Hi everyone, thanks for reading!
Couple of A/Ns:
Regarding the M rating: this fic may well end up containing violence, offensive language and sexual content, so mature readers only please, and if you're of a delicate disposition perhaps this is not for you. I'm not intending for there to be any rape; however, there may be elements of violence with sexual overtones, or (since we're dealing with an amnesiac) complications with consent. If there is going to be something of a potentially upsetting nature, I'll give you fair warning at the start of the relevant chapter.
Please feel free to leave a review or some concrit. (Try to keep it kind, though! Patronizing is okay hehehe.) I will answer all registered reviews.
Special thanks to my beta StoryWriter831 for the continued concrit and for planting the idea of trying out this pairing, and to everyone else who has shouted encouragement. :3 You guys rock. A thousand thanks also to bloomsburry, who designed the gorgeous book cover! Of course, the characters belong to JK Rowling, and I make no money from borrowing them awhile.
Lastly...this story is many things. It is a dark romance, a psychological drama, an angsty thriller...but first and foremost, it is a MYSTERY. So if you like your stories laid out before you in neat, orderly rows, then I suggest you don't waste your time here. If, however, you don't mind being lost in mist and entwined in shadows, then by all means, join hands with our heroine as she makes her way through the dark, winding forest, in search of the light...
Hope you enjoy :)
BELONGING TO THE FOG
You can fall ill with just a memory - Paolo Giordano
I was running through a forest, but I had no idea why.
A stinging rain lashed my face and bare arms, plastering my clothes to my body, my hair to my scalp. I was freezing cold and crying, but the tears meant no more to me than an ephemeral warmth on my raw cheeks.
Where am I? My heart was thumping in tempo with my pounding feet. Where am I?
...WHO am I?
Thin branches welted my skin, I felt twigs snapping and leaves catching on my hair and clothes.
I wondered if I was running towards something or away from it.
Was I being chased? Was there something pursuing me—something terrible, unspeakable?
...Or was I desperately seeking, searching for something?
I had no idea how long I had been running for, but my calves were burning, my knees jarring and I was puffing in deep gasps. I had nothing but instinct to guide me, nothing but momentum to keep me from collapsing in a heap.
Thud—thud—thud—thud, my feet struck the ground with rhythmic urgency, thud—thud—thud—thud, my heart struck my ribs with synchronous fear.
The trees began to thin and the light was changing, the gloominess lifting. I must be nearing the edge of the forest. That could only be a good thing.
The rain had abated, but now a thick, encompassing fog was roiling in towards me. I could see the vapor of my breath billowing before me in white puffs, but beyond that it was difficult to make out anything, the trees were now but vague dark smudges in the haze.
My foot suddenly caught a jutting tree-root and I slammed into the muddy forest floor, landing on my right wrist and twisting it painfully. I uttered a cry, but my voice sounded eerily muted, deadened by surrounding fog.
I clambered to my feet, rubbing my wrist with my other hand.
Brushing myself down, I now realized I was wearing an inadequately thin dress, pale yellow, stippled whimsically with daisies. Splattered thickly with mud.
My legs were bare, scraped in places, almost blue with cold. At least I had on trainers. They appeared to be the only item of clothing suited to a wet forest terrain—although an irrelevant, disjointed voice in my head told me they did not go with my dress.
God, it was freezing. If I didn't find shelter before nightfall there was no question I would die.
My right hand twitched, but it wasn't from the pain in my wrist. There was something wrong—it almost felt as if something were...missing from it.
I counted my fingers. One, two, three, four, and my thumb made five. I turned it over and over, but it looked like a regular human hand—muddied, scratched and bruised— but a normal hand none-the-less. And yet I couldn't shake the inexplicable feeling it was somehow incomplete.
Who am I?
A very watery, very low sun broke through the clouds, illuminating the billows of mist and silhouetting the leafy canopy above. It couldn't be too far off sunset.
I began a hurried, stumbling march, dogged determination now taking place of momentum. I headed in the same direction I had been running before, simply because I had been running that way, never mind that I didn't know why...
Then, in the blink of an eye, both forest and fog ended.
One moment I was trudging through the wooded, thickly veiled terrain, the next I was standing in a wide open moorland, soggily shining in the last thin rays of sun which pierced the great hood of darkening sky above.
A sharp wind raked through my saturated dress and hair, penetrating through my skin, to my very marrow. My teeth began to chatter uncontrollably, and my head ached with the cold, but despite the lack of shelter, I was relieved, immensely relieved to be out of the forest.
Wet scrubby grass and limp tussocks stretched out in all directions. In the distance I could see a copse of tall trees, and rising above the copse was the unmistakable curling tendrils of chimney smoke from a building hidden within.
Chimneys meant hearths, fires, warmth. Oh god, for some warmth.
I stepped out onto the plain and began trudging towards the copse. They wouldn't turn me away, would they?—whoever 'they' were? Surely not. And they could ring the police, get help, find out who I was.
And then tell me.
Adding insult to injury, the rain returned, first as a light spatter, but swiftly turning into a drenching downpour. I began to run again, because I was too cold and frightened and sodden to walk.
It was further than I had first thought. On first glimpse I had assumed the copse was smaller and nearer, then I realized it was much bigger and further away. As I ran I counted the swirls of smoke...seven, eight...no, nine altogether. It was either a small enclosed village with several dwellings, or one huge building, like a stately mansion or manor-house. I didn't care which, as long as they let me sit by one of the fires and thaw out.
There was no obvious road leading into the copse, but as I neared I saw there was a towering black wrought-iron gate set deep within the trees, overgrown with creepers. I slowed down, puffing, rubbing at an aching stitch in my side.
Rather daunted, I approached slowly, cautiously. The gates creaked open of their own accord. There must be a security camera somewhere, I thought, the gates must be electrical ones. I was surprised I had been let in, the state I must be looking.
Beyond the gate was an enormous house. It looked old—ancient, more a forbidding fort than stately home, thickly walled, with narrow windows and heavy buttresses, cloaked in thickly braided layers of dark-leaved ivy.
I shivered. With cold. With trepidation.
A wide flight of stone steps led up to a huge door of iron-braced oak, and I paused at the bottom, steeling my nerves.
Before I could take the first step, I heard a cracking sound behind me, then the crunch of feet on gravel. I jumped, startled, and quickly turned.
A man had appeared as if from nowhere and was striding towards me, but he hadn't noticed me, for his eyes were fixed on the silver head of a long black cane which he held in his gloved hands.
He was a tall man, with an imposing bearing, not young—perhaps mid-forty—but wearing his years with an easy grace and power. He was handsome: very, in fact almost beautiful; his face was full of sharp, arresting angles and planes—but the harmony of his features was marred by an insufferably arrogant hauteur of expression. His hair was blond almost to whiteness, and fell in a silken cascade past his shoulders, contrasting vividly against the sable-black of his attire.
I had the oddest sensation that I had gone back in time: the man was dressed in a compellingly eccentric way, his clothes being not so much old-fashioned as historical, even medieval, although manifestly immaculate and expensive. Most striking was his long black coat—or robe, rather: high-collared and trimmed deeply with dark fur, which billowed around his elegantly booted ankles as he walked.
By rights he should have been soaking, like me, but weirdly neither his garments nor his hair seemed affected by the pouring rain. Before I had time to puzzle on this aberration the man looked up, stopped dead in his tracks, and in the drizzly light I saw his pale face turn a deathly, waxy white.
"YOU!" The word was a hiss, a rasp, a bark, a snarl.
I recoiled at the violent intensity in his eyes—eyes that should have been light-grey, but were somehow silver and liquid, like mercury—blazing with an unfathomable hatred.
"P-please, I'm lost—" I stammered, backing away. My heel caught on the bottom step of the stone stairs and I lost my balance, tumbling heavily backwards.
Before I could scramble to my feet, the man bolted forwards, thrust me back down and pinned me bodily under him, shoving his cane hard across my throat with both hands, crushing my windpipe.
"You dare show your face here, mudblood?" His voice was hoarse with fury.
I tried to scream, but the cane constricted both voice and air supply, and I started to choke. I flailed uselessly beneath him, clawing at the cane, black and white star-bursts beginning to obscure my vision. Horrible gurgling noises were issuing from my throat.
I wondered if I was about to die. I wondered why.
Please, stop it! I haven't done anything wrong! I don't even know you!
YOU'RE KILLING ME!
It was almost as if he heard my mind screaming. He suddenly discarded the cane, releasing me of its throttling pressure, then he grabbed a fistful of my sodden hair, wrenching it back, forcing me to look in his eyes. "Why are you here?"
I gasped in huge lungfuls of air, coughing violently, my eyes streaming. "I-I'm lost, I got lost a-and I don't know—I d-don't remember—" I was stuttering, almost incoherent with fright.
The man stared down at me, breathing hard. His incomprehensible rage was now alloyed with an expression of increasing incredulity. His other hand roughly gripped my chin, his fingers and thumb digging into each cheek painfully. "Who am I?" he demanded.
I looked confusedly up at him, utterly at a loss. "I have no idea," I shakily replied.
Suddenly he reached towards my throat again, and I emitted a small cry of fear, flinching away. But his arm made a swift, hard, jerking movement, and I felt the chain of a necklace briefly bite into the skin on the back of my neck, then snap off in his fist.
I hadn't even realized I was wearing a necklace.
He thrust it in front of my eyes. "Where did you get this?" he hissed urgently, twisting my hair painfully.
"I don't know!" I cried. I tried to focus on the glinting object. It appeared to be a small silver pendant in the rather-macabre shape of a bird's skull. I literally hadn't known I had it on, or remembered having seen it before.
A series of rapidly-changing emotions told upon the man's pale face. Shocked recognition, astonishment, disbelief... "Is it possible...?" he whispered, through barely-moving lips.
He swiftly pocketed the necklace, then looked sharply back at me. Suddenly he clasped me against him, bringing his mouth so close to my own that for one panicky, disorienting moment I thought he was going to kiss me. But instead he breathed an odd, foreign sounding word.
I felt the whisper brushing my lips.
His eyes locked onto mine in a gaze at once enigmatic and engulfing: I felt myself falling, falling, drowning in the slate-silver of his irises, the infinite blackness of his pupils. I could feel the slow, strong thud of his heartbeat reverberating through me...the heat and inflexibility of his frame pressed against my shivering, wet body...
...Then a strange sensation in my mind...as if invisible tendrils were reaching inside my head to curl around and sift through my very thoughts...
"What are you doing?" I gasped, but he merely clamped his hand over my mouth and continued holding me closely, his immersing, intrusive stare probing deeper and deeper into my brain...his body was hard, rigid, every muscle tensed, every tendon strained. For a moment he seemed to hold his breath, then very slowly he exhaled through his nose, almost as if he were deriving some kind of gratification, satisfaction from whatever it was he had been doing to me.
He let me go, propelling himself to stand over me, gazing down at me with a new expression lighting his icy eyes, one I could not begin to fathom, but which was somehow related to...triumph?
In that moment, his entire manner seemed to change. Gone was the ferocious, violent assailant, disappearing as completely as if he had never existed, and standing in his place was a perfectly cool, perfectly urbane gentleman, albeit one with an intolerably arrogant smile. "Forgive me, my dear. I mistook you for...another young lady." His voice was velvety and suave and edged with razors.
He held out his hand to me, the leather of his glove creaking as his fist slowly unfurled.
I stared up at him in total shock, my heart pounding wildly.What the hell was going on? One minute the man was trying to kill me, the next he was—well, god knows what he was doing—and now he just expected me to cheerfully take his hand as if nothing out of the ordinary had taken place?
I saw that his cane was tucked under one arm, although I hadn't seen him pick it up. I glared at it mistrustfully, my hand going automatically to my throat. It still throbbed and ached from the recent assault. It was sure to bruise.
He made an impatient beckoning gesture. "Come, I won't have you expiring on my doorstep like a half-drowned cur." Then in a softer tone he murmured, "...You needn't fear me."
Needn't fear him? He'd just about strangled me! ...And had he really been...reading my mind?
No. That was impossible...
I still couldn't bring myself to put my hand into his.
With a soft curse of annoyance he reached down and caught my wrist, roughly pulling me to my feet. His grip was crushing, and I winced. Immediately he dropped my hand, turned away and ascended the stone steps. His heavy robes flicked against my bare arm as he pushed past me, leaving me standing at the bottom in a puddle of bedraggled bewilderment.
I watched him tap his silver-headed cane once against the massive oaken door, and it swung silently open. He half-turned back to me, and even at this high vantage his head was tilted back with an undisguised superciliousness. "Well? Are you coming? Or do you mean to spend the night enjoying a gradual hypothermic demise?"
I grimaced. Well, I thought, if you put it that way...
I knew, as of course did he, that I had no choice.
Wearily and warily, I clambered up the stone steps, not at all comforted by his inscrutable gaze and curling lip, mulling over the questionable wisdom of entering a strange house with a strange man who had just tried to kill me. My brain was sending out all sorts of warning signals to the rest of my body, making my hands shake, my knees tremble, and my mouth go dry.
As I joined the man at the top I was uncomfortably aware of his height and the powerful breadth of his shoulders and chest. I wouldn't be besting him should he choose to engage me in a wrestling match, that was for sure.
He held out his arm towards the open doorway, directing me to go before him. "My humble abode," he murmured, handing me courteously over the threshold—so courteously as to leave little doubt that he was mocking me.
Many scenarios flashed through my mind as I stepped into the gloomy, low-lit hallway. Was I entering the lair of a predator, a rapist, a psychopath? A murderer?
Well, I decided grimly, I'd rather be murdered inside and at least die warm and dry, than spend another second out in the freezing cold rain.