Elusion

Chapter 37

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Harry cried out in agony as soon as he regained his senses. He was mildly aware of the fact that he was laying on the ground. If the cold hard floor beneath his cheek was anything to go by he surmised that he was no longer in Dumbledore's office. He wasn't sure what to do about that fact though. Somehow, he knew that Dumbledore wasn't done with him. He tried to move but another cry, louder than before tore its way out of his throat. Every inch of his body was aching like hell especially his hands, which felt utterly useless. He gritted his teeth and attempted to move again. He was not weak. If Dumbledore was going to torture him, he wouldn't just lie back and take it,

"Harry, how are you feeling?"

Harry bit down on his already ravaged tongue to stop himself from making a sound and felt the metallic taste of blood fill his mouth. He continued his agonizing efforts to raise himself onto his knees and into a more defiant position. He would have never guessed that the old man was such a sadist. Well, he should have been smarter and guessed when that bastard forced him to return to his abusive relatives every year. Dumbledore tsked,

"It seems you have not learnt your lesson, Harry. I am far too lenient and it breaks my heart to cause you pain. I believe Severus can teach you better. Are you up for the task, Severus?"

It took Harry all his strength to keep himself on his knees. He wanted to retort. Dumbledore had been very lenient when he had been snapping his fingers or torturing him senseless. Oh, and the heartbreak. That had been clearly visible on his damned face. He looked around and took in his surroundings. The grey stone walls told him that he was somewhere in the dungeons. He took stock of his own injuries. Everything was aching so it was difficult to pinpoint which part of him hurt the most apart from his hands, he was very aware of the pain in them. He wasn't bound anymore and his legs felt relatively unharmed despite the fact that they were aching too. He could probably run. But he struck down that idea. Running wasn't an option. His body wouldn't be able to take the strain and he would pass out. Nope. He couldn't handle anymore disgrace. Snape's voice rang out from somewhere,

"Yes, headmaster."

Hate and enmity welled up in his heart at that voice, fury itself burning him up. He had to survive this so he could exact revenge. He wanted these two men to die the most painful deaths possible and he wanted to be responsible for it when that happened. Dumbledore was regarding him with an admonishing expression on his face as if all he could see was a disobedient pet and not a person he had just tortured brutally. Snape came into view and regarded Harry with his cold, black, expressionless eyes. His black hair framing his pale face. Greasy git.

Dumbledore flicked his wand and a whip appeared in his hand. Harry eyed it warily. Of course. He should have expected this. Torturing him with a wand mustn't have been interesting enough or satisfying enough. Dumbledore handed the whip to Snape. Harry saw unease flash through those black eyes for a second before it vanished and Harry told himself that he had imagined it. Another wave of Dumbledore's wand and Harry found himself naked from the waist up and strapped to a wooden post face-first with his arms spread and shackled to the cross section. His legs were untied. There was enough space in the position to squirm. He wouldn't. Where had the post come from anyone? Why hadn't he noticed it earlier? The cold air on his bare torso made him repress a shudder. He wanted his jacket back. His thoughts came to a halt when Dumbledore drew closer to him and tugged on his arms, and on the restraints, testing them and positioning his body. Harry had to force himself not to struggle against it.

Dumbledore moved away. His face had the hard, strapped-down look of a man resolved on a course of action. He took up a position against the wall in front of Harry. From this vantage, the bastard would not be able to see the impact of the whip, but he would see his face. Harry's stomach turned over. He felt the pain flare up in his hands worse than before and he realised that he had begun unconsciously pulling against the restraints. He forced himself to stop. As Snape moved behind him, he tried to prepare himself,

"How many lashes, headmaster?"

A small smile played across Dumbledore's face and his blue eyes twinkled brightly,

"I am not certain yet. I shall decide eventually. You may begin."

The sound came first, the soft whistle of air, then the crack, whip against flesh, a split second before the jagged pain ripped at him. Harry jerked against the restraints as the whip struck his shoulders, obliterating in that instant his consciousness of anything else. The bright burst of pain was barely given a moment to fade before the second lash hit with brutal force.

The rhythm was ruthlessly efficient. Again, and again the whip fell on his back, varying only in the place where it landed, yet that tiny difference grew to have critical importance, his mind clinging to any hope of a fraction less pain, as his muscles bunched and his breathing changed.

Harry found himself reacting not only to the pain but to the rhythm of it, the sick anticipation of the blow, trying to steel himself against it, and reaching a point, as the lash fell again and again across the same welts and marks, when that was no longer possible.

He pressed his forehead to the wood of the post then and just took it. His body shuddered. Every nerve and sinew strained, the pain spreading out from his back and consuming all his body, then invading his mind, which was left with no barriers or partitions that could hold against it. He forgot where he was, and who was watching him. He was unable to think, or feel anything other than his own pain. The only thing he could do was scream.

Finally, the blows stopped. Harry took a while to realize it. He became aware of himself in stages. His chest was heaving and his hair was soaked. He unlocked his muscles and tested his back. The wave of pain that washed over him convinced him that it was much better to be still.

He thought that if his wrists were released from the restraints he would simply collapse onto his knees in front of Dumbledore. He fought against the weakness that made him think that. His returned awareness of the existence of Dumbledore and Snape arrived at the same moment that he realized that Dumbledore had stepped forward, and was now standing a single pace away, regarding him, his face wiped clean of any expression,

"I can still be merciful, Harry. Pledge your loyalty to me and make this easier upon yourself."

Harry spoke. His voice sounded rough, weak, and barely audible in comparison to his screams,

"You are both cold, ruthless, sadistic bastards. Enjoy my pain while it lasts because I'm surely going to enjoy yours when the time comes."

Dumbledore smiled sadly and spoke in a detached voice,

"Your assumption that you shall make it out of here alive is absurd. And the fact that you are able to nurture such hope is proof that we have stopped too early. Again, Severus."

Harry tried to brace himself for another strike, and something in his mind splintered when it did not immediately come,

"Headmaster, I am not certain that we will survive another round."

Dumbledore spoke again in a cold, flat voice.

"I believe he will. But, even if he dies, it shall not cost us anything. He has proven himself to be a lost cause."

Harry felt oddly calm in the face of his impending death. Panicking wasn't going to get him anywhere and he had been preparing to die for a while now. He counted his regrets and strangely enough, his biggest one wasn't that he had failed to avenge Sirius. It was his words to Voldemort. He wished he could take them away but he was satisfied in the fact that he had done something to pay him back for the pain he had caused him. Dumbledore wouldn't be able to exploit his weaknesses anymore and he was certain that Voldemort would avenge him and kill Dumbledore and Snape if he ever found out about this. He surely would.

Lost to pain, Harry couldn't have said for how long or how many more times Snape whipped him, only that he did. When it was over, he was well beyond further impertinence. Every fibre of his being down to his core was being smothered by pain. Blackness was threatening his vision, and it took all he had to keep it back. He had stopped screaming or maybe he had managed to tear his vocal cords. His own stubbornness surprised him. How the hell was he still alive let alone conscious? Maybe it was Dumbledore's doing. He couldn't open his eyes but he could imagine the annoyed look on Dumbledore's face as he spoke,

"Still alive. You really are irksome."

Harry felt internally overjoyed. Dumbledore had really been hoping that he would die and he had eliminated that hope by stubbornly surviving. He commended himself and a weak laugh bubbled out of his lips. The sound reverberated through the now silent dungeon. It seemed his vocal cords had survived after all along with his humour,

"Watch him, Severus. I shall deal with him later."

Snape must have nodded because Harry couldn't hear a reply or maybe he missed it. He kept drifting in and out of consciousness. The shackles that had been holding him to the post vanished and Harry nearly slumped to the ground. Someone grabbed him before he could fall. It took him a while to realize that it was Snape…. Snape was holding him up,

"Harry, I'm so sorry…I didn't want to…I didn't think…"

Was Snape crying? Was he really apologizing? Maybe he had lost his mind. But he sounded different. Snape never used interjections. Before Harry could think anymore he was consumed by absolute darkness.

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