One Hundred Years
Quick and shallow breaths overwhelmed the otherwise silent basement of a large and forgotten manor in central London. Three figures, unconscious and insentient, were roughly bound to the back-wall of this basement. Their wrists were cuffed, arms over heads, with their chains attached to the ceiling above. Their ankles were also chained, forcing their backs against an unforgiving stone wall behind them. They were central to their dungeon's being.
There were only three people in the room, two girls and a boy. The boy, not older than fourteen, was skinny and very pale. His body hung slack in his chains, straining his limp arms. His face was smudged slightly with dirt and marred with a black-eye. The boy was tall, which brought more attention to his skeletal-skinniness. His hair was black and his eyes green, though they were shut and hidden behind his hair. The boy was dressed in black robes, which perhaps contributed to his perceived paleness, with the black of his hair contrasting against the pallor of his skin. His robes, however, were not perfect in their blackness; the ashes through which he had been dragged had seen to that.
To his right was his constant companion, his most trusted confidant. She had been with him in the beginning and he suspected she would be with him in the end. Her hair was a ferocious scarlet shade; if the boy was pale, she was deathly. Breaking the melancholy of her pale façade, however, were her brown freckles, quite prominent against their pallid canvas. While thin and pale, akin to her comrade, she was noticeably shorter. Also in-step with her counterpart, the girl's face was grubby and unclean, though thankfully lacking his black-eye.
On the opposite side of the boy was a bushy-haired brunette. Of the three, she was furthest along in the ecstasy of adolescence. Her face was matured when compared with the other two, whose faces both retained some vague remnant of the childhood they had left behind.
The three bodies hung limply in their chains, mere shackles supporting their weight. A casual observer might have thought them dead, were it not for their audible breathing. Their faces were cast downward, their necks slack, and their faces blank. Eeriness surrounded them; they looked like corpses, or perhaps figures in a wax museum.
The dungeon in which they were being held had once, many years ago, been an actively used basement. It had entertained ministers and foreign dignitaries in its prime, but now it had wasted away. The walls and ceiling were made of identical blocks of deep-grey stone which served only to enhance the bleak atmosphere of the room. The room itself was rectangular and longer than it was wide. A sense of gloom hung in the air. The only source of light was the cracks around the perimeter of the doorway, which stood atop a creaky wooden staircase. Light seemed to frame the door. Just beyond it was warmth and happiness, freedom. It made their dungeon seem that much colder, that much more harrowing.
The basement was very cold, significantly colder than it ought to have been in the middle of spring. The scent of it was musky and deep, smelling rather like moulded cabbage on the last day of summer. But no such a day had ever before felt so cold. One thing the basement definitely was not, however, was dry. It was very humid, giving the air greater gravity than it ought to have possessed. Between the temperature, humidity, and the outright odious atmosphere, the room was stifling.
For a long while, the atmosphere was still. None of the three spoke or moved, or for that matter recaptured consciousness. But slowly, almost subliminally, a sort of tension began to build in the room. It continued to increase slowly and achingly, rising in intensity until finally the black-iron door of the basement opened slowly, creaking and frightening. The sound was menacing, guttural and was followed by an immediate influx of white light.
Standing framed in the doorway, contrasting the light, was a tall figure who stalked down the groaning steps delicately and gracefully; despite the protesting sounds of the steps, there was great beauty and elegance to the descent. Its features were not recognisable, the light being to the figure's back.
When she reached the base of the steps, all lingering questions of gender were expelled; no man was able to move in a way that at once evoked such grace and terror. As her black-booted and carefully buckled foot touched the floor of the basement, a dozen small torches lit along the perimeter. They brought light to her features and revealed the face of the trio's captor.
She was a sight to behold. Her hair, obsidian in colour, was a few inches beyond shoulder-length and was likely her least extraordinary feature. Her face, while pale, had an unmistakable beauty about it; her cheekbones were high, and her face was slender, forcing an almost regal impression upon all who saw her. This woman's eyes were heavily lidded, but it was what these lids obscured that were her most unusual and bizarre quality.
Her eyes were a deep shade of purple, but it was immediately apparent that this was not a natural occurrence. There was a kind of unholy intelligence to her eyes. It was perhaps her eyes, if not the insidious air about her, that kept her from being considered attractive. She was beautiful, this much was beyond dispute, but she was not attractive.
It was as her purple eyes swept across the trio that her face, which before had been moulded into a look of impassivity, gained a disarming smile. There was malice, nay sadism, in her smile. The look upon her face suggested that this moment was the fulfilment of great toil and hardship. This was the climax of years' worth of drawn-out, torturous waiting.
She reached into her black robes and withdrew from her folds a wand of the same colour as her hair. She held her wand in her right hand delicately and examined her long fingers for a moment. Satisfied in some way, she, without preamble, made a grand sweep with her wand. A moment later, her satisfaction was increased by the sounds of disoriented, uncertain groans of painful awakening.
By the time her guests were half-way to lucidity, the woman had drawn a black armchair into existence and was sitting in it calmly. When it became clear that her precious guests had been overly affected by the spells that took from them their consciousness in the first place, the woman pointed her wand at the wrist irons of the centre one, the boy. She flicked her wand upward slightly and a moment later, the chains throbbed a shade of bright red. More had evidently occurred than a harmless change of colour, however, for not a moment after the chains had glowed their new shade, the boy's flesh hissed and he gave a shriek as the room was filled with the sinister stench of scalded skin. In vain, the boy twisted and writhed against his burning chains.
The woman emitted a humoured laugh, forcing fear upon all who heard her.
The cacophony of mirth and suffering shook the two girls from their insentience and forced them into a state of stunned perspicacity. When the boy had been scorched to her satisfaction, the woman gave a dismissive flick of her wrist, cancelling the boy's awakening.
The woman, sadism's smile marring her face, sank deeply into her black armchair. There was several moments' aching silence as the three figures took in their surroundings and recovered. As it was, when the three were finally able to concentrate fully on the sitting woman, no signs of recognition fluttered across their faces, an anti-climactic reaction.
After a few more moments of silence, the boy breathed, "Who are you?"
She smiled almost theatrically. "Do not you recognise me, Harry?"
She looked at the red-headed girl, disappointed by the boy. "Come, little Weasley, surely you remember me?"
"Has Dumbledore never explained to you why your family is dead? That pleasure was mine, you know." An underlying quiver of humour graced her words and the woman's theatrical smile remained affixed upon her face.
"My family was murdered by Death Eaters," retorted the little Weasley calmly and without emotion as if it was a line she was accustomed to repeating. Weasley looked at the woman in mild disdain. "I suppose they were your comrades. Only the delusional followers of Voldemort –"
"You will watch what you say whilst my guest, little Weasley," she said menacingly but at the same time calmly and almost pleasantly. "The Dark Lord's name is not to be tainted by the lips of a blood-traitor."
Harry smiled softly as a glint of understanding flashed in his eyes. "You will hold your tongue, Bellatrix." He spoke in a light voice, calm and calculating.
She smiled. "You have heard of me, then."
"Where are Sirius and Remus?" Harry asked levelly, ignoring her query.
Bellatrix smiled and laughed lightly. It was an oxymoronic tinkling sound, odium and humour mixed into one. "My darling cousin and his," Bellatrix exhaled and smiled slyly, "pet are not your concern, Harry Potter. You would do well to harbour more concern for yourself and your fellows, whose fate you may still have a modicum of control over."
Weasley, whose face had gone paler than the others, spoke again. "You are a fool, Lestrange. The Professor will storm this place. He will overtake you."
This statement, although delivered as a threat, elicited more dead-sounding and gleeful laughter from Bellatrix. "That old, Muggle-loving fool will never find this place! Silly girl!" she said between salvos of laughter. "My spies are imbedded so deeply, so high in his hierarchy, this place is so well-protected! That old man will never learn of it! Surely even you, Muggle," she cast a glance at the bushy-haired girl, so far the only silent occupant of the room, "know of the Fidelius charm?"
"Mind your own tongue, Bellatrix," said Harry quietly, hinting warning.
In response to Harry's words, Bellatrix laughed harshly, apparently finding absurdity in his commands. "So imperious, Potter! I am sorry to see that you adopted the same abortive ideology as your parents, that you follow the old man so blindly." Seeing that Harry was unaffected by her words, Bellatrix stopped laughing and her tone became sinister. "You will mind your tongue in my presence, Potter, or I will mind it for you."
Harry smiled and chuckled softly, looking beyond her not-so-subtle threat. "You will mind nothing for me, Bellatrix. You are not prepared to kill us. You are not prepared to control us so. If your aim was to murder, we never would have woken up."
"You are bold, Potter," she spoke harshly now, no traces of laughter lifting her voice, "but you misjudge me. Surely," she was speaking to Weasley now, "you know that it is not beyond the scope of my ethos to enjoy my victims before I show them to the door?"
"No," interjected Harry, not allowing Ginny to speak. His voice was becoming harsher as well; still calm, but beginning to show traces of anger or frustration. "It is not a thing which you are above." He was quiet for a moment, then scoffed and continued confidently. "You will not kill us. Torture and killing may satisfy your immediate bloodlust, but you have grander plans for us." Harry seemed to make his mind up about the matter. "For us your plots are more profound." Harry smiled and shook his head mirthfully, causing his chains to sway lightly and sound against one another. "No, Bellatrix. You need us."
Bellatrix was silent and blank-faced for a moment, collecting her thoughts. But then a small, perhaps pleased, smile fluttered across her face. She spoke dully, her voice quiet, "I am impressed, Harry Potter. Your intellect: it's powerful, your wit is sharp, your tongue is silver, and you are not lacking in bravery. But I am inclined to wonder..." she placed her hands on her knees and pushed, standing up and then sauntered over to Harry, bringing her cheek to his. Slowly, almost sensually, she whispered into his ear, "How is your pain tolerance?"
Harry's world exploded. His body shook, and his back and neck arched as he fought against the pain. His mouth melded into a grimace, his brow crinkled and his eyes began to twitch as his toes curled. But he kept his mouth closed. Despite the insurmountable pain he was in, he outright refused to give Bellatrix the satisfaction of a scream. He struggled desperately to bring his chin to his chest – desperately struggling to keep his neck from breaking –, frenetically shaking but determined by spiteful resolve to accomplish his task. When finally he managed it, he struggled more violently still to open his clenching eyes and part his white, rigid lips.
Bellatrix, surprised but encouraged by Harry's defiance, tightened her grip on her wand and focused further into crushing the boy, concentrating on the image of Harry shrieking out in pain for mercy.
And while Harry was busy defying the reigning queen of hurt, his two companions looked on in dismay and horror. Harry's defiance, far from giving them any semblance of comfort or filling them with inspiration or hope, instead brought them greater despair. He was intentionally urging on Bellatrix, about half as safe as tickling a sleeping dragon; neither of the girls saw the logic to his actions nor understood his motives. To them, Harry's deeds seemed born out of a masochist's gluttony and little else.
Meanwhile, Bellatrix's extra efforts were having the effect she so desired. Harry's back and neck arched further, becoming more painful; his hands, which were clenched tightly, began to bleed and the blood trickled down his arms. When Bellatrix had unexpectedly upped the ante so forcefully, Harry's jaw had a spasm, causing it to open for a moment. In that brief moment, he had a thousand times come close to screaming, and when he desperately clamped his mouth shut again, he did so imprecisely and bit into his cheek. Product of this, the coppery taste of blood slowly filled his mouth, which was shut tightly. He must not give Bellatrix the satisfaction of a scream.
In his head, this was a simple battle of wills and nothing more. That kind of over-simplification was absolutely necessary in his mind; to complicate it further ran the risk of any number of things going wrong, of forming a plan too complex to succeed. This was about her desire to bring him to his knees and ending his defiance. However, Harry could not block out the pain, he could not reduce it; he could only deny it the power over him that it sought.
As the struggle for control mounted and the convulsions became more forceful and untamed, the urge to scream was intolerable, but some part of him, some proud iota of his being, refused to give Bellatrix her satisfaction, even now when the pain threatened to consume him and drown him. She was winning their battle of wills and that did not bode well with Harry Potter.
In a display of foolish one-upmanship, of intimate victory, Harry managed to force his limbs to reduce in their trembling and, though he feared he may well break his neck, commanded his face to greet Bellatrix's again. Scowling against the pain of the Cruciatus, Harry ordered his eyes open one more time. He compelled his lips to open, though his jaw gave great resistance, and, though the blood from his cheek poured out a little more with every word, he managed to rasp, "fac…ul…tam… cru…ci…a…to… me…a pla…cet…ne ti…bi… est?"
Bellatrix took a step back, her eyes slightly widened and her arms fell limp at her sides. The curse she had cast was lifted and Harry's legs, previously locked to support his weight against the spell, gave out. All that supported him once again were his wrist-irons, as he closed his ground-facing eyes and spat the blood from his mouth. "gratia," he spat again, "tibi ago."
It took Bellatrix a moment more to gain her bearings. The boy's strength was inconceivable, his will unconquerable. He had had the presence of mind not only to fight off screaming, and Bellatrix knew that the boy had wanted so desperately to scream, but also to respond audaciously – and in Latin, of all languages! She had never, in all her days of bringing torment, seen or heard of such a thing. It was such a pity that they could never be allies, that their ideologies clashed so acutely. He was exceptional.
Grown witches and wizards had died under such strain before, lost their sanity. Harry had been under the Cruciatus curse for nearly five minutes, and still he had the mental faculties to mock her doubt in his ability to withstand pain. He was exceptional.
But Bellatrix was still a Black, and Blacks were prized for their wit. And so it was a slightly dazed Bellatrix that responded to Harry's mockery, instead of her usual biting self. "ita." Wit wasn't with her that day. She needed to regain face.
Deciding after a moment that nothing would unnerve her captives more than a smile, she summoned one to her face and gazed at Harry. Her words were spoken softly, lovingly. "I am going to enjoy breaking you, Harry, making you squirm," she said silkily, a glint in her eyes. "Making you beg".
Without any further remarks, Bellatrix turned her back to the three and started for the exit. Just as she had set her foot on the bottom step of the staircase, she twisted her body around, looking back toward the three. She locked eyes with the panting Harry. "Tomorrow," she promised. Bellatrix Lestrange ascended the steps and left through the iron door.
The light left with her.