Charlie Weasley had never really realized before just how much stock, how much faith, he had held in his childhood school until it was reduced to its current state of rubble and ruin. He hadn’t held the same sorts of ideas that most of his fellow classmates had, that Hogwarts was better than home. It was nice, but its comforts – the beds, the food, the camaraderie – had all been things he’d grown up knowing at the Burrow. It wasn’t all that different, unless you counted the classes and homework, and those certainly weren’t always changes for the better.
But now he could see the skeleton of the castle, stripped bare and left to rot, and he understood what those others had meant when they said it was home. There was a physical, aching heaviness inside of him as he surveyed the entrance hall and the piles of stone and mortar that littered it, motes of dust still filtering slowly through the air as though the battle had happened only yesterday.
Charlie was one of the lucky ones, though – he knew that much. At least he was moving, working, doing something, even if it wasn’t necessarily something of his own volition. Others had been taken into the dungeons and locked up, cited as “dangerous” to the Death Eaters, and whatever sadistic cause they were now working for (did they even know, themselves?); he had, by a miracle that couldn’t be called small, escaped that particular punishment. Working as a laborer to restore the castle wasn’t great, but anything had to be better than the alternative.
It was, at least, what got him through the day; that, and a small mantra he had adopted, which grew weaker as the days stretched on.
I am a Weasley. Charlie Weasley. I am not one of them. I will get through this.
His family surely was working on a plan. He knew them well, his father and his mother and his brothers; they would come back for him. Just how soon, though, he had no way of knowing. And this, perhaps, was the worst – waiting on something he was no longer sure was inevitable.
An angry shout broke the relative silence at the precise moment, making him jump badly and jerking him clean out of his thoughts. The hall echoed oddly, not as it used to; noises bounced off the room’s obstacles and reached his ears in a slightly unpleasant way.
Charlie spun around guiltily before realizing he probably should have adopted his normal tactic of pretending to be invisible, hoping that whatever angry Death Eater was currently shouting wasn’t actively seeking him. A bit of loose stone clattered loudly to the floor, skittering away from him, but it went unnoticed by anyone else.
The voice wasn’t yelling at him, reprimanding him for something he didn’t do and yet was still his fault. This time it was directed at a rather familiar witch, across the hall, towards the door that had once led to the corridor where the entrance to the Hufflepuff common room was located. It was Professor Trelawney; Charlie quickly ducked behind one of the larger rubble heaps as the Death Eater strode past; faceless underneath the mask, he couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman, but the anger in his or her body spoke past gender.
“What are you doing?” the voice snarled, and now Charlie could tell that it was a man. His gloved right hand was clenched tightly around the handle of a wand, which was now pointing straight into Trelawney’s face. She looked upon it with a sort of abject terror, her eyes crossing slightly behind her magnified spectacles.
“I – I was just…” she stammered in a feeble voice, of such frailness that Charlie again felt the sort of painful heaviness dragging down at his insides. He slumped down further against the rock, a piece of it jamming into his shoulder, though he dare not move to shift it into a more comfortable position.
“My hands… they’re bleeding…” Trelawney finally managed; it was somehow odd to hear her talk without her usual oral veils of mysticism, though he couldn’t say why this particular thought struck him at precisely that moment. Charlie glanced down at his own hands: They were cracked and cut, the palms pink with rawness. All the wands of the laborers had, not unexpectedly, been confiscated when they had been assigned to their work details. To the narrow minds of their captors, nothing could be more humiliating than for the conquered to work as Muggles, without magic to aid them; Charlie knew this. And if his hands were this sore, roughened from his work in Romania, he could only imagine how his old Divination professor was faring.
Romania. Charlie swallowed against a sudden lump in his throat just thinking about it, closing his eyes and breathing slowly out through his mouth. He never could have imagined that he would miss his work this much – who honestly missed their job when they were away from it? – but the familiarity of his coworkers, and the dragons, were something he sorely missed.
But again he was yanked away from his thoughts (they were all he had left to call his own now; it was cruel to be unable to spend time with them) by a flash of scarlet light, followed by a sickeningly loud crack, a sharp, short gasp of pain, and, finally, small and almost inaudible whimpering noises.
“Your hands should be the least of your concerns now,” the Death Eater said nastily; there was another small scattering of stones as he turned on his heel, making his way back towards whatever else had been occupying his time before he’d spotted Trelawney. Charlie hunched down further against the stone pile, waiting until the only thing left to hear was the older woman across the way, who more than surely was nursing a broken bone now. There was nothing else that could have made that sound; he himself had had his fair share of breaks to know that.
It was from this rather odd angle that he caught himself look up, towards the vast and cathedral-like ceiling that had once shone down sunshine onto the flagstones of the entrance hall. The sun still shone through, an ironic light in a darkness it did not fit, arguably in stronger amounts – all the glass from the windows that had once let it in had been shattered by the force of spells. But there was something else there, too, that dimmed what might have otherwise given Charlie hope.
There was someone up there.
Not standing on a landing, watching – someone floating, as absurd as it may have sounded. And he wouldn’t have believed it, had he not seen it himself, but Charlie was sure that his eyes were not playing tricks on him; the human mind was not so punishing. The someone was lying prostrate, their back towards the ground. And, as he watched, a beam of the betraying sunlight shining through the pane-less windows hit the silhouette in just such a way to make it clear to Charlie what was up there.
It was Harry.
There was something in the limp way Harry’s arms and legs dangled down, awkward extensions of a once-lively body, that made Charlie’s stomach turn over. His fingers reached blindly, wrapping themselves around the nearest piece of stone they could find; he gripped it with white-knuckled fingers, uncaring at how the rough edges cut into his palm. His insides churned; he fancied very much that he was about to be sick.
This more than anything else – more than the backbreaking work, the not knowing, the sight of those around him dropping from weakness or just poor luck, the wrong place at the wrong time – this was what caused the fissure inside of him that augmented the loss of courage. The sight of the boy who had once been the symbol of the cause, the hope in an otherwise-hopeless world, displayed like a marionette without a puppeteer, was very nearly too much.
Perhaps this really was the end.
It was inevitable, Hermione knew, that someone would come for her in the cell in the end. After her initial conversation with Dean, and the disheartening turnaround in defeatist words that Oliver had provided, neither of the three of them had spoken much. And indeed, what had there been to speak about? No one else had made any sort of noise, either, other than the expected sounds of bodies shifting restlessly and occasionally emitting low noises of pain. Hermione had no idea who else was in this dungeon, who else had been deemed of enough import to be sequestered away in this dank, dull place.
And so she had been alone with her speculations until now, which had nearly ceased to have meaning, such as words do when repeated in rapid succession. Ron, his family, the rest of the Order, life outside the dungeons – it was still present, but had faded into a soundtrack that played in the background of the more present urges to sleep, and eat, and stay alive. By the time new voices manifested themselves in the corridor running the length of the room, bordering the makeshift cells, the reprieve from monotony was almost welcome.
The snarl that reached her ears first was instantly recognizable. “I don’t want to wait,” Bellatrix Lestrange snapped, evidently in response to an unheard question. Hermione, who had been lying flat on her back, her head propped painfully against a wall, sat bolt upright, wincing at the stiffness in her muscles.
“What is the point in waiting?” interjected another voice, this one male, though it carried the same notes of derision and scorn. “We’ve been waiting, and so have they. We’re not waiting for anything, and if we’re sitting on valuable information, the Dark Lord –“
“I said all right,” snapped a third voice, and this one, too, Hermione was able to place almost instantly. The voice of Scabior, the Snatcher who’d broken her wrist, wasn’t one she was liable to forget in a hurry. Even as he spoke, her arm throbbed, as though sensing its tormenter; she wrapped her fingers around it, gritting her teeth. She would not cry out now.
Three pairs of feet marched down the corridor, towards the cell where Hermione was sitting. She cradled her useless arm against her abdomen, her heart beating a violent, near-painful tattoo somewhere between her throat and the place where it was supposed to rest. They stopped right outside her door; she stopped breathing.
There was a brief flash of blue-white light, and the door creaked slowly open.
The three figures Hermione had heard earlier were briefly silhouetted in the door frame, backlit by the slight flickering of the corridor’s low-burning torches. The figure at the head of the small group stepped forward first, the wild, tangled hair and arrogant stance of Bellatrix Lestrange quite unmistakable.
“Grab the Mudblood,” she said to those on either side of her, in a horrible sort of singsong voice. Scabior and another Death Eater Hermione didn’t recognize stepped forward at once, identical leers on their oddly-shadowed faces. As though moving in sync, they each wrapped a hand around her upper arm and yanked. Hermione felt her wrist bend in a way it could not go, and gave another gasp of pain, one that did not go unnoticed by Bellatrix.
“Ah,” she said happily, looking at it almost hungrily; Hermione’s throat had suddenly gone bone-dry. “It pains you. And yet –“ Hermione snatched her wrist back as Bellatrix made as though to examine it, even though it throbbed to move it so quickly.
“If you’re going to kill me,” she managed, in as calm a tone as she could, though it was impossible to keep her voice from trembling a little, “you’re acting like cowards about it. That’s all your kind are, cowards.” The taunt worked; the older woman’s eyes flashed dangerously, her teeth bared in a sudden, spiteful hiss.
“Kill you?” she breathed. “That’s much too good for you, girl. No, we have a long, long way to go before we even begin to dream of getting rid of you…” As she spoke, she drew a wand from the pocket of her robes, pointing it in front of her at Hermione and breathing heavily.
“You know where the Weasleys are.”
Ron. Hermione swallowed, though her throat burned with dryness. “I – I don’t –“
It had been the complete wrong thing to say. Another light flickered in Bellatrix’s dark eyes, something more sinister and fiery, and she brought her wand down with a swift silence. Red-hot pain seared through Hermione’s bones, making that of her hurt wrist seem tame in comparison. The hands on her upper arms clenched, fingers digging through the fabric, as she screamed, hating herself for showing weakness even as she did so.
Just as quickly as it had come, the pain ceased; the hands released. Hermione dropped heavily onto the floor, her limbs trembling in resistance to the Cruciatus Curse. There was a click of heels on the stone floor, and Bellatrix moved closer to her. “Ready to break yet, Mudblood?” she whispered, a maddeningly merciless giggle underscoring the words.
“I don’t know where they are!” Hermione scrunched her eyes close and gritted her teeth, this time prepared for the curse when it hit. It was as though every part of her had been twisted, seemingly pliant as rubber, but she would be strong, she could be strong… Hermione could taste a familiar, coppery tang from where her teeth had pressed against her bottom lip, but she would not cry out…
The curse lifted once more; she felt the toe of Scabior’s boot prodded her shoulder, and was too weak to bother resisting. Her breath was coming in short, shallow gasps, clammy sweat beading on her brow and trickling unpleasantly down her temples. There was a rustling of cloth, and Bellatrix’s voice spoke suddenly, low and close to her ear. She was too tired to be startled by it.
“This is your death,” she hissed. “You thought it would be quick? Virtually painless? It is this. Slow and laborious and completely out of your control. And your blood traitor boyfriend can do nothing to save you from it.”
Bellatrix stood up; Hermione didn’t dare to open her eyes. “Out,” she snapped, and Scabior and the other Death Eater made quickly for the door, almost as though they were afraid that, should they choose not to act on her commands quick enough, they would be next.
It was only after the door had shut behind the three of them that Hermione dared to open her eyes again at all. The wall of her prison, indistinct enough in the unwavering gloom that was life here, was thickly blurred with the tears of pain in her eyes she refused to let spill. She listened with horrible listlessness as they moved next door, to Dean’s cell, and voices floated thickly, indistinctly through the walls, as though they came from deep beneath water. There was a shout and a large thump, and something basic and instinctual called to Hermione to do something, save him, as she listened to them drag him out and away.
She did not move.
Dean never came back.
A/N: Whew. Okay. So this chapter was... a bit dark, but I hope that's all right with everybody. I don't mean for this story to be so depressing, and I do promise you that it does end happily! I think this is the lowest point in the story, if you imagine it as a sort of curve; this is the defeatist point. The next chapter is the Shell Cottage foray into London, and after that things should get better. I hope you'll stick with me through it!
As always, I'm so incredibly grateful for the responses this story's got, and for everyone who's been supporting me in the Dobbys. Even if I don't win, just making it through to the voting round in two categories really is spectacular! Thank you so much!