Title: Exquisite Corpse

Author: diggingupophelia/sapphiretragedy (depends on where you're reading)

Rating: R

Challenge: Wrath for The LJ community harmonysorting.

Characters: Harry/Hermione (implied), Ron, Bellatrix Lestrange

Notes: It is really violent and really gory and really dark. This is not for the faint hearted. Feedback is always appreciated but under no circumstances is it required. Thanks to fab4fan for the quick beta read. Any and all mistakes remain my own.

Exquisite Corpse

Three years ago, Harry Potter's life was turned upside down. He'd defeated Voldemort, just like he was destined. He'd saved the entire wizarding world from the tyranny Voldemort promised, yet, he could not save the one woman that mattered most to him: Hermione Granger. Hermione was the unfortunate victim of a dementor's kiss. He found her just in time to watch her soulless body slump to the ground in a heap as the dementor swallowed her soul. The only sound he heard was the cackle of Bellatrix Lestrange before she Disapparated leaving Harry to pick up what were essentially Hermione's remains.

For three years, Harry cared for Hermione and searched for Lestrange. On what he would have once considered a cheerful Saturday morning, Harry sat brushing out Hermione's bushy brown hair. He was gently working the brush through a knot, though she wouldn't notice if he pulled the brush though it quickly, when he heard Ron's voice calling to him from the Floo.

"Ron, just come on through," he said over his shoulder before returning to the task at hand.

He heard Ron's footsteps advancing slowly down the short hallway between Hermione's room and the central Floo located in the sitting room. "Harry, Shacklebolt's found her," he said quietly. "You go on -- I'll sit with Hermione."

Harry's shoulder's stiffened, it was the only indication that he'd processed what Ron had told him. He kept brushing Hermione's hair. He only answered Ron when he was finished clipping Hermione's hair in a neat knot at the nape of her neck. "Are they sure it's her this time? I can't handle another mistake."

"They've had her in custody for three days. Mad Eye's performed every counter charm in the book. It's her. Officially, they'll only allow you five minutes with her. Unofficially, you're Harry Potter and rules don't ever seem to stick to you," Ron said giving a sad smile. He looked Harry in the eye - the look said everything that needed to be said.

Harry leaned forward and kissed Hermione gently on the forehead. She merely stared off into nothingness, her brown eyes were glassy and saliva was teetering at the edge of her mouth. Harry wiped it away with a white handkerchief. "I'll be back, love. Ron's going to sit with you for a while. I'm sure he'll read to you from Hogwarts, A History, it's been ages since I've been able to stand it."

Harry turned to Ron. "She's had breakfast. I'm sure you can manage tea and if need be, dinner. Make sure you move her about. She sits in that damn chair all day long and just stares," Harry whispered, "it's so ..." he cleared his throat. "Well, I'm off."

"Take as long as you need, Harry. I'll stay with her," Ron reassured. His eyes were red and bright with tears he couldn't shed. "Make that bitch pay for what she did to our Hermione."

Harry merely nodded and Apparated away.

Harry entered the Ministry calmly. He could feel his wand jabbing the small of his back from where he'd hastily stuck it in the band of his worn blue jeans. He'd played this day over and over in his head down to the last minute detail, but, it was nothing like he'd planned.

He walked up to the desk and announced himself: "Harry Potter to see Kingsley Shacklebolt," he stated as though he made this trip every day.

"We'll need your wand, Mr. Potter," the wizard behind the desk said as he held out his left hand to take the wand.

Harry was ready to protest when Arthur Weasley's voice cut in, "There'll be no need for that Crowley, he's Harry Potter, for Merlin's sake. If he wanted to take over the Ministry, he'd hardly have to do it by force."

Crowley sat back in his chair, properly cowed, and nodded to Harry. "Have a pleasant visit Mr. Potter."

"Thanks, Arthur," Harry, "you didn't have to do that."

"Yes, I did. It's like she's one of my own. If it had been any of you ... well, enough of that. It's old hat. You want to see Bellatrix Lestrange, and so you shall," he said stepping into the lift. "Ron's told you what to expect then?"

"You are all going to look the other way while I do what I need to do," Harry said flatly. "How far can I go without ending up in Azkaban?"

"I'd rather not give you any ideas," Arthur replied, "but prisoners sometimes find a way to out smart us and commit suicide. It is rare, but it isn't unheard of. Especially in cases where the prisoner is as unstable as that one."

Harry nodded. He took off his cloak and gave it to Arthur. "If something should go wrong, there are papers behind the painting of my parents in my study. Instructions for Hermione's care and all that."

"I'm sure we won't be needing to look into that," Arthur said roughly grabbing Harry's shoulder.

The lift opened and Harry stepped out. He saw the door leading to the interrogation rooms and set his jaw. He grabbed his wand and held it tightly in his hand as he walked alone and with purpose toward his destination.

Harry stood outside the closed door for a long time. A small voice in the back of his mind was telling him to go home, to go to Hermione and forget Bellatrix. But if he forgot Bellatrix there was no guarantee she would get what she deserved. He placed his hand on the doorknob and held his wand in mid-air for a long moment before he finally made the decision to lower the wards and enter the room.

The room was cold and the only source of light was a small torch affixed to the wall. It smelled musty - far better than the cells in Azkaban, but it was still acrid and made Harry's scrunch up his nose. Bellatrix was, Harry presumed, stunned. Her head was slumped forward so that her chin was resting on her chest. He watched her chest rise and fall with the slow breaths she took. He turned to make sure the door was locked, disabled the monitoring charms that would alert anyone to the use of Unforgivables, and cast a complex locking charm on the door. He didn't anticipate anyone attempting to stop him, but he'd learned one could never be too careful.

Harry adjusted his glasses as he stepped in front of Bellatrix Lestrange. He pointed his wand at her, the Killing Curse on his tongue, but opted to Enervate her at the last second instead. He wanted her to feel what he was going to do to her; show her he meant all the harm he caused. He cast the charm and leaned against the metal table that was charmed to the floor as he waited for her to acclimate herself to her surroundings.

Bellatrix blinked a few times and squinted as her eyes adjusted to the lack of light in the room. An evil glint shone in her eye and a wicked smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. "Potter," she whispered in a voice rusty from disuse. "I knew you'd come."

Harry licked his lips and then wiped at the corner of his mouth with the thumb of his left hand. His glasses slipped a little down the bridge of his nose, and he pushed them back up. All the while he stared at her. He set his wand down on the table and pushed himself up onto the edge of it so that his legs were dangling, ever so slightly.

"Come to exact your revenge for that pathetic little Mudblood? You should have heard her scream when her soul was being pulled from her body," Bellatrix whispered slowly, enunciating every letter in every word. "It was the most exquisite sound I'd ever heard. My only regret is that I couldn't do it more than once."

"We have something in common then," Harry said plainly.

'You don't have what it takes to hurt me once, let alone the desire to repeat the process. You're weak, Potter. You always were -- always will be," she taunted.

Harry gingerly picked up his wand between the thumb and forefinger of his left hand. He twirled the wand for show and grabbed it in his wand hand - his right hand. He lazily pointed the wand at her and smirked. He whispered, "Crucio," mainly for effect - he knew he didn't have to say it to make it work.

Bellatrix tensed in the chair as the red curse hit her square in the chest. Her whole body jerked. Her wrists pulled at the invisible restraints binding her to the chair she occupied. Harry could see the indentations in her flesh and the reddening of her skin. Her head whipped back violently and an unearthly scream fought its way out of her throat and through her lips. Harry held his wand steady for a moment and then dropped it, releasing her from the curse.

Bellatrix breathed heavily as she stared through her eyelids down at the floor. When she looked up, Harry mock yawned. "I could tire of that easily," he said. Bellatrix's eyes were wide with shock. "And here you thought I didn't have it in me," he patronized, "tsk, tsk, tsk. The first lesson of war, never underestimate your enemy."

Bellatrix was still breathing heavily. Her arm jerked involuntarily as an after effect of the curse. "Not bad for a beginner. I assure you, I've endured far worse at the hands of the Dark Lord," she replied.

"That? Oh, I was just warming up. I had the distinct pleasure of suffering that same curse from you so called Lord -- Voldemort --" he took great pleasure in watching her cringe as he said Voldemort's name, "and I assure you that he was quite weak in that regard."

"Is the little boy hero going to punish me? Going to kill me?" she teased. "It doesn't matter what you do to me. She'll never be the same. She'll always be that shell of a whore sitting in that red plush chair in front of the window while you read to her and wipe up her drool and her shit."

Harry pointed his wand at Bellatrix and watched her flinch. He cast a weak stinging hex and lowered his wand quickly. He wanted to keep her off guard; to keep her guessing. Suddenly he was overcome by a seething rage that threatened to ruin his plans. So, Harry turned to face the door, he couldn't let Bellatrix see him weakened. Images of Hermione flashed before him.

-?-

In the days immediately following the kiss, Harry had been hopeful. There had to be a cure; except he was certain the only person who could and would find it was Hermione. Still, he'd dragged piles of books from the Hogwarts Library to Hermione's room at St. Mungo's and read to her while she stared. Occasionally she would blink. If he set tea in front of her, she would drink it. He could lead her to the loo and help her shower. She would follow simple directions related to her basic care; but she wouldn't talk.

It was so difficult to look into her eyes and see emptiness behind them. He thanked the gods every day that he'd taken the chance to tell her he loved her before he'd gone to fight Voldemort; but then he'd thought he'd die.

Everyday, Hermione's situation grew worse. By the end of the first week, she couldn't manage to use the loo at all. The staff at St. Mungo's was adamant he commit her and keep her locked away. Harry would have none of it. The Healers had protested - she needs to be treated like an infant - Harry didn't care.

He hated himself on other days and wished he'd left her where he couldn't see her. He usually hated himself on the days when he had to bathe Hermione. He would lay her on the bed, and charm the mattress into a shallow tub. He never undressed her with his hands, he always vanished her nightdress and robe. But once she was undressed he couldn't help but stare, couldn't help but wonder what it would be like to make love to her despite her condition. Once, he'd gotten as far as fondling her breasts before he stopped and wretched onto the plush green carpet that lined her floor. After that, he asked Molly if she wouldn't mind helping him. But that didn't stop the dreams -- the curiosity from existing.

-?-

Harry turned without warning and cast a nonverbal Sectumsempra at Bellatrix. The spell had hit her arms, he thought. He couldn't see the blood immediately through her black robes. He didn't have to wait long for confirmation; the blood began to drip onto the floor; first in drops the size of Knuts the gradually it grew until it was creating a puddle on the floor. He could hear the dull, wet, click of liquid merging with liquid and it calmed him.

"You took away the two people I loved most in this world, you know. It would have been more merciful if you would have not taken the cowards way out and killed them both," Harry said, his voice emotionless.

"I think it was far more rewarding to leave her as she was," came the harsh reply. "And you're far too much a coward to kill me."

"I've killed plenty of rotten Death Eater scum. What's one more?" he said shrugging his shoulders and sitting back up on the table.

"You'll go to Azkaban -- maybe they'll be kind enough to put you in Sirius's cell."

"Prisoner's manage to commit suicide in a variety of interesting ways," was all Harry replied. He turned his wand on her again, this time binding her feet to the legs of the chair and untying her hands. Immediately, she grabbed at her raw wrists and rubbed them. Bellatrix gripped the side of the chair when Harry pointed his wand at her.

He'd opted for Cruciatus again. The strongest he could muster. Images of Hermione's suffering gave him all the power he needed. He could hear Bellatrix screaming, begging for him to stop - but he didn't. He only stopped when he noticed the stench of urine hanging in the air. The urine had mixed in with the blood that already soiled the floor.

"Wh ... where did you learn how to do that?" Bellatrix asked.

"It's astonishing what one can learn from a book," he replied.

"You could teach me, you know. We could do great things together. Great things the Dark Lord could never do," she tried. "I could be your greatest help."

Harry pointed his wand at Bellatrix again. Her robes ripped to shreds and pulled off her body in jagged strips and wafted to the floor. She was stripped to the waist. Her hands didn't move to cover her exposed body; she merely stared into Harry's eyes. She leaned her head back and exposed her neck, a smirk played on her face. "I knew you'd see things my way."

Harry walked toward her. He put his wand tip to the pale curve of her neck, whips of her black hair flanking the holly wood on the inside, he caressed her flesh gently and breathed near her ear. He dragged the wand down her torso and looked into her eyes. "Diffindo," he whispered. In an instant she was shrieking as he chest cavity was pulled open. The blood glistened, even in the dim light of the room. "So beautiful," Harry whispered in her ear as he watched her hands try to staunch the flow of blood pouring from the gash in her chest. The layers of skin were peeled back to the muscle and her hands were covered in her own blood. The beads of blood trailed down her body in a snake-like fashion.

"Who would have guessed that there would have been such an exotic use for such a common place charm? The last time I used that one, it was to remove some string from a parcel," Harry explained as he surveyed his work. "I could leave you here to bleed to death."

Bellatrix was breathing heavily and ragged. Her screams had calmed into a guttural moan that was a constant hum. She forced her self to be silent and raised her head so she could look at him. "You won't leave me to die like this. These games are merely child's play," she whispered in a raw voice.

Harry turned and walked toward the door. He opened it and stepped out, locking the door behind him. He could hear Bellatrix scream.

-?-

Bellatrix had watched him leave. She knew no one else would come for her. She knew she would die in that dank holding cell and no one would care; in fact they would celebrate her death.

Bellatrix was shocked to see Harry Potter return with a strange man in tow. He was wearing the lime green robes of a Healer. Bellatrix was greatly confused. She tired to catch Harry's eyes - to demand an explanation; but she was in no position to demand anything. Perhaps Harry had tested her, had decided she could help him.

She was astonished when the Healer fed her blood-replenishing potion and closed her wounds. She was silent as the Healer worked, but she kept trying to catch Harry's gaze. He never looked at her.

She watched as Harry cast an Obliviate on the Healer while his back was turned and then shove the man out of the room. He turned back toward Bellatrix and stared at her for a long time without saying a word.

-?-

Harry had intended on leaving her there. Had intended on walking away; but then he heard Hermione's voice in the back of his mind: "It makes you no better than her." He kicked the wall and stubbed his toe when he realized that the voice was right – that Hermione was right. He'd sent for a Healer and decided he'd let the slow turning cogs of justice do the job they were meant to do. Really, he meant to leave with the Healer.

But then he saw her sitting there, her heavily hooded eyes staring back at him. And memories of the past three years zipped through his memory and the one image of Hermione slumping to the feet of a dementor as this woman cackled repeated.

Harry conjured a thick rope, tucked his wand into his back pocket, and sat on the edge of the table once more. He was silent as he fashioned a noose; he tested the slipknot a few times, satisfied, he got up and walked toward Bellatrix. He slipped the noose around her neck and tightened it. He looked up at the ceiling – there were no beams from which he could tie the other end of the rope. He'd have to use magic for that. He levitated the rope and it tightened in slack and pulled Bellatrix straight in her chair.

Harry cast a charm to tie her hands in front of her and her feet together so she was fully independent of the chair. He then continued to levitate the rope. Bellatrix was standing with her feet an inch above the ground. Her face was turning red. Harry stopped levitating the rope and used a spell he'd seen her perform on so many of his friends. Bellatrix was engulfed in a bright orange light. When the light dissipated, her intestines were lying on the floor in front of her, coiled like the rope that tugged at her neck. Bellatrix tried to scream, but all she managed was a strangled gasp. Her hands intuitively fell toward the gash, her bound hands were getting caught in her own entrails. Streaks of blood now painted her wrist and when she lifted her hands toward the noose in an effort to reduce the pressure on her windpipe she smeared blood all over her face. Her hands were too slippery to grip the rope and actually do anything to prolong the process. But she showed no signs of giving up the fight for her life.

Harry raised the rope until Bellatrix's face turned blue and she was struggling to free herself from the noose. He sat and watched as life started to drain from her body. She still kicked and then he heard a telltale snap after she'd been kicking her legs wildly. She was dead.

Harry did his best to hide the traces of the disembowelment hex. And he conjured a new set of robes for her corpse. He left her hanging as he returned to Hermione.

His anger hadn't died with Bellatrix as he thought it would. But he was certain he could at least sleep better at night knowing he'd done his best.

Fin