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The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell

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They bind his arms with chain behind him -- a bit ridiculous, since his wand hand was broken when they captured him and is now so swollen his fingers won't move, and the other shoulder dislocated and hanging limp. The chain is there to bind his magic, he knows. He could feel it like a heavy, wet blanket on his soul as they kicked him around his cel, preventing any convenient accidents, any freakish luck, any Gryffindorish opportunism as they softened him up. Even if he could hold a wand now, with those chains wrapped tightly around, it would do him no good at all.

Finally, once Malfoy had judged that enough of the fight had been beaten out of him, enough of his own blood and pride and dignity shoved down his throat, they levitate him out of the cell, hanging limp and gasping between them. He's no more threat, Prophecy or no. He knows it as well as they do, but he remains defiant. They expect it, so he gives it to them, and they take care, at least, to stay out of the reach of his teeth.

He groans just a little at the shock of it when they sling him to his knees before Voldemort's chair. They laugh, but there are fewer of them now than there were when he let them catch him three days ago, and now their laughter has a hard edge of giddy fear behind it. The cruelty is still there as before, and the triumphant smugness, but they sense on some level that there is something gone terribly wrong. But he hasn't escaped or been rescued, or managed to do anything in his imprisonment except to bleed, to scream, to struggle, and to retch in pain. He certainly has not brought their plans for dominion crashing to the ground. Still, they know something is wrong, but they don't understand exactly what. And his jaw is too swollen for him to explain it to them, even were he inclined.

Voldemort waits for him to recover as much as he can, patient as a spider, now that he's got what he was after. This is what they brought Harry out of the pit to see, he knows; evidence of his quest's failure -- Voldemort's horcruxes, all won back from Harry's hiding places and lined up neatly on the table beside the throne. All of them; cup, locket, wand, even the ring and the diary, which Harry had hidden under the floorboards of Dudley's second bedroom. Nagini coils tightly around the base of the table, as though drawn to the other objects of power.

Harry lets a small noise escape him as he looks at the collection. Voldemort laughs.

"I win, boy," he says, and his long, pale fingers tickle the air over them. "And you lose."

Harry glowers at the throne, trying just that much too hard not to look desperate and sick. Voldemort laughs, for once not quite gloating as he settles back into his chair, stretches his pallid, bare feet out before him, and crosses them at the ankles. "You dream too much, Harry," he explains, "Especially when you are in pain. I suspected it might be so, when my Faithful informed me of your failures at Occlumency." There is a ghost of movement behind the throne. Just one black robe and white mask amoungst the lot, but Harry knows at once that he's looking at the Traitor.

He closes his eyes, draws a shuddering breath. His hand is a dull throb, and his other arm so numb it's cold, but all he can feel in the hollow of his breast is white hot anger. He keeps the thought to himself. And the Dark Lord will mark him as equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not ...

There's a rustle of movement. "This, however," Voldemort goes on. "This, I find intriguing."

Harry looks up, and feels the blood drain from his face. There is a cube perched in those spidery, white fingers, its gold traceries gleaming fitfully in the torchlight as he turns it back and forth. "It is not one of mine, of course. And the old man hadn't the courage to try and make one for himself, and so I must conclude," and here, he leans forward in his throne, puts his face close to Harry's, and stares with his blood coloured eyes, "that it is yours."

Harry holds the gaze until he begins to sweat, and then flickers a glance at the box, quick as he possibly can.

Voldemort smiles, and nods. "Just so." He drops the box to the floor between his feet, then kicks it across the flagstones. "Destroy it," he says to the Death Eater at who's feet it skids to a stop.

"Wait-" Harry begins too late. The spell is cast, and the lashback sends the black robed woman alight in a sudden, consuming rush of white fire.

In the horrified, reeking silence that follows, Harry hopes it was Bellatrix.

Then comes the rustling sound again, and Harry is facing the end of every wand in the room.

"It isn't," he manages to mumble through split and swollen lips. "I mean, the box isn't. What you think."

"Liar," Voldemort hisses. Hood flaring, Nagini mimicks him. "Do you imagine I could miss the feeling of a horcrux when I held one in my hand?"

"The box isn't," Harry insists, not moving.

"Inside it then," a whiny, breathy voice sounds from somewhere behind him. "The box is just a protection!" Harry looks at his knees, and bites his lips shut.

Voldemort snaps his fingers, and someone with more loyalty than sense brings it to him. He thrusts it under Harry's nose, and hisses. "Open it!"

Harry looks up and laughs. "Not on your life, Tom!"

Someone whallops him in the back of the head, and when he rights himself, Voldemort has not moved; hand still outstretched, box still in it, eyes still blazing. "Open. It."

He shakes his head. "And the Dark Lord will mark him as equal," he says, spitting blood. "But he will have power the Dark Lord knows not."

They try Imperio, then Cruciatus, they threaten friends he knows they cannot find, then they threaten family he knows they've already murdered. Then they simply try beating him about the room some more.

It's finally Wormtail who stops them, grovelling and whinging about his life debt, begging that Harry not be killed in front of him, where he'll be cursed if he fails to stop it. In his floating haze of pain, Harry is actually impressed at the little man's nerve. He's no less surprised to hear Snape's voice backing Pettigrew up.

"I should advise caution, my Lord," he says, and Harry can't help admiring the perfect balance of humility and veiled scorn in the tone. "Removing the object's protections with the prisoner unsecured could lead to..." Harry imagines black eyes flickering at his face in the minute hesitation. "complications."

"I'll secure him, my Lord!" Malfoy. The younger one, all spite and bile, and plenty to prove.

"Be silent, boy." Malfoy. The elder one. Azkaban's traces evident in the jagged edges on tones that were once cultured and smooth. It's obvious from the sneer on Voldemort's face how thin the ice Draco walks.

"And if the boy's life is ended before his horcrux is destroyed..." Snape continues as though uninterrupted, but he lets the sentence trail off as Voldemort's face twists from scorn to rage. Harry doesn't know what would happen, exactly, but he thinks of Quirrel, and of murdered unicorns in the darkened wood, and he is glad his exhausted trembling hides his shiver.

"My Lord..." Peter whines, kneeling down just by where Harry has fallen. "Please, let me-"

The Cruciatus is swift, and brief. Harry grunts as the snivelling little man falls across him when released. "And let you what, exactly, Wormtail?" Voldemort hisses. "Let you answer your inconvenient life debt by setting my enemy free? You think me such a fool?"

Harry winces when the yew wand slashes through the air again, expecting a second burst of scarlet light, but Wormtail's bulk is only hefted aloft and dropped with a squeak and thud at Voldemort's feet. "Snape. You take Potter back to his cell, and see to it that he will survive the night," the dark lord hisses, leaning over his trembling subject and pressing the metal box into his hands, "My pet marauder has a puzzle to solve for his Lord."

And just like that, it's done. Harry bites his lip, eyes screwed closed and hardly daring to hope as Snape levitates him. Then, for some reason, he feels himself settling into wiry, strong arms, against a toast-rack chest, ridged down with a billion painful buttons. Harry lets his head loll onto the thin shoulder, and doesn't even care at the sour smell of the man's hair as Snape's ground-eating strides carry them out of the hall.

"Snape," he murmurs, once they have turned three corners, and taken one stairway down. "Can you get us out of here?"

"Without making both of us a target for every Death Eater alive?" The dark voice was seething in rage he didn't bother to hide. "No. I cannot."

"I let them catch me," Harry says, barely a breath of sound to stir the greasy hair at Snape's chin, "I wanted all the horcruxes to be there, together, with him."

Snape's pace falters. "You... Good god, child, why?" Then he shakes his head, and walks on. "The box. Your horcrux. I might have guessed."

"Not a horcrux, it's a door," Harry says, beginning to be desperate, now that he isn't in the room anymore. "Only seems like a horcrux because of where it goes. Found it in a muggle shop. Didn't know what it was they had." He swallows, wishing his hands were free, so he could pluck at the man's robes. "I mean it though, Snape. You really, really want to get us out of here. Right now. Before they open that box."

And again, Snape stops. He looks down, and Harry can see his eyes glitter through the sockets of his mask.

"It's over, Snape," he says, "There's no more cover to keep. No more spying. Not after this. Not once they get it open. And they will get it open. It wants to be opened."

The hands under his ribs and knees tighten, and the lump in Snape's throat bobs before he asks. "And once they open your door, Potter?"

He stares up into those eyes and whispers. "Hell in a handbasket, Snape." The dark eyes roll, but Harry maintains his stare until they quit. "I don't exactly know what will happen," he says. "but I know I don't want to see it in person. And neither do you."

Snape looks up the stairs, then back down to Harry's face. And then he apparates without another word.

And upstairs in Voldemort's throne room, seven strange creatures step out from the bloody, twitching arch of sinew, skin, and bone which had recently been a man named Peter. They bathe in blasts of light as the Death Eaters try to fight, or to flee; cerise, chartreuse, and blazing white magic in all flavours of death and pain.

They do not fall.

They do not slow.

White fingers spread deathless skin, self-rupture a cavernous belly, and suddenly the room fills up with flying steel, chains and hooks and jagged, gleaming, screaming blades.

Then there is no more light, only the borealis glow of their skin as the Seven glide to the dark throne where a half-man writhes like a moth on card, and the table of delicacies gleam like sugar alongside.

Someone in the shadows moans. Someone sicks up. Someone clacks his teeth over, and over, and over in voiceless, perfect madness. Someone laughs. Someone says "...no..." and nothing else.

Like moth's wings, Their white fingers stroke the assembled treasures, tickle over a wide, staring scarlet eye, dabble gently in the blood that sheets over a serpentine cheek. They taste with blackened tongues the rare, unearthly blend of man and monster.

He whimpers like a little boy as they smile, and begins to wonder for the first time if he truly understood what it could mean to live forever.

"We have," says one, in a voice of kind, and awful wisdom, "such wonderful things to show you..."

~* Fin *~