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Harry blinked. Though he saw nothing in front of him, not that he expected to, the sensation of closing and opening his eyelids seemed oddly surreal. After all, you don't blink when you're dead. Fuzzily, Harry realized that this was not as comforting as it should have been. He wasn't entirely sure why, but he didn't feel at peace at all and wasn't that what everybody, Muggles and wizards alike, insisted death be like?
Straining to wrap his oddly dilapidated mind around these thoughts, Harry opened his mouth. Only to find that he couldn't.
It was then that the events of the past day rushed back in a dizzying whirlwind, leaving Harry wishing he could go back to thinking he was in the afterlife.
Shortly after arriving at the Weasleys' for Bill and Fleur's wedding, Harry had broken his word to Ron and Hermoine. Enough people had suffered on his behalf; his parents, Sirius, Dumbledore, now even Mad-Eye Moody and Hedwig. He wouldn't allow his two best friends to become his next victims. So Harry had struck out on his own with virtually no clue of where to begin.
How long had he been away? Sometimes hours seemed like days, days like weeks. Honestly he had no idea. Occasionally he found out information, mainly from the feverish episodes accompanying his scar erupting in pain, but what he did learn was useful, though often frustratingly unclear. One particular piece of information continued to plague him, though, and this he'd learned not from Voldemort's scattered thoughts, but the Daily Prophet. And no matter how unreliable they were at times, there was no way even Rita Skeeter could have misreported the following headline:
Severus Snape – New Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry!
Every time Harry thought of Snape sitting sullenly in Dumbledore's chair, greasy hair surely smudging on the pristine wood behind him, his stomach clenched painfully and his blood boiled with fresh anger. Harry had sworn to himself that the first chance he got, Snape would pay. And then, last night, things had gone slightly pear-shaped.
He didn't remember much. One minute he'd been completely alone, and the next, attacked by multiple Death Eaters. And now he was here. Wherever here was.
Breathing steadily through his nose, Harry slowly assessed his situation, or rather what he knew of it. First of all, he was alive, something that seemed completely out of place. Trying not to dwell on his good, or perhaps not so good fortune, Harry attempted to move and found his hands and feet just as tightly restrained as his mouth. And naturally, his wand had been removed from his back pocket. Even though he was far from mastering non-verbal magic, at least with a wand he would have had a chance to release himself, however slight. But, as far as Harry knew, even Dumbledore and Voldemort hadn't mastered the ability to perform wandless magic, so there was little chance of that happening.
At that moment, harsh light suddenly invaded the inky blackness of the room, leaving Harry squinting and blinking rapidly. Eyes watering, he looked towards the source of the light and could make out nothing more than a harsh silhouette against the doorframe, though the features were too obscured for Harry to make out through his blurry eyes.
"Get up, Potter."
The all-too-familiar voice, not to mention the easy use of his last name, left Harry with no question as to who had been sent to retrieve him. Slowly, Draco Malfoy's pale features came into view. Harry narrowed his eyes and gestured towards his bound feet. Strangely refraining from comment, Draco raised his wand and the bindings fell away instantly, not only from Harry's feet, but from his hands and mouth as well. Licking his cracked lips, Harry sat up, glaring at Draco who was beginning to look impatient, shifting from foot to foot and glancing nervously over his shoulder.
"I suggest you hurry," he snapped after a moment, turning away.
Harry followed behind silently. Something about Draco's manner didn't seem right to him. The arrogant Slytherin of the last six years would have been gloating cheerfully given the current situation, but his expression had been anything but triumphant. In fact, Harry wasn't sure what his expression had been. As they walked onwards through the dreary house he wondered darkly if Draco had been taking lessons from Snape on how to hide his emotions.
When at last they stopped, it was outside of two ornately furnished doors that were propped open, but not enough to see inside. Harry's heart thumped painfully in his chest and his stomach flip-flopped several times at the thought of stepping, quite possibly, to his death. Sensing his hesitation, Draco fell into step behind Harry, murmuring quietly as he passed, "He's not going to kill you."
But Harry barely heard Draco's words as he stepped through the threshold and came face to face with a pair of slitted, red eyes.
They stared at each other for several seconds – Voldemort's snake-like face settling into a malicious smile, as Harry felt the blood drain from his face. When Voldemort spoke, his voice was a hissing whisper. "Harry, how nice of you to drop in!"
A short spurt of humorless laughter filled the room, and Harry belatedly realized he was surrounded by Death Eaters, some of whom he immediately recognized: Wormtail, Bellatrix LeStrange, Lucius Malfoy. They all were watching him intently, looks of triumph only outshone by their obvious hunger for Harry's death.
"Glad to oblige," Harry retorted, glaring back into Voldemort's eyes. The Dark Lord's grin slowly faded and he raised his hand, one long skeletal finger outstretched towards Harry's forehead. A strange look came over him as he slowly lowered his finger and Harry forced himself not to flinch away, preparing himself for the pain of contact. But, it didn't come. Abruptly Voldemort turned away, black robes whirling around him and he began circling Harry.
"Do you know why you're still alive, Harry Potter?"
Harry stared straight ahead, unsure of what to say.
"You," Voldemort continued, addressing his followers just as much as Harry, "are going to be my new puppet. Dumbledore had his turn with you. Now it's mine."
Confused, Harry glanced at Voldemort in spite of himself. He had resisted the Imperius Curse before, and would sooner end up like Neville's parents than give in to torture.
"I'd rather die than help you," Harry ground out slowly. Someone shouted and in the next moment he was writhing on the ground, every nerve ending firing simultaneously and resulting in agony.
"Enough," Voldemort said calmly, gesturing at someone. Hazily, Harry realized that one of the Death Eaters, not their leader, had cast the Cruciatus. Shakily, he rose to his feet, muscles still twitching uncomfortably. A coppery taste filled Harry's mouth and he absently spit the blood on the spotless marble floor.
Voldemort looked disdainfully at Harry. "I see Dumbledore didn't teach you very good manners."
"Guess I learned from Snape," he returned coldly.
A slight smile came over Voldemort's features again at the mention of Snape. "Ah, yes, Professor Snape. Ironic isn't it?"
Knowing it was in his best interest to hold his tongue but, as was in his nature, unable to do so, Harry blurted out, "Why didn't he just get it over with, before? Why make Draco do it at all?"
In the corner he lurked in, Draco paled and glared at the ground.
"Harry, Harry," Voldemort scolded in a tone similar to one a parent would use on their child, "My followers are all loyal however… inefficient at times. Young Draco has already been dealt with. And now, your turn has finally come."
"I won't give in! It doesn't matter what you do to me!" Harry shouted, mentally preparing himself for another agonizing writhe on the ground; but this time at least, nothing happened.
Finally having stopped his vulture-like circling, Voldemort spoke suddenly from right behind him, his breath blowing softly on Harry's neck. Harry shivered despite himself.
"Think about it, Harry. What greater blow to the Wizarding world than knowing their wonder-child, the Boy-Who-Lived, has joined up with me?"
Icy fingers worked their way through Harry as Voldemort's suggestion sunk in. It wouldn't matter what he did in terms of resistance. The only thing people on the outside would know was that Harry Potter was with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and that he was still alive. What would they think of him? What would Ron and Hermoine think?
"It'll never work!" Harry said venomously, despite his own doubts. Voldemort laughed softly. It reminded Harry of the sound an animal would make if it were dying.
"No need to worry yourself. You won't be killed. Not now at least." He paused for a few moments. "Now, despite how helpful you're being, Harry, I must set a good example and punish you for your sins."
It was then that the world erupted in a bright rainbow of agony.