Toby born. No further children, although not for want of trying – from what I can work out, then... Euan gets arrested and she waits for him.  Works at the Leaky, no relatives, blonde, formerly Jessica Finch, bitch.” Alfred sighed again and let the notes flop back down on to the desk. 

“She was at Hogwarts with us,” 

“I don’t remember her,”

“Yes you do! Ravenclaw... she, she tried to get that house elf to do her homework for her,” Alfred shook his head; “She called your sisters bitches and started the rumour about the hippogriff.” 

Some vague memory stirred within him – although he had a great deal of difficulty trying to associate his image of Jessica Abercrombie with a vague memory of Jessica Finch.

 “Yes, I remember now, actually,” Claire said, “her mother died of cancer, and so did his – I remember your sister telling me about it.”

“Which?” Alfred asked, massaging his temples with his fingers as he tried to concentrate. 

“Ellie,” Claire said, “She told me that Jessica had ended up marrying an older man. I vaguely remember her being delighted about this... then Maisie told both of us that her husband had been put in prison. They were quite nasty about it actually, not that I really blame them.” 

“So... she is a bitch?” Unfortunately, this didn’t make Alfred feel any better. In fact he’d rather have been prejudiced than have Euan Abercrombie to actually have married someone horrible and unsupportive.  

“No, I don’t think so,” Claire countered, “I really think she changed after her mother died. In any case, it must have been difficult for her – a single mum with her husband in prison. I hardly think she’d have gotten much from the leaky,”

“Euan can’t work now,”

“Well then!” Claire continued, “It can’t be easy,” 

“But Claire! After he was released... she greeted him with a kiss on the cheek!” Claire frowned, “Look,” Alfred implored, “I had my quill transcribed it from the pensive last night – this is Euan’s account of his release,” He pressed it into her hands with a grimace. He’d read the small section so many times that he almost knew it by heart. 

I’d lost track of time. None of us had any idea what was going on when the guards were completely pushed out of the area for awhile. We’d had a visitor a month before, and we thought maybe there’d be another, but then the human-guards arrived and declared it was time for someone to be released. We had no idea who. Everyone was talking about it – their faces pushed through the bars and they grinned manically. No one knew how much time had gone past, but eventually... we worked out that it must be me that was going. 

I told them all my name and I remember the way they all started at me hungrily, desperately, as if they were longing to reach out and kill me so that they could go in my place. The rapist sent me a twisted grin and implored me to visit. He knew I wouldn’t but he was malicious and mad and sick all at the same time. Finally they came and threw open the door to my cell. I was expected to walk but I’d barely stood up for a month and my legs shook underneath me. 

They sat me down and they gave me a hot meal. They were much kinder to me now, but I was still treated although I had something contagious that they could catch. I was given a new set of robes – fairly expensive ones it seemed – and told that we’d be able to leave as soon as the sea had calmed a little more. They offered me Fire whiskey. 

Eventually we were allowed to leave and I was taken down to the bay. The little rowing boat was almost identical to the one that had brought me here, and the human guard was almost identical too – expect this one was newer, and more timid. He tried talking to me on the journey back.”I bet you’ll be glad to see your family again?” He asked. I told him that I very much doubted my son would recognise me after I’d been absent for a year and a half of his childhood. “Well, it’s your own fault,” He said, “you should of thought of that before you did it!” And then I got angry I told him exactly what happened, and exactly how I’d spent eighteen months in hell forced to spend my time with rapists and murderers. He looked ashen for the rest of the trip and stayed silent.  

They’d given me a watch as part of my clothes and now I kept glancing at as though I had finally managed to regain my sense of time. The journey took three hours. 

They were waiting for me at the dock. It was like arriving in reverse and the tiny silhouette of their figures filled my heart with this immeasurable joy. My family was there. Waiting for me. I jumped out of the boat and waded my way to the shore as he fiddled around with ropes and charms. He tried to stop me but then I was running as fast as my legs could carry me towards the figures I could see. 

“Daddy!” Toby yelled, breaking free from Jessica’s arms and throwing himself towards me in a rush of limbs and excitement. I had almost thought he wouldn’t recognise me and it was true that the closer her got the more apprehensive he seemed to be. Then I beamed at him, and he beamed back, and I picked him up and whirled him around – suddenly sobbing again. “Daddy, daddy, daddy!” Toby exclaimed happily. My heart broke. I’d missed him so god damn much. 

The warmth of his body reminded me that no human had touched me for a month, and I was suddenly so filled with warmth and love that Azkaban felt a million miles away. Dad stepped forwards and smiled at me, his eyes were rimmed with tears too, and he grabbed my arm bracingly. I finally placed Toby on the ground and Jessica stepped forwards. I held out my arms to her. She stepped forwards and hugged me awkwardly. She kissed me on the cheek then stepped back quickly – not saying anything.

“You look so different!” Toby said, staring at my hair and my skin and my beard. 

“I’m still the same underneath,” I told him. “Can I go now?” I asked the man who’d rowed back to shore with me and was now stood on the outside – observing out reunion awkwardly as he tried very hard not to impose. 

There were a few papers to sign and I did so with Toby slung over one arm seemingly ecstatic to have his dad back with him again. I thought everything was going to be all right. Then Toby stubbed his toe on something and he went straight to my Dad, whimpering to him and Dad sent me such an apologetic look... 

Finally we apparated home, side-along because I was too weak. Everything was the same but slightly different. Two rooms had been re-painted and there were odd new pieces of furniture that I didn’t recognise. There were new photos of Toby which I hadn’t taken and there was a strange and unusual smell of fabric freshener that I’d never experience before. It was shockingly familiar but so obvious that time had passed and moved on without me. We had new neighbours and the garden now had a sea of tulips spurting up from nowhere. There were flowers everywhere from friends and relatives who had sent them with little notes of ‘congratulations’ which didn’t quite seem to fit the occasion. It was spring. 

“Right,” Jessica said – and it was the first time she’d spoken, “Please Euan,” She said, “Can I please sort out your hair? I can’t stand it.”

“It’s got to be hard for her,” Claire said fairly after she’d finished reading the pages of notes. “Seeing her husband like that... There is one thing...” Claire said, flicking through the notes a second time. “He says that he’s lost track of time, and then.... he keeps making a reference to one month ago. If he’d lost track of time – how did he know it had been a month ago?” 

“Claire,” Alfred Cattermole said with a grin. “You are a ruddy genius.”  She grinned and offered him a smile. 

“Will you sleep now then?” She asked sweetly. Alfred nodded and dropped his quill with a yawn. 

“I just wish I knew what I could do to help,” 

*

He pressed a hand to his forehead in frustration and brushed back some of his dark hair away from his face. His features seemed to be wobbling slightly under the pressure of trying to focus. 

“I don’t...I don’t know,” Euan said eventually, the defeat obviously weighing heavily on his mind, “it... its winter... the snow, cold...”

“It’s February, Euan,” Alfred said softly, setting down his quill and taking a deep breath. Despite nights spent staring at walls trying to identify some way in which to help the poor, poor man, Euan Abercrombie seemed to be slipping further and further away from reality. Alfred had always thought time would be an issue: given he had existed in a state of timelessness for such an extensive period it was doubtless that it would then be hard to become used the concept all over again, and due to Euan’s frequent slips into the past he often found himself disorientated and with no idea exactly when or where he was. That meant keeping time difficult. Still, when he had first come to him Euan was able to tell him the rough date with a degree amount of certainty and had been particular about time – arriving exactly on the dot when he was supposed to and expecting to leave precisely when his two hour session was over. 

Now though, Euan was just as likely to stumble in an hour late and be taken off guard when he had to leave. Alfred suspected he wouldn’t manage to turn up at all if it wasn’t for Jessica telling him the exact moment he had to leave (and how she was managing this when she was at work Alfred wasn’t quite sure). It seemed, despite all his best efforts, Euan was getting worse rather than better. 

“You have been out of Azkaban for six months,” 

Euan nodded and clenched his fists on the other side of the table. Alfred felt his heart go out to him. God, what was he to do? The injustice of the whole thing made Alfred feel sick if he thought about it too long: even if Euan made some progress in the right direction Alfred couldn’t foresee a future where Euan could live normally without being highly optimistic. Alfred suspected that Euan would be in therapy till the day he died and he wondered whether this benefactor would be happy to keep paying until that day. Well, if he didn’t Alfred would simply give up his time for free. This man could not be left to rot inside his own brain, it simply was not fair. 

“I haven’t been sleeping well,” Euan Abercrombie admitted after a few seconds of silence when Alfred nearly drowned in pity and cried at the same time. It was always impossibly sad to see those who had such trouble living walking through his office door: those who’d been neglected and lonely, those who’d never recovered from watching their best friend die in the middle of the war and those who simply could not function any longer. Sometimes he wondered why he’d chosen to be a therapist – exposed to all the horrors of the world and what they could do to a man, but he couldn’t see himself doing anything else. Anyway, even if he only helped on person in his whole career (and he’d helped a good deal) then surely the sleepless nights were worth it. 

“Right, well, I could get you some dreamless sleep potion prescribed; I just don’t want you to become addicted. Are you still having dreams?”

“Memories, all night,” Euan said stiffly. 

Alfred sat forward in his desk and asked the question he’d been longing to ask for ages, “What memories?”

“It depends,” Euan began, “sometimes I remember my mum dying, sometimes... sometimes I remember the miscarriages, and sometimes I just remember Azkaban. Or the attack, or arguments with Jessica... and stuff my Dad said once, it... it all gets mixed up in my head. But, I just hear their voices all night – yelling at me. They’re always angry I...” Euan trailed off. 

“I’ll go to St Mungo’s tomorrow and see if I can get you a prescription. There are other potions and drugs available but... I don’t want to prescribe anything unless absolutely necessary.” 

Euan nodded for a second and stared at his hands for a long moment. 

“Why don’t we try a more unorthodox method of therapy?” Alfred suggested weekly.

“What’s that?”

“The pub,” Alfred said standing up and shoving his notes in a draw, “I’ll buy you a drink,”

“I’m not sure,” Euan said, swallowing visibly and shaking, “I haven’t been out much, I...”

“It might do you good,” Alfred said softly, “If it doesn’t, we’ll leave and it’s no harm done. I don’t know about you, but I’m dying for a fire whiskey. Is your wife working tonight?”

 Alfred was a little too glad when Euan replied with the negative.

 *

“Alfred!” Hannah beamed as the pair of them stepped over the threshold of the Leaky Cauldron. Euan was trembling in his cloak and looking around the pub slightly manically: desperately trying to take in everything about the pub he hadn’t visited for over two years. Alfred noticed his eyes fix on the clock and his face relax slightly. Internally, he noted this down. He’d write it up in his notes later. 

“Evening,” Alfred smiled, “a fire whiskey and... a butterbeer please,”  

Euan had his hands in his pocket and took the drink without looking at the barmaid in the eye. Alfred led him over to a secluded table in the corner of the room – the sort of table that looked out over all the rest of them and, to Alfred’s satisfaction, had a clear view of the clock. 

“It hasn’t change much,” Euan commented once they were sat down. He took a sip of his butterbeer and glanced around watching the other inhabitants of the pub carefully. Euan watched Hannah for a long time before moving onto a drunkard who was vaguely trying to hit on the girl next to him but wasn’t doing so particularly well. Alfred half watched the people who Euan decided to focus on and half watched Euan – trying to make some sense out of it all.

“I used to come here with my friends after work,”

“Where are your friends now?” Alfred asked simply.

“The same place as they always were, I think,” Euan said, “I just never feel like going out much... I don’t know if they realise I’m out. I haven’t talked to them,”

“That’s your homework for this week then,” Alfred said, “write a letter to one of your old friends,” Euan nodded. The butterbeer seemed to be bringing back some of the colour to his pale skin and, after half the bottle, he almost seemed like he was enjoying himself. 

“I was at school with Hannah,” Euan said, “Well, she was a good few years above me and in a different house – but I remember her. She was in the same year as Harry Potter. I remember... she, she used to have pigtails,” Euan smiled reminiscently.

“Were you at Hogwarts during the war then?” Alfred prompted.

“Well, my mum pulled me out when things started to get bad. Then it was made compulsory... I, I was too young to fight but I remember it...”

“Ron Weasley once impersonated my Dad to break into the ministry,” Alfred grinned, “my mum always tells the stories at dinner parties, or whenever she’s had too much to drink. Saved our lives though,” 

“Good men,” Euan muttered, “I’ll get the next drink,” he said suddenly standing up and heading towards the bar with a new sort of confidence that Alfred had never seen before. Alfred was slightly astounded: he’d spent night after night awake contemplating ways of helping Euan Abercrombie and had inadvertently helped by taking him to the pub and talking about his childhood. He watched as Hannah apparently recognised Euan and started cooing over him in a motherly fashion that made Alfred smile.  Of course, Hannah must work with Euan’s wife – they probably knew each other quite well. 

“No, no,” he heard Hannah declare from the bar, “these are on the house,”

Euan returned with two butterbeers and an expression on his face that was akin to a smile. Alfred decided there was a lot to be said for kind words from a pretty middle age barmaid and wondered if it was a technique he could use more often (he’d have to have words with Hannah about it, of course). 

“Euan, just one thing,” Alfred said as he took his drink, “before... you said you’d lost track of time but in your account of your release you kept mention a month – what was that about?” He regretted the question almost as soon at his left his lips. Euan’s expression clouded over for a split second. 

“There was a visitor,” Euan said, “who talked to me and said I had a month left to go, that’s how I knew,”

“Oh,” Alfred said afraid to press any further for fear of driving away the last of his good mood.

“Good man,” Euan muttered again before taking another long sip of his drink and beginning to talk almost animatedly about how he used to hate Harry Potter because he believed too much of what was written in the Prophet. Alfred remembered the articles published about Euan in the Prophet and joined him in slating everything the publication had ever written for quite some time.



“I’m home!” Alfred yelled, dropping his keys onto the kitchen counter and smiling to himself in satisfaction. He was rather proud of what he’d achieved today and more so, glad that Euan Abercrombie had gone home, slightly tipsy, but also ever so slightly happy.

Claire appeared at the top of the stairs with an unimpressed expression and an obvious glance at her watch. “Have you been to the pub?” Claire asked walking down the steps slowly with her arms folded, “I thought you were working,” 

“I took Euan to the Leaky,” 

“Very responsible,” Claire said with an eye roll, “if he ends up with an alcohol addiction it will be your fault.”

“Claire,” Alfred said softly, “come on – he was doing so much better! Chatting with Hannah, talking to me properly, I made a lot of progress.”

“Reinforcing drunken behaviour,” Claire muttered under her breath. Alfred internally cursed himself for letting Claire pick up the phrases he sometimes muttered under his breath when trying to organise his thoughts (and notes). 

“He told a joke. Admittedly, it was a terrible joke – but the sentiment was there, right?”

Then they were both distracted from the conversation (which had about a fifty percent chance of turning into an argument) by the arrival of a dark brown owl tapping at the window. Alfred stood up and opened the kitchen window, detached the letter from the bird’s leg and half expected it soar off into the night (and it wasnight now, so he might have been a little later home than he intended to be...). However the bird stayed perched comfortably on top of his kitchen cupboards and looked at him with wide orange eyes.

“To me,” Alfred said curiously before pulling open the envelope and staring at the letter in shock. 

Alfred Cattermole,

This is matter of great sensitivity. I am Euan Abercrombie’s benefactor.  An acquaintance of mine suggested you were fully capable of helping me and that is how Euan Abercrombie ended up as one of your clients. As benefactor for Euan Abercrombie I wish to be as much help as possible in all aspects of his life. I believe his sentence was unjust and a violation of his human rights and am therefore attempting to gather as much evidence as possible before bringing the case in front of the ministry. I am currently collecting information from three separate cases similar to Euan Abercrombie’s although I believe his to be entirely unique in many respects.

I would greatly appreciate it if you could send on your notes. I understand that confidentially is important but I do not want to raise Mr Abercrombie’s hopes if nothing will come of it. He is to know nothing of this.

I also ask for great confidentiality about the nature of this letter. I am a worker at the ministry and if my intentions and identity were exposed I may lose a great deal of influence there. 

Please send your notes with my owl. She will bring the notes to me and return to you regularly. Thank you.

Alfred stared at the letter for a long moment before passing it to his wife and going to retrieve his notes from the study. He wasn’t strictly allowed to relay any information about his clients without informed consent and he was highly aware that sending letters to an unnamed stranger could hardly be considered as sensible. But then again, Alfred would do anything that might potentially help Euan Abercrombie, even if it went against all the rules of his profession. 

So he sent the notes with a short letter of his own, reading only ‘thank you for caring.’
 
 ***

Sometimes you are not the rain, but the window. Sometimes you are solid but see through;  there but not there, hard enough for someone to press their hands against you but tangible enough that you can be broken by hands, seen through by eyes, and spoke through. You are weak. The rain runs down you and gathers at your corners. Droplets, like tears, gathering and building at your edges. The rain caresses you, sometimes, and sometimes it attacks your surface like arrows. You reflect.


And sometimes, you shatter.

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