Elizium for the Sleepless Souls
VII: Last Exit for the Lost
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Dolohov descended the stairs first, wand held high. Harry followed in his wake, scanning every inch of the darkened gloom for Bellatrix. The storm lashed against the outside of the ancient masonry, filling the tower with a dull roar.
Reaching the corner where the staircase turned out of sight, Dolohov raised his right hand, making a fist with it. Harry stopped at once, throwing a single glance over his shoulder to assure himself that Lestrange hadn't circled around and flanked them.
The dark-haired man almost casually summoned a chunk of wet mortar from the wall. It melted like an ice-cube as it flew, color draining away, before flattening into a thin disk. Suspended in mid-air at an angle, Harry saw the empty portion of staircase reflected through the crude Transfigured mirror.
"Running usually isn't a big part of her strategy," Harry quietly observed , his level voice betraying none of the dread and apprehension the situation had inspired. Marooned in the most desolate place on earth, or some ethereal impression of it, potentially with their very souls at stake was bad enough. Having to contend with Bellatrix Lestrange, a bitch so psychotic that she stood out among the Death Eaters themselves? That was just fucking unfair.
Though it wasn't really the sinking island fortress of Azkaban, was it? Wasn't it more of a hallucinatory nightmare?
"She's displaying uncharacteristic restraint," answered Dolohov, before turning the corner, makeshift mirror floating before him. Following in his footsteps, Harry tread carefully down the stairs. Up ahead, a wide section of the outer wall had fallen away, letting in heavy sheets of driving rain. Harry gave the gaping hole a wide berth, following his unlikely partner down two more flights of stairs, all of which yielded no sign of Bellatrix.
The longer they went without seeing Lestrange, the more Harry began to wonder about his companion. In his experience, Bellatrix had never backed down from a single fight, always charging head-first into every fight…but not here. Why the change now?
"This isn't like her," declared Harry, keeping a watchful eye on their surroundings as they turned another corridor. As he did, a strange, sharp coldness clutched at him. Of course it wasn't like here. It might not even be 'her'...
Was there even one aspect of this situation grounded in reality? The question pulled at him as he stopped on the stairway. The inconsistencies were really starting to add up. Wasn't this set of circumstances awfully convenient? Dolohov, one of Voldemort's most feared Death Eaters, fighting beside him against another of the Dark Lord's servants? All locked within some sort of fucked up dream world, contained within the celestial stomach of a dementor?
"Or more accurately, this is unlike the Lestrange that you know," Dolohov corrected, without turning his head. "Any pureblood-" he stopped himself. "Any wizard should realize that in some instances, a psychological edge can bridge the divide between skill levels."
"Bellatrix is not an actress," stated Harry distractedly, lowering his wand. "None of this is even real though, is it…?"
"Nor did I claim otherwise…what are you talking about?" Dolohov sharply questioned. "Now is not the time for a fucking existential crisis! You want to know if this is fucking real?! I will show you fucking real..."
Dolohov trailed off as he stopped in his tracks, his words aborting in his throat. An argument on this tip of his tongue, Harry glanced back at the former Death Eater. The words died upon his lips as he beheld the dark abyss where the stairs had collapsed, halting their downward progress. Had Bellatrix destroyed the stairs behind her? And if so, why hadn't they heard the crash of stairs being blasted away?
"Where the bloody hell is-"
A deafening roar exploded below them, drowning out his words. The entire tower rocked violently, sending Harry sprawling into the wall. He braced the impact with his hands, saving his face but skinning his palms. No sooner had he stopped himself, Dolohov enclosed his upper arm with a vise-like grip. The normally calm, collected gaze had slipped a fraction, betraying the slightest hint of fear.
"Run!" he yelled, before taking off up the stairs, taking them three at a time.
All questions of relative existence faded as, overhead, worn bricks began to dislodge from the ancient ceiling, sending rivers of crumbling mortar cascading down. With thousands of tons of stone perched perilously overhead, the reality he found himself in had ceased to matter. The tower was collapsing. Real or not, he would die if they didn't do something about it.
Intent on survival, Harry stayed on Dolohov's heels as the ground began to rumble and shift below them.
"This fucking thing's going over!"
Dolohov didn't bother with a reply, instead jabbing his wand forward as he sprinted. A silver spell leapt from his wand, flying forward and connecting with an unseen barrier at the top of the stairs, detonating the ward in a bright arc of magic.
Reaching the top of the stairs a split-second later, Dolohov leapt through fading discharge and conjured a translucent, curved purple shield. As it popped into existence, it deflected a sickly-colored orange curse off into the night.
"Guessed wrong, you stupid cunt!" sneered Dolohov, cutting his wand across his body as he dove towards the ground, launching a violent gust of wind. Bellatrix's grey hex flew over Dolohov's head, missing it by inches. Aloft on her broom, right outside the tower's exterior, Lestrange was helpless as the wind-blast struck her full-force, launching her backwards out of sight, her scream of rage trailing slightly behind her.
Harry sprinted forward as Dolohov picked himself off the ground. He reached the ledge and scrambled onto it. He scanned the gloom for any sign of either Bellatrix or her broom, but the raging storm had lowered visibility down to ten feet. The only thing he saw below him was weather-beaten masonry, which quickly disappeared into the dark. Rain soaking into his robes, he pushed himself back off the ledge with a disgusted snort.
"Can't see a thing in this shit!" Harry shouted over the roar of the wind, staring hopelessly back at Dolohov. "Is she down? Did you see her fall?"
Before Dolohov could open his mouth, the tower answered first with a terrible shudder. The world beneath their feet began to tilt to the left, the flat surface becoming a gradually increasing grade.
"A simple 'no' would have sufficed," he said under his breath, coughing out a chuckle in bemused resignation.
"Potter! Over here!" ordered Dolohov, moving towards the north side of the tower. Harry sprinted up the growing slope, leaping up onto the ledge, bracing himself against the window frame to stop his momentum from carrying him over the edge.
"Be quick with a Cushioning Charm!" snapped Dolohov, before grabbing Harry's arm and leaping over the edge. He opened his mouth to scream as they free-fell for the briefest of moments, before colliding with the rain slicked stone, biting down painfully on his tongue.
The storm seemed to rage at their escape, sending down sheets of rainfall so heavy it was almost like falling underwater. The void rushed up at the pair as they plummeted, their vision filled with rain and decaying stone. Panicking, Harry tried to dig his heels into the stone to slow his descent, but the river of rainfall running down the building denied him purchase. He gave up nearly as soon as he started, instead concentrating on keeping hold of his wand.
Gathering speed as they slid, a large balcony suddenly loomed out of the murk, directly in front of them. Harry started to raise his arm, but Dolohov was far quicker. Over the roar of the storm, a loud crack rang out as a conjured, invisible wedge popped into existence. Harry had the briefest of moments to note the rain drops splattering on the clear construct, before he struck it with a bone-jarring jolt.
Dolohov had angled the conjuration upward, so instead of snapping his legs and shattering his spine, his feet struck first and slid off to the side, just barely shunting him past the obstruction.
Still sliding, Harry let out a mad cackle, and glanced to his right. At the edges of his visibility, he saw Dolohov strike a second out-cropping of stone with his right foot. His leg broke, the wet snap audible over the storm, as was the astonished scream of pain as his descent was inversed, sending him into an uncontrolled spin. As he tumbled downward, a gaping hole in the side of the tower came into view, where the heavy blocks had been blasted apart.
No sooner had his mind registered the hole in the wall, before his nerves had even fired off the signal to lift his wand, Dolohov disappeared down the gaping chasm. In a second it was gone, lost to the storm as if it had never existed.
Harry turned as best he could, fighting against gravity to raise his wand arm, the first syllable of the Summoning Charm upon his lips.
And like that, the tower was gone.
Nothingness. Only a yawning chasm that death rushed up to fill, his unsaid syllables left behind, forgotten.
His downward momentum unceremoniously pitched him out into thin air, and though he knew he should react, he saw raindrops falling beside him, the little droplets keeping pace, so close he could reach out and catch them...but then gravity was tearing at his sodden robes and suddenly he was screaming, raindrops forgotten, as he thrust his wand down.
A white spell leapt from his wand at the frenzied incantation, shining like a beacon as it flew, striking the dark stone with a brilliant flash. Before Harry could even think, his momentum was slowed, driving the air from his lungs as his velocity abruptly died, the Cushioning Charm depositing him softly upon the cold, wet surface.
Against all odds, he lay safely on his back, catching his breath, as the crash of a thousands tons of falling stone echoed out over the darkness, colliding against the roofed causeway of the Abyss. Chunks of stone exploded outward as the tower crumbled to pieces.
With a gasp of breath, Harry flicked his wand up.
The translucent blue shield lurched into existence, just in time to catch a chuck of stone the size of a dictionary. The impact jarred Harry's arm, sending him sliding back into a puddle, but he maintained the shield with a grunt of pain. In the background, he heard the splash as the ancient masonry tumbled into the hungry mouth of the frothing waters.
Harry shakily got his feet, his waterlogged boots squelching as he moved. The rain slackened as he rose, restoring the faintest vestiges of visibility. Silhouetted by dark clouds, he saw that all that remained of the tower was its lower third, the jagged remains of its top protruding like the root of a pulled tooth.
"How in the fuck…" he whispered to himself, before shaking his head in negation. It didn't matter how Bellatrix had toppled the tower, or if she was even responsible.
What mattered was finding out if Dolohov was alive or not, and doing so before Bellatrix pulled her Lazarus-act again.
Wand held out in front of him, Harry began to stalk the roof the parapets, warily scanning the darkness for any sign of either his adversary, or Dolohov. As he walked, splashing through puddles and skirting around chunks of discarded stone, his hope began to wane. At the speeds they were sliding down the side of the toppling tower, it was difficult to gauge how far they had fallen, or if Dolohov had even had the chance to keep himself from plunging into the acidic water.
Harry reached the tower, vaulting himself over the carved stone railing, onto the lower balcony. He winced at the weight put on his aching wand-shoulder, but shook it off as he leaned through the doorway.
Rainfall cascaded down the worn stone steps, pooling at the bottom. Large portions of the opposite wall had been torn away, lost during the crash. He waded carefully through the water, making his way to the other side and looking down.
The falling remnants of the north tower had punched straight through the Abyss, down to the water below. Three levels of corridors ended abruptly, trailing broken and mangled steel bars, slabs of stone and wooden timbers. The third sub-basement was completely flooded, and thin sheet of rising black water flooded the next level up.
Harry carefully made his way to the edge, carefully testing each section of flooring before dedicating his entire weight to it. For a brief moment, he considered climbing down to look for Dolohov among the rubble, before discarding it for the suicidal notion it was. With the nearly seismic upheaval, trusting in the integrity of any surface was a fool's game.
However, if he were to fly…
"I'd need a broom first," he darkly muttered to himself. There were probably spare brooms still left at the Auror Headquarters, but they could have been in a parallel dimension for all the good they would have done him. In the unfamiliar halls of Azkaban, they would have been splintered to toothpicks before even getting a small portion of the way back to him.
With a start, Harry turned towards the all-encompassing darkness that lay beyond Azkaban. Dolohov had blasted one of the decoys out of the air, but as for the other…could it have lasted this long?
"Only one way to find out," he whispered to himself, bringing his wand up.
As the incantation died away, Harry raised his arm into the air, daring to hope. Even though it seems like hours, it couldn't have been more than forty-five minutes since he'd sent the brooms and their phantom riders off into the night. Surely the odds were not stacked in his favor, but when had they ever been?
Still, with each passing second his hand remained in the air, his enthusiasm for the idea dampened. It if it was going to come, shouldn't it have arrived by now? On the verge of lowering his arm, he heard a thin whistle over the patter of raindrops. Harry spun around, just in time to snatch the Cleansweep hurtling toward him from the air.
In a single fluid movement he threw one leg over the older broom and kicked off the ground, hovering in the air. He prepared to lean forward, to rocket over the edge, before a dark object launched itself from beyond the lip of the precipice. Harry instinctively backed off, wand held high, before noticing that the grey object had three hooks on the end, which were digging into the rock. Attached to the hook was a length of rope, which neatly coiled itself beside the hook as it lifted upwards.
Harry's drew in a quick breath of surprise. Had Dolohov managed to survive somehow?
Erring on the side of caution, Harry quickly Summoned a small stone, and Transfigured it into a mirror. Looking into its smoky, disjointed depths, he was reminded of just how poor his skills were compared to Dolohov, but it would have to serve.
He levitated the poor excuse for mirror over the edge of the chasm, before tilting it.
"You…call…that…a mirror?" queried a tired, pained voice. As the words came out, a pair of raw, bleeding hands, the remaining skin hanging in isolated strings and tatters, appeared.
"Guess I'm out of practice," Harry replied with a grin, moving towards the edge. "How the bloody hell did you survive that fall? I thought you were gone."
As the coil raised farther, Dolohov's head came into view. One side was caved in, and blood painted the other matting and congealing into his dark hair. Yet his dark eyes, though clouded with pain, still held steeled determination. Harry hopped off his broom, and squatted down by the edge, offering his hand. With his other he tucked the makeshift mirror back into his robes.
Despite the poor condition of his hands, Dolohov shook his head.
"Well, I'm clearly not," he said curtly, as if it were the obvious thing in the world, before reaching for Harry's hand. As Harry reached out to help Dolohov all the way up, the former Death Eater's eyes grew wide.
"Get back!" he snarled, pushing out with one of his hands, and sending Harry staggering backwards. As he fell to the wet stone, he saw a purple curse crash down next to Dolohov. Chips of stone exploded in a cloud as Dolohov was thrown backwards, disappearing out of sight. Harry whipped his head around, to see Bellatrix hovering above on a broom, her purple eyes shining with triumph.
"Think Dolohov will enjoy his trip to hell, Baby Potter?" she crooned, before letting out a mad cackle and leveling her wand at Harry.
Harry rolled to the right, summoning the Cleansweep as he moved. The broom leapt into his outstretched hand as her dark crimson curse hit the ground inches to his right with a loud hiss. He hopped aboard and kicked hard off the stone, rocketing into the air.
"Where are you going, Baby Potter? Don't you want to play with your Auntie Bellatrix?" she crooned, before launching a sickly yellow curse. For the briefest of moments, the dark silhouette of her broom was illuminated, revealing a handle spider-webbed with cracks, and bristles pointing in discordant directions.
As the dark once again descended, throwing Bellatrix back into shadow, Harry's mind was made.
"Alright, bitch, let's go," he whispered, before leaning to the right, strafing out of the way of the yellow curse. Once clear, he leaned forward and sped out into the dark, away from both Bellatrix and the crumbling island. Wind and rain pulled against his robes as he flew, trying to pry him from the broom, but he kept his head down and grimaced, both hands wrapped tightly around the polished handle. He chanced a look backwards, and through the sheets of rain, saw Bellatrix leaning forward over her damaged broom, trying to coax every last drop of speed from it.
"Where are you going, Potter!" she screamed, the storm stealing most of her words. "There's nowhere to run!"
A humorless grin broke out at her words. Lestrange most likely had no idea how accurate her words truly were. Adrift in a sea of darkness, Harry chanced another look back, to see that Azkaban had nearly faded from view, folded into the depths of the storm. Not knowing how much room he had left, Harry made his move.
He abruptly spun his body around, forcing the broom with him. Gravity tore at his robes and the wooden shaft creaked under the sudden reversal of inertia, but the broom held steady. He lowered his head and leaned forward, rocketing back towards Azkaban, passing by Bellatrix.
To Harry's dismay, she did not instinctively follow his movements. Instead she slowed, wearing a mad leer as she let go of the shaft and jabbed her wand forward. With the distance closed between them, and his back turned, there was no time to deflect the familiar scarlet curse with. Instead, he flung his left hand back.
The spell collided in the center of his palm, cleaving through it in a splash of blood. Pain howled in his hand, and Harry let out a scream of pain as he clutched the ruined hand to his chest, now short two fingers. Despite the torment, he forced his left hand down and curled the remaining digits around the shaft, pressing down to force more speed from the Cleansweep. It felt like trying to grip broken glass that was on fire, but better a mangled hand than a destroyed broom while flying over an acid ocean.
As he flew, beads of water clinging to his glasses, he saw blue light reflected off the lens. He leaned to his left, allowing Bellatrix's spell to fly harmlessly past.
"Wait, Baby Potter! You left half your hand behind!" screamed Bellatrix in between peals of mad laughter, before letting loose with a flurry of curses. Green, orange, blue, red, purple and green again reflected off his glasses, giving Harry enough warning to duck and dive through the chain of spells. Once the last spell flew past, a Killing Curse if its sickly green glow was any indication, Harry glanced back.
Though his damaged hand was preventing him from maxing out the Cleansweep's speed, he was steadily adding to the distance between himself and Bellatrix. She was sacrificing speed to keep her wand upraised, but she wasn't casting curses at him, she was cutting and twirling her wand in complicated arcs. Harry kept his eye on her, slowing down slightly. If she was using colorless spells, why was her wand still in motion? More than anything, the movements mimicked wand work more consistent with transfiguration and…
With a start, Harry whipped his head forward. Keeping his mangled hand around the broom shaft, he raised his wand with his opposite.
A yellow cone of light burst forth, pushing back the darkness. Rain reflected off the magical beam, but at first nothing seemed amiss. Scanning the darkness, his eyes widened as he stared in the area directly in front of him, where somehow the droplets of rain were flattening as they collided with empty space.
Still grasping his wand, he brought his hand down, trapping it against the wooden shaft, and pulled upward as hard as he could. Gravity pulled against him as he rose higher, just high enough to clear the invisible obstruction.
His toes brushed against a floating, unyielding barrier. The likes of which would broken his broom had he not noticed it in time.
"What's a matter, Baby Potter!" mocked Bellatrix, her voice barely audible between distance and the wind. "Did the baby see something that scared him?"
Trying his best to ignore her grating words, Harry stared into the oncoming dark, searching for some sort of sign of a second barrier. As he looked for a sign, he saw two familiar patterns up ahead, where rainfall collided against the unseen. Both of which were closing together.
Harry leaned forward, urging more speed out of the Cleansweep. He shot through the two coalescing walls, before immediately diving downward. For a brief moment his wand illuminated a third barrier, placed directly in the path of his previous trajectory, and then he was past it.
As the island loomed closer, he spied another one of Bellatrix's constructs, at head-level. For a moment Harry considered diving beneath it, for shaking his head and cutting hard to the right. The wind, pulling at his clothes as he turned hard, slapped his sodden robes against the side of the barrier, leaving scant inches between escape and a broken broom. It had been close, but he couldn't let Lestrange dictate his path, and drive him into the ocean. His survival depended upon full range of motion.
"Does Baby Potter like Auntie's widdle toys?!"
There was enough distance between the two that Harry could barely hear the words, but he was far from comforting. Bellatrix was sacrificing distance to swat him out of the air like a troublesome fly.
And she was winning. If he didn't change the game up soon, he was going to lose. Maybe if he had both hands fully functional it would have been a different story, but he didn't have the luxury of considering the 'what-ifs?' of the situation. Only cold reality.
Without warning Harry sped off to the left, shooting towards the partial collapse of the Abyss' outer perimeter. By the light of his wand, he passed by another barrier, one which barely closed within ten feet of him before he rocketed past. Once clear, he began to fly in jagged, zigzag patterns as he closed in on the broken walls.
He dove down hard, as a construct materialized directly in front of him, and then he flew through the wreckage of the collapsed tower, into the darkened halls of the Abyss' first sublevel. He stopped inside the ruined hallway, taking a moment to look for any signs of Dolohov, but nothing caught his eye but the rubble below him, being greedily eaten by the rising ocean waves.
"Potter? Where are youuuuu?!" Bellatrix crooned, her voice moving closer, much nearer than Harry would have anticipated. He raised his wand, and jabbed it forward, flinging a Reductor Curse at the wall to the right of the corridor's entrance. It struck just before Lestrange's appearance, giving her ample time to raise a physical shield, which the debris bounced harmlessly off.
Not that he expected it towork, but it would have been nice to have one fucking thing break right for him.
As the rubble clattered to the floor, Harry turned and race off in the opposite direction, past the empty cells.
"Oh Potterrrr!" crooned Lestrange, amusement evident in her voice. "If you really want to play rough, Auntie Bellatrix has something for you!"
By the moisture still clinging to his glasses, he saw purple curse streak towards his unprotected back. Nearing the end of the hallway, he leaned hard to the right, just skirting the stone corner column. Seconds later, the echo of an explosion reverberated through the narrow corridor, peppering his back with chips of pulverized mortar.
Harry put the breaks on at once, spinning around and turning. Moving quickly, he swung his wand in a quick arc. Two cell doors facing one another from across the hallway opened at his command, leaving a six foot gap between them. Concentrating fiercely, he pointed his wand at the open doors, and the iron bars began to distort and lose their shape, stretching across the hallway and meeting the opposite door. The bars began to entwine with another, creating a twisted know that stretched all the way across the hallway.
Satisfied, Harry took his grip back on the broom and sped off down the hall, past the hordes of empty cells. Nearing the end of the corridor, he spun around, wand pointed back towards his transfigured construct.
Bellatrix emerged from around the corner, dark robes flapping around her. Rather than slow down at seeing the tangled mess in front of her, she whipped her wand forward. A blaze of icy-blue flames erupted from her wand, dousing the iron bars. She struck them at full speed a moment later, and they exploded outward in a rain of frozen shards.
Cackling madly, and leaning slightly to the left side of the hallway, she thrust her wand forward again. As she did, Harry flicked his wand, and another of the cell doors flew wide open, grazing Bellatrix's foot, throwing off her aim. As she collided against the side of the corridor, her scarlet spell flew harmlessly into the floor, six feet in front of Harry. He was showered with stone chips and dust, but little else.
At once Harry began to rain spells down on Bellatrix, who flailed upon her broom, trying to get it under control. Without hesitation she fell backwards off her broom, hitting the floor arse-first, and rolling. For a brief moment, triumph flooded through Harry, but his Stunner missed by a hair's breadth, flying harmlessly past Lestrange's slowing form. Mere feet away from his second spell, a Disarmer, Bellatrix managed to conjure a glowing shield, deflecting the Disarmer right back at Harry.
"Fucking shite!" swore Harry, raising his own shield to deflect the Disarmer into the wall. He dropped the shield at once, a Summoner on his lips, but Bellatrix's spell was quicker. Her broom, now sporting a noticeable split down the center of the shaft, flew back towards her.
"The baby finally decides that he wants to play!" declared Lestrange, catching the damaged broom and hopping on it, rising into the air. "How happy you've made your Auntie!"
Harry started to cast another spell, before glancing at the floor in front of him. Her misplaced spell had blasted clear through the floor, showing a rapidly flooding second sublevel, where the acidic ocean hissed and rolled, partially flooding the corridor.
"Let's see how well you can fly with a broken broom," he said to himself, before rocketing forward and shooting down the hole, his sodden robes scraping against the side of the narrow opening.
Four of the second sublevel's twelve feet of height were underwater. The ocean churned angrily beneath him, hissing as it ate away at the stone and iron. Harry flew more slowly than he had above, maintaining equal distance between the slight arches of ceiling overhead and the deadly waters below. For all the danger the sea represented, braining himself on a low-hanging archway would prove equally disastrous.
Various flotsam and jetsam floated on the surface, including chunks of wood and burned scraps of cloth deeply stained with red. Harry shuddered involuntarily, considering how easily it might have been him trapped within one of the cells, helpless as the water level rose, being dissolved one layer at a time.
He had carefully flown down half the length of the corridor before Bellatrix came into view, flying through the same hole she had vacated. Portions of her robe had been scraped away, leaving red, raw flesh beneath, but her eyes shone with a maniacal glee as she rocketed forward.
"Come give your Auntie a kiss!" Lestrange screamed, surging forward with reckless abandon, as if she had no idea the very water below her would melt the flesh from her bones.
Harry's eyes widened at the realization as Bellatrix surged forward. She was flying with such careless abandon because she hadn't fully comprehended, or figured out, the extreme danger the sea held!
At once, Harry jabbed his wand forward.
The overpowered red curse leapt from his wand, bucking his arm in the process. It connected with the water, twenty feet in front of Bellatrix. A small tidal wave exploded forth, bearing down on her. Through the white sheet of ocean spray, he saw a mocking smile find its way onto her face, her violet eyes dancing with glee.
"Do you think Auntie is afraid of a little wa-"
Her mocking words turned into a frenzied scream as the back swell from the impact surged towards Harry. He turned and rocketed down the hallway, feeling the encroaching wave of water bearing down on him. Eyes darting frantically, he spied a staircase to his left, and shot into it. As he passed the threshold, the wave went past the doorway, submerging it for a few moments as water spilled through. He fled through it, flying up the stairs to the next level.
"How'd you like that little bit of water?" asked Harry with a grim smile, before flying out into the dry corridor. Maybe the wave hadn't been enough to take Bellatrix out once and for all, but at the very least he'd probably bought himself a few free moments. As much as he'd like to believe that she was gone, Lestrange's psychotic tenacity was a force to be reckoned with.
Decision made, Harry flew down the hallway slowly, head moving back and forth as he checked every alcove and cell for sign of Dolohov. He saw no sign of the former Death-Eater, but the fragile nature of the island prison was becoming painfully clear.
The blocks which made up the walls, once cunningly placed as to eliminate any air gaps, where coming apart at the seams. Cracks ran through every line of mortar, and stones bulged within their housing.
As he turned the corner, an ominous rumble reverberated through the masonry, sending minute clouds of stone dust and pebbles cascading from the ceiling. Up ahead, he saw the familiar place where the corridor had been broken open like a hollow log, demolished by the toppling tower. As he flew he continued to search, but saw no sign of the Eastern European wizard.
"Potteerrrr!" hissed a rasped, inhuman voice from behind, prompting Harry to spin around, as a stalking horror emerged from around the corner.
The questionable state of Azkaban's very reality was the sole factor keeping Bellatrix alive. Her robes were almost completely gone, save for a few stitches of smoking cloth attached to her legs and midsection. Every inch of her skin was scorched and blistered, the skin having been burnt away to reveal tightly spun tendons and muscles beneath. On her arms and legs flashes of yellow bone poked through.
Bellatrix's face, however, was the worst. The acid had taken all of the cartilage and softest parts, leaving her bereft of ears, eyelids, lips and nose. A few stray strands of scraggly hair hung from her blistered skulls, through which the yellow bone poked through.
Yet still she came, riding a broom on the verge of falling to kindling, unblinking violet eyes blazing with hatred, her flesh still sending up wafts of smoke.
"You'll beg for death, Potter! Beg!"
"Then come and get me, you dippy cunt!" shouted Harry, before taking off down the corridor. He emerged out into the open night, rain lashing down upon him, and turned, wand held at the ready.
Bellatrix rocketed forward, bent over her broom like a crimson skeleton, letting out a banshee's scream. So focused on reaching Harry and ripping him to pieces, she paid no heed as a length of chain shot from one of the cells and launched itself across the corridor, pulling itself taut.
Ribbed cracked and splintered as the chain caught her in the chest. Bellatrix fled backward off her broom, hitting the ground with a crunch and rolling forward, coming to rest several feet from the precipice.
Lestrange's broom kept on going for a few yards, before falling out of the air like a bird struck by a sudden heart-attack. As the broom fell, Harry cast a Summoner. As it reversed direction, however, it broke apart in mid-air, and fell to the swirling water below.
Bellatrix thrashed on the ground as if in the throes of a seizure. From behind her Dolohov stepped out of a nearby cell. Deep cuts and wounds pockmarked his face and his robes, gauging deep into his weeping flesh, but there was no hesitation as he leveled his wand at Lestrange and levitated her, kicking and screaming, into the air.
"Y-you t-t-traitor!" she rasped in between hacking, violent coughs. "The Dark-"
Her words were cut off as she was slammed backwards into the wall, the back of her head bouncing off the stone with a wet crack.
"Think very carefully before you speak again," warned Dolohov, before turning to Harry. "How did her broom hold up?"
"Not very well," Harry admitted. "It disintegrated when I tried to summon it. I'm surprised it even still flew."
"How unsurprising," remarked Dolohov, before turning back to Bellatrix. "I don't suppose you would happen to have another broom stashed somewhere, do you?"
Bellatrix's answered by struggling to raise her wand arm from the wall, making it about an inch before Dolohov released her from the spell, sending her tumbling to the ground in an undignified heap. Free, she started to bring her own wand up, but Dolohov was already moving.
Flesh burned away by an acid ocean, the potency of the Cruciatus Curse still reigned as king, prompting Bellatrix to drop to the ground. She curled up into a fetal position as her tortured rasps rang out.
As she screamed, Harry felt the storm intensify, the wind and rain battering against him. It began to soak into the broken corridor in front of him, tendrils of water reaching across the stone floor, towards Bellatrix and Dolohov. It was almost like the storm itself was screaming for blood.
For all Harry knew, it was.
Muscles pulled taut in his wand arm, Dolohov kept the curse held for far longer than Harry had ever seen, or experienced. She must have been edging into the time frame similar to which Frank and Alice Longbottom had received.
On an objective level, he supposed that he should have felt some sort of empathy for the extreme level of torment Lestrange was going through, but it was really hard to dredge up any sympathy, considering her joyous penchant for dealing out torture herself. If anything, Harry felt a small sliver of satisfaction, as Bellatrix had finally reaped as she had sown.
As her gasps and screams began to taper off into silence, Dolohov lifted the curse, letting his wand fall to his side. Body wracked by involuntary spasms, Bellatrix writhed on the floor like a worm cut in half.
"Get up," ordered Dolohov, wand pointed at Lestrange's head. "Unless you want another dosage?"
Still pulling in ragged breaths of air she slowly lurched to her feet, using the wall to pull herself upward. She made it halfway up, back pressed to the wall, her upper body bent at the waist and hanging down.
"All the way up," clarified Dolohov with a cruel smile, as if he was enjoying this. As the words left his lips, Bellatrix was in motion. With previously unhinted dexterity she whipped her wand forward in a single fluid motion.
Dolohov, however, had been ready, wand upraised. Lestrange began to struggle; snarling like an animal caught in a hunter's trap, but her right arm remained static, held aloft. As Dolohov began to move his wand in a slow arc, Bellatrix's arm began to bend backwards, against the joint. Low cracks rang out as her arm moved backwards, towards her own head, the splinters of shattered elbow poking through the tight folds of muscle and tendon.
"How feeble you've grown, Bella," mocked Dolohov as Lestrange's wand came to rest pointing directly at her forehead, her arm bent at an impossible angle. "How effective could the Cruciatus Curse truly be with most of your nerve endings having been eaten away?! Did you think I had forgotten-"
A blue bolt of lightning leapt from Bellatrix's wand, crossing the short distance faster than Harry could track, striking her in the forehead. For a brief moment the remaining flesh left clinging to her skull began to sizzle, while her insane violet eyes took their last glance at the world before they began to melt like tallow, losing their shape.
Dolohov had began to draw away, but the intense charge of electricity traveled through Bellatrix's body in its search for ground, and discharged into the water pooled at their feet in a bright flash. Bellatrix was thrown into the wall behind her, hitting with a crunch.
Standing slightly off to the left, Dolohov was blown backwards, bouncing hard off one of the stone columns and over the edge of the broken precipice.
Harry was in motion at once, diving down after Dolohov. Through driving sheets of rain, he saw the Eastern European hit an upraised slab on stone with a crunch, back first, before rolling down it, sliding into the churning waves below.
A tortured yell rang out as Dolohov tried to scrambled backwards, up the slope, but could find no purchase against the wet stone. Harry, wand out, flicked his wand and Dolohov was pulled from the ocean. Rivulets of water and bloody discharge dripped from his lower body as Harry floated him upwards, through the broken opening of the topmost level of the Abyss.
Dolohov's eyes were shut as he was set down in a sitting position, against the corridor wall.
"Shite…" swore Harry, dismounting his broom before looking guiltily away from Dolohov's lower half. "I-I…should have…"
The Eastern European wizard let out a bitter chuckle as he opened his eyes, which were glazed with torment.
"You should have anticipated my regression into a stereotypical villain, gloating over his supposed 'victory' instead of finishing them while the opportunity presented itself? I think not, Potter. All of…this, is entirely my fault."
At his last words, he motioned towards his lower half with his left arm, which from his forearm down had been melted into an abstract medley of charred flesh and muscle. His lower half was even worse off, where everything below his knees was gone, and the acid had stripped his thighs to the bone. Only his right hand remained untouched, clutching his wand so tightly the fingers had turned white.
"I cannot believe I let that psychotic cunt get the best of me," he continued, shaking his head. "It is an embarrassment…you should have just dropped me back into the sea."
Harry made himself look back at Dolohov. Though his words were coherent, his voice clear, the glassy look in his normally hard gaze told him everything he needed to know about the former Death Eater's mental state.
"First, you're in shock. Second, that would be tremendously unfair after you saved me from that pedophile Sturges. Third, and most important, I've never made a habit of leaving people behind."
Dolohov let out a mocking laugh, shaking his head.
"Despite all you have seen, you are still a naïve child, Potter. Eliminating Sturges had little to do with helping you, and everything to do with vengeance. And leaving people behind? You ride the last broom on the island, Potter. Once Bellatrix was gone I had every intention of taking it from you, forcefully if necessary."
"I don't think you're capable of taking anything by force right now."
"Clearly," snapped Dolohov. "Am I not making sense? I am not your friend, nor your ally. If it meant my escape, I would have happily dropped you into the sea without looking back."
For a moment Harry leveled a cool gaze at the former Death Eater, trying to ascertain his true motivations. They were in direct conflict with his statements atop the North Tower, but there was an appreciable logic to them. It could not be dismissed that Dolohov was a former Death Eater, and had doubtless performed acts of unimaginable evil in the Dark Lord's name, acting of his own volition. His history, however distant, could not be ignored.
"Water under the bridge," Harry said with a nonchalant shrug. "A mere tickle compared to what Sturges had in mind for me."
"For fuck's sake, Potter!" yelled Dolohov, slamming his good fist into the stone floor for effect. "Listen to me: I would have killed you without a second thought. What makes you so certain I would not try again in the highly unlikely event that we escape this nightmare?"
A mighty groan echoed out following his words, reverberating through the stone of Azkaban. Harry turned his head, across the wide chasm where the toppling tower had split the corridor. Stone and rubble cascaded as the ocean-facing side of the Abyss slid into the churning waves.
In the half left-behind, now exposed to the elements, he saw a dark red figure staggering blindly, left arm held straight out, the right dangling bonelessly. Bellatrix staggered as if drunk, disappearing deeper into the Abyss, fleeing the collapsing masonry.
"And still we sit here, arguing. Would you have us continue to discuss the matter until Azkaban is completely submerged?"
"I would not," admitted Harry, before turning back to Dolohov. "I would have you bound to my back by ropes as I flew into the both of us out of here, and I would have you keep your fucking mouth shut. Think you can do that?"
"I refuse to be tied up like some-"
"Should I disarm you, then, before anything else?" Harry asked, leveling his wand at the fallen man. "I'd prefer you armed, but as you said, time is short and I'm sick of arguing."
Dolohov fired one last glare in his direction, before slumping his shoulders.
"I would not have tolerated such disrespect if I were in full possession of my limbs. What happened to the young philosopher, intent on questioning the nature of reality as the walls were collapsing around him?"
"He decided that when a tower is collapsing around him, even an elaborate dream is scary enough to make you run," explained Harry, setting his broom on the ground, facing away from Dolohov. "Besides, I'm taking advantage of the fact that they'll be no reprisals against me for talking to you like this."
"No immediate reprisals, you cheeky little bastard," sneered the former Death Eater as he awkwardly pushed himself away from the wall. Harry took hold under his armpits and pulled him backward, so that he was sitting atop the broom. He then took his own place on the broom, putting the two of them back to back.
"If only the Dark Lord could see me now," Dolohov snorted with black humor, before conjuring a length of rope. At his command, the coil came to life and wrapped around them tightly, not only binding them together, but preventing the legless wizard from toppling off the back.
Harry kicked hard off the ground, testing the broom. Burdened with an additional one-hundred fifty pounds, the broom's response was much more sluggish, and he'd be lucky to reach even half of the Cleansweep's top speed…but all things considered, it was better than he could have hoped for.
"You should pray that no one gives us chase," remarked Dolohov, not sharing in Harry's optimism.
"Duly noted, but I don't think Bellatrix is any shape to chase up down, even assuming she gets her hands on another broom," he said matter-of-factly, sparing a glance for the collapsed hallway he had seen her running down. With time, perhaps Bellatrix could have adjusted to blindness and once again become a feared adversary, but this version of Azkaban would be a memory long before that happened.
"Ready to leave?"
"No," said Dolohov, shaking his head, and drawing in a long breath. "Even if we somehow manage to escape, a circumstance I find highly unlikely…you are not equipped for what the world has become."
"I'm sure I'll manage, especially with you to guide me."
"You do not understand…but again, how to explain music to someone born without ears?"
As Harry turned his head, he saw Dolohov bring his wand to his temple. When he pulled it away, a long, steel-grey wisp followed, nearly two feet long.
"That's not a normal memory, is it?" asked Harry, staring warily at the strand.
"It is not. A time-delayed memory, if you must know."
"Keep it," said Harry, turning away. "You can give it back to me when we escape."
"You will take it now," Dolohov ordered, his tone brooking no argument. "Supposing we escape this nightmare, you must consider how difficult it will be to escape the real version of Azkaban, especially with a cripple in tow."
"You're a cripple here, but in the real world-"
"You have no way of knowing that," Dolohov coldly contradicted. "If your conjectures must be overwhelmingly optimistic, then so be it, but there must be some contingency in place for a negative outcome as well."
"Fine," conceded Harry. He was loathe to acknowledge Dolohov's point, but they had gone too far to let another argument derail them. At once, the Eastern European deposited the memory into his head.
"Can we finally get the fuck out of here, or do you have yet another request?"
Dolohov let out a low chuckle at the clear impatience in Harry's voice.
"No, I believe that is all. Fly swiftly, Potter."
With a sharp nod, Harry took off, flying out from the corridor, back into the storm. Its intensity had increased to unseen levels and the driving rain struck like a thousand tiny fists. Below him, through the gloom, he saw that the fallen ruins of the north tower were completely submerged, save for the dull edges of a few desolate blocks.
The second sub-level of the Abyss was completely underwater, swallowing the corridor had seen Bellatrix disappear down, and beginning to flood the first. Whatever process governed the rising ocean, it was accelerating. How long would it take for the last tower to sink beneath the deadly waves?
Wind pulled at his sodden robes as he flew higher, trying to tear him from his seat. With each foot of ascension, the difficultly in riding with a passenger became increasingly evident. Harry had anticipated the lead weight tied to his back, but not how demanding the strain on his arms would be to keep the broom until control, or how hard it was to keep leaning forward while being constantly pulled backwards by Dolohov.
Regardless, he kept the difficulty of the climb hidden, not wanting his passenger to know how much strain he was under.
As they rose higher, the darkness around them closed tighter. He glanced downward, to see that Azkaban was lost beneath them. The world was a black void, comprised solely of rain and hurricane-force winds.
"Are we even rising anymore?!" asked Harry, shouting to make himself heard over the howling wind. He was still pulling up, as his aching muscles could attest, but without a frame of reference, he was left with doubts.
"We are!" Dolohov confirmed after a moment. "But if you have any question, ask! Bearings are easily lost up here!"
Harry nodded to himself. He was having enough difficulty trying to control the broom; let his companion worry about navigation.
Though soaked to the bone by the rain, he began to feel his hair, both on his head and arms, begin to stand on end.
"Cut left!" screamed Dolohov, over the start of Harry's inquiry. He reacted at once, simultaneously leaning his body and pulling the broom. His passenger's dead weight pulled at him, and his arms were nearly pulled from their sockets, but he muscled the broom into obedience, shooting to the left.
In the vacated space, brilliant yellow light coalesced into a single point for the briefest of moments, before exploding downward into bolt of jagged lightning, accompanied by a deafening clap of thunder.
Bright spots danced in Harry's vision in the wake of the flash of light. Blind, he continued upward, before the charged ions in the atmosphere once again began to converge.
"Which way!?" he screamed, unable to pinpoint the origin.
"No time!" yelled Dolohov, reaching into one of the pockets of his robe. Harry turned his head, to see his passenger toss a small object out into the storm, swinging his wand down on the down stroke. The dull, flying object changed in mid-air, its surface becoming reflective.
Brilliant white light exploded slightly above them. Sounds roared as another bolt of lightning shot down and veered slightly away from them, attracted by the glinting object. It disintegrated in mid-air, scattering sparks to the winds.
"How did you know?!" screamed Harry, his heart racing, the stench of ozone assaulting his nostrils.
Dolohov, incredibly, let out a deep laugh.
"We were planning on flying into the middle of a fucking storm, Potter! Did you happen to forget?!"
Despite nearly being cooked by the last bolt, Harry found his galloping heart begin to slow, as a grin found its way onto his rain-soaked face.
"No wonder you're so bloody heavy! Are you carrying half of Azkaban with you?!"
Behind him, he felt Dolohov shake his head.
"That was it! You had better hope that there's not another one!"
He kept a wary eye on his surroundings, but the next thunder strike was distant, far below them. The bright spots in his vision began to fade away, as did the intense elemental fury of the storm.
"We're almost past it," Harry announced happily, no longer having to shout to make himself heard. "Are we still moving upwards?"
"We are," confirmed Dolohov as the wind and rain died away, leaving the rain dripping from their saturated clothes as the storm's only remnants.
Above the clouds was pure darkness, black as jet and silent as the grave. The eerie calm was disconcerting after the cacophony of the storm front. Even the whisper of his heavy robes as he shifted slightly seemed off, the sound muffled.
Almost as it was being swallowed.
Harry looked down, to see if the clouds were visible beneath him, but they too had been consumed by the dark. If he let go of the broom, would he fall forever? For all he knew, nothing remained of Azkaban.
He wiped the sweat from his forehead, to find his skin cool and clammy, more unnerved than he wanted to admit. It was like a primal part of his self, the unconscious, animalistic part, had picked up the scent of some dangerous predator, and was trying to warn him of the looming danger.
Nonetheless Harry pushed onward, ignoring the agony in his arms. After flying upwards for so long, his muscles were rubbery, on the very of collapse. Telling himself that in all probability, his arms were not exactly real, did little to quell the ache.
Up above him, a faint outline began to emerge from the void. It was barely distinguishable from the all-compassing darkness, but there. Changing his course slightly, he began to fly towards it.
It was a wide disk, a shade of black so deep that no light could ever escape its pull, and defying any further description. As they neared it, the ambient temperature began to plummet.
Visions rose in Harry's mind, back to that desolate room deep within the Abyss of Azkaban, where Umbridge's personal guard had escorted the dementor into the room. How the cold had penetrated deep, down to the roots of his soul.
Which was the exact same feeling that had settled onto him now.
"Do…do you feel that?" gasped Harry through bluing lips. Behind him, he felt Dolohov give the slightest of nods.
"We are approaching the gateway between life and death itself."
As soon as the words were devoured by the heavy atmosphere, something stirred. Harry heard nothing, saw nothing, but all the same felt it down to his bones, as if some great slumbering, maleficent entity had opened one of its many eyes, to find intruders in its lair.
"Dolohov…what the fuck is it?" Harry asked, his voice tiny, trembling. His skin was cold, his bowels loosening with fear.
"Quiet!" hissed Dolohov, bringing his wand to his face. He spoke an unfamiliar incantation, flavored with Eastern European and a brief red light flashed within his eyeballs, before being quickly swallowed by the dark.
Without warning, Dolohov let loose with a bloodcurdling scream of terror. Harry's insides turned to water at hearing the unflappable Dark Wizard lose control.
"It – it is all around us! We are in its webs!"
"Left! Go left!"
Adrenaline roaring in his veins, Harry cut hard to the left. Off to the right, an unseen presence gave off wafts of freezing cold as he passed.
"Left again! Then forward!" ordered Dolohov, before breaking out into mad cackling. "We see only their external shell, their fleshly prison!"
As the broom dove and bucked, the trailing flap of his cloak collided with an unseen, solid object. Something that was hard, unyielding, yet moving.
"Dolohov! What the fuck is it!?" Harry demanded, terror clawing at his mind. At his question, the former Death Eater's insane laughter trailed off.
"It is what lurks beyond the threshold of sight!" he declared. All the strength in his voice was gone, leaving the battle-hardened, resilient wizard sounding as weak and feeble as a patient committed to St. Mungo's long-term spell damage ward. "What waits unseen!"
After his screamed final phase, he leaned towards Harry, as closely to his ear as he could. "You have only this once chance. Fly straight into the darkness!"
Before Harry could question him, something pierced his back, cutting deeply into it. At once the coils of rope were falling away, and the heavy weight upon his back was gone. He turned back to see Dolohov falling through the ether.
The Eastern European wizard seemingly floated in mid-air, before a blight of pure darkness converged upon him. The wisps of darkness converged upon his maimed hand and trailing traces of bones where his legs had been burned off.
As the distance between them increased, the blight attached began to spread, down his arm and up his hips, devouring him. On the verge of turning back, Harry locked eyes with Dolohov's dark eyes one final time. There was torment in his gaze, along with untold fear, but he could have sworn he also saw satisfaction as the former Death Eater's lips mouthed his final intelligible word.
With the last of his strength, Dolohov thrust his wand upward, softly incanting in an alien language. As the foreign syllables rang out, his body came alight with white fire, devouring his flesh. As he burned to ash, the blight surrounding him reared back, and a demonic scream rang out, piercing through Harry's skull.
For the briefest of moments, perhaps a thousandth of a second, he saw an infinity of black tentacles spreading forth an endless web of darkness. Each appendage was formed of chitinous, asymmetrical shapes full of teeth, clacking mandibles and millions of eyes, each one burning with the hatred of a million holocausts.
As his bladder let go, spreading warmth down his trousers, Harry tore his gaze forward, to where the infinite blackness hung overhead, like a black moon. Radiant light began to pour from it, pushing back the pestilential darkness.
Desperately grasping to the last tattered shreds of his sanity, Harry summoned the last of his strength and pushed it all into his broom. He rocketed upwards, outracing the alien scream of rage and desolation which followed him, trying to ignore how the burst of light was beginning to fade away, and infinite rings of razor-sharp, disjointed teeth were closing in on its vacated space.
Screaming, urging every spare drop of speed from the broom, he flew into the dying light.
And knew no more.
X-X-X-X-X-X -|- X-X-X-X-X-X -|- X-X-X-X-X-X
Well, here it is, over eighteen months since the last chapter. Hope the resolution wasn't too disappointing. A short epilogue to tie up a few loose ends, and then this story will be complete.
Sorry about the wait, but large upheavals in my life created a void of creativity and motivation. However, I do believe I've reclaimed my mojo, so you should expect updates to all my work-in-progress stories at some point.
I think I'm going to tackle a few other projects before starting the epilogue for this story, so I don't know when it will surface. Time shall tell. Hopefully a month or two.
Thanks to my co-conspirators, Grinning Lizard, who should probably get co-writing credits, and T3t, who has been there to help from the start. The value of their help in knocking off the rust cannot be overstated.
Thanks for reading. I'd love to hear your reaction, whether it is positive, negative or indifferent. I reply (if not always in a timely fashion) to every signed review I receive.