Psi Omega Warden
"Typical KRAF protocol for capture is
to stick to what they call Omega Nu Rho:
'Offer No Reply', a mantra of silence
and stoicism in the face of the enemy.
It was this standing order which
the secretive (and still denied by the
Imperiarchy to this this day) Omicron
dark unit famously employed at the
Levrithe standoff, maintaining an eerie
silence despite repeated requests for
their demands or any dialogue at all.
The Primarius, as usual, views things
somewhat differently. It is not unheard
of for Combat Corps soldiers, already
captured at great cost, to hide the extent
of their prowess until they can break free
behind enemy lines. Integrationists,
especially, are not trusted as prisoners,
and any information gained through
interrogation is doubted by virtue of its
source. It is for this reason that many
treaties dealing with prisoner of war
conventions specifically exclude Primarius
soldiers from certain laws, most notably
those against solitary confinement."
–J. Jessica Lange, The Carrot and the Railgun: War and Politics in the Modern Republic
Hermione crawled back into consciousness as if moving through a black sludge. Her head pounded, and sharp pain pulsed in her left leg with every heartbeat. She was floating, though she wasn't sure if the sensation was literal or a by-product of her disorientation. She felt a hard, cold surface settle against her back, and heard the clanking of metal; slowly, she came back to herself.
"I told you to bind his legs," a man said, voice gravelly and accented.
"He's Stunned and his arms are chained," another voice sneered, this one familiar. "Anything more would be excessive."
"Of course. You wouldn't want to be too careful," the accented voice said dryly.
"Are you suggesting I don't take the security of my home seriously?"
"Yes, so seriously you did not bother to ward against house-elves."
"Your paranoia is truly impressive. More considerable than even your timid reputation suggests…"
"Perhaps I'll tell you the Dark Lord is coming down here, hmm? That will quiet you. You talk too much for a man in your position. Maybe you should try listening."
"You should consider your tone when addressing your betters," the other man said tightly, and Hermione was now quite certain that it was Lucius Malfoy. "I will see to the prisoners. Go make your reports."
"Bind his legs. And find another length of chain."
There was a clatter when something fell to the floor. "I'll leave this to you, then. I'm sure the Dark Lord will be interested to learn how much you fear a man chained and blindfolded."
Footsteps echoed in what sounded like stone surrounds, becoming distant. Hermione was positive that Lucius was ascending a staircase.
"He might, if you had the balls to tell him," the accented man muttered. There was more clanking, and then footsteps came in Hermione's direction. She stiffened, trying to control her breathing.
Her blindfold was lifted upwards and she blinked against the sudden light. A face loomed over her, craggy and stubbled with hair so short and receded she at first mistook him for bald. He had heavy features and square eyebrows set over dark, intelligent eyes.
"She's awake," the man said in his accent (it reminded her of Viktor, even if it wasn't quite the same).
"Where… where am I?" Hermione rasped, mind searching frantically for an appropriate ruse. "Surely there's been some mistake, I was–"
"Save your lies, girl," the man said, not unkindly. "Save them for someone stupider. There will be plenty."
"Lestrange said to bring the girl upstairs when she awoke," someone said behind the unshaven man.
"No," the unshaven man said curtly, standing up and backing away from Hermione.
"You think it's wise to ignore her?"
"She can't be trusted. She breaks all her toys." The unshaven man bent down over a bloodied, manacled form that Hermione's still-adjusting eyes could not identify. He then pulled a battered watch from one of his pockets. "Bring water down, then check every twenty minutes. I want to know when this one wakes up."
Both men left, and Hermione used the opportunity to cautiously raise her head. She was just about to get a good look at the room when the lights went out and she was plunged into absolute darkness.
Panic gnawed at her. She fought it, blindly pushing herself up into a sitting position, trying to ignore the stabbing pains in her ankle. The fact that her captors had not yet treated her injury was a good thing: her handbag was stuffed down into one of her socks.
She wasn't sure what had happened to her ankle. She remembered a sudden explosion and the sensation of falling. She could only guess as to what transpired after that. Clearly, they had been ambushed. She must have been captured, and the terror of her situation was only mitigated by the knowledge that at least most of the others had got away. She hadn't seen who the other prisoner was, but she suspected it was Scott. He would have been the last to leave; the most vulnerable, especially if he'd been searching for her. And she couldn't think of anyone else who would have required double chaining.
"Scott, is that you?" she said into the darkness, hoping fervently for an answer. "Scott?"
"He's still unconscious," someone else rasped, making her jump.
"Ollivander… Or what's left of him," the voice wheezed.
Hermione gasped. "Mr. Ollivander! Have you been here all this time?"
"I don't know how long it's been. Time does not seem to pass down here." A rustling sound. "Keep your voice low, my dear. Talk too loudly and they will hear us through the floor."
"You, girl – do you go to Hogwarts?" a second voice suddenly asked.
"I…" Hermione bit her lip, not sure if it was wise to answer. Any information could be dangerous, now.
"Let the poor girl be, Xenophilius. She'll be answering questions soon enough," Ollivander said.
Xenophilius…? Luna's father? "Mr. Lovegood?" Hermione said tentatively.
"Yes! Yes, have you seen my daughter, Luna? Have you heard anything?" Xenophilius asked with desperation in his voice.
"I– I know she's well," Hermione vacillated. "She's been staying with a friend of hers."
"She's still with Neville? Good, that's wonderful…" Mr. Lovegood sighed with great relief.
A clanking sound drew Hermione's attention. "Scott?" she said hopefully.
"Motherfuckers made me bite my tongue," someone groused.
That was most definitely Scott. "Thank goodness you're all right. What happened?"
"You tell me. You're the one who disappeared." More clanking, then, "Can't see a thing. Hold on." There was a scraping sound. "There we go. Got the blindfold off. And, it's still dark. You in one piece?"
Hermione frowned. He should be able to see perfectly well compared to the rest of them. "What do you mean, you can't s–"
"They're listening to us," Scott interrupted.
Hermione went still. "How do you know?"
"It's what I would do."
She relaxed slightly. "Right. But unless they're dangling an Extendable Ear in here somewhere, we're probably fine."
"Hmm." Scott didn't sound entirely convinced. "Come closer. No, wait – I'll come to you."
There was a long, loud stretch of metal grinding against stone as Scott pushed his way across the floor towards her (or so she assumed). He must have thought they might be watched, as well, as he could have just stood and walked straight to her.
"There's no spell to see in the dark, either," she reminded him.
"You always sound so sure." He sounded much closer to her. Something bumped up against her hip, and from the way it moved she thought it was his head. "Coming up." A few more seconds and she could feel his breath on her temple. "You have your handbag?" he said quietly.
"In my sock," she whispered back. "I think my ankle's broken."
"You must have fallen into the cellar or something. That ankle is going to be a problem when we get out of here."
He was very optimistic for a man chained in a dungeon. Hermione supposed it probably wasn't the first time for him. It was for her, though, and she was just barely keeping panic at bay. "There's a potion in my handbag that should work. It'll take time, though, if I can even get to it."
"We can't stay. Not with a you-know-what in the bag. I'm gonna try to get us out of here, but I need you to do what I say, when I say it. Okay?"
"Of course," she immediately agreed. He was the expert in this situation.
"First we get untied, then we get you that potion."
"They might be back in minute," Hermione told him. "One of them was supposed to bring water and hasn't yet. Then he was supposed to check every twenty minutes until you were awake."
Scott started shuffling back to his original position. "Then let's hope they really aren't listening in."
About five minutes later the door up the stairs opened and the lights came back on with blinding clarity. A Death Eater with a bucket of water came in with his wand held out and ready. He set the bucket down between all of them, briefly bent down over Scott's still form, and then left, returning the room to darkness.
Scott started moving again. "Your hands first," he whispered into her ear.
"Roll over and let me get at them."
She did so, rolling over until she felt Scott's hands close around the ropes that held her. She was mystified as to how he intended to undo them when they suddenly disappeared. She rubbed at her raw wrists as circulation returned to her hands. She hadn't realised the ropes had been magical. Obviously, Scott's chains were not.
"Okay, the handbag. Down the potion and then find my backup bag," Scott said.
Difficult to do in the dark. With Scott's spoken guidance she managed to find her collection of potions. He couldn't read the labels in the dark, forcing her to identify the correct one by smell. Pins and needles began buzzing in her ankle as the potion did its work, but she knew if Scott had his way then escape would come before she was healed enough to stand on her own.
Both Ollivander and Mr. Lovegood remained silent despite the sounds of bottles and the rustling of the bag. They couldn't have known what was happening, though they knew better than to call attention to it.
One of Scott's duffel bags lay within the cavernous interior of the handbag. Hermione found it through touch alone. "I've got it. What about the chains?"
"They're too big for what they're being used for, I'm guessing it's all they had. The chain part isn't what's holding me, it's running between two manacles. I need you to feel these cuffs and tell me what I'm up against."
Hermione thrust out into the darkness, searching for his hands. Shoulder, back, elbow – there. She traced the tangled chains around his arms and the manacles at his wrists. They felt pitted, rusted. The metal was uneven and seemed to her very old. She found the small hole for a key on both sides, and then said, "I think they're quite old."
"How thick is the metal around the wrist?"
She checked. "They're very thick length-wise, going up your arm. But quite thin the other way."
"So I break the clasp, not bend the circle. Pull the chain down until it's off my arms."
It took some doing, but she eventually worked the chain free of its knot until it fell loosely to the floor.
The door to their prison suddenly opened again. Hermione squeezed her eyes shut against the bright even as she frantically stuffed the handbag back into her sock. Scott didn't have time to get back into his old position. Whoever had opened the door must have seen Scott, because it immediately closed again.
"Lay down behind me," Scott quietly instructed her, guiding her to be behind his back.
"What if they take me?" she whispered, voice shaking at the thought.
"Then talk. Tell them we were trying to hide in the house. Make something up, it doesn't matter what."
"But what if what I tell them doesn't match what you–"
"If you talk first, I won't say anything. If I talk first, then no problem. Lay down, don't move when they come in and don't say anything."
She complied. The stone floor was hard and cold and she couldn't suppress a shiver. She positioned herself so that she could see around Scott's back, her eyes hidden behind her hair.
Multiple sets of footsteps approached and then stopped nearby.
Scott wasn't at all happy about the situation, but it was more or less what he'd expected before he'd blacked out. His mind was putting the pieces into place, determining how to best cut the current Gordian knot.
His chains were more of a precaution than he'd expected from his captors. He suspected whoever was behind the ambush was also responsible for the heightened safeguards. With Hermione's help, he had figured out how to best free his arms without injuring himself. Before he could act on the information, the sound of the door signalled they had company. Apparently, he wasn't going to get any more time. Not unless he could stall.
Four Death Eaters came down into the room. Most of them hung back, while one approached to stand directly before Scott. The man was of average height, a bit thick around the middle and with a hairline so receded it wasn't visible when looking him in the eye. Thick, black stubble covered his upper lip and jaw. He wore simple, short robes, a direct contrast to the flowing lines and hoods of the other Death Eaters in the dungeon. Despite such a lack of ornamentation, Scott assessed him as having authority. The other men stepped aside, giving the unshaven man room.
Scott emptied himself of all emotion and stared back, blank-faced, at his captors.
"You are awake. That's good," the unshaven man said with a heavy Eastern-European accent that Scott began trying to place. "They did not beat you too badly, then. Can you understand me?" When Scott didn't reply, the man's eyebrows moved fractionally upward and he said, "I think you can."
Scott still said nothing. The Death Eaters behind the unshaven man seemed to be split into two distinct groups. The one on the right, closest to the unshaven man, was similarly dressed; relatively shabby for a Death Eater, without any ostentation. The two men on the left were wearing robes of the more familiar Death Eater style.
"Here is water," the unshaven man said, gesturing to the bucket. Scott didn't move. "You are not thirsty. It will be there when you are. What is your name?" Another moment of weighted silence. "No name? We all have names. Okay, we trade: a name for name. Your name, my name."
Scott debated his options.
The unshaven man didn't smile, exactly, no one would call it that, but his mouth flexed in an understated grimace. "You are a professional. I know. I told them, I said he will not talk to you."
"I can make him talk," one of the Death Eaters growled from the shadows.
"No, you can't," the unshaven man said.
Definitely East Slavic. Something close to Russian, but not quite. Not Ukrainian. Not Polish, either.
The unshaven man leaned in closer, dropping his voice to an almost conspiratorial rumble. "You are taught not to talk, I know. But if you will not talk to me then they will come down here, and things will be worse. Tell me something. Your name... Your age, how tall you are... Who was your first fuck, it does not matter. Anything. Just so you speak to me, and I can tell them."
Scott hadn't known if he would warrant a proper interrogation by a ranking member of Riddle's organisation. He'd been afraid that he would be ignored in favour of Hermione, which could easily still happen depending on how things went.
The unshaven man presented a bit of a mystery, because he didn't look or carry himself like the pure-blood elite that lorded above the Death Eater rank and file. He had a very ordinary appearance; he could be any middle-aged Slavic man from the ex-Soviet bloc. But up close, his eyes were too sharp to belong to a peon. The body language of the two well-dressed Death Eaters spoke volumes in the way they held themselves back from the unshaven man with a mixture of fear and contempt.
Scott was certain he was having a one-sided conversation with the architect of his capture.
It would explain the reaction from the Death Eaters, that combination of submission and scorn. The unshaven man had known how to fight Scott, and that meant he knew how to fight like a Muggle. He was familiar with the Muggles, perhaps even of the Muggles, and therefore he was tainted. But he was also far more useful than the rest of the cringing rabble, at least for the task set for him. And anyone in Riddle's good graces could not be openly challenged.
There was more to the unshaven man than that, though. He understood that the best path to interrogation was building a relationship with his prisoner, in making the exchange of information seem mutually beneficial. He had assessed Scott and made the (correct) assumption that pure torture wouldn't work. He was affable without giving anything away. Not common abilities in an ordinary thug. A lucky find in Voldemort's ranks? Or an experienced mercenary, perhaps...
The first tactic in resisting interrogation was simply not to speak. A good defence when the law protected you, but eventually untenable when in a prisoner of war situation. Scott knew he would be made to speak, one way or another. More to the point, Hermione would. He needed to delay that if he could.
"My name wouldn't mean anything," Scott said.
The unshaven man nodded slightly. "Maybe not. But it's a start."
"I don't think we need to be on a first name basis for you to kill me."
"Why would I kill you?"
"You'll be told to." Scott looked at the two Death Eaters to the left, both of whom were still glaring at him. "It's how things work around here."
The unshaven man raised an eyebrow. "Then you should be useful to us, yes? Save yourself, and the girl."
"There's no saving anyone. Haven't you worked for Riddle long enough to know that?"
"Tell me what I need to know, and I can protect you," the unshaven man urged.
"You can't even protect yourself. Your boss is a snake-faced lunatic who kills just because he can," Scott said, smiling. "Something tells me I'm not the prisoner he's interested in having. Cross your fingers, and maybe he won't shoot the messenger."
"You should worry about yourself, yes?" the unshaven man said dryly. "I think you can tell me a lot. But if you won't, then the girl will."
"What could I possibly know that's worth all this trouble?" Scott said.
"Potter," the unshaven man said bluntly. "The Dark Lord wants Potter. You know where he is."
"You have a touching amount of faith in me."
"What do you want? Hmm?" The unshaven man spread his hands questioningly. "I can be generous. Our gold is as good as Potter's, yes? Better to be a rich man than a dead one." He dropped his hands ominously. "Or, there are other ways."
"Yeah, I know."
When Scott didn't continue, the unshaven man said, "Listen to me, my friend. You are a smart man, you understand your situation. We both know that you will talk, in time. But there would be so much unpleasantness. Why don't we go right to the end? Why suffer, and then speak, when you can speak now?"
A good point, if irrelevant. While the unshaven man was speaking, Scott had been isolating and carefully cutting off Hermione's connection to Grimmauld Place. If Harry was still there, then Hermione couldn't tell anyone about it. If he wasn't, then she didn't know where he was, anyway. The information the unshaven man wanted was useless, but given enough time to dig he'd hit upon the stuff he hadn't been looking for.
Scott flexed his arms a bit, testing the manacles. He was pretty sure he could pull them apart. He was less sure he could take out all four men in the room without the whole place hearing it. "I never spoke with Potter. My payments were arranged through a third party."
The unshaven man didn't look convinced. "How can he pay you when he can't get to his money?"
Scott shrugged. "Maybe it isn't his money. Maybe I'm not even working for him, I don't know."
"You never asked?"
"I never cared. As you so succinctly implied, gold is gold."
"You fight very hard for a man who doesn't care for his cause."
"So do you."
The unshaven man's eyes narrowed slightly. Then he said, "Why were you at Potter's old house?"
"Looking for something."
"I don't know. I wasn't the one who was supposed to look for it."
"They are that careful."
Scott grinned. "Your problem is you think you've caught some kind of mastermind. You think they trust me. I've never met Potter. I've never seen him. For all I know, he's not even in England. I get a bag of money, I get the names of people I'm supposed to meet, and I get a Portkey. I don't get paid to ask questions and I don't get paid to be curious."
"And who is she?" The unshaven man pointed briefly towards Hermione's obscured form.
"A codename." The unshaven scratched lightly at his chin. "It's funny, you are trying very hard to protect her, yet you say you don't even know her name."
"Well, you'll have to excuse me for not being onboard with the rape train. Where I'm from, we prefer to pretend we're civilised."
"And where is that?"
"The rape train isn't anywhere in particular, it's more of a metaphorical train, or at least I hope–"
"Where are you from?"
"Why does that matter? I'm here."
"I wanted to say American Midwest," the unshaven man mused. "But after listening now, maybe Vancouver."
"That is quite the hair to split."
"But not right."
"No, but I remain impressed."
"I mean, you know, pretty impressed…"
"How much have they paid you?" the unshaven man said patiently.
"Not nearly enough for this."
"So you went to Gringotts. Yes? Hard to get money when you cannot go to the bank."
"My funding became an issue," Scott hedged. He didn't see the point in denying his presence at Gringotts. It would never be a believable denial, and if the unshaven man wanted to think it really had been about money, so much the better.
"Why not quit? Why stay?" The unshaven man shrugged. "Why not work for us, instead?"
"Forgiveness doesn't rate high on your Dark Lord's list of virtues. Money is great, but it's not super useful when you aren't alive to spend it. If I can collect at the end, so much the better, but if Riddle gets his way we're all gonna be dead."
"You seem very convinced of that."
Scott looked the unshaven man directly in the eye. "He's going to pick a fight with the Muggles. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday, Voldemort is going to take us to war against the Muggles, and by the time it's over, we'll be gone. There won't be a scrap left of us."
The unshaven man was far too good to openly react, but Scott knew the other man was smart enough to see the truth of the statement, even if he disagreed regarding its inevitability. The Death Eater standing closest to the unshaven man appeared faintly troubled by Scott's words. The two more well-dressed men were openly mocking, one of them even laughing a bit.
"Well, they think it's funny, anyway," Scott said to the unshaven man. "But maybe your crew understand the reality of the situation a little better."
"It's been interesting, yes. But Godric's Hollow," the unshaven man said, refusing to go off track, "were you also looking for something there?"
"Yes, and we found it."
"You," Scott said with a half-smile.
That gave the unshaven man the shortest of pauses. "Me?"
"Something had happened early on with Potter. I don't know what, but you must have tipped your hand at least a little. I was told to find a trap to spring. They probably learned a lot, watching you chase me. I know I did."
"You are a hard man to catch," the unshaven man agreed. "I needed a better trap."
"And some leeway to build it. I noticed you weren't invited to the bank fiasco," Scott observed.
But the unshaven man was not so easily lured into discussing his chain of command. Instead, he said, "I did not see your partner this time."
"I don't have a partner."
"No? You weren't alone at the bank. And there were other things… Yours is not the only gun."
"You're wasting your time. They don't trust the hired help with the details and they definitely don't trust us with each other. I know I'm not the only person they've paid, and that's it."
"You know the woman who was with you at Gringotts."
"I know someone who was drinking Polyjuice and talking in an Irish accent that may or may not have been real. Not like I can tell. Shit, maybe she wasn't even a woman."
"I think it was the woman from Hogwarts, and the wedding."
"Then you know more than me, because you know I wasn't around for either of those."
"True," the unshaven man acceded. "When were you hired?"
Scott's answer was forestalled when the door at the top of the stairs flew open with a clatter.
Hermione's shoulder was aching from prolonged contact with the stone floor, but she remained silent and unmoving. Thus far it had been surprisingly easy to avoid any direct attention from the man interrogating Scott, though that was mostly because he seemed oddly uninterested in her.
He had made a few references to hurting her, but that had only been a tool to gain Scott's cooperation. The unshaven man appeared almost apathetic to the fact he had another prisoner. Maybe he knew he had plenty of time for them both. But he came across as so genuinely indifferent to Hermione that she was starting to wonder what his priorities were, and if they matched Riddle's at all.
The door to the cellar opened and cut short the unshaven man's next question from Scott.
"Rahvalod!" a woman spat loudly. Sharp, quick footsteps made their way down the stairs. "I was to be told of any prisoners immediately!"
A cold chill ran down Hermione's spine. She knew that voice.
"Let's go upstairs," Rahvalod said pointedly.
Bellatrix ignored him. "What have we here?" she breathed. Hermione opened one eye the tiniest sliver, and saw a long-nailed hand grasp Scott by the hair. "Another of Dumbledore's blood traitors? Or perhaps a common Mudblood?"
"Let go of my hair, lady," Scott said.
"Still defiant. Rahvalod, you disappoint, as usual. But I'll fix him–"
"I need him to be able to talk," Rahvalod told her with a definite edge to his voice.
"You dare touch me?!" Bellatrix hissed. Rahvalod must have caught her wrist before she could cast the Cruciatus on Scott, Hermione surmised.
"I'm not done. If you want prisoners, go find your own."
But Bellatrix wasn't listening. "Who's this…?" she said.
Hermione immediately wished she had thought to do something about her distinctive hair. It was too late, though. She was yanked upright and found herself looking into Bellatrix's crazed eyes.
"The girl!" Bellatrix said, long nails digging into Hermione's jaw. "Potter's girl, the Muggle. I know this face."
Hermione jerked her head free and looked away, heart pounding.
"You're sure?" Rahvalod said.
Bellatrix hesitated. "…The boy. He'll know. Go find the boy and bring him here!" she snapped at one of the other Death Eaters. She turned back to Scott. "Who is he?"
"A mercenary." Rahvalod was clearly not interested in being forthcoming with Bellatrix. The rift between the two of them would have been interesting if Hermione thought there would ever be time to exploit it.
"Lovely," Bellatrix sneered. "You must have so much in common."
"We don't look like a heroin junkie in a fright wig, so there's that," Scott said.
"We were talking before, about when you were hired," Rahvalod smoothly interjected before Bellatrix could respond. "How did they find you?"
"I found them. Where there's a war, there's money."
"You didn't consider you might be choosing the wrong side?"
Scott snorted. "Voldemort's track record didn't inspire confidence. He found a way to fuck up for something like six years running, and at some point it stops being bad luck and starts being self-destruction."
Hermione watched helplessly as Scott spasmed violently, Bellatrix's powerful curse igniting his nerve endings. He hunched forward until his forehead pressed against the floor, entire body twitching.
Incredibly, he didn't make a sound.
When the curse lifted, he stayed that way, breathing heavily for a moment before pushing himself back into a sitting position.
"Losing your touch?" Rahvalod murmured near Bellatrix's ear.
She shot him a scathing glance and then bent down to be nearer to Scott's face. "Be careful how you speak of the Dark Lord," she hissed at him. "Your life hangs by the merest thread."
Scott slammed his forehead into her face so hard that Bellatrix fell backwards and collapsed unconscious on the floor, blood streaming from a broken nose.
One of the Death Eaters shouted in alarm and drew his wand. Rahvalod held out a hand, stopping the other man. "Unfortunate," he said, his expression indicating it was anything but. "Perhaps she'll be more careful next time. Take her upstairs, find her sister."
The Death Eater levitated Bellatrix up the stairs and out of the cellar. No sooner had he left than the door opened again, admitting two more figures. One of them was yet another faceless Death Eater, masked and robed. The other, Hermione saw with revulsion, was a pale and haggard-looking Draco Malfoy.
Malfoy walked into the room with the air of someone who expected to be kept there with the other prisoners. He held himself as if he was among enemies, not comrades. It was spiteful, but Hermione couldn't help but feel a little surge of satisfaction at seeing Malfoy getting what he wanted, only to find it wasn't what he wanted at all.
She couldn't see Scott's face, though judging by the way he wasn't saying anything, it was probably impassive. She had half expected him to start verbally tearing into Malfoy, as had been his usual practice at Hogwarts, but then she realised he probably didn't want Malfoy to recognise him. Too bad Hermione couldn't do anything to mask her own identity.
Rahvalod pointed at Scott. "You know him?"
Malfoy's gaze barely flickered over Scott before he said, in a subdued tone, "No. I don't know who he is."
Amazing how well an added ten to fifteen years worked as a disguise. Hermione didn't bother trying to hide her face behind her hair, aware she would simply be forced to bare it anyway. She stared at Malfoy and hoped he could feel every ounce of scorn she felt towards him.
"And her? Is this Hermione Granger?"
The recognition was clear in Malfoy's eyes the second he looked at her. He flinched slightly, mouth thinning. He looked no happier to see her in the cellar than she was to be there.
"…Maybe," Malfoy mumbled, looking away.
But it was too late for that. Rahvalod was clever enough to read the truth in Malfoy's uncomfortable stance. "You can go," he said curtly.
Malfoy slumped his way out of the cellar, casting one last haunted look over his shoulder. Hermione badly wanted to say she hoped he was happy. She didn't, though, remembering Scott's words.
"The Dark Lord must be informed," one of the Death Eaters said, starting for the stairs.
Rahvalod didn't look pleased at the idea, but he made no move to stop the other man. Instead, he turned back to Scott. "Dangerous company you've been keeping," he remarked.
"Me?" Scott said with an incredulous laugh. "Does your mom know who you've been hanging out with?"
Hermione didn't know how he could be so glib when Voldemort was on the way. Her breath was short and she felt like she was tipping over the edge towards panic, clinging to her composure by her fingertips. Riddle would find out about the Horcruxes and it was all her fault. She only hoped she could stay alive long enough to apologise to Harry.
And then, there he was. Voldemort came down the steps, followed by a few of his Death Eaters. It was almost unreal, to see the man (if that's what he still was) they'd spent so much time running from, so much effort working to undermine, descending the staircase in front of her. Voldemort was every bit as horrid as she'd expected, his visage a snake-like death's head, chalk white with menace etched in every inhuman line. Hermione shuddered with terror and disgust. How could anyone willingly serve such an obvious monster? He wore his inhumanity openly, flaunted his evil like a badge of honour.
Voldemort stopped and observed Scott and Hermione with blood red eyes. His Death Eaters arrayed themselves in a half circle, facing the prisoners. "You've done well, Rahvalod," he said softly, voice as clear and cold as an alpine stream.
"My lord." Rahvalod ducked his head in a short bow.
Those piercing red eyes turned on Scott. "And who are you?"
"Another mystery in a world full of them," Scott said.
A cruel smile flitted over Voldemort's lips. "There's no mystery to you. You fight for Potter. Will you die for him, too…?"
"We are configurations, constellations, a temporary pattern. We only exist in the right light."
Voldemort tilted his head slightly, as if Scott were a curiosity. "A philosopher. No wonder you've followed in Dumbledore's footsteps. Another doddering intellectual, too busy pondering life to seize it."
Scott laughed like Voldemort had just told a joke. "You think being above introspection makes you more self-aware? The multiverse is an ant farm. You're just tapping on the glass."
"This is all you've heard from him?" Voldemort asked Rahvalod.
"No," Rahvalod said with a slight frown. "This is new."
"It's because there's no point," Scott said.
"Oh, no, there is very much a point," Voldemort told him. "You could save yourself, and the girl."
Scott sighed loudly. "You know, I had all these things I was going to say to you. All the shit that sounds great in your head when you imagine talking to someone. But, you know what? I'm looking at you, this fucking chalk-faced goon that thinks it's people, and it doesn't matter. Because here you are, balls deep in the middle of your second war, with your second army and your second-hand ideas of what it means to be a Dark Lord, doing your best to literally live out the definition of insanity. There is not a goddamn thing I could say to you to even shake your sense of direction, because crazy people don't know they're crazy. You've stripped your mind down to the creaking nuts and bolts of whatever it meant to be Tom Riddle and there's nothing left but cobwebs and the notion that no matter how badly you drop the fucking ball, you're still on the rails of what you think is a plan. But you know what, Tom? There is no plan. There's no pot of gold at the end of this rainbow. There is no possible circumstance that gives you what you want because you don't even know what you want. You're taking over a country you don't know how to run, you're pushing an agenda that guarantees extinction, and at every possible turn, you're fucking up without a parachute. The only real question is how long you can keep this up before you drive your enterprise straight off the next fucking cliff, because no one hates Tom Riddle more than Tom Riddle and that is the cornerstone of your shitty fucking brand; I could set a watch to Potter kicking your ass in every summer. And if you somehow live long enough to become the next Caesar, then it's just a question of who becomes the next Brutus. Because it's not like anyone can stand you anyway, you fucking bargain basement Nosferatu. So you say whatever inane crap you feel like saying, and then get to the part where you lose your shit and try to kill me, because we all know that's your primary form of interaction and I'm already tired of looking at you."
As Scott had been speaking, the other Death Eaters in the room had been slowly edging away from Voldemort. And for good reason: his eyes were alight with rage and his wand was extended in one slim-fingered hand.
"You know nothing–" Voldemort began to spit.
Scott rolled his eyes and interjected, "Oh, fuck off, Tom, you bleached asshole in a dyed black potato sack, you albino foreskin Frankenstein; go sixty-nine Sauron you–"
Voldemort whipped his wand in a violent horizontal motion and Hermione watched in horror as Scott flew across the room and into the wall with shattering force. He hit the ground, and didn't move.
Silence returned to the cellar. Voldemort stood there, wand in one fist, as anger boiled off him like a physical thing. His flat nostrils flared and he seemed to collect himself, tension leaving his thin frame.
"Clever," he said quietly, looking at Scott's still body. "He wanted that, he enraged me… Perhaps he knew of Potter… No matter. I still have the girl." He turned to Hermione. "No words this time, no lies…"
Hermione tried to fight it; she really did. She felt the magic take hold, vile and invasive, and images began to flash through her mind. She knew Legilimency could be subtle, undetected, but Voldemort was not gentle. He stormed through her mind like a tornado, ripping up all the pieces of her self for his perusal. She attempted to direct him somewhere harmless. She thought of the early years at school, of things he already knew. But one thought led to another and then there was the last, terrible image in a line of related things: the drawing room at Grimmauld, the night air outside of the Burrow, the Sword of Gryffindor smashing through the locket. Trying to hide the memory only seemed to make it stand out, and the second she saw the locket she felt Voldemort's shock through the connection, and then rage and fear so terrible it felt almost like her own–
Voldemort's inhuman scream of rage filled the room. Hermione found herself staring at the stone beneath her fingers, bent forward on her hands and knees with her head spinning. She looked up; the Death Eaters were only beginning to back away in alarm when their Dark Lord, howling with animal fury, lashed out in his lethal, unthinking wrath. The cellar flashed with terrible green light as the Killing Curse struck again and again, dark figures tumbling to the stone, scattering in panic or dying where they stood.
Hermione was blinded by a sudden flash and heard a roaring whoosh. She fell over, rolling along the floor until she came to rest on her stomach. She stayed like that, forehead pressed to the cold stone, dizzy and afraid to move. The Killing Curse cracked against the walls and pillars and ripped the life from men begging for mercy, men who didn't even understand why they were being killed.
Then silence fell, sudden and heavy.
Hermione opened her eyes and brushed her hair away. Voldemort was gone. Slowly, she sat up and beheld the scattered corpses of the Death Eaters, legs splayed, hands still held out in mute supplication, terror stamped on their features. It was a massacre.
Tom Riddle was truly insane.
"Scott?" she whispered, beginning to crawl towards where she had last seen him. He could protect himself from the Curse, but only if he had been conscious.
She froze when Rahvalod stepped out of the shadows that had hidden him in a slight alcove.
He looked down at the bodies of the Death Eaters, then at Hermione. His expression was not shocked or angry; it was calculating. He met Hermione's frightened stare levelly, his eyes narrowed shrewdly.
Then, the corner of his mouth lifted so slightly, she thought she might be imagining it.
"Shchaśliva," he said.
He walked out of the cellar with a calm and measured stride, leaving the door open behind him.
Hermione had no idea what to make of that, but she didn't have the time to ponder. She resumed her painful crawl until she reached Scott's crumpled form at the far wall.
"Scott!" She managed to roll him over, and paled at the amount of blood matting his hair. "Oh… Scott. Scott, you have to wake up." She patted at his shoulders, afraid to touch his head.
"Fuckin' cock ass shit ass fuck," he coughed.
"Oh thank god," Hermione sighed.
He sat up and surveyed the room. "Holy crap. Did you do this?"
"No! Riddle's insane, he… What were you thinking?!" she berated him. "Why would you say all that, what was the point of getting him to kill you?"
"Okay, so that didn't pay off," Scott said with a wince, touching his head. "I figured he'd just use the Killing Curse on me, since that's kind of his thing. Guess he's a little more versatile than I thought. I was gonna block it and then block anything he did to you."
"He'd still figure out it was you eventually, that would only work for so long."
"Yeah, just like everything else. I've been trying to stall so we could get out of here!"
Hermione clenched her jaw, then admitted, "Scott, he knows. He knows about the Horcruxes, I tried to stop him but–"
Scott cut her self-recriminations short. "It's done."
"He went berserk, killed everyone except–" she gasped in sudden horror. "Ollivander and Mr. Lovegood!"
Scott grabbed her shoulder before she could turn to look. "They're gone."
"Oh, no… Luna…" Hermione pressed one hand to her lips, heart sinking.
"Focus. Did anyone survive?"
He was right, she had to focus. She shook herself a little. "Um, yes, Rahvalod. But, he saw me and didn't do anything, he just left, didn't even shut the door. He may be bringing others."
Scott frowned. "No, I think he's hedging his bets."
"I suppose… He's certainly seen enough to reconsider his options."
"He comes out ahead either way. Come on, we need to move." Scott's jaw clenched and then there was a loud pop as old metal gave way. He brought his arms around and tore the remaining manacle off his wrist. "Remember all that shitty stuff I said to you before the wedding?"
Why on earth was he bringing that back up? "Well, yes, but–"
"I totally owe you a piggyback ride."
Hermione clung to Scott's back as he ascended the stairs, one hand clutching a dead Death Eater's wand. They emerged in a sumptuous drawing room, bedecked with finery. In tone and quality, it was akin to a very high-end Grimmauld Place. It was also deserted.
"Is it a trap?" Hermione whispered.
"They heard Riddle flip out; no one's coming in here until they're sure he's gone." Scott went to the nearest door. The sound of voices filtered in distantly from the hallway. "I'm hoping Rahvalod took most of his people with him."
Footsteps from the other end of the hall. Scott ducked back into the drawing room and sped across to the doors on the other side. Just as he reached it, the door rattled slightly. Scott veered away and went rapidly through another door to the left. They ended up in an empty hallway with large painted portraits spaced evenly down both sides. To the right, it took a turn and probably connected to the hall with the door that had rattled. The left led to a staircase, the upper reaches of it darkened. Scott chose the staircase, and bolted upwards. Hermione gritted her teeth against the sharp pains that shot through her ankle and leg with every jolt.
Most of the lights were off upstairs, the hallways drenched in a gloom that was intermittently dispersed by moonlight streaming through the windows. Scott checked each door as they passed until they came across a sitting room with a large double window. He stepped inside and Hermione reached to partially shut the door behind them.
The window afforded them a good view of the grounds. The distant gardens seemed empty, the snow undisturbed, but in the areas around the Manor she could see clusters of Death Eaters and Snatchers, most of them gathered around large bonfires. There were also what looked to be stables near one side of the house where people were coming and going. There were even a few dark shapes moving around the perimeter alone, probably sentries.
"Shit," Scott muttered. "We're gonna need a distraction."
Hermione knew he'd have a far better chance of slipping out alone than he would with her clinging to his back. "What if I hid somewhere? The others have to be told that Riddle knows."
Scott was still examining the placement of enemies outside. "Does it matter? Can he even make another one? Isn't he scraping the bottom of the soul barrel at this point? It's not like he has a lot of sanity left to spend."
Riddle's degradation was obvious, to be sure. Whatever remained of his humanity was dissolving, along with his mind, and Hermione also suspected that making so many Horcruxes was the most probable cause (though she was a bit surprised that Scott hadn't made a syphilis joke). But despite the irreparable damage Riddle had done to his essence, there was no way of knowing if he could split himself yet again, or if he was even still sane enough to recognise that it would surely cost him what was left of his rationality.
Perhaps creating another Horcrux would destroy him in the process. Even so, it was too great a risk to allow.
"I don't know, but it's not something we can take for granted," she said.
Scott turned from the window, checked the hall again, and then knelt by the door. He took the handbag from her sock and handed it to her. "This could get messy," he said. "I need one of my handguns and a bunch of magazines for it. There's also a black case with a suppressor in it, I need that, too."
Hermione dug through the handbag and procured his armaments, though she didn't know how long she could hold onto his neck without his arms supporting her. Once he'd finished filling his pockets with ammunition, however, he looped his arms back under her knees. She felt the cold metal of the handgun pressed against the outside of her calf, and wished she could tug the leg of her trousers back down.
"I might have to let go in a hurry," he warned her.
She didn't know what he was planning, but she didn't think even he could shoot his way out through so many foes. "What's our distraction?"
"Fire. Those stables look like they'll burn quick."
"Is it a good idea to set fire to a building right next to the one we're still inside?"
"Not really, but barring any other flashes of inspiration, I don't see how we're getting out of here. They may already be looking for us. Chaos is our best weapon right now."
Scott carried her through another dimly lit hall. The moon shone down through a cloudless winter sky, its ghostly rays cast bright on the hall carpets, leaving inky shadows on the walls. Unless there was a sudden change in the weather, the two of them would not be difficult to spot outside.
She was struck by inspiration. She raised her wand and rapped it sharply on the top of Scott's head. When nothing happened, she did it again.
"There a reason you're hitting me?" Scott whispered testily.
"The Disillusionment Charm isn't working!" she said with frustration, realising the property must be warded against concealment spells.
Any further conversation was stalled when voices echoed around the nearby corner. Scott darted back the way they had come and ducked into a small room without any windows.
"He's gone mad!" a woman was saying.
"You're the one who's mad!" another woman retorted, and Hermione immediately recognised the fanatical tones of Bellatrix. "They earned his fury, they deserved it–"
"All of them? Every single one? And what did they do, Bella, that they deserved death?" The other woman's voice was tight and fearful.
Bellatrix did not have an immediate answer. "If he wished for us to know, we would have been told," she eventually replied.
A scoff. "I doubt even they know why they were butchered."
"He culls only the weak, the unworthy! Prove yourself, Cissy. Our victory is not far off, you can still show your loyalty!"
"Perhaps. If we survive his victory."
Their voices hadn't become any closer or farther away. Scott ducked back out of the room and retraced his steps, leaving the sisters behind. Hermione was interested in the dissension they'd overheard, but it wasn't the time to discuss it. Every second spent traversing the Manor increased their odds of being trapped yet again.
They returned to the staircase that led to the hall outside the drawing room, only to discover several Death Eaters in deep discussion near the doorway.
Scott reversed course. "Plan B," he said under his breath.
In the closest room upstairs, he opened the window. After looking below and peering out into the grounds, he stepped up onto the windowsill.
"Hold on tight," he told her.
Hermione barely repressed a yelp as he launched himself out and upwards, catching the top of the window and clambering up the side of the Manor. After bypassing another set of windows, they were on the roof, darting between chimneys and scampering up shingled inclines. Hermione held on for dear life, hands aching in the bitter wind.
From their lofty perch, she could see with greater clarity the fires burning in the garden, flickering points of light with dark outlines nearby, hoods raised against the chill. The night was cold and clear under the big bright moon, and the only thing stopping the two of them from being seen was their elevated position. The chances of Scott carrying her off the grounds were low, indeed. So far it seemed as if no one had noticed that Hermione and Scott were not among the dead in the cellar. They couldn't count on that to last much longer, and though Hermione knew better than to underestimate Scott's lethality, she knew even he couldn't fight his way out of such odds.
The roof slanted downwards again as they reached the edge above the stables. Hermione's stomach lodged in her throat as Scott slid across the slope and caught the edge of the roof, swinging back towards the side of the house. She barely resisted the urge to shut her eyes, though she then made the mistake of looking down. The feeling of empty space beneath her feet made her tighten her grip around Scott's neck until she was probably constricting his airflow, though he didn't complain. He climbed down the wall until, without warning, he reached up to hold Hermione's arm in an iron grip and then launched himself out into the air, crossing the small gap between the house and stables.
Hermione was just beginning to let out a shuddering breath when Scott jumped off the stable roof and plunged into a snow drift. She barely stifled a scream. Scott must have felt her tense, because she could see him grinning.
At least one of them was enjoying themselves.
With Scott once again supporting her, Hermione relaxed slightly. Her arms were stiff and aching from holding on for so long and her ankle throbbed mercilessly. She thought she might also be afraid of heights, now.
Through the old wooden slats of the stable, they could see that it had been turned into a makeshift dormitory. The beds that Hermione could see were empty, despite the lateness of the hour.
"Rahvalod's boys, would be my guess," Scott said quietly. "This will do."
The shadows were deep in the narrow space between the manor and the stables, but Hermione felt far from safe. With Scott instructing, she dug through the handbag yet again to produce another of his black bags. He set her down in a snow drift and then placed grenades at intervals along the side of the stables. Finished, he briefly disappeared inside the structure.
"We have ten minutes," he said when he reappeared.
He looked like he was about to say more when nearby voices interrupted. He hoisted Hermione onto his back and started for the rear gardens when the light of incoming wands made him retreat. There were more voices, even closer, inside the stables. Lacking options, he found the nearest door and slipped back inside.
They emerged in the kitchens. Scott ran to each door, but the sounds of movement and voices came from every hall. Hermione couldn't tell if there were multiple groups about, or if the halls connected and it was all echoes.
"I have to make a path," Scott said grimly.
"Do you think they're looking for us?"
"Could be. Bellatrix knew we were down there, if nobody else." He opened a nearby cupboard and carefully wedged her inside. "I'll be right back."
"Careful!" she whispered, and then she was plunged into darkness.
She only sat there for a few seconds at most before she realised the cupboard door wasn't shut all the way – she was slightly larger than its capacity allowed, at least with her coat on. She tried to pull it shut but the stubborn thing refused to close. She pulled again, harder, and her elbow jostled a row of glass jars. She froze as the noise rang out.
Through the narrow crack, she could see black robes as a Death Eater entered the kitchens. "Somebody in here?" he called out.
Hermione didn't feel like waiting to be discovered. A quick push opened the cupboard and a Stunner took care of the curious intruder. She levitated the unconscious man and was just contemplating how best to hide him when Bellatrix strode in through the open door.
There was a moment in which they stared at each other, frozen in mutual surprise. Hermione dropped the man as quickly as she could, but Bellatrix was too fast. Hermione was swiftly disarmed, and covered her head as several of the jars shattered and her wand went flying out onto the floor. She grabbed the cabinet door and closed it, shielding herself from another attack.
Bellatrix simply tore it open and dragged Hermione out by force; Hermione cried out in pain as her ankle took some of her weight and caught on a chair leg. Teeth clenched against the sensation, she managed to put some of Sophie's training to use and grabbed Bellatrix by the wrist, squeezing and twisting until the mad woman's wand clattered on the floor.
Unfortunately, Bellatrix was not rendered helpless. Hermione found herself with a silver knife pressed to her throat.
"Thought you could escape?" Bellatrix sneered, breath humid against the side of Hermione's cheek. "Thought you could defy the Dark Lord again–"
Scott stepped into the kitchen with his gun raised in both hands. There was blood on his trousers and the outsides of his fingers.
Bellatrix's broken nose had been healed, but her face still bore the bruises of Scott's previous assault. When she saw him, her teeth bared in a feral snarl and her grip tightened until Hermione felt a trickle of blood run across her collarbone.
"One more step," Bellatrix breathed. "One more step and I'll spill her life."
"Hermione," Scott said, "close your eyes."
There was a bang and a hot, wet spatter against the side of Hermione's face and then she was falling.
She blinked as Scott lifted her up and carried her out into the hall, handing her wand back. She climbed onto his back again, trying to quell the shaking in her hands as she wiped at her face with her coat sleeve.
"Five minutes," Scott told her.
There were bodies on the floor not too far down the hallway. Scott stepped over them and Hermione didn't look too closely. The hall ran through an elegant and thankfully empty parlour. The next room was a study dominated by vast oak desk. Scott made for the door directly across the room, only to have it swing open just before he reached it.
Hermione slid backwards and found herself dangling as Scott released her legs and bent forward slightly in a shooting stance. He raised his weapon almost quicker than the eye could follow and fired; the suppressed weapon barked and clacked its death at the two men in the door. At the same time, Hermione heard the door behind them open. She spun around, one arm clutching Scott with all its strength, and shouted, "Accio door!" The door slammed shut and she cast the Locking Spell.
She managed to get her second hand back around Scott's shoulders before she lost her grip. He kicked the door shut as he reloaded.
She locked that door, as well. "It will only slow them," she warned.
"That's fine." Scott ran around the desk and picked up an enormous leather-backed chair and hurled it through the window. It shattered the glass and tore out most of the lattice with its bulk.
He supported her legs again and ran to the back of the room where there was a large liquor cabinet and a variety of bookshelves. Scott jumped upwards and vaulted over the decorative carving surmounting the top of the liquor cabinet, behind which was a small, dusty space. Hermione folded her legs up and tried not to sneeze. The pain in her ankle had been worsening with every athletic action Scott had performed, and it now throbbed mercilessly. She pressed her cheek to the back of Scott's shoulder and took slow, steady breaths. She knew she mustn't make a sound.
Both doors burst open within seconds of each other. She heard footsteps on broken glass.
"Is it really too much to ask that you catch them before they destroy my house entirely?" an angry voice demanded.
"You go 'round towards the stables, we'll go out the servants' entrance," another voice ordered.
Hurried footsteps went out both sides of the room, and then someone else shouted, "They're in the back garden!" but they sounded distant.
"Are we, though?" Scott muttered as he jumped back down onto the carpet. "Two minutes."
The hallway was empty, save for two crumpled corpses. Hermione noted the bodies were not dressed in the typical Death Eater black, which meant the search was expanding enough to include Snatchers. The corridor took a sharp turn and led to what looked like the servants' quarters. Scott avoided them and they ended up in a tea room that offered a side view of the front gardens and the path to the manor.
"One minute," Scott said as he opened one of the windows. He dropped into the hedges below the window and then closed it as best he could from the outside.
There they crouched, prickled by the bottlebrush needles that cloaked them, waiting for their moment to arrive.
"Is it going to be very loud?" Hermione whispered into Scott's ear.
"Oh, hell yes."
And there she was, unable to plug her ears for fear he'd have to suddenly move again. "I hope this works."
Hermione braced herself, for all the good it would do.
When was the last time a fanfic made you laugh?
It's something that's been on my mind lately. I'm a fan of animation, particularly animated comedy, no doubt a legacy of my love of classic Simpsons episodes. But when I go and sift through the fanfiction of current animated fandoms, the one thing that stands out the most to me is just how few of those stories – stories based on what are essentially high-concept sitcoms – even make an attempt to be funny. It's one thing to fail to be amusing; I've been there plenty of times. But there is a persistent need in every fandom I've encountered to take what is essentially lighthearted source material, despite whatever pathos is shot through it, and darken it beyond recognition.
Perhaps this is evidence of that old saying, 'Drama is easy; comedy is hard'. As someone who has written a fair amount, I can honestly say that I think that's true in a general sense. At a basic level, it's easier to describe emotional turmoil than it is to make someone laugh. I would argue that at the deepest level, an 'expert' level, I suppose, things even out. Making fiction that is dramatic on a superficial level is much, much easier than making something that's genuinely funny. But I think it's just as hard to truly impart the hard emotions, to write well enough to make the reader feel something – sorrow, loss, rage and horror and the like – as it is to be funny. But stories operate on that level only sporadically. Most of the time, drama is just imparting the plot and building characters. It's not hard to do that, to whatever subjective levels of success.
It still bothers me that so few fanfictionists try. Maybe I have it easy. The Harry Potter books encompass so many different tones, especially as they go up in number. I believe what I've written is certainly more explicit that Rowling's work, but not necessarily darker. I've said before that Rowling and I don't have much in common when it comes to writing style (or bank accounts), but I think that all-around approach to genre is something we share.
Anyway, this note is already too long. I don't have any answers, but I wish more fanfic writers would try to emulate their source material a little better. For example, I've read a lot of Community fanfiction that was very well written and quite good, but only a very small handful that were ever funny at all, and I think the show at its best was one of the funniest things I've ever seen. And I know that animated shows are harder to adapt, as they often embrace concepts and themes and material that takes advantage of their very free medium. If you were writing an Adventure Time fanfic, for example, I think it would be very difficult if not impossible to emulate the way the show gets laughs just with an off-model pose or facial expression. But there are other ways to be funny. It'd be cool to see some more humorous fanfiction out there.