Fire. I narrowed my eyes, stung by the intense heat. The flames were approaching rapidly, yet there seemed to be an invisible barrier between myself and the inferno. I glanced frantically towards Macnair, whose dark eyes were watching with manic pleasure. He had his wand, a gnarled black twig, directed towards the ceiling, where the fire seemed to emanate from.
"Are you ready?" he hissed, his voice magically amplified so that I could hear him over the raucous snarling of the flames. "Are you ready to talk?" I shook my head, rolling my shoulders back. Macnair glanced towards the doorway, making eye contact with somebody that was just out of my sight. I jumped as an ominous portion of my invisible barrier was eradicated. The flames flew in, pinching my face but not hurting me enough to surrender. Nothing could hurt me that much.
"Where is he?" a new voice hissed, yet this one was cold and high. Despite the smoldering heat, I shivered. He was here. Macnair's eyes flitted towards an ancient record player, and suddenly I understood. He wasn't here. Not yet.
"Where is who?" I demanded, deciding to feign innocence. The tremble in my voice betrayed the brave facade that I was putting on. It would not work, of course, but I had to try. I had to try anything that might somehow save him from their wrath.
"Don't play dumb with me, you simple girl," Macnair hissed. I could see the fire dancing in his eyes, yet I refused to look away.
"I don't know who you're talking about," I gulped, concentrating on my newly-learned occlumency. Don't think about it, Hermione, I repeated internally, You can't give them a hint. Somewhere in the distant corner of the room, emanating from the gramophone, I heard a shout of frustration. Though I was in no position to relax, the thought of angering Lord Voldemort himself thrilled me. Just keep it up, Hermione. Stall so that he has enough time to get far enough away.
"The fire is nothing compared to what we can do to you, girl," Macnair snapped, casting anxious glances towards the black-cloaked figure in the corner of the room. There was fear in his eyes, as if he didn't want to hurt me. Yes, that was it; he was only hurting me out of fear for his own life. I had to play off of this.
"You don't know what you're doing," I shrieked, trying my best to sound menacing. "He's going to kill you anyway. I can tell. You're just the middle man, hired to get information out of me and then you're going to be disposed of." My voice shook as I felt a snarl from the far end of the room. I could hear him, feel him, yet I couldn't see him. Not yet, anyway.
I seemed to have struck a nerve with Macnair. Though I clearly had no idea what Voldemort's intentions were, it was clear that this thought had occurred to the Death Eater before.
"She's lying," Voldemort's voice hissed, and the shivers returned. Macnair's eyes flitted back and forth, his wand trembling in his clenched fist. So he was a coward. After all, Voldemort wasn't even in the room, and Macnair was already succumbing to his every order. The voice rang loud and clear through the room again, as if Voldemort himself were standing right next to me, "She's playing games, this one. Witty and clever, but that's not getting her anywhere today. No, it'll take real courage to get out of this one. Isn't that what your little Potter friend is preaching? Courage? They say his parents had courage, and look where that got them. They barely had a witty moment throughout their short, short lives, you simp-"
"Don't talk about them!" I shrieked, cutting him off mid-sentence. Other than the flickering flames, the room was silent. I could almost hear the short, shallow breaths that Macnair was taking. Though I was shocked by my interruption, I did not regret it. If anything, my spontaneous outbreak gave me more confidence. Yes, Hermione, I thought. That was the right thing to say. Harry would have said that. Do what Harry would do.
"You're just like your friend, now, aren't you?" Macnair mocked, reclaiming his role as the interrogator. "Reckless? Impulsive? 'Brave'? Some might even say… idiotic." He let the insult hang there in the silence, though it did not perturb me in the slightest.
"And you're just like all the rest," I retorted, raising my voice so that the tremors weren't as evident. "Sadistic. Deranged. Cowardly. You're with him because he'd kill you if you weren't. It doesn't have to be like that. They can protect you, you know. The entire Order would defend you if you made the noble choice here." Macnair scoffed, glancing towards the record machine.
"You really aren't that bright, are you, girl?" he snarled. "The Order died the minute Albus Dumbledore died. Even if they were competition for us, do you really think I'd betray my master, my cause?" I could hear the silky bravado in his tone, as if he was putting on a performance. He was quite lucky that Voldemort was not physically here, because even I could detect the lie in his voice. I didn't even have a wand.
"Dumbledore will never be gone," I whispered, quoting Harry for the second time that night. "Not as long as those here are loyal to him." Macnair grimaced; my comment had clearly flown straight over his head.
"That's the problem with you people," he retorted, his voice shaking more than mine had one minute ago, "You live in a dream world. He's not here with you; he never will be again. It's just you and me now, and none of your "loyal" friends are coming to save you." I glanced around at the fire-filled room, hoping that, for once, Harry and Ron would stay away. I couldn't have them coming in here now; it was a trap, and I was the bait.
"I don't need saving," I hissed, saying it loudly so that I forced myself into believing it.
"I take it you're not going to speak," Macnair muttered solemnly. I closed my eyes, glancing towards the fire that was looming inches away from my face.
"Never," I breathed. I could feel the surge of frustration in his curse as the pain crept in on me from all sides.
Some say the world will end in fire
Some say in ice
From what I've seen of desire,
I favor with those who say fire
Whichever Muggle poet said that clearly knows nothing of pain, because as that fire torn me out from the inside, I would have done anything for one ice cube.
Yes, it was painful, but my last thoughts did not involve fire. I could see the manic contempt in Macnair's eyes, and I knew that he was in for a deadly reunion with his master. He may have thwarted this one battle, but I had not succumbed to this war. I rolled my shoulders back and set my jaw with courage that I never knew I had.