Harry braced himself for the first strike.
In the split second of silent, he reminded himself that he had withstood pain before. All those nights of physical training, those moments of making himself go on when every fiber of his being screamed for him to stop, the pain of punishments that Snape inflicted on him – he could bear whatever nonsense Finberg wanted to deal out.
The strap hit him. It landed high on his right hip, the tip of the leather reaching around to grab at the flesh just above the waistband of his shorts.
Harry caught his breath and his eyes went wide.
The second blow landed on his left shoulder blade - hard, careless, and brutal.
In that airless second where pain blossomed over him and Harry forgot to breathe, three things became strikingly obvious to him.
First, Finberg was not aiming with any precision and clearly did not care what he hit as long as he hit hard enough for the sound to echo through the stairway.
Second, Harry had never realized just how mindful Snape had been about handling him whenever he had physically reprimanded his adopted son. Fifteen seconds ago, Harry (if he had been forced to admit anything about the embarrassing times Snape had taken him in hand) would have claimed that Snape could be a brute with his hard smacks or that wretched hairbrush. He would have said Snape didn't care how much he hurt his son as long as Harry felt remorseful at the end.
But after two strikes at the hands of a sadist who wanted to inflict as much pain as possible, the difference between stern discipline and a brutal beating had never been so obvious to Harry. Snape had maintained such strong control over himself when delivering reprimand, and though his blows had been sharp and loud, Snape had always made sure he smacked only at Harry's rear and the top of his thighs. Not too high as to risk hitting Harry's tailbone or kidneys, and spreading out smacks in even distribution.
In those punishments, pain had mingled with embarrassment and guilt over upsetting Snape, and any tears that resulted usually came from the purging of Harry's emotional upheaval rather than true physical agony. Usually, any signs of a spanking disappeared within hours, and by the next day, Harry's body was back to normal. (Oddly enough, often the things the most sore were his neck and shoulders as he had the tendency to tense up whenever he got in trouble. He probably should have told Snape that, but it was awful enough to have to endure a punishment; he couldn't find the nerve to admit he was so wound up inside that he couldn't unclench his muscles whenever Snape got onto him.)
Third, Harry didn't know how he was going to control his magic under such a violent assault.
The lashing continued with the strap landing wherever Finberg swung it. After six blows, the man started huffing from the exertion and the blows became more erratic.
In a pain-filled, oxygen-deprived haze, Harry tried to remember if Snape had ever been out of breath while meting out discipline. Snape had been breathing hard occasionally, but that usually came from how upset he was at Harry's behavior. And Snape seemed to find plenty of air to lecture while he smacked.
Back in the summer, Snape had been shorter with him, more prone to fits of anger and temper at small provocations. But he had changed. He and Harry had both changed.
The belt landed on Harry's back in a place that had been hit twice already. Harry's eyes filled with tears, and when Finberg struck there again, Harry let out a gasp.
The pressure of magic began to build, like water swelling behind a poorly-made dam. Stronger, tighter, angrier.
A blow landed on his spine with the tip of the strap biting into the back of his neck.
The memory came back hard and fast – without warning and so real Harry almost thought he was there.
The moment he woke up from the potion Snape had given him, a potion that let him experience realistic life with Sirius. Harry had woken up furious with Snape and had started throwing stuff and swearing as his anger had grown. He had launched himself at Snape, really wanting to hurt him, but Snape had avoided his blows and eventually held him secure so he couldn't hurt either of them.
If he had been able to get free, would he have wanted to inflict the kind of pain that Finberg was inflicting? Would he, Harry, be able to hurt someone so badly?
More blows, more pain – that look on Snape's face when Harry had started crying when he had realized that life with Sirius would not have been as magical and wonderful as Harry had imagined.
Three strikes to his upper legs that stung horribly – in that moment in the study of Snapdragon Manor, Snape had been worried. Up until that moment, Snape had shown impatience or disgust, ready to bark out a short quip. But then at that instant, with the broken items on the floor and Harry's face damp with tears and sweat, Snape had shown another emotion. He had been concerned in a way only a parent could.
He missed Snape.
A jolt of magic left Harry. It spiraled up and struck the winding staircase twelve feet up.
The prisoners on the stairs gasped, moving back as ripples of worry moved upward through the throngs of onlookers.
But Finberg let out a snarl of rage, spittle spraying out his mouth as he swung harder and faster, raining down blows that that felt like a solid wave of pain.
"Stop!" Ginny's voice came from somewhere. "He's had enough!"
Harry's arms began to cramp as he pulled against the chains. He felt on the brink of fainting, and he wished the world would go black to let him escape.
More magic left him, crackled across the floor and thudding into the beams of wood and stone that held up the stairs. The hum of worry from other prisoners grew and the air of despair thickened as the Dementors began to move as well, both outside and near the ceiling far above.
"I'll get all the magic out of you," Finberg brought the strap down on the side of Harry's ribs. "I'll carve out your spine and cripple you. I'll see that you drag yourself on your hands for the rest of your life, you damn boy."
Finberg drove his fist into Harry's back, slamming into bruised, raw flesh. He drew back to punch again, but then Harry's magic exploded.
The stone of the floor rose, the walls trembled, prisoners started screaming and ducking for cover, glass broke from two windows, and the entire prison hummed with unbridled power.
The chains holding him snapped like thread and he fell down, but his magic started pushing him up immediately.
Cries above head screamed for help: "He's going to kill us!" "He's going to sink the whole place!" Make him stop! Make him stop!"
Harry couldn't see as he felt every fiber of his body throb with a need to hurt others and heal himself. He wavered between succumbing to darkness and setting everyone in the prison on fire. As his magic grew, tumbling in on itself as it doubled, tripled, expanded, he knew he could kill every last person in Azkaban so very easily. He would only have to think the Killing Curse, and they would start dropping like flies.
He had risen several inches of the ground, floating on his own power, and he was ready to slaughter every –
Something slammed into his face, knocking his head back.
He opened his eyes to see Ginny standing there with the bucket in her hand, the bucket she had just hit him with.
He considered it. His lips were aching to mouth the Killing Curse, Avada Kedavra – just to say it and watch her die.
She met his eyes. And then she started crying. She covered her face with one grimy hand, and she gave a horrible sob, a sound of hopelessness and need.
Harry stopped. His magic disappeared, dropping stone, glass, and other debris to the ground.
Looking up at the prisoners, the horrified faces, the floating Dementors, he suddenly swayed. Draco and Ron rushed forward to catch him, grabbing him before he could hit the ground. They each took a side and moved his arms to rest on their shoulders.
"Look what you did!" Ginny screamed at Finberg. "You nearly killed us all. Do you think you can do whatever you like to him, the one that killed Voldemort? He inherited all of his power, and you think you can beat it out of him?"
Draco and Ron glanced at each other, but Ginny threw her bucket on the ground.
"You are going to take us to our rooms," her voice grew stronger as she stepped towards Finberg, "but you are going to bring us food, and clothes, and some measly comforts like books and papers. We will work reasonable shifts to do our share of the chores, but you will deliver our letters to our parents and you will let them come visit us. And if you don't," Ginny reached out and grabbed the front of Finberg's shirt, "I will have Harry remove your skull one square inch at a time and," she lowered her voice to a deadly growl, "I will enjoy your screams."
She let him with a push and then went to join the other three. Harry had barely heard her threat as he hung between Draco and Ron, but he tensed when they turned towards the stair.
"It's all right," Ginny murmured as she led them away. "We're going to take you upstairs and put you to bed."
Each step must have hurt, Harry thought numbly, but his entire body hurt too much for him to notice each jarring movement.
The whole stairway was silent as they ascended, prisoners moving out of their way, but no one offering to help.
Once in their cells, Draco and Ron maneuvered Harry down his bed, but Ginny stopped at the doorway to face Finberg and Jibb who had followed them up.
"You can lock us in at night, but you are not locking our cells. I'm going to take care of Harry. I want clean cloths, soap, and a basin of boiling water. And a bunch of soft towels."
When Finberg didn't reply immediately, Ginny pressed her lips together. "If I don't tend to him, his magic will try to heal him. And who knows what it will damage while it mends him back together."
Finberg gave a short nod and left with Jibb.
Draco and Ron got Harry to the bed, and he was vaguely aware of them positioning him on his stomach on his bed.
"What should we do now?" Ron asked, shifting from foot to foot. "I mean, we have to do something."
"About Harry?" Draco asked. "Or Finberg? Or our sentence?"
"This is the time we make our demands," Ron said. "Ginny was brilliant down there, but we need to calculate, bargain, design our next moves. What if Finberg tries to strike back?"
"But we can't overplay our hand," Draco said. "He could try to poison us. Or lead a revolt that ends with us beaten even worse."
"Right. He was trying to make an example of us, but he lost in the end. People who lose are dangerous."
"We aren't going to make absurd demands," Ginny reached over to gently stroke Harry's hair. "All we want is to be treated like decent people. When Finberg returns, ask that you and Draco can go to the showers and clean up. I'll stay with Harry."
Harry let their words float above him. He kept thinking about deep, beautiful sleep that would let him escape the pain that radiated from his neck down to his calves. He couldn't even bring himself to reach back and touch any of the welts that had marked him so brutally.
He didn't realize when Finberg came back or when Draco and Ron left, but he was aware when Ginny pressed a warm, damp cloth to his back.
"Ah, no," he tried to angle away.
"Shh, shh," she dabbed again. "A few places are bleeding just the least bit. I want you to breath calmly and let your magic begin the healing. Not too fast though. I'm going to clean you up though so you need to stay still."
Harry tried to concentrate on healing, but his magic had been soundly depleted and he couldn't manage more than to dull the end of pain. To further his torment, Ginny wouldn't leave him alone. She insisted on cleaning off each bit of bruised skin and toweling it dry.
Every time he winced or groaned, she soothed him, murmuring, "It's fine. I'm almost done. There's a good boy."
His body was on fire with pain, but inside he held onto the feeling of relief that came with being taken care of. He could let that feeling grow inside, a calming counter to the murderous rage he had felt downstairs. He almost wished for a moment that she would pet his hair again and he could concentrate on the soothing touch rather than the hot pain that kept throbbing off over him.
Eventually, she finished and covered him up. He thought he heard Draco and Ron return, but he collapsed into sleep before they could say anything.
His dreams were awful – filled with dark shadows and the unease of whispered evil. In the middle of the night, Ginny woke him up and made him drink some cold water.
He gulped it down and tried to sleep, but his rest was so painful that he couldn't sink into really deep sleep.
Fortunately, by morning his magic had returned, and he felt the healing process begin, if slowly.
Ginny brought him food and Harry, wrapped in a blanket, sat up gingerly and accepted a bowl of porridge and a piece of toast with a mashed egg on top.
"This tastes so good," he admitted between bites. "I – I pulled together stuff to eat yesterday, but I didn't want to let you know."
"I found crumbs of something," Ginny nodded. "And I found the papers where you wrote to Snape. I'm – I'm so sorry."
"It's not your fault," Harry muttered.
Harry went back to sleep shortly after, and the rest of the day passed in quiet peace as Draco and Ron wrote letters, read, and talked in low tones with each other. They each left for a few hours to complete chores, but when they returned, all reports were positive.
"It turns out almost everyone hated the way Finberg was running this place," Ron said upon his return. "Each floor is coming up with ways to assign chores and the whole prison is going to petition for better food from the mainland."
Harry didn't reply. Even if Azkaban had world-class dining with palace luxuries, it was still a prison and he couldn't leave for 15 years.
By the next day, Harry was almost complete healed, but he saw no reason to celebrate. Finberg let him down to the showers and he stood with his front to the spray and let water drip over the last marks of bruises on his back, rear, and legs.
He had just returned to their cells when Jibb came in with a message. "Visitors for Weasley."
Ron looked up. "Really?"
"People claiming to be your parents and sister," Jibb said. "Put shoes on and meet me in the hall."
Ron watched Jibb leave and then he looked at Ginny. "But you're my-"
"Do you think it's Hermione in disguise?" she asked. "No one here really looks at newspapers and one girl going to Azkaban can pass for another for all the Dementors care."
"I get to see Hermione?" Ron said. He made a dash for his shoes and nearly fell over as he tried to walk and put them on as he rushed for the door.
"You don't want to see your parents?" Harry asked.
Ginny shrugged. "Maybe later. But it might look odd for the girl who is supposed to be Hermione Granger to be eager to see Ron Weasley's parents?"
Draco said nothing.
Later Ron came back, trying his best to look casual but unable to hide his grin. "She's fine. She's fine. She's so sorry she didn't tell me about her plan, but it's a good plan. She's working with Dad on a plea bargain to get Ginny and me out of here in a few months on a work detail for the Ministry to help rehabilitate children of Deatheaters and keep the next generation from turning to the Dark Arts. Once we get the release, she and Ginny will switch back and no one will ever know about it."
Harry saw Draco start to say something, but then stop himself. Ron was looking happy for the first time in days so Harry didn't voice the questions pounding in his head: But what about us? You and Ginny will get out, but what about Draco and me? What's the plan for us?
Ginny went to Ron's side of the cell room, sitting on his bed to ask him questions about their parents. Normally, Harry would have wandered over to listen, but he laid back on his bed and closed his eyes, focusing on the sound of the ocean and the feeling of coldness as several Dementors hovered outside, trying to dampen Ron's good mood.
The next day, Draco had a visitor, an old woman named Mrs. Gump, Finberg said. Draco went away in confusion, but came back an hour later and reported,
"It's was Mother in disguise. She was under Polyjuice Potion, but no one bothered her."
Harry got off his bed and went to Draco. "What news does she have?"
They were alone in the cell, Ron and Ginny having gone to work in the kitchen. Draco sat on his bed and explained,
"Since Hermione is working with the Wesley to get Ron and Ginny out, Mother's distancing herself from everyone. She wants me out and she's afraid if she's seen conferring with anyone else, she's compromising my freedom. She has information on the Deatheaters and Father has so many Dark Arts objects in the manor that she has several bargaining ploys. Right now, she is in discussion with several Ministry members to get my time reduced if she testifies against Father and other Deatheaters and reveals every last illegal object the manor holds."
"How much time reduced?"
"Right now, she's got them down to a year, but she said she wasn't going on the stand until it was down to a month, two at the most. She knows the Ministry will get anxious and that it's important for them to put far worse criminals in Azkaban than me. The fact that I lost my eye helps, and she might even have me testify as I was there when the first wave of Deatheaters arrived in Diagon Alley."
A cold feeling wrapped around Harry's chest. If Ron, Ginny, and Draco all left Azkaban and he was here alone . . .
"That's wonderful," Harry heard himself saying. "Just smashing how much she's working for you. I'm sure you will get out soon."
"Snape's going to come through for you."
"Did she say that? Did she say what he was doing?"
"No, she hasn't spoken to him since the trial. But he's bound to have a plan."
Harry managed a smile and a nod and then returned to his side of the cell.
The next day Ron and Ginny received letters. Finberg delivered them with a scowl, muttering that they shouldn't get used to people caring about them on the outside, but he then left.
"Mum wrote me," Ginny said to Harry. "Come sit with me and we can read it together."
Ron was on his own bed, staring at his letter with such intensity that Harry knew it had to be from Hermione. As Harry sat down next to Ginny, he knew that while she might share the contents of her mail, Ron would never share any letter he got from Hermione – not now, not ever.
Mrs. Weasly's letter was mainly instructive, things like tending to clothes and grooming, making sure she stayed warm enough, try to get fresh food if she could. The letter had four blue squares stuck to the bottom of the page which Ginny noticed and explained,
"Oh, those are meal squares. You put on the ground, drop water over them, and say Amplifico and they grow into fuller size dinners. Mum must want each of us to have one."
Harry commented that it was so thoughtful of her mother to send them, but the coldness remained in his chest.
The cell door opened a few hours later, and Finberg came in. He seemed twice as angry as usual and clutched one hand on his nose where a little blood seeped between his fingers.
"Get up, Potter," Finberg snapped. "You have a visitor."
"Me?" Harry asked blankly.
"I said you weren't allowed visitors, but he . . . wouldn't take no for an answer. Get yourself up and follow me or so help me –"
Harry followed Finberg out and went towards the stairs. His body had healed and he didn't feel any pain, but he steered wide of Finberg just in case the man felt a need to lash out.
Harry's heartbeat increased with each step as he contemplated who had come to visit him. Surely it had to be Snape, but maybe Snape was in disguise. And what would Harry say to him?
Finberg led him to a room that might pass as a sitting room or what would have been a sitting room in the 1800s: stiff mahogany furniture and ugly reddish carpet and hideous drapes. Candles lit the dark corners, and a lone window looked out over the grayish sky, letting in cold light.
But sitting in an armchair in a dark suit with a crystal-handled walking cane beside him was Gringwad.