"Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair, but manifestations of strength and resolution." ~Kahlil Gibran
Chapter 27: A Harder Battle
"So you're feeding her again."
"Thank you for pointing out the obvious, Bella."
"So I guess I can't hope for death by starvation."
"Do you have a point to this incessant chatter?" Lucius asked. He watched as she fingered the folds of the silver and green scarf wrapped around her throat.
"I just don't understand why all of the sudden we're being nice to her." She pushed out her bottom lip in a pouty sort of way as she stumbled over to him and leaned against him.
He scoffed at her, hoping that would stop her silly attempts to be alluring. "Feeding her isn't being nice to her. We need to keep her alive for information. Besides not feeding her before was just a punishment for being headstrong."
"What information have you gotten from her?" Bellatrix asked, suddenly perking up.
"Nothing at this point; I was hoping you'd go in there and convince her to tell us what she knows of the whereabouts of Ronald Weasley."
Lucius turned and began to pour a glass of water. It was only ten a.m. after all. He knew very well that Hermione knew nothing of her old group. He'd watched her for weeks and had never once seen her meet with them. But, he thought decisively, it would give Bellatrix something to do and get her out of his hair. Besides, he didn't want to go in there himself. He was uncertain what had happened exactly two nights previous, when he'd stumbled in there drunk. He knew only that he'd let his guard down. It was something he did not intend to do another time.
He gulped at the icy water and he scrunched up his nose in distaste. God, how he wished it was full of a burning amber scotch instead!
"Ginny! Ron! Are you here?" Harry ran into the Burrow excited, looking for his wife and brother-in-law. He headed straight for the kitchen hearing someone banging around in there.
"Harry dear? Is that you?"
"Oh hello. Is Ginny not here?"
"You've got a big problem on your hands if you can't keep track of your wife, mate," George said, sitting up in his chair at the table positioned near the kitchen. He shoveled another forkful of eggs into his awaiting mouth.
"No, I'm sorry Harry, she's not here now," Mrs. Weasley said, forcing with a gentle hand on Harry's shoulder to sit down. She placed a plate full of eggs and toast in front of him. "Go on then. Eat up. I'm sure if you're looking for her she's looking for you. She'll check here soon enough. Is anything the matter?" She asked as she set down three mugs and a brimming pot of tea.
"No, no," Harry said, plunging a fork into the eggs, breathing in that sweet aroma. He had missed breakfast that day. "Do you know where Ron is?"
"Well, I'm sure he's around here somewhere," Mrs. Weasley said looking toward the staircase that led up to the many rooms.
"I think he left here a little early, Harry. He was mumbling something about the prophet when I got up," George said taking a mug and filling it with tea.
"Was there anything in the paper, then?" Harry asked, dropping his fork. Their mission to find Hermione, though secret, hadn't been going well. Until that morning, they'd had no leads. Just an hour ago Harry stumbled upon the sister of a Sean McGillicutty who was able to tell him the address of her brother. That's what Harry had gone all the way to the burrow for when after he'd gone home and Ginny hadn't been there. He figured the three of them could all go and interrogate Hermione's boyfriend to see if he had any more information about her.
"Was there anything in the paper about what, dear?"
"Oh nothing. Do you have a copy lying around? I can check it myself," Harry said, piling some eggs on a piece of toast and taking a large bite.
Mrs. Weasley dropped the folded paper on the table in front of Harry. He began to skim for any articles that would have sent Ron running out of there before his mother had even had time to feed him. It wasn't until he was half way through, in a back section of the paper, did he see anything that would interest him. It was tucked between an advertisement for the wand shop in Diagon Alley and a special interest piece on the welfare of garden gnomes.
Ministry Releases Name of Missing Person
Under stress and still unable to find the girl reported missing almost three weeks ago, yesterday afternoon after a small meeting with the Minister of Magic, Gina Roberts, undersecretary to the Minister, called an impromptu press conference. This is what she had to say:
"I understand the amount of confusion that has been brought about due to the sudden disappearance of a Ministry official. There is, I repeat, there is absolutely nothing to worry about. We have the investigation well under control. It is at this time that we would like to release the name of the girl in question. Unfortunately the disappearance is of one Miss Hermione Granger of the Muggle Liaison Office. Though we have the situation perfectly under control, it would be extremely helpful that anyone with any connection with Ms. Granger at this time would please step forward. We are doing our best to find Ms. Granger as speedily as possible. We require the help of anyone who knows anything. Once more, for the general public, please do not be alarmed. We are still fairly certain there is nothing to be concerned about at this time. Thank you."
Harry closed the paper in a hurry and sat fuming, not bothering to read the rest of the article. So now they've released her name in a way to ask for help? What help did they think they'd find stuffing the article in the back like that? They were no further along looking for her then they were! Harry was positively furious. So this is why Ron ran out of here in a hurry. He was probably looking for himself and Ginny.
Well, Harry thought, there isn't much to do now but wait for them both to come back to the Burrow so that they can leave together and go talk to Sean McGillicutty.
"Where is Ronald Weasley?!" She screeched, her voice going up an entire octave in her anger.
"I told you, I don't know anything about him!" Hermione scowled up at her torturer, glaring, her dark eyes fiery.
"Are you trying to tell me that your boyfriend, the man you almost married, you know nothing about?" Bellatrix laughed. "Even I know these little things about you, Mudblood. Now tell me what the best way to get to him is!"
"I don't know! Even if I did, I wouldn't tell YOU!" Hermione screamed back, sweat beading on her forehead.
"Crucio! Crucio! Crucio!" Each time she screamed the curse Hermione shook grotesquely on the floor. Her voice was sticking in her throat to the point that she wasn't even able to scream out in the pain she felt. Finally, with her muscles, her very bones on fire under her skin, Bellatrix let up.
Hermione slumped to the cold wood floor, sweating, panting. "Are you ready to speak yet, Filth?"
Barely raising her head from the ground, she swiveled her head around on her sore and tender neck. "You'll have to try harder than that."
The curse hit her again. She felt like her body was being ripped in two, the impossible feeling of having her arms dislocate from her body, her legs stretching out into oblivion. Again the curse stopped and she took the break to breathe deeply, to fill her lungs with much needed air.
"Don't worry you little shit, there will be more." Bellatrix leaned down into Hermione's face and stroked one long, pale finger across her cheek and down Hermione's throat, her long black painted nail cutting her skin. "Sectumsempra!"
Hermione's skin burst open, her blood pouring out in tiny cuts all over her body. She grasped at her face with her hands, holding in her own blood as it seeped between her fingers. She cried out in pain and fear.
"What the hell are you doing, Bellatrix?!" Lucius stormed into the room only to see Hermione covered in her own blood, no sign of the redness stopping. "What curse did you use?" He screamed, watching as one writhed on the floor in pain and the other smiled evilly from above.
"You bitch! I told you to get the information, not kill her!" As soon as the words left his mouth, Bellatrix stared into his blue eyes, glaringly.
"How dare you-"
"GET OUT." It was not a request but a command. "GET OUT NOW!" His booming voice reverberated off the walls.
Bellatrix picked up her skirts and ran, frightened.
Lucius knelt down before Hermione and took his wand waving it over her face, arms, chest, repeatedly mumbling the counter-curse. From thin air, he produced a bottle small bottle. Hermione still crying looked at it, knowing instantly what it was.
"Dittany," she cried, trying to stop her own tears but the pain was still great.
Lucius shushed her, uncorked the bottle and began to apply it to Hermione's face and arms.
"This will have to do for now. There might be scarring, but if I get some Murtlap Essence on it quickly, I think I might be able to avoid even that." He handed the bottle of Dittany to Hermione. "Do you think you can do the rest yourself, while I go and look for the Murtlap?"
She nodded absently, taking the bottle from him. She tried to stand up, gasping in pain.
"Here," Lucius said, reaching down a hand. "Let me." He picked her up and carried her to the bed, laying her on it gently. "I shouldn't be long. Apply that to the rest until I can get back. The Murtlap will help the pain."
With that, Lucius was gone. Hermione sat on the bed, slowly pulling back her shirt and pants, applying the herb to her chest, her legs. The cuts were long and red everywhere she looked. She feared to know what her face would be like. Frightfully, Hermione knew that the scarring would not be avoidable. She thought of George's ear, which had been cursed off with the same spell. But she also knew that should someone know the right counter-curse then it all might be healed. She cursed herself, rubbing the herb into her wounds painfully. It was right stupid of her to be worrying over the way she'd look after being cursed. Things were much worse than that. She'd probably die in here regardless, she thought. What difference would it make if I'm buried with scars all over my face?
She slumped back against the pillows trying to avoid her healing cuts to touch anything. They still ached and burned.
The door flew open in a hurry. Bellatrix stood in the doorway watching her. Her face was twisted into a horrid, maniacal grin. "Feeling better?" She asked, her eyes narrowing on all the cuts across her body.
Hermione recoiled in fear.
"I thought I told you to get out." It wasn't more than his regular tone but the force behind the words was enough to send Bellatrix scurrying away from the doorway. With a slight breeze he marched into the room, his dark robes billowing behind him. He quickly went to her on the bed and sat down beside her. He opened the large bottle and began to apply it to her skin gently.
"I… I… I can do it myself," Hermione managed to say after a time, the words getting caught in her throat at his touch.
"You shouldn't be moving at all," he said abruptly, continuing to stroke his fingers, coated in Murtlap essence across her skin. He slowly peeled away her clothes and let the liquid run over her skin, watching as the redness of the healing cuts began to fade almost immediately. When he was finished, he blew gently against her skin. The sudden burst of cold air made her sigh with relief. He smirked at her. "Does that feel better?" He asked.
She didn't say anything but watched him, his eyes smiling at her.
Lucius watched her face transform from a fearful scowl to a relaxed pose. He stopped smiling. What the hell he was doing, he thought, he didn't know. He stood up from the bed. With a slightly shaking hand, he left the now corked bottled on her bedside table. "I'm going to leave the remainder with you. Should you feel the need, reapply it in a few hours." He walked towards the door, keeping his back to her. With his hand on the doorknob he turned his head ever so slightly and looked back. "I'll have Plunket bring up some food and feed you. You shouldn't move anymore than necessary."
He left the room, closing the door softly behind him.