Disclaimer: none of this is mine. None of it. I just wrote it for fun and letting off steam (strange, right?), but I have no claim to the material it is based on. No money, no profit, no perks, just writing.
A/N: Well, you know the storyline. Harry/Harriet/Rose/whatever goes missing/is abducted/is believed dead/gets tossed out/runs away from his/her/its relatives/parents/guardians for an indeterminate amount of time. After repeated failures to find and secure The One, a tri-wizard tournament is held. His/her/its name comes out of the cup and is consequently summoned right into the great hall. Think 'familiar of zero'-style plot with one helluva twisted hero coming out each time.
They'd forgotten her. It was bound to happen, really. Even as a five year old, she saw what was coming after what happened at school. It was just so unfair! The teacher had slipped, on her own, and broken her leg. Nobody had blamed her. Nobody had even looked at her when it happened. Except her cousin. Her fat cousin who'd been jealous of her getting ahold of the plushy toy during break time. Her bully of a cousin who'd tried to pry it from her grasp before Miss Stenson put him in the corner. Her spoilt, lazy sod of a cousin who would tell on her to her Uncle and Aunt for everything he did... and get her in trouble every time.
All it took was one sentence. Six words that she knew were going to cause her a world of pain.
The Freak hurt the teacher today.
It was ridiculous! She was five! Even she knew that there was no way that she could have hurt the teacher if she tried. Would the teacher have taken the time to calm her down afterwards, saying 'it's alright' if she'd been the one to do it? No.
But it didn't matter what she said. Aunt and Uncle believed her cousin. Not her. She was Freak to them, even if everyone else called her Rose. And that had been it.
This had been two days days without food, without water, nothing but the dark and the muffled noise of life going on outside her cupboard for company. It was too close to winter for the spiders to venture out as much as they usually do and the biting cold of late October had insinuated itself in her closet, leaving her bed-ridden as she wrung every ounce of warmth out of her blanket.
She tried not to cry. Tears, she'd learned recently, came from water inside her body. Water that, she'd found from previous trips to the closet, she desperately needed. So she groaned instead, the fear of her situation and the blinding headaches marking the onset of dehydration dragging pitiful sounds out of her bone-dry throat. She shivered too, the damp cold exacerbating the desperate hunger, the need, for a glass of water.
She'd been forgotten before, though only for a day at most. A day without water or food was bad enough that she would take a full week to feel okay again with whatever scraps she was fed after dinner. But she knew she would recover eventually. Now, she was in dire straits. She'd tried sleeping as much as possible, laying awake in the dark and counting sheep until the dreams of green light and loving parents came to haunt her again. But then the hunger had set in, followed shortly by stomach cramps that left her gasping for air. Still, she knew how to focus on other things and fall asleep despite that. Only to be woken up by blinding headaches, her concentration shattered by the pain coming from two places at once. That had been shortly before Cousin's feet thundered down the stairs, covering her little cot in what she really, really hoped was nothing more than dust.
That'd been the time she was waiting for. Usually, Cousin and Uncle would come downstairs before Aunt did, noticed that nobody'd cooked breakfast for them and yanked her out of her cupboard to get everything ready for when Aunt finished preening herself. Not this time. She heard the fridge door open. She heard it close. She heard the tell-tale rustling of the Muesli box. Fridge opens again. Fridge closes again. Silence.
That was when she'd begun to suspect that this time, things would be different. Aunt came downstairs, which gave her a slight hope. There was always something to do around the house and, right then and there, she would have cheerfully broken her teacher's other leg for a slice of toast and some milk. But it was not to be. After waiting for a while and listening to Aunt wash the dishes and put everything away again, a knot of dread started to form in her stomach. This, of course, did nothing for the pain.
By nightfall, she knew that they'd forgotten her. And, with the lock engaged on the outside, she had no way out. The tears came, but she did not care anymore. If that door didn't open soon, she doubted that it would make a difference.
Somehow, she'd drifted off during the night. Either that, or she passed out from the pain. She sincerely didn't know anymore. Blessed Oblivion disappeared with a click!, causing her to jump up from her cold, cold bed. Weak, shivering, wracked by pain and fear, she felt around for her glasses and, catching the tip of the frame, wrestled them on despite the tremors. She looked over to the door and gasped. The door was open!
Without thinking, without putting anything else on, the girl rushed through the door, her feet instinctively guiding her to the kitchen sink. Of course, she hadn't counted on the tree being in the way.
She woke up in a bed. A bed! The only time she'd ever even sat in one was when Aunt and Uncle had taken Cousin out and left her to do the chores one night. She hadn't been able to see what the attraction was at the time, far too soft and fluffy for her. Her cot was better, in her opinion.
And now here she was in one, under the covers even, and she felt better than she'd ever had in her life! Okay, so she still felt bad, but the pain in her head was gone and nothing else really mattered right then and oh my god food!
It was like she'd teleported to the bowl with hot, steaming something sitting in it. She didn't dare allow herself time to taste it as it went down, memories of some of Cousin's 'pranks' coming to mind when soup was involved, but it went down better than anything else she'd had in ages.
Stomach once again gloriously half-full, she went back to the bed and sat on the edge, finally taking time to notice her surroundings. A tiny bit of fear gathered in her gut when she looked around. This didn't look anything like any room she'd ever been in. For one, the walls looked like the stuff the tables in her house were made of (wood, she remembered) and there was storage space everywhere. Shelves, closets, baskets filled with clothing and other strange items. It made what seemed to be a big room quite small.
The view from the window just baffled her all the more. There were trees everywhere! Not like in the forest bordering Privet Drive, which was more of a glorified park than a full-on forest, but more like a city of trees stretching as far as the eye could see! It was all very odd, she thought to herself.
And then there was the door. She could tell it was a strange door, largely because of the old, rusting metal it was made out of. It had bolts running along the length of it and the remains of a yellow coat of paint that seemed to have peeled off long ago. The handle was a big wheel she would probably have a lot of trouble turning at the best of times.
Then the door opened and a strange-looking man dressed in rags came through.
"Ah, so our little... guest is finally awake." He said in a low voice. "Tell me little one, what was it that you were doing in a forest in the middle of nowhere?" The accent was weird to Rose's ears, but she could still follow it.
"Uh... I uh..." She stammered, the pain and exhaustion of the past few days rearing its head again and causing her head to swim. "I don't know!"
"Really?" He stared at her, his expression looking like the one she used when finding a strange-looking plant in Aunt's garden. "Hmm... Maybe we should start again then. What is your name, little one?"
"R-rose." She bunched herself together defensively as she looked at the intimidating man.
"Okay. And where are your parents, Rose?"
"I-I don't know. I've never seen them."
"Do you have a family name, Rose?"
She came up short on that one. Aunt and Uncle had never actually called her anything but Freak at home. She'd looked it up in the dictionary at school a couple of times after learning how to read, trying to fathom just what they meant when they called her by this name. As far as she could tell, it wasn't anything good and she doubted her parents had been called Freak. So she just shook her head.
"I see. Well, alright then! Up with you, let's go meet the others."
"Yeah, you didn't think I lived alone, now didja?"
Rose spent a year living with these strange people. Apparently, they'd found her during a hunt, starved and dying of thirst on the ground. They'd never seen pyjamas like the ones she'd worn that day before, all bright and colourful like that, which is how she'd been spotted. After waking up, she was quickly introduced to the others in the little settlement and became the uncomfortable focus of the little enclave.
She could read, write and do basic math, which was more than anyone but the elders could , but she didn't have a clue as to where to find basic stuff like food, water or shelter. She did know how to cook some strange things (eggs was one thing, what with the chickens they kept locked up, but what in the world was bacon?), how to clean and how to fix clothing, but that was it.
From what they'd gathered, she had been a slave of some kind, which was not unheard of out in the wilds, but why, then, had she been taught to write down things and do math? It baffled them. Sure, they'd had a few escaped slaves they'd had to kill before their masters showed up before, but none of them sounded anything like the girl either. Had any of the nearby District settlements started keeping them again? They didn't know and, with no information forthcoming from the little girl, all they could do was wonder.
Rose, for her part, neither liked nor disliked this strange place. She liked it because she got clothes, food, water and people to talk to, which is more than she'd ever gotten at her Aunt's and Uncle's place. On the other hand, the work in the small community was hard, replete with carrying loads of water from the nearby stream up the hill, scrubbing the place until the wood gleamed and being taught how to hunt by the settlement's elders. But what she really hated were the looks of suspicion on the other people there and the one or two other kids she was taken to hunt with occasionally. Still, she was fed, watered and clothed for her trouble, so she didn't complain.
Of course, things change. Sometimes by a little, sometimes by a lot. In this case, it was bad timing that did it. The settlement had what they called a 'freedom day' celebration, where everyone would gather around a bonfire in late autumn and rejoice in their forefather's escape from the Districts. Rose didn't know what a district was, but it sounded terrible to her. Still, she'd enjoyed the celebration for what it was (a day off) and danced with the others.
Now, bonfires are a fairly easy thing to spot at the best of times. It's even easier when you happen to be flying over one. And if you happen to be carrying hardware capable of finding a bug sitting on a leaf in a forest two hundred kilometres away, then a bonfire is not something you're likely to miss. Which is why, when a Panem hunting drone flew overhead, it had no trouble at all detecting the fire, doing a quick head-count of the nearby revellers and giving the local militia a complete run-down about the settlement, its estimated number of inhabitants and where it was.
Now normally, this would result in someone dispatching a small task force to go deal with this problem as quickly and as quietly as possible in a couple of months' time. However, the local militia division in charge of patrolling and securing that area just happened to be the subject of a 'surprise' inspection by President Snow at the time the message came through, which meant that the hundred-plus detachment of troops were very, very eager to provide the President and his entourage with enough of a distraction to avoid summary execution for, as Snow called it, 'sloppiness'.
But Rose didn't know about that then. All she knew was that, for a day at least, her strangeness was completely forgotten by those that took her in and that people who'd spent the past twelve months or so scowling suspiciously at her were now smiling at the bright little six-year-old.
The first indication that something had gone very wrong occurred the next day. Some of the men and even some of the younger women had gone on an impromptu hunt after the feasting had died down. They hadn't returned.
The elders tasked the more experienced hunters to go bring them back if they could. By mid-afternoon, they hadn't come back either.
Evening was coming, swift and silent under the layer of clouds. Rose was halfway up the hill with a bucket of water, lost deep in thought, when the hilltop exploded in fire and strange pops rang out across the area. She dropped the bucket of water, panic setting in as she raced back to the little village. The screaming had started shortly afterwards, often broken up by more popping noises as people ran down while she went up. She reached the ridge. It was a mess of broken houses and corpses. The little hut she'd shared with one of the women was just a hole in the ground, its roof and walls so much burning shrapnel on the ground.
Rose passed out.
"Impressive work, Captain Dunn. Very well done. Well done indeed." The elderly man dressed in a suit intoned, his dead, steel-blue eyes watching as the militia men dragged yet another bullet-ridden corpse to the mass grave of what had once been the village square.
"Thank you sir, Mister President sir." The nervous man simpered as he looked at the intimidating figure before him. "All in a day's work, sir."
"Yes, I'm sure. Well, you have redeemed yourself somewhat in my eyes. But!" And at this, the man turned to face the Captain. "Do not think that I have forgotten the state in which I found your command. I will be sending a Presidential representative along shortly to inspect whether you have made any progress or not. And if you haven't, then I daresay that darling little Jethro will be honoured to join the Games come summertime."
Captain Dunn paled at this. He hadn't known that President Snow knew about his illegitimate son. Not even his superiors knew that he had a kid! "Y-yes, Mister President, sir. At your command."
"I will leave you to finish the clean-up, Captain. I am going to take a little tour of this village and figure out how, exactly, it managed to escape our attention for so long." And who exactly to blame for it was left unsaid, but heard loud and clear by the soldiers surrounding him. They pitied the poor bastard who'd get shafted for this, whoever and wherever he or she happened to be. As long as it wasn't them...
Truth was, Snow was bored. He'd spent the better part of a decade in power already and, while he did miss his days as a soldier, nothing compared to the thrill of running Panem. It was stressful, it was painful at times, but the thrill of power hadn't left him since the day he'd walked into his office all those years ago. The ability to say who lived and who died. The absolute command over Panem's ressources, infrastructure, peoples and military. The dream of restoring this hobbled nation back to its former glory days. Nothing, not even this cheerful reminder of his life as both a Peacekeeper officer and frontline commander, compared to the never-ending orgasm that was power unbridled.
It had only been three days since he left the Capitol and it was, in his opinion at least, three days too many. But he had to make a decent showing for the news crews, who were facing the usual post-Games slump in ratings and needed something to talk about other than the usual terrorist activities and border skirmishes that flared up come wintertime and, well, pandering to the sheep's bleeting for eventful happenings was part of his responsibilities. One had to make sacrifices, even if one held a God-like hold over the lives of one's dependents.
At least there were corpses. He liked corpses. A corpse had yet to get up and ask him for a favour, which made them alright in his book. Never complained when he kicked one over, either. Which he proceeded to do out of sheer boredom. His white shoes were too perfect, anyway. Nothing like a little blood on them to shock the newsies and sycophants that followed him like the plague.
He came across a crumpled pile of rags lying at the edge of the settlement. Huh. No blood, no guts around her. He looked closer. Did the blast kill her? He'd seen that a few times, back when he was younger. You'd see a rocket or bomb hit and find the occasional corpse with nary a scratch on him nearby. Shrapnel, fire, everything missed, no damage evident at all. Then you'd notice a trickle of blood coming out their ears, or their pants turning a deep red colour... The backblast had killed them by pulping their insides. Not a mark on them, but something vitally important like, say, the brain, now had the rough consistency of chunky strawberry juice. Boom, bam, dead. Still, normally there was some blood leaking somewhere that gave you a clue or two. This one didn't.
He kicked the corpse over. Or, at least he tried to. First, his foot didn't hit a stiff body and turn it over like it normally did. Strange. They'd attacked an hour ago; this body should be as stiff as a board now. And second, the vitally important bit to President Snow was that, a second or two after his blood-smeared shoe hit the corpse's shoulder, the corpse moaned. Moaned. Not death rattle, escaping gases or anything, he clearly saw the head move, the face frown and the lips contort in a rictus of pain before the sound escaped.
Hmm, interesting. He stooped down and turned the not-corpse over. Let's see, female by the facial structure, build indicates five-six years old, odd scar on the brow, glasses, long black hair with red highlights, dressed in leggings and tunic made out of animal skins... Wait a second. Glasses. Glasses. None of the others had glasses. They had some strange form of slitted eyewear he'd seen some other District escapee communities use instead of glasses, but these were made using plastic and what looks like glass lenses.
She wasn't one of them. And she was still very much alive. "Sergeant!" He shouted for his nominal bodyguard, who was busy staring at the treeline like it had killed his father and made merry with his sister. He would find out who she was and how she got there.
And so, once again, everything changed for Rose.