The first time the curse hits, she screams, just like all the others. It's a terrible, blood-curdling scream; a scream filled with nothing but pain and agony. She flails and writhes within the Death Eaters' grasp, dulled brown hair wild and scraggly, skin pale and grey. By now, she's just a bundle of bones.
She has lost.
Her friends are all there, suspended in chains on the cold stonewalls of the dungeon. Seamus, Neville, Ginny, George Weasley—whoever was left, whoever they could round up. Even Professor McGonagall.
They were placed here just to watch the Dark Lord break Harry Potter one more time—to watch the Dark Lord rip everything away from Harry Potter one last time.
Weasley and Potter are chained directly opposite her, in perfect view. Their screams, their desperate, angry threats were even louder than hers.
The second time the curse is used, she screams again, but this time with more awareness, more anger. She's defiant, stubborn, just like she has always been. Her eyes are shut tightly, her face a mask of pure pain, but she thrashes a little less. She's gaining control.
She's always been in control, you think, as you stand next to your father and your mother, who grips your hand tightly. Your hand starts to sweat.
The third time the curse is used, she lets out a shrill, impulsive shriek—but then clamps her mouth tightly shut, refusing to cause her friends any more pain by hearing her scream. She's smart. She always knows what to do in each situation.
The fourth time comes soon after. Your aunt Bellatrix (by now, you feel disgusted that you're related to her) is angry that the mudblood is not breaking like the Dark Lord wants her to. If anything, Granger is getting stronger.
Now she lets out a gasp, and bites her lips so hard it starts to bleed. This time, you're the one who winces at this show of defiance. It's admirable that she's still thinking of her friends, even now.
By now, the threats and screams from what remained of the Golden Trio has quieted. They know what's coming. They also know what she's trying to do, so they just watch through veils of tears, trying to be strong for her.
It's working, they're saying to her. Your strength is making us stronger. Your efforts aren't wasted.
She smiles back at them through bloody lips. She's broken—everyone can see that—but she isn't really. She's still there, willing to fight back, just inside a broken body. You wish you could be brave enough to do that.
Bellatrix shrieks in frustration and casts the spell again, her sleeve flipping upwards to reveal the Dark mark she's so proud of. Her hair is wild and unruly and curly—a painful reminder of what Granger's hair used to be like—but of course there were a million differences.
This time, she never makes a sound. She screams silently, with her flat, glazed brown eyes, so wide with pain and fear and angst and love.
She's staring at Ron. She's staring at Harry, too, with a different sort of love, but with love nonetheless. Even when faced with torture, she still loves. She still feels something other than the pain.
The others, both Death Eaters and prisoners go wide-eyed with shock. No one has managed to not scream when hit with a cruciatus curse before. Some higher ranking Death Eaters give Bellatrix slightly contemptuous glances. The Dark Lord remains silent, but there's a tightness to his lips that wasn't there before.
Bellatrix raises her arm, and you can see the word begin to form on her pale, twisted lips. Granger is strong, but she's not that strong. One more curse, and she'll be back to screaming; you both know that. Yet she tenses herself, ready to test her self control one more time.
You can see it in her eyes—she knows she won't be able to stand that one more time. And if she screams, all her previous effort would be wasted.
And somehow, you just can't let that happen. You step forward silently, effectively stopping Bellatrix. All eyes turn to you.
"Draco, what are you doing?" Bellatrix hisses, her eyes dark orbs of insanity. She's angry, humiliated, crazy.
You ignore her, and look straight at Hermione. You don't love her—she's a mudblood who fought with you and humiliated you every chance she got. You don't even like her.
But she doesn't deserve this.
So you raise your wand and do the bravest thing you've ever done your whole life.
You kill her.
As she dies, there's relief in her eyes, mixed with a bit of shock and admiration. She never gets a chance to say thank you, but you know you don't deserve it anyway.
"Well done, Draco," the Dark Lord murmurs, pinning you in place with those slitted red eyes of his. You wish you had the strength to turn away, but you don't. You give him a respectful nod that you hope can pass as thankful (for his praise), too. It probably doesn't, but he lets it go.
The Death Eaters file out of the room, giving you glances that you can't be bothered to read. Only one glance is clear—Bellatrix's glare is hateful, yet at the same time forgiving.
You're my kin, so I'll forgive you just this once, she's saying.
You ignore her again and look down at your shoes, so new and well tailored and made from dragon-skin leather. In that moment, you hate your shoes so much. Your father pats you proudly on your back as he brushes past you.
"Come along, Draco," your mother murmurs. Her voice is full of pain. Your mother understands.
So you follow her. You're the last to leave the room. After all, none of these prisoners, these people you once knew, would ever leave this room alive. There's no point in communicating with them, but you do anyway.
You look up at where Weasley and Potter are strung up on the wall like cattle. They look at you, but without the hatred that you expected.
They almost look grateful. They understood, too.
And somehow, that understanding meant so much more to you than the Dark Lord's (and your father's) praise.