Deitha was not looking forward to this.
She'd taken a job that, as it turned out, was a debt owed to what she thought was a minor functionary within the Ministry. Jumped up little bureaucrat that lost daddy's money in a game of something and wanted to send heavies round to get it back before daddy noticed, or something like that. She didn't really pay too much attention - this kind of job was never especially interesting but it paid the bills, and seemed to be the kind of job she wanted at the moment.
Recent events and trips to the Meridian Clinic in Knockturn Alley had boosted her self confidence and self-esteem but as much as she felt like doing good deeds, she still had bills to pay, not to mention a reputation to preserve. And even with her new-found senses of empathy and compassion, she was not immune to that part of her that still thoroughly relished giving folks a good scare and incentive to fulfill their obligations.
But jobs that seemed simple on the surface had a habit of not being so simple in practice, and this was no exception to that particular trait. Turned out that in order to reach the people who owed money, she had to find an informant. The debt in question was with someone sufficiently well protected that others would go to Azkaban in their place.
And so that was where she found herself going. The stuffed-shirt she was contracted to had arranged it all - a boat out to Azkaban, someone from the Ministry to accompany her, all the conveniences.
Normally she'd have double pig-tails and a hat with a really wide brim for confidence and sass, and a dress in a bold colour to show the world that she didn't care what it brought, she was going to go out in style. As she'd dressed that morning, she had a wry smile thinking about the first time she sassed her way into Meridian with her most potent purple dress, but today she went with a loose fitting black number. Respectful, sombre, appropriate. On some level it seemed like some sympathetic magic armour; signalling to the Dementors that she wasn't a threat and was somewhat like them.
Nonsense. She was nothing like them. But she was also a fringe element of society, there to move things along and occupy a space that others might not. She twinned her dress with a sombre mid-grey cloak that she hoped would spare her from the winds crossing the North Sea.
She wasn't fond of the idea of going to Azkaban. She'd heard stories, of course. The ones that kids tell each other to frighten themselves. The ones adults tell to frighten the kids. The ones adults tell each other to try to appeal to a better nature. The ones that her 'customers' threaten her with.
But that was very different from the thought of actually going. She had assumed, up to recently, that if she had had to go, she would have been largely immune; the things that had happened to her had left her with a very stunted view of herself and of life. More than one of her jobs had been completely out of nothing more than an unhealthy mix of anger and pure spite. Recently, of course, she had started something of a healing process, and each day was a couple of shades brighter than it had been before.
She knew, of course, that any experience she had with the Dementors would be temporary, and that she had ensured a thorough supply of chocolate for the trip. It helped that she liked chocolate.
She was met off the Scottish coast by a man who claimed to be from the Ministry, who grunted his name at her - Roderick Spode - and the oarsman of a small rickety wooden thing professing to being a boat, but Deitha was not convinced. She could barely see the man, such was his scrawny, almost skeletal frame swallowed up by the rather burly black hooded cloak around him.
"So, uh, off we shove?" She tried to sound positive, but it came out as thin and reedy in the wind.
Spode gestured towards the boat. "After you." Spode looked positively ill already just at the thought of getting on a boat, especially one that seemed like it might barely take just Deitha's weight, let alone the three of them, but once aboard, he seemed stoic enough.
She'd had no idea how long it would take to row out to Azkaban - long enough for it to be a useful deterrent, long enough to give a traveller plenty of time to forment thoughts on the duration of their time on the island, and not nearly long enough to let the otherwise accumulating sense of dread float away unheeded.
And so they arrived. The oarsman remained silent. Spode handed him something and a thin, damn-near skeletal hand reached out from the folds of his cloak to snatch it - seemingly angrily - from Spode's hand.
It suddenly occurred to Deitha whether the ferryman was paid for one way or both ways. She hoped she didn't have to find out. Spode, however, seemed to read her mind, and muttered gruffly in her direction. "He'll be here when we're done to take us back. This way."
She followed Spode through the first archway, up some stairs, she wasn't really paying attention to him, just following his burly physique and waiting for the inevitable.
It wasn't long coming. First a chill wind seemed to cross her - despite it being completely sheltered from any actual drafts, and the world seemed to desaturate a fraction, the colour bleeding out from the edges of her vision, as she started to hear an echo in her mind. A scream. Crying. A tangle of limbs thrashing.
Whatever warmth she'd carried in her heart the last while after her visit to the Meridian Clinic, that all faded out of view, sinking beneath the water, as if the skies and lands as on the other side of a mirror's edge. A sharp inhalation of breath and it seemed to freeze in her throat; it was like her nightmares had come back and where they had all been kept at bay, they were all rushing together, clamouring to get into her mind - but stopped at the gate, even though that was little comfort. They were still there, still audible and wailing and gnashing and crashing.
She exhaled and titled her neck sharply to the side, cracking the neck joint in two places. This she could deal with - she was made of sterner stuff and what was it to her if her recent good mood simply evaporated into what she'd had before? After all... when doing her best work - the work which pleased her in ways that were less wholesome, that wasn't happy. That was primal and as far as she was concerned, not even the Dementors could take that away from her. It was hers and hers alone.
She stood at the entrance to the cell of the man she was here to see. Spode stood to the side, watching but not really paying any attention. He looked as if he were about to lose whatever breakfast he'd had, perhaps he was not as proof against the Dementors as she was. Had she been feeling more charitable, she might have offered some chocolate - but for the moment that was switched off.
Truth be told, she hadn't actually known the man she was coming to see, only that she was who she had to speak to. The man before her was a pitiable spectacle, a shadow of who he would have been before however long had been spent here in this place. He'd been sat staring hard at the wall - or perhaps a hole in the wall at the sea, it was hard to be sure.
As she watched, he was weeping, and as he shuffled around, she could see there was a small hole there. The last sight of a world that had gone very wrong for him, as it were.
The man crawled, turning to her like some lame dog barely able to stand let alone walk. "Is it time?"
"Time?" Deitha echoed.
"The bells... the bells..."
"I'm sorry, I don't..."
Spode interjected. "Church bells tolling for the dead." Then with the nearest his voice apparently did for kindness, "He's asking if it's the end for him. Others ask similar."
Deitha shook her head sadly. "No, I'm afraid not. I'm here on business relating to a friend of yours."
The wraith before her snarled. "Tain't afraid o' dying in here." Such an uncharacteristic reaction compared to moments ago. She wondered if he was under some kind of curse.
"Look, I'm here on business. If you tell me what I need to know, maybe I can put in a word for you."
He collapsed into a heap of maniacal laughter, the kind that veers occasionally into sanity. "Shan't! Shan't! Won't!" The paroxysm of laughter abated. "Won't." He muttered... "Won't... can't."
Deitha sighed. She was determined to get answers even if it took her longer than anticipated. Turning away, she broke a small piece of chocolate off in her pocket and shoved it into her mouth with as quick a gesture as she could manage, not wanting to give either Spode or the prisoner any more opportunity to comment on the subject - and she was pretty sure offering chocolate to an inmate wasn't exactly above board.
She sat down, cross-legged, coming to the height of the wretch before her, and simply watched, passively. If she gave the impression she wasn't a threat, maybe he'd open up after all. Maybe the poor sod was too far gone, but she was here and determined to make use of coming here.