Fair warning-this chapter contains torture. Things play out a bit differently here. Hoping my readers will enjoy the changes.
Chapter Thirty-Six: Desperate Power
Harry opened his eyes to complete darkness. He was lying on a hard, cold surface, and the air was cool and damp as well. His body felt heavy and stiff as though he had been lying on the floor for hours. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, blurred shapes gradually sharpened into focus. He reached with his hand and felt for his glasses, which were, surprisingly, still in place. Turning his head to the right, he could make out the nearest stone column beside him, next to which were a few large wooden crates. Beyond this, the space was dark and indiscernible. To his left, a second column and an expanse of darkness. However, at the end of the darkness was a feeble sliver of light, seeping in from what Harry assumed was a small window. Then, he remembered where he had been before he woke.
He pulled himself quickly from the floor, standing tall and erect.
"Hermione," he called, his voice dead in the darkness.
"She's not here," said a familiar voice, to his left. Harry looked toward the small light again. Squinting, he could make out a shadowy figure at the edge of light. Then, to his surprise, Luna stepped out of the darkness.
She had been injured, Harry quickly noticed, walking toward her. There were a few cuts, scrapes, and bruises on her face and neck. One of her eyes was swollen and purple.
"Oh, you know who I am," she said as Harry stepped into the light of the small window.
"Of course I do," said Harry, a bit confused. "Why wouldn't I?"
"Well, I've never seen you before," she said matter-of-factly. Harry found this a very strange statement, but then remembered. He held his hand up to find a rather large, unfamiliar one instead. The Polyjuice was still in effect.
Luna then stepped very close to Harry—not more than an inch separating them—and looked into Harry's face. She looked intently at him for a few moments and then smiled, revealing several cracks on her dry lips.
"It's nice to see you, Harry," said Luna quietly. "You calling for Hermione is less confusing now."
"Luna, how long have I been here?"
"Not long," she said. "They brought you here unconscious maybe ten minutes ago. I didn't see Hermione, though."
"Do you know where we are?"
"Malfoy Manor," she whispered sadly. "In the cellars, I think. At first, it was just was me. Then they brought Mr. Ollivander," she added, pointing to the dark corner. Harry could see an extremely thin shadow of a man leaning into the corner of room. "It was strange, you know—when they brought you in, they brought daddy too. And they took the Goblin away." As soon as Luna had called out her father, Xenophilius stepped away from the opposite corner to stand behind his daughter, setting a shaking hand on her shoulder. Harry looked Mr. Lovegood in the face and found a great deal of worry and tears on the man's face. Harry could feel his heart start to beat uncomfortably. He knew the Malfoys would immediately recognize Hermione and she was declared Undesirable Number Two by the ministry. Hermione was in danger and the man responsible was standing with his daughter as a shield between them. Harry fought the desire to wring the feeble editor's neck.
"Daddy said he wanted to rescue me," said Luna. "Is that why you're here, Harry? Are you helping daddy rescue us?"
Harry looked from Luna and again to Mr. Lovegood. He took a long breath, fully intent on explaining exactly why they had all arrived at this place. And yet, Harry recognized Mr. Lovegood's predicament. Luna had been taken, all on account of the Quibbler's unabashed support of him. He swallowed hard and nodded to Luna.
"Yeah, we're going to get you out, Luna," he said, finally. Harry turned his eyes from Luna and fully averted the surprised look that had fallen over Mr. Lovegood's face. He felt around for his wand despite knowing it was useless. They would have taken it after he had been stunned.
"Luna, did the people who brought me here mention anything at all about Hermione?"
"No, Harry, they didn't."
"Do you remember anything about the people who brought me in here?"
"Not particularly," admitted Luna. "They're called Snatchers, I think. They have an awful infestation of Nargles, though. They took the Goblin prisoner back upstairs with them. They didn't say anything."
"Right," said Harry. He shook his head. None of this information was helpful, but he couldn't really blame Luna for that.
"Where's the door to this place," he asked after another minute of examining the room. It was long and narrow, roughly twenty or thirty feet wide and twice that in length.
"Down there," said Luna, pointing to the opposite end. "It's useless though," she added. "Mr. Ollivander and I have tried for weeks."
"I understand," said Harry as he traversed the room as quickly as he could, navigating the obstacles with outstretched hands. All they needed was an opportunity. Still, his thoughts were on Hermione. Where was she? Was she alright?
() () ()
Hermione had been bound with her arms behind her back by tight, black rope. She had been placed on her knees in the center of the room, surrounded by several of the Dark Lord's inner circle. Lucius and his wife, Narcissa, stood at her back, each with a nervous but hopeful expression. Draco stood leaning against the mantle, his eyes staring down at the cold, empty grate, his face contorted as though he were standing near a foul odor. Peter Pettigrew, his back hunched over, stood beside a goblin, who was likewise tightly bound. His wand was gripped tightly in his silver hand and his face was pale. His eyes darted about the room as though looking for exits.
"Hello, Mudblood," said Bellatrix, bending over so that she could speak in Hermione's ear. Bellatrix had a crazed smile as she traced a finger over Hermione's cheek, while in the other hand she held the Sword of Gryffindor. "I can't begin to tell you how pleased I am to have you as our little guest."
"Are you always this hospitable with your guests," asked Hermione quietly, her voice an octave higher than normal.
"Not at all, dearie," said Bella, with a short and haunted laugh. "This is just for you, sweetie; a special privilege."
"Such a tough Mudblood, aren't we," said Bella with mock fright. She drew a thin, sharp knife with a bone handle and licked her lips. "I hope you are as…delighted as I am for this evening's entertainment."
Hermione looked up into Bella's crazed eyes but remained silent.
"Perhaps not as tough as you want to be," whispered Bella. "I'll give you a chance, Muddy: where did you get this sword and who is the boy down in our cellar?"
"We found the sword," she said. "We didn't take it from anyone. We found it in the woods."
"Strike one, dearie," said Bella, and before Hermione could even react, silver flashed before her eyes. At first, Hermione thought she had missed, but a few moments later, she could feel the slow trickle of blood spill down her cheek. Then, she felt the burn of the blade. She had been cut across the cheek. The cut was shallow, but stung badly.
"Who is the boy," asked Bellatrix, her nose inches from Hermione's.
"I don't really know him," said Hermione quickly. "We met while on the run. His name is Dudley. Vernon Dudley."
"Strike two," said Bella. Hermione closed her eyes and braced for another slash of the knife, but instead, she felt herself forced to the floor and onto her back as though a hard hurricane wind had flown through the Malfoy's living room. Winded, Hermione opened her eyes just to see Bellatrix straddle her with a wide and deranged grin. Bella motioned for Lucius to hold the sword. Lucius—unbalanced and wobbling—took the sword with a hint of distaste. He was clearly un-used to being ordered about in his own home. Hermione didn't have long to ponder this, however, as Bellatrix had withdrawn her wand. A quick swish and Hermione felt the tight chords binding her hands loosen. Hermione attempted to push Bella off her body, but the mad witch was ready. Bellatrix waved her wand and Hermione discovered she was unable to raise her arms. All she could do was arch her back and kick her legs.
"I do so enjoy it when you squirm, Muddy," said Bella, her excitement dripping from her words. She brought the knife point to Hermione's throat close enough for her to feel it, but not so close as to break the skin. Bella traced the knife point along Hermione's shoulder and down the length of her left forearm. Slowly—enjoying the anticipation of the moment—Bella cut away the long sleeve, revealing Hermione's bare flesh. Then, with an even wider, disfiguring smile, Bella began to trace out letters on Hermione's exposed forearm, never hard enough to actually break skin.
"Do you know what I think, Muddy," said Bellatrix, her voice dropping into a guttural tone. "I think you're a liar. I think you've been into my vaults at Gringotts—how, I don't know. That offense alone warrants a severe punishment. But I'm actually more interested in the young man downstairs. I think I know who he is. You know I'm right, don't you, Muddy?"
"I swear, I don't know what you're talking about," said Hermione, her heart pounding heavily against her chest. Perhaps Bella could feel the quickened pace and laughed heartily at Hermione's distress.
"Your kind don't belong here, you know," said Bella, still tracing letters on Hermione's forearm. Hermione swallowed the bile gathering in her throat as she recognized the formation of letters; Mudblood.
"I swear, we found it," said Hermione, desperate. Then, she remembered the overheard conversation in the forest months ago. "It's a fake, it isn't the real sword."
"Lying again," said Bella. "But we'll know soon enough, won't we, dearie?" She looked up at Pettigrew. "Wormtail, bring me the goblin!" Wormtail sputtered before jabbing his wand into the goblin's back, urging him toward the center of the room. Bellatrix brought her knife to the goblin's throat.
"Well, Goblin, is the sword a fake like the Muddy says it is?"
The goblin turned his small, black eyes to the sword held out before him by Lucius. His ears flickered and his long nose scrunched as he observed the glistening blade.
"I cannot discern the authenticity of the blade without touch," said the goblin matter-of-factly. Bella loosened his arms and ordered Lucius to surrender the sword. The goblin took the sword in hand and turned it thrice over beneath the window light. He took hold of the ruby encrusted handle, twirling the blade. Finally, he glided the edge of the blade along one of his long outstretched fingers, drawing a small trickle of blood. He held the sword for Lucius to reclaim.
"Well, goblin," asked Bella, impatiently.
"It is a fake," said the goblin, tonelessly. "A convincing forgery, but this is not the Sword of Gryffindor."
"A lucky break for you, dearie," said Bella, looking down on Hermione again. "Wormtail, take the goblin back to the cellar. And bring me the boy." Hermione, feeling the temporarily elation fade as the goblin was drug away. Bellatrix must have noticed this, for she brought the knife point back to Hermione's forearm, leaned over her body and whispered in her ear as though they were lovers.
"If you won't tell me, perhaps he will, after he hears you scream."
Bella's breath was hot on Hermione's neck, sending waves of shivers down her back. She closed her eyes, praying help would come. It was her last thought before she felt the sharp puncture of cool steel.
() () ()
Harry gripped the iron wrought bars of the cellar door, his heart plummeting as Hermione's scream descended down the stone staircase and into the cellar. He had never heard Hermione scream like that—not through any of the near-death experiences they had shared. The pitch forced the hairs on Harry's neck to stand. Following the scream was a sound Harry would never forget, for he had heard the celebratory laugh the night Sirius had died: Bellatrix.
Fear gripped Harry. He pulled on the iron bars as hard as he could, but the cellar door remained shut. Hermione screamed a second time, louder and longer than the first. Bellatrix's laughter was louder still. Harry felt as though his entire chest would implode from the invisible rope that had bound itself around him from the fear it had morphed out from. He could no longer stand it.
A third scream. He could hear her throat tearing.
"Hermione," he shouted, desperate. "Hermione!"
There was a pause. Then he heard Bellatrix's voice float down.
"You are a tough Muddy after all," she said with gleeful laughter. "We might just have some fun after all!"
Another pause. Harry gripped the iron bars so tightly that his knuckles had turned white.
Think, he thought to himself. Think—there has to be a way out.
() () ()
"Calling it quits already, Muddy? I thought you were made of tougher stuff."
Bella lowered herself over Hermione's body once again and whispered into her ear.
"We're almost done, Muddy. Just another letter to go and it will all be over."
"You should know I don't like begging by now, dearie," said Bella, licking her lips. "Just tell me who your boyfriend is and I'll finish this up quickly."
"I…I told you…his name…is Vernon…Vernon—"
"—wrong. All wrong," said Bella, cutting into her flesh again, her excitement building with the downward stroke of the blade as she etched the stem of the final letter." Hermione's scream nearly deafened her. At least, it would have had Bellatrix not taken the proper precautions.
"That's it, dearie," said Bella, licking the trail of blood from the fresh cut. "Relish the pain. We'll be done soon. And then my fun will be spent. But, then again, Greyback's fun will just be starting. He likes your figure, Muddy. Not sure why," she added, looking Hermione over with a scrutinizing eye. "But, I suppose you'll do for what he's looking for, am I right?"
"Please…I've…I've told you everything…"
"Almost done," said Bella, driving the knife point into her skin once more.
() () ()
Hermione screamed again. Harry fought the burning in his eyes. He continued to pull at the cellar door.
Why her, he thought desperately. He thought of the people responsible for this. If Mr. Lovegood had not been so cowardly, they never would have been ambushed. He then turned that blame to himself. If Mr. Lovegood had never supported him in the first place, Luna would never have been taken, and Mr. Lovegood would never have become so desperate.
She doesn't deserve this. This shouldn't be happening to her. It's me they want…
Yes, he thought again. The thought calmed him. It was him they wanted. He could end her suffering. Just as he was about to yell up the staircase, he heard heavy footsteps descend.
He motioned for everyone to get out of sight and moved behind the nearest crate, ready to pounce on however was coming.
"St—stand back," called the feeble voice Harry knew. It was Wormtail! The soft clink of the lock was sharp in the cellar. The iron bar door creaked open and both Wormtail and the goblin—who Harry recognized as Griphook—stepped into the cellar. Wormtail pushed the goblin forward hastily and looked around.
"Where's the boy?"
Harry eyed the wand in Wormtail's hand. He needed that wand. It was Hermione's only chance. How long had passed since he'd woken? The Polyjuice would expire soon. If he could overpower Wormtail, he had a chance to save Hermione. If he couldn't, then he could present himself in exchange.
Wormtail stepped further into the cellar, lit his wand, and started to look around. Harry left the crate and followed behind with the perfected skills of sneaking he had practiced during his Hogwarts years, waiting for the right moment. But he was too busy watching Wormtail that he failed to watch his step. His toe caught the corner of another crate, and he stumbled. Wormtail turned quickly and pointed his wand.
"St-stop right there," said Wormtail. "Y-you need to come with me, upstairs."
"Is this how you thank me, Peter?"
"D-don't know wh-what you're talking about," he said. "I d-don't even know you."
"Yes you do," said Harry. "I saved your life."
Wormtail's eyes grew large.
"Harry," whispered Wormtail. "Harry P-Potter?"
"I saved your life, Peter, you owe me."
"I d-don't owe you anything, Harry," said Wormtail, his wand shaking slightly as he continued to hold it against Harry.
Hermione screamed again. He had to act now. Without warning, with reflexes honed as a Seeker, Harry lunged forward toward Pettigrew, his hand reaching for the wand. But Wormtail was quicker than Harry expected. He swished his wand haphazardly at Harry, sending him backwards and off his feet, crashing into one of the stone columns. Wormtail raised his wand a second time, but then a pair of arms wrapped themselves around his neck.
It was Luna.
But Harry was disoriented and felt like his head had been split into two. He clumsily pulled himself back to his feet and lunged a second time at Peter.
Harry had done it. The force at which he had collided with Wormtail sent the man off his balance and tumbled to the stone floor. Luna pulled herself away as Harry now grabbed hold of Wormtail's wand, both fighting to wrench it from the other's grip.
Wormtail—realizing he would never overpower Harry's grip, took his silver hand and squeezed on Harry's neck. Harry fought to push him away, but his father's childhood friend was too large and heavy for him as Wormtail tossed him over to the side and positioned himself over Harry. Luna tried to push Wormtail away, but she could not dislodge him.
"I—Luna dear, perhaps we should—"
"Daddy, he's hurting Harry!"
Harry was losing oxygen. His eyes were starting to feel heavy. He was getting weaker by the moment. His heart was beating frantically and painfully against his chest. He could hear Hermione screaming again. He just needed someone to help her.
Save Hermione, he thought. Anyone. Just…save her.
He could no longer keep his eyes open.
Then, several things happened all at once.
There was a loud pop in the air, followed by a loud clicking of some sort, an explosion, and the happy tone of a very welcomed voice.
"You shall not hurt Harry Potter."
Harry opened his eyes. Dobby was hovering over him, Wormtail's wand clutched loosely in his hand.
"Dobby has come for Harry Potter," said the elf excitedly.
Dobby turned his head to the side as though very confused.
"Harry Potter needed Dobby. Dobby came."
Author's Note: Dobby's appearance will be explained; fear not.