Warning: Dark, sexual references, angst. Rated R.
Summary: A girl and a boy struggle to avoid their fate. Part two of four, sequel to Change and Fade In, third in the Paint the Sky story arc.
Oh, Merlin. He hadn't expected it to be this bad. After Sirius' knowledge of the Lestrange estate had gotten them past most of the wards and booby-traps, they'd split up to cover more grounds for the search. They'd agreed that after an hour, if they were unsuccessful, they would get out and head to a rendezvous, but James had ignored that entirely. He should have been there fifteen minutes previously, but instead he had had to sit and watch as Lestrange Senior tortured the ragdoll of a girl who had once been beautiful.
Lily's lips were cut, and a thin line of blood was dripping down her chin. The torn, dirty clothing she wore exposed barely-healed wounds on her arms and legs. Her face was gaunt and pale, she was trembling, and she was being tortured.
Cold fury welled within him and he reached for his wand, but he knew there was nothing he could do until Lestrange left the chamber. If his absence were noted, if he had to be anywhere at any time and didn't show up, people would become suspicious.
When Lestrange touched her, James blanched. The breath was forced out of him. The agony of watching the dirty, disgusting man abuse something so pure shocked and appalled him. He wanted to be sick. He considered a well-aimed Severing Charm. Mostly he wanted to erase the image from his retinas, and from Lily's memory. God, Lily, I'm so sorry. There was nothing he could do. He hated himself.
A bell clanged; it was midnight. Lestrange left the chamber and James pulled the Invisibility Cloak off as fast as he dared. "I thought he'd never leave." What a stupid thing to say to someone who's been molested by a Death Eater! Brilliant, Potter. "I wanted to stop him, but I couldn't gi-" Give yourself away. Right.
You're mad. You've risked your life and the life of your best friend to save a girl who would just as soon spit on you as look at you. Worse, you're in love with her. And at one time he'd thought he deserved her, that she would be lucky to date a boy like him. Well, he was certainly starting to see the error of his ways. The arrogance of the Death Eaters was hauntingly familiar. "You don't know I'm here. I can't believe he- I mean I- shit." What could he tell her? He would be very surprised if she were coherent anyway, he decided. She'd lost a lot of blood and he doubted she'd eaten or had anything to drink; she was probably in shock. He touched his wand gently to her wounds, easing the pain as best he could, grateful for his mother's Healing abilities.
"How did you get here? Why didn't they see you? Why-" Why am I putting myself in danger for someone who despises me? I'm having a hard time answering that myself. Apparently Lily wasn't as incoherent as he'd expected.
So he avoided the question. "They've taken a lot of security measures to keep you here." For whatever reason, the Dark Side wanted her pretty badly. She was either bait for a trap or an attempted convert; with Lily's magical skill, he didn't doubt the latter. He lifted his eyes, and his attention, to the electric blue bindings on her wrists- highly illegal, painful, and difficult to remove. "These will be tough to crack. Hold still." If he did this wrong, it would sever her hands completely.
"You'll need the proper unlocking charm-" Her voice was tight, and she stopped talking. Her face was pointed downward, away from him, and he wondered if he had missed something- another cut maybe, anything-
"Good thing I pay attention in Defense Against the Dark Arts." He freed her hands at last and she stumbled off of the platform into his arms. "Careful." He held her up as best he could with his left arm and looked into her face, searching-
Her eyes, which should have been bright emerald, were pale and unfocused. She didn't make eye contact. He realized with a start that she was blind. Oh God.
"James? Is that really you?" She reached for his face, smudging his glasses.
Mustn't get upset, mustn't lose composure. He spoke past the lump that had formed in his throat. "You were expecting Father Christmas? Come on, I've got a Invisibility Cloak, get under and let's get out of here." He prayed she was coherent and healthy enough to do that.
"But I don't, I don't-" She was probably also very close to the far side of sanity. "How? Why?"
"Sedatio," James murmured, noting as all the tension left her body that the concern had mostly gone from her face. He hoped he hadn't overdone it and made her completely unaware, but he couldn't walk around in dangerous territory with Lily teetering on the edge of hysteria. "Get under the cloak with me. We haven't got much time."
She did, clumsily. He could feel her ice-cold skin through her clothing, and cast a very quiet Warming Charm. "Where are we going?"
"Home," he answered. "Now, we're going to have to be very quiet, but I need to know a few things ahead of time. Do you think you can walk?"
She wobbled a bit, and James reached out an arm to steady her. "Yes, but you might have to help."
He wrapped it around her waist as a more permanent means of stabilizing her walking, hoping it would help keep them both covered by the cloak as well. "That's fine. Do you know the way out?"
"No, I don't remember how I got here- James, I can't see!"
He was afraid his heart might break. Never had Lily Evans, Muggle-born witch, know-it-all and do-gooder extraordinaire, expressed anything other than complete confidence and control, except perhaps rage. Seeing her so afraid, so vulnerable, was gut-wrenching. Subconsciously, his grip around her waist tightened. "That's what I've got glasses for," he said. His voice cracked around the lump his throat, difficult and painful to speak past. "Never mind about anything except getting out of here, okay?"
"Okay." She trusted him. Whether or not it was because she was sedated was anyone's guess. James drew the hood of his cloak over his head and walked very carefully over to the door.
It was spell-proof, so he couldn't see what was on the other side, but the inside wasn't locked- there was no danger of Lily escaping by herself, not when she was blind and bound and tortured and freezing. Raising his wand just in case, but praying he wouldn't need it, he opened it quickly and pulled it shut behind them.
There was no one in sight, and as Lily was standing on his foot, he urged her forward again, hoping he could find his way out of the dismal basement. The longer they stayed here, he reasoned, the better the chances of getting caught.
Okay… left at that tapestry… make sure to tap the third brick on the left… He dragged Lily up against the wall with him as two Death Eaters walked by, perilously close. His heart stopped. Please let Lily stay quiet…
And then it didn't seem to matter if she were quiet any longer. A loud klaxon blared somewhere, magical in origin no doubt, and a third Death Eater strode down the corridor. "The prisoner has escaped," he announced dourly in a voice that James didn't recognize. "Split up and search the grounds."
When they were gone, James practically ran outside, past the wards, barely remembering to avoid the booby traps, outside the gates to the meeting place.
Sirius was there, looking a haggard combination of exhausted and worried. He had been using a combination of charms to keep himself from being seen- Disillusionment, Evasive and Unremarkable- and would still have had to keep himself extremely well hidden.
James threw the cloak on the ground, then set Lily down very gently on the grass.
"James, what the hell do you mean by staying in there an extra half- oh, oh Merlin." Sirius' face was ashen. "What did they-"
"No time," James answered. "Where's the Portkey?"
Sirius reached under a bush, then checked his watch. "Still cutting it a little close, Prongs- two minutes until activation."
James looked down at Lily's barely conscious form and muttered, "Enervate," hoping two minutes wouldn't make too much of a difference.
They appeared again in the Potters' drawing room, battered but alive. James, who had been supporting Lily with one arm in the few seconds before the Portkey activated, now looped his other arm underneath her legs to keep her from falling. She made no move to even hold on; her grasp on reality was slipping. Swaying slightly, James managed, "Sirius, find my mum."
Sirius tore off in one direction yelling for Mrs. Potter, and James eased through the doorway towards the dining room, careful not to bump Lily's head.
His father was sitting at the table, reading a newspaper; he never went to bed until he'd read every article. When he looked up to speak, all the color faded from his face. "Good Lord. Get her to the spare bedroom, James, quickly."
James was so shocked that he hadn't been chewed out that for a moment, he didn't move. Then he headed for the stairs as quickly as he could. Mr. Potter followed at his heels, firing questions at him.
"Do you know what curses they used?"
He shook his head. "Looked a lot like regular physical abuse to me. And Crucio. She was freezing cold, too. And they used Severing Restraints." Gently, he laid Lily on the bed. "She was hysterical," he whispered, touching her cold cheek and then turning around to finally face his father. "I sedated her. Just enough so she didn't worry." Had that been wrong? He longed to ask. Right then she looked like she might not wake up again.
"Okay," said his mother, securing her bathrobe around her waist and hurrying into the room. She pointed to her husband. "Out, please. James knows what's happened, no one else. You should contact the Order, Dumbledore especially."
Mr. Potter left, and James was left standing with his mother, wondering.
"What happened?" she asked briskly, casting Sterilizing Charms on the wounds James had numbed.
"Er," said James. "She was kidnapped... so we rescued her."
His mother did not look up from her work. "Not what I need to be hearing right now. Did you hear what curses hit her?"
He shook his head. Now was not the time to be emotional; none of that would help Lily. "I wasn't there for much of it. I saw the Cruciatus, but it looked like there was physical abuse before that. I think some of her smaller bones are broken- I didn't hear the curses he used, but I could hear them breaking. Maybe versions of the Reductor. They had Severing Restraints on her and I think she has a mild case of hypothermia, maybe hysteria too." He was quiet until his mother's gaze found him again, and then he felt his heart constrict a little. Fiddling with the corner of the bedsheet, he whispered, "She's blind, Mum. I don't know what spell they used. Her eyes are the wrong color and she can't see and how's she going to finish school if she can't read? She was going to be Head Girl."
When he dared look up at her, Mrs. Potter's lips were pursed in a thin line. She shook her head. "Never mind that, now. Go on and talk to your father and Dumbledore, you've helped all you could."
He rose only slowly, not at all reassured by his mother's words, and left to face his punishment.
Thunder boomed outside her window, jolting Lily from her sleeplike state. She shivered in the cold, pulling the blankets up to her chin, as her eyes darted sightlessly around the room. There were flashes of light, that much she could discern, and shadows. If she listened carefully she could also hear little noises in the dark, surrounding her. The dark crept closer.
Another roll of thunder and tears started rolling down her cheeks. They were coming for her again, and this time there would be no escape, not if they were in James' house, this time they would take care of him first.
This stupid gift, Lily thought to herself angrily. Why couldn't it have been anyone else? She tried to calm herself, reasoning that the Potters' defenses were nearly impenetrable, that they wouldn't dare another abduction so soon. Her attempts crumbled with the next crack of thunder. Cold invaded her blankets. The little noises seemed closer to her bed. She fancied maybe Miranda's ghost was paying her a visit, and lay paralyzed, wondering if her friend blamed her. Wind raged and howled and rattled the windowpane, and Lily shivered. It would be worse still if Miranda's family blamed her- Miranda had been standing in the doorway when… but whatever had happened afterward evaded her; she hadn't been able to see.
She could not sit through the fear any longer. Blindly, she stumbled out of bed and to the door, ignoring the chill of the stone floor on her feet, letting her memory of the estate's layout be her guide. A light that still glowed up above her provided a landmark; Lily counted the ten paces to the light, then ten more to the next room, arms stretched in front of her. The cool metal knob turned easily and she stepped inside.
Shivering again, Lily pushed the door closed as quietly as she could. This room had no lights on, which was presumably because its occupant was sleeping. Blindly, quickly to evade her fear and the cold, she guided herself around the chamber, lightly touching the wall and assuming that what she was looking for would be pressed against it.
Luckily, her assumption proved correct. It was not long before Lily's fingers came into contact with a soft blanket and then a mattress. Warmth. Someone was sleeping in this bed already. But, after all, she told herself, wasn't that the point? She felt around a little more until she had a reasonable approximation of where this particular bed's occupant was sleeping, then climbed into bed beside him.
Warmth. This bed was very warm, comforting. Her fears ebbed a little. Not cold. She knew that she could never go back to the cold. The boy beside her stirred and mumbled something in his sleep, or possibly not, then turned and sneaked an arm around her waist. A part of her mind, distant and ignored, wondered exactly how intelligent of her it was to sneak into bed with a boy she previously was known to loathe. It was overruled by the heat emanating from his body, anyway. Lily noted with a blush that her new bedmate wasn't wearing very much in the way of pajamas. Light continued to flash through the windows, but already she had given herself to sleep, and darkness.
Morning was always about two hours too early, James decided, burying his face under his pillow to avoid the light that was invading his room. Bed was so nice. Especially when his dreams had been filled with visions of redheaded girls sharing a bed with him. He brought his arm up to use as a pillow beneath the one shielding his eyes- or tried to. Said arm seemed to be occupied with something much more important. What on Earth…?
He lifted his head- and, thus, the pillow- off of the mattress and blearily opened his eyes.
Oh my. James was fairly certain that whatever the circumstances that had turned his unexpected houseguest into an unexpected bedguest were, they were not the ones that had dominated his particularly vivid dream of the night before. This could get interesting. A further appraisal of his situation: Whatever evolutionary dictate came up with morning wood, anyway? Well, he was sharing a bed with his redhead of choice, anyway, might as well make the best of it.
Lily was nestled very close to him, her side up against his body. Her body, clad in one of his mother's oversized nightgowns, seemed ridiculously childlike and small until he considered the curves of her breasts, which he could feel rising from just above where his arm rested. Fanned across his second pillow was a brilliant red wave of soft hair; her pale face was tilted towards him, nestled near his chest. For once, James was grateful for his myopia; though it was unfortunate on the Quidditch pitch, in early morning he found that passable vision for up close was infinitely preferable.
Am I still dreaming? he wondered. Nah. She's wearing too much clothing. This is definitely real. And there was indeed something very real about her, and very fragile. He found himself both unwilling and unable to move, to wake her. He knew that she had hardly slept since she'd woken two days previously, and couldn't blame her. Dumbledore had hidden her parents away to keep them safe, but James had to wonder how long that would last. His heart wrenched for her.
Come on, Potter, snap out of it! One night in bed with the girl and you've lost your mind. There was no further time to ponder that, though; Lily was stirring.
Pale green eyes opened, a little darker than they'd been the day before, and Lily moved her head around as though disoriented.
"Good morning, beautiful," he said, smiling, before he could stop himself.
She froze for a moment, then seemed to recall whatever had driven her there the previous night. She promptly buried her face in his pillow. "Oh, God…" The tips of her ears were as red as her hair.
This was not the reaction James had been expecting. He'd anticipated anger, perhaps, or maybe stunned silence, an awkward moment or two. Come to think of it, he hadn't really thought about Lily's possible reactions at all, which was a bit stupid of him, really. He missed the old Lily, but he supposed he'd have to make do with a sensitive one for the time being. Well, Potter, this is a fine mess you've gotten yourself into. Let's see how you are at damage control. He struggled for words. "Hey… Look, don't do that. Did you have a nightmare?" Bravely, he reached out and rubbed one hand up and down her back. He bit his lip nervously. "This bed's big enough for two- believe me, I don't mind." Then, resolving to be a little more serious, "I'm glad that you decided to come here. That you trust me not to take advantage of you." Way to go, Romeo, he thought to himself. You sound like a bad WWN drama.
Lily raised her head and looked in his general direction. "Thank you," she whispered, and he hoped she wasn’t going to cry. "I was just- it was so cold."
Like it had been in her cell, James hypothesized. After her rescue, she'd been declared too weak to be moved for at least ten days. "Well, I can get some extra blankets for your bed…" he began, knowing that was not quite what he wanted, and that he most likely wasn't going to get what he wanted. He supposed that that was okay, as long as Lily felt safe. "Or I could um, talk to Mum and Dad, if you want to stay in my room, we could bring in another bed… and if you still want to share occasionally, I won't object."
She attempted a meek smile. "I think my vision is coming back," she said to change the subject. "I can see shapes now, instead of just dark and light patches."
"Mum says you should have your sight back in full by October. You're lucky they wanted you alive." Maybe not so lucky, he thought darkly. His stomach still churned from what he'd seen of her torture. Some things still didn't make sense to him- like why she had been kept alive when it was well-known that she was a Muggle-born. Any other Muggle-born would have been killed without a thought. Her blindness was another matter of confusion.
He had expected her to turn away a bit, but he supposed that since she couldn’t see him anyway, it didn't matter. "Not what I would call luck," she said bitterly, her forehead creasing. "I didn't ask for this."
"No one ever does." It was an empty comfort, and he knew it even as her eyes filled up with tears only to be squeezed shut tightly. Lily's entire body stiffened, and a single sob escaped her before she lurched-
James barely caught her before she tumbled to the floor. "My baby," said Lily, quite suddenly. He very nearly dropped her. Baby? "The baby, how is the baby?"
"Just fine," he answered numbly, not wanting to upset her further. His blood ran cold. Something was very definitely wrong with Lily's mind. Was this another side effect of her torture? He was quite sure that Lily was not pregnant; it would have been impossible after… after what she had been through. His stomach wrenched. He supposed she could have been… "He's just fine, Lily, don't worry."
Her heaving subsided a little, and she sighed. "Oh, Harry's got your hair. I don't know whether to laugh or cry." She smiled vaguely down at nothing. "And so awake. Look at those green eyes."
All the hair on James' neck stood straight up and he shivered, jerking Lily's body involuntarily. Before he could say anything, she spoke again. "James Potter! Are you trying to take advantage of me?"
"Umm?" he managed weakly, still very confused at what had just happened. Lily seemed to have forgotten about any baby, and he wasn't going to bring it up again out of fear of incurring another episode. "No, but I wouldn't blame myself if I was. Anyway, aren't you hungry? Let's get some breakfast." James climbed out of bed, not really self-conscious of his state of dress (or lack thereof) since Lily couldn't see him anyway, and pulled on an old bathrobe. He bit his lip, watching nervously. Would Lily be offended if he offered to help her? She was walking very slowly, with her hands stretched out slightly in front of her.
When she tripped a bit on the edge of the rug, he jumped into action, grabbing her by the elbow. "Watch your step," he said gently, leading her to the door. "Do you think you can handle the stairs? There are a lot of them."
"I'm blind, not crippled. There's a banister; I'll be fine." At least she hadn't shaken off his hand. James counted that as progress.
"Last one," he said as they neared the bottom of the stairs. Lily put her foot down a bit heavily, but caught herself before she could stumble.
When she had corrected her footing, she asked conversationally, "So what's for breakfast?"
James had been thinking about that. He supposed it would be embarrassing for her to have to be fed since she couldn’t see her food, and frustrated if she had difficulty feeding herself. "Umm… muffins?"
Lily was halfway through her breakfast when an owl swooped into the window and deposited two good-sized envelopes on top of the plate of bacon.
"Looks like Hogwarts letters," said James, reaching for them and brushing the majority of the grease off. "Yours, too. Dumbledore knows you're here." He paused, unsure if he should ask if she wanted him to open her letter.
"Could you read mine, please?"
James ripped open the second envelope and unfolded the parchment enclosed. He cleared his throat.
Dear Miss Evans,
Welcome back to your final year at Hogwarts. Please find enclosed a list of schoolbooks and supplies. Also, please have your Head Student address prepared-
He stopped. So she is Head Girl. "Oops. Sorry, Lily, I guess I skipped the important one. Congratulations!"
She blushed red to the roots of her hair. "Thanks. Um, does it say who Head Boy is?"
He skimmed through the rest of the letter. "Not on this one. Let me check the other." He picked up one of the other sheets of parchment and read.
Dear Miss Evans,
We are pleased to announce that you have been selected as Head Girl for the 1977 school year. Your duties will include organizing school events, scheduling and assisting with patrols when necessary. Please prepare an address to the school Prefects for 1 September. Also, find enclosed the mailing contact of this year's Head Boy.
James let the paper slip through his fingertips. Was Dumbledore crazy? No one in the school had such a diverse detention and troublemaking record as James Potter. He was supposed to set an example?
"James? What's wrong? It's not Snape, is it?"
He shook his head, then realized again that Lily couldn't see him. "Um, no." He paused awkwardly.
"Well, who is it then?"
James fidgeted. "Me."
Lily choked on her muffin. "Excuse me? Is this your idea of a joke?"
He frowned at her. "Hey, my grades are as good as yours. Besides, I was nice to you about it. What do I want with responsibility?"
She flushed again. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean for it to sound like it did. But I thought you had to be a Prefect to make Head Boy?"
James had thought so, too. "I guess not." But then, the Gryffindor Prefect was a little incapable of handling certain duties at certain times of the month. Maybe there was some reason to the selection after all? "Maybe they're giving me credit for extra-curriculars instead."
Smiling a little, she said, "You mean like the time you made Lara Notshead's nose grow every time she started gossiping?"
"And anytime she bragged about how much weight she was losing, she looked like she gained five pounds?"
Lily sighed contentedly. "I must admit, that was one of your more appreciated pranks. Lara Notshead is such a twerp."
James exaggerated a gasp. "What's this I hear? Not only does Lily Evans have a sense of humor, but she actually actively dislikes someone besides me? I'll never see the world the same way again."
Silence reigned, and James wondered if he had taken this exaggeration too far. "I don't hate you," Lily said quietly, putting down her muffin. Though he knew she couldn't see, her eyes seemed focused on her plate. "You haven't been what I've accused you of in a long time."
There was another long stretch of quiet in which James had to decide how to respond. He felt relieved, and uncomfortable, and his heart pounded just a little harder than he felt was actually necessary. An old part of him was almost tempted to kiss her, thinking this might be as close as he ever got to amicability from her. Finally, he just said, "Thank you." She smiled slightly, and he thought that, just maybe, this could be the beginning of a strange, if not beautiful, friendship.
James had just started clearing the dishes when he heard the pop of the Floo from the sitting room. "James!" his mother's voice called. "Bring our houseguest to the fireplace, would you?"
"Yes, Mum!" he yelled back, depositing the armload of dishes in the sink. Maybe it was time for some levity- they'd had precious little of that in the past few days. "It appears you have a social call, Miss Evans," he said cheerfully, wiping his hands on a dishrag. He swept his arms out and caught her in them, tossing her over his shoulder with a grin. "Mustn't keep anyone waiting."
"James Potter!" Lily shrieked, squirming in his grip. "Put me down, you caveman!" But she was laughing and insulting him at the same time, and he counted that as definite progress.
Whistling slightly, James deposited Lily unceremoniously in the armchair by the fireplace. "Hullo, Mum. You wanted to see us?"
Chuckling, Mrs. Potter shook her disembodied head. "I didn't say anything about wanting to see you, James."
He pouted. Lily poked her tongue in his general direction.
"Lily, your parents would like to bring a few friends to visit for your birthday tomorrow. Do you think you're up to it?"
James poked her in the side. "You didn't tell me you had a birthday coming up."
Lily ignored him. "That sounds lovely, Mrs. Potter. Are you sure it's okay? I don’t want to be a bother."
"Oh, it's no trouble. I'll just leave James to do the organizing," his mother teased.
James blew a raspberry. "Just kidding. I'd be glad to."
"Well, that's settled, then," Mrs. Potter declared from the fireplace. "I've got to be going- my break's over. Why don't you two make up a guest list so that I know how many people to expect?"
A few moments later, James and Lily sat down at the kitchen table to make their list. "Sirius ought to be there," Lily said, sounding to James as if she were speaking around a large amount of pride. "He… he's changed, I think. Grown up a bit."
"A lot," James agreed darkly, missing his old friend- the laughing, almost-cruel Sirius- for a brief moment. "Questioning his actions is not something the Blacks taught him." Sirius' proud, pureblood family sometimes seemed as dark as its name suggested. He shrugged. "You've met his brother- that's what the rest of his family is like."
Lily's face betrayed her surprise. "I didn't know that Sirius had a brother."
He supposed that the brothers didn't exactly socialize openly at school. "Sure, Regulus Black."
"The Slytherin?" She was quiet for a minute. "I guess that explains a lot of things."
"Don't tell him I told you. Sirius doesn't live at home anymore- he was staying here, but there was just so much going on when you came back- he went to Remus Lupin's. He didn't want to be in the way."
"I like Remus," Lily said after a long pause during which she fidgeted with her hands. "He can come, too. And Marianne and Alice Philips, and Renata Chryse."
James smiled dryly. "Would you like to invite any more of my ex-girlfriends, Lily?"
"At least I don't want to invite Snape."
"Not that he'd come."
"True." She bit her lip; James did his utmost not to find it fascinating. "Do you think it would be alright if I invited a Muggle friend? I- he knows about magic already. He was there when… when I was kidnapped."
James' heart melted and sunk to somewhere around his knees. He took a deep breath. Why was he always alone when Lily asked questions like this one? "Lily… the Priams are dead." He swallowed. "The Death Eaters killed them right in front of you." When there was no reaction, he prodded gently, "Don't you remember?"
"No," she said quietly, eyes fixed on her hands. "No, I would know. I would know if John were dead. Wouldn't I?"
"I'm really sorry, Lily." Sorry had never felt emptier.
Lily Evans put her head down on the table and cried.