Saturday, March 21, 2015

A day in Azkaban

Courtesy: Seth Cooper (HarryPotter.Wikia.Com)
Rabastan Lestrange sighed. His sister-in-law turned out to be incorrigible at times. Finding a way to ward off the Azkaban Dementors had been difficult enough: they had to work tirelessly for months — he and his brother Rodolphus — along with Rosier and Dolohov and Rookwood, to find a way to handle the creatures even Death Eaters called filthy.

Bellatrix was there, of course. Bellatrix, prodigal and prodigious Bellatrix, perhaps the most gifted witch Hogwarts had ever produced, the sadist he had seen perform the Cruciatus curse on innocent Muggle teenagers for the sake of a laugh, the torturer he had seen drive the Longbottoms to insanity, the servant who had vowed to come back when sentenced to Azkaban.

He remembered her shriek echo in the courtroom, probably sending a chill down the spine of those present: “The Dark Lord will rise again, Crouch! Throw us into Azkaban; we will wait! He will rise again and will come for us, he will reward us beyond any of his other supporters! We alone were faithful! We alone tried to find him!”

Rabastan remembered the day vividly; he remembered the maniac gleam in her glistening eyes; he remembered the unshakable confidence in her voice; he remembered her wild curls covering her eyes as she shouted back at Bartemius Crouch; in a way she was very attractive in an illicit sort of way.

They were left wandless, powerless, at the mercy of Dementors. They could sense Crouch Jr swap his position with his weak, pitiable mother, leaving her to die. They knew exactly how Sirius Black managed to keep himself sane; unfortunately, none of them had bothered to train to become an Animagus — something Black had managed as a schoolboy. They knew Black would escape one day.

In those dark days, Bellatrix seemed to be their only hope. It had seemed an uneven battle, but she was up to the task. She always was. It was for a reason that The Dark Lord considered her his most loyal lieutenant. Bellatrix knew they would break out of Azkaban when the time was ready. She, with her incredibly strong mind, resisted the Dementors relentlessly, warding against them...

It had always struck Rabastan odd that Black had been assigned a separate cell and Bellatrix was not. Of the two Bellatrix was easily the more dangerous. It was true that Black’s crime was graver (of course, the people involved were the Potters, no less — those two pets of Dumbledore), but it did not need an Arithmancy Professor to realise that Bellatrix was easily the more dangerous and cruel of the cousins.

It had been ten years since they had been sent to Azkaban. Rabastan had vaguely heard of Potter’s son having felled The Dark Lord that day — though exactly how an infant could do it to the greatest wizard in known history seemed unfathomable. Once The Dark Lord disappeared from view, the Aurors spent no time in rounding up the Death Eaters one by one. Those traitors — Malfoy and Snape — had somehow managed to weasel out.

Rabastan had heard of Dementors before, but had never gauged the full impact an army of them could have on him. Contrary to popular beliefs, Death Eaters were human — or, at least, Dementors treated them like humans. They were worse than Rabastan had imagined.

Fleeting memories came to his mind whenever one went past him... memories of a disturbed childhood and adolescence… those days of being bullied by Rodolphus… of being humiliated by Rookwood in the Slytherin common room for his apparent feelings towards Aphrodite, that Muggle girl, in First Year...

Bellatrix made things easier for Rabastan and the others. It was not that she made a conscious effort to help them. One did not ask Bellatrix Lestrange for help — unless you were The Dark Lord, of course — whose orders she always executed to perfection. Bellatrix was not the helping kind, but to cut things short, she did something that kept them warm, and even happy at times.

Rabastan was happy and relaxed enough to think of Aphrodite — about every minute detail of how he had slow-tortured her husband before killing him. A smile appeared on his face every time he recalled the murder. He wished Aphrodite saw sense and joined him. That she would take her own life to “teach him a lesson” was something Rabastan had certainly not expected.

For some odd reason Rabastan was the only one Bellatrix talked to in Azkaban. Not even to Rodolphus, no. Rabastan had always wondered why. Maybe it was the Aphrodite episode. It was, after all, the closest anyone had managed to achieve after the Longbottom incident; perhaps Bellatrix thought Rabastan was the closest she had when it came to cruelty.

She often sat down next to him and continued with her rants — why she was the most devoted lieutenant The Dark Lord ever had, how proud she was about the entire Longbottom incident, why Muggles should be enslaved, why Snape and Malfoy should be tortured to death, and some random Death Eater pep talk about there being no good or bad, only power.

But that did not answer Rabastan’s question. He had to know. He had to find out how Bellatrix had repelled the Dementors. He had to coax it out of her. What if anything happened to her? How would he ward off those creatures who even the Death Eaters could not match in foulness? No, he needed to gain her trust and find out the answer. He had to.

What kept Bellatrix going?

How did she repel the Dementors, day in and day out?


It was another of those mornings — or was it an evening? One could never tell in Azkaban. He could sense rain outside, but he was not sure. It did not matter anyway. He sat next to Bellatrix, their backs cold against the mouldy stone wall; it could have been minutes, or hours since they sat silently; Rabastan could not tell.

Then he mustered the courage. He had to find out. Of course he had to find out.

“Bellatrix, I have always wondered something.”

No response.

“I have seen you stay firm despite these — these abominable creatures. How did you do it? What kept you from going insane?”

Still no response.

Rabastan felt desperate. Why would she not answer? He thought.

He asked again.

Still no response. Rabastan grew impatient with every passing second.

Then the unthinkable happened. Bellatrix’s lips twitched a bit before and curling into what was unmistakably a smile. Rabastan was so shocked that he was at a loss for words.

“I used the Patronus charm, Rabastan.”

“But how did you do it? You do not have a wand!”

Bellatrix smiled. Again. “Not very good at wandless, are you?”

“But this is Patronus, Bellatrix. Patronus is complicated magic.”

“Not when The Dark Lord teaches you himself, Rabastan.”

“He — he taught you himself?”

“Of course he did not want to. But then, I persisted. I had to learn this, for I knew that I may have to go to Azkaban some day, and escape unscathed. I persisted long enough to make him realise. Then he taught me.”

“How could he do it?”

The curls covered her eyes, but she did not seem to care. “It takes immense concentration, Rabastan, but you have to remember that The Dark Lord is greatest wizard of all time — do you know he can fly?”

“I’ve heard Snape can fly, too. Can you fly as well?”

Bellatrix nodded. “Flying requires deep concentration as well, for you need to defy gravity, which is an exceptionally strong force to counter.

“What about Patronus?”

“Wandless Patronus is even more difficult. It had taken me years to master it.”

“I have never seen your Patronus take shape, Bellatrix. I remember the panther you used to conjure, but I have never seen it in all these years.”

“You will not notice it. It does not take the full shape. Only The Dark Lord can do that, for he is the greatest wizard the world has seen. However, what I can do is to summon something strong enough to keep them at bay, at least when I feel terribly depressed.”

“So you mean to say that you had anticipated all this and had prepared yourself for years? That does not sound right. You have always come across as someone… someone…”

“Someone too confident?”

“No, it is not that. You have come across as someone who would not care about being sent to Azkaban. These meant nothing to you. Were you scared?”

“Do you really think it was me I was concerned about?”


“For me? Do you think I did all this for my sake?” shouted Bellatrix. “Expecto Patronum!”

From the tip of her finger wand emerged a wisp of silver. It looked nothing like a panther. It landed on the floor, slithered across the room, and wiggled its way out of the narrow slit that was the only source of light in the ward. Rabastan watched it disappear, and as its silvery glow faded he turned back to Bellatrix, and his eyes were full of tears.

“After all this time?”

“Always,” said Bellatrix.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Why I do not like most whodunit readers

Courtesy: Dan's Topical Stamps
Click here for a general list of random things I dislike. Since the link is a tag, it will contain this post as well, so you may complain of a cyclic redundancy error, but who cares?


This is going to be a brief post. If you know me, you would have, by now, been familiar with my affinity towards whodunits. While the trio of Agatha Christie, GK Chesterton, and Arthur Conan Doyle (in that order) continue to fascinate, there have been others in the list as well (*cough* Robert Galbraith *cough*).

Obviously, this has led to my affinity towards other fans of the genre (including Holmes vs Poirot arguments, but maintaining a general respect towards the other). I am generally respectful towards ardent lovers of the whodunit, and treat those who cannot distinguish between whodunits and other thrillers with utter disdain.

In other words, my respect for whodunits is not restricted to the books or the authors: I want to respect the readers as well.

Now, the point: What do people do when you read a whodunit? I cannot vouch for the world, but discussions have given me the impression that people — like me — try to deduce the identity of the criminal (usually the murderer).

Do note the word I used: deduce. Not guess, but deduce.

In other words, whodunits cannot be solved by guesswork, for that defeats the purpose of whodunits. There needs to be neat, foolproof, cold logic that should eliminate all alternatives and close down on the criminal (s). Hunch is not acceptable as a tool.

I have often had multiple conversations like these:
Me: Have you read Book X?
Whodunit reader: Of course. It is a horrible book.
Me: What? Why? I loved it!
Marquee whodunit reader: Because I knew that Y was the murderer as early as Page N! Imagine my disappointment when I read through the entire book and found I was correct! What a waste of time! Z is such a predictable author!
Me: Really? How did you guess? I could never see it coming! Hang on: wasn’t the first clue dropped at Page M, which comes after Page N?
Super whodunit reader: I guessed. The moment I read Quote A and Quote B, I was sure Y was the murderer.
Me: But what about proof? How did you deduce?
Fake whodunit reader: Why do you need proof? I was sure, and this is not for the first time my guess was correct. Z is so predictable!

That is precisely how whodunit readers get ticked off my list one by one. If you do not agree with me on this, I will ask you a simple question: Dear reader, if you were the judge, would you convict someone based on hunch, or would you wait for proof?

For ages I had isolated myself from these fake whodunit readers, eliminating them one by one — to the extent that I began asking myself: am I even correct? Or are these people correct in getting orgasmic over correct guesswork?

Of late I came across Ellery Queen. For the uninitiated, Ellery Queen is a detective and a pseudonym used by Daniel Nathan (who had another alias, Frederic Dannay) and Emanuel Benjamin Lepofsky (Manfred Bennington Lee). Ellery Queen was extremely popular during the “Golden Age” of whodunits (sigh).

While reading The French Hat Mystery (the second Ellery Queen novel) I came across an excerpt, just before the climax — where Queen himself challenges the reader to identify the murderer.

And I was overjoyed — for not having given in to peer pressure.


Stuff your guesswork up your rectum, morons!