Disclaimer: Still not mine. Won't be mine.
A/N: I've gone ahead and done it — this has been festering on my hard drive for ages, but it's time to get it out in the open. Enjoy.
Prayer of a Child:
A Response to Severitus' Challenge
"Can you hear the prayer of the children,
On bended knee in the shadow of an unknown room?
Empty eyes with no more tears to cry
Turning heavenward toward the light."
-Kurt Bester, "Prayer of the Children"
October 31, 1984
The woman was already beyond pain, staring blankly at the ceiling, so Medea Lestrange released the Cruciatus Curse and turned back to the man who lay bound on the floor, eyes locked on the unseeing face of his wife. "Well? Do we move on to your son, or do you tell us where the boy hides, Longbottom?"
The man in question, stocky and growing pudgy in the years since the Dark Lord's mysterious defeat, set his face in a grimace. "You can't find him, Lestrange, he's hidden -"
"Whom? Your son or Potter?" Medea's husband demanded. Iscariot let out a bark of laughter, face still set grimly. "Potter, yes. Well hidden, though it's buried somewhere in your brain. Your son...? He's Potter's age, isn't he. I'm sure they'd have been good friends... Barty!" he shouted. On cue, the young collegue of Medea and Iscariot dragged in a chubby boy of four, his eyes wide with fear as Barty Crouch, Jr. held him in a bruising grip. "Yes, this one would've made quite the companion for young Mr. Potter... one of them dies, Auror Longbottom. The choice is yours."
The man looked over at his son, face blanched in fear. "Neville... I love you, Neville, be strong -"
"Iscariot, we haven't much time."
Medea's husband nodded. "I know. The others should be on their way already. Barty, some persuasion for Auror Longbottom?"
With a grim smile, Barty tossed the boy to the ground and raised his wand. His "Crucio" was echoed by a double scream; one from the boy, one from his father. Medea fought the urge to turn away — her own daughter was in school, years older than little Neville Longbottom, but she'd once been his age — but in deference to her absent Lord, she looked on. But the boy grew silent, eyes glazing over like his mother's.
Iscariot sighed. "Barty, when will you learn? You've broken him already."
Longbottom let out a mournful cry, struggling against his bonds to reach for his son, as Barty dropped the curse with a sheepish apology. None was necessary — Barty had joined the movement only a short time before the Dark Lord's banishment on the disasterous night of October 31, 1981, and had escaped Azkaban through the pleas of his highly-ranked father, but was every bit as faithful as the Lestranges. He'd elected to join them on their suicide mission of final revenge — October 31, 1984, the night the Boy Who Lived was to die.
Medea turned her wand on Longbottom. "Now Frank, you know there's only supposed to be one death tonight. Potter will still die, but should Neville and Margaret be added to the death toll?" Longbottom didn't answer, giving a whimper and staring longingly at his son. Medea gave a sigh. "This really shouldn't have been necessary... Imperio."
Auror Longbottom fought against it bravely, but years of experience with the Dark kept him held fast. "Four," he finally murmured at Medea's insistence, "Four Privet Drive -"
Medea dropped the curse and slumped forward slightly, trying to recover from the effort of holding Longbottom under her control. Iscariot stepped forward and supported her. "Marvelously done, my wife. You'll have the honor of the killing blow, when it is time. Barty, will you finish here? No one is to be killed... but Auror Longbottom shan't be left sane enough to tell any tales..." Iscariot took Medea's arm and guided her aside, seemingly oblivious to Longbottom's renewed screams. "Dumbledore is more of a fool than I'd thought. Love, this is Privet Drive. Number 8. He's stationed the boy's protection within shouting distance."
She couldn't help herself. Medea laughed aloud, even as Frank Longbottom's screams died away into madness. "The fool... Barty, raise the Mark! Then over to Figg's to finish her off. We'll be waiting for you at Number 4! There will yet be revenge this night!"
And as a glowing skull and snake floated above the silent house for all wizards to see, the three set out to finish the night.
Inside of Number 4, a short, painfully skinny boy crouched by the window, staring in fear at a skeletal apparition floating in the night sky. "Aunt Petunia!" he shrieked, stumbling back and tripping over one of his cousin's toys, "There's a — there's a thing in the air!"
Aunt Petunia, a catty blonde woman with a long neck and wrinkled face, peered darkly through the window. "I see nothing, boy. What did I tell you about fibbing?"
He went on without thinking. "But it is there! It is! It's like magic!"
She let out a scream, grabbing Harry by the arm in a bruising grip and dragging him from the parlour to the front entryway, finally tossing him bodily into the cupboard beneath the stairs. "You are never to contradict me! Nothing was outside, you little brat!" Petunia slammed the cupboard door shut.
But little Harry knew what he'd seen. He huddled silently on the cot in the cupboard which served as a bedroom, shaking as the front door of the house was slammed open. Trying not to make a noise, he scooted forward and peered through the ventilation grate in the door.
A tall, dark woman and a thin, gaunt-faced man, both dressed in odd long coats, had sticks pointing at his aunt. "Get out!" Pentunia screamed, still in a rage over Harry's words. "I don't want your kind in here!"
"Where's Potter?" the man demanded.
Harry gasped softly and shrunk back against the opposite wall, trying to hide away but also losing sight of the scene in the hall. Aunt Petunia's voice continued. "There's no Potter here! There aren't any more freaks in my family!" A shadow moved past the grate and Harry saw a bit of his aunt's flowered apron as she moved past the cupboard.
An unfamiliar voice, the woman who'd entered with the man, spoke next. "He's here. Tell me where! Crucio!"
There was a thud, and Aunt Petunia was screaming, and Harry cowered against the wall in fear, trying to keep the tears from coming. Uncle Vernon hated it when he cried, but he couldn't stop. "The cupboard!" his aunt screamed, "He's in the cupboard!"
Before Harry could move or even think of escape, the gaunt-faced man had opened the cupboard and wrapped his bony hands around Harry's arms. "Finish the Muggle, luv. No witnesses."
Another strange phrase came from the dark woman, who was towering over Aunt Petunia. "Avada Kedavra." A sickly green light — eerily familiar — flashed through the room, leaving Aunt Petunia lying on the ground and not moving.
Harry stared with wide eyes, knees shaking. "Is she dead?" he whispered.
The man slammed Harry's small body against the wall, sending him whimpering in pain. "No talking!" he barked. "You killed our Master, and we cannot use the curse on you, but it doesn't mean there aren't other ways to kill you!"
"He's four, Iscariot! Just kill him," the woman said. "Then we'll have had our revenge..."
"No!" the man, Iscariot, howled, jerking Harry from the wall and sending him careening into the wooden bench in the entryway. "He feels the pain our Master felt!" Harry moaned, curling into as small a target as he could make, but the man pointed a stick of polished wood at him threateningly. "Crucio," the man yelled, and Harry screamed.
Three Aurors Apparated into the living room of the Longbottom home as quickly as they could after the Third Eye monitoring system picked up screams. Remus Lupin knew what had happened the moment he appeared on the scene — the scent of fear and pain was heavy on the air and his werewolf senses easily picked them up. Three bodies lay on the ground, all living, but as Remus' partner, Oliver Lynn, sighed as he checked them over — "Cruciatus Curse. They're insane."
"Wait!" Moody crowed, limping to the side of the smallest body, "their son... I don't think he's been broken. Oli, Remus, go over to 4 Privet — it's just a few houses down. Frank was guarding the boy living there. I'll go to Arabella's and call for backup from there. Don't touch anything in here, they'll need to look for traces of the attackers!"
Remus was out the door before Moody finished. While 4 Privet meant nothing to him, he'd lost the last of his close friends in its defense — Frank had been a year his senior at school and had been a great comfort to Remus, who had found himself the sole remaining Gryffindor of the class of '78 after the final battle. This attack called for vengeance in a very personal way.
A child's scream caught his attention, and he sped up, hearing Oliver's footsteps do the same. Four Privet's door was open — two adult wizards and the boy were visible. "Stupefy!" Remus shouted, sending one to the ground.
The other dropped the curse on the boy and turned to face the oncoming Aurors, but Oliver's "Petrificus Totalis!" sent the offender tumbling to the ground. Remus left Oliver to secure the house and dropped to his knees by the child's side.
He was alive, at the very least. The boy was tiny, painfully thin, and bruises had begun to mar the pale skin of his arms where his attacker had held him. Unconscious, but probably not a victim of Cruciatus Insanity. His hair was slightly greasy, as though no one had cared enough to bathe him, and it was longer and shaggier than Remus'. The obvious neglet sent him reeling in shock — who was this boy, that Frank Longbottom would stand aside and let him be treated so terribly?
"They killed a Muggle woman," Oliver reported.
"Any ID on her?" Remus asked, continuing to check the child for injuries. He heard Oliver walking around the hall. There were a few old bruises, suggestive of more than just neglect on the part of the boy's guardians, but no broken bones or badly healed wounds. His face looked familiar, somehow, but nothing immediately recognizeable.
Oliver's boots appeared at the edge of Remus' vision. "Found her purse, Re... odd name, that. Petunia Dursley, born 1958 -"
"Oh, God." Remus stared blankly at the child, his hands beginning to shake uncontrollably. "That's Lily's sister's name... Merlin, that means..."
"Lily who?" Oliver snapped. He crouched down, giving the boy a once-over. "He's certainly not much to look at, is he?"
Tenderly, Remus pulled the boy into his lap and pushed aside the greasy locks of hair hiding his forehead. Oliver gave a loud gasp at what was revealed — a thin, lightning bolt shaped scar on the right side of his forehead. "Lily Potter's sister was named Petunia," Remus murmured, "and she married a Dursley in '77."
"Harry Potter," Oliver whispered, voice full of hero-worship, "but why's he so thin? He's not bathed in -"
Remus couldn't hold back his moan of anger, disgust, fresh pain at the reminder of his loss, and so many other emotions that were no longer under his control. "I told Dumbledore not to leave him with these filthy Muggles!" he finally snapped. Gathering the little boy into his arms, Remus rocked him slowly. "I told him... I told him, and see what happened? He might've died! He might not have lived to see Hogwarts with the way they were treating him!" Rage finally taking over, he launched to his feet, cradling Harry to his chest. "Oli, finish up here, concoct a suitably Muggle excuse for Vernon — that's the husband's name. Tell Mad-Eye that I've taken Harry to Hogwarts."
Oliver nodded, rising as well. "Right. Take care of the little tyke.. hey, how do you know so much about Lily Potter, Re?"
"James was my best friend. Had they lived... he'd be calling me Uncle Re." Lupin left Oliver to his hero-worship and hurried out onto the street, making a dash for Arabella's fireplace. Dumbledore had to know the terrible mistake that had been made.