- Hermione Granger/Lucius Malfoy
- Hermione Granger Lucius Malfoy
- Drama Darkfic
- The Harry Potter at Hogwarts Years
- Philosopher's Stone Chamber of Secrets Prizoner of Azkaban Goblet of Fire Order of the Phoenix Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Published: 11/22/2003Updated: 07/20/2016Words: 146,522Chapters: 19Hits: 93,012
- Story Summary:
- Lucius abducts Hermione. Slytherin versus Gryffindor - Pureblood versus Muggleborn - the old order versus the new. Two opposites, one room, no way out... no holds barred.
Chapter 07 - Allegiance
- Chapter Summary:
- Lucius abducts Hermione.
- Author's Note:
- Thank-you to all generous donors of feedback, and especially to
Additional Disclaimer: The line about facing fear is not mine, though I'm not aware of it being published anywhere.
Author's Notes: Thank-you to all generous donors of feedback, and especially to Hijja for beta-reading and for reassuring me that certain aspects of this chapter do work. I hope you agree – please let me know either way.
Warning: Things get a little unpleasant in this chapter. But if you're still reading by this point, that won't come as a surprise, will it?
~ Invictus ~
Part 7: Allegiance
I blink in the smoky light. A harsh buzz beats in my head.
Enervation shock, just Enervation...
It fades. The room slides into focus.
The first thing I see is him, standing over me with his wand aimed straight between my eyes, grinning with pure malevolent pleasure. And I know, without a shadow of doubt, that this is the moment I've been dreading. This time there will be no distractions, no interruptions. And not the faintest possibility of escape.
It's sheer instinct that makes me try to fling myself aside. But I can't move – the ropes binding me to the cold stone bench make sure of that. He's sat me upright against the vertical slab, with my right arm angled out uncomfortably and cords wrapped so tightly round my legs and stomach and chest and arms that my hands are tingling. I can't move. At all. I struggle desperately for a moment, but it's utterly futile.
That evil smile broadens. He looks over his shoulder and remarks, "Well, it rather looks as if those Muggle knots of yours work."
I freeze. Who's he talking to?
He steps back, and now I can see the rest of the room – a disorientating oval shape, lit by flickering torches mounted at intervals along the wall. They cast an eerie orange light on the troll-like figure by the shelf. He's tall and broad, with hair that matches his black robe, an ugly little black moustache and an even uglier leer. I recognise him immediately.
The Ministry executioner.
The one who got on so well with the giants. Maniac, Hagrid called him.
Oh God, they really are going to kill me...
"Of course they work," he says. "My knots can hold a rabid Hippogriff – your scrawny little witch isn't going anywhere."
He laughs. "No, she certainly isn't – are you, Mudblood? You must be so curious after all this time, and I do know how you need to have your curiosity... satisfied."
His jibe doesn't quite penetrate, as if terror has numbed the part of me that would have cared. All I feel is a dull, distant resentment that he has to taunt me even now. I hate him, with every corner of my soul that isn't already frozen in terror.
"So now that you're fully awake," he continues, "I think it's time to get started."
Get started... What's he going to DO?
I can't think about that, I can't. I'll go mad with fear if I do.
Maybe that would make it easier...
He turns to Macnair. "You did bring the dragon's blood?"
"Of course." He hands over a large glass bottle.
Dragon's blood? What's he going to do with that?
My mind skids over the possibilities, but there are so many ways it can be used...
"Ah, Walden," he says, "whatever would I do without you..."
"Get your supplies in Knockturn Alley, like everyone else?"
"Yes, but when you do that, you can never quite be sure who's watching," he says, giving me a pointed glance. "And as you know, I do value discretion."
Macnair grins, flipping a Galleon from left hand to right. "Oh yes, Lucius. You always have."
"And besides, no one else has such consistent access to the fresh material." He turns the bottle in his hands. I watch his long white fingers lingering on the dark glass... it's the first time I've seen him without gloves, I realise.
"What kind of dragon was this?"
"Hebridean Black. Had to dispose of one two days ago – old MacFusty was terribly upset." He grins. "Seems it went mad and attacked a Muggle fishing boat."
He's smirking. Bastard.
He catches my look of disgust.
"Look, Walden, I think our guest disapproves of us. Isn't that sweet?"
They both laugh at me. I look away.
I hate him. Both of them. Every word of their conversation, just the way they're talking, makes me feel sick. I don't want to listen.
Focus, Hermione. Don't give up now.
But there's nothing I can do.
You know that's not true.
No... it's not. I almost wish it was. I almost wish I could give up, not have to fight this any more. But if they need me conscious for whatever Dark magic they're planning, that means I have a chance to resist it. And even if they only want my terror for their own sadistic entertainment, I owe it to myself not to give it to them.
He is pulling up a stool on my right. I look straight ahead, fixing my eyes on the torch opposite.
Oh God. What was it I was reading about fighting fear?
Focus on what is happening now. Fear can't exist in the present. Fear is just the past projected into the future.
That's right. It's pain that belongs to the present.
That's fear! Resist it!
Okay... okay. Right now, right at this instant, I'm not in pain. Right now, right at this instant, they aren't hurting me. Right now all that's happening is Macnair lifting a steaming cauldron off the shelf and bringing it round to where he is sitting.
Don't give in to the fear! Now what are they doing?
Manoeuvring the cauldron so that it's standing between us – I can feel the vapours on my outstretched arm. I concentrate on the smell, but the only things I recognise are the unmistakable scent of sneezewort, and maybe a faint whiff of vervain – either the other ingredients are more exotic than any we've used at school, or they've already blended together into whatever it is he's brewing.
Whatever it is. Whatever it does.
Focus on the PRESENT, Hermione.
Sneezewort is used in just about every type of befuddlement draught. I am not going to let him mess with my perception.
He lights a fire under the cauldron. Magically. This potion is a focus of whatever they're going to do, then. I can almost feel that – there's no other magic here to interfere. What kind of spell requires a room so shielded that he wouldn't even Portkey into it?
Something precise. And powerful.
He didn't even use a Binding Jinx... though there could be other reasons for that. Binding spells can be broken by the backlash from a stronger curse...
Don't think about that!
I wrench my attention back to him. He's removing the stopper from the bottle of dragon's blood. And suddenly I have no trouble focusing on the Now – the stench is unbelievable. It's all I can do not to retch.
It slops into the cauldron in glutinous lumps. The liquid hisses fiercely as a cloud of bloody steam erupts.
When it subsides there's the glint of metal in his hand. He's picked up a knife.
He reaches out to rest the blade against my cheek.
"You didn't think I'd forgotten, did you?" he murmurs. "No... I've been looking forward to this ever since you... introduced me to your handiwork."
He smiles then, and I... I look away, look at the torches, at the shelf of bottles, at the broad figure standing on my left... anywhere to avoid his awful glittering eyes.
Macnair is watching him with a very peculiar expression.
If he notices, he doesn't say anything. He just puts the knife down beside me on the obsidian slab, and pulls a dark wad of material from his robes.
Gloves. He stretches out his fingers and fastens the buttons at his wrists with small, precise movements.
"Well, I don't want to be contaminated by your filthy blood, do I?" he says.
He stands up.
I close my eyes. Even after cursing me and drugging me and cutting me and... and... seeing me naked, for Gods sake, he's never actually touched me and just for an instant I wish that he would. It would seem more... honest, somehow. I'm fed up of him treating me as if I'm untouchable.
But I don't really want him anywhere near me, of course. I just want to go home.
The touch of those gloved fingers on my arm jerks me back. He's stretching out my skin, holding my forearm firmly against the stone just below my elbow. The knife gleams against those black gloves... and the point is cold against the crook of my arm. There's no gloating in his expression now, just calm... intent, a complete focus on what he's doing. What he's doing. To think I missed the only chance I had to escape because I was too squeamish to do the same to him!
He raises an eyebrow at me – I think he's remembering that as well.
"I'd normally prefer to use a finer implement for this sort of work," he tells me, "but I think this is... fitting, don't you?"
His lip curls as he takes a firm grasp of the knife and I'm almost aware of his hand moving and then there's nothing but the PAIN as it slices into my arm and I try to jerk away but he's pressing down with his hand to make sure I can't... and oh-my-God there's another bolt of rending agony as he twists it. I only realise I'm screaming when he mercifully pulls it away and steps back.
Not 'mercifully'. Never that, not from him. It still hurts, still HURTS. I bite into my cheek.
At least the pain makes it easy to stay in the present but I can't look at him, I can't look at him. My eyes rove wildly round the room... the bottles containing God-knows-what, the torches flickering gently as if nothing of any consequence has happened, that hideous grin on Macnair's face... I can't look at that either.
I swallow, and drag my eyes back to look at my arm. It's slick with red where he cut me. Slick with blood running down and drip drip drip drip drip dripping off my arm into the cauldron below. Into the cauldron. The cauldron... What does he want with my blood, of all things? The question hits me like a bucket of ice-cold water, a fear utterly beyond mere pain and I'm screaming again, I can't help it.
drip drip drip
Damn him! Wasn't he trying to make me scream?
"Not yet, Mudblood. You'll have your chance for that."
I strain every muscle to move my arm, even to twist it so I can aim that trickle of blood away from the potion beneath. But it's no good. That bastard Macnair knew what he was doing with his bloody knots.
drip drip drip drip drip drip
"And do stop wriggling like that," he says nastily. "You're getting poor Walden all excited."
"Lucius...!" There's a spluttering sound from my left, but it subsides under the force of that icy glare.
Oh God... I close my eyes and let my head thud back on the stone behind me, the pain a dull echo of the agony piercing my arm.
drip drip drip drip
They're draining my blood.
I'm going to die.
I don't want to die. But when it comes to Dark magic... there are fates worse than death.
How I wish he had only wanted information, or even revenge! Then it would just be a question of endurance – unspeakably terrible, he's done enough to make that quite obvious, but at least I could hope for oblivion at the end. Why didn't they teach us how to resist this sort of attack?
drip drip drip drip
Think! What have you got to go on?
According to the Dumbledore Categorisation, dragon's blood has twelve uses, but at least half of them relate to Binding Spells of some kind.
But by combining dragon's blood with my blood? Not to mention sneezewort, vervain and whatever else is in there...
drip drip drip
A series of grotesque images flit across my mind, colour plates from some of the DADA texts in the Room of Requirement, lurid pictures from some of the trashier magazines that circulate in the common room, hybrids from my own overactive imagination. All horribly vivid and coming faster than I can really grasp them. That's probably due to the vervain, I tell myself. Or just blind fear. There are too many ways to... to... use a bound mind, body or soul. And dragon's blood is about the most powerful magical binding agent in existence.
drip drip drip drip drip
But... I don't know nearly enough to be sure, but I do know that it's not just my blood he needs to work that kind of spell. Even now, if I can keep my mind clear, I have a chance – if not for life then at least for a clean death.
drip... drip... drip...
There's a bloom of warmth against the crook of my arm.
I open my eyes. He's holding his wand over the cut, and he seems to have healed it enough to slow the flow of blood. He hasn't done anything about the pain, though, of course he hasn't. Bastard... I take a deep breath, trying to relax, trying to accept it as the mere signal it is. But my whole body is trembling with the strain.
"Ah, yes, I thought you'd be interested in this," he says, as if he's merely showing me an item about a school fête in the local newspaper. He touches the swirling liquid in the cauldron with his wand. When he lifts it, a dark red globule falls back with a splash.
"Dragon's blood is such a... versatile substance," he says, "and the research carried out by your dear Headmaster was certainly a great service to us all. Such a pity he was too... noble to take it to its logical conclusions."
I watch numbly as he dips his wand in the potion again.
drip... drip... drip...
"Yes," he murmurs, with a chilly little smile. "It took the Dark Lord to perfect the thirteenth use of dragon's blood."
He touches the wand to my forehead, tracing out some symbol I can't identify. A trickle of the noxious liquid runs down my nose. I twist my head away to the left – only to be faced by Macnair, who steps forward with a speed that belies his weight. He clamps his hand under my chin and forces it back round towards where he is standing, looking down on me with a cold stare that seems to bore right through me to the stone beneath.
"Still resisting, little one?" he says. "Well, we'll soon see about that."
At least he can't insist on a reply while I'm under his Silencing Charm.
He glances at him. "Thank you, Walden, but I can take care of her."
He slides his hand up my throat as Macnair lets go of me, and curls his fingers and thumb onto my jawbone. His grip isn't as harsh as Macnair's, but it's infinitely more commanding.
drip... drip... drip...
Think! Don't let him intimidate you.
It's a bit late for that.
I'm too scared for anger. Hate is about the only thing that's going to cut through the fear. So I focus on that, glaring upwards, throwing it at him.
He smiles lazily back at me. "Well, well, well. I do think you're almost ripe." And he daubs the potion across my lips.
I flinch, but he holds me firmly, fingers digging into my jaw, forcing me to open my mouth so he can run his wand around the inside of my lips. I almost gag. All I can taste is blood. All I can smell is blood.
He pulls his wand away and wipes it on my robe. "Ugh." He grimaces at Macnair. "The things we do for the cause."
"Oh, I don't know," he replies. "I know you have a problem with soiling your wand, but personally I'd have to say that a few streaks of blood make her a lot more appealing."
"Yes, well, you would, wouldn't you," he mutters as he bends down to pick up the knife.
drip... drip... drip...
I watch him, focusing on just how much I hate the way he languidly flicks a fold of his robe aside, how much I hate the way that his white hair brushes his face as he bends over me, how much I hate the arrogant way he lifts the fabric of my robe up from my ribs, hate the way he's underlining my complete powerlessness by wielding the knife I made to attack him with.
The knife... what's he going to do now?
Focus! You are NOT powerless!
I hate him, I hate him, hate his knowing little smile as he makes a small slash in the fabric, hate that gleam in his eye as I struggle and try to twist away, hate the precision with which he trails the bloody end of his wand across my heart.
A rough laugh sounds from behind my left shoulder. "If I'd known you needed to do that, Lucius, I'd have stripped her before I tied her down."
"It wasn't necessary."
"No harm in mixing business with pleasure, though, is there?"
He straightens up and glares over my head. "Walden. We all know about your little... proclivities. I don't think we need to dwell on them."
It doesn't seem to intimidate him, though, given the way he saunters round to leer down at me. He's almost worse than that icy creature on my right.
"And," he says, fingering the rope across my stomach almost absent-mindedly, "I'd appreciate it if you kept your hands off her. I haven't spent the last three weeks preparing the loathsome little bitch just for you to mess everything up now."
I hate him...
"If you say so, Lucius," says Macnair, grinning broadly. "I can wait."
The glare he gets in response makes him take a step backwards. But only a step. He's still leering at me in a truly horrible way. I wish he'd just leave, except then I'd be alone here with... with...
At least their vile bickering takes that terrible focus away from me.
drip... drip... drip...
He daubs the potion on my feet, on my left hand, on my right hand. I can feel my skin tingling in every place the substance is touching me, but... but... that isn't magic. That's just because I'm concentrating on those places too much. Isn't it?
I twist my head round to my shoulder, wiping my lips on my robe. But I can't do anything about the inside of my lips. And I can still feel the tingling, but that's just because of the contact with the fabric. Isn't it?
Two smooth fingers hook round my chin, jerking my head back to the front.
"Dear me, Mudblood. Let's have some self-control, shall we?"
Yes, let's. Hate. Not fear. Really not fear.
"Or did you just want some more? That I can do for you, if you wish."
And he does, finding a particularly sticky lump and spreading it slowly and very deliberately over my mouth, a cruel gleam in his eyes challenging me to protest. I hate his air of utter control, as if nothing I can do will make a difference. The bastard is utterly in his element.
drip... drip... drip...
"So," he says, "shall we begin?"
Begin? Begin? Hasn't he already done that?
Macnair laughs. "Aren't you going to explain it to her?" he says. "I'm sure she's dying to find out."
"Of course not – and please will you refrain from asking any more ill-timed questions. I will not have you ruining the balance now."
He raises his wand above his head. I follow the motion with my eyes. There's nothing else I can do.
Very slowly, he traces a fluid spiral around us both, bringing the wand down until he's aiming at the cauldron.
The spell shudders through me from my head to my toes.
I tense – a reflex resistance. But I'm alive. And conscious. So far.
What did he do?
We're surrounded by a cone of blue-green light, sparkling strands that writhe together and flow sluggishly downwards. It's hard to trace the path – it seems to wind through his wand and then... through me, emerging from my head and my heart and my feet and my hands to swirl down towards the cauldron.
It's almost... beautiful. Like those insidious Veela are beautiful.
What is this? The word he spoke has to do with pouring, if I heard him right. But pouring what?
I still don't know what he wants, but I'm not going to give it to him. I take a deep breath, and concentrate very hard on the feel of the air in my lungs, the chafing of the ropes, the pain where he cut my arm...
drip... drip... drip...
That sound is louder now, as if it's echoing along every one of those spell-strands. But the rest of the room seems insubstantial, the looming figure of Macnair a mere shadow. He, though.... he is so much there that I can almost feel his satisfied smile lingering on all the places where he smeared the potion.
He frowns. The blue-green strands twist away from him. The visible movement is almost imperceptible, but the sharp wrench within me makes me gasp.
"Oh, to think I almost forgot." He lays his wand across my lips. "Finite."
That tingle on my lips intensifies to a buzz. There's an ugly thick rope of writhing magic running from my mouth straight into the cauldron. I close my mouth firmly. He smiles.
I hate him.
drip... drip... drip...
How much blood have I lost?
It doesn't matter. You're going to die anyway.
If I'm lucky. Oh God, let it be over...
He turns and walks towards the other end of the bench. The cone shifts and stretches to accommodate him. I clench my hands, focusing very hard on every little movement in my muscles.
I'm a Gryffindor. If he's going to... whatever... I have to face it, and I'll do it showing him what Muggleborns are really made of. I won't give him the satisfaction of seeing me break.
But I'm not brave, I'm terrified. If there was anything I could say to him that would make him stop, I would. But there isn't.
Something twists through my head and my heart. The spell-strands there sparkle even more vividly than before.
drip... drip... drip...
He stops by my feet and turns to face me.
"So," he says, very quietly, "now that you can speak again, is there anything you want to say to me?"
I clamp my lips closed. Half of me wants to scream hysterically at the evil bastard, but I will not. The only chance I have is to hold onto my honour. My self.
"No? How... uncharacteristic. But you will, little one."
What's he going to DO?
He twirls his wand lazily, watching me closely.
drip... drip... drip...
He raises his wand.
Focus. There's nothing happening at this moment that you can't handle.
But his eyes are an ocean of calm, considered cruelty and as I meet his gaze I feel myself falling, drowning in terror and just before I go under he smiles at me and raises his wand – and the world explodes.
Blood... fire... blades
slicing into every square inch of my body no
no nonono dragging through flesh
piercing bone oh God Oh GOD...
and now the agony in my arm is nothing, I can't even feel it, no arms
or legs just circuits overloaded with pain, burning out, burning,
burning, everything on fire and this can't go on this
has to end oh God I want to die
I have to be dying when my skin is being shredded and
every joint ripped apart and
every muscle is cramping in screaming agony like
the wailing of a thousand banshees please let me die now-
And the banshee screaming stops.
oh God oh God oh God
A convulsive bolt of fire lancing through my ribs and that inhuman screech again...
That was me.
I turn my head to the left and cough and cough and my throat is raw with screaming. There's blood trickling from my wrist where I was pulling against the rope. I shudder, and close my eyes. I can't even look at my other arm.
drip drip drip drip drip
That... that was... unimaginable. Beyond any attempt to grasp it, as if anyone could want to. I shiver. Never, never again...
But if my mind can't remember, my body can – it's as if the Curse is alive, malignant, waiting red and formless at my back, reaching out tentacles that could pull me back at any moment, ready to overtake me and crush me even if I ran and I can't even do that oh God-
Muscles spasm and I jerk and I cry out at the pain of rough rope against raw flesh.
Footsteps on stone.
I blink rapidly, struggle to focus. I'd forgotten about, about him, it's hard enough fighting the pain and those tendrils of fire that whip along my bones...
He's looking exactly as he did... before. How can he be untouched by this?
He crouches on my left, eye to eye. Raised eyebrow. Slight smile.
"So, what did you think?"
Think? Think? What's thinking got to do with that?
Other eyebrow rises.
"Well, I did promise, little one. And I do like to keep my promises."
Rusty shriek of something shifting in my brain.
Why? Why? Why did he let me fool myself that I could hold out? Why didn't he do this the moment he caught me in his bloody trap? Why did he let me hope?
God, I hate him, I hate him. All this time he knew, he knew what that Curse would do. And he's just been playing with me, laughing at my pathetic illusions of resistance. I loathe him, from the depths of my soul.
He smirks, and stands up, fingering the thick black rod in his hand.
Rod. Wand. Spell. Him. It's not the Curse I have to worry about most, even if it is still swirling at the edges of consciousness.
Wand whips downwards, pointing straight at me.
"You want more, Mudblood?"
"No... please... don't, please don't..."
He's won, can't he see that? Can't he see I'll do anything rather than face that again?
There's a gentle tug at my forehead and my feet. It's the lack of pain that alerts me – no way was that a Cruciatus aftershock.
It's that Effundus spell. Those twisting ribbons of blue-green light almost look solid, they're so opaque.
drip drip drip
My blood runs cold. He's just trying to break my mind, to weaken my resistance to whatever that spell is doing! I need to hold on. He can have me screaming for mercy in an instant, I know that now, but I won't forget who I am, or who he is, standing there examining me with those clinical grey eyes.
God, I hate him.
"Not long after you arrived, Mudblood, I asked you a question. Do you remember what it was?"
He asked me lots of questions! How am I supposed to know which one he's talking about? Why doesn't he just get on with whatever he's going to do?
All I want to do is make sure he's not going to throw that Curse at me again. I look up at him, trying to add some humility to the mix of dread and despair.
"What is it you want me to do?" I ask, ignoring his question. "Just tell me and I'll do it, but please... please don't do that again..."
His eyes widen – I've surprised the bastard, I guess he didn't expect me to cut across him to bargain directly and for a split second I could almost imagine that... that he's looking at me. But then the spark of connection is gone – if it was ever there at all – as that languid smile spreads across his face.
drip... drip... drip...
He crouches down, facing me at eye level again.
"Now, little one," he murmurs, "that's just not how the game is played. What I want is for you to answer my questions." He brushes his gloved hand over my right cheek and curls his fingers into my hair. "And as you finally seem to have decided to co-operate, let's start with the one I just asked, shall we?"
I stare at him in panic. What he just asked was... oh yes, he was asking me about something he asked... when? When I first fell into his hell-hole? When he drugged me with Probitaserum? How am I supposed to know? I want to answer, I do, I don't want him to think I'm being stubborn, but I don't know what he wants me to say.
"I- I... I'm sorry," I say in a very small voice. "I don't know which one you mean."
"You don't know? Well, that has to be a first, doesn't it?"
I wish he'd just stop it! Just because he wants to prove how bloody superior he is...
"Let me remind you, then," he continues. "If your memory isn't completely sieve-like, perhaps you'll recall me asking whether your current... situation has caused you to regret your decision to masquerade as a witch."
Oh, yes, I remember that, and I can't believe he's harping on about it again. And I remember telling him 'no', twice, and I remember his reply, as well...
'No regrets, Mudblood? You will have, I promise you that...'
"Now, Mudblood," he says softly, "I'd like to hear you answer that question again. And be a good girl and tell me the truth, hmm?"
The answer is still no. Though if I had known... but no, I don't regret it. Not really. I was eleven – I can't regret a decision I made then. What eleven-year-old wouldn't have jumped at the chance of a fairytale come true?
drip... drip... drip...
But I can't tell him that. It's not what he wants to hear.
He did say he wanted the truth.
Why? Just so he can cast that spell at me again?
Suddenly he twists his hand in my hair and forces my head back against the stone, then pulls viciously upwards so I can't move at all. I breathe hard. It hurts... but this pain is at least manageable, something to focus on rather than, than, that Curse and the excruciating random twitching it left in its wake.
"Is it such a difficult question, little one?"
He's leaned in so close that the only thing I can see is his face. His nostrils are flaring slightly and there's a horrible eager gleam in his eye. The way he's smiling turns me to stone.
"Well, perhaps I can help you with that..."
He lays his wand against my right cheek.
I... I... can't say anything. Can't think anything.
drip... drip... drip...
He slides it back towards him, drawing it along my cheek and away from my face until it's hovering an inch from my nose.
I try to wrench my head away but he's holding my hair so taut that all I can do is wince with the pain.
"Now, now – you know this is all for the best in the end. I do want you to be clear about your answer..."
ravening monster leaps from behind
sabre teeth rending at my heart my gut claws tearing Noooooo
white-hot wires slice through my arms I can't I can't
stop stop stop stop stop and acid tentacles lash deep-
I'm still thrashing and screaming when my mind catches up with the ending of the spell.
Oh God... That was only a couple of seconds... or was it a minute? Not more... what would it be like if-
Sheet of steel agony splitting my spine. I jerk and gasp at the pain in my scalp.
He's still holding me there. Must have been holding on all through... It's a wonder I have any hair left.
"Such pretty screaming, little one," he murmurs. "I think Walden is going to find you quite... entrancing. Maybe even enough to make up for that Hippogriff you deprived him of."
I stare at him. He doesn't mean... He can't. He wouldn't just hand me over to that sick maniac after everything...
And what makes you think he'll care what happens to you once he's got what he wants?
Whatever that is.
He looks into my eyes for several long seconds. A calm grey ocean that pulls me in and pushes me under...
drip... drip... drip...
He lets go of my hair. A few brown wisps float to the floor. And a couple of red clumps.
I close my eyes and let my head fall back and the tears roll down my cheeks.
I knew there was no way out, I knew that... but how can I face that end – if, oh God, that is the end – and keep any kind of grip on my mind?
Hate. Hate. It's hard to feel it over the fear and horror but I want them to pay for it all ten times over, a thousand, a hundred thousand...
"I'm starting to think", he says, "that we should do this to every little Muggle that dares to walk into Diagon Alley. Then perhaps we'd find out how many of you really think yourselves worthy to mix with your betters."
That's... there's no word for that. Sick doesn't even get halfway there.
"And then, even if any were stupid enough to persevere, I don't expect they would need too much reminding to make sure they stayed in their proper place..."
That line of excited first-years at Hogsmeade station flashes across my mind. So eager, so innocent... what kind of society does he think he could create by torturing children? And what sort of society honours someone who thinks like that? It's horrible.
And it's so unfair. Why didn't anybody warn me? I thought that getting high marks at school would let me do anything, that being top of my year would prove that I was as good as any born-and-bred witch. But in the end all that effort got me was... this. Would he even have noticed me if I hadn't tried so hard?
I cry out as a Stinging Hex bites my shoulder.
I open my eyes, trying to keep my expression neutral. I don't know why I'm bothering, he's going to tear me apart whatever I do... But not now. I can take this one moment at a time...
"Will you pay attention!" he snaps, then changes back to that cloying interrogative tone. "I want to know what you think... would you have chosen to stay if someone had shown you the darker uses of magic?"
At this moment, all I can think of is home. Anything but here. I'd walk back to the Muggle world without a backwards glance if it meant I would never have to face him or that hideous Curse again.
Does that mean that I regret ever coming in the first place?
I... I don't know. Isn't that what he wants me to think?
"I don't know," I repeat, barely audible. Well, that's near enough the truth...
He stands up and laughs down at me. "Muggle schooling must be even worse than I thought if you'd rather have this."
And tears blur my vision as I think of the corridors and classrooms at St Mary's, where I would have been now if it hadn't been for that letter from Hogwarts. They'd even offered me a scholarship – the Headmistress was so annoyed when we turned the place down, especially when we wouldn't tell her what she was second-best to.
But would it really have been second best? She could never have compared to Professor Dumbledore, of course, and the idea of not learning magic pierces my soul, but there would still have been interesting lessons and good teachers and maybe even friends who liked discussing schoolwork...
But not to have known Harry and Ron... I can't bear that thought.
He frowns at me, and raises his wand.
"No!" I shriek at him. He can't do that again!
He lifts an eyebrow.
"No?" he repeats. "So you have an answer for me now, do you?"
Plenty of answers, you complete and utter evil bastard. Not that I'm stupid enough to tell them to your face.
I gaze at the sinuous spell-strands surrounding me. "All right..." I lift my eyes to meet his. He's staring at me with a haughty sneer.
"You're right. I wouldn't have come." I hate myself for saying it, but at this moment it's nothing more than the truth. If only I could just walk away and forget this place ever existed! There's no way I'd have come to Hogwarts if someone had turned the Cruciatus Curse on me first.
The spell-strands twist and thicken.
drip... drip... drip...
"No," he murmurs, turning his wand over in his hand. "A little pain soon puts paid to those Gryffindor heroics, doesn't it?"
I hate him! Why does he have to rub it in? I've given him the answer he wants!
What if he doesn't believe me? What if he's going to Curse me anyway?
But he has to be able to see that I'm telling the truth!
And suddenly images of what-might-have-been tumble over each other as I see myself in St Mary's library, pouring myself into my GCSE assignments, and my parents beaming at me when I get my results, and the joy of diving into the depths of the A-level curriculum (and no, it's not Potions or Ancient Runes, but Chemistry and Latin aren't so different, not really) and going up to Oxford and becoming a famous scientist or campaigning to change the world or being whatever I want to be with no-one to tell me I can't because my damn blood isn't pure enough...
I shake my head. Must be the vervain, accelerating my imagination. I need to focus on what is happening now, not what could never happen.
He's scrutinising me, a smile playing about his lips.
"Well. Let's put that answer to the test, shall we?"
drip... drip... drip...
He walks away, around my feet, back towards me again on my right side. Sits down next to the cauldron. Reaches into the pocket of his robe. Brings out... a wand.
I stare at him. He sneers back.
"So, now that you agree that you should never have touched this in the first place, you'll be quite happy to dispose of it, won't you?"
That's not what I said...
He touches it to the open wound in my arm.
"The word you're looking for, Mudblood, is 'Repudio'."
No. I can't do that...
But what choice do I have?
He turns it so that it's pointing along my arm towards my head.
"Of course, if a final demonstration of just what it can do to you would help..."
I hate you, I hate you, I HATE you!
How bitterly ironic that the one spell I can cast without actually holding my wand is the one that no one would ever want to cast anyway.
The wand twitches and he draws breath...
He's not going to Crucio me with my own wand!
My voice is dull and flat but carries enough conviction for a deep shiver to travel the length of my spine as a flare of incandescent silver travels the length of my wand. It crumbles into yellow ash that floats down into the cauldron.
There's a hollow empty place inside me as the tears roll down my face again. I'm sure he's revelling in the sight of me reacting like this, but I don't care. It would be so wrong not to mourn that loss...
drip... drip... drip...
I shiver. What on earth is he going to do with that potion?
He stands up.
"Perfectly done, little one. You've done your fellow Mudbloods a great service today."
"Well, you wouldn't want anyone else to need the... tutoring that you've had, would you? And as Dumbledore and his cronies aren't about to tell upstarts like you about the consequences of insubordination, I'm sure you'll be only too glad to serve as a warning."
Serve as a warning? How? What's he going to make me do? I can't let him bind me like that! I need to stay focused on who I am, where I am, what I think, what I feel. On how much I hate him!
He paces back to the end of the bench. I hate every arrogant movement.
He gazes at me in unholy satisfaction.
"Now, little Mudblood," he says, "there's just one thing left to do before we draw this to a close."
He brings up his wand with a horrible hungry gleam in his eye.
NO! no no not that again please not that anything but that
I try desperately to wrench myself free but it's useless, of course. The cold chill in my heart seeps out through my veins. In this moment, all I'm aware of is him and me, all that matters is stopping him from casting that spell at me again... Why oh why oh why didn't they tell us about this evil?
"Well, I did promise that I would cherish every single second, little one. And I really don't think there have been quite enough seconds yet to pay you back in full."
"No! Please don't do that again! I'll... I'll do whatever you want..."
He smiles, an utterly condescending, lethal smile. It's useless. I hate him.
"But of course you will. Crucio!"
hooks skewer my eyes, legs, hands heart everywhere
Noooo stop stop STOP jagged metal dragging through muscle
and bone and I want to die
and I scream and scream as boiling liquid engulfs me and
I sense the darkness of unconsciousness creeping up –
threshold of relief, or death I don't care I just
want to get there but nooo it recedes in burning red agony that
strips away everything except the fucking PAIN a rushing and roaring
torrent dashing me to a bloody pulp again and again and again
and let me die! and I can see that blessed dark again and I reach for it
but it's whipped away as every inch of my body is flayed raw and
there's burning acid in my veins and
no no nononooo my toenails and finger nails are pulled slowly, slowly oh God
pain exploding in my head and through
every atom in my body like a bloody nuclear bomb
I'm suspended in pure agony stop stop stop but there's no way out
except that dark promise of nothing oh please it come
and this time he lets it embrace me.
Hazy light. Fuzzy voices. Dizziness.
Dull throbbing agony in every bone.
Why, oh why am I still alive?
The potion. That spell... What did he do?
And that... that...
How long before that burning rending screaming hell tears a mind apart?
But at least I can think. Just about. And it feels like it's me that's thinking.
Well, it would, wouldn't it?
I don't know. I wouldn't be able to think at all under some of those... curses.
But it does feel as if my mind, at least, is free.
So... if they weren't trying to bind... me, then what...?
I keep my eyes closed and try to listen.
Small clattering noises. No dripping.
How much blood did they take?
Too much. I feel so weak, it's all I can do to concentrate on what they're saying.
"So it worked, then?" Macnair's voice.
"Now, Walden, surely you don't mean that you thought it wouldn't work, do you?"
"That's not what I said."
A quiet chuckle. Smug bastard.
"Of course, we won't really know until we see how it affects the Mudbloods. But it's certainly boiled down as it should."
"So I can take her, then?"
A long pause.
"But- but Lucius, I thought we had an agreement..."
"We have a general agreement, Walden. I don't recall making a commitment regarding this particular case."
Another pause. Then a coarse laugh.
"Well, well, Lucius. I never thought I'd see the day when you'd be playing with a Mudblood bitch."
"Don't be disgusting!"
"So what do you want her for, then?"
"She's... interesting. And I think I have a further use for her."
"The Dark Lord won't like it, you know."
"And how, exactly, do you envisage Him finding out?"
Then he speaks again. "And besides, the Dark Lord may have authorised this little project, but – as we are only too aware – it hardly lays claim to His undivided attention. And even if it did, He's never been one to be too concerned with... details. You, for one, should be grateful for that."
"Hmm.... you may have a point, Lucius. But you still haven't explained what makes this one so different from all the others."
That smug little chuckle again. "Let me show you."
His footsteps. Coming towards me. Followed a second later by a heavier tread.
"So, shall I wake her up? Or are you going to insist on doing that yourself as well?"
"Oh, there's no need for that, Walden. She's been awake for some time."
His gloved fingers curl round my chin. Trickles of ice slither down my spine.
"Look at me, Mudblood."
I open my eyes. Macnair is looking at me sceptically. But as for him...I can't read him at all.
It's hard to focus. Too weary. How much blood did they take?
I glare at them dully. They should have killed me.
"See how much she hates me?" he says. "It's beautiful."
"I prefer them when they're screaming, myself."
"Ah, but you never did appreciate subtlety, did you, Walden?" He lets go of me.
Macnair snorts. "So what does Narcissa know about this?"
A haughty glare.
"Narcissa trusts me. I've never given her reason to do otherwise, and I'm not proposing to start now. And besides," he says dryly, "she has reason to appreciate the... side benefits."
That coarse laugh again. "Power being the ultimate aphrodisiac, of course."
His eyes narrow. "And you would know all about that, wouldn't you?"
Macnair sucks in his breath. He sneers.
"No, Walden," he says, dangerously soft, "don't fool yourself that sixteen years have made me forget that little incident. And if you want to make sure that the Dark Lord remains unaware of just how badly you messed up that particular assignment, I suggest you forget all about her." He gestures at me.
Their eyes lock.
From my position I'm looking straight at their hands. Both are clenching into fists. Then Macnair shrugs.
"Well, if you put it like that, Lucius, I suppose I'd better leave you to it." He picks up a dragonhide satchel and clomps towards the end of the room behind me. I hear a door slam.
He looks down his nose at me.
I stare back up at him. We're alone again. What's he going to do to me now?
He walks over to the shelf. When he returns, he has the knife in his hand.
He bends over my feet. I flinch.
"Oh, do keep still, Mudblood," he snaps. And he slices through the rope. He doesn't speak or look at me again until all of it is lying on the floor.
I slump down on the bench. The returning circulation is agonising, but I haven't got the energy to move.
I manage to swing my legs off the bench, but when I try to stand I collapse on the floor.
"I said, get up!"
I do try, but I can't. How much blood did they take?
He crouches in front of me, and with two fingers he tilts my chin upwards.
"I'm going to give you a choice, Mudblood." He places a short length of rope on the ground between us. "Now, if you really want to die, I'll tie you to the bench again and tell Walden that you're here waiting for him. But I should warn you that it will be neither a quick nor a particularly pleasant death. Walden's tastes can be rather... brutal."
"Or," and he puts the silver ring down beside the rope, "you can come with me. Which is it to be?"
He withdraws his fingers and I stare at the two objects in front of me. I'm so tired I just want to lie down and let it all end. Part of me is so tempted to reach out for the rope... but I can't forget the way that madman talked about me, the way he looked at me... he's almost like that hideous troll in first year. But though the troll was vicious, that wasn't... personal. I was just there, and it attacked me because that's what trolls do, not because it wanted to... do whatever Macnair...
He's watching me intently, waiting to see what I'm going to do, curious... though there seems to be something there that goes beyond curiosity.
Could Macnair's savagery really be worse than the Cruciatus Curse? And now there's no reason for him not to use it again... and, and, what else might he do? Macnair was vile, but his cold cruelty is terrifying on a completely different level. And he has a 'further use' for me... No – I can't face that again.
But that horrible hungry gleam in Macnair's eyes. All the horrible things he said...
My head is spinning. I can't make sense of it.
I'm not really sure what makes me do it in the end – better the devil you know, I suppose. Something flickers in those dark grey eyes as my fingers close round the ring. Nothing else happens.
Must have been a one-way Portkey, then. Or else the room is too heavily shielded. I slump to the floor.
"Get up, Mudblood." He stands and kicks the rope away.
I stare up at him. Can't he see that I can't?
"I am not about to pollute myself by using Imperius on you," he says. "You are going to get up and walk out of that door, and if you can't stand up then you can crawl, but you are going to move, now."
I push myself onto my knees, support myself with my hands – I'm shaking with the effort. I just about manage to move forward a few inches before my wounded arm collapses beneath me.
How much blood...?
He snorts in disgust and walks away. I twist round, clutching at the ring in desperation.
"I can't!" I gasp out. "Don't leave me here!"
He turns and sneers. "You threw yourself on my mercy, Mudblood. What I do with you now is up to me."
And he turns back to the shelf. I hear the clink of a bottle on stone, the glug of a potion being poured.
I lie on my back, eyes closed. I haven't got the strength to move.
So how did he expect me to walk out of here, when he was draining my blood?
I'm not sure which is worse – that he was going to let me die, or that he didn't.
I don't react. He can do whatever he likes. I can't even resist in this state.
My head rolls to the side as he pushes an arm behind my shoulders.
And then his other arm slides under my knees, and he picks me up.
My eyes fly open. Every muscle goes rigid. I try to roll out of his grasp, but after a few seconds I give up. I haven't got the energy to fight him.
"Relax, Mudblood," he snaps, staring down his nose. "If I'm going to hurt you, I'll tell you about it first."
My head falls back against his arm. It's strangely warm, more than I'd expected – like that snake. The rough fabric scratches my cheek as he strides out of the room. Away from the Anti-Apparition wards, I suppose. I'm dimly aware of him closing the door and lighting his wand.
I should just reach out and grab it from him... but that's a bit of a silly thought, really.
We reach the foot of the stairs... I think. He grips me tightly and there's
a sudden lurch that feels as if I'm being turned inside out and back to front
and then everything is still and silent and black
and I'm lying on my back, supported...
If only I could forget whose arms are holding me... I'm so tired, and after all the pain and horror and helplessness of the last few weeks, it's so nice just to be held...
I blink. It feels like an age since I left this bleak stone room. That Hermione was a completely different person. Even when she was reaching out for that ring, she could still allow herself to hope...
I'm still holding the ring, I realise. I drop it as if it's bitten me with an icy flame.
It bounces on the floor. The high-pitched ping is loud in the dead silence.
He glares at me, lip curled like it did at the Quidditch World Cup last summer, as if I was something the cat dragged in. I tried to stare him down then... stupid, stupid me. I thought I knew what he was, but really I had no idea...
And I let him bring me back here... What have I done?
I close my eyes. I don't want to know anymore.
He flicks his wand. My aching body registers every tiny movement.
There's an answering rustle of blankets and he lays me down on the bed. Tears well up... the mattress feels so comfortable I could stay here forever.
Maybe I'll have to.
Why didn't he just kill me?
I open my eyes a fraction. He's bending across me, expressionless. As he pulls up the blanket a strand of his hair brushes my hand. My fingers close around it reflexively... he snatches it away. I close my eyes.
"Don't go to sleep, Mudblood. We haven't finished yet."
Oh, why don't you just leave me alone?
I hear footsteps, away across the room and back. A faint clink. The quiet rustle of his robes. A liquid pouring. Silence.
I don't care.
His wand slides down my cheek. I still don't care.
"I didn't bring you down here just so you could die on me, Mudblood. Now open your eyes and drink this before I make you do it."
I open my eyes and tilt my head towards him. There's a goblet between us, on a small table that wasn't there before.
He pulls the wand away and slides the goblet towards me.
Yeah, right – does he really think that carrying me here and tucking me into bed will persuade me to touch anything he gives me? Fat chance.
"No," he says, "it's not what you think. I'm not about to waste that on you."
That being... oh, what he just took all my blood for, I suppose. How charming of him.
"I said, drink it, you little idiot. It'll make you feel better."
A dull rage pounds in my head. How dare he pretend to care what happens to me after what he did up there? I won't do as he says. What else can he do to me now?
I fling out my arm and knock the goblet towards him. A thick red-brown liquid splashes down the front of his robe.
His face twists in fury. Suddenly his wand is aiming straight at me.
"Do you want to die, Mudblood?"
I feel a flash of fear through the layers of weariness and pain. Why did I provoke him? I know what he can do...
But he'll do what he likes anyway. I sink down, exhausted.
A muscle twitches in his left cheek. He lowers the wand.
He rights the goblet and mutters a Cleansing Charm under his breath. The mess on his robes vanishes. "You are so stubborn," he sneers. "And so very predictable." He brings out a small flask from his robe and smirks at me as he refills the goblet.
Smug bastard. How much of that stuff did he bring with him?
He picks it up in his left hand and walks around the table. In his right hand is the wand. He fingers it thoughtfully.
"Perhaps you're going to be more trouble that you're worth after all," he says. "When you asked to come with me, I did hope that your attitude might have improved."
I didn't ask to come with him, I'd never do that! Just because I thought Macnair would be worse...
And maybe I was wrong about that.
"However, it appears that it hasn't," he continues. "I wonder how much Cruciatus it would take to teach you some respect?"
Oh God, please not that again... But I haven't even got the strength to protest.
He looks down at his wand, and back at me. "Or did you just think you'd get an easier death from me, was that it?" He points the wand at my forehead and snarls, "It's not going to be that simple, little one."
But he will kill me if he Crucios me in this state! He has to know that!
He lowers the wand.
I stare at him numbly. He turns the wand over in his hand. His lip curls. Then he looks back at me.
He stands there for a few seconds, frowning... then he raises his wand.
and there's no pain at all... just floating along
...I smile up at him as he hands me the cup
such a good man to treat me so well...
and it tastes a bit odd but it feels warm inside
...so I drink it all down
like he says I should do... and he's holding me up
with his mind around mine... so comfortable here
in this beautiful calm...
and I put down the cup as he tells me to do
...lie back to rest and he starts to let go but he's still holding on so I'm floating in bliss and can rest here secure... as the peace seeps down deep, in my bones and my blood
I whimper as the crashing wave of returning pain slams me against the bed.
He's frowning, wand aimed straight between my eyes...
I fall into darkness.