I: The Fall


The air was forced from his lungs as his body landed suddenly on hard stone. He lay still, his face contorting in pain. He drew in a rattling breath, and let it out in a groan. He was in agony. His back and shoulders ached horribly, and his head had been dashed against the stone. His head throbbed with fire, and he felt warm blood trickling down his scalp to pool on the floor.

It was a few moments before he could bring himself to open his eyes. When he finally did, he almost thought he'd gone blind from concussion. He was staring into a black void. He skin crawled. The darkness seemed to suck at his eyeballs and wriggle its way into his pores. Harry felt himself begin to panic, but took deep breaths as Hermione had taught him. It calmed him down somewhat, but this place… Even in the dead of night, a million miles from a town or city, there were stars, or the moon. Even in the deepest dungeon there was a crack under a doorway, or faint reflections cast on a wall, but not here. There was no light here.

It couldn't be natural, he decided, more likely it was a spell to make him blind. He couldn't hear anything either, except his own still shaky breathing. Slowly, wincing in pain, he brought his hand in front of his face. Or, at least he thought he did. There was no way of knowing, apart from the blast of pain from his shoulder. At least he knew he wasn't dead, it hurt too much. He shivered, partly in pain, but mostly from the bone-biting cold of the stone below him, stealing the warmth from his body.

Oh, joy, he thought, as the shivers wracked through him. He'd been captured. Again. He stared around him into the darkness. Sensory deprivation was a form of torture, wasn't it? It would be a new one for Voldemort, though; in Harry's experience he'd always been a more "wands on" type. In years gone by, he wouldn't have put it past Lucius to think of something like this, so restrained and effortless yet mentally devastating; but Azkaban had stripped Malfoy of more than just his good looks. These days, he resembled more one of his trembling, cowering house-elves than their Death Eater master.

Now, Harry thought, trying to take stock of the situation, who was powerful enough to do this? Voldemort, certainly, but this didn't feel like his style. Sitting around letting his victims go mad from lack of stimuli wasn't something he'd have the patience for. But then, it wasn't something any of his followers would come up with either. Some of the Death Eaters had torture down almost to an art form, but this technique was too deeply rooted in Muggle psychology to be appealing to them.

Anyway, if Death Eaters wanted someone to go mad, there were quicker ways. It had taken under twenty minutes for the Longbottoms to have their minds broken into little pieces. They had been unable to withstand the potency of four simultaneous Cruciatus curses from the Lestranges, who were among the most powerful wizards of their generation, and Crouch Jr., who had been no slouch either. All the Death Eaters were quite powerful. Voldemort had no interested in weaklings; after all, what was the point of being Lord of the useless? What he was doing associating himself with the likes of Pettigrew and the Malfoys was a mystery to Harry.

Not that he really needed to trouble himself about who was behind it. They'd get bored soon. Harry supposed he should thank his Uncle Vernon for ignoring his existence for all those years. If he were troubled by the dark, he would have gone mad by the time he was five, the number of times he had been shoved in his-thecupboard,thecupboard. And at least there was no yelling.

Most people in Harry's situation would have had the urge to talk to themselves, to try to break the unnerving silence; but Harry didn't want to speak out loud. It was possible that it could draw out his unseen enemy and get the whole show on the road, but he didn't want to risk it. Anyone clever enough to do this to him would be clever enough to put anything he said to good use. Or rather, bad use. Very bad, potentially. Better to keep schtum than risk betraying what was left of the Order.

Not that the Order was much good these days. Most of the members Harry had met while he was at school were dead and gone. Remus was died and Tonks as well, killed shortly before Harry's seventeenth birthday. Tonks had had her throat slit with a cutting curse, and Remus had got in the way of Pettigrew's silver hand and just about had his face burned off. The Healer had told Harry that death was instantaneous, which was a blessing, he supposed, if a macabre one.

McGonagall had taken over as Headmistress of Hogwarts, so she was in the first line of defence when Voldemort came to take the castle. Harry had been out of the country, deep in Eastern Europe, and so had missed the battle. McGonagall had died defending the castle, as had Neville, Ginny and so many others. Many of the lower years had been sent home when word had reached the Order of the impending attack, but those deemed able to help defend the castle had been asked to stay.

Some had refused, had run in terror at the thought of facing Voldemort. Harry understood that choice, as much as he thought it cowardly and despicable. He had since come to realise that it was right to be scared of Voldemort; he really was everything in nightmares and more. But to let that fear rule you, to leave your classmates, people you had shared a dorm with for years, to leave them to face the fear that you couldn't… Harry supposed his was a very Gryffindor way of thinking. He had been accused of it ever since he had been Sorted. But surely a Hufflepuff wouldn't abandon a friend? And surely a Ravenclaw knew that survival lay in numbers? Even a pragmatic Slytherin would have seen that they would have to choose a side sooner or later, surely?

Most of the upper years had died, being the best duellists and so out in the middle of the action. Some had been given the responsibility of protecting those who couldn't fight, but they had died as well as their charges. He had been told that Cho Chang, who had been incapable of facing the Death Eaters who had killed her boyfriend, had made a valiant attempt to sneak out of the castle to call in reinforcements from the Ministry - which was oblivious to the attack, as it had been to many others before and since - but had instead come up from the Honeydukes tunnel to find herself in the middle of Voldemort's base in Hogsmeade.

Some had survived by Apparating away when they realised the situation was turning into a bloodbath. The castle wards had been toppled before the battle began, so there was nothing to stop them. Harry had met a few of them since. Most had fled to Ireland, or to America, where Voldemort was barely a footnote at the bottom of a world history textbook, but there were some who stayed. They were all traumatised by what they had seen, and wracked with guilt for running away. Many of them had proven very useful to him as eyes-and-ears, trying to make up for their cowardice; yet they were too afraid to actually make an attack on the Death Eaters themselves. Again, Harry understood, but it angered him that he was expected to face up to that same Dark Lord with that same army, all alone, and he wasn't allowed to run away or be afraid.

Kreacher died, which Harry was not at all sorry about, but not before telling Bellatrix Lestrange about the Order's Grimmauld Place headquarters, the Fidelius Charm having fallen with its caster. The magic that bound him to Harry had killed him for betraying his master. Apparently the spell made it very painful, but he had died with a smile on his face, knowing he had been loyal to the Ancient and Most Noble House of Black. The resulting raid had killed off the rest of the Weasleys in one fell swoop.

Fred, George and, oddly, Percy had gone to fight at Hogwarts, and had died there, but Mr and Mrs Weasley hadn't, neither had Bill nor Charlie nor Ron, who had come back to report in and collect some supplies. They were all killed by the Lestranges and the Malfoys, who had gained entrance due to their alliances with the old Mr Black - who had set most of the wards many years before - as was Kingsley Shacklebolt. Moody had been ambushed the day before in an alley by no less than twelve Death Eaters, and had taken down all of them in a spectacular duel that had spilled over into a Muggle road, where he was run over by a number seventeen Routemaster bus.

Hermione and Harry were still on their search for the Horcruxes at that point, they hadn't even realised that Ron was dead until he was late returning from his progress report at headquarters. When his timed Portkey had returned without him, they had become worried. They hadn't been able to communicate with the Order, and by the time they had made their way back to England, all that was left was the dubious dregs of what had been a growing resistance movement.

Rita Skeeter had shown up in the street outside headquarters and had had to do some pretty fast talking to save her life from a grief-stricken Harry. She had decided to join the Order when she realised that the strategic interviews she had been blackmailed into taking by Hermione had already damned her to death if Voldemort ever took over; she had no chance of staying away from it all as she had hoped. She had led them to a drunken Mundungus Fletcher and, the most dubious of all, an entirely sober, scowling Severus Snape and Draco Malfoy.

Predictably, wands were drawn, and not so predictably, it was Snape who was slower off the mark and ended up suspended from the ceiling by his ankles, Malfoy by his side. The resulting explanations, interspersed with enough insults and hostility to drive Hermione to confiscating wands, had taken several hours. Harry had not been able to believe it. Snape had killed Albus Dumbledore before his very eyes, and yet he had never stopped working for the Order.

The type of Vow that Snape had taken to preserve his cover had never been broken before in history, that was the reason that particular spell had been chosen. There was no loophole, no backdoor, and the spell work itself was "Longbottom-proof", as Snape had put it. He had Vowed to kill Dumbledore if Draco could not, so that was what he would be forced to do. Draco had failed, and so to preserve the only Death Eater spy the Order had - and to preserve his own miserable hide - he had killed Dumbledore. This had the effect of cementing Snape's position with Voldemort and the other Death Eaters, who had all been more than a little suspicious of his allegiances.

It had also alienated the Order, and Snape had yet to find a way to convince them of his loyalty when the news came through of the attack on Grimmauld Place. Knowing, or thinking he knew, that the Order would abandon the place as soon as they knew of Dumbledore's death and his own defection, Snape had seen fit not to send warning. Not that they would have believed him if he had tried. And for all he knew; this was yet another test of his loyalties. It had been a test, he later discovered, and since the Order had been practically wiped out by the attack, his position was more secure than ever.

Snape had been horrified by the news, and at the Order's stupidity in staying put. He had realised just how much the Order needed him around. He had gathered those he could find, gaining some eyes-and-ears but only few active allies: Skeeter and Malfoy. After Draco had had a taster of the Dark Lord's wrath, as was inevitable when it had emerged that he had failed in killing Dumbledore, he was thoroughly disillusioned as to his Lord's greatness and goodness and had jumped ship at the first opportunity.

They were left with six members to deal with three Horxcruxes to destroy, including the one in the Dark Lord's body, and an army of Dark wizards, giants, Dementors and werewolves to defeat. Not to mention without the resources provided by Hogwarts or any kind of safe house. The Ministry was doing what it could, but it was fighting a losing battle. The situation didn't look good.

That had been two years ago. Miraculously, they were all six of them still alive. The war, still being fought by a barely-there Ministry, wasn't going well at all, and now there was alarming talk coming in from the grapevine. Voldemort had decided to track down and finally put paid to the last remainders of the fly buzzing around his ears that was the much-diminished "Order of the Inflammable Pigeon," as Malfoy had once called it. With the entire strength of the Dark Lord - which had been previously concerned with getting rid of the Ministry after his victory at Hogwarts - intent on hunting them down, it was only a matter of time before they were hauled up in front of him for what could be months of torture, before being granted the release of death.

Lying on the dark, hard, stony floor of wherever the hell he was, Harry chuckled to himself bitterly.

It really didn't look good