Elizium for the Sleepless Souls
VI: Hollow Doll
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The damp stone was cool beneath his chest, seeping through the thin material of his shirt. Rough hands grasped and pulled at his pants, dragging them down his legs. Harry tried to fight but it was like his entire body was encased in cement. Terror clouded his mind, a gibbering, terrified animal desperately searching for a way out.
Palms hard with calluses found each of his hips, gripping tightly. Sturges' inhalations were ragged, frenzied, audible over the pounding fury of the storm.
The lecherous, excited breaths pounded home the hopelessness of the situation. Sturges and himself were the only ones left on the island, and he was defenseless, at the mercy of a pedophile and murderer.
Harry ground his teeth together, all hope gone except that of a quick death.
From behind him came a loud crack. At once the hands gripping his sides fell away, and the pressure holding his entire body in place vanished. Before he could react to his freedom, a large weight collapsed atop him. Without thinking Harry squirmed out of the way, sliding across the stone. Backpedaling, he saw Sturges tumble off the lip of the window, collapsing upon the wet flagstones below.
The former prisoner slid into a sitting position, his back against the wall, his face turned at an unnatural angle to the wall. Thin shards of splintered bone protruded from his broken neck, splitting the skin in rivulets of dark blood.
Harry stared uncomprehendingly at the still body, unable to fathom what happened. They were the only two people left on Azkaban, how could-
"I believe thanks are in order."
The familiar voice broke Harry's paralysis. At once he spun to the center of the room, where Dolohov stood, his wand held casually. Rain drenched his robes, tattered remnants of the Conjured ropes clinging to the fabric, but the Eastern European bore no visible mark from the Killing Curse he had taken moments ago.
"How…he…you're dead!" whispered Harry, replaying the scene in his head. He had seen the green curse strike home, had witnessed the light die within Dolohov's eyes as he slumped to the ground.
"Death is a relative term here," answered Dolohov, before dropping his cool gaze to Harry's lower half. "Pull up your trousers."
Numb, he did as commanded. Without a glance back Dolohov stalked forward, towards Sturges' body. He lashed out with a boot, connecting with Sturges' shoulder. The body slumped to the ground, revealing the impostor's face.
"What do you say, John?" asked Dolohov as he knelt down before the broken-necked figure. To Harry's shock and dismay, Sturges' eyes opened, and his mouth began to move.
Dolohov cut his wand down. Sturges' teeth clamped together at once, the clack of enamel rolling out over the night air. He shook his head from side-to-side, but was helpless as his teeth lost their definition and began to run together, forming one solid mass. At an upward wave, the mass solidified. Sturges began to rock his head back and forth, muffled cries emitting from his mouth.
"Upon second thought, I have little interest in hearing more of your delusions. Nor in hearing your screams."
The wand flicked again, and a ball of orange light shot outwards. In his prone position, Sturges was helpless as the spell collided with his crotch in a splash of blood. Unable to scream, the man's face grew a bright red, his eyes rolling up to the whites.
"That was for Randall!" spat the Death Eater. "Do you ever think about him? Do you still hear his screams?"
Harry stared down at Sturges, and at the spreading pool of blood beneath him. If not for Dolohov, he'd be…well, in a place best unimagined. But why? Why would a Death Eater go out of his way to help him?
"I did not need an excuse to torture this pile of human waste…but nonetheless, you are welcome. Blood must be repaid in blood, after all."
He acknowledged Dolohov's statement with a nod, but still perplexed by his actions. The Eastern European was acting like coming back from the dead was but a minor feat, something anyone could do during afternoon tea.
"Look, er, Dolohov…do you know something I don't? Because I'm not used to people other than myself just getting up after taking a Killing Curse."
The Death Eater's eyes narrowed at Harry's statement.
"When are you going to wake up?!"
A snarl upon his face, Dolohov knelt down. He cut his wand across his body. Like a blade it cut through Sturges' neck, slicing deep into the flesh. A gout of blood leapt from the ragged wound, spilling down the front of his robes. Jumping to his feet, Dolohov marched towards Harry, who took an involuntary step backwards.
"Does he look dead to you?" Dolohov demanded, his face inches from Harry's. "Does he?"
Harry averted his gaze from Dolohov's furious eyes, to the crumpled form of John Sturges. Despite a broken neck and a throat slashed almost to the bone, his lungs continued to pull in breaths, the chest moving up and down with each inhalation.
"H-he should be dead. Is that why the Dementor's Kiss never worked on him?"
The Death Eater let out a mocking guffaw.
"It is a small wonder the Dark Lord spoke so lowly of you. Sturges can believe any truth he wants, but that still doesn't make it reality. We are outside the standard definitions of life and death, Potter. You've hidden from the truth for long enough. Wake up, Potter, once and for all. Stop running from the truth."
Harry opened his mouth in protest, to claim that he had no idea what was going on, but a penetrating cold lit into his chest, independent of the night's chill. As much as he wanted to run from the knowledge, the veil of memory parted once again, revealing its secrets.
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Helpless, Harry was dragged. Like a proud mother Umbridge continued to show off members of her macabre gallery. Her thick, sausage-like index finger pointed and pointed, the names blending together, becoming non-descript.
"But I do believe the point has been made," said Umbridge, turning around to face him. "Threats to the well-being of our nation are unforgivable, and thus the punishment must be equal to the crime."
The two masked Aurors escorting Harry moved quicker than his eyes could track. His legs were swept out from under him, and he was forced downward. Pain exploded in his knees as he was forced into a kneeling position.
Trying to ignore the agony in his knees, he heard the door at the other end of the room creak open. Cold air began to fill the room, seeping through his damp uniform. His breath took physical form as the puddles of moisture upon the floor began to cloud with the first hints of frost.
A figure shrouded in black cloth glided through the doorway. No steps were taken; rather, it appeared to almost float as it approached Harry.
A Dementor, the silent vigils of Azkaban. The final card that the Ministry had to play.
Nightmarish imagery flood his head as it approached: Cedric's blank-eyed stare in the shadow of the Riddle Manor; Sirius' arms flailing as he fell backward into the veil; Dumbledore's robes and beard alight as the Fiendfyre consumed him.
Harry barely felt the blow when it came, only vaguely registered that his perspective was shifting, almost drunkenly. Stupidly, he looked around, to see a baton smash down upon his splayed fingers with a crunch.
The pain was immediate, far more intense than the blow to his head had been. It brought the world into sharp focus, pushing back the imagery.
Umbridge stood above him, mouth stretched into a leer, hands upon her wide hips.
"Hem hem. Listen very carefully to me, Mr. Potter. The Ministry has grown weary of your lack of cooperation, your insolence. You consider yourself invaluable, untouchable, but you greatly overestimate your own self worth."
Harry closed his eyes at her words, knowing what her next ones would be. It had taken them long enough, but finally the end had come. All that remained was to stay strong.
Something smashed into the side of his face, rocking his head to the side. He spat a mouthful of blood, before opening his eyes back up, keeping his facial expression neutral. Eyes narrowed, an increasingly irate Umbridge continued her spiel.
"No one is above the Ministry, Potter. No one. Even someone as famous as yourself deserves to be punished when compromising the security of Britain."
"We're trying to save it," Harry pointed out.
"You are hindering our efforts!" spat Umbridge. "The Ministry is more than equipped to deal with this problem!"
Unable to help himself, he let out a weak chuckle.
"I don't think anyone is exactly 'equipped' to deal with the problem Voldemort presents, myself included."
"The Ministry will triumph, Potter, with or without your help! The only question here is whether you're willing to help us."
Memories dredged from the darkest corners of his mind played before his eyes, conjured by the proximity of the Dementor. While a selfish, scared part of him begged to accept Umbridge's offer, his conscience held more sway.
"No," came his answer, followed by a heavy swallow. Just two letters, but it had been one of the hardest words he'd ever uttered. All his life, friends, family, loved ones had died to preserve him, so that he would continue to fight Voldemort.
Harry had every intention of reciprocating on the bravery of his fallen comrades.
"Very well then," replied Umbridge, as if she'd almost expected his answer.
At her words the towering monstrosity crept forward, closing the distance to a foot. The temperature plummeted as it did, causing shivers to wrack Harry's emaciated frame. With slow, ponderous movements, the dementor reached up with bloated, dead hands, and pulled back its hood, revealing a face devoid of eyes or nose. The only feature upon the canvas of white, dead flesh was a wide mouth devoid of teeth, opening wider with each passing second.
Tormented by the most poignant of his demons, Harry wanted to run, to fight, to do anything, but he was frozen in place, unable to move.
Above him the dementor drew itself up slightly, before beginning to inhale. Bitter cold settled deep within Harry. It seeped through his skin, on through his blood, to settle within his bones. It burnt worse than the hottest fire, bit more than the rustiest sword, like he was being burned from the inside out.
The gaping maw grew wider and wider, until the darkness crowded in on all sides, blotting out the barest hint of light. Sanity fraying, he tried one final heave to escape the creature's grasp, only to find that he couldn't feel his body.
Just the cold.
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The strength drained from Harry's legs, dumping him to the floor. He barely noticed the impact, his mind still too occupied with the memory to process any further information.
He was dead. Soul eaten.
Harry tried to say something, anything, but he found there were no words to form. It was like falling off a cliff and trying to scream, but moving too quickly to take a breath.
He was dead.
"Get up, Potter," urged Dolohov, reaching down a hand. Harry gave it a blank stare for a moment, before dropping his gaze down to the floor. Why continue to fight? Why continue to do anything, for that matter?
Undeterred, Dolohov reached down and grabbed Harry, pulling him to his feet. He dragged him to the nearest ledge and sat him down. Harry swayed slightly, but managed to keep himself upright.
"It is a lot to take in, but the truth cannot be denied."
Harry shook his head. He felt the damp stone beneath him, leeching heat from his body, but all else was numb. Even putting together two thoughts was an exercise in futility, as if his brains had leaked out his ears.
All thoughts of freezing cold and death fled at once. Agony flared upon every inch of flesh. Harry opened his mouth to scream, only to have the Cruciatus Curse leave as quickly as it had arrived. Wincing, Harry turned to see Dolohov lower his wand.
"What in the bloody fucking hell are you doing?" screamed Harry in anger, reaching for his own wand. Too late he remembered that Sturges had already taken it.
"Good to see you are capable of speech again," replied Dolohov with indifference, before withdrawing Harry's wand and casually tossed it. He lunged after it, snatching the holly shaft from the air. Catching it, he leveled the wand at Dolohov's chest.
"All of your troubles seem insignificant in the face of the Cruciatus Curse, yes?"
Scowling, Harry lowered his wand. As much as he hated to admit it, the use of the Unforgivable had broken through the barrier of shock. Dolohov seemed to approve of his decision, giving a single curt nod.
"Good that you agree," he said, before turning towards the sea, where the rain and wind continued to howl. "I too initially fought against the truth. Even when face-to-face with someone I knew to be long gone."
Dolohov through a murderous glance at the Auror impersonator, before turning back to Harry.
"Well, two people, including yourself. I told myself that somehow Sturges had never felt the kiss of the dementor and that indeed I was a prisoner trapped on Azkaban, forced to deal out the justice the Ministry failed to. Only when I saw the ocean eat that girl did the truth become impossible to ignore."
"Marie…her name was Marie," Harry whispered, thinking of her naivety, how clueless she was. That wasn't right though. He had been equally lost, with no real idea of what was happening.
Not that the current situation was much clearer.
"So if we're all dead anyway, what does it matter?"
Dolohov shook his head, turning to look at Harry.
"Did you have this same thought as the Cruciatus Curse flayed you? Did perhaps this Marie think the same thing as the water itself dissolved her? Because I do not."
The Death Eater's words struck Harry. While being far from conclusive on the matter, the Wizarding view of the afterlife didn't seem to suggest further struggle. He supposed this place could have passed for the muggle version of Purgatory, but only in the vaguest of senses.
"So…what do you think?"
"The body of a person who was bee Kissed can survive for decades in a vegetative state. Why is that? Could it be that as long as the soul remains, the body persists as well?"
The new train of thought conjured the words once spoken by the former Headmaster of Hogwarts, Albus Dumbledore.
"A soul unbroken, whole," Harry whispered. "That's why you survived the Killing Curse. Why Sturges…"
Upon the ground, surrounded by a pool of thick blood, lay the older man. His wounds were both numerous and fatal. Discounting the broken neck, he should have already bled to death, but still he breathed.
"It…it doesn't seem possible. I mean…"
At his words, Dolohov flung another spell at Sturges. It struck the man in the face, shattering the jumbled mass of teeth. Garbled screams emitted from his broken mouth as he was levitated into the air, everything below the neck hanging limp.
"Goodbye, John," spat Dolohov, before thrusting his wand forward. Sturges flew backwards, tumbling off the edge of the parapet, out of sight. For a moment, a scream lit into the night, before being abruptly cut off.
Though Harry's first impulse was to protest the Death Eater's actions, he had enough perspective on the matter to squash any sympathy. Had Sturges not raped or murdered children, he wouldn't be here in the first place.
Without saying anything Dolohov moved towards the open window, leaning across the rain-splattered ledge. He craned his neck, before turning back towards Harry.
"You need to see this."
He crept forward obediently, towards the window. Despite his misgivings, a morbid part of his mind wanted to rush forward, to see what had happened. Climbing up onto the ledge, he looked down.
Dolohov's spell had thrown him far, beyond the reach of Azkaban's walls. On a flat expanse of rock Sturges lay. Every part of his body was broken and crumpled into red ruin, crimson bones splitting the skin. A person couldn't be more mangled.
Yet within the pile of scarlet meat, muscles twitched and moved, accompanied by a low, mournful moan.
"H-h-he's still alive!"
"As I suspected he may."
Harry felt nothing of the outward calm the Death Eater exuded. No, he was close to panic, and had no idea what was going on.
"What the bloody hell is going on?! Where are we?"
Dolohov shrugged indifferently.
"I do not think there is any way to be sure…but it is telling that the only thing which seems to kill us is the water. I cannot get the image of acid breaking down food in a stomach out of my head."
The idea was enough to make Harry feel light-headed again.
"So all of this…"
"Who is to say for certain? For centuries the Wizarding world has trafficked with creatures we never bothered to fully understand. Perhaps creativity is not their strong point, and the pen they have created mirrors the one we know. Maybe it is intended to seem like a familiar reality to the prisoners until they are dissolved to jelly."
Trying not to think of his likely eventual fate, Harry pressed on.
"They…they don't want us to remember. Why would it matter to them?"
"I do not know," admitted Dolohov, shaking his head.
Harry fell silent, trying to dismantle the situation in his mind. When Sturges had let him out, the floor beneath his cell had been crumbling. Had there been no rescue, he would have been dumped directly into the sea. Trying not to dwell on the fact that perhaps he owed his own survival to the pederast, Harry considered all of the empty cells he had passed. Were they all supposed to just fall into the sea? How many of them had been trapped within their cell, helpless to do anything as the ragged chasm in the floor grew bigger and bigger? All of them seemed to be from the same general time frame…
The idea brought his train of thought to a screeching halt.
"You said Sturges was arrested in the late seventies, right?"
"I did," Dolohov confirmed. "You were captured in 1999, while I eluded capture until 2017."
"2017!" exclaimed Harry.
"Again, time has little relevance here. We are harvested until some crucial, critical point is reached, and then consumed. Perhaps our block contained only the newest prisoners."
"Marie was no criminal," he pointed out with absolute certainty. "She…she didn't even know who I was."
"…no one does anymore."
"What? Are you serious?" asked Harry, not quite believing his ears. "I'm arguably the most famous person in Britain. I don't mean to sound like a complete and utter twat, but it's true."
"At one time, certainly. The world now…well, things have changed."
"How?" demanded Harry. "The war consumed the entire Wizarding world, and leveled half of it. You can't just make all that go away, especially with Voldemort sill alive."
Dolohov shook his head.
"As far as history concerns itself, both you and the Dark Lord never existed. In the early part of the twenty-first century, Ministry forces defeated a minor Dark Lord, and all of his followers were executed as enemies of the state. At least, that was the official story."
"No…the Ministry killed Voldemort!?"
"We could scarcely believe it ourselves," admitted Dolohov. "We never even had confirmation. Several of us were at the ruins of Diagon Alley when the Dark Mark began to fade away. It…seemed to suggest the worst, but nothing was ever certain. I took it as a sign to hide myself, to leave this constant war behind. My opinion was the minority, but all those who tried to find out the truth about the Dark Lord vanished."
"No, there's no way they could have killed Voldemort," Harry stated flatly, thinking of the Prophecy.
"Perhaps not. Maybe he is miles beneath the Ministry, dowsed with Draught of Living Death and entombed in hundreds of feet of concrete. The truth of the matter was never discovered. Whatever the case was, the remnants of the Dark Lord's followers, not to mention the Order, were made into infamous criminals, enemy of the state. Dumbledore, the Dark Lord…it did not matter. There was only the Ministry, and its foes."
"But surely there were people that remembered the truth," insisted Harry, unable to believe that history could be erased so easily.
"Certainly there were, but who would be foolish to speak of such things which ran counter to the official Ministry word? Not two years after the Dark Lord's disappearance, dementors began to patrol neighborhoods, sniffing out dissent among the British population. Year by year its influence spread, encompassing every aspect of Wizarding Britain. History, news, art, sports, even culture…all carefully controlled by the Ministry."
"And knowledge," murmured Harry, thinking of Marie's words. "She…she had never heard of a class called 'Ancient Runes'. Growing up in this new world, she never would have heard of me."
The thought of dementors patrolling neighborhoods where children played was a disturbing one. Unleashed on Surrey a single time, a dementor had almost Kissed his cousin. However much of a cunt Dudley had been, even he didn't deserve such a hrash end.
"And even with dementors supposedly working for the Ministry…accidents still happen, don't they?"
"I assume that is how Marie befell of this place, if she was as innocent as you claimed."
Certain of his opinion, Harry nodded, still mulling over Dolohov's words. It was disquieting to consider that every single thing that had ever happened to him had been erased. Wasn't that the point of history; to ensure that the mistakes of the past were never repeated?
"How bad is the future?"
Dolohov shook his head.
"It is a matter of perspective. For those who remembered Britain before the Ministry took over, it was hell, but for those who knew nothing else…it was routine. Being on the run the entire time, I am hardly the correct person to ask, but…"
Dolohov took time to formulate an answer, as if choosing his words completely.
"When one enters the service of the Dark Lord, they forfeit all rights to freedom. Most of my brethren would not admit this, but serving the Dark Lord was not all that different than the rule of the Ministry. Individual thought and goals are discouraged, in the name of a greater purpose."
"So why then join his side?" Harry asked disdainfully. Time and time again examples of Voldemort's cruelty to his followers were evident, yet few ever left his service.
The Death Eater's gaze narrowed for a moment, before he let out a derisive snort.
"You forget that I was once young and idealistic, as you are. I heard the fear spoken in whispers in the Pureblood circles, of how our culture, our way of life was drowning in the flood of Muggleborns into Wizarding Society. No thought given to the hundreds of years of history that preceded them, only empty-headed talk of our antiquity, and how our world would be so much better if it functioned as the Muggle one did."
"Well, what would you expect?" shot back Harry. "It's all they've ever known."
"A point ignored by most," Dolohov admitted with a sigh. "Myself included. I was young, full of rage and looking for a cause to dedicate myself to. One which Voldemort was more than prepared to offer."
"And once you were in…"
"It was too late to back out. As you have no doubt observed, service to the Dark Lord is a lifetime commitment. Those who back out are dealt with most harshly."
"I don't buy that," interjected Harry. "The murders, the torture…are you trying to say they were all built on fear?"
"All people are different. Some took pleasure in the depraved tasks set before them. Others, yes, followed under the banner of fear…but fear can only sustain a person for so long. Eventually, most shifted their way of thinking. Realizing that their choices were limited to death or compliance, they willed themselves into thinking they served a righteous cause."
Harry felt a wave of revulsion wash over him. He thought of all the people who had defied Voldemort; Dumbledore, the Longbottoms, his friends, even his parents. They had all faced death willingly rather than serve the whims of a delusional madman.
"So you were glad when Voldemort was defeated?" asked Harry.
"No, if only because there was no closure to it. I struggle to make you understand, but the hold he held over his followers…even years later, in this wretched place, a small part of my mind always is worried that the Dark Lord will reappear to voice his displeasure."
"So would you serve him if he returned?"
"I have lived the Dark Lord's yoke for too long. If I still held any loyalty to him, you, not Sturges, would have been my main target."
"Oh, er, yes," conceded Harry, thinking off all the times Dolohov easily could have attacked him and chose not to.
Conversation trailed off after that. In the relative quiet, broken only by the raging storm, Harry considered his unlikely companion. Despite his clear capacity for psychopathic levels of violence, there was no denying that Dolohov had been acting out of something more than vengeance when he had interrupted Sturges' molestation attempt. He had been replying to a clear case of a breach on the 'right and wrong' argument.
With Voldemort gone, was it actually possible to trust the former Death Eater?
The sound of thunder filled the North Tower, drawing Harry's attention to the night. A flash of white lightning swiftly followed. For a fraction of a moment, the entire island was illuminated by the flash, displaying dark stone and turbulent seas.
Most striking, however, was out over the water. The churning sea, topped by white surf, seemed to extend out perhaps a mile, before ending in a wall of solid darkness, which even the lightning could not penetrate.
"It's the edge of the world," whispered Harry as the light faded from view. Nothing lay beyond the waters of Azkaban.
"Whether this world exists within the stomach of a dementor, or on a different plane of reality altogether, I have little doubt that it is a construct of some sort. There was no need for it to extend any further."
Rather than feeling hopeless by seeing the borders of the world, Harry was encouraged by them.
"Why bother building anything, though?" he asked, staring out over the water. "Why not just drop us directly into the water? Why draw it out?"
Dolohov turned towards Harry, mulling the question.
"While time works in a different fashion here, it still exists. Perhaps everyone here needs to be devoured in the same time-frame."
Harry nodded excitedly, seeing that Dolohov was working towards the same conclusion he was closing in on.
"I think so too. The water rises, eats everything, including Azkaban itself, so one is left behind."
"So what is your point, then?"
"We were never supposed to escape the cells!" said Harry, excitedly. "But the keys were still available. It's like no thought was put into the design of this world, it was just directly copied from the real version. They've never considered that someone might actually escape!"
Dolohov waved his hand dismissively, a look of annoyance crossing his features.
"How? This is not about escaping an island, but an entire world."
"Exactly! This is an entire world, totally different from ours. The ocean is made from acid. Why should there just be clouds overhead?"
Dolohov's glare sharpened for a moment, before he sat back, resting against the damp stone as he considered the idea.
"If indeed the ocean is similar to stomach acid…and administering the Kiss brings us down here…you think we can just fly out of here?"
"It's the best chance we have!" exclaimed Harry defensively. "This entire island is sinking into the sea! Better to fly into the clouds than to just sit here waiting to be dissolved!"
Unconsciously, his argument had risen to a yell. In the wake of his words, Dolohov let out a small, rare smile.
"I can see why you inspired such loyalty. While your logic is based upon an entire foundation of assumptions…I cannot deny that we are left without a better option."
Grinning, Harry jumped off the ledge, landing on his feet.
"So what are we waiting for?" he asked. "The longer we wait, the better the chance the water will cover broom storage."
A spring in his step, Harry walked towards the east stairs. He knew his plan was going to work. It had to; there were no other options.
As he stepped upon the first step, he heard a flurry of movements behind him. Before he could reach, something grasped him by the shirt and pulled him to the side. As he moved, he saw a purple spell materialize out of the air near the ceiling, illuminating a dark figure perched atop a broom. It just barely missed the vacated space, colliding into the ceiling.
Dolohov spun Harry out of the way, before drawing his own wand.
"Who the hell is that?" he demanded, drawing his own wand. They should have been the last people left on Azkaban, everyone else had been devoured by the sea…
As if he had been punched, Harry's stomach dropped as realization struck. There was one person they had discounted, had forgotten.
"Come out, come out, wherever you are!" cackled a wretched, mad female voice.
"Lestrange, back off!" snarled Dolohov. "The Dark Lord is gone!"
"That's what the unfaithful said before!" she screeched, "But he returned! He came back, and rewarded those who believed!"
"And now you protect our Lord's greatest enemy! When did you become a Mudblood lover, Antonin!"
Harry shook his head in frustration. There was no arguing with a zealot, Voldemort's most devout follower.
"When our Lord was defeated by the Ministry!"
"Lies! All lies! You never believed in our Master, and now you consort with the enemy!"
Dolohov opened his mouth to reply, frustration lining his features, before discarding the notion.
"What the fuck do we do?!" hissed Harry, keeping his voice low. Dolohov was clearly skilled, but there was a reason Bellatrix was feared so greatly. Sometimes insanity could bridge the gap between levels of skill.
"The best we can," answered Dolohov, bearing a grim expression. "Lestrange is fucking insane, but not stupid. She will not risk coming up the stairs, so our best bet is to flush her out. Ready?"
Not feeling anything close to prepared, Harry nodded a single time.
"Good. Hit her hard, Harry."
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Here it is; the answers to almost all of the major mysteries of the story. It took some time to make sure everything fit together. I really hope I didn't mess anything up. One chapter, then the epilogue, and this story will be complete.
I don't know when the next chapter will be ready. My muse is still active, but it's hard to tell which story she shall lead me to.
Thanks to T3t for the beta work, and for error checking. The importance of his help cannot be overstated.
Thanks for reading. I'd love to hear any feedback, negative, positive or indifferent. I reply to every signed review I receive. Not so much for the unsigned ones, lacking the capacity to do so.