Part I: Fade In
part two of the Paint the Sky anthology
part one of the Fade series
by lone astronomer
Warning: Violence, language, torture, some sexual references. Rated R.
Summary: The story of a boy and a girl who try everything to avoid their destiny. Part one of four, sequel to Change, second in the Paint the Sky story arc.
Disclaimer: I make no claim of ownership upon Harry Potter, be it of his character or his surroundings. I do, however, own half a share in Cabana Boy Oliver. I am not charging people to read my story, because they wouldn't pay anyway, so don't sue me. If you do not know to whom Harry Potter belongs, you must have been living in a cave for the past four years.
When she woke, her head throbbed. Her entire body protested her return to consciousness with screaming joints and muscles. She couldn't, daren't, move. She knew that she was standing, probably tied, in the center of a large room, her arms above her head. There was no sound except her own breathing; her visual field was black.
That's because your eyes are closed.
She had no idea how long she had been unconscious- hours, likely; possibly days. It felt like weeks. She opened one eye cautiously, slowly, and found that she could hardly see any more than she had when her eyes were closed. The air tasted stale and old; her mouth tasted like bile. Dimly, she hoped she had projectile-vomited on one of her captors.
Her knees trembled and her shoulders ached from holding her arms above her head, but they were bound magically to whatever it was she was tied to. She felt hollow, like she should have been hungry, or angry, or terrified, but thoughts of herself failed her. She wondered if her family was all right. The circumstances of her abduction eluded her, were hidden behind a curtain of fog.
There was a whisper, seemingly far-off, just above her auditory threshold. Out of habit she turned her head in that direction to look, but her dim eyes perceived nothing. A door opened, she could tell by the sound, though it was not the sound of a conventional door opening. The room brightened, then dimmed as it was closed again.
"I see you've waited up for me." The words were spoken with clear malice, and she recognized the voice from somewhere- a place that seemed so very far away from the dank hole in which she was imprisoned.
She should have been afraid, or maybe cowed, or at the very least resigned- but some part of her personality had remained. She raised her eyebrows in the general direction of the voice. "Actually you've just woken me from a rather pleasant nap," her ill-used voice rasped. She felt like she was screaming, but in reality she barely spoke above a whisper. "So if you don't mind-"
His stinging slap cut off her sentence, and she tasted blood in her mouth. "I will dictate when you sleep and when you do not," he intoned. "If you have been able to rest despite your present circumstances, I shall find some new way to keep you awake."
She closed her eyes again, since there was nothing else she could do to indicate that she wasn't listening.
His blow landed on the other cheek this time; tears glistened in her eyes at the force, but she didn't let them fall, and she was fairly sure he'd split her lip open. The pain had once been a welcome distraction from her tormentor's words, but she now seemed compelled to listen anyway. "Insolent girl. Worthless Mudblood. Why the Dark Lord has chosen you, I cannot begin to fathom- but since I can't kill you and you won't join us yet, let me point out why it's in your best interest to make your decision soon." He began to mutter quietly.
The bindings on her wrists started to chafe and burn, searing her flesh. Reflexively she struggled against her bonds, but the struggle only made the pain worse and she soon gave up. One of her fingers snapped at his command. She tried to scream, but could barely manage a whimper.
"See what pain it will cause you to defy the Master?"
Her throat constricted. She hadn't even known there was a spell to do that, and there wasn't much that she didn't know about magic. She fought for breath as pain exploded in her belly, her right thigh, her neck.
"You can rest assured, my dear Mudblood, that this will not stop until you have made the correct decision."
"Kill me," she demanded, not caring to live any longer. "You know I will never join you."
"Oh, I think not. I think you just need more convincing. Crucio."
Her pain tripled. She tried to double over to ease the tearing of her stomach, but her wrists burned and held her standing; she bit her lip to keep from screaming aloud again. There was no sound, and no room; nothing except pain.
Then, suddenly, her world stopped.
"I see you are bound quite closely to the light." There was a subtle change in the voice; it became thicker, silkier. Some primal part of her mind recoiled from it.
"Perhaps pain is not something that can break a young... lady... such as yourself." She could feel his breath on her cheek. Her stomach roiled, but there was nothing left in it to reject.
Thin, callused fingers trailed down her neck to her breast. She shuddered, but could not move away. Air stirred elsewhere in the room, and she thought she heard a sound-
And then only disgust, as he cupped her between her legs and she retched, but there was no escape-
A bell sounded, somewhere past the door and far away from her world, and the man hit her again, spat on her cheek and left. She trembled in his wake, head hanging, and felt the blood drip from her face onto the ground. Air continued to stir in her small cell, but it could not hold her interest. She shivered, noticing the cold for the first time, and didn't care.
There was a sudden exhalation that wasn't her own, and she lifted her head in spite of herself.
"I thought he'd never leave," came the voice, and all she could make out was a shadowy shape in the grayness that surrounded her. "I wanted to stop him, but I couldn't gi-"
He was familiar. She knew this. She tried squinting, but she couldn't make him out. And then the memory of his voice, the slight accent, the timbre-
It was impossible. And yet, she knew without a doubt that it was true. "Potter?!"
His world stopped. He wished he hadn't just heard what he thought he'd just heard. Hiding in his father's study while an emergency meeting of the Order of the Phoenix was held was not something he was unused to, and James Potter had heard terrible things before.
"When was she taken?" his father asked Dumbledore tiredly.
"Two days ago," the Headmaster replied. He looked older than James had ever seen him. "She was visiting a Muggle friend."
Professor McGonagall spoke up next. "The Muggles?"
"All dead," confirmed Alastor Moody.
James shivered. He had run missions for the Order before, unbeknownst to all save Dumbledore and one or another member. He had been of age since February of his sixth year, and there had been nothing the old man could do to stop him from volunteering. James simply saw no reason to worry his parents with his involvement, and as a legal adult, it was his prerogative.
But right now he was too stricken to do much of anything. It couldn't be true.
Sirius Black, his best friend and teenage runaway, sat pale in an armchair by the fire. James knew that Sirius must be nearly as affected as him, especially knowing that his besotted friend was in the room with him. With a family tree full of Dark wizards, Sirius was a very valuable member of the Order of the Phoenix- James had once been jealous of the attention, the contribution, of the fact that Sirius had spied for two years before James had been allowed to contribute. Now he could see that Sirius would have given anything to trade places with him.
"We have to go after her."
James had never been more grateful for his best friend than at that moment. The girl he loved was being held prisoner, had been a prisoner for two days already. There was no telling what they'd done to her- she could be starving, unconscious, tortured, dead-
"We have no plan, Mr. Black, no real information about where she is being held in this facility, and no chance of a rescue without alerting Voldemort to a security leak."
Sirius remained firm. "Then let me go. I can pretend to offer my service. My cousin is staying at the Lestrange estate this summer, anyway. I can bluff my way out if I'm caught."
James' temper was wearing extremely thin.
"Look, Mr. Potter, I understand that you think I'm just a kid with anger management issues, and maybe you're right. But you can't leave a sixteen-year-old girl to die just because you don't know how to save her."
Mr. Potter looked more than ready to offer a scathing retort, but Dumbledore held up a hand and forestalled any comment. "I wonder if I might have a word with Mr. Black alone?"
James very nearly gave himself away with his sigh of relief, and threw off the cloak once the adults had left.
Dumbledore wasted no time getting down to business. He handed Sirius a rolled scrap of parchment and James a silver pocket watch with a very long chain. "The dots on the map there are people, Sirius; since you haven't got an Invisibility Cloak you should be able to work your way around people that way. Traps and wards should show up in red. Boys, that Portkey will reactivate two hours from when you first use it, so I suggest you use your time there wisely." He stopped, seeming reluctant and tired, then continued. "I know I don't need to stress the importance of this rescue- but Lily Evans will have some part to play in this war, whether on our side or theirs. Now, go quickly, before the other members are back. I fear I may be losing their trust already." He Disapparated with a soft pop, and James and Sirius were left to regard each other apprehensively. Evans was a prisoner, and it was up to them to save her.
The two boys tumbled out of thin air into a thicket, then crouched and brushed as many of the thorns away as they dared. Sirius pulled out the map as James tucked the pocket watch under a bush. "This would be a lot more convenient if the dots were labeled," Sirius grouched, touching his wand to the parchment. "Locate." Two of the dots glowed blue, far away from the outlines of the formidable estate. "That's us, Prongs. See a way in?"
James traced his wand over the parchment, swerving slightly when he encountered the red lines and fields. "This is impossible," he muttered, still trying to wind his way through.
"Here," Sirius offered, pulling the map towards him. "There are only two ways in. The first is to approach directly- head anywhere other than straight for the door and you're toast. That's to prevent people from sneaking up on them. The Death Eaters will have a different entrance- just in case the house is under surveillance." He examined the booby traps for a few minutes. Finally, he murmured, "Of course."
The two boys approached the house from the far side, slanting inward only slightly. Under cover of darkness, and sharing James' Invisibility Cloak, even if they were being watched they would be hard to spot. They made their way through a winding, carnivorous hedge first, tracing out the rough shape of a V. Sirius nearly took a very wrong turn, and only James' hold on the back of his robes under the Cloak saved them from being plant food. At the top of the V they turned almost 180 degrees, and abruptly faced the end of the maze.
"So far, so good," murmured Sirius, taking out the map again.
They passed what they might have seen as a Boggart, if they had been able to see it- it was not able to see them, and so it went unnoticed. "You take care of making sure we stay on course," James whispered, "and I'll take care of these." They had come upon a group of hinkypunks. Grindylows were next, but finally the only thing between the would-be rescuers and the back entrance was a massive Sphynx.
A sphynx that was not fooled by the Cloak.
Its massive head lowered and stared them in the eyes. When it spoke, its voice was a distant rumble in James' mind.
Sphynx am I, and mortal, you,
seeking passage to her tomb.
Riddle I and answer you,
Later enter, first pursue:
What's the answer to my rhyme?
You have a half an hour's time.
Tomb. That was more than James needed to hear. But then, that's what Sphynxes had been originally enslaved for, wasn't it? He hoped that this was just the same spiel every wary traveler got before the Sphynx swallowed them whole. He was hoping not to get swallowed, in any case.
As small as an ant,
big as a whale,
approach like a breeze,
come like a gale.
By some I am hit,
all have shown fear,
I dance to the music,
though I cannot hear.
Names have I many,
Names have I one,
As slow as a snail,
from me you can't run.
What could be as small as an ant and as large as a whale? James wondered. It seemed to be contradictory. Something that could change sizes? The next few clues were about wind. Maybe wind was the answer? But that seemed too obvious... besides, wind wasn't as small as an ant, was it? Or as slow as a snail, for that matter.
What could the answer be? James thought furiously. What danced but couldn't hear? He had heard light described as dancing in some book before, he thought, but light didn't approach like a breeze and it wasn't hit by things, really. It certainly wasn't as slow as a snail. What if there wasn't an answer? What if nothing was the answer? Nothing was as small as an ant and as big as a whale... he supposed you couldn't run from nothing...
But what if he was wrong?
James never got the chance to answer. Beside him, Sirius moved to stand in front of the Sphynx. "A shadow," he said. "The answer is a shadow."
There was an almighty rumble as the great stone beast moved its body aside, and James and Sirius sneaked quietly past. The hair rose along James' neck as it moved back in place, closing off their escape. The two boys faced each other for a moment before James reached for the door.
There was no going back.