The fight behind the deep brown eyes had him curious from day one. Fear he could see, well concealed under determination and . . . hate. Hate, he knew that look all too well. Such a powerful, easily recognizable, emotion, it almost always served as ominous foreshadowing of the inevitable accumulation of said emotion. But in her eyes, the hate was securely coupled with resolve. He almost feared for her captors . . .almost. She was unlike anything he had ever seen before. He would have envied her and her strength to fight, if it hadn't been for her current predicament. He continued to stare at her, as he had since she had arrived, from around the corner, where, for once, he was abandoning the command to fix their next meal.
"Tell us the truth! We will get the veritaserum soon enough. Tell us the truth and avoid some Crucios!"
"Yeah, I think I'll wait for one of you clowns to figure out how to brew it." Her fiery response surprised him. The ensuing violence did not, of course she'd be punished, he knew that all too well. But how was she still fighting them? How much longer could she last?
Her pain did strange things to him, usually his eyes were concentrated at the task he'd been ordered to accomplish if not on his feet, but now he felt hypnotized as he stared at her. What had started as silent anguish, was now very vocal cries of agony. A strange feeling, like a hot pressure against the center of his sternum overcame him. The feeling threatened to break the careful rules of survival he had created for himself. Don't speak, follow orders, and accept the hand you've been dealt. Involuntarily, he took a step forward, toward her and toward the room that they had her in. He froze when he realized what he was doing. He hitched up the makeshift shorts trying to bring himself back to the reality of the life he led before she had crashed in.
"Clowns?" Lucius sneered at her. "You're one to talk," he said brushing her red hair off her face she flinched violently and pulled against the magical restraints they kept her arms suspended over her head from the ceiling.
"Tell us where it is?"
"On Wrackspurt Isle with the Crumpled Horn Snorkack."
A high pitch feminine voice cackled as a woman entered. Her grating voice reverberated off the walls. Like finger nails on a chalkboard, it made him cringe, fearful of what would happen next. When did she get here? The boy couldn't help his desperate wonderings.
"She's kind of a funny one, isn't she?" Bellatrix asked as she tilted her head questioningly at the restrained girl. The resounding crack of flesh on flesh filled the entirety of sound space. The perfect, recently healed face of the girl was now marred by an angry red handprint, but still, the eyes held such strength. She was not giving up. In the darkness that was his unending hopelessness there was a sudden light.
"Why did you take the girl? What makes you think she has the information we seek?" He watched as Lucius haughtily rolled his eyes at his sister-in-law.
"Oh I think she knows. I think she may have quite a bit of insight into our master's mind, but think about the possibilities even if she knows nothing. She's still the only girl, and the youngest, of a large family. Filthy, dirt poor, blood traitors they may be, but they are involved with the Ministry and with Dumbledore. She's probably the most useful bait ever obtained. Many will stupidly go to the lamb to protect the girl."
"You really think the Weasleys know the details of the Voldemort's past? Filthy blood traitors that they are."
"I have a feeling they might, and if not, surely they will go to Dumbledore to give in to our demands and retrieve their only, little, precious, baby girl." At this the girl fought hard, though fruitlessly against her restraints, earning another round of crucios. How much could one person withstand? Lucius kicked her gut and punched her in the face for good measure. She was left panting struggling to recover her breath. She had barely recovered from the last round of their torture.
"Boy! Where's our food?"
The boy's eyes snapped down to the dinner on the stove, quickly taking their dinner off the heat. He would have been hoping for the food to not taste as overdone as he feared it was, if he understood such a concept as hope. He quickly assembled the meal onto a platter and hurried into the next room.
* * *
Blood blurred her vision as the latest blow left a stinging cut across her forehead causing blood to slowly crawl down her face leaving heated tracks in its wake. She had to get out of this. She couldn't let them get the information from her. They couldn't know just how privy she was to the inner workings of Riddle's mind. She couldn't let them use her to hurt her family. She continued her mental mantra, trying to hold on to her sanity and not give in, as her body so desperately desired. She turned to the corner as a boy walked in, hunched over the platter of food he was carrying. He sulked in as if trying to blend into his surroundings. He wore nothing but that same sort of cloth sack with holes cut for his feet and a rope belt . . .same as always.
Ever since she had first seen the boy, she knew. She knew he didn't belong here. Her heart clenched at the sight of him, long, dirty, unkempt hair, scars bared to the world by the little . . . very little clothing he wore and that face, a face that haunted her. His eyes were dead, almost always staring at the floor as he scuttled about the feet of her captors, desperately trying to avoid their rebuttal. The site of him gave her such perspective. He was, quite obviously, much worse off than she. At first, a part of her, the dark part that no one likes to admit to having, felt comforted by the reminder that there was always, always, someone worse off . . .
He seemed unable to stop himself from following their commands. She wondered if they used magic to force him into submission. Why not just imperius him to do the tasks they demanded willingly? Her captors were obviously no strangers to the unforgivable curses. She wondered if they enjoyed the way they treated him and again felt sick to her stomach.
But now, seeing him again gave her a new kind of comfort. He was her ally. He was working against them. She wanted to squelch her own hope. She wanted to stay aloof and untrusting. She wanted to remember that he could be luring her into a false sense of security . . . but she couldn't help it. It felt like he was fighting . . . fighting for her.
A while ago, it could have been days, it could have been weeks, they had sent him to her. In the dazed fog the most recent round of crucios had created she remembered . . .
"Mop her up boy! We have to see how much damage we've caused. We can't kill her . . . not yet at least."
She was beyond terror, beyond caring, as she had felt the swelling of her face start to affect her range of vision. She could only see directly in front of her. But she did hear her torturers leave the room.
He stood in front of her, his careful mask finally broken. He shot a fearful glance to the door at the far side of the room and then reached up to the chains that suspended her. She felt them slowly length so that there was less pressure on her shoulders. She was shocked at how much pain left her as she was finally able to let her body collapse to the floor. He fell to his knees also, and with another surreptitious glance to the door, he snapped his fingers over the bowl of water before him.
In her altered state of mind she wasn't sure the steam she saw rising from the bowl was real or not. Then, he slowly brought a wet cloth toward her. She flinched away reflexively. Every touch for the last, Merlin knows how long, had inflicted pain. The gentle warmth surprised her more than anything. He held the cloth up again, his green eyes met hers, for the first time. He seemed to beg her with his eyes to trust him and she wanted so desperately to comply. An errant thought made her wonder if he had used some sort of magic on her, as he slowly used the warm towel to wash away the blood and dirt sure to be covering her face. Then it dawned on her, of course, here, kindness would seem like magic . . .
The warmth of the cloth helped the dirt and blood come off easily, but her face ached and pulsated with heat. He laid the back of his hand gently against her swollen cheek, feeling that heat. He placed the cloth flat in his hand and then snapped his fingers over it again. When he returned it to her face, she sighed at the coolness. It was the perfect remedy for the throbbing heat.
For a moment she thought she might cry. She felt hope, like maybe she could get out of this. It was a feeling she had almost lost her hold on, and that scared her.
"Please," she whispered. "Can't you get us out of here?"
He looked surprised for a moment and then his body began to shake like it was straining to lift something at least twice his body weight.
"I c-caaan't," his voice was deep, jagged as he spoke the words at once filled with pain and regret. He moved the still cold towel to the other side of her face and with his right hand he snapped his fingers again this time something appeared.
He handed it to her. "Food," he said urgently. She looked at the small round shape curiously. It was barely recognizable. But from the ragging pain in her empty stomach she knew she had little choice in whether to trust him or not. She wouldn't be able to fight her torturers without any sustenance and she didn't want to live if she couldn't fight them off. So she popped the shape into her mouth. It didn't taste like much but almost as soon as she swallowed that seemingly unquenchable pain in her stomach lessened and she began to feel refreshed.
She breathed deeply trying to school her mind to the present. It was in that moment that she had redoubled her efforts to fight back. It was him she had to thank for still knowing who she was . . . and why she fought.
"Well hurry up boy," Lucius said, but it rang like a command. The boy moved even faster, but his movements were stilted as if he was walking against the current of a stream. His eyes slid sideways to hers. Ginny was captivated. His eyes in that moment conveyed an overwhelming sense of desperation and compassion. He was worried . . . He was worried about her. He slowly turned his back to her as he placed the food in front of his captors. Ginny's eyes widened as she saw the angry welts that stood out in harsh contrast with the rippling muscles of his bare back as he quickly set the table before them. She felt a deep pang of empathy for the boy who had shown her kindness in such dire circumstances.
He turned and looked at her almost shyly, willing her with his eyes to stay quiet. He backed up now facing her captors and extended his hand back toward her. Surprise flitted across her face. More food. What was he risking by bringing her food? She grabbed it on instinct to quell the scorching hunger in her stomach, but she couldn't dare eat it and risk getting this boy into further trouble. Who was he? He had to be near her age . . .
"Yuck!" Plates clattered to the floor as Lucius threw the table over, launching it at the boy who jumped back in order to avoid being hit.
"You feed us this filth boy? Your order was to fix a meal worthy of us. This isn't even fit to feed creatures like you!"
Ginny cringed back expecting Lucius to become violent with the boy, but he didn't . . . he didn't have to. The boy hurried over to corner of the brick fireplace and started hitting his head against it, repeatedly. Blood spilled down his face as he turned to her his back to the others. His muscles were shaking with the effort to control himself. That one look was like a fleeting glance into the window of his internal struggle, before he was back at the fireplace sticking his hands in over the raging fires.
"No!" Ginny screamed. "Stop it. Whatever you are doing to him stop it."
They just laughed in response.
"What are you doing to him?"
"Absolutely nothing you stupid girl. He is punishing himself. He'll stop when he has endured as much pain as he possibly can while still being able to do what is asked of him."
Ginny looked appalled. Knowing her words would have little to no effect she couldn't restrain herself from yelling a diatribe at the two before her.
"You have no right to treat another creature that way! I don't care how he came to be here or how special you think your blood is! No one deserves to be treated this way."
She was so occupied by her own rage and with yelling at her captors that she did not notice the look on the boy's face. He held his burnt hands out in front of him, letting the blood flow freely from his face, yet he was in too much shock to feel the pain. She reminded him of a friend, his only friend, someone that he hadn't seen in ages. This idea of freedom, as a universal right seemed so strange to him. He could feel a great internal shifting like all of a sudden there was not enough room in his chest for his lungs to take in the air he so desperately needed. And then she turned her fierce gaze on him.
"Are you alright?" He staggered back.
"Kitchen now boy!" The command forced him to move and he back peddled out of the room. His eyes remained locked on the girl before him. He stumbled as he tried to prolong the time he had the girl in his sights. He turned the corner and took a deep breath sagging against the kitchen's wall. Everything about the girl was so foreign to him. It was like she had some sort of power over him. She didn't grovel or beg like others in the past had; she didn't back down at all. She spoke her mind righteously. Her existence was so implausible to him. Perhaps she did not understand the consequences of her defiance. That was the only way he could make sense of it. She had shown him more regard in two minutes then had ever been shown to him before. She asked him such a simple question about his well-being. Should such a thing be so strange?
He shook his had trying to recover himself and went back to preparing a more acceptable meal, though he knew he was due for more punishment regardless . . .regardless. Confusion plagued his features. It felt like the first time he had put on his glasses. Everything snapped into focus, with dizzying speed. Even colors seemed brighter. She somehow made clear the blurry lines that had dictated his world. No matter what he did, it would result in pain, no matter what he did, he would always be a lower being to them. So why should he obey? Why take it? What if they were wrong? What if he wasn't a creature truly undeserving of more in life? What if the girl was right? Her words, so foreign to him, were repeating in an endless loop in his mind, 'you have no right . . .' 'no one deserves to be treated this way'. She had been so certain . . . As certain as he had been that he deserved this life.
The cry of "crucio" was the only augury to the shriek of sheer anguish that broke him from his reflective reverie. All of a sudden, it felt like ice water ran through his veins replacing the normal warmth of blood. His heart started to hammer pumping the ice water faster as it took over his whole system. Something was wrestling free from his body; something that had been forced to be dormant much longer than was healthy. He suddenly had the strength to overcome the compulsion of his latest order.
* * * *
"Tell us where it is!" She could barely hear the demand over her labored breathing.
"How the hell am I supposed to know where his father was buried?" She cried outraged as soon as she had the breath to response.
"We know," Lucius said darkly, pausing to let the phrase sink in. "Who do you think slipped you that diary!?"
For the first time since she was brought to this horrible place she was silent, no quick rejoinder to force some levity into her desperate situation. He's the one. He gave her the diary. Did he know how much Tom had shared with her?
Lucius laughed as her carefully constructed emotional defense crumpled. For the first time she let him see her pain. It felt like he had beaten her twice. After a shaky breath she strengthened her resolve.
"Oh I bet you both are just squirming with jealousy. It seems I have been closer to Tom then you ever dreamed of being. How old did you think the diary version of Tom was?" She forced a laugh out of her restricted throat praying they fell for her bravado. "Are you really that . . .uninformed? Did your so-called master even tell you when he made the diary? Do you really think he knew who his father was by then?" Another laugh, add a smirk, she coached herself. Bellatrix looked outraged, Lucius confused. They were taking the bait.
"CRUCIO!" Both simultaneously sent the curse her way. Her scream permeated to the kitchen where it reached the boy's ears. It served as a catalyst breaking what bound him.
She tasted blood in her mouth, salty, rusty. Unavoidable tears streamed down her face and stung the open wounds there. The magical bounds kept her standing, supporting now, instead of restraining. But at least they were angry. Angry was so much better than calculating. She had to take their minds off the diary or they might resort to unsafe and painful forms of occulumency. She had achieved her goal, but at what price? How much longer could she stand this? Another kick to connected with her gut. Maybe she'd overshot, but they were certainly beyond reason. She stared at the shiny bright red dots on the floor below her. For a second she marveled at how pretty the color was, before she realized that she was now coughing up blood.
"Boy! What are you doing? Get back to the kitchen!"
Ginny was struggling to stay present and conscious, something was happening around her. The air crackled, like it does before a storm, foreboding.
"No." The word slipped out quietly, but it was scratchy, like his voice hadn't been used in a while. Ginny's vision was suddenly obscured by the boy. He was standing between her and her torturers crouched in defense. His posture was almost animalistic. He was protecting her. Surprise flitted over Ginny's face mixed with relief. One ally, that was all she needed to hope she could get out of this with her family safe and intact.
Lucius and Bellatrix were in shock. The boy hadn't shown an inkling of resistance since they had taken away his little 'friend.'
"What are you doing boy!?" Lucius demanded.
"I . . . I don't know," he replied but his voice was deep with purpose and his defensive crouch didn't let up.
"Stop." Lucius' tone filled with surprise, shocked that he even had to give the order. He held his hand out to stop Bellatrix from reacting.
Ginny watched tense, confused as hell as to what was happening. The boy began to shake all over, like he was straining every muscle in his body.
"No." His own voice was filled with surprise.
"I said, STOP." His shaking intensified and he lowered as if cowering under the command. Ginny didn't understand what was happening, but she could tell whatever the boy was fighting it was taking all of him.
"You can do it," She said softly ignoring Bellatrix squeal of frustration. "You deserve more than this. Whatever it is, fight it." Her tone was soft, pleading, unlike anything that he had heard before.
"Crucio!" Through the pain he heard her gasp. Gasp like she cared that he was in pain . . . Something else he knew instinctively shouldn't be so strange to him.
"Enough!" The boy finally yelled, his face crunched with concentration. Suddenly Lucius' back was against the far wall in the room.
Bellatrix looked outraged. "You worthless little freak!" She rushed at him and pointed her wand at the girl behind him. "Ava-
The boy whipped toward Ginny grabbing her arm and continued to spin. Ginny's vision blurred as she felt herself being torn from the world. Was this what death felt like? She landed with a thud next to the boy on a soft grassy plain. Pain, lots of pain, was all she registered. And then it dawned on her, pain, so that wasn't death. That was apparation. She turned and saw the boy on his hands and knees coughing, shaking. She angled herself into his line of sight.
"What's wrong? Are you hurt?" He scouted back away from her instinctively and pulled his knees to his chest, shaking. They just stared at each other for a moment.
"Where are we?" she asked softly. He looked all around him and saw nothing but grassy land. His confusion was answer enough. There was no one anywhere nearby, as was evident by the vacuum of sound. The tall grass swayed with the zephyr, as they lay nearly concealed in the empty plain. He was still shaking.
"Seriously, are you okay?"
"Me?" He chuckled darkly. He held his hand out, slowly extending it to her face, but stopped just short of it. His attention brought hers to her face. Her skin felt tight and restricted as she tried to move the muscles in her face. Her blood had solidified there and cracked under her movements. With this new awareness came the pain. It hit her swiftly, surprising her. The adrenaline was slowly leaving her system as it left, pain flooded in, filling the vacancy. She said shifting to put less strain on her aching midsection.
"Are you alright?" he asked her, true concern audible even though his voice barely reached hers.
"I will be . . . How did we get here? Did you apparate us here?"
He looked sheepish. "I don't know. I just . . . I wanted. . " he trailed off looking away from her.
"Go ahead." She coaxed at then just looked at him expectantly.
After a few moments of silence he swallowed. "I wanted to get you out of there."
"Thank-you." She smiled at him, a real smile. "You saved my life." He looked so uncomfortable in that moment that she thought he would accidentally apparate away from her. ". . .And your own by the looks of things," she added leadingly. She watched as every muscle in his body innervated. Which only brought her attention to his strange attire it was almost as if . . .
"How long have you been there?" Out of nowhere she was so tired. How long had she been there? She struggled to stay conscious as the boy in front of her contemplated her question.
Finally he responded. "As long as I can remember." Her heart broke, literally. That, that hell-hole, was all he knew. She wondered again how he had landed in such a predicament.
She was staring into his eyes, which were unbridled, his depression as evident as the fact that his eyes were green.
"I'm sorry . . .that you've had to live like that. It's not right.
He squinted his eyes at her as if confused, like he was trying to see her better. He shook his head back trying to get his long unruly hair out of his eyes.
Ginny gasped. It couldn't be, was all she could think. But there it was, brilliant red against pale skin.
"Merlin. . ." She breathed out. "You're Harry Potter." She didn't even have time to register his confusion as she finally passed out.