Hey, check it out. The rating has gone up. Be aware - we're looking at violence, strong language, adult content....
A/N: Hello everbody! ("Hi, Dr. Nick!") Finally got this chapter done! Stupid school - it takes up way too much time. A big thank you goes to everyone who reviewed the last chapter: MiniMe, Chisama3, Fanny chan, Draco Dormiens, Alex Destine, WildfireFriendship, chrisseee667, Fate's Child, SoulSister, EbonyKitsune, mistykasumi, Slashybubble, melodie, DragonMage, Jo, Draco Malfoy-N-Harry Potter, EbonyKitsune, mayc1234, Kelly, devious slytherin, Carmilla de Lestace, smitha-r, M-chan, thebrunetteditz, Cosmic, bluey-bluefalls, and SparkySparkles! Wow! That makes 121 reviews! I'm blushing over here!
There's some rather nasty bits in this chapter - just a warning. I think I had a little too much fun with the torture scenes. *shrugs* Oh, well. Have fun! Hope to hear from you! Don't lynch me!
Blaise stood up. He paced back and forth. He sat down. He stood up again, then paced some more. He sat back down, crossing his legs on the sleeping bag. He crossed them other way. He stood up.
"Zabini..." growled seventh-year Bane Relesky, glaring at the younger boy. "If you don't cut that out, I'm going to break both your legs just to keep you still!"
"Fuck you," Blaise snapped, resuming his pacing. Draco was missing. He could feel it. He never came to dinner and, now, the whole school was in lock-down. It couldn't have been just because of Potter's little episode. For one thing, Professor Snape didn't return with the rest of the teachers. He chewed his bottom lip, trying to ignore the panic gripping around his heart. He sat down again, reaching up a hand to tug on his short, dark hair. Draco was his best friend! Maybe one of his only real friends! This couldn't be happening - he didn't need this kind of stress.
"Dammit," he muttered, sinking back down against his sleeping bag.
"Worried about your little boyfriend?" Bane asked, snickering.
"He's not my boyfriend," Blaise replied, sitting up and glaring at the older boy. "Shut up."
"He probably got what was coming to him," Bane went on. "He's no doubt lying dead in a ditch some place, right where he belongs."
"I said, 'Shut up!'" Blaise yelled, balling up his fists. A sharp glance from Professor Vector stilled his attempt at rearranging the Bane's face. Instead, he let out a huffy sigh, crossing his arms over his chest and ignoring Bane's continued chuckling. Blaise looked away from his fellow Slytherins, sick with the sight of them.
He felt himself regretting not going with the others. His family wasn't affiliated with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, not having anything in particular they wanted. Besides, his mother's brother was a squib - an architect of some kind - and his great-grandmother on his father's side had been a muggle. This was common knowledge in Wizard High Society, so the Zabini's were never really been able to get choice positions in the Ministry, nor were they ever invited to upper-class social functions. Their nouveau riche status didn't help much - his grandfather made their fortune marketing some kind of invention to the muggles - microwave ovens, he thought they were called. Blaise didn't know what they did, but he knew that almost every muggle in the world had one, his family getting approximately six sickles for every sale.
Still, without his friends here, Blaise felt oddly isolated. Slytherins were an enigma - they often banded together and made tight friendships because the other Houses refused to associate with them. At the same time, old family rivalries and the constant need to out-plan, out-scheme, and one-up one another left them fragmented within their own House. At last count, he and Draco guessed six separate factions existed in the Slytherin House, each one at quiet war with the other five.
It made for interesting times, but only if you had the support of your group.
Right now, four of the six factions were gone, scattered to the four winds. Before the carrying out of The Plan and seeing the exciting aftermath, Blaise had possessed only vague notions of why Draco had grown so quiet in the course of recent months. Truth be told, even after the fact, he'd never felt certain that Draco played a role in it at all. Slytherins were nothing if not tight lipped. He had his suspicions, though. Now, the only two factions left in the House turned out to be the two that hated him the most. He knew he could have gone with the others, but didn't, because Draco couldn't leave and he didn't want his friend to be alone.
"Sweet irony," Blaise said under his breath, running his gaze across the room. He frowned, noticing a very upset looking Hermione Granger. Sure, he expected her to be worried about Potter, but if he was reading her expression right, she actually looked... guilty. To top it all off, the Weasel looked rather angry. Blaise raised an eyebrow, curiosity sparking inside him, thankfully replacing some of the worried dread. He started to rise to his feet, intent on going over to interrogate the two Gryffindors, when the Headmaster stormed into the room, drawing every one's attention with his unusually stiff posture and dark expression.
"Students," he said, voice carrying easily through the silent hall, "you will remain here for the rest of the evening. An incident has occurred that I will not elaborate on at this time. Rest assured that you are safe here and will remain thus. We have the situation completely under control. Mr. Potter is in good hands in the Hospital Wing and is in no danger of suffering any further ill effects related to this incident. I am leaving you under Professor McGonagall's direction for the remainder of the evening. Thank you." That said, he turned and walked right back out of the Great Hall. The moment his departure took effect, the hall filled with the urgent whispering of wild speculation.
Blaise glared in the direction of the vanished Headmaster, certain beyond a doubt that the situation was far from under control.
He'd thought lying was strictly a Slytherin trait these days.
* * * * * *
The clock on the wall ticked loudly with every passing second, the even tempo sounding clearly though the large, cavernous room. Other sounds occasionally punctuated the near-silence - coughs, the soft swish of robes against the stone floor as someone shifted their weight uneasily, sniffles, as well as the random finger snap. Remus cleared his throat.
"So..." he began, his voice cutting through the room. He let his eyes drift across the faces of the other three adults, Lucius retaining his position near the door, lost in thought, while Severus stood next to the older man, arms crossed over his chest, his face a mask of irritation. Sirius remained near Harry, watching his godson with concern. Harry was awake, but seemingly lost in his own little world. "So..." Remus repeated, running a hand down Sirius' arm, feeling the animagus intertwine their fingers together. "Nice weather we're having, eh?"
Silence met his question and Remus stifled a sigh. Years of loneliness after the loss of his friends and his mate's stint in prison should have made him more accustomed to the quiet of his own thoughts. Instead, he found himself craving conversation that much more. Quiet made his head hurt and his heart nervous. He looked over at Lucius.
"Read any good books lately?" he tried again. The older man glared at him.
"I have no desire to engage in inane chit-chat at the moment," he stated firmly, his wand clutched tightly in his hand.
"Oh, me neither," Remus said with a wave of his hand, "but I'll take inane chit-chat over oppressive silence any day."
"And that is one of many ways in which we differ," Lucius snapped. "Your entire family is not at stake at the moment."
"No, I suppose not," Remus conceded. "Your wife... she's something else, isn't she?"
Lucius sniffed. "To put it mildly, yes."
"Will she be able to rescue your son on her own?" Remus asked. Lucius nodded.
"She's powerful," he replied, "especially when our family is threatened."
"How powerful?" Sirius asked, raising his head to look at the man. Lucius narrowed his eyes at the former Gryffindors.
"Powerful enough," he said, his tone of voice clearly ending the conversation.
Remus sighed as the room fell back into an uncomfortable silence. He wondered if he should try to spark a conversation with Severus, when Harry let out a low moan. All four adults moved quickly around Harry's bed as the boy scrunched up his eyes and pulled his knees to his chest, biting furiously at his bottom lip.
"No..." the boy hissed, grabbing at the sheets, tossing his head. "No, no, no, no..."
"What's wrong?" Sirius asked, reaching out a hand to touch Harry's shoulder. The boy flinched away, letting out a small shout.
"My son," Lucius said softly, eyes wide. "What are they doing to my son?"
* * * * * *
Moving the bookcase back to its original position proved to be the straw the broke the camel's back as far as Draco's new abilities were concerned. He lay very still on the ground, convinced a large demon of some kind was repeatedly pounding on the inside of his skull, right between his eyes. Sleep, once such a good option, was out of the question. The pain in his body wouldn't allow it.
He'd just been thinking how nice it was that his captors had left him alone for so long when the door at the top of the stairs swung open, then closed again.
"Damn Murphy," Draco mumbled and turned his head so he could see, squinting in the darkness at the figure approaching him.
"Ah, good. You're awake." The voice was even timbered and smooth, the man speaking as though he was discussing the weather. "I'd hoped the others hadn't roughed you up so badly I would have to use charms to bring you back to consciousness. That's such a bother."
The man was tall, dressed in all black, a doctor's bag clutched in his hand as he walked down the stairs, each step deliberate and slow. He set the bag on the floor near the base of the stairs, then continued his leisurely movement across the room to where Draco lay still. He squashed the urge to scuttle backwards away from this person, knowing it would serve no purpose other than to amuse his captor. The man looked down at Draco, smiling wanly at him.
"How pretty you are," he said, voice soft and melodic. "Such a pretty boy. Tell me, lovely, do you know who I am?"
Draco didn't answer. He didn't recognize the man, but didn't want to say so, didn't want to speak to him at all. Fear gripped him at the way he was looking at him, the man's eyes dull, revealing nothing. The man smiled again.
"A quiet one, hmmm?" he asked. "We will change that, beauty. We'll hear from you soon enough." He crouched down next to Draco, taking his chin in his hand. "You're very fortunate, you know," the man told him. "Those who hired me wanted only the best for you. I am the very best. I can teach you so much, give you so much. I will make you feel the very essence of life itself. Do you know what life is?"
Draco stared at the stranger, unable to move away from his piercing stare. He blinked rapidly, trying to break the look, but it was no good. The hand on his chin tightened its grip.
"Life is pain, lovely," the man said after a long moment. "One painful stretch after another. I understand pain. I know how to give it and how to take it away. You'll come to need it, in time, need to feel the agony sweeping through you, just to function. I'll be your teacher, child. I'll teach you what life really means." The man stood up suddenly, pushing Draco's head back in the process, cracking it against the hard, stone floor. Draco held in a hiss, squeezing his eyes shut.
"Where are the missing students?" the man asked, his voice suddenly authoritative. Draco blinked in surprise at the question, seemingly coming out of nowhere. Fear gripped him and he forced himself up and back, away from the man. The man raised an eyebrow, then drew out his wand.
"Crucio." His tone sounded almost bored as the lancing pain shot through Draco's body. He felt himself contorting spastically and his brain went into a state of shock, unable to handle all the sensations hitting it at once. Draco ground his teeth together, forbidding himself to scream at all costs. After an eternity, the curse ended and Draco lay shaking on the floor. "Well?" asked the man.
Draco jerked about uncontrollably, his eyes dancing with dots of light. "G-go t-to hell!" he choked out, twisting himself away from the man. He laughed.
"So, he does speak." The man walked over to him, resting a foot on his side. He looked down at Draco's bruised ribs and frowned. "Sloppy, that," he said mournfully. "It looks as though somebody was just hitting you with their fists, with no regard to how a body should be treated." He leaned down, pressing his hand into Draco's side. The young Slytherin balled his hands into fists to keep from crying out. It hurt a thousand times worse that it had just moments before. The man sighed and shook his head, the stood back up.
"Now, let's try this again," the man said, his voice menacing in its pleasantness. "Where are the missing students?"
"Fuck you," Draco gasped. The man chuckled and pointed his wand at the boy.
"Crucio." Draco managed once again not to scream, strictly through strength of will alone, then lay panting on the floor, a roaring sound in his ears.
"I've never much cared for the Crutacious curse as an exclusive use of torture," the man continued as if nothing had happened. He kneeled down by Draco's body, picking up his left hand, almost caressing it. "It's too clean. What's the fun in ripping screams from your body when I don't get to hear the cracking of bones or smell the scent of your blood as it drips from your veins?" He stroked Draco's fingers with his own, the boy trembling next to him. "Now then, one nice effect it does have is a to create a hyper-sensitivity to the sensation of pain. Would you like me to show you?"
"N-not really..." Draco muttered, his jaw shaking with each movement.
"Hmm... no desire to learn new things," the man said gently, shaking his head. "That's the problem with your generation. Consider this a favor then." He looked curiously at Draco's hand. "Now, which one?" he mused, running a thumb along Draco's fingers. "They're all so lovely. Ah, well." He touched each finger in turn with the words he spoke next. "Eenie, meenie, mineie... moe." The man grabbed Draco's ring finger and twisted it, snapping it back at an unnatural angle. Draco bit back a cry, his top teeth breaking through the thin skin of his lip, a trickle of blood pouring into his mouth. He let out a low moan, closing his eyes.
"No, no, no..." the man whispered, dropping Draco's broken hand back on the ground, reaching down to stroke Draco's tear-stained cheeks. "No whimpering," he told him kindly. "It's so unsatisfying. Let me hear you, child. Let me hear you scream."
"N-never," Draco said brokenly. "Never."
"Never say never, baby," the man said. He sighed and sat back on his heals, looking Draco critically up and down. "It's so rare I get a chance to work on one so young. I want to do this right - make it memorable." He stood up, walking over to the nondescript black bag he'd brought with him, carrying it back over to Draco, setting it on the floor next to him and kneeling once more. He opened the case with a snap, calmly rifling through its contents, making occasional disapproving noises. "No good," he said softly, pushing something out of the way. "Too soon for that. Hmm... we'll use this later, I think. What would be best... ah!" He pulled out a sharp, wicked looking dagger, the hilt dotted in silver skulls. The man reached out a hand, running a finger along Draco's broken lip. It came away red with blood.
"Beautiful," he said, rubbing the blood between his fingers. "It's such a lovely color. I don't know why you Slytherins prefer green. Perhaps I can make a convert out of you yet." He stared down at Draco's body as an artist might look at a canvas, his eyes hungry. Draco felt himself breathing faster as the blade was traced along the curve of his neck, the moved down, the point pressing against his chest, just above his heart.
"Shhh..." he hissed as Draco started to move, trying to squirm away. The man's other hand came down Draco's chest, holding him still. "I won't kill you, don't worry," he told him. "That's not my job. Not my job at all. Now, just hush... nothing but screams child, nothing but screams."
The knife slid into the skin on his abdomen, agonizingly slow. Draco cried out softly, trying to move away, but in his weakened state, the hand holding him still was enough to prevent it. The blade burned, the metal ice-cold as it went deeper into his body, the man moving the weapon gently back and forth as he eased it in. "Don't want to hit anything vital," Draco dimly heard the man say through his pain-hazed mind. "You should pay attention." He leaned over Draco and all the young Slytherin could see was a pair black, soulless eyes, his own glassy-eyed stare reflecting back at him. The blade was swiftly removed and Draco cried out again, louder than before. The man nodded sagely.
"Good," he murmured. "Very good. A little louder next time, I think." The blood from the wound welled-up out of his body, not enough to make him bleed to death, but still enough to coat his skin. The man ran his fingers through the blood, raising his now bright-red hand for Draco's inspection. "Isn't that just lovely?" he asked, voice tinged with pride and awe. "Red is such an amazing color - it invokes so many emotions and feelings." He leaned over Draco, once more running his blood-soaked hand along his face. "Why don't you tell me what you're feeling now?"
Draco blinked his eyes several times, determined not to show any weakness to this man if he could prevent it. "Hate," he hissed, surprised at how well the word came out. The man smiled.
"Hate, love, passion, anger... it's all the same," the man said. "It's all red, like our life force. So very red."
"You're s-sick," Draco ground out. The man shrugged.
"Perhaps I am the only one that is well," he suggested, wiping the blood off his hand and into Draco's hair. "I can do this for days, you know." He placed the blade back on Draco's chest, tip pointed straight at his throat. "I can cut you until all of your skin is stained red, the little slices through your body pouring out this the most beautiful of dyes. I can burn you, freeze you, break you, beat you, just for starters. There are so many kinds of torture available - it's really an under-appreciated art."
"P-poor you," Draco said, gritting his teeth.
"It's good that you understand," the man said mildly. "It will make all of our time together that much more enjoyable. So many ways I can hurt you... which would do the most damage, I wonder?"
Draco swallowed hard, fearful of what was next. The blade vanished back into the bag, but there was no sense of relief. Instead of pulling out another weapon, the man raised himself up, then straddled Draco's hips, sending an all-new sensation of fear and panic running through him. The man brushed Draco's hair away from his neck, fanning it out to the sides. "A halo," he said quietly, "just like an angel." He grabbed each of Draco's wrists in one hand, pulling his arms above his head.
"N-no!" Draco cried out, struggling to get out from under the weight pinning him down. "No! Please, don't..." The man laughed.
"Oh, we're not ready for that sort of torture, yet," he said, sounding genuinely amused. He reached over into the bag, pulling out what looked like a sharpened metal spike and a wooden board. "We'll get there soon enough." He slid the board under Draco's hands, putting them together, one on top of the other, palm to back, palms facing up. The spike flashed in the air as the man brought it down, driving it through both of Draco's hands and into the board.
"Perfect," the man said cheerfully.
* * * * * *
Slytherins are, as a general rule, considered a sneaky bunch.
There is certain reputation of mystery and subterfuge one should aspire to maintain once one is sorted into the House of the Snake. It's all part of the mystique - the cloak and dagger antics that make up their daily lives. Nothing is straightforward, nothing is what it seems. A truth is always a half-truth, wrapped in a lie, and served on a platinum platter. A Slytherin never does exactly what they say they will and a Slytherin never says exactly what they mean to say. Blaise knew this of course.
He just didn't care at the moment.
Stepping over a surprised looking Ravenclaw second year, he continued his beeline straight across the Great Hall, right over to where the Gryffindors were huddled together, all worried about their housemate. Their whispered conversations fell silent at his approach, eyes turning to him with hateful glares, the odd, rude hand-gesture popping up here and there. He ignored it all in favor of glancing at one, specific bushy-haired prefect, who actually looked a little afraid of him. He almost smirked, but kept it in check.
Before any of the Gryffindors could come out with one of their cliches in a can for all occasions (such as, "What do you want?" or "You gotta problem, snake?"), he raised his hand and crooked a finger at Granger, indicating she should go with him over to a more empty space in the hall.
She rose to her feet and followed without a word.
Certain they were out of hearing range of the majority of the student body, Blaise looked fiercely at her, his expression stormy. "What's going on?" he asked simply, without preamble.
"I don't know what your talking about," she replied evasively. Blaise rolled his eyes.
"Granger, I'm a Slytherin," he said with a sigh. "I can see a lie coming ten miles away. Be honest with me."
Hermione pursed her lips. "Malfoy was attacked," she answered finally. The knot in Blaise's stomach tightened.
"Is he dead?"
"I don't know," Hermione said honestly. "Nobody knows. Last I heard, they couldn't find him."
"I see..." Blaise said, trying to keep his voice steady and controlled. A vision of Draco lying dead somewhere, all alone, hovered at the forefront of his mind. A lump settled in his throat and he took a deep breath. "What does this have to do with Potter?"
"I'm not at liberty to say," Hermione replied. Blaise looked critically at her, then decided not to push and nodded.
"I understand." He closed his eyes briefly, then looked back at the Prefect. "Thank you for telling me."
There was nothing left to say. Hermione turned and walked back to her friends and Blaise went back to his sleeping bag. The other Slytherins were shooting angry glares in his direction, but Blaise ignored them, lying back and closing his eyes.
* * * * * *
Harry thrashed on the bed, his mouth opening with silent screams, twisting and pulling away from the hands that tried to restrain him. Sirius was shouting his name, trying to get Harry's attention, but it was of no use. Lucius and Severus made a buffer on the other side of the bed, to prevent Harry from rolling off. Remus shook his head, then looked behind himself at the still-unconscious nurse. Without hesitation, he left Harry's side, pulling out his wand, pointing it down towards the sleeping Madame Pomfrey.
"Ennervate!" shouted the werewolf, a bright, white light shooting from his wand and striking the nurse. Nothing happened. "I'm not having good luck with spells tonight," Remus muttered, frowning. He looked over at Lucius. "How strong of a spell did your wife use?" he demanded.
Lucius looked down at the fallen Madame Pomfrey and sighed, tugging on Severus' sleeve. "We'll cast the spell, all three of us together," Lucius told him, drawing out his wand. Severus followed suit, Sirius half-watching them from Harry's bedside, trying to keep the distressed boy from hurting himself. The three men circled the nurse, wands pointed down, and, at Lucius' nod, cast the spell simultaneously.
The effect was instantaneous. Madame Pomfrey shot awake, sitting up in a flash, eyes wide in shock. She blinked at the three men, raising a hand to touch the goose egg on the side of her head from when she'd hit the floor. She glared at Lucius. "Your wife cursed me!" she spat, furious.
"No time for that now," Remus told her, reaching down to help her rise to her feet. "Harry's in some kind of distress. You need to help him." Madame Pomfrey stood shakily on her feet, then looked over at Harry, her face going white, her eyes wide.
"Him!" she shrieked, pointing at Sirius. "Black! Here!"
Sirius shrank back, ducking his head, shaggy hair falling in his eyes. "Oops," he said sheepishly, glancing at Remus.
"Yes, yes, Black, here," Remus said quickly, pushing the nurse over towards Harry and his Godfather. "Don't worry about that. Let's just tend to Harry, okay?"
Madame Pomfrey gave the convicted murderer a dark glance before turning her attention to Harry, who continued to spasm in obvious pain, the source of which could not be determined. She held his hand, murmuring a few spells under her breath, feeling his pulse, checking his temperature, a performing other such tasks associated with healing the sick. Finally, she looked up, glaring at the four men, Lucius and Severus in particular. "I told you he wasn't to sleep!" she snapped. "We knew it could have disastrous effects!"
"But he wasn't asleep," Sirius interjected, barely keeping from shrinking back at the look the nurse shot at him. "Well, he was," he amended, "but he woke up again. He was still awake, when this attack started."
Madame Pomfrey scowled. "The connection between the two of them must be deeper than we first thought," she said. Lucius closed his eyes.
"So someone is really torturing my son as we speak."
The nurse glanced at him, reaching a hand out to rest on his arm, then sighed, having nothing to say. She looked over at Remus. "What's happened since I've been asleep?" She ran her eyes around the room. "Where's Lady Malfoy?"
"She went to go find Draco," Remus explained. "Harry was able to talk to him and he could tell us where he was being kept."
"She went there alone?" Madame Pomfrey asked, incredulous.
"She'll be fine," Lucius said shortly. "She just needs to get there in time."
All five of them glanced down as Harry let out a sharp cry, squeezing his eyes shut, his hands gripping into the sheets. Sirius laid a hand on his head, pushing the hair out of his face. Severus bit his lip and shook his head.
"She better hurry," he said softly. No one replied, but everyone agreed.
* * * * * *
Trolls are dumb.
It's an undeniable fact. Trolls are truly, magnificently stupid. They are, however, very, very stubborn. When given a task, they will do that task, unyielding and without fail, until they are given a different task or they die. The task needs to be simple, though. For example, a good task to give a troll might be, "Smash this building," or "Stomp on this person," or, perhaps the best task of all, "Guard that door."
Skrietrag had that final task. "Guard that door." That was what he was told to do and that was what he was doing. Actually, the full instructions he'd been given had been, "Guard that door and kill anyone who wants to walk through it and isn't me or my ilk," but Skrietrag, in his limited troll-logic, knew that was simply an understood addendum. Not in so many words, of course, but he still understood what he was supposed to do.
"Guard that door."
He'd done a good job so far. No one had gone through the door that wasn't supposed to. In fact, no one who wasn't supposed to go through the door had even attempted it yet, so to be fully honest, Skrietrag was feeling a bit putout. Trolls, in addition to being completely dim, were also unarguably violent creatures, most content when they were busy smashing the non-troll things that ran around. Actually, smashing troll-things was fun, too, although they occasionally smashed back. But smashing things and getting smashed by things - well, that was a regular troll holiday.
Skrietrag really wanted to smash someone or something.
So, when the female-human-thing suddenly appeared out of thin air right in front of him, his rather large troll heart started to beat faster with the anticipation of smashing. He grinned in the unique way that only trolls can grin, raising his hammer, looking forward to the squish-crunch sound non-troll human-things made when smashed. He raised the mighty weapon high, preparing to bring it down, until the funny feeling that something was wrong halted his movement.
Human-things usually made high-pitched screeching noises right before they went squish-crunch. This human-thing did not. In fact, this human-thing was looking at Skrietrag with an expression that was making the troll's stomach feel bad and fluttery, like when he'd eaten too many of the human-things he'd squish-crunched at a village one time. The hammer faltered in the air and fell at his side. Skrietrag squinted at the human-thing, then sniffed.
The hammer fell to the ground and Skrietrag stepped back. This was not a human-thing that would go squish-crunch if he smashed it. This was a not-human-thing that would be squish-crunching him if he tried to smash it. The not-human-thing stared at him for a moment more, then calmly walked past him and through the door.
Trolls are dumb.
But they're not that dumb.
Skrietrag picked up his hammer and forgot about guarding the door, fleeing into the night.
* * * * * *
It felt like he was floating in a haze - a haze of pure pain and agony. Draco stared up at the ceiling, his eyes glassy and unseeing, body limp against the cold ground he couldn't feel. He felt nothing, yet everything, could feel every injury - every purpling bruise, every bleeding cut, every inch of crisping skin, burned just minutes ago, the pieces of broken bone in his body, scraping against other pieces, hearing the grinding in his ears. His chest burned with every shaky breath, skin prickling as though a million needles surrounded him on all sides while his jaw ached with agony from clenching his teeth so often. His mouth still tasted like blood, coming from his torn bottom lip or from somewhere inside, he couldn't tell. There was nothing else - nothing but the pain.
"Little one?" asked the man in a sing-song voice, sitting on the floor next to him. "Oh, little one? Are you still there? Can you hear me?" If Draco could hear him, he didn't reply. The dark man frowned, clutching Draco's broken hand in his fist. The boy didn't even flinch. The man frowned again, then picked up his wand.
"Ennervate!" he shouted. Draco jerked, his eyes blinking rapidly as the real world broke through and added to the pain. He whined and squirmed, trying to get away - although from what was uncertain. His body shouted back at him in protest, his naked skin stuck to the floor in a pool of congealing blood. The man let go of Draco's hand, reaching up to run his fingers through the boy's tangled hair. "You stopped screaming for me," the man told him, his voice filled with disappointment. "It was so beautiful and you stopped." His hand drifted down to caress Draco's neck. "I'm sure your throat is torn and rough. Good screams do that. Would you like some water?"
Draco couldn't answer, couldn't comprehend the questions anymore. Each sound coming out of the man's mouth registered as nothing more than noise, a biting noise that made his head throb with each syllable. Instinct told him to pull away, to get away from this man, but the firm hand clutching his hair and the fiery pain everywhere in his body prevented his escape. He stared at the man above him, everything appearing to be in slow motion. The man smiled.
"You're understanding, aren't you child?" he asked. "This pain, it's a part of you now. You'll never be able to escape it." The man rose from floor and walked back over to his dreaded bag, pulling out a small bottle of water and a clean sponge. He came back to Draco, kneeling again at his side, dampening the sponge with the water and putting it to Draco's parched lips, crackled with drying blood. The water trickled down his throat, burning across the torn, abused skin and muscle, making him choke. He kept drinking though, something in his body telling him he needed this water, no matter how hard it was to get down. Just when he got used to drinking again, the man took the sponge away, tossing it carelessly across the room where it fell among other forgotten things from the evening - knives, metal skewers, the lighter, a jagged piece of glass - all bloodied. Draco let out a little gasp at the loss of the water, squeezing his eyes shut, feeling them sting with tears that wouldn't fall - he had no tears left at this point. The man chuckled.
"Now, then," he mused, sitting back again on his heals, "I've cut you, burned you, sliced you, skewered you, beat you... what could we do next?" He scratched his chin, deep in thought. He snapped his fingers. "Of course!" he said happily. "How could I have forgotten chains? Hanging from the ceiling - it's a whole different experience. I think you'll really enjoy it."
The man stood up and walked away, Draco closing his eyes again. He waited for the feeling of being dragged to his feet, the clinking sound of metal links as they were wrapped around his broken wrists. He found himself anticipating the pain that would come. He could feel his teeth chattering.
It never did.
Strange sounds filled the tiny room - shouting and yelling, the boom of curses being cast and deflected, cries of pain and the thump of a body. Draco forced his eyes open, blinking in confusion, his muddled brain not understanding what was happening. Suddenly, a new face appeared in his field of vision, the visage wavering briefly while Draco tried to focus his eyes. The face slowly cleared and Draco gave a small gasp.
"Mum?" he mouthed, no sound spilling across his cracked lips, his throat too damaged to cooperate. Narcissa smiled warmly at her son, putting her fingers to his temple in a painless touch.
"Yes, my little dragon," she said, her voice full of caring and love. She leaned down, placing a small kiss on his forehead. "Rest now," she told him. "You're safe."
Draco closed his eyes and fell into a dreamless sleep.
* * * * * *
Someone was whispering, just outside of hearing range. Draco cracked an eye open, then managed to get the other to open as well. The room was dim, but warm and dry, something he was grateful for. He turned his head towards the hushed voices, wincing a little at the pain it caused, and immediately found his gaze drawn to a pair of bright green eyes, hidden behind thick spectacles. Harry gave him a small smile from where he leaned back on the bed next to him, a smile tinted with worry and wariness.
"Hi," he whispered. Draco started to reply, but Harry held up his hand. "Don't try to talk," he said. "Your throat..."
Draco nodded slightly, blinking at the other boy. Instead, he took in Harry's haggard appearance and raised an eyebrow. You look like death, he thought to him. Harry fixed him with a blank stare.
"Me?" he replied, still speaking softly. A curtain was pulled up around their beds, blocking them from the view of the others in the room. "What about you?"
Haven't looked in a mirror yet, Draco replied. He held up his tightly bandaged hands and grimaced. I don't really want to, either.
Harry shook his head. "You're a beautiful sight," he said warmly. Draco could see tears in his eyes. "I thought they might have killed you."
Not yet, Draco thought dryly. Harry chuckled softly and closed his eyes. The curtain was slowly pulled back to reveal several adults. Madame Pomfrey walked over to Draco, setting aside a small ice pack she'd been holding to her head, and started poking at his bandages.
"It's good you're awake," she told him, her voice kept carefully low. "Don't keep him up," she warned Harry. "He needs his sleep."
"I won't," the boy promised, also looking exhausted. Madame Pomfrey nodded and stepped aside, Draco's parents and Professor Snape taking her place. She watched a moment as the three adults started talking softly to the grievously injured boy, Severus hovering like a mother hen. It made her smile and she picked up her ice pack again, leaving the family alone for a while. Professor Dumbledore stood silently on the other side of the room, Remus and Sirius at his side.
"How is he, Poppy?" Dumbledore asked. The nurse shook her head, frowning.
"He takes forever to heal, Headmaster," she said. "He doesn't respond well to magical restoratives. It took him almost two months to recover from the hippogriff bite he received two years ago." She glanced back at where the injured boy lay and sighed. "I would venture at least a month before he can leave the hospital wing, probably four to six months after that before he's completely healed. It will be a long, slow recovery for him, physically. Mentally... I can't even begin to guess how he's suffered."
"But at least he will recover," Dumbledore said, looking relieved. "That in it of itself is a wonderful miracle." The three other adults nodded in agreement.
"Any word on who it was that kidnapped him in the first place?" Sirius asked. Dumbledore shook his head.
"It's unknown," he replied. "Lucius Malfoy has many enemies. It could have been any of them. From what Lady Malfoy told me, the only person she found with Draco was the man torturing him. He didn't know anything about the people who hired him. Those sorts of people don't ask many questions, if they wish to remain gainfully employed."
"We should question him," Remus suggested.
"I do not believe that is an option any longer," Dumbledore said darkly. He looked over to where Narcissa was sitting next to her son, soothingly stroking his face. "I believe the Lady said the man was 'taken care of,' so to speak."
"Ah." Remus and Sirius looked decidedly uncomfortable.
"Well, regardless, the boys need their rest," Madame Pomfrey told them. She looked at Sirius and Remus. "You two should head over to the Great Hall."
"Yes," Dumbledore agreed. "I think it's safe to return the students to the dorms now. It's almost morning, but I doubt any of them have slept. If you two could tell Professor McGonagall what has happened here, she will make an appropriate announcement to alleviate their fears."
"And don't forget, Remus," Madame Pomfrey added, "that the full moon is only four days away."
"I don't forget things like that very often," Remus told her, looking a bit weary. Sirius sighed, then closed his eyes, shuddering into dog form before their very eyes. The nurse glared at the dog.
"And shame on you for not telling me what was going on," she scolded, shaking her finger at him. Snuffles let out a very pathetic whine and hid between Remus' legs. The werewolf rolled his eyes at his mate's antics.
"Wimp," he said, reaching down and scratching the spot between his ears. Snuffles thumped his tail on the floor then led the way out of the hospital wing, Remus following close behind. Dumbledore smiled, then started to follow.
"Where are you off to?" the nurse asked him. The Headmaster turned back and sighed.
"I have some things to wrap up," he said. "I'm certain I will be getting worried letters from the parents once word of this breaks out. I need to have a response ready. Goodnight, Poppy."
"Goodnight, Albus," the nurse replied and the Headmaster gave her a quick nod before disappearing out the door.
* * * * * *
Dumbledore closed the door to his office behind him, giving a small nod to his old friend who was sitting calmly in one of the chairs in front of the Headmaster's desk. Dumbledore walked around his desk, taking in seat at his own chair, Fawkes flying off his perch to sit on his master's shoulder.
"Albus," Moody replied in kind. Both men sighed.
"Well, this didn't go well," Dumbledore began, his voice kept carefully even.
"Not especially, no," Moody said with a half-shrug. "It wasn't a total loss, though. We were able to determine that Draco Malfoy does not have intimate knowledge into his father's activities at this time. Perhaps in a few years... Should we try again?"
"No, I don't think that's wise," Dumbledore replied, tapping his fingers on his desk. "I don't think we can risk the Lady's wrath again. She's not one to cross."
Moody sniffed. "Feh. She's a liability. We need to remove her."
Dumbledore laughed, shaking his head. "Then we would truly be lost," he told his friend. "She's bound by certain rules, a very strict code. Protecting her family is the limit of her abilities and even that can't be stretched too far. Regardless, she's not a force to be reckoned with. No, we'll leave the Malfoy family alone, for now."
"But the other Slytherins..."
"Fair game," Dumbledore said with a nod. "Though, we'll have to wait. If we act too soon, we risk tipping our hand. It's best to let things lie for a time. Voldemort is still rather weak and we have Mr. Potter on our side. There's no rush."
"It's a shame we lost our man," Moody said regretfully. "He was a valuable asset, very good at what he does. He determined very quickly what Mr. Malfoy did and did not know." Moody gave his friend a twisted grin. "We let him have free range after that. I didn't get a chance to look at the boy. How bad is he?"
"He'll be long recovering," Dumbledore informed him, then frowned at the other man. "I wish you hadn't allowed him to put the boy in such a bad state. While I wanted the information from him, I didn't want him permanently damaged. He could still be of use to us down the road, but only if we garner his trust."
"If you have such reservations, then maybe next time you could dirty your own hands, for a change," Moody snapped, crossing his arms over his chest.
"You know that's not possible," Dumbledore returned harshly. "I have a position of authority that I've worked hard to maintain. I can't afford to be implicated in any darker activities, especially if I am to gain the trust of the general public. These things will become necessary once the Voldemort problem is resolved and the Ministry is discredited. My temporary removal thanks to Lord Malfoy's interference with Tom Riddle's diary three years ago nearly put all of my plans in jeopardy. I have just as much reason to be unhappy with the Malfoy family as you do, so I understand your dislike of them. However, I won't have you carrying out personal grudges on my agenda! Understood?"
"Understood," Moody grumbled.
Dumbledore nodded sharply. "Good."
* * * * * *
A warm breeze blew across Draco's face, the cozy Caribbean sun beating down on his body. He adjusted his sunglasses, shifting on the soft beach chair to get more comfortable. The sound of waves gently lapping onto the sand relaxed him down to his toes. He sighed happily.
"So, this is Martinique," Harry remarked next to him. Draco pulled his sunglasses down away from his eyes, turning his head to look at the other boy. Harry was similarly stretched out on a beach chair, dressed only in red and gold swimming trunks, his sunglasses sliding down his nose as he glanced at the beach. "I understand now why you want to own a villa here."
"It's beautiful, isn't it?" Draco replied. Harry turned to him and flashed a smile.
"More than beautiful," he said, glancing at Draco, "and I'm quite content with the company." Draco felt himself blushing a bit self-consciously, suddenly wishing he was wearing more than his own swim suit in Slytherin colors.
"We must be dreaming then," Draco said sadly, gazing up at the azure sky. "I look a wreck in the real world. I can't even talk."
"You'll be well soon enough," Harry replied. Draco looked back at him and smiled.
"Let's hope," he replied. Harry let out a small sigh.
"Drake, your parents..."
"They're..." Harry paused, searching around for the right word. "They're... amazing!"
"Thanks," Draco replied with a grin.
"Seriously!" Harry said, sitting up. "Your parents are really, well... nice!"
Draco frowned. "You don't have to sound so surprised."
"Sorry," Harry said sheepishly. "It's just, the only time I've ever seen your parents, I don't think they were in the best of moods."
"Were they in public?" Draco asked.
"Then they weren't," Draco finished. "My mother, especially - she hates crowds, hates loud, gaudy events. We're probably the only family in high society who does not host at least one major celebration every year. Luckily, we're rich enough to get away with it."
Harry laughed and leaned back down against his chair. "Your mom... she's really something else, isn't she?"
"To put it mildly," Draco said, glancing up.
"No, I mean it," Harry said a little more firmly, turning to look directly at Draco. "She's really something else - literally."
Draco shrugged. "I don't know," he replied. "I never asked."
"You never asked?" Harry looked incredulous. Draco just shrugged again.
"Well, where's she from?" Harry asked. "Did she and you dad meet at Hogwarts?"
"Oh, no. Not at all," Draco said with a chuckle. "Mom didn't go to Hogwarts. She's not from around here, I don't think. I think her family is from somewhere overseas."
"Aren't you the least bit curious?" Draco smiled at his friend.
"A little," he admitted. "But, I know all I'm supposed to know right now. When my mom thinks it's time to tell me the whole truth, she will. I'm patient."
"That would drive me crazy," Harry said, shaking his head. He sighed, his expression growing more serious. "I'm sorry, by the way," he said softly.
"For everything that's happened recently," Harry replied.
"It's not your fault," Draco told him, confused as to why Harry was apologizing. "I know you're the Boy Wonder and all, but even you can't stop the evils of everyone."
"No," Harry said shaking his head. "I meant, I'm sorry... about before... being mad at you, not listening to your side of the story and jumping to conclusions. I still don't understand what your role was in everything with your housemates disappearing, but I do understand why you didn't want to tell me. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have gotten angry like that."
Draco sighed, standing up and crossing the short distance to Harry's lounger, waving him to scoot over, which Harry did, although he looked quite surprised. Draco sat down next to him, stretching out along the lounger. It was a tight fit, the two of them on the same beach chair, but they managed it. Draco casually rolled on his side and put an arm across Harry's chest, looking down at the taller boy and smiling.
"Harry..." he began slowly. Harry swallowed.
"Yes?" he squeaked.
"I think our little spat is the least right now," Draco continued, then leaned down and placed a small kiss right on Harry's lips. "But thank you for the apology."
"You're welcome," Harry managed, eyes wide. Draco leaned down and kissed him again. It was sweet and warm, a very chaste kiss, little more than a pressing of their lips together, but it felt wonderful. Draco pulled back and Harry let out a little gasp. "This is... sudden," he said, licking his lips. Draco smiled again.
"I'm just finding that out that being patient isn't all it's cracked up to be, sometimes," Draco replied. "Who knows what will happen in the next few years? I almost died tonight. I don't want to have any regrets." He furrowed his brow, suddenly looking concerned. "Is this okay?"
Harry blinked. "Hell, yeah!" he said vehemently. "Trust me, this is good!"
"'Yes,'" Draco corrected. Harry started at him. "Not, 'yeah,'" he explained. Harry rolled his eyes.
"Ass," he told him and Draco laughed, starting to lean down for another kiss, when, without warning, the world wavered in Draco's vision. "What's wrong?" Harry asked.
"I believe the Banshee is trying to wake me up to take my medicine," Draco growled. "She has rotten timing."
"I guess you better go," Harry said regretfully. Draco sighed and nodded, sitting up.
"Do you think you can hold on to the dream until I get back?" Draco asked. Harry shrugged.
"I can try," he said, "but don't be surprised if when you come back, we're in a tiny closet under the stairs at my Aunt and Uncle's house."
"Super," Draco said dryly, then closed his eyes, the fresh sea air replaced by the scent of lemon antiseptic, the sound of the waves replaced by the rustling of the cloth and the clacking of shoes. Draco opened his eyes to see Madame Pomfrey hovering over him, a hand on his shoulder.
"Sorry to wake you," she said mildly, a small smirk on her face. She glanced over at Harry in the next bed. "You two seemed to be having a nice dream."
Draco couldn't reply vocally, but he hoped his glare was getting the message across loud and clear. The nurse just smirked a little more, then held a vial filled with a green liquid to his mouth. He drank it down, wincing at the bitter taste.
"Go back to sleep now," she told him, then bustled off.
Draco sat back, feeling the potion work its way through his body, numbing some of the pain in his throat. He knew it was to make him feel better, to heal his wounds. Much of the pain had vanished, so he should be happy about it.
He could only feel dread.
Lifting his bandaged hands, he clasped them together, biting back a hiss as a fresh wave of pain wracked through his body. The knot in his stomach loosened with the sensation and he gave a sigh of relief. He closed his eyes, continuing the press the damaged appendages together, feeling then agonizing throbbing with every beat of his heart.
"Life," he whispered hoarsely, before pulling his hands apart and relaxing, heading back to his dream with Harry.
To be concluded in the Epilogue...
A/N: Hee. Almost done! Just a little Epilogue to tie up a few of the loose ends. Some of them will remain loose, though, just to tick you guys off. ^_^ Like I said, I think I had too much fun with the torture scenes. It's kind of scary that they came out so well. I don't know what that says about me. Anyway, feedback greatly appreciated! I hope to hear from you!
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