Through Shadows by hp_fangal

Summary: When Harry goes missing from Privet Drive without a single personal possession, the worst is assumed by the Order of the Phoenix and the magical community of Britain at large. Upon his rescue, Ginny and the others find that everything they thought they knew from the moment Harry returned from the maze with Cedric's body in his arms must be called into question. Will Harry be able to heal from a traumatic ordeal that has left scars too deep to see?
Rating: PG-13 starstarstarstarstar
Categories: Alternate Universe
Characters: None
Genres: None
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Published: 2020.11.27
Updated: 2022.05.15


Chapter 1: Inescapable
Chapter 2: Clues
Chapter 3: Finding
Chapter 4: Morning
Chapter 5: Tenacity
Chapter 6: Grasping
Chapter 7: Reveal
Chapter 8: Nightmare
Chapter 9: Knowledge
Chapter 10: Forward
Chapter 11: Slipping
Chapter 12: Forgiveness
Chapter 13: Exclusive
Chapter 14: Nothingness
Chapter 15: Rebuild
Chapter 16: Real
Chapter 17: Absolution

Chapter 1: Inescapable

Author's Notes: So... if you've been reading my other story, Path Diverged II, then you know I hit a bit of a wall with that one.

That is not the case with this particular story.

I first conceived of this story in early January 2020. It was born from thoughts in that twilight between waking and sleep about why the portkey in the graveyard could return Harry to Hogwarts. Was there some plan to deceive Dumbledore? If there was, how would that work? Next thing I knew, I was wide awake and typing out the first words of this story. Over the coming weeks, I wrote what would become chapters 1-8, 11, and 14, and all of this between being short-staffed in my classroom (I'm a special education teacher), the unexpected death of a friend, and even a bacterial infection that put me in the ER for several hours (this was literally the entire contents of January 2020 for me and it really set the tone for the rest of this year). I was excited to explore this story, but I hesitated to rush into posting it before I was really ready. I had other things I was writing here and on other fanfic sites, plus finishing my degree to become a certified special education teacher (my previous teaching license was elementary ed). I finished my degree, and I finally feel ready to share this story. I love writing angst, but this story is easily the angstiest and darkest thing I've ever shared. I hope you enjoy!

Chapter One: Inescapable

You need to spend time crawling alone through shadows to truly appreciate what it is to stand in the sun.

– Shaun Hick


It was pain beyond anything Harry had ever experienced; his very bones were on fire; his head was surely splitting along his scar; his eyes were rolling madly in his head; he wanted it to end… to black out… to die…

And then it was gone. He was hanging limply in the ropes binding him to the headstone of Voldemort's father, looking up into those bright red eyes through a kind of mist. The night was ringing with the sound of the Death Eaters' laughter.

"To think," said Voldemort softly, "that there are those who believed this boy to be stronger than I." He stepped closer to Harry. "Foolish child, falling right into my trap, and even bringing along a spare for killing."

Harry didn't dare look at Cedric's body, instead keeping his focus on Voldemort.

"Before I kill you, I have need of your hair and your memories," continued Voldemort, drawing nearer. "Wormtail, fetch the potion."

Potion, hair, memories? Harry experienced a moment of confusion as Wormtail ducked out of the circle of Death Eaters before it clicked: Polyjuice Potion.

"It would be unwise to give Dumbledore any advantages at this point," said Voldemort, smile widening as he took in the dawning comprehension in Harry's eyes. "The Ministry will be impossible for him to convince without you to give account of what has taken place here tonight. He would be further stymied by a boy who knows nothing of this night, a boy who then mysteriously dies in his sleep under his watchful eye. The only question is, how best to fool the old man." He moved still nearer. "What is your relationship to Dumbledore?"

Harry couldn't answer with the wad of fabric still stuffed in his mouth, but it seemed Voldemort had no need for Harry to speak. He came even closer, red eyes boring into Harry's, and then –

Harry didn't understand what was going on, but flashes of memory were filling his mind now, conversations with his friends, Sirius's head in the fireplace, Dumbledore telling Harry that Voldemort had transferred some of his powers to Harry the night he tried to kill him –

No one was supposed to know about that! Harry panicked, trying desperately to shut his mind off, to clear away the memories, but they kept coming: a torrent of all the times Harry's scar had hurt, the strange dreams he'd been having over the past year, every conversation he had ever had with Dumbledore, Ginny lying in the Chamber of Secrets as the Riddle in the diary laughed –

And then it was over, and Harry was once again looking into those pitiless red eyes, head pounding and stomach lurching. Voldemort stared at Harry for a long moment.

"What are you?" he whispered so quietly none could hear it but Harry. Harry stared back, completely baffled by the question.

After a moment, Voldemort drew back, still looking at Harry, an unreadable expression on his pale face. Wormtail reappeared, carrying a vial of Polyjuice Potion in his normal hand. "Master," he murmured, "I have the –"

He broke off as Voldemort held up a hand to silence him, red eyes still on Harry.

Then he smiled.

"Change of plan," he said, lifting his wand. "I feel the desire to... experiment."

Harry tensed, waiting to die, or to feel the agony of the Cruciatus once again –


And Harry knew no more.

Ginny was awake the night they brought him back.

Too many days had passed from the moment when they realized he was gone to when he was found.

Far too many.

She should've been asleep, had been asleep, but something had woken her. At first Ginny wasn't sure what was going on, and then she detected a flurry of quiet activity outside her door and had to investigate. She slowly cracked the door open and planted an Extendable Ear before retreating just enough that she could still see, yet not be seen.

"Easy now," whispered Sirius Black's voice. "Just hold onto me, I've got you, kiddo."

"Which room could we even put him in?" came the hushed voice of Molly Weasley, Ginny's mum. "We've barely begun cleaning out the second floor…"

"We can put him in Regulus's room across from mine," replied Sirius firmly. "I've already checked it, it's clean."

"Are you sure?" That had to be Remus Lupin. "Wouldn't he be better off with Ron?"

"No," hissed Sirius in response. "Moony, look at him! He's in no condition to be around his friends right now! No… I'll look after him, it's the least I can do stuck in this place, after all."

"Both of you calm yourselves," said Molly right over whatever Remus started to say in response. "Can't you see he's getting agitated?"

The footsteps approached. Ginny couldn't help but move closer to the cracked door, morbidly curious to see how he looked. It'd been just over two weeks since they had realized he wasn't where he should be. She couldn't help but wonder what condition he must be in for them to be speaking as they were.

She saw her mother pass by first, followed by Remus. Both of them walked slowly, carefully, tense and silent.

And then she saw him.

His normally unruly hair looked a more tangled mess than usual, though strangely lopsided somehow. His robes were ripped and torn, and hung off a frame that seemed almost skeletal. He'd been pale before, but now seemed an almost deathly white, save for the bruises littering his face and arms, shaded between dark purple and pale yellow.

It was his eyes more than anything that caught her attention.

Her younger, besotted self had struggled to find the words which properly described them, her one public attempt more than a tad humiliating. No one she knew had eyes that precise and incredible shade of green.

But now...

Now the green had dulled, flattened into something that seemed lifeless. If he hadn't been walking, Ginny might have thought him a corpse. As it was, he barely seemed to be able to keep himself upright, leaning heavily against Sirius as they reached the landing and started down the corridor.

Staring at him, Ginny couldn't help but feel that something was horribly wrong. Could someone look this… this wraithlike in just two weeks?

And then his eyes shifted behind cracked lenses and met hers. Ginny's breath caught in her throat.

She wasn't sure how it was possible, but suddenly she felt as though she knew everything that had happened. More than that, she realized a horrible truth:

Harry had never come back from the maze.

Back to index

Chapter 2: Clues

Author's Notes: I will usually post on Saturdays (hopefully weekly, fingers crossed!), but since chapter one was much shorter than my usual length, I thought I'd treat you all to a new chapter just a bit sooner. Enjoy!

Chapter Two: Clues

It had been complete chaos.

Ginny hadn't been too close to the focal point of the crowd, but she'd heard the message clear enough:

"Cedric Diggory's dead!"

It made no sense. Dead? Cedric had died? But the tournament was supposed to be safer this go around than it had in years past. Ginny couldn't wrap her head around it and tried to press closer to where she thought the source of this news had come from as her mother and her brother Bill shouted for her to come back.

"I don't know what happened, I swear! We grabbed the cup together, and he was fine then, sir, but now he's –"

That was Harry's voice.

"We need to clear the area, Dumbledore," came Minister Fudge's voice now. "The Diggorys, they're here, they're in the stands –"

Ginny couldn't see through the crowd, and she stumbled as the mass of students surged and began to move away towards the castle. She tried to fight the tide, tried to get over to Harry, but it was no use –

There was a gap in the crowd, and she squeezed through it, coming out the other side to see Harry slumped on the group next to a long stretch of black fabric covering something that looked like… like…

It was true, Ginny realized with dawning horror. Cedric Diggory was dead. Harry looked up and met her eyes.

His eyes were –

"Ginny, there you are!" Ginny's view of Harry was obscured by her mother, and she felt Bill grasp her wrist to pull her away.

"What happened?" she demanded. "How did he –?"

"I don't know," said Bill in her ear, "but this isn't where you need to be right now. Let's get you up to Gryffindor tower and then I'll try and figure out what's going on."

Ginny couldn't fight off Bill, so she relented and allowed him to guide her back to the castle, lost in thought, remembering Harry's eyes.

They hadn't been filled with fear or confusion as his voice had suggested. She didn't know what she had seen, but it didn't fit somehow.

That should've been the first clue.

The next time Ginny saw Harry was when he returned to Gryffindor tower from the hospital wing.

The day between Cedric's death and Harry's release from the hospital wing had been filled with somber silence where any sudden bursts of laughter were far too loud and quickly stifled. No one seemed to feel they had a right to be happy when Cedric…

Bill had found Ginny the morning after the Third Task. He'd pulled her from eating her breakfast in the Great Hall to an empty side room. "Harry doesn't know what happened," he told her quietly. "Dumbledore thinks he might've been Obliviated by whoever's responsible."

"Why are you telling me this, Bill?" Ginny asked him.

"Because I learned a couple other things last night," said Bill. "I met Sirius Black."

Ginny's eyes widened. "The convict?"

"Turns out he's innocent," said Bill quietly. "Ron and Hermione explained what they learned last year, the night Black was caught but then escaped." He quickly summed it up for Ginny, who couldn't help but gape at the reveal that Ron's rat Scabbers had actually been Peter Pettigrew, the man truly responsible for betraying Harry's parents all those years ago. "Dumbledore's worried that You-Know-Who is somehow behind this," Bill continued quietly. "He's got Moody stationed close to Harry for right now while he's still in the hospital wing. And Black… well, he's got a place we're going to shortly after school lets out. Dumbledore's reforming an old group he ran when You-Know-Who was at large. Mum and Dad are joining it, and so am I." He shook his head. "Something about this whole thing just doesn't seem right," he admitted to her.

Ginny couldn't help but agree with him on that. She was so thankful that Bill wasn't keeping her out of the loop the way their mother would have insisted upon normally. She was only thirteen, but she wasn't an idiot, and Bill was good enough to understand this about her.

There were other things Ginny learned before she saw Harry again. "Moody's barred everyone from visiting since we saw him this morning," Hermione told her later the same day. "Says he doesn't trust anyone to not be who they say they are and that Harry… he needs rest. If he was Obliviated, well, that could mean something really bad happened."

It was Ron who dropped the real bombshell, however.

"Snape's actually a Death Eater!" he whispered to Ginny, Fred, and George. "He showed us his Dark Mark on his arm... jet black, exactly like the one they always cast over people's homes the last time."

"Wait, so You-Know-Who is actually back?" said Fred in shock.

"Dumbledore seems to think so," said Hermione worriedly. "After he had Professor Snape show the Mark to your mum and Bill, he left to try and go see if it's true. That's when Madam Pomfrey and Moody kicked us all out of the hospital wing, said Harry needed his rest."

George shook his head. "Snape's what… a spy, then?"

"Must be if Dumbledore knows about his Dark Mark," said Ron, though he sounded doubtful. "Anyway, Bill says Sirius has got a place we can all meet while the adults figure things out. Trouble is, it's been uninhabited for a while, so we're going to spend all summer trying to dejunk it."

"Sounds fun," said Ginny dryly.

The next day, she saw Harry.

The common room fell silent when he entered, walking between his friends. He kept his head down, hardly looking around at anyone. Hermione was leading the way to the boys dormitories, Ron just behind Harry with a hand on his shoulder. As curious as the onlookers had to be, no one dared move or even speak against the hard looks on Ron and Hermione's faces.

Harry glanced around the common room just before reaching the stairs up to his dormitory, and Ginny caught his eyes but for a moment. They seemed darker, wary even. The moment passed, and he disappeared up the spiral staircase.

Something about Harry's eyes unsettled Ginny, but she couldn't put her finger on what it was.

That should have been her next clue.

Ginny barely saw Harry the last few days of school. He'd been excused from his classes, and rarely strayed from his dormitory in Gryffindor tower. Ron and Hermione had taken to delivering his meals to him despite Ron's suggestion that the house elf Dobby could just as easily do it.

"I don't want him all alone all the time," Hermione had insisted. "He's confused and scared, Ron. The last thing he needs is to be overwhelmed by a house elf who practically screeches in joy every time he sees him."

Ginny secretly agreed with this. Harry had become incredibly withdrawn, and she thought she could understand if he'd been Obliviated. A chunk of time missing from his mind? Ginny knew exactly how that felt.

The night of the Closing Feast, Hermione said she had asked Harry if he'd come, but that he'd turned her down. "I can't say that I blame him," she sighed as they headed for the Great Hall. "Dumbledore's bound to say something about Cedric, and where no one knows exactly what happened…"

The Great Hall had been draped with black behind the teacher's table in honor of Cedric. Conversation within the hall was subdued, and the students immediately fell silent when Dumbledore rose to address them all.

"The end of another year." Dumbledore's eyes swept the room. Madame Maxine, who had been speaking quietly with Hagrid, looked over at him, her face as somber as everyone else.

Karkaroff's space was vacant. He had apparently fled when the Dark Mark had burned black on the arm of every Death Eater. Viktor Krum's face was set in a tense frown from the Slytherin table.

Ginny watched now as Dumbledore's eyes lingered on the Hufflepuff table. Their faces were the saddest and palest in the Hall.

"There is much that I would like to say to you all tonight," said Dumbledore, "but I must first acknowledge the loss of a very fine person, who should be sitting here," he gestured toward the Hufflepuffs, "enjoying our feast with us. I would like you all, please, to stand, and raise your glasses, to Cedric Diggory."

Everyone in the room complied at once. Ginny caught the somber faces of Ron and Hermione as every student rose, raised their glasses, and murmured in one low, rumbling voice, "Cedric Diggory."

Ginny couldn't focus after that, mind drifting, as it was wont to do, to Harry. She hoped he was all right, hiding away in his dormitory yet again. She thought she heard the headmaster mention Harry's name at one point, but wasn't certain. Had he seen Cedric die before his memory was erased? It would explain his reticence to be out in public if he couldn't even recall what had happened or why.

When the Closing Feast ended, Ginny slowly made her way back to her dormitory, her friends quietly chatting around her.

"You okay?" Colin Creevey asked at one point.

"Yeah," she murmured. "Yeah, I'm fine."

"Still worried about him?"

Ginny nodded. "He's not been himself this whole time," she told Colin quietly. "I just… I wish I knew what to even say to him after…"

Colin nodded. "I wish I knew what happened, especially with Dumbledore saying it was You-Know-Who that did it. How does he know?"

Ginny shrugged, thinking of Snape and what Ron and Hermione had told her. The Potions master had been seen around the castle since then and seemed much his usual self, which had to mean that it was true.

She wondered what he'd had to do to in order to still be alive.

More than that, if You-Know-Who was behind it, how was Harry still alive?

Ginny sat with Michael Corner and his friends on the train ride home the next day, mind anywhere but on her new boyfriend as she considered what had happened the last few days.

She hoped Harry was all right.

When she went to leave the train, she passed the compartment she knew Harry had been in to hear him speaking to Fred and George.

"Take it. I don't want it."

Ginny peeked into the compartment to see Harry offering the twins a large bag. It was his winnings from the Triwizard Tournament, as it turned out, and Harry wanted them to have it for their joke shop with their promise to buy Ron proper dress robes. She briefly caught Harry's eye as he turned away to grab his trunk.

His eyes were dark and calculating rather than the determined or subdued emotions she had expected. Ginny quickly retreated before the twins could spot her and stepped off the train.

When she made it through the barrier, she spotted her parents right away, Harry's relatives standing nearby and looking quite wary at the sight of her family. Ginny watched in amusement as her parents offered pleasant warnings about Harry's treatment and turned to look at Harry himself.

She had expected amusement, maybe embarrassment. What she saw was watchful, curious, and something that almost set her on edge before it was gone and Harry was smiling a bit, allowing Molly and Hermione to hug him before following his relatives from the train station.

His eyes had reminded Ginny of something dark, but she couldn't think of what that might be.

That clue should have hit her with the awful truth.

She regretted that it didn't.

A single week at home, a horrible argument, and a small piece of parchment later, Ginny found herself within the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix, Dumbledore's organization that had worked to stop Riddle the last time he'd been around. And now her parents and Bill had joined. Charlie, too, though he was remaining abroad to get what help he could. Bill, however, had quickly transferred to London from Egypt. And Percy…

Ginny had never seen her father shout like that before. Had never realized what a complete and utter tosser her older brother truly was. It had been awful, so much so that Molly looked to be on the verge of tears most of the time now.

Number 12 Grimmauld Place wasn't a nice place to stay for the summer. In the years since Sirius Black's mother had passed, all kinds of vermin had festered inside it. There were horrible Dark magic items scattered around nearly every room, as well. And the house-elf, an ugly, snout-nosed little thing named Kreacher, made things worse, what with constantly trying to steal back various items Sirius was quite glad to be rid of.

And then there was Sirius himself. For an innocent man, he had a dark temperament that seemed to worsen every day he spent in his childhood home. Not one to just sit on her curiosity, Ginny had cornered and questioned him along with the twins to learn more about the man.

The more he had answered their questions, however, the more Ginny found she liked Harry's godfather. He had a sharp tongue and a dark and wicked sense of humor, but he was kind to Ginny in a way he didn't seem to be with anyone else. Ron and Hermione (she had shown up about a week after they arrived to help out for the summer) got along with him well enough, having known the truth of his innocence for over a year, but Ginny liked to think she was well on her way to earning a special place in his heart.

The truth was, Ginny hated Grimmauld Place. The snake motifs, the stuffed house elf heads on the walls, the cursed and Dark objects they found each day, the various magical pests... it reminded her of the dark turn her thoughts had taken whilst under the influence of Riddle's diary two years earlier. It wasn't easy being in such a horrible place.

Not that it was all bad. Sirius had amazing tales to share of his time at Hogwarts, and the twins were already putting the money Harry had given them to good use. The best invention they'd come up with thus far was the Extendable Ears. They wouldn't tell anyone where the money had come from, and Ginny certainly wasn't going to spill the beans. It was more fun to watch her mother try to subvert their inventions so they couldn't spy on the Order meetings.

That was the other part of Grimmauld Place that was difficult to deal with: the meetings of the Order of the Phoenix. Molly wouldn't let Fred or George in on the meetings despite them both being of age because they hadn't finished school yet, hence the invention of the Extendable Ears.

With these, Ginny and the others had learned that Snape had made some headway with You-Know-Who, but not much. It seemed he was away on business, though no one seemed to know exactly what that business might be.

They also discussed some kind of guard duty frequently, but none of them could be sure what exactly was being guarded other than perhaps Harry himself.

The most painful part of using the Ears was hearing Molly and Sirius's increasingly desperate pleas that Harry come to stay with them. Worse still was Dumbledore's insistence that Harry was safest where he was. The Dursleys were still going about their business as usual, and Harry wasn't leaving the house. His letters to his friends were short, always simply stating that he was fine and little else. As far as the headmaster was concerned, all was well.

Until it wasn't.

It was the sixteenth of July when the first report came in that something was amiss. Mr. Dursley hadn't left at the usual time for work. Then Dudley Dursley didn't come out of the house to seek out his mates so he could go beat up other kids in the neighborhood. There were no signs of any activity from the house.

Nothing at all.

Ginny and the others were in the middle of lunch that same day when a Patronus in the shape of a lynx arrived bearing a horrible message:

"The Dursleys are dead. Harry is missing. Send everyone available to ascertain what's happened."

The Patronus dissolved, leaving a horrified, stunned silence in its wake.

"Molly, we need to go," said Ginny's father Arthur. "Sirius, I'm sorry, but can you –?"

"I'll watch after this lot," said Sirius quickly. "Just – hurry, please find him!"

Ginny gaped after her parents as they quickly left the room. "Harry's missing?" repeated Hermione numbly. "But – he's supposed to be safe there!"

"How safe can you be with Muggles who don't even like you?" muttered Ron.

"But they're dead," said Fred quietly. "I thought no one could get to Harry or his relatives who meant them harm."

"How can they be dead?" demanded George.

"We don't have enough information right now," said Sirius tightly. "We need to stay here and wait to hear what they find out." He rose and quickly sent off a Patronus followed by another a few moments later.

"Who were those for?" asked Ginny.

"Remus and Tonks," answered Sirius. "It was supposed to be Tonks's day off, and Remus should've already finished meeting with his werewolf contact. They need to get over there, too."

"I hope Harry's all right," Hermione fretted.

No one spoke for some time after that.

It was nearly two hours later when Remus stumbled into the kitchen, face grey and tired. Sirius leapt to his feet at once and seized his friend by the shoulders. "What happened?"

Remus shook his head dazedly. "I don't – Sirius, it…" He pushed Sirius away and slumped into a chair as Molly and Arthur slowly entered.

"It was the Killing Curse," he finally announced. "The Avada Kedavra. All three of them, still sitting in their dinner things. Looks of terror on their faces..." He trailed off and dropped his head into his hands.

"What about Harry?" Sirius demanded, looking around at the other adults. "Where is he?"

Molly let out a sob and Arthur pulled her close. "Not there," he said quietly. "No obvious signs of a struggle, no forced doors, nothing. All his things were still in his room."

"Including his wand," said Remus softly. "His wand was just… sitting there, on his nightstand."

Ginny stared at the adults in horror, intensely aware of the same expression on Sirius's face. Harry was just… gone? And without his wand or belongings?

"I thought no one could get to him there," Hermione said tentatively. "I thought the whole point of the Dursleys was that he was supposed to be safe there from that sort of thing."

Remus nodded tiredly. "It's an ancient magic that Dumbledore enacted," he sighed. "Based on his mother's blood. So long as he dwelt under the same roof as his mother's blood, he would be safe, protected from harm by those who would wish him ill."

Sirius snorted at this. "You should've heard the arguing coming out of that house the night I checked in on him before making my way to Hogwarts to find Wormtail. It didn't sound like a safe home for Harry to me."

"Safe from Voldemort, if nothing else, then," said Remus wearily. "The point is, we don't know how this could've happened. Even Moody's stumped."

"The others should be back soon," said Arthur. "Emergency meeting."

Molly wiped at her eyes and ground into action, setting Ginny and Hermione tasks to prepare the room for the incoming members. "I'm sure they'll all be starving after this," she insisted.

The last thing Ginny was interested in at that moment was food, but she kept her mouth shut and did as her mother asked. When they were shooed out of the kitchen for the Order meeting, Fred and George immediately pulled out their Extendable Ears to try and listen in.

Thankfully, no one seemed to have put any charms on the kitchen door to deny them information tonight (Molly had discovered the Ears a couple days ago and expressed a great deal of rage over it), and they crowded together with Ron and Hermione to listen in.

"I'd say they've been dead since last night," came Moody's gruff voice over the Ears. "Killing Curse, no doubt about that."

"But how did anyone get in to do it?" demanded Sirius angrily. "Who was on guard duty last night?"

"I was," said Emmeline Vance, voice shaking. "I swear to you, nothing was amiss!"

"Clearly something was, given those Muggles are dead and Harry's gone!" Sirius retorted, almost yelling at this point.

"There's more," said Moody grimly.

"What else is there, Alastor?" came the calm voice of Professor Dumbledore.

"I performed the Reverse Spell on Harry's wand," answered Moody. "Ideally, his last bit of magic would've been something from back at school since the Trace wasn't set off. However... well, I suppose it's better to show you."

There was a moment of shuffling, and then Moody spoke again. "Prior Incantato!"

Being outside the room, Ginny and the others couldn't see what had happened, but by the gasps of horror the echoed around the room, it couldn't be anything good.

"Someone got into the house," said Moody darkly. "Don't know how, but they did. They got Harry out without our notice or the use of magic, and then they used his wand to kill the Dursleys."

Ginny's mouth fell open. She stared at the others, eyes wide with horror. Who would do such a horrible thing?

"The Ministry wouldn't be alerted because no underage wizard was in the area," said the voice of Kingsley Shacklebolt. "Albus, there are no clues as to who could have done this. What do we do?"

"We wait for Severus to return," said Dumbledore. "He may have information that could help us figure out who did this, as well as where Harry might be now."

"And how long is that going to take, exactly?" demanded Sirius. "Harry could be in horrible danger right now, and we have no leads?"

"Sirius, calm yourself. There's nothing we can do until Severus arrives."

"I TRUSTED YOU!" Sirius bellowed without warning. "You said he'd be safe there! You said he was protected! Clearly he bloody well wasn't! My godson is missing and all you can say is WAIT?"

"Sirius, please –" began Remus.

"He's the last link to Lily and James, Moony! He's all I – all we've got left! Let me explore the house as a dog, there must be something you lot missed!"

"Sirius –" started Albus.

"I will not sit here and do nothing, Albus!" shouted Sirius. "He's already been missing for a whole day at this point. Let me see the scene before the trail goes cold!"

No one spoke for a moment.

"I'll take him," said Remus at last. "It's… it's a good idea. If it were closer to the full moon, I'd be able to do it myself, but…"

Silence fell again.

"Do what you feel you must, Sirius," said Dumbledore in a suddenly weary voice. "I urge you to be cautious, however. We will not be able to hide this from the Muggles or the Ministry for much longer."

Footsteps sounded, and everyone gave a hearty tug on their Extendable Ear, silently backing away on the upper landing as the kitchen door burst open and Sirius strode out, Remus right behind him.

"I hope you find something we didn't," said Remus quietly as the approached the front door. "Here, I brought the Cloak."

Sirius barely paused to swing Harry's Cloak of Invisibility around his shoulders before the two men opened the front door and left.

Fred silently beckoned Ginny and the others to follow him up to the second floor where they convened in Ron's room. The room he had been meant to hopefully share with Harry.

Yet Harry was missing.

"This isn't good," said Ron unhelpfully.

"It's beyond bad," Fred corrected him.

"Way beyond bad," said George.

"How could no one have noticed any of this happening?" said Hermione, completely distraught. "I thought they were keeping an eye on Harry to make sure nothing bad happened to him."

"Clearly they're rubbish at their job," said Ron darkly. "Practically a whole day before they noticed he wasn't there! How'd they bungle this up so badly?"

"He should've been here with us," said Ginny. "Not stuck in that awful place."

The others nodded.

"I can't believe whoever did this used Harry's wand to – to –" Hermione broke off with a sob. "Oh God, he must be so scared right now."

Ginny wrapped her arms around the older girl, unsurprised when Hermione started crying into her shoulder.

The door to the room opened.

"I suppose you all listened in," sighed Arthur after one look at Hermione.

There was no point lying about it. "We did," admitted Ginny. "Dad, did they really use Harry's wand to –?"

Arthur nodded, not saying one word in reprimand as Ron swore and turned away and Hermione sobbed harder against Ginny.

"Do you think Sirius will find anything?" asked George.

"I don't know," sighed Arthur. "I hope so."

Ginny didn't think her father sounded very hopeful, though.

Sirius and Lupin hadn't returned by the time Molly ushered them all into bed, but Ginny couldn't sleep. She kept replaying the last few hours in her mind, trying to figure out how Harry's safety could've been jeopardized so horribly. The Order of the Phoenix had failed him.

Ginny could only hope they'd find him soon.

She heard Sirius's voice and scrambled out of bed before she could think the action through, Extendable Ear already in hand.

Crouching by her door, she planted the Ear and put the other end in her own ear.

"… scent was there, but then it changed, changed into someone else I didn't recognize," he was saying to someone else. "That other scent went downstairs to the dining room, back to Harry's room, and then out into the back garden. It stopped right by the back fence. Whoever it was must've Disapparated at that point because the trail goes cold after that."

"When you say 'changed'…" trailed off her father's voice.

"Polyjuice," said Sirius shortly. "Had to be. I caught an older whiff of the same smell in the back garden as well. Whoever it was must've caught Harry in the back garden somehow. Maybe a Portkey? Point is, the two scents never went anywhere together."

"But who could the other person have been?" asked Remus. "I thought no one meaning harm to Harry should've been able to do so much as approach the house."

"I don't know," said Sirius in exasperation. "All I know is what I scented out! Someone took him, and no one noticed until it was too damn late!"

Sirius had raised his voice too much. Ginny had to yank the Extendable Ear free as the portrait of Sirius's mother began to scream obscenities and tugged the flesh-colored string back towards her.

"What happened?" whispered Hermione as Ginny backed away from the door.

"Someone definitely took him," replied Ginny softly. "Sirius thinks they used Polyjuice to get into the house somehow."

Hermione was sitting up as Ginny turned to face her. "It doesn't make any sense," she told Ginny.

"Nothing about this makes sense," agreed Ginny. "Not one thing has made sense since Harry came back from the maze."

Hermione bit her lip and nodded. "I wish we knew what really happened."

Ginny wished the same.

The next few days were horrible. Molly kept bursting into tears without warning, while Sirius prowled the house with increasing agitation. It seemed that Snape's intel was limited, that leads dried up as quickly as they appeared, that Harry might truly be lost. Tonks had started sneaking into Muggle morgues on the off-chance a body turned up, her Metamorphmagus ability keeping her safe from any watching eyes.

Meanwhile, Ron and Hermione became more tense and distraught in equal measures as they worried for the life and safety of their best friend. Fred and George, normally so jovial, were quiet and spoke in tense voices to each other too quietly for Ginny to hear, though she was starting to suspect that they were trying to develop something that might aid the Order in their search for Harry.

As for Ginny, she kept her head down and did her mother's bidding, grudgingly recognizing Molly's need to coddle someone. As the youngest, and having been through a horrible ordeal of her own her first year, Ginny was the obvious choice for this. It was irritating, but it kept her mind off of the dark reality they all faced:

Harry was gone, and he might never come back.

And then, somehow, incredibly, miraculously, they found him. Ginny had no idea how it happened, but it was clear that Harry had been horribly mistreated. Crouching by her bedroom door, staring at the faded wallpaper where Harry's blank eyes had been just moments earlier, Ginny felt numb as she grappled with the shocking revelation that Harry hadn't come back from the maze.

She didn't know how it could possibly be true. She'd seen him when he'd returned with Cedric's body, looked right into his eyes –

Those hadn't been his eyes.

The clues Ginny hadn't recognized before fell into place faster than she could keep up with. Not fearful, not confused, but amused, wary, calculating, not once like the Harry she knew.

It wasn't Harry who had come back from the maze in June.

That hadn't been Harry, not once.

Polyjuice Potion. It had to be, nothing else made sense in Ginny's mind.

The question remained, however:

How was Harry still alive?

Everyone knew You-Know-Who had tried to kill Harry as a baby. Given that he was back, wouldn't he have wanted to kill Harry right away, wanted to finish the job he'd failed all those years ago?

Why the subterfuge? What was the point?

Ginny feared the answers might be beyond anything she could come up with herself.

Back to index

Chapter 3: Finding

Author's Notes: It's time for some answers! But also more questions, I'm sure. The angst in this chapter is... well, let's say I'm probably ripping your heart out of your chest and stomping on it a bit. Or more than a bit. And it's over 9,000 words of pain and heartache, just cause I love you lot so much. Enjoy!

Also, a huge shout-out to NaruKoibito for having been my biggest cheerleader in the early days of writing this fic idea!

Chapter Three: Finding

Remus had wanted to stay in contact with Harry, he really had. It was guilt, more than anything else that had stayed his hand and kept him away. He could have killed Harry and his friends that night by being so foolish. It mattered not that Harry hadn’t wanted him to leave, that he’d argued for Remus to stay with the same fierceness his father had the day he, Sirius, and Peter had decided to become Animagi no matter what Remus thought they should do. The risks had finally been too great.

So he stayed away. He kept in contact with Sirius for updates as best he could, but he was struggling to get by and it was far too easy to allow the depression that had consumed him from the night James and Lily died to take him once again.

And then everything changed.

The banging on his door woke him around two in the morning, and he approached it cautiously, wand in hand. “Who is it?” he called out. “Declare yourself.”

“Padfoot,” came the startling reply. “Open up quick, would you, I don’t want to be spotted out here.”

Remus yanked open the door and stared in shock at his childhood friend.

Sirius looked a bit ragged, but nowhere near as bad he had done the night the truth had been revealed a year ago. Remus pulled Sirius inside and slammed the door shut.

“What are you doing here?” he demanded. “You were supposed to stay out of sight!”

“Times have changed,” said Sirius, face grim. “He’s back, Remus. Voldemort’s back.”

Remus felt his lungs freeze as though turned to stone. “What happened?” he forced out after a few seconds of stunned silence.

“We… we don’t know for sure,” said Sirius, face crumpling a moment later. “But something happened tonight during the Third Task. Harry went into the maze with the other Champions. One was attacked by another. A second one was Stunned. Harry came out of the maze with the cup and the other Hogwarts kid, Cedric.” He shook his head. “Cedric was dead.”

Remus couldn’t move. He stared at Sirius, mind blank. Cedric Diggory was dead? Dead?

Remus had taught Cedric the previous year, had thought him a genuinely good student. Kind, brave, true to his morals… and he was dead?

“Does Harry…?”

“He doesn’t know what happened,” said Sirius. “But there’s a cut on his arm he doesn’t recognize, and Madam Pomfrey detected use of the Cruciatus Curse in his system. More than that, Snape showed us the Dark Mark on his arm, says it burned black while Harry was supposed to still be in the maze.”

Remus struggled to grapple with this new information. “Did he… did Severus go to see if it was true?”

“Left just before I did,” said Sirius. “Dumbledore asked me to speak with you about gathering up the old crowd again. He thinks we need to reform the Order.”

Remus nodded vaguely, mind still whirring with everything Sirius had told him. It was a lot to take in.

“All right,” he finally said, rubbing at his face. “I’ll just… I’ll start reaching out. You look dead on your feet, Sirius, you can kip on the couch if you’d like.”

Sirius nodded. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

“We need to be alert enough to do it,” Remus countered him. “Sleep first, old friend. Then we get to work.”

Reforming the Order of the Phoenix in the days following Cedric Diggory’s death wasn’t exactly difficult to do for Remus, but it was emotionally draining. Snape reported that he was able to speak briefly to Voldemort and secure his place as a spy who had played a long game in hopes of seeing his master return.

Remus would have found the entire situation unlikely except that Dumbledore continued to vouch for Severus’s loyalty to their side, whatever he told Voldemort. He finally had to figure that Occlumency must play a part in how Severus was passing as a double-agent.

Sirius didn’t buy it, but then Sirius had never trusted Severus.

Remus trusted Dumbledore, so he therefore trusted that Severus was on their side.

“I think you’re mad,” Sirius muttered more than once, but Remus wouldn’t be swayed so easily.

Being part of the Order, listening to Severus’s limited reports, all of it at last had Remus finding the courage to write to Harry. He kept it short, but still did his best to express caring and concern.

The letter back was not quite what he expected:

Dear Professor Lupin,

Thank you for the letter. I still wish I could remember what happened, but I’m fine. Everything is quiet here, which I suppose is good. I hope you’re doing well.


Remus stared at the letter, lips twisting in concern as he considered the short response. Ron and Hermione had said Harry was very quiet and withdrawn the last few days of term. It reminded him of how Harry had been during the days following the dementor attack on the Gryffindor Quidditch match against Hufflepuff. He’d been quite withdrawn then, as well. Still, he’d rather hoped for something more in Harry’s response. What though, he wasn’t sure.

“That’s about the extent of the letters he sends me,” Sirius told him later that day. “Everything’s quiet, he’s still confused, but otherwise, he’s fine.”

Remus hoped this was true.

Just over two weeks before Harry’s birthday, however, that all changed.

He’d barely arrived home from meeting with a werewolf contact when Sirius’s dog Patronus burst in. “Kingsley reports the Dursleys are dead and Harry’s missing. Get to Privet Drive now!”

Remus gaped at the dissolving Patronus for two seconds too long before he turned right around and headed back out the door to Apparate to Little Whinging.

It was just after lunch, and number four was flooded with members of the Order. He strode into the fray, Emmeline catching him just before he reached the dining room. “It might be a shock,” she warned him, but he brushed past her and into the room.

The first thing he noticed was the smell of spoiled food. The dinner table, fully set for three with a fourth plate out of place, had the remains of a roast and vegetables.

Then he saw the Dursleys.

Remus had seen dead people before. He’d seen them freshly dead to several days past. The sight of their corpses wasn’t that difficult to take in.

What was difficult was the expression of fear on Dudley’s face.

The boy was only fifteen years old. He was supposed to have his whole life ahead of him.

Instead, he was dead.

“Killing Curse?” he asked Alastor quietly.

“Yeah,” replied Alastor gruffly. “Must’ve been ‘round dinnertime last night.”

Whoever had done it had just left them in their seats, slumped against their chairs, faces all frozen in terror.

“And Harry?”

“That’s the strange thing,” said Alastor. “No sign of him. No signs of a struggle, either, and his things are still up in his room.”

Remus was moving towards the stairs before he’d even thought it through. Down the hall past the photographs of Dudley with his mother and father, and up the stairs –

“In here,” said Arthur quietly, standing in the doorway of a small bedroom.

Remus slowed, then stepped into Harry’s room. The tiny space contained a bed, dresser, wardrobe, and desk. Remus could hardly believe that Harry had spent countless hours hiding away with so little room.

Then he spotted the open trunk, the scattered books, the Invisibility Cloak, the Marauders Map, and on the nightstand –

“Harry doesn’t have his wand?” he breathed.

“No, he doesn’t,” whispered Molly from where she sat on Harry’s bed, clutching a jumper to her chest. It looked like the one she had made him the year Remus had taught him. “All his things are here, Remus. I’ve already checked.” She pressed the jumper to her face with a muffled sob.

“His owl isn’t here, though,” said Arthur. “Ron just sent Harry a letter with her two days ago.”

It was awful, the whole situation. They carefully searched the house and garden, but with no success. There wasn’t a single clue as to who had killed the Dursleys, nor what had become of Harry. “I don’t know what happened,” said Alastor. “That is, the how or the why of all this,” he added, shaking his head. “It doesn’t make sense. Nothing like this should have occurred.”

It was a weary and baffled Remus who stumbled from the house later to share the news with Sirius and the others at Grimmauld Place.

The emergency meeting was awful. Seeing the Reverse Spell used on Harry’s wand…

Who would do such a thing?

Unfortunately, when Remus and Sirius returned from their own check of Privet Drive, Severus brought no further answers.

“I believe the Dark Lord knows what has become of the boy,” he told Remus stiffly over the cup of tea Molly insisted he drink before leaving, “but neither he nor any of the others are saying a word. They act as though it is none of their concern.”

“I don’t get it,” said Sirius. “My understanding was that you gave Voldemort irrefutable proof that you’re still loyal. How is it no one will tell you a thing?”

Alastor chuckled. “Perhaps they think you’re really a traitor,” he said.

“Yet you accused me of still being a Death Eater just a few months ago,” said Severus tightly.

Alastor grinned. “Damned either way, aren’t you?”

“Thank you for the tea, Mrs. Weasley,” ground out Severus as he straightened. “I have more important places to be right now.” He swept from the kitchen, and Alastor laughed darkly.

“Really, Alastor,” said Molly in a scolding tone. “Severus is doing all he can to help us, it doesn’t do to alienate the man!”

“The trouble with double-agents,” said Alastor between sips from his hip flask, “is that they’ve got their own agenda, and I’ve got my doubts that his agenda truly matches ours.”

“If you trust Albus, then you must trust Severus,” said Molly firmly.

“I fail to see how the two go hand-in-hand,” said Sirius with raised eyebrows. “Snape’s always been in it to save his own skin, and he’ll fall on the side of whoever’s going to let him do it.”

“Cheers, Sirius,” grinned Alastor as he sipped from his flask once more.

Remus sighed. “This gets us nowhere,” he reminded the room at large. “Harry’s still missing, and Severus isn’t being let in on the how or why. Do you not think this is concerning?”

“The entire situation is concerning, yeah,” agreed Sirius. “If Snape can’t help us find Harry, what use is he, really? Something this big… it doesn’t make sense.” He ran his hands through his hair. “I don’t know that a single thing has truly made sense since Harry came back from the maze. And now…”

He trailed off, but Remus didn’t need him to finish the sentence. Now the clock was ticking. Wherever Harry was, Remus knew it couldn’t be good.

Sirius dropped into an empty seat at the kitchen table the next morning and stared at the Daily Prophet.


In a shocking revelation given last night by Cornelius Fudge, Minister for Magic, it was stated that the Muggle relatives of Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, have been murdered. “It was clearly the Killing Curse,” he declared in a press conference. “Unfortunately, we have no idea who the culprit could be.”

Sources say that Potter was not to be found anywhere near the scene of the crime, and that his personal belongings are gone, as well. “It is doubtful a fourteen-year-old boy could have killed his own relatives,” says Fudge, “and as there were no alerts here at the Ministry from the Trace, it is our belief that no magic was performed in the boy’s presence.”

Did Potter leave of his own volition? If the testimony given by Albus Dumbledore in the most recent meeting of the Wizengamot is to be believed, he did not. Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and Chief Warlock of the International Confederation of Wizards, has stated that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named has returned and is at large.

It is well-known that You-Know-Who mysteriously disappeared the night he killed Lily and James Potter and attempted to kill their son, Harry. Is it indeed possible that the most-feared Dark wizard of the age has returned? And if so, was it he who captured the Boy Who Lived?

“Impossible,” says Fudge of the idea. “You-Know-Who is not back, nor does he even know where the boy has been living all these years. In fact, Dumbledore is said to have placed extra protective charms on the Muggle dwelling to prevent such a thing from even occurring!” He further pointed out the lack of a Dark Mark over the house, a common sign that You-Know-Who or his Death Eaters had been there.

But with no clues as to Potter’s whereabouts, it is hard to view the murder of his Muggle relatives as anything other than the work of Dark witches or wizards unknown. Be it You-Know-Who himself or others, this does not bode well for the magical community.

“What’s it say?” asked Arthur, looking up at Sirius from his cup of tea.

“About what I expected,” replied Sirius darkly. “Raises questions, answers none of them, the usual rubbish.” He shoved the paper in Arthur’s direction and glared at the plate of food Molly placed before him. “Thanks,” he muttered before digging in.

Molly nodded, and silence filled the kitchen.

“I thought for sure they’d find some way to blame me,” Sirius finally said a few minutes later.

“They can’t,” said Arthur calmly. “Kingsley is still running the idea that you’re abroad, and he’s high enough up in the Auror office that he won’t be questioned. He’s the one who convinced Fudge there was no way it could’ve been Harry who killed the Dursleys.”

“He wanted to pin it on Harry?” said Molly, aghast.

Arthur nodded grimly. “Everything he says about the Trace in this article” – he tapped the newspaper with one finger – “came from Kingsley. He’s a good man, keeping Fudge off our tracks.”

“I hope it stays that way,” said Molly. “The last thing any of us need is to be blamed for something else that isn’t our fault.”

Sirius nodded broodingly. Not knowing where Harry was located was like a constant knife to the heart, twisting painfully every time the boy’s name was mentioned.

The papers grew more grim with each day that passed without any sign of where Harry could be. Sirius had been certain the Ministry had been leaning heavily on the Daily Prophet to keep the public in the dark about Voldemort, but with Harry missing, it seemed their influence was slipping, and quickly at that.


It has been five days since Harry Potter went missing from his home in Surrey, and the Auror department has no leads in the case. Potter is simply gone.

“We will find him,” says Minister Fudge. “Our Aurors are top notch, bar none. If there’s a lead to be followed, they’ll be on it.”

The question continues to remain in the face of Potter’s mysterious disappearance: is this truly the work of You-Know-Who?

“Another dead end,” announced Arthur as he stepped into the kitchen. Sirius stopped reading the rest of the article as a new wave of despair swept over him. “The Dolohov residence is clean.”

Sirius crumpled the newspaper and chucked it in the direction of the fireplace. “That’s the third dead end this week,” he groaned. “Why can’t we find him?”

“I don’t know,” sighed Arthur, sitting down beside Sirius and placing a firm hand on his shoulder. “But he’s still alive, and we’ll find him, I promise you.”

“When do we stop believing he’s still alive and start looking for a corpse?” Sirius burst out, pulling away and rising to pace the length of the kitchen.

“They’ll find him, Sirius,” started Molly, but he cut her off.

“I need him here! I’ve lost so many years with him, and to think I might not even get another day –” He couldn’t go on, couldn’t fathom the possibility of a life without his godson, losing that profound link to his best friend, and he let out a roar of rage and pain, sweeping the table clear of the remains of breakfast before collapsing on the floor in the mess or shattered plates and strewn eggs and bacon, barely noticing Molly’s fearful shriek. There were arms around him a moment later, and he realized it was Remus, that he had just walked in and still wore his traveling cloak. He clutched at his friend and gave into the deep well of emotion that had threatened to overwhelm him the last few days.

He needed Harry in his arms, needed to know he was alive and safe, needed to not feel he had failed his kid so utterly and completely.

“We’ll find him, Padfoot,” Remus whispered fiercely when his sobs of misery began to ease. “I won’t give up. Don’t you dare do this, because I can’t do this without you.”

Sirius gripped Remus’s cloak tightly and nodded. “I need him here,” he whispered. “I never should’ve let Hagrid take him away that night.”

“We can’t change the past, old friend,” sighed Remus. “But we can keep hoping, hold onto our faith that he’s out there, and never give up the hunt to bring him home.”

Sirius nodded against Remus. He had made far too many mistakes in his life, but loving Harry would never be one of them.

Still, it was easier to stare into the latest bottle of Firewhiskey most nights than consider the alternative that dogged his every nightmare.

If – no, when they found Harry, what condition would he even be in?

The leads over the two weeks following Harry’s disappearance were fleeting, each one hitting another dead-end almost as soon as they appeared. Remus had never felt so worried in his life as he did with every day that ended with Harry still missing. The awful reality that Harry might be dead cut at his heart, try as he may to remain positive that they would find the boy.

No breakthroughs seemed to be coming their way. Sirius was sleeping less and less, his temper much closer to the surface than usual as he fretted over Harry.

Remus stumbled in one evening to see Ginny sitting on the stairs by the door. “Any luck?” she whispered as he carefully shut the door behind him.

Remus sighed and shook his head. “Lead didn’t pan out,” he told her as she straightened and followed him down to the kitchen.

“That’s the fifth dead-end this week, isn’t it?”

Remus wasn’t surprised that Ginny knew how many leads they had already pursued. Molly hadn’t been as determined to keep her youngest children out of the loop given their investment in Harry’s well-being and her own worries about how he might be doing.

“It is,” he admitted to her as they entered the kitchen. “Nothing leads to anything substantial, or it’s not the right wizard, or the body doesn’t match…”

Ginny’s face tightened slightly, and Remus worried he had gone too far.

“He isn’t dead,” said Ginny. “He wouldn’t do that, Professor.”

“Remus,” he corrected her gently.

“The odds aren’t in the boy’s favor,” said Kingsley Shacklebolt from the other end of the kitchen table. “He’s only fourteen and is without his wand.”

“I don’t care!” Ginny snapped. “He’s taken on a Basilisk and over a hundred dementors, he’ll get through this, too!”

Remus had to admire Ginny’s stalwart belief, even as his own hope continued to dwindle. This long with no clues… it simply didn’t bode well, whatever he hoped.

Hang in there, he thought. Wherever you are, Harry, hang in there.

The breakthrough they all needed came from an unexpected place at an unexpected moment.

It had been just another discussion over every dead-end the night before Harry’s birthday. A birthday the boy would either miss spending with loved ones due to being captured, or a birthday he would never live to see because he might already be…

But Remus couldn’t think about that. Harry had to be alive still; he had to hang onto his hope.

He and Sirius were in the kitchen late that evening. The open bottle of Firewhiskey between them had become increasingly common over the last two weeks, and Remus found his self-restraint slipping the longer Harry was gone.

“James would be so angry with us,” Sirius said darkly after a minute’s silence. “We’ve completely failed his son.”

“He’s out there somewhere,” said Remus quietly. “We have to believe that.”

The door swung open and Alastor stumped into the kitchen, looking tense and exhausted.

“Another dead-end,” he announced grimly. “Can’t find a single hint at any known Death Eater house.”

Sirius swore and downed another shot of Firewhiskey. “I don’t know where else we could even look at this point!” he snarled. “How long before we expect to find a corpse instead of the kid? And why can’t Snape be of more use? The blighter’s given us nothing useful!”

“We can’t give up hope,” said Remus. “Harry isn’t dead, I’m… I’m certain of it.”

Was he, though?

“But Voldemort wanted him dead as a baby,” said Alastor. “What would change his desire to see the boy dead at this point?”

There was a moment of silence.

“Harry…” said Sirius in a strangely hesitant voice. “He, well… he started having these odd… dreams.”

Remus frowned. “What do you mean?” he asked.

“It was about what Voldemort was doing,” said Sirius quietly. “Said his scar hurt, too.”

“And he saw what, Voldemort and his snake Nagini?” grunted Alastor as he took a sip from his flask.

Remus frowned to himself. Severus hadn’t mentioned the snake’s name, had he?

“I think so,” said Sirius slowly, brow furrowed. “Harry was never quite specific on the details, only that it had happened.” He shook his head. “Whatever happened the night he got that scar… it’s clearly had some far-reaching consequences like nothing I’ve ever heard of before, even growing up in this hellhole.”

He started to rise, eyes meeting Remus’s for a split second. “What I really want to know,” he said as Remus recognized the brief look Sirius had sent his way, “is how you know the name of that snake Voldemort’s got when Snape hasn’t told us any details beyond its existence.”

Remus had his wand in hand, ready for what came next.

Alastor paused for a moment before grinning. “That’s me caught out, isn’t it?”

Remus shouted, “Stupefy!”

Alastor had no time to react. He slumped in his chair, unconscious.

Remus stared at the man. “Who is he, do you think?” he said after a moment as Sirius stepped forward to seize the man’s wand and conjure ropes to tie him up.

“Not Moody,” snapped Sirius. “I’m starting to wonder if it ever was him.” He looked up at Remus. “Get Albus here.”

Remus nodded and sent his Patronus out. Minutes later, Albus swept into the kitchen. “Tell me what happened,” he said without preamble.

Sirius quickly laid out the slip the fake Alastor had made. “Snape’s never told us the name of the snake,” he said. “I don’t doubt he has yet to learn its name, still on the fringes as he is.”

He snagged Alastor’s flask and pulled off the lid. “Polyjuice,” he said, handing it to Albus. “Works well for someone too paranoid to drink anything but his own drinks.”

“Indeed,” said Albus.

Within the hour, Severus had arrived with a small bottle of Veritaserum, bringing along Kingsley and Emmeline. They secured the fake Alastor in Sirius’s bedroom up on the top floor and waited to see who had been pretending to be the man they’d thought him to be.

When the Polyjuice Potion finally wore off, the answer was horribly unexpected.

“He’s dead,” said Sirius blankly as he stared at the straw-haired man. “He died mere weeks after they brought him in! I saw them carry his body past my cell to bury him!”

“Clearly that was not him,” said Remus as they all looked down upon the prone form of Barty Crouch Jr. “Crouch must’ve had him switch places with someone.”

“His mother,” said Sirius after a moment. “I remember seeing Crouch walk her out. She had practically collapsed at the sight of her son in that godforsaken.” He shook his head. “She switched places with him. Nothing else makes sense.”

Severus carefully dosed Crouch Jr. with three drops of Veritaserum, and then Dumbledore roused him. “Ennervate.”

The confession that followed was incredible and horrifying in equal terms.

Crouch stirred, eyes sliding open and staring blankly around the room.

“What is your name?” said Albus.

“Barty Crouch Jr,” Crouch said in a flat, expressionless voice.

“How did you escape from Azkaban?”

“My mother saved me,” said Crouch. “She knew she was dying. She persuaded my father to rescue me as a last favor to her. He loved her as he had never loved me. He agreed. They came to visit me. They gave me a draft of Polyjuice Potion containing one of my mother’s hairs. She took a draft of Polyjuice Potion containing one of my hairs. We took on each other’s appearance.”

Crouch took another deep breath and continued, explaining how the dementors were blind and could not see the truth for what it was. One healthy and one dying person entered the prison, and that was they perceived to have left. It was a brilliant plan in its simplicity.

“And what did your father do with you, when he had got you home?” asked Albus quietly.

“Staged my mother’s death. A quiet, private funeral. That grave is empty. The house-elf nursed me back to health. Then I had to be concealed. I had to be controlled. My father had to use a number of spells to subdue me. When I had recovered my strength, I thought only of finding my master… of returning to his service.”

“How did your father subdue you?” said Albus.

“The Imperius Curse,” Crouch said. “I was under my father’s control. I was forced to wear an Invisibility Cloak day and night. I was always with the house-elf. She was my keeper and caretaker. She pitied me. She persuaded my father to give me occasional treats. Rewards for my good behavior.”

“Did anybody ever discover that you were still alive?” said Albus softly. “Did anyone know except your father and the house-elf?”

“Yes,” said Crouch, his eyelids flickering. “A witch in my father’s office. Bertha Jorkins. She came to the house with papers for my father’s signature. He was not at home. Winky showed her inside and returned to the kitchen, to me. But Bertha Jorkins heard Winky talking to me. She came to investigate. She heard enough to guess who was hiding under the Invisibility Cloak. My father arrived home. She confronted him. He put a very powerful Memory Charm on her make her forget what she’d found out. Too powerful. He said it damaged her memory permanently.”

Remus vaguely remembered hearing about a house-elf by the name of Winky. Hadn’t Sirius told him?

“Tell me about the Quidditch World Cup,” said Albus.

Remus wasn’t sure what this was about until Crouch revealed that he had begun fighting the Imperius Curse and found himself sitting in the Top Box, taking the wand of a boy sitting in front of him. That had to be Harry’s wand; Remus remembered hearing that someone had stolen Harry’s wand and used it to cast the Dark Mark into the night sky when the other Death Eaters who had not gone to prison had cavorted about, playing with Muggles like a child played with dolls. Winky the house-elf had been given clothes for allowing Crouch to get ahold of a wand like that.

“Now it was just Father and I, alone in the house. And then… and then…” Crouch’s head rolled on his neck, and an insane grin spread across his face. “My master came for me.”

Voldemort and Wormtail had discovered that Crouch was still alive thanks to the information buried deeply in Bertha Jorkins’s mind. Wormtail (“traitor,” Sirius hissed) had run across her, overpowered her, and taken her to Voldemort. The information in her mind had given rise to a terrible plan to use Harry to regain his body, Harry’s blood as part of a horrible Dark ritual that would tie the two together.

“One of my master’s followers was to use Polyjuice and return to Hogwarts as Potter,” said Crouch. “But my master discovered something that night… The other boy, Diggory, had to be killed, so whoever posed as Potter would have to be able to convince Dumbledore they didn’t know what happened. He used Legilimency on Potter to determine how best to fool the old man… but there was more than he expected. He saw that Potter had been dreaming about his movements, had long suspected that all was not well. He saw that Potter’s scar hurt when he was near, and he decided to explore this connection. My master had Potter locked up in the Riddle house. He took some of Potter’s hair, drank Polyjuice Potion to become him, and it was he who returned with Diggory’s body.”

Remus couldn’t breathe all of a sudden. He met Sirius’s eyes and saw the shock there, the horrible truth smacking them both in the face.

Harry had never come back from the maze that night.

“When did you realize the Harry Potter who returned was Voldemort?” asked Albus, and his voice shook for the first time.

“In the hospital wing,” said Crouch. “I suspected something was amiss, but could do nothing until everyone else had been forced to leave. My master told me quickly of the change of plan, had me create a new Portkey and cast the Imperius Curse on the school matron to keep her away whilst he returned to his followers to meet Severus Snape.”

“Does Voldemort believe Snape to be a traitor?” said Albus carefully.

“My master is uncertain of Snape’s loyalties,” said Crouch. “He commanded me to maintain my cover, to keep an eye on him when he returned to continue his cover as Potter.” The insane grin from before lit his features once more.

“My master fooled Dumbledore, and I kept him supplied with Polyjuice Potion along with the small bag of hair he had taken from the boy’s head. Everyone thought I was Moody, and it was all too easy to stand guard, to keep my master safe whilst he hid amongst our enemies. It was my master who left with the Muggles at King’s Cross, and it was my master who saw them dead in their home.”

“But the blood protection,” interrupted Sirius, face white. “Voldemort isn’t supposed to be able to get through that. How did he get through the protection?”

“Potter must go home once a year to keep the protection going,” said Crouch. “But Potter didn’t go home. There is no protection without Potter, so it fell. It fell, and our enemies did not know it.”

“Where is Harry now?” asked Remus.

“He has been kept in the Riddle house these long weeks,” said Crouch. “My master has tortured him and conducted experiments to better understand the connection that exists between them. But he has finished his experiments. In two hours’ time, I will be given the privilege of torturing the boy myself before my master kills him once and for all. And then…” He smiled once more. “I have been honored by him beyond the dreams of wizards, and I will stand at his side when he at last conquers the Wizarding world.” With that, his head drooped onto his shoulder.

Sirius stared as Crouch slumped in his seat, face stricken. He raised a shaking hand and ran it through his dark hair. “Experimenting?” he whispered hoarsely. “Voldemort’s been... experimenting on my kid? For a month?”

It was a testament to the horrifying reality they now faced that Severus did not make any digs at Sirius as he might have done that Harry wasn’t his kid.

“This explains why Severus has been kept at arm’s length,” said Kingsley, expression troubled. “Crouch has been watching him and reporting back on his actions.”

“You were not here, Severus,” said Albus at once. “You simply provided me with Veritaserum without question.”

Severus nodded, face pale but determined. He turned and strode from the room without another word.

“We need to act quickly,” said Albus in a more urgent voice. “The depths of this deception have unraveled much of what should have kept Harry safe.”

“Do you know where this Riddle house is?” asked Remus.

“I do,” said Albus.

“What if we’re too late?” asked Emmeline at last, voicing the question Remus knew they were all thinking.

“We have to believe that there is still time,” said Remus firmly.

Though the plan was simple, the risks were high. Emmeline sent for Tonks to have her move Crouch to another room on the third floor and stand guard until it could be decided what to do with the man. A quick trip to Alastor’s home revealed the real Moody locked in his trunk; Albus sent his Patronus to Minerva so she could see to him. There was a supply of Polyjuice Potion in the house, as well. Sirius had taken some of Crouch’s hair, and used it to become him; this task done, they then set off for this so-called Riddle house.

Dumbledore told them where to go, and their small group arrived down the hill from an old, large house that had clearly seen better days. Remus could practically feel the enchantments around the place to keep the Muggles away, however.

He swung Harry’s Cloak of Invisibility around his shoulders and followed a Polyjuiced Sirius up to the house. Albus had Disillusioned himself, as had Kingsley, and Emmeline was covered with the spare Invisibility Cloak they had previously used for their shifts on Privet Drive.

Remus was worried that so much could go wrong, but Harry was in there. Getting him out alive was more important than anything.

A Death Eater was guarding the door. “Declare yourself,” he said as Sirius approached.

“It’s Crouch,” he said. “Is the Dark Lord here yet? He promised to let me torture the prisoner before killing him.”

The Death Eater shook his head. “Not expecting him for another twenty minutes. Which, speaking of, you’re earlier than I was told.”

“Plans changed,” said Sirius carelessly. “Let me in now, I wish to await our Master inside.”

The Death Eater eyed him suspiciously, and Remus prepared to strike. “To what do we take at our feast?” he asked without warning.

Remus didn’t wait for Sirius to try and come up with a response. “Stupefy!” he hissed, and the Death Eater dropped like a stone.

Albus quickly worked out how to gain entrance to the house, and their small group stole inside.

“Homenum revelio,” whispered Kingsley, and Remus was relieved to see only one sign of a human in the house, seemingly located in the cellar.

They had less than twenty minutes left at best, so they worked quickly to ascertain where to go to get downstairs. Emmeline found a locked door in the kitchen which took the efforts of both herself and Kingsley to open. Sirius lit his wand, features beginning to blur back into his own as the miniscule dose of Polyjuice Potion he had taken wore off, and led the way downstairs, Kingsley remaining at the door to guard against attack.

It was cold in the cellar, and it smelled of mold, dust, and –

The sharp tang of blood hit Remus hard, followed quickly by the smells of excrement, as well. The thought that Harry had been hurt was only marginally worse than the conditions he had likely been forced to live in since the night of the twenty-fourth of June.

By Merlin, it was far too long. How had no one realized what was really going on?

“Harry?” Sirius called out softly. “Harry, it’s me, it’s Sirius, where – oh God.”

Remus almost walked into his friend’s back as he slammed to an abrupt halt. He stepped around him and felt his lungs turn to stone at the sight that greeted them all.

The floor was packed dirt against cold stone walls. A bucket sat near the far corner Sirius had led them to, and next to it –

“Harry,” breathed Sirius.

The small bundle of robes huddled in the corner couldn’t be anything else. It was cold enough that Remus had already started to shiver, but the bundle barely moved at all save drawing in breath spasmodically.

Sirius stepped closer, Remus right beside him. “Harry,” he whispered. “It’s Remus, do you remember me?”

The small form froze for a moment, then shifted. A moment later, the light from Sirius’s wand revealed a pale, thin face, cheeks hollow and lips split and dry; a nasty bruise covered most of the left side of the face. The glasses set on the dirt-stained nose were cracked and concealed the green eyes, which appeared sunken in, almost dead.

Harry was curled up against the corner, stick-like arms wrapped around the bony legs he’d drawn up to his chest. His robes were ripped and torn in several places, barely concealing half-healed cuts and bruises all over the pale skin beneath. Remus could see that Harry’s messy mop of hair was uneven through the right side of his scalp – this was clearly where the needed hair for the Polyjuice potion had been taken from. The scar on his forehead stood out, dark and angry against his white skin.

Remus approached Harry cautiously, as he would a wounded and cornered animal. “Harry,” he said quietly. “We found you. We’re here to take you away, somewhere safe.”

Harry stared at Remus, uncomprehending. “Harry,” Sirius spoke up now, and Harry’s eyes flickered to him. “We’re here to rescue you.”

Harry’s brow furrowed slightly, but he made no other movements.

“Harry,” said Albus now as he moved closer. “Are you able to stand –?”

He broke off as Harry curled up even tighter and let out a low whining sound that reminded Remus distinctly of an injured deer.

Sirius made gentle hushing sounds as he moved still nearer and knelt beside his godson. Harry quieted, head turning in Sirius’s direction, but he remained tense, body beginning to shake with the effort.

“We’re getting you out of this place,” said Sirius. “Kiddo, I – will you let me help you stand?”

Harry stared at Sirius for several seconds. “Real?” he suddenly whispered, voice cracked and almost nonexistent as though he hadn’t used it in a long time.

More likely, however, was that his voice had been broken by untold hours of screaming from torture.

“Yes,” said Remus, kneeling beside Sirius as he forced himself to focus on the here and now. “Real, Harry, we’re real.”

Up close, he could see the confusion and desperate hope in his green eyes. “Not real,” he said. “It’s never –” He broke off into coughs that wracked his whole body, burying his face in his knees again as he did so.

“I swear to you,” said Sirius fiercely, “we’re really here, Harry, we’re going to get you out.”

Harry finally stopped coughing and looked up at them. “Not real,” he whispered. “Games again.” His eyes clouded over and he stared at the floor.

“Do you think that –?” began Emmeline.

“Undoubtedly,” said Albus quietly. “Voldemort’s experiments must have included the obfuscation of his ability to tell if he’s really seeing or hearing what is clearly before him.”

Sirius’s face spasmed in rage and grief. Harry didn’t seem to be listening, and Remus was acutely aware that they were running out of time. Kingsley was still standing guard upstairs, but what if someone else showed up unexpectedly and overpowered him? What if Voldemort himself arrived? He could be there at any moment.

“How can we convince him it’s really us?” he whispered to Sirius. “We don’t know how much Voldemort prised from his mind when he was digging around in there.”

Sirius frowned as he considered. “I don’t know,” he admitted in a defeated voice. “I don’t know what to do, Moony. I never thought –”

Harry stirred again, and Sirius cut himself off. Slowly, the thin boy turned his head towards Sirius, eyes suddenly curious and appraising.

His eyes flicked to Remus and back. “You – you said – Moony.”

“My old school name,” said Remus softly. “You remember Moony and – and Padfoot?”

Harry stared for several moments, and then nodded. He licked at his cracked lips and whispered a word that was a benediction to Remus’s ears:


Sirius almost sagged from the same rush of relief Remus felt. “Yes,” he said, voice filled with emotion. “Yes, Harry, real. It’s us. We’re here.”

Harry stared for another long moment before nodding again. “H-help?”

Remus and Sirius leapt into action, carefully ascertaining that Harry had been chained by his ankles and spending long, tense minutes working through the charms keeping the manacles in place, the other end bolted to the stone wall. Remus barely managed to contain a wince at the damage done to Harry’s ankles. The skin was raw, blistered, with a couple of spots that bled freely when the metal was pulled away. Harry flinched when they each took an arm to pull him to his feet, but rose unresisting.

“I’ve got you,” murmured Sirius as Harry’s legs shook, threatening to buckle much like a newborn colt. He leaned against Sirius and a thin hand reached up to clutch at his robes.

“Real,” whispered Harry once more, and Remus felt the overwhelming urge to sob and scream at the same time. He quelled his emotions and focused only on what needed to be done.

“Real,” he repeated to Harry firmly, and their small group headed for the stairs.

Harry stumbled frequently, but Remus and Sirius kept him upright and moving. Remus stayed right behind Harry as Sirius guided him up the stairs; Albus was ahead of them in case of troubles that could come their way, with Emmeline behind as cover. Remus was thankful they were there, his mind focused in on Harry and Sirius at the expense of everything else.

The manor was dark and silent as Albus and Kingsley led the way outside, passing the still-unconscious Death Eater. Albus paused and knelt down beside him, murmuring a spell Remus couldn’t hear, but suspected was most likely a Memory Charm.

Harry was breathing hard and shaking as Remus walked beside him. It must be taking everything the boy had to keep moving.

“We’re almost far enough from the house to Apparate,” said Albus. “Sirius, can you or Remus take Harry with you?”

“I can,” said Remus at once.

Around twenty feet later, they stopped, and Remus reached out to pull Harry close to him. Harry’s emaciated form went into his arms completely unresisting, and it made Remus’s chest tighten because he didn’t know if it was trust that Harry was showing, or a complete lack of caring about whether or not this was actually happening. Either way, this was not the Harry who Remus had last seen a year ago.

This Harry had been deeply damaged. The realization was extremely disquieting.

“We will meet at the center of the square,” said Albus quietly. Remus nodded and went to tighten his grip on Harry when the boy suddenly tensed up and sucked in a ragged breath. His hands slapped over the scar on his forehead, and Remus felt his knees buckle. He barely managed to catch Harry before he could collapse.

“Harry, what –?”

“Coming,” Harry’s ragged voice grit out, green eyes shut tight. “He’s coming, he’s angry –” He broke off, jaw clenched, and Remus realized the boy was doing everything in his power to keep from screaming.

“Voldemort,” said Sirius. “He must mean Voldemort.”

“Remus, go now,” said Albus urgently, wand in hand as he scanned their surroundings. He withdrew a small slip or parchment from his robes and gave it to Sirius. “Sirius, go with him. We will do what we can to ensure your safe departure.”

Sirius clutched the parchment in his fist and nodded to Remus as he pulled Harry tightly against him. Gripping his wand in his right hand and keeping Harry pinned to his front with his left, he focused and spun on the spot, Apparating to the small square outside Grimmauld Place.

Harry flopped against Remus’s chest, breathing harshly, hands still clutching his forehead. He was all but dead weight in Remus’s arms, and he had no choice but to lower the thin boy to the ground.

“Harry,” he whispered, “I need you to focus on what’s going on around you, what’s real.”

Sirius crouched next to him as Harry whimpered in pain, hands still over his scar, his eyes screwed shut as he shook. “Please, Harry, you need to focus on us.”

“He’ll see,” Harry whispered desperately. “Sees everything, can’t –” He curled up again and started rocking, hands pressed so tightly to his forehead it looked more and more as though he was trying to cause himself pain rather than try to relieve it.

Remus shared a befuddled look with Sirius. Sees everything? What exactly was the extent of this strange connection Harry shared with Voldemort?

“He isn’t here,” Sirius finally said. “Harry, he can’t hurt you here. Please, kiddo, you’ve got to read this note before we can get you somewhere completely safe.”

“Not safe,” grunted Harry, still rocking against the pain he was clearly suffering. “Never safe.” Suddenly he froze up and then started to scream.

Sirius cast a Silencing spell around them so they didn’t alert the Muggles, and he and Remus simply sat on the small grass plot holding Harry. The screams were hoarse and quickly dried up, likely because Harry’s throat was already so torn up from everything he’d been through, and Remus saw a few tears slip free from Harry’s shut eyes, tracking white pathways down his dirt-stained cheeks.

And then, without warning, whatever it was that was going on, it ended. Harry slumped like a puppet whose strings had been cut against Sirius’s chest, panting harshly, eyes still shut. The scar on his forehead looked fit to burst, and his ankles were still sluggishly leaking blood.

“Is – is he gone?” asked Remus hesitantly.

“Never gone,” breathed Harry, his voice cracked and almost nonexistent. “Just not looking.”

Remus had no idea what to make of this statement, and it seemed that Sirius didn’t, either. They shared another confused look before Sirius encouraged Harry to open his eyes and read the slip of parchment Albus had given him, which Remus knew must contain the Secret that would allow Harry to see Grimmauld Place.

Harry’s flat green eyes slowly opened and wandered in the direction of the parchment. He stared at it, and Remus wasn’t sure the boy was even taking it in. “Did you read it?” he quietly asked Harry.

Harry’s eyes flitted in his direction, and he eventually nodded against Sirius’s chest where he still lay. “Think about what you read,” said Remus as he pointed at the house, and Harry’s eyes moved vaguely in the same direction. A moment later, he could see them focus as the house revealed itself. He blinked, obviously confused, but also clearly far too tired to do or say anything about what he’d just witnessed.

Sirius quickly burnt up the parchment and pulled Harry to his feet as Remus hurried to the front door and opened it, leaving it wide open for Sirius and Harry. He knew Arthur was out on a fruitless lead and likely wouldn’t be back for hours, so he felt no guilt in going to rouse Molly.

“Wha –?” she startled upon seeing Remus had been the one to wake her up. “Remus?”

“We found him,” he told her simply.

Molly stared at him in shock for a few seconds before sliding from the bed and snagging her dressing gown. “Where is he?” she demanded.

“Sirius is bringing him inside,” he told her. “But Molly – he’s in a bad way. Really bad.”

“I need to see him,” she told him firmly, though her hands shook as she tied the belt on her gown and seized her wand. Remus led her downstairs as Sirius carefully closed the door behind himself and Harry. Molly spotted the boy and gasped, hands flying to her mouth.

Remus knew how bad it looked. If it hadn’t been for the green eyes and the lightning bolt scar on his forehead, Remus himself wasn’t certain he’d have recognized the walking corpse as his best friend’s son. They carefully approached.

“He needs rest, I think,” said Molly quietly, voice shaking. “Come on now, dear.” She reached for Harry, but he shrank away from her, almost burying himself in Sirius’s side.

“We fear that Voldemort may have messed around in his mind,” Remus told her softly. “I don’t know that he’s entirely convinced this is all real.”

Molly’s face paled even more as she swallowed. “He’s responded to the pair of you?” she asked tremulously.

Sirius nodded. “Took a minute, though,” he admitted. “C’mon Harry, up to bed with you, eh?”

Molly led the way up the stairs.

“Easy now,” whispered Sirius as Harry stumbled his way up the stairs. “Just hold onto me, I’ve got you, kiddo.”

“Which room could we even put him in?” said Molly in a hushed voice. “We’ve barely begun cleaning out the second floor…”

“We can put him in Regulus’s room across from mine,” replied Sirius firmly. “I’ve already checked it, it’s clean.”

“Are you sure?” said Remus. “Wouldn’t he be better off with Ron?”

“No,” hissed Sirius in response. “Moony, look at him! He’s in no condition to be around his friends right now! No… I’ll look after him, it’s the least I can do stuck in this place, after all.”

“But he –”

“Both of you calm yourselves,” said Molly right over Remus’s next words. “Can’t you see he’s getting agitated?”

Harry’s breathing had quickened, and he was starting to tense up against Sirius.

Remus clamped his jaw shut as they made their way across the second landing where the rest of the Weasley’s slept and continued up, Harry stumbling more and more until Sirius was practically holding the boy up himself.

At last they reached the top floor. Sirius hesitated.

“I don’t know if he should be alone,” he finally said when Remus paused at the door of Sirius’s brother’s old room. “What if… what if he forgets this is real?”

Remus considered this. “I’ll stay in Regulus’s room tonight,” he said. “You keep Harry with you.”

“Are you certain?” asked Molly.

“Yes,” said Sirius firmly. “Molly, go grab some of his things from his trunk. His robes are practically useless at this point.”

Molly turned just as the phoenix Patronus of Albus soared onto the landing. “Voldemort has retreated, and has no idea where Harry is. Kingsley and Emmeline sustained minor injuries. I will send Madam Pomfrey to check over Harry in the morning.”

The phoenix dissolved, and Remus let out a breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding. “He’s safe now, Molly,” he said. “He’s home.”

Molly looked at Harry, her brown eyes filled with tears. “I’ll go and – and get some things for him,” she finally said in a choked-up voice, and practically fled down the stairs.

Remus watched her go, and then stepped around Sirius and Harry to push open the door to Sirius’s room. “In you go, kiddo,” murmured Sirius, leading Harry forward into the room.

They made their way over to the bed, and Sirius carefully guided Harry to sit down on it. He started to move back, but stopped. Remus moved closer to see why and realized with a pang that Harry was still clutching at Sirius’s robes. His eyes were flat and unseeing, and Remus didn’t doubt the boy’s grip was weak, but it was a clear sign Harry didn’t want to be alone.

“I’m here,” murmured Sirius, settling down next to Harry as Remus sat down on his other side. “I’m not going anywhere.”

After a long moment, Harry nodded just a bit, and his shoulders slumped. “Scared,” he whispered so quietly Remus almost missed it.

“I know,” he said, hating how his voice broke at the words. “We’ve been scared for a while now, too.”

Slowly, Remus reached out to wrap an arm around Harry’s thin shoulders. He didn’t react, and they sat in silence for a few minutes until footsteps on the stairs announced the return of Molly. She was carrying a bundle of clothing, including a green jumper she’d clearly made for Harry folded on top. Given the picture of a dragon knitted into it, it must’ve been her present to him this past Christmas. “Here we are, then,” she said softly, handing the clothing to Sirius. “Some clean pajamas and a warm jumper to go on top. And I knitted some socks recently that should work, as well.” She looked down at Harry again.

He made no movement or response to even indicate he knew she was there.

“I’ll just… Let me know if either of you need anything,” she whispered, hands clasped together as though to keep from reaching for Harry. Remus couldn’t help but be thankful Molly hadn’t attempted to smother him with her love and concern. It didn’t seem to be what he needed at the moment.

Remus nodded thankfully as Molly left, carefully closing the door behind her.

“Harry,” said Sirius softly, “we need to get you changed out of your old clothes. You’ll warm up better that way.”

A long moment passed before Harry nodded again and tried to stand. He was clearly too weak to do it himself, so Remus helped him straighten and stay upright as Sirius worked quickly to remove Harry’s clothes.

The thin and ragged layers fell away piece by piece, and Remus couldn’t help but stare at every cut and bruise that littered the boy’s skin. He had no doubt every injury had some kind of horrible story to go with it, and his felt his heart clench further at all the ways in which he and Sirius had failed their friend’s son. He heard Sirius whisper Cleansing charms before carefully redressing Harry in clean pajamas, guiding the jumper over Harry’s head last of all before sitting Harry down again and pulling on the pair of red woolen socks Molly had knitted.

Everything looked far too large for Harry, made even worse by the fact that he had lost so much weight. Remus carefully removed Harry’s glasses and tapped them with his wand, wordlessly repairing them before setting them aside on the nightstand.

“You need sleep,” he said. “We all do. Can – can you lie down, Harry?”

Another long moment passed before Harry nodded. Sirius drew back the covers and they both worked to gently maneuver Harry so he lay under the blankets. Remus stepped back as Sirius drew up a chair.

“I’ll just be in the next room,” said Remus quietly, and he turned to go.

“No,” came a faint voice from the bed.

Remus turned back to see Harry looking at him. His green eyes were still flat, but not completely lifeless.

“Harry?” said Remus.

“P-please… don’t.”

Remus looked down at Sirius, who sighed. His bed was quite large, and they were all exhausted.

“You don’t want to sleep alone?” asked Sirius.

Harry looked at them both and shook his head. “Scared,” he whispered. “Please.”

Remus swallowed back the grief that threatened to overwhelm him and moved back to the bed. “All right, Harry,” he said, sitting down at the foot of the bed. “I’ll stay.”

Harry nodded a bit and shifted to try and get comfortable on his side, curling up in a little ball. He stared blankly at the dimmed lamp on the bedside table. “Safe?”

“That’s right,” said Sirius, voice breaking for the first time since finding Harry. “You’re safe.”

Harry nodded a bit, one arm wandering out from beneath the covers towards Sirius’s hand. Sirius clasped it and brought it to his lips, kissing it firmly. “You’re home, Harry,” he told the boy. “Rest now.”

Remus breathed a sigh of relief when Harry’s eyes at last slipped closed, his face relaxing shortly after as his breathing deepened and evened out.

Come hell or high water, Remus knew that he and Sirius would do whatever it took to help Harry heal. He settled down for the remainder of the night at the foot of the bed and glanced at his watch.

Half-past midnight. It was now the thirty-first of July. “Happy birthday, Harry,” he whispered, and Sirius closed his eyes for a moment.

“It’s one hell of a birthday,” he muttered, “but he’s here, and he’s alive.”

Remus nodded. “The rest will come with time,” he said, watching the gentle rise and fall of Harry’s torso as he slept on.

When Sirius transformed into his Animagus form and curled around Harry, he seemed to settle even more. Despite his best intentions, Remus eventually gave into the arms of slumber himself at the foot of the bed, the relief of having found their boy a soothing balm that could not be long ignored.

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Chapter 4: Morning

Author's Notes: I don't have much to say, other than thank you for your kind reviews! I'm so glad this story is being so well-received. I hope you enjoy this next offering!

Chapter Four: Morning

Despite her best efforts, Ginny was unable to fall back asleep after what she had seen. How could she? The boy she had fancied for so long was…

If she was right, how would any of them ever help Harry heal? If he had been gone as long as she feared, would he even trust any of them again?

Then there was the guilt Ginny felt, that she had noticed signs but not understood what they meant until it was clearly too late. Could she set aside her own guilt to help Harry in his recovery?

She knew she had to. The guilt from her own family could have easily drowned her after the diary had been destroyed. Bill hadn’t been the only one to offer Ginny the space and support she needed, but he had done it the best out of everyone in her family. Could she do the same for Harry? Would he even want her to?

Hermione shifted in her sleep, Molly’s movements could be heard as she left her own room and retreated down the stairs, the front door to the house opened and shut, and the questions in Ginny’s mind circled round again and again until she could no longer stand lying in bed for another moment. Rising, she snagged her dressing gown and slippers and headed for the kitchen, desperate for a cup of tea.

Unsurprisingly, Molly was already in the kitchen, still in her dressing gown as she had been some three hours earlier. What was surprising was that the headmaster was there, too. It must have been him Ginny heard coming inside while she had been lying in bed, trying to sleep and failing.

Ginny paused in the doorway, uncertain if she should enter or go back to bed.

“Oh Ginny, dear, you’re up early,” said Molly, suddenly bustling around for another mug to add to the tray of tea she had already prepared.

“Have a seat, Miss Weasley,” said Dumbledore softly.

Ginny sat down opposite him and stared at the table. Gathering her courage, she asked the main question that had been on her mind the last few hours. “Sir, it wasn’t really Harry that came back from the maze, was it?”

“You were awake when Sirius and Remus arrived?” asked Dumbledore. Ginny nodded.

Molly’s breath caught as she set the tray down on the table. “Ginny, you weren’t supposed to be up to – to see that.”

“It’s all right, Molly,” sighed Dumbledore. “The news will travel fast once the others wake.” He gazed at Ginny from behind his half-moon spectacles, blue eyes invariably sad. “You are correct, Miss Weasley,” he said quietly. “It would seem Voldemort himself used Polyjuice Potion to take on Harry’s appearance whilst keeping Harry his prisoner.”

Molly gasped and dropped the mug in her hand. It rolled a bit on the table, thankfully empty of any tea. Ginny closed her eyes for a moment to shut away the horror Dumbledore’s words evoked in her.

“But I – I hugged –” Molly shook her head, a sickened expression on her pale face as she clasped a hand to her mouth in horror.

There was a moment of silence.

“I – I kept thinking there was something off about his eyes,” Ginny finally admitted as she reached for the mug her mother had dropped and began filling all three with tea from the teapot. “The few times he looked directly at me, his eyes never matched what he was saying or doing.” She shook her head. “I couldn’t figure it out, but it’s not like we’re close friends, so I thought I was being paranoid, or that it was a side-effect of him being Obliviated…”

“No one suspected the truth,” said Dumbledore somberly as he accepted the mug Ginny offered him. “Not even I saw it. Worse still, he was not the only person pretending to be who they are not.”

“Who else, Albus?” asked Molly sharply.

Dumbledore sighed again. “Alastor Moody,” he admitted. “A Death Eater has been using Polyjuice Potion to be him since Arthur was called to his house last September to smooth things over with the disturbance of the dustbins.”

Ginny felt her lungs turn to lead. “That – this whole year –”

“I’m afraid you have never known the real Alastor Moody,” said Dumbledore. “He fooled us all well until a small slip alerted Sirius and Remus to the truth.”

“Who was he really?” asked Ginny.

“A man who should have been dead and buried at Azkaban many years ago.” Dumbledore looked over at Molly. “Barty Crouch Jr.”

Molly clapped her hands to her mouth. Ginny stared. “Percy’s missing boss had a son?”

Dumbledore nodded. “He was sentenced to Azkaban along with three others for torturing two Aurors into insanity.”


Ginny’s mouth was dry. Someone who had done something so completely horrible had been her teacher this past year?

“Harry...” she whispered. “He’s not...?”

“No,” said Dumbledore at once. “But he is very fragile right now.”

“He seemed… scared of me,” whispered Molly. “Wouldn’t let me touch him. He just shrank against Sirius and I –” She broke off with a sob.

“I saw him leaning on Sirius when you passed my room,” Ginny admitted quietly. “He responded to him?”

“And Remus,” said Molly tremulously. “I’m glad he isn’t… completely closed off.”

“But his journey to heal from what he has experienced will undoubtedly be fraught with difficulties,” said Dumbledore heavily. “We do not know the full extent of what happened while he was being held captive.”

Ginny nodded silently and sipped her tea. “We can’t let guilt hold us back,” she finally spoke. “It just… eats away at you.”

“You’re thinking of your brothers,” said Molly softly. “And me.”

Ginny nodded. “The lot of you either wanted to smother me in attention or apologize for ignoring me all year, and I… it wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate the attention,” she admitted, staring at her mug. “The diary did a lot of damage to my self-confidence, twisted up my perception of how my brothers felt about me… a whole year not knowing if anyone actually cared about me on top of all those blank spots in my memory, and it…” Ginny sighed. “That summer after reminded me how much I was loved and cared for.”

“Ginny, I –”

“It’s okay, Mum,” said Ginny firmly. “My point is, it was easier to move forward from that experience when everyone could set aside their guilt and just be present. It wasn’t up to me to be in charge of everyone else’s feelings of guilt. I needed the support to work through what happened without being burdened by how everyone else thought about what had happened to me.”

“Well said,” smiled Dumbledore fondly. “I daresay your daughter’s perspective could be very useful in how we all approach Harry.”

Ginny felt herself flush at the praise. “Thank you, sir,” she murmured before burying herself in her mug of tea once more.

Molly had breakfast ready by the time her brothers and Hermione came down to eat a few hours later, during which time Ginny had consumed two more mugs of tea as well as her own food. “Has something happened, sir?” Hermione asked the moment she stepped into the room and spotted Dumbledore. “Has Harry been found yet?”

Ginny looked over her empty plate at Dumbledore and watched him nod silently.

“Wait, he’s – you actually found him?” said Ron in shock. “He’s – he’s alive?”

“Yes,” said Dumbledore, “but I must warn you that Harry has been through a terrible ordeal and is not up to visitors at this time.”

“Sirius and Remus ought to be starving, though,” said Molly as she loaded a tray. “I suppose I could…”

“He’s here?” said Fred. “Where?”

“Never you mind that right now,” snapped Molly. “We don’t want to overwhelm him.” She hesitated, hands on either side of the tray as though she wanted to pick it up, but was uncertain.

“I’ll take it up, Mum,” offered Ginny quietly. “Someone who isn’t that close to him might be for the best right now.”

Molly sent Ginny a searching look that Ginny met without flinching. She knew what her relationship, or lack thereof, to Harry was. She was about as neutral as anyone could be at this point.

“Oh – all right,” said Molly softly, handing the tray to Ginny. “Please be careful.”

“I promise,” said Ginny as her mother held open the kitchen door. “Be back soon,” she added with a smile at everyone else before heading up the stairs.

Ginny felt her confidence begin to slip as she headed up towards the topmost floor. What if Harry reacted badly to her? She knew she wouldn’t be upset by his appearance, having already seen him, but there was really no telling how he might take her presence after so long away from everyone who cared about him.

Reaching the top floor, Ginny hesitated, then carefully balanced the tray with one hand so she could knock on Sirius’s door. “Sirius?” she called out softly. “It’s Ginny. I have breakfast, Mum thought you might be hungry.”

A moment later, the door opened, revealing the exhausted face of Remus Lupin. “Come in,” he said, running a hand through his sleep-rumpled hair. “We’re up.”

Ginny stepped inside. She had spent several hours in here with Sirius over the last few weeks, so the posters of Muggle girls in scanty outfits didn’t faze her. She looked over at the bed to take in Harry, unsurprised to see him here instead of in the other bedroom.

Sirius was curled up around Harry in his Animagus form, but he was awake and staring listlessly at the lamp on the bedside table. Sirius slowly raised his head to look at Ginny, then leapt off the bed and transformed back into his human form.

“I’m surprised Molly sent you up instead of coming herself,” he said as he took the chair next to the bed, one hand already reaching for the trembling hand Harry had lifted silently without looking around and holding it firmly in his own. It seemed Harry craved Sirius’s touch.

“I saw you come in earlier,” Ginny admitted. “Mum’s still shook up, but since I’ve already, well…” She trailed off awkwardly and moved to the desk to set down the tray. “I just thought someone not as close to him might be better,” she said to the tray.

“Thank you Ginny,” said Remus, smiling when she turned to look at him. “We do appreciate it.” He looked over at Harry. “Is Albus here?”

“In the kitchen,” said Ginny. “D’you want me to fetch him?”

“No, I’ll go speak to him myself,” said Remus, shaking his head. “I’ll be back as soon as I am able, Harry.”

Harry nodded slightly, but otherwise didn’t move, and Remus swept from the room.

“You look tired, Ginny,” said Sirius after a moment. “Did you get back to sleep after we got back?”

Ginny shook her head. “Mum sent you the usuals as well as some porridge,” she said, quickly focusing on the tray she had set down. “I think that’s supposed to be for Harry.”

Sirius nodded. “Bring it over?” he asked her before turning back to Harry. “I’m going to sit you up so you can eat, all right?”

Ginny turned with the porridge and a spoon as well as a piece of toast for herself to see Harry nodding slightly. Setting the porridge and toast on the bedside table, she quickly gathered up the pillows to go behind Harry as Sirius sat him up. She backed away a moment later as Sirius gently settled Harry against the stack of pillows and sat down on the bed.

The movement seemed to have been too much. Harry started coughing, curling over his bent knees and nearly toppling over but for the hold Sirius had on his shoulders. When the fit ended, Sirius helped Harry lean back against the pillows again as Harry wheezed, eyes screwed shut and face almost white as a sheet beneath the bruise which covered most of the left side of his face.

“Sorry,” murmured Sirius. Harry shrugged a bit as the wheezing eased up and opened his green eyes, staring blankly at the ceiling. Ginny saw his thin hands grasping at the blankets and felt her heart construct with the unfairness of the situation.

Slowly, she moved to the foot of the bed as Sirius situated himself next to Harry with the porridge. “I know it isn’t ideal, but I don’t think you can feed yourself yet, and you’ve got to eat something if you’re going to get your strength back.”

Ginny quietly watched as Harry’s eyes moved to focus on Sirius and he nodded. Sirius grabbed Harry’s glasses and slipped them onto his pale face, and Ginny saw his flat green eyes flicker over to her.

“Do you want me to leave?” she asked him carefully. It was fine if that was what he wanted. Ginny wasn’t there to do anything that might make him uncomfortable.

To her surprise, Harry shook his head before his eyes returned to Sirius, so Ginny curled up and slowly munched on her piece of toast as Sirius fed his godson small spoonfuls of porridge. Toast devoured, Ginny returned to the tray and spotted a small glass of water, which she carried over to Sirius now. He nodded to her gratefully and helped Harry take a few small sips.

Ginny returned to the foot of the bed with some bacon and a new cup of tea for herself. It wasn’t long after that when Harry turned his head away from Sirius’s next spoonful of porridge. “Full?” Sirius asked him.

Harry nodded. He’d barely managed a quarter of what Molly had sent up, but given how incredibly thin he was now, Ginny was certain he had been horribly starved. His stomach could no longer handle the amounts of food she’d known him to be able to consume at the Burrow the two times he had stayed.

Sirius sighed, set aside the porridge, and went to the tray to grab a plate for himself. Harry didn’t move, dull gaze fixed on a distant wall. Ginny turned to see what he was looking at and spotted the photograph Sirius had stuck to the wall of himself at Hogwarts with his friends, Harry’s dad among them. She wished she could take it down to show Harry, but with the Permanent Sticking Charm on it, that wasn’t going to happen.

“Do you know where you are, Harry?” Ginny found herself asking.

Harry’s eyes moved to her, and he shook his head slightly after a moment.

Ginny scooted a bit closer, inwardly pleased that Harry didn’t tense up as she did so. “This is where Sirius grew up,” she said. “His parents are both dead, so he inherited the house. We’ve been using it as headquarters for the Order of the Phoenix. Do you know what that is?”

Harry gave a minute shake of his head.

“A secret group that fought against You-Know-Who in the last war,” Ginny told him. “Dumbledore founded it. Sirius, Remus, and your parents were all a part of it the last time.”

Harry’s eyes flicked to Sirius, who nodded around a fried egg. “I’m not supposed to be out and about, being a wanted criminal and all,” he said, unable to keep the bitter note from his voice, “so I offered this place for the Order to use.”

“The trouble is,” continued Ginny, “all kinds of Dark things and creatures have been festering around here since Sirius’s Mum died, so we’ve been doing a lot of dejunking. Mum had us tackle some drapes infested with doxies last week – disgusting, except I think Fred and George snuck a couple of them for their experiments.”

“The money?” asked Harry unexpectedly in a thin voice.

Ginny’s mouth fell open. How did he know about that? That hadn’t been Harry on the train giving the twins all that gold, it had been You-Know-Who. Had he told Harry about it? Why would he do that?

“They’re using it,” she said. “Bought plenty of supplies already, but they’ve also been using all kinds of things for the products they’re developing that they’ve come across here. How did you –?”

A knock on the bedroom door interrupted her question. A moment later, Remus came in, followed by Madam Pomfrey who was carrying a large bag.

“Really,” she was saying as she stepped in, “first Minerva, then you and the headmaster, all this secrecy is highly unnecessary –” She broke off a moment later when she spotted Harry.

“Oh dear,” she said, striding forward and shooing Ginny out of the way of her large bag, which dropped onto the bed where she’d been sitting a moment earlier. “You’ve certainly presented quite the challenge, gentlemen. How long?”

“Since the Third Task,” said Remus quietly.

Madam Pomfrey froze, wand in hand. “I beg your pardon?” she said. “I treated the boy for a cut arm and detected use of the Cruciatus Curse in his system that night.”

“Wasn’t him,” snapped Sirius. “Polyjuice Potion.”

Madam Pomfrey gaped at Sirius. “That wasn’t – then who did I treat?”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Remus quickly. “If you could please –” He gestured at Harry.

“Of – of course,” said Madam Pomfrey, and she seemed to quickly regain her brisk manner as she sat down in the chair Sirius had occupied while feeding Harry. Sirius quickly resettled on Harry’s other side, clasping his hand once again.

Ginny was starting to wonder if Sirius was the only thing keeping Harry grounded in what was happening. As it was, he appeared wary and tense as Madam Pomfrey pulled out her wand and waved it over him. “Dehydration, severe malnutrition…” She reached for her bag and started pulling out an assortment of potion vials and jars.

“For the bruises,” she said, thrusting a jar at Sirius. “Dittany for the cuts. Nutritional potions… let’s see, you’ll need to encourage fluids: milk, water, weak teas, and so forth…” She waved her wand over Harry again.

“No infections in any of the wounds, good… means his magic reserves are strong… lungs are a bit weak – excessive coughing?” she asked Harry sharply. He nodded and looked away. “Definitely pneumonia, but easily curable…” She pulled out more vials, then suddenly frowned. “Stomach ulcers, caused by potion intake. What kind of potion were you given, Mr. Potter?”

Harry blinked at her for a long moment before opening his mouth. “Ask… Snape.”

Ginny and Sirius looked at each other and frowned. “What do you mean, Harry?” asked Remus.

Harry shifted and gripped Sirius’s hand. “Snape… created it.”

“Snape hasn’t been asked to make any potions,” said Sirius in confusion.

Harry shook his head. “Years ago. Invented.”

Remus moved closer to Harry. “What did it do?”

Harry closed his eyes, looking distraught. “Have to listen,” he said so softly Ginny had trouble hearing him. “Like… like Imperius.”

Sirius’s face darkened. “How often?” he asked quietly. “Every day?”

Harry nodded.

“I’m going to need to know the ingredients in this potion in order to best treat the ulcers,” said Madam Pomfrey in an unusually quiet voice. She seemed unnerved by the information Harry had just given them.

“I’ll see to it,” said Remus at once. He left again, and Ginny watched him go, starting to wonder if she ought to leave herself. She was just taking up space at this point.

“I’m hesitant to give you any oral potions until I know more about Professor Snape’s potion,” said Madam Pomfrey after a moment. “We can focus on the cuts and bruises for now.” She moved the potions to the bedside table. “Arms, legs, and upper torso, correct?”

“Yeah,” said Sirius. “Harry, can you sit up on your own?”

Harry considered and then nodded. Sirius helped him readjust and pulled away the pillows Ginny had placed behind him.

“I’ll need to take off your jumper and top, Mr. Potter,” said Madam Pomfrey, but Harry flinched and shook his head.

“Sirius,” he whispered.

Sirius pulled off the jumper and top, revealing the half-healed cuts and dark bruises that littered Harry’s skin. Ginny felt her breath catch at how much weight he’d lost, how skeletal he was now.

Madam Pomfrey snagged a bottle and sat down on the bed next to Harry, but he winced away from her, almost toppling into Sirius.

“I need to use the dittany immediately followed by the bruise salve,” she told him. “It’ll go faster if Mr. Black and I work together.”

“Not you,” said Harry with surprising forcefulness.

“Mr. Potter, I –”


Ginny was startled by how loudly Harry spoke, but the expression on his face was more fearful than angry. The words tumbled out of her mouth before she could think them through:

“Will you let me do it?”

Harry stared at her, surprised, then nodded. Ginny smiled at him and approached him. “Tell me what to do,” she said to Sirius.

“I’ll take the dittany if you can follow right behind with the bruise salve,” said Sirius, handing her the small jar.

Ginny accepted it with a nod as Madam Pomfrey backed away and set to work. Sirius used the dropper to go over the cuts, which immediately sealed over with light scars or no scars at all. Meanwhile, Ginny carefully located each bruise and rubbed in the salve, working quietly and feeling both impressed and worried over how still Harry was holding himself as the cuts healed and bruises faded from view.

Taking in the nasty bruise covering most of the left side of Harry’s face, Ginny couldn’t help but hesitate a moment. “Is it all right if I take off your glasses to get this bruise?” she finally asked him.

Harry nodded, and Ginny gently pulled off and set aside the round frames on the nightstand. Then she turned back to face Harry and met his eyes once more.

There was something about his eyes which had always drawn her gaze. The green irises, filled right now with pain and exhaustion, seemed much brighter without the thin glass barrier, and Ginny felt her breath catch.

Harry’s eyes told a deeper story of fear and loss than he normally showed. For a moment, Ginny thought she could see into his very soul, to the lonely boy hiding the worst of the hurt and pain where no one could see it.

No one but her.

Carefully, Ginny grasped Harry’s chin and tilted his face to the side a bit so she could clearly see the entire bruise. Then she collected some of the salve on her fingers and began rubbing it into the bruised skin, highly aware the entire time that Harry’s eyes were on her, silently watching. It ought to have felt odd or uncomfortable, and Ginny thought her cheeks felt warm, but it wasn’t awkward. It was simply a needed task, yet it felt… intimate.

Ginny didn’t know what to think and did her best to focus on what she was doing. The bruise faded away as she carefully applied the salve; when she finished, she gently slid his glasses back on his face.

“Thanks,” Harry whispered, and Ginny smiled before moving on.

A few minutes later, she and Sirius finished up with his arms and torso. “We need to get your legs, Harry,” said Sirius softly. “Do you still want Ginny using the salve?”

Ginny waited, and a few seconds later, Harry nodded. Sirius redressed him and pulled down the blankets to remove Harry’s woolen socks and the pajama bottoms while leaving his pants on. Harry flushed a bit, but said nothing, using his shaking arms to balance himself upright.

Harry’s legs weren’t as covered in cuts and bruises as his torso save for the ragged mess on his left leg that looked as though it had suffered multiple interruptions in the healing process, and the raw, blistered skin of his ankles. “What happened here?” Ginny asked him, pointing to his left leg.

“Giant spider,” said Harry. “Third task.”

The dittany left behind a mangled-looking scar, but it was healed over.

“And these?” she asked, pointing to Harry’s ankles.

Sirius’s jaw worked as he positioned the dropper over an ankle. “Manacles,” he finally muttered. “He was chained up so he couldn’t escape.”

Ginny pressed her lips together to keep herself steady and returned to work, carefully rubbing in the salve (Harry’s knees were almost black from bruises) and sitting back as Sirius pulled the socks, pajama bottoms, and then the covers back up. Harry was starting to shake from the strain of sitting independently, so Ginny placed the pillows back behind him. Harry slumped against them and looked at her.

“Thanks.” The word was spoken softly, but was genuine. Ginny smiled at him and set the salve aside.

“I’ll need to go speak with the headmaster about a few things,” said Madam Pomfrey. “Please have Remus alert me when he returns.” She stepped out of the room, leaving silence behind her. Ginny dropped into the chair she had vacated.

“So,” said Sirius at length, “why weren’t you able to fall back asleep, Ginny?”

“I couldn’t stop thinking about…” She glanced over at Harry, uncertain if she should share what had really been on her mind, but decided honesty was her best option. “I kept feeling as though something was wrong after the Third Task, but I couldn’t figure out what.”

“Not s’posed to know.”

Ginny startled and looked at Harry. He was staring at her again. “Harry?” she said.

“Game,” he said softly. “Just… a game.” He looked away and fell silent once more.

“He likes games,” said Ginny before she could think it through.

Harry’s eyes darted to her again.

“The – the diary,” she forced out. “It – well, he, I suppose – thought it was a game, seeing how far he could go. How many holes he could punch in my memory, how many people he could hurt, how far he could push before I tried to say anything…” She swallowed. “Playing with our minds, seeing how far people can be pushed before they break –” Ginny broke off and straightened. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be talking about this right now, I’ll just –”


Ginny stared at Harry. Out of all the things she could’ve expected to result from her verbal vomit, this had not been it.

“I – are you –?”

Harry gazed at her. “Please,” he said. “Stay.”

Ginny swallowed again and sat down again. “All right,” she told him. “I’ll stay.”

Harry nodded. “Tired,” he said quietly.

“D’you want to lie down again?” Sirius asked him.

Harry nodded once more, and Ginny removed the pile of pillows again so Harry could lie down. “Padfoot?” said Harry.

Sirius nodded and transformed into the big black dog, curling up with Harry straight away. “Real,” Harry sighed.

Ginny settled in the chair beside the bed. She wasn’t quite sure what Harry meant, but it seemed to mean a great deal to him. “Real,” she agreed. “It’s real.”

Harry smiled a bit and closed his eyes. It didn’t seem to take long for him to drop off to sleep. Once she was certain he was out, Ginny stood, smiled sadly at Sirius, collected the tray, and headed back downstairs.

It was no surprise that she ran into her brothers and Hermione on the second floor. “How is he?” Hermione whispered to her, pulling her towards their shared bedroom, Ginny’s brothers following behind.

“Tired,” said Ginny, readjusting the tray in her arms. “He’s resting again.”

“He was awake?” said Ron. Ginny nodded. “How’s he look?”

Ginny bit her lip, uncertain if she should say anything. George shut the bedroom door and took the tray from her, setting it on the nearby dresser.

“Did Mum tell you anything yet?” she asked instead.

“Just that Remus and Sirius found him last night,” said Fred. “She wouldn’t let us ask Dumbledore or her any questions, nor Remus when he came down a few minutes later. Do you know more than that?”

Ginny hesitated, then nodded. “Dumbledore told me and Mum at the same time.”

“So what do you know?” pressed Hermione.

“I don’t know if I –”

“Ginny, we care about him,” said George. “We want to know, never mind what Mum might say.”

Ginny bit her lip and decided to dump the truth out. “Harry never came back from the maze. It was Voldemort using Polyjuice Potion.”

It was surprising how the name fell so easily from her lips, and yet, it really wasn’t. She found it suddenly difficult to be scared of a wizard she now hated so intensely for the untold damages he had inflicted upon her friend.

The reaction to this bombshell was exactly what she expected. Hermione gasped and clapped her hands to her mouth; Ron gaped before stumbling over to the nearest bed to sit down; Fred ran a hand through his hair and swore under his breath; George shook his head in disbelief.

“That’s not…” he trailed off. “But he… I don’t –”

“I shared a dormitory with You-Know-Who?” whispered Ron blankly. “That’s so much worse than Scabbers.”

“A mass murderer pretending to be your pet, and a mass murderer pretending to be your best mate,” said Fred, shaking his head in disgust. “You sure know how to collect them, Ron.”

“Shut up,” snapped Ron angrily. “Percy had Scabbers first, but this…” His jaw worked and he shook his head.

“He made an awful joke that You-Know-Who had killed him and replaced him with a fake the very next morning,” said Hermione in a small voice. “I said – I said Dumbledore would’ve known if it wasn’t him!”

“Hold on, he gave us his Triwizard winnings to start our joke shop!” exclaimed Fred. “He insisted we’d all need a few laughs.”

“How could that have been…?” George shook his head.

“I don’t know,” said Ginny, wondering again how exactly Harry knew about the money Voldemort had given them. “But it was. Harry’s been his prisoner the whole time. He’s…” She shook her head. “He’s lost so much weight, and he – he had cuts and bruises, and the right side of his hair is shorter than everything else, and his eyes –” She broke off to keep in a sob and turned away.

“He’s bothered by some people,” she said softly. “Mum, Madam Pomfrey… but not me. He seems fine with Sirius and Remus, as well. I’m not sure what that’s about, but I can’t imagine it’s anything good.”

Sighing, Ginny grabbed the tray. “I need to get this back to the kitchen,” she murmured and left, the others saying nothing. She left them to their horror and grief, heading quietly down the stairs.

Her mum was cleaning up the remains of breakfast when Ginny entered the kitchen again. Madam Pomfrey was still speaking quietly with Dumbledore at the kitchen table, and it sounded as though they were discussing the real Moody’s condition.

“Thank you, Ginny,” Molly said, taking the tray. “Harry didn’t eat much.”

Ginny nodded. “Sirius said his appetite was awful after he escaped Azkaban,” she reminded her. “It’s going to take time for Harry to get back to where he was.”

“I know, dear,” sighed Molly sadly, a hand reaching out to run through her hair.

Just then, the kitchen door opened and Remus entered with Professor Snape. Ginny tensed, recalling Harry’s words about the potion he had apparently created and felt a swoop of anger.

“Ah, Severus,” said Dumbledore, rising from his seat. “Thank you for being here on such short notice.”

“Lupin says Potter was dosed daily with a potion I created?” said Snape, stepping further into the kitchen.

“Indeed,” said Dumbledore solemnly as he gestured Snape closer. “Has Voldemort already contacted you about Harry’s rescue?”

Snape nodded. “He believes that I had nothing to do with Crouch being caught,” he said. “It may take some time to fully convince him of my loyalties after the damage done by Crouch’s deception, however.”

Dumbledore nodded. “Do you know which potion Harry was referring to upstairs?”

“I do,” said Snape, looking even more uncomfortable. “It was an as-yet unnamed potion I was developing to use in place of the Imperius Curse for those who are able to resist its effects.” He shook his head. “I believed I had destroyed all traces of it save for my own private notes so it could not be completed or replicated.”

He sat down at the table and revealed a piece of parchment which he thrust in Madam Pomfrey’s direction. “I had not tested it for prolonged exposure, and given the presence of the hellebore and the shrivelfig, I think it obvious how Potter ended up with stomach ulcers.” He paused, then asked, “Has the boy said where the potion came from?”

“No,” said Remus. “Just that you invented it.”

Snape nodded.

“Ginny,” said Molly quietly as Snape and Madam Pomfrey bent over the parchment with Dumbledore, “you ought to go and get dressed now.”

Ginny looked down at her dressing gown and nodded. Then she figured she had best let her mother know what she had told her brothers and Hermione. “I told the others about Harry,” she said to her. “About how he looks and that it was Voldemort the whole time at Hogwarts after –”

“Ginny!” Molly cut her off. “Certain people may feel the need to say his name, but you –”

“I’m not afraid of the name, Mum,” snapped Ginny, flushing a bit when the others in the kitchen looked over at her. “It’s difficult to be afraid when I’m so angry about what he did to Harry!”

It felt better and better each time she referred to him by name rather than a fearful title.

“Regardless,” said Molly, “I am deeply uncomfortable with –”

“I don’t care!” Ginny shouted. “Harry’s never been afraid of saying Voldemort’s name!”

“That could very well have changed after what he’s been through,” said Molly tightly.

Ginny shook her head. “He wouldn’t do that, Mum,” she said. “I know it.” And with that, she spun on her heel and marched out of the kitchen.

When she reached the second landing, she could hear her brothers and Hermione speaking in her bedroom. It sounded as though they were going over every moment after the maze, trying to figure out how they hadn’t known it wasn’t Harry. Not the least bit interested in joining that depressing conversation, and further blocked from being able to change out of her pajamas, Ginny crept past and continued up the stairs to the top floor. Sirius’s room seemed suddenly a haven from the fears and guilt of everyone else.

Ginny quietly opened the door and stepped inside. Sirius raised his head from where he was curled around a sleeping Harry. “Sorry,” muttered Ginny. “It’s less awful up here than it is down there.”

Sirius cocked his furry head to one side. “The guilt and everything,” sighed Ginny as she dropped into the chair by the bed once again. “My brothers and Hermione are dissecting every moment after the maze, Snape’s discussing the potion Harry talked about with Madam Pomfrey, Remus, and Dumbledore, and Mum’s upset with me.”

Sirius’s dark eyes appeared puzzled as he continued to stare. “I said his name,” Ginny explained. “Voldemort. I’ve never said the name before today. It’s just…” Sighing, Ginny looked away at the window. “I’m so angry at what he did,” she admitted softly. “I’ve never felt this angry about another human being before, and I can’t – I can’t be afraid of a name that makes me feel this way.”


Ginny jumped. Harry was awake again and staring at her. He swallowed hard and then he actually reached for her. Hardly daring to draw breath, Ginny lifted a hand and let Harry hold it in his own. It was cold and thin, but firm and real –

Oh. That’s what he meant.

“Hate him, too,” said Harry quietly, and Ginny refocused on his face. “You’re real,” he added a moment later.

“I am,” said Ginny, chest tightening painfully at his words. “And I’m not going anywhere, I promise.”

Harry nodded and smiled a bit before closing his eyes and drifting back off to sleep. Ginny stared at him, considering the green of his eyes.

They had been dark, sad, hurt… but alive.

Harry was alive.

“Alive,” whispered Ginny as she continued to hold Harry’s hand. She met Sirius’s dark eyes. “He’s alive.”

The words had never felt so good.

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Chapter 5: Tenacity

Author's Notes: I got a question about what Snape would be like around Harry following what has happened. This chapter answers that question, I think, though what he'll be like when Harry returns to Hogwarts... Anyway, this is the second

Chapter Five: Tenacity

�Your daughter is quite tenacious,� remarked Remus mildly after Ginny stormed from the kitchen.

�A trait she gets from her mother, undoubtedly,� said Albus with twinkling eyes. Molly snorted, but smiled slightly, regardless. �I cannot help but feel that her determination is going to be essential to Harry�s recovery.�

Remus sighed, thinking of the frail boy upstairs. �We still don�t know the greater part of what happened.�

�I could attempt to corner Wormtail and find out what he knows,� said Severus, but Albus shook his head.

�I cannot have you doing anything suspect at this time, Severus,� he said. �We need the intel only you can provide.�

Severus nodded. �As you wish, headmaster.�

�That leaves us with getting Harry to talk,� said Remus. �He's been using the bare minimum of words to express anything.�

�Legilimency?� suggested Severus.

�No,� said Albus. �Voldemort has undoubtedly used it on Harry enough that he might not react well to another daring to enter his mind.�

Remus nodded in agreement. Then a thought occurred to him. �Ginny,� he said. �Tell me, Molly, how much did she speak of the diary after her first year?�

Molly sighed and sat down at the table. �As little as possible,� she said. �Going to Egypt was a much-needed escape for all of us, but it seemed to do her a world of good, being in a different country and surrounded by her family. She�s got a special relationship with Bill, and she � well, I think she spoke the most to him.�

�Harry�s got something special with Sirius,� mused Remus. �It doesn�t take a genius to see that. And like it or not, of all of us, he and Ginny can relate to whatever he�s been through the best.�

Molly rubbed at her face wearily. �My little girl,� she sighed. �This is� Goodness, this isn�t the kind of thing either of them should understand.�

�But it is the reality we face, nevertheless,� said Remus.

There was a moment of silence.

�I would like to observe Potter,� said Severus at length. �The potion he was subjected to is such that I would prefer to see for myself what impact it may have had on both his psyche and body. As I said, the potion was still in experimental stages and had not been tested for prolonged exposure.�

Albus nodded, but Remus hesitated. �I don�t know how Harry will react to you,� he said. �He wasn�t comfortable with Poppy.�

Poppy nodded. �He wouldn�t allow me to apply dittany to the cuts and abrasions on his skin. Miss Weasley ended up being the one to assist Mr. Black.�

�He has not reacted well to you, Molly, or myself, but he has been fine with Remus, Sirius, and Miss Weasley,� said Albus thoughtfully. �What do we have in common that they do not?�

No one said anything for some time. Remus couldn�t fathom what it was that made himself, Sirius, or even Ginny different from the others. He hoped with time they might identify the difference and help Harry with the necessary healing to overcome it.

�Let me go speak with Harry and Sirius before you come up, Severus,� he finally spoke. �Given that we don�t know what it is that makes Harry hesitant around some of us but not others, the last thing I would wish to do is catch him off guard.�

Severus gazed at him for a moment before nodding, and Remus headed up the stairs.

He was temporarily waylaid by Hermione who wanted to see if she could come upstairs, but he gently put her off. �Harry seems to have been highly secluded during his time in captivity. I don�t want to overwhelm him.�

Hermione looked disappointed, but nodded. �Tell him that Hedwig showed up a few minutes ago. She looks� well, I�m not sure she�s been eating well for the last two weeks she�s been missing, but Ron and I are looking after her.�

Remus nodded and continued up the stairs to Sirius�s room. He entered to find Harry asleep with Sirius snuggled up to him as Padfoot, and his hand clasped in Ginny�s.

�Hello, sir,� said Ginny quietly. �Is Mum still upset with me?�

Remus smiled sadly as he Conjured another chair and placed it next to Ginny. �I don�t believe she was ever really upset with you to begin with,� he said. �You are her youngest child, and you have endured horrors that few can say they faced and came out the other side with the ability to thrive as you have. Regardless, your experiences your first year changed you, and I don�t know that Molly has ever fully come to terms with that. Being faced with Harry�s trauma paired with her own guilt has made it difficult for her to fully accept everything that is going on.�

Ginny nodded and stared at Harry. �He said I�m real,� she whispered.

Remus frowned, but nodded. �He said the same to both myself and Sirius,� he told her. �Something about it� it makes me rather hesitant to bring any of your brothers or even Hermione up here.�

It was Ginny�s turn to frown now, but she said nothing. Sirius slowly raised his head and sniffed the air.

Then he growled.

Remus was confused for a moment before he heard footsteps on the stairs. Inwardly cursing, Remus straightened and headed for the door, opening it to see Severus approaching. �I haven�t spoken to them yet,� he said. �Please wait here.�

�You�ve had ample time,� said Severus evenly. �It is of the utmost importance that I ascertain the boy�s health.�

�At least let me warn him first!� snapped Remus before he shut the door and turned to face the room.

Harry was awake again and looking at Remus in confusion. �Professor Snape wishes to do his own diagnostic spells, Harry,� he sighed, running a hand through his hair. �He says the potion they gave you was never tested for prolonged exposure, so he wants to make sure there was no lasting damage outside of the stomach ulcers Madam Pomfrey discovered.�

Sirius growled again and Ginny frowned. �Is that really necessary?� she asked.

�Severus seems to believe so,� said Remus. �Harry, I think we ought to let him check you over. I promise I won�t let him do anything that could harm you.�

Harry slowly pushed himself upright and took his glasses when Ginny offered them, shoving them on with trembling hands to better look at Remus. �Did he know?� he asked softly.

Remus shook his head. �No one told him they even had his research,� he said. �I swear to you, he had no idea anyone was using it.�

Harry nodded a bit, burying a hand in Sirius�s fur and reaching for Ginny again. �Okay,� he sighed as Ginny grasped his hand once more. �Stay?�

�None of us is going anywhere,� Remus assured him before opening the door and allowing Severus to enter. He started to walk in, but Remus halted him. �You were friends with Lily once,� he whispered to him. �Remember that while you�re in here.�

Severus shot him a look of surprise before nodding and stepping past Remus. �I have been told you were repeatedly exposed to a potion I was developing before the Dark Lord�s fall.�

Harry nodded, gaze averted, and Remus noticed his grip on Ginny�s hand tighten. �I am not here to harm you, Mr. Potter,� said Severus. �I am here to ascertain whether or not there is any lasting damage besides the stomach ulcers Madam Pomfrey detected.�

Harry nodded, tensed, and then cried out in pain, both hands flying to his forehead as he slammed his eyes shut. �No! Get out!�

Ginny startled to her feet and knocked over her chair as Sirius immediately transformed back to human and gripped Harry by the shoulders. Remus pushed past Severus to sit on the bed beside him. �Harry ��

�Stop looking,� whispered Harry in anguish. �Please, stop��

Remus stared for a moment before everything from the previous night filled his mind and it finally clicked. �Voldemort is using that connection you were talking about,� he said to Sirius. �You told me about how Harry�s scar hurt his first year, and the dreams where he saw what he was doing� but it�s in reverse. He�s in his head. That�s what he meant last night. Voldemort is seeing what Harry sees, hearing what he hears. And it�s happening right now.�

He waved for Severus to back away, but was surprised when Ginny pushed past him and grasped Harry�s face in her hands. �Harry,� she said sharply, �look at me.�

Harry shook his head violently, almost dislodging Ginny�s hands. �Can�t look, can�t see��

�This place is under the Fidelius Charm,� Sirius told him firmly.

�Exactly,� said Ginny. �Voldemort can�t find you here, he can�t hurt you anymore!�

Harry shook his head again, gritting his teeth together, and Ginny looked round at Remus. �You said it�s some kind of connection. Can it be cut off somehow?�

�I don�t even know how it exists,� said Remus helplessly, �let alone how to stop it.�

�Close a door on it, then,� said Sirius. �It�s Occlumency basics, isn�t it?� Remus wasn�t sure this was truly the case, but it seemed Sirius was going to run with it regardless of what he said. �Harry, imagine that there�s a doorway between you and Voldemort, and close it.�

Harry shook his head again. �Yes,� insisted Ginny, immediately latching onto Sirius�s idea. �A big, heavy door you can bolt shut.�

Harry�s face screwed up in concentration, breathing haggard and body tense, and then he � he �

Remus reared back when Harry began to laugh, but it was nothing like the laughter he�d heard a year ago. It was cold, wild, triumphant in its continued state, and Ginny was white as a sheet, shaking her head and fingers loosening on his cheeks.

�Harry!� Sirius tried calling out to him, shaking his shoulders, but the laughter wouldn�t stop, and still Harry kept his eyes tightly shut.

�Harry,� Remus tried now, but to no avail. He didn�t know what to do, meeting Sirius�s eyes hopelessly.

Ginny suddenly seemed to gather herself together, because the words which came out of her mouth were sharp with anger and determination:

�Shut up, Tom!�

The laughter abruptly cut off, and a moment later, Harry moaned as Ginny tightened her hold on his face once more.

�You can do it, Harry,� murmured Sirius, looking thoroughly unnerved. �Imagine the door shutting, c�mon now��

But Harry shook his head. �Too � strong ��

�No,� said Sirius, �he isn�t. You can shut him out, I know you can!�

Harry shook his head again, and it seemed Ginny had reached her limit. �You said I�m real, Harry,� she said in the sharpest voice Remus had ever heard from her. �Well so are you! You�re real and he doesn�t get to take that from you, not ever. Now shut the damn door!�

Harry tensed up even more, breath catching, and for several tense moments Remus hardly dared breathe. The boy suddenly slumped forward without warning, Sirius�s hold on his shoulders the only thing keeping him upright. Ginny found Harry�s hands as Harry gasped for air.

�Real,� he whispered raggedly, fingers grasping weakly at Ginny�s hands. �This is real.�

�That�s right,� said Remus softly as Sirius pulled Harry tightly against his side, Harry�s head now supported on his shoulder. �You�re here with us and you�re safe. Voldemort doesn�t get to take that away from you.�

Harry nodded against Sirius�s shoulder, eyes at half-mast. �Safe?� he asked.

�Yes,� said Ginny, voice catching. �You�re safe, Harry.�

Remus gently placed his hand on Harry�s head. �He�s never going to take you away from us again,� he promised.

Harry nodded, and then a new wave of coughing suddenly overwhelmed his thin frame. Remus dropped his hand to his shoulder and waited for the fit to ease as he hacked against Sirius�s chest.

Finally, Harry took a few wheezing breaths, and Sirius sighed as he looked at Severus. �Does this have to be right now?� he asked.

�I�m afraid I must insist, Black,� said Severus quietly. �The sooner we know the full effects the potion had on his body, the sooner it can be treated in facilitating his healing. That cough in particular is troubling.�

Harry was shaking in Sirius�s hold, but his expression was set. �Do it,� he whispered.

Ginny and Remus both moved out of the way to let Severus do his work. He settled in the chair Ginny had set back upright and raised his wand. Harry flinched.

Remus was surprised to see Severus immediately lower his wand, looking quietly at the thin boy. �I am going to cast a spell that allows me to detect any abnormalities in your nervous system, Potter.�

Harry was still tense, but held himself still as Severus raised his wand once more. Severus worked methodically, telling Harry everything he was doing before he did it.

It was several tense minutes later when Severus at last set his wand aside. �The worst of the malnourishment was within the last two weeks,� he told the occupants of the room, �but Potter was clearly starting to lose both weight and muscle mass before then due to a sudden growth spurt paired with too few nutrients in his system.� He turned his attention to Harry. �How often were you fed at first?�

Harry swallowed. �Morning �n night,� he whispered.

�And the last couple of weeks?�

Harry looked away and shrugged against Sirius. �When they �membered,� he mumbled into his godfather�s collarbone.

Remus closed his eyes for a moment.

Severus nodded. �There appears to be no lasting damage from the potion outside of the stomach ulcers. I shall discuss my findings with Madam Pomfrey and have her write down her recommendations regarding the necessary potions regimen for Potter�s recovery. I will return shortly.�

He rose and headed for the door, pausing a moment to look back. �You will overcome this, Mr. Potter,� he said. �Between the potions and the support in this room alone, I have no doubt you will soon be well on your way to irritating my last nerve once more.�

Harry snorted softly, but said nothing, and Severus left, shutting the door with a quiet click.

After a short pause, Remus remembered Hermione�s words. �Hedwig turned up a bit ago,� he said.

�How is she?� asked Ginny. She glanced at Harry. �She�s been missing since � well, since everything at Privet Drive.�

Harry stared at her and then at Remus. �Not dead?� he croaked.

�No,� said Remus. �Hermione says she�s not at her best, but she and Ron are doing what they can for her.�

Harry nodded. �Thought he� killed her,� he admitted.

�Did he say he had?� Sirius asked him. Harry shook his head.

�Tired,� he said softly.

Remus sighed. There was so much he wanted to ask Harry, but his health came first and foremost. �All right,� he said. �We�ll let you rest, now.�

Within minutes, Harry had drifted off once more. �Do you suppose they didn�t let him sleep much?� Ginny asked quietly, her small hand clasped within Harry�s again.

�It�s possible,� sighed Sirius. �Add in the starvation, and his body is doing all it can to conserve energy. Food, rest, and the potions will help to change that.�

Remus nodded. �We�ll be there to help him,� he said. �Well, mostly you two when the next full moon hits in a few days.�

Sirius sighed and nodded. �He�s got us,� he said. �Hopefully there are others around here he�ll respond to as he continues to get better.� He excused himself to the bathroom, leaving Remus and Ginny with Harry.

�Hermione wanted to come up and visit,� said Remus at length. �I put her off for now.�

Ginny sighed. �She�s probably going to be upset with how much time I�ve spent here,� she said. �He�s her friend, not mine.�

�But Harry told you that you�re real,� Remus pointed out. �That seems to mean a great deal to him right now, and we shouldn�t be so quick to dismiss it.�

Ginny nodded quietly, a thoughtful expression on her face. �I wonder what it is that makes us real.�

Remus sighed and shook his head. �Unless Harry tells us or we figure out a pattern, I don�t know that we�ll ever figure it out.�

�I�ll figure it out,� said Ginny with such certainty in her voice that Remus couldn�t help but believe her. She was, after all, quite tenacious when she needed to be.

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Chapter 6: Grasping

Author's Notes: I hope those of you who celebrate Christmas had a good one!

This chapter will wrap up Harry's first day at Grimmauld Place. After you read it, you will have all the pieces of the puzzle. The question is, can you make them fit? If not, the next chapter is when you see the pieces fall into place.

I talk about the Bond of Blood charm in this chapter, but I have to give credit to a discussion I had on the Ginny Lovers Discord back at the end of January 2020 for my interpretation of said charm and how it's meant to work. AneurysmIncoming and blattgefluester were instrumental in that discussion, and I am grateful for their contributions to my approach in this story. Enjoy!

Chapter Six: Grasping

Sirius headed down the stairs to use the bathroom and saw Tonks stepping out of the room Barty Crouch Jr was being kept in.

“Wotcher, cousin,” said Tonks with a small smile. She nodded towards the stairs. “How is he?”

“Tired, really quiet,” sighed Sirius. “Not at all the kid I last saw.” He ran a hand through his hair roughly. “Aren’t you supposed to be with Crouch?” he asked, jerking his head toward the door Tonks had come through.

“Emmeline just barely showed up and took over,” said Tonks, yawning widely. “I’d only just gotten off my shift when you lot sent for me. Fudge has been making Bones and Scrimgeour run us Aurors just about ragged trying to find Harry.”

“Sounds like a desperate man trying to maintain his control,” said Sirius dryly. “Has Crouch said much?”

Tonks shook her head. “Kingsley dropped by, says he’s thinking he’ll take him in for questioning later this evening, make sure the right people are around so we can do this without Fudge trying to find a way to keep it quiet.”

“Is there a plan for revealing Harry’s been found? The uproar over his disappearance at the Ministry –”

“I don’t think there’s a plan just yet,” sighed Tonks. “I’ve been enjoying how bad this has all been making Fudge look, though,” she added with a grin. “You should see the pinched expression on his face every time he comes into the Auror department to demand what progress has been made and gets told nothing.”

“Maybe Kingsley takes the credit,” mused Sirius, “says he was speaking with Moody about my actions before I was arrested and thought the man seemed off. Dueled him, won, discovered he was actually Crouch Jr. and managed to get the truth of where Harry was being held captive from him.”

“It could work,” said Tonks thoughtfully. “There’s supposed to be a meeting this evening to discuss how best to handle this. I can bring that up for you unless you’re planning on attending.”

“I’m not,” said Sirius. “Harry doesn’t seem ready to let me out of his sight just yet. If he wasn’t sleeping right now…” He trailed off and shook his head. “Remus will have to attend for the both of us, he’s managed to step out of the room without issue.”

“How’s Remus doing with all of this?” asked Tonks, and it warmed Sirius to see genuine concern on her heart-shaped face. She had been quick to strike up a friendship with Remus despite his quiet demeanor.

Of course, it took a special soul to see through to the witty man beneath the withdrawn exterior. That was part of what had made their friendship at Hogwarts so strong.

Sirius shrugged. “Probably about as good as I am,” he admitted. “Seeing Harry locked away like –” He broke off and shook his head, unable to put it into words.

“Harry’s got you,” said Tonks. “He obviously knows you care about him. That should help.”

“I hope so,” said Sirius quietly. “Anyway, bathroom, excuse me.”

Tonks threw her arms around Sirius without warning. “I wish I could tell Mum about you,” she said. “She always spoke fondly of you, you know, even with you locked up in Azkaban and all.”

“She was always my favorite cousin,” Sirius smiled as he returned the hug. “She and Ted doing well?”

Tonks nodded as she pulled away. “I’ve been considering testing the waters to see if they’d be interested in joining the Order,” she admitted. “Obviously I want the support of everyone else first before I approach them, but I think they could help, too.”

“I support it,” said Sirius. “They’re good people. Have to be to raise a brat like you.”

Tonks laughed and punched Sirius in the arm. “I’ll see you later,” she grinned before yawning again. “I need to crash for a bit.”

“Take care,” murmured Sirius as Tonks stumped down the stairs. He took care of his personal business and returned to his room to see Harry’s hand was still clasped in Ginny’s.

“Still sleeping?” he asked quietly. Ginny nodded. “I’m going to see if he can stand a proper bath after he wakes next,” he sighed as he settled down at the foot of the bed again. “Cleaning spells only do so much, you know.”

Ginny smiled and nodded. “Maybe Harry’s things ought to be up here instead of in Ron’s room,” she suggested. “I don’t think he’s going to be up for being around the rest of them for a while.”

Sirius nodded his agreement. “I’ll go fetch his trunk,” said Remus, and he departed.

There was a moment of silence.

“Do – do they use chains in Azkaban?” asked Ginny softly.

Sirius stiffened slightly at the question before shaking his head. “They don’t need to,” he said. “No one has the ability to fight back once they’re in the clutches of the Dementors.”

He barely suppressed a shudder at the thought of those dark days.

“I’m so sorry you had to experience that,” said Ginny earnestly. “It wasn’t fair, what happened to you.”

“It wasn’t fair,” agreed Sirius. “But it also leaves me looking at my godson and feeling I can understand at least a part of what he has suffered.” He looked up at Ginny. “Can you not say the same?”

Ginny smiled sadly. “I can,” she sighed. “I wish I could be just as clueless as my brothers or Hermione are, but at the same time, if I didn’t know, I probably wouldn’t be in here right now.” She shifted. “It’s better being up here, you know. Even if I don’t know everything that happened, I do know what it’s like to be manipulated by Voldemort.”

Sirius nodded a bit as she suddenly yawned. “Need a quick kip?” he asked her. Truth be told, she looked exhausted.

“I’m all right,” said Ginny. “I’d rather be here, anyway.”

Remus half-hoped Ron’s bedroom would be vacant when he went downstairs to retrieve Harry’s trunk, but both he and Hermione were in there, quietly discussing how horribly they had failed Harry.

“How is he, sir?” Hermione asked the moment he entered.

“Tired,” sighed Remus as he approached Harry’s trunk. “Quiet.” He stared at the open trunk for a moment before bending down to double-check that everything was still there. Then he closed and locked it firmly.

“What are you doing?” asked Ron.

Remus sighed again. “Harry is not in the position to be around others, and likely won’t be for some time.” He pulled out his wand and jabbed it at the trunk, watching as it levitated a few inches off the ground. “Sirius is determined to care for him, so his belongings ought to be up there for easy access.”

Ron nodded glumly. “Makes sense, I suppose,” he said. “This is – it’s all wrong, all of this.”

Remus looked at Ron, at the smudges under his eyes. Hermione didn’t look much better.

“I know,” said Remus heavily. “There’s so much we still don’t know, but Harry is not completely closed off. We must take heart from the fact that he is willing to interact with anyone at all.”

“Is Ginny still up there?” asked Hermione.

Remus nodded, unsurprised when she scowled a bit at this. “She has been most helpful this morning,” he told the two. “I’m grateful Harry has responded positively to her presence, but I don’t think we’re ready to push for others to be around him just yet. He’s been mistrustful of Madam Pomfrey, for example.”

“Madam Pomfrey?” Hermione said with a frown. “That’s odd.”

Remus nodded and headed for the door; the trunk glided silently through the air before him and through the doorway. “I promise Sirius will allow more visitors,” he told the two teenagers, “but I must ask you both to be patient until that time comes.”

Neither Ron nor Hermione looked happy with this, but nodded, and Remus left.

Molly was just stepping out of her bedroom, now dressed. “Taking his things upstairs?” she asked him softly. Remus nodded.

“Ginny suggested it,” he said. “I think it’s for the best.”

Molly nodded with a tremulous smile. “Lunch will be ready within the hour,” she whispered, lightly patting Remus’s shoulder before heading downstairs. He watched her go, wishing so very badly this could all be different.

One flight of stairs up, he heard Severus call his name. “Lupin, I have the potions and directions for Potter’s recovery.”

Remus stopped and waited for the other man to approach him, holding a vellum case and a piece of parchment. “Madam Pomfrey expects you and Black to follow these directions to the letter,” he said, handing both over.

“Of course,” said Remus, accepting the case and instructions carefully. “Thank you for your assistance with Harry. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen you speak as calmly and carefully as you did earlier during your testing.”

Severus scowled slightly. “I did nothing more than what the circumstances called for,” he said shortly. “I do not care for the boy.”

Remus felt his temper rising, but forced it down. “Regardless, setting aside your personal feelings to do what needed to be done… I am thankful that you did so.”

Severus looked deeply uncomfortable. “Potter should start the first round right after lunch,” he said, bypassing Remus’s words. Remus let it go, knowing that to say more would likely lead to antagonizing neither man needed at that moment.

“I will see to it,” he said instead. “Thank you, Severus.”

Severus jerked his head in a semblance of a nod and departed without another word. Remus watched him go and sighed, returning to his task of bringing Harry’s belongings upstairs to Sirius’s room.

Sirius looked up when Remus returned with Harry’s trunk and floated it to the foot of Sirius’s bed. “Molly says lunch should be ready within the hour,” he said. “I also received written instructions from Madam Pomfrey along with another bag of potions for Harry from Severus,” he added, lifting up the vellum case in his left hand. “We’ll start the first round after he eats lunch.”

“Sounds good,” said Sirius. He and Remus set about organizing the various potions on the desk while Ginny remained sitting next to Harry.

They had just set aside the first batch of potions when Ginny leaned forward and started making gentle shushing sounds. “It’s all right, you’re safe,” she whispered, and Sirius turned to see that Harry appeared to be in the throes of a nightmare. However, he was already beginning to settle as Ginny gently ran her fingers through the hair at the nape of his neck.

“Gin –?” came Harry’s groggy voice moments later.

“I’m here,” said Ginny gently. “So are Sirius and Remus.”

Sirius moved back to the bed to see Harry nodding. “Nightmare,” he said softly.

“I know,” said Ginny. “It’s over, you’re still safe here.”

Harry nodded a bit and continued to clutch at Ginny’s right hand as her left ran through his hair. “Feels nice,” he murmured to her.

“Good,” said Ginny with a small smile. “Mum likes to run her fingers through my hair, and I always thought it was a nice feeling.”

“Never had that before,” whispered Harry.

Memories of Lily’s fingers ruffling soft tufts of black hair as she hummed a lullaby to her baby, of James grinning as he played with the bits always sticking up in the back of the tiny head of his son filled Sirius’s mind.

“Hey, kiddo,” he broke in now, heart aching at his godson’s words but not certain now was the time to correct him on something he’d obviously have no memory of. “You think you might be up for a bath before Molly gets lunch ready?”

Harry considered this before nodding. “I’ll go change and collect a tray from Mum,” Ginny offered.

“Sounds good,” said Sirius, watching as Ginny squeezed Harry’s hand one last time before rising and heading for the bedroom door.

“I just thought – the Extendable Ears,” she said, turning back. “What if –?”

“I’ll place an Imperturbable Charm on the door,” said Remus quickly. “That should block them in case anyone gets desperate.”

Ginny nodded and left, and Sirius watched as Harry’s eyes followed her exit from the room. “Why is Ginny real to you?” he asked without thinking.

Harry blinked up at Sirius. “She…” He frowned and took the hand Sirius offered him to sit upright, holding still as Sirius then slipped his glasses back on. “She wasn’t fooled. Not really.”

“Fooled by Voldemort using Polyjuice Potion?” asked Remus.

Harry nodded. “She didn’t know it wasn’t you, Harry,” said Sirius carefully. “Nor did I.”

Harry stared at him for a long moment, and seemed to be struggling with what to say.

“You weren’t really there,” he finally seemed to settle on. “You both… mainly had letters. Ginny saw but didn’t understand.” He shrugged. “You’re real.”

This didn’t make much sense to him, but Sirius accepted the explanation for the time being and set about pulling clothes from Harry’s trunk. “Not that any of this is going to fit you right now,” he said sourly, “but a lot of this looks like it was far too large to begin with.”

“Dudley’s old clothes,” said Harry quietly.

“Did the Dursleys never buy you clothing your own size?” Sirius asked. Harry shook his head.

“Waste of space,” he said dully, face flushed and eyes downcast.

They hated him. Sirius had never fully grasped this before, and he had to take a deep breath to keep from reacting as he wanted. “We’ll have to see to that, won’t we?” he forced himself to say as lightly as possible as a storm of anger raged within. “I think this lion jumper will fit well enough.”

“Molly made that his third year,” remarked Remus with a sad smile. “She has always gone the extra mile with Harry, I think.”

Harry stared at the jumper with an unreadable expression on his thin face. “She didn’t see,” he said stiffly. “She hugged him.” He abruptly shook his head. “Not real.”

Sirius stared at Harry. “How do you know that, Harry?” asked Remus quietly. “Molly has been beside herself with that realization, and she only found out the truth a few hours ago.”

Harry looked down and seemed to shrink in on himself. He said nothing.

Perhaps, Sirius thought, Voldemort had told him, had gloated over all the people who had been fooled by his deception. That sort of made sense. “Is the jumper going to be an issue?” he asked Harry gently.

Harry looked up at him and shook his head. Sighing, Sirius bundled up the clean clothes and handed them off to Remus while he helped Harry stand up. They slowly trekked across the bedroom, through the doorway, and to the bathroom the floor below. Harry seemed nervous on the stairs, but his footing was sure enough that they made it in one piece. Remus started a warm bath while Sirius helped Harry undress. “I’m sorry about the lack of privacy, Harry,” he told him. “I swear that’ll change once you’re strong enough.”

Harry shrugged bony shoulders and wrapped his thin arms around his torso. “Don’t mind much,” he sighed.

It wasn’t fair, Sirius thought, not for the first time since he’d spotted Harry in that dark and cold cellar. He helped the boy to step into the warm water and sit down. “Temperature all right?” Remus asked him.

Harry nodded and stared at the water’s surface silently. Sirius and Remus set to work, scrubbing down Harry’s body and washing his hair. Sirius carefully poured water over Harry’s head to wash away the last of the suds and gently pressed a small towel over his pale skin to dry off his face. “Thanks,” Harry whispered. He was starting to tremble again.

Remus retrieved a fluffy towel as Sirius all but lifted Harry from the bathtub. Once the towel was around his waist, he set him down on the closed toilet lid as Remus snagged another towel and began to dry Harry’s hair, neck, torso, and arms. Sirius tried not to count Harry’s ribs, but it was impossible not to notice how clearly they stood out. He held Harry steady as Remus completely dried Harry off, and then they switched so Sirius could get Harry dressed in clean clothes.

“Can you walk back upstairs?” he asked Harry quietly.

Harry stared at him for a long moment before nodding. “Help?”

“Of course,” said Remus. “We’ve got you.”

The trek back up to Sirius’s room took even longer than the trip down; Harry’s footing was less even, his face growing paler with every step, and then he started coughing again.

“Harry?” came Hermione’s voice from the landing below.

Sirius quickly lifted Harry in his arms without a word as Remus turned and hurried down the stairs to make sure she didn’t come up. Harry heaved in his hold from the force of his coughing, and Sirius knew they needed to get him fed so he could start the first round of potions.

He could only hope the potions healed the damage clearly being done to his godson’s lungs.

Ginny was in his room once more when he nudged the door open, dressed in jeans and a Holyhead Harpies t-shirt, and organizing the contents of the tray she had undoubtedly retrieved from the kitchen. Her hair had been brushed and swept into a long ponytail.

“Hey,” she said, looking up with a cheerful smile, though her eyes looked a bit red as if she had been crying not so long ago. The smile faded as she took in Harry’s wheezing form, and she scrambled to get the bed ready before Sirius lowered him onto it. He made sure to maintain a hold on Harry’s shoulders as he trembled and gasped.

“Mum made up a soup for Harry, and a pile of ham sandwiches for the rest of us,” said Ginny softly as Remus entered the room.

“All good?” Sirius asked him.

Remus nodded.

“You two save some for me,” Sirius told Ginny and Remus. “I’ll get Harry fed first so we can get him started on his first round of potions. Sound all right?” he asked Harry.

His godson wheezed in a breath and nodded. Remus separated the sandwiches out for the three of them while Sirius settled in the chair next to the bed with the soup and tapped it with his wand to make it the perfect temperature. “Ready?”

Harry nodded again, and Sirius focused on feeding him as Ginny quietly chatted with Remus about one of her summer homework assignments. He had learned over the last few weeks that Ginny wasn’t fond of homework, but usually tried to get it done sooner rather than later so she could spend more time enjoying the summer holiday.

Of course, this summer had been very different.

Harry’s wheezing eased as he ate, but his eyes kept flickering over to where Ginny and Remus stood talking between bites of food. “I doubt anyone is going to make you worry about summer homework at this point,” said Sirius, trying for levity.

Harry shook his head. “Already did it.”

Sirius paused and lowered the spoon in his hand as Ginny and Remus fell silent. “What?”

Harry nodded to his trunk. “Look,” was all he said.

Remus was already moving to Harry’s trunk, opening it and reaching in. He rummaged around for a few moments before abruptly rising, a bundle of parchment in his hand. “This is...” He shook his head, flipping through the stack with wide eyes. “I saw Ron and Hermione’s work. This is all of it, all done. But… how?” he breathed, looking up. “It’s in your handwriting, Harry, just like the letters were.”

Harry flushed and looked down at his hands, which were clenched together in his lap. “He was bored,” he said. “W-we needed something to do.”

Sirius blinked in confusion at Harry’s words. We needed something to do…

It made no sense. Why would Voldemort make Harry do his homework while being held captive in that cellar? He had been planning to kill Harry, not torture him for a bit and then send him on his merry way when term resumed.

Harry nodded at the bowl of soup. “More, please?”

Sirius started. “Of – of course,” he said quickly. “Sorry,” he added.

Harry didn’t finish the soup, but he did manage about a third of it before turning away.

There was a set of five vials of potions Harry needed to take now. He quietly drank them all down and then asked to sleep again. Ginny sat down with Harry while Sirius took his turn eating. “How many did she eat?” he asked Remus.

“Six,” said Remus with a small smile, though his eyes were still glued to Harry’s summer essays. “I don’t know how someone so tiny can pack away that much.”

“I can still hear you,” said Ginny in amusement. “And it’s just the famous Weasley appetite. Now if I could just cook half as well as Mum…”

“She’s gifted at cooking, I'll give her that,” said Sirius between sandwiches. “I’ve not eaten so well since my days with the Potters.”

“Did Harry’s mum cook?” Ginny asked him.

“Pretty well, yeah,” said Sirius.

“James was better,” said Remus, flipping to Harry’s next essay. “Lily had a few select dishes she made, but James was able to cook a variety of things from just a cookbook, even from his own imagination sometimes. He must’ve learnt that from his mother.”

“Euphemia was practically a master chef,” said Sirius reminiscently. “Fleamont never had it so good.”

“Weird names,” came Harry’s voice from the bed.

“You’re just feeling lucky they didn’t pass on Fleamont to your father,” laughed Sirius. “They had him a lot later in life than most, so their names were very reminiscent of the times they were born in.”

“Still weird,” said Ginny. “I’m completely with Harry on this one. Mind you, I was almost saddled with my great-aunt Muriel’s name, so I can’t exactly talk.”

Harry chuckled, and Sirius felt his breath catch. A chuckle!

“What,” he forced himself to speak, “is Ginevra really any better?”

The pillow caught him in the face without warning. “Good shot,” said Harry.

“Next time there’s an empty Chaser spot on the Gryffindor Quidditch team, I’m taking it,” said Ginny with confidence.

“You – you play?” Harry asked her.

Ginny nodded. “I’ve been nicking my brothers’ brooms at night since I was six,” she told him. Then she blushed. “I nicked your Firebolt a couple of times last summer, actually.”

Harry grinned at her. “Secret’s safe,” he said. “Promise.” He let out a wide yawn.

“Sleep, Harry,” said Ginny fondly. “You need it.”

Harry nodded, eyes drifting shut and staying shut this time.

Sirius waited to make sure Harry was completely out before explaining to Ginny what Harry had said about the three of them being real, including his comments about Molly and even the Dursleys.

Ginny was outraged at the “waste of space” comment, but kept her cool only by virtue of the fact that she was still holding Harry’s hand. “That explains so much,” she hissed to Sirius and Remus. “They never loved him, it’s no wonder he acted the way he did that first summer he came to our house.”

“Tell me,” said Sirius at once.

Ginny sighed. “I was too embarrassed to talk to him, but Mum would fuss over the state of his socks and he seemed so baffled that she cared. And then Dad would ask him all kinds of questions and it always seemed like he didn’t know what to do with the idea that an adult wanted to hear what he had to say.”

She looked down at the sleeping Harry. “The Dursleys didn’t care about him,” she said softly. “That’s why he’s always been so happy at our house or at school. Those are the only places he experienced what it’s like to be cared about.”

Sirius had to agree with this. Talk turned back to Harry’s interpretation of who was and wasn’t real.

“I could see Voldemort laughing about all the people he fooled,” said Remus at one point, “but how does that fit in with the completed summer homework? Or the letters we all received in his handwriting? Or why we three are 'real’ and others are not? We were fooled, as well. And his comment about Ginny seeing but not understanding –”

“I mentioned that I knew something was off even though I couldn’t figure out what,” Ginny cut in with a frown, “but that doesn’t explain why he trusted me to help with the bruise salve so quickly, not when I said it after. He let me help him, almost as if he… already knew.” She looked at Sirius and Remus helplessly. “Would Voldemort actually tell him about the moments I was bothered by when we were barely even friends at the time?”

Remus shrugged helplessly. “I don’t see that he would,” he said. “I’d expect he would be more likely to laugh about those closest to Harry. I just can’t quite grasp at Harry’s perception of who he can and can’t trust.”

Ginny was chewing on her lip as she stared at Harry. “You said Voldemort was looking through the connection earlier,” she said abruptly. “And Harry was having dreams about what he was doing before the maze?”

“What are you thinking, Ginny?” asked Sirius.

“I – I dunno,” she sighed. “Nothing, I suppose.” She looked around at him and Remus again. “Mum wanted me to help clean up the kitchen for the meeting this evening,” she said, straightening and gently setting Harry’s hand down on the bed. “I’ll take the tray downstairs and get that taken care of.”

“You’ll come back?” asked Sirius. “I don’t dare leave Harry’s side for that meeting, but Remus should attend it.”

Ginny nodded. “I’ll be here,” she promised, collecting the tray and quietly leaving the room.

“I wonder what Ginny’s thinking about,” Sirius mused, staring at the closed bedroom door. “I can’t help but think she’s got a line on the answer.”

“She’ll probably share when she’s thought it through more,” said Remus with a shrug. “Ginny likes to mull over a problem for a bit before saying anything.”

Sirius nodded at this and settled down next to Harry. To have him there, sleeping in his bed, safe and alive… It didn’t matter that there was going to be a long journey of healing and recovery. It didn’t matter that there would be nightmares, trust issues, agonizing days of regaining his strength, none of it mattered.

He was there, and Sirius would make sure that Harry was never taken from him again.

Ginny nearly ran into Hermione on the second landing, only just keeping her grip on the tray in her hands.

“Sorry!” said Hermione. “I was so lost in thought I wasn’t watching where I was going.”

“It’s fine,” said Ginny. “No harm done. I was pretty much lost in thought, myself.”

This was very true. Ginny had a great deal to think about thanks to the last few hours.

When Ginny had stepped out of Sirius’s bedroom an hour or so ago to change and procure lunch from her mother, she had headed numbly for the bedroom she shared with Hermione, vaguely grateful that the older girl wasn’t in there. She had picked out her clothes, set them on the bed, and stared at them blankly for far too long.

That laughter…

She knew Sirius and Remus hadn’t recognized what was going on in that moment when Voldemort had invaded Harry’s mind, but Ginny had.

That was exactly how Tom Riddle had laughed after he had emerged from the diary and told her she was “nothing more than a silly little girl.”

Ginny had lost consciousness to the echoing sound of that horrible laugh, and it had haunted her dreams for months after as she worked to recover from the experience. To hear it again, and from Harry, no less, had made a part of Ginny want to run away and never look back.

But she wasn’t eleven, anymore.

This wasn’t the Chamber of Secrets.

Tom held no power over her now, and he couldn’t have Harry, either.

But grasping this hadn’t stopped her from sobbing over her clothes as the reality of what had happened finally crashed over her. She had allowed herself this moment of weakness before painfully piecing herself back together so she could get dressed and fetch lunch. Harry didn’t need to carry her pain from Voldemort’s attack on his mind when she was quite capable on her own.

She did take heart in a few things despite the pain and horrors this day had wrought thus far:

Harry was alive.

Ginny was somehow amongst those he trusted.

He knew that she had seen yet not understood, and likely knew that before she had even said anything about it in his presence.

Truth be told, that last one baffled her.

Sighing, she went to move past Hermione, but Hermione gently caught her by the upper arm. “You’ve been up there all this time?” she asked.

Ginny shrugged. “I’m helping,” she admitted.

“And Harry?”

“Mostly sleeping,” replied Ginny. She shrugged free of the hand on her arm and continued down to the kitchen, Hermione following silently as they tiptoed past the portrait of Walburga Black.

“Does Harry know it’s his birthday?” asked Hermione when they entered the safety of the kitchen.

“No one’s brought it up,” said Ginny. “At least, not that I’m aware of. But again, Harry’s spent a lot of time sleeping.”

“Do you have any idea what’s happened to him while he was – gone?”

Ginny thought of the cuts and bruises, the spider bite and the damage done by manacles. She noticed her mother was listening in from the other side of the kitchen and carried the tray over to her. “No idea,” she said.

It wasn’t entirely true; she could tell that there had been torture, knew that food had been withheld far too much, could see that there were new depths to Harry’s withdrawn demeanor which she could scarcely guess at.

“I just know that whatever happened, it was bad,” she finally settled on.

Hermione frowned. “That’s not like Harry,” she said. “He’s always been willing to talk about what happened before.”

“Undoubtedly this experience is very different compared to the events of the past few years,” said Molly, finally relieving Ginny of the tray and setting it beside the sink. “This wasn’t three first-years going after a traitorous teacher, or two second-years trying to save my little girl. This wasn’t even Harry desperately trying to save Sirius’s life.” She sighed as she squeezed Ginny’s shoulder and looked at Hermione carefully. “This was a horrible, drawn-out nightmare, the result of a plot far too complicated for any teenager to unravel, let alone any of us adults. I expect it will be very difficult for Harry to tell us what happened.”

Ginny thought of Tom’s laughter emitting from Harry’s mouth, of the haunted set to Harry’s green eyes. “And some things you just can’t speak about,” she said quietly.

Hermione sighed. “There must be something I can do to help,” she said.

“You’re helping Ron take care of Hedwig,” offered Ginny. “I think that has to count for something more than hauling food trays up and down.”

“I wonder if the stomach ulcers are affecting his appetite,” mused Molly as she eyed the tray Ginny had brought down. “Barely a quarter of what I prepared…”

“Stomach ulcers?” said Hermione. “From what?”

“Potion of some kind,” shrugged Ginny. “But he’s thin enough to have been starved quite a bit too, Mum.”

Molly hummed a bit at that. “The potions from Madam Pomfrey and Professor Snape will help with all that,” she said. “He did get started on his potions regimen, yes?”

Ginny nodded. “Right after lunch.”

“Good,” said Molly.

“There must be something else I can do to help Harry, though,” persisted Hermione. “Maybe if I wrote a letter –”

“I don’t know if that’s what he needs right now,” Ginny cut her off carefully.

“But he’s got to know how sorry we all are for not seeing what was happening!” Hermione insisted. “He’s got to know he can still trust us!”

It was like a chain of those Muggle dominoes her roommate Megan Thatcher played with sometimes as Ginny grasped at the fullness of Harry’s distrust. If Harry didn’t see Molly as real, then that had to mean he didn’t trust her. The way he had flinched away from and shouted at Madam Pomfrey meant he didn’t trust her, either. And for Dumbledore to say that Harry had problems with even him –

Harry really knows exactly who was fooled, she realized. She knew Dumbledore had spoken to Harry in the hospital wing the evening after the maze, but since that wasn’t Harry… obviously Voldemort would gloat to Harry about having fooled the greatest wizard of their time so easily. He must have laughed about the school matron and Molly failing to see him for who and what he truly was.

Which also meant he had to have done the same in regards to Ron and Hermione. Maybe even Fred and George.

This still left his knowledge about her, and while that piece of the puzzle didn’t fit, the rest made a horrible kind of sense.

“I know he’s more your friend than he is mine,” said Ginny, carefully filing away her thoughts for later examination, “but I just don’t think Harry is ready for any of that yet.”

“I expect Ginny’s right, Hermione,” Molly said as Hermione opened her mouth. “We need to tread carefully for the time being and give Harry the space he needs.”

Hermione looked quite frustrated, which seemed to be Molly’s cue to put both girls to work cleaning and organizing the kitchen for the Order meeting that evening. Fifteen minutes before the meeting was due to start, Ginny was finally able to beg off the finishing touches by telling Molly about Sirius wanting her back upstairs before it began.

She didn’t dare examine the expression on Hermione’s face as she hurried from the kitchen carrying a tray filled with supper for her, Sirius, and Harry, but she could imagine what the other girl must be feeling.

And none of it was likely positive towards her.

“I might have one piece of the puzzle figured out,” Remus told Albus and Molly a few minutes before the meeting started that evening.

“Which piece?” asked Molly.

“Why Harry is fine with some of us but not with others,” sighed Remus. “Sirius asked him why he said Ginny was real, and he explained that she had seen but not understood. He said Sirius and I really only had letters, but you…” He hated to say this to Molly, but the truth had to be shared. “He said you didn’t see, that you hugged him, the – the fake Harry. He said…”

“Said what, Remus?” asked Albus quietly.

“He said you’re ‘not real,’ I’m afraid,” Remus finally forced out. Molly gaped for a moment, and Remus was unsurprised to see tears in her eyes.

“Sirius and I both think Voldemort must have bragged about all the people he fooled,” he added quickly to try and move forward with the conversation. “I fear such a thing has deeply impacted Harry’s perception of who he feels he can trust.”

“And what of Voldemort’s intrusion into Harry’s mind?” asked Albus.

“Severus mentioned that?”

Albus nodded.

“Harry was starting to dream about what Voldemort was doing, and it seems he figured out how to use that connection in reverse,” said Remus. “Harry said at one point that Voldemort was always there, but not always looking.”

Albus nodded, blue eyes grave. “He undoubtedly knows Voldemort’s presence better than most after everything he has been through,” he said sadly. “As for his comment of ‘not real,’ it is possible he may say the same of his friends, not to mention myself. We did not see the truth of the matter, either.”

“I worry about that, as well,” said Remus. “Ginny is determined to figure it all out.”

“Of course she is,” said Molly in a tremulous voice. “She’s never been one to back down from a challenge.”

Arthur entered the kitchen, and Molly practically flew into his arms, sobbing softly. It hurt to see her pain at the realization that the boy she had come to think of as a seventh son didn’t seem to trust her.

Too many questions remained, however: If Voldemort had gloated about everyone he had fooled, then why hadn’t Ginny and Sirius been marked as “not real?” Wouldn’t it have been enough that Sirius had been fooled the mere hour or so that he had spent in Voldemort’s presence after he had come to Hogwarts with Cedric’s body? Shouldn’t it have been enough that Ginny hadn’t put the pieces together in time to see what was going on? And how could he forgive Remus for not knowing when the letter had been in Harry’s own handwriting?

There was also the completed homework. It was written in Harry’s hand, Harry’s style, exactly the way Harry would have done it. How was that possible?

“All right, Remus?” whispered Tonks as she took the seat next to his.

Remus shrugged. “I suppose I’m as good as can be expected,” he answered.

Tonks smiled sadly and squeezed his shoulder. “I’m glad you found him,” she murmured, leaning close. “I hope he can recover from this, though, whatever happened.”

Nothing good, thought Remus instantly, but he smiled in return.

Albus called the meeting to order a few moments later, and Remus settled in so as to best represent Harry, Sirius, and his own interests in whatever came next.

“How’s the real Moody doing?” asked Tonks at one point during the explanation of all that had occurred the previous night. She looked exhausted, but determined.

“Madam Pomfrey has been seeing to him,” said Albus. “Having been under the Imperius Curse for so long has left its mark.” His expression was grave. “I do not know that he will be ready to assist the Order anytime soon after his forced isolation.”

The question remained: what did they do with Crouch, and how did they keep the Ministry from getting their hands on Harry? “Would this even be enough to convince them of You-Know-Who’s return?” questioned Minerva McGonagall at one point.

“I am not hopeful for it,” said Albus heavily. “Even if we directly alert those who might listen such as Amelia Bones, Cornelius may yet do all he can to spin this in a direction that paints the man as a lunatic who kidnapped Harry and killed the Dursleys.”

“The Bond of Blood Charm would have prevented that, would it not?” asked Arthur.

“The Charm only protected Harry from Voldemort himself,” answered Albus. “The location of Harry’s residence was not disclosed to anyone in the Ministry until it was deemed safe enough, approximately two years after Voldemort’s disappearance when the Death Eaters most likely to attempt to harm him were either in prison or dead.”

“That’s why we were guarding both Harry’s house and the entrance to the Department of Mysteries,” said Arthur, nodding. “I fear I misunderstood that before.”

“Fat lot of good it did,” grumbled Mundungus Fletcher from a corner. “Bamboozled, we was. How is it no one knew the Charm was broken, anyway?”

“It is far too ancient a Charm to monitor in the same way breaches against the Statue of Secrecy or the Trace on underage children are,” said Albus. “I trusted Petunia Dursley to remember the letter I left with Harry explaining the importance of taking him in and raising him alongside his cousin. She took him in and sealed the Charm by doing so. It was meant to last until Harry turned seventeen, or it was clear that he and his relatives would part ways forever.”

A hushed silence fell over the group at the oblique reminder that the Dursleys were dead.

“I can forge paperwork that led me to speaking with Alastor regarding Sirius’s movements in the days before his arrest,” said Kingsley at length.

“Sirius wouldn’t mind being used as your scapegoat,” said Remus with a smile.

“Given that the end result is his godson safe and alive, I think he’d agree to just about anything to help this situation make sense without compromising the Order,” agreed Tonks, shooting Remus a smile.

Their group discussed this some more to really nail down the details, and eventually Kingsley headed upstairs with Tonks to relieve Emmeline and make the arrangements to transport Crouch to the Ministry.

Remus returned to Sirius’s room to tell Sirius and Ginny the plan. “Sounds good,” said Sirius softly, as Harry was slumbering at his side. “If they can get him to implicate Wormtail, that would be even better.”

“We can only hope this plays out in a positive way,” said Remus. “For all our sakes.”

The others agreed somberly, and beside them, Harry slept on, safe and protected as could be.

Back to index

Chapter 7: Reveal

Author's Notes: Happy New Year!

knocks on wood

I go back to teaching on January 4, and I anticipate it's going to take a couple weeks to get into the swing of things again after a 2-week break. Because of that, I won't be updating next Saturday. You can expect my next update January 16 so I have time to write and readjust.

Anyway, this chapter is where we see our players put the pieces together to figure out what happened. Enjoy!

Chapter Seven: Reveal

Ginny thought it over the next two days, between carrying trays of food, dodging Hermione and her brothers as her mother half-heartedly pushed for them to continue cleaning, tossing and turning more than sleeping, and sitting with Harry’s hand clasped in her own. She considered everything that had been said, both by Harry and by others. She thought about his scar, the connection, the completed homework in his trunk, the strange potion Snape had invented which Harry had been forced to take day after day, Hedwig’s bedraggled appearance… all of it.

Harry had barely spoken since that first day, and seemed mostly content to sit in silence while Ginny told him all about the cleaning she and the others had been doing around the house, or stories from her childhood. If he wasn’t listening to her, he was sleeping, instead. Remus had brought Hedwig to him, and he hadn’t said much then either, but instead stroked Hedwig’s feathers and whispered, “Thought he killed you.”

Hedwig had affectionately nipped at his fingers, seeming to understand the quiet Harry needed, but Harry’s eyes had seemed a bit brighter during those precious minutes the two were reunited.

Hermione hadn’t tried coming upstairs, but Ginny thought that was mostly due to Ron insisting she listen to Remus and give Harry his space. The older girl and her brother had been in the kitchen a couple times when Ginny had come downstairs to drop off or collect a tray of food, and if it hadn’t been for Ron placing a restraining hand on her shoulder and shaking his head, Ginny thought that Hermione might very well have insisted on following her into Sirius’s room.

It worried Ginny, truth be told. When would the breaking point hit? She knew Hermione was frustrated and trying to follow Remus’s direction to stay away, but that could only go on for so long.

Ginny had immediately started going to bed long after Hermione, and rose well before her. Molly’s eyes lingered on her longer than usual as though she knew that Ginny wasn’t sleeping well but didn’t dare say anything out loud and break the silently mounting tension between all the occupants of the dark and old house.

If she wasn’t tossing and turning while her mind whirled with all the thoughts she had, then it was nightmares, the most frequent being when Ginny had come to within the Chamber of Secrets to see Tom Riddle emerging from the diary and laughing at her for being so foolish. That awful, wild laughter, so cold and triumphant… Ginny had woken in a cold sweat more than once with the echoes of Riddle’s laugh in her ears.

Worse still was when the sound twisted and became the laugh Harry had made when Voldemort had almost succeeded in overwhelming him that first morning. Though Harry’s eyes had been screwed shut, Ginny had still been able to see Tom in the curl of Harry’s lips, and it had almost been too much. The fact that it was Harry, that she wasn’t a child anymore, had allowed her to push back and force Harry not to give up, but she knew it had been a close thing. She prayed her nightmares would stop mixing up to the two memories so she could find some sense of peace in the aftermath of Harry’s rescue.

While she knew that Kingsley and Tonks had taken Crouch into the Ministry and had ensured the right people were alerted before Fudge could step in, Ginny wasn’t aware of the fallout just yet. Reading the Daily Prophet wasn’t high on her list of priorities, but she thought that she had heard Hermione discussing it with her brothers a couple times when she passed Ron’s room with a tray to take upstairs or bring back to the kitchen. If Remus knew more, he wasn’t volunteering that information to her or Sirius, and neither of them had bothered to ask as of yet.

It didn’t matter much to Ginny, not really. What mattered most was the battered boy on the topmost floor. Neglected letters from her boyfriend Michael Corner on her dresser attested to the shift in her priorities.

“You’ve been awfully quiet,” said Hermione when Ginny stepped into their shared bedroom that night. It seemed she had deliberately stayed up to talk to her this time. “Not that I’ve seen much of you, anyway.”

“I know,” said Ginny with a shrug. “I’ve… had a lot on my mind. Helping Sirius and Remus, you know.”

Hermione frowned. “Has Harry spoken to you?”

Ginny nodded. “A bit.” She considered what might be safe enough to say given that so much still didn’t make sense just yet. “He thought Voldemort had killed Hedwig,” she finally settled on. “We asked if Voldemort had told him that, but all he did was shake his head. He was happy to see her yesterday, but…” She sighed and shook her head. “There’s just something that doesn’t add up about it all.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” asked Hermione. “I mean, I know you care, but Ron and I –”

“Know Harry the best, I know,” said Ginny, honestly not offended by the words. “I need more time to try and… make sense of things, I suppose. It’s not that I don’t want to talk about it,” she added quickly at the crestfallen expression on Hermione’s face. “I do, I promise, but I’m scared it’ll all fall apart if I talk about it before I’m ready. I don’t know if that makes sense, but there’s just – something feels like it ought to add up, but it doesn’t. I keep hoping if I sleep on it I’ll figure it out, but sleep has been… well…”

Hermione nodded. “That’s fair, I suppose,” she said. “But – promise you won’t keep it all to yourself forever? We all care about him, and we want to help.”

“I know,” said Ginny. “And I won’t, I promise.”

They both got ready for bed, and Hermione drifted off quickly.

Unfortunately, Ginny still couldn’t sleep. She had barely slept since Harry’s return, seemingly doomed to the reality that she just could not shut off the thoughts in her mind. Tossing and turning, she kept trying to get comfortable, but it just wasn’t happening. She only just managed to suppress a groan as she gave up on being in bed, put on her dressing gown, and headed up the stairs.

Harry was fast asleep when Ginny slipped into the room. As she had expected, Sirius had changed into his dog form and curled around Harry as per usual at night. He raised his head as she entered.

“Can’t sleep,” she whispered, unable to suppress the distress and frustration in her voice.

Sirius cocked his head to the side, and then pointed his nose at the empty side of the bed. “Are you sure?” she asked softly. Sirius thumped his tail firmly, and Ginny took that as permission. She let out a relieved sigh around her grateful smile as she crossed the room, dropping her dressing gown at the bottom of the bed and sliding under the covers.

It was strange, but Ginny felt the pull of slumber within minutes and drifted off, feeling both content and safe.


Groaning, Ginny tried to roll away from the voice saying her name, only to find herself bumping up against something warm and furry. She cracked an eye open and realized it was black dog hair.


She had come upstairs and fallen asleep in Sirius’s bed with Harry.

“Ginny, dear, wake up.”

Sitting up and pushing her tangled hair from her face, Ginny blinked hard several times until her mother’s face swam into focus.

“Hi, Mum,” she yawned.

“Hermione came to find me, she didn’t know where you were,” whispered Molly. “How did you end up in here?”

Ginny frowned. “I couldn’t sleep downstairs,” she said, voice dry and cracked from sleep. “Haven’t slept well in days, really, but Sirius let me stay. He’s been right there the whole time,” she added, pointing at him as he remained curled firmly around Harry. “Harry sleeps better if someone real is touching him.”

She felt a twinge in her heart as her mother’s face constricted at the words. Ginny was well-aware of the fact that Harry did not view Molly as real because she had been fooled by Voldemort’s deception. It must have taken her a lot to even dare step inside this room given this painful knowledge.

“All right,” Molly said after a moment. “I’ll have breakfast ready in about fifteen minutes. You’ll come fetch the tray?”

Ginny nodded, yawning again, and her mother left the room. The moment the door shut, Ginny flopped onto her back and sighed. “It’s the best I’ve slept in weeks, you know,” she mumbled.

Sirius moved his head over and licked her cheek. Giggling, she pushed him away and sat up again, sliding from the bed and putting on her dressing gown. Ginny looked at Harry, taking in the sleepy warmth that suffused his hollow cheeks, and the relaxed expression on his pale face. “I’ll be back with breakfast,” she told Sirius, then slipped from the room to head downstairs.

“Where were you?” said Hermione in an accusatory voice the moment Ginny stepped into their bedroom.

Ginny blinked at her. “Couldn’t sleep,” she answered coolly. “I ended up sleeping upstairs.”

“With Harry?”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “Sirius was there the whole time in his Animagus form. We just slept.” She went to her dresser and started digging around for something to wear.

“All you’ve done the last three days is spend time up there,” said Hermione crossly. “You haven’t helped clean at all, you’ve not written Michael back for over a week –”

“What, are you jealous?” Ginny demanded, whirling around and pointedly ignoring that last bit about Michael. “Jealous I’m spending all this time with your best friend while you’re out of the loop?” She snorted derisively. “It must be awful to be on the other side of that.”

Hermione’s face turned red. “That’s not it at all!” she exclaimed hotly.

“Then why the interrogation?” Ginny demanded. “Why are you acting like this?”

“It’s – that’s not even –” Hermione spluttered. “It’s just – why you?” she finally burst out. “Why you and not one of us?”

“Because I’m real!” The words exploded into the small bedroom before Ginny could stop them.

Hermione stared at her. “What does that mean?” she asked quietly.

Ginny swallowed hard, trying to figure out how to put it into words, how to convey just how much this one word had suddenly come to mean to her. “Harry – he seems to be categorizing everyone somehow,” she said at last. “I knew something was off, but I couldn’t figure out what. He gets that. I talked about the diary with him, and he – he trusts me, I suppose. He says I’m real. Sirius and Remus, too. But Mum…” Swallowing again, Ginny turned away to resume digging for clean clothes.

“What about your mother?” asked Hermione quietly.

Ginny said nothing for a bit, deciding on a pair of jeans and a green top. Setting them on her bed, she stared at them as she spoke. “Harry said she didn’t see. He said she hugged him – Voldemort.” She hesitated, then added the last bit: “He said she’s not real.”

From the intake of breath behind her, Ginny thought Hermione must have realized what she was trying to get at. “He must know who was fooled directly by You-Know-Who,” she said. “And he – he doesn’t trust any of those people now.”

Ginny stared at her bundle of clothes.

“Harry doesn’t trust me, does he?”

The question was asked in the smallest voice Ginny had ever heard from Hermione.

“I don’t know,” she said sadly, forcing herself to turn and face the older girl. “But he didn’t want Madam Pomfrey touching him, and Mum said he flinched away from her when she tried to get near him that first night. Remus claimed that even Dumbledore has said Harry has issues with him.”

“Everyone who directly interacted with the fake Harry,” said Hermione, eyes shining. “Harry knows who was deceived and who wasn’t. So – he wouldn’t take well to – to seeing me. O-or Ron. Or even the twins.”

“I don’t think so, no,” said Ginny softly. “I’m so sorry, Hermione. There’s more going on besides that, but – I think it would be wrong of me to ignore his trust. It seems to matter a great deal to him.”

Hermione nodded, tears coursing silently down her face. “Promise me you’ll help take care of him,” she said in a ragged voice.

“Of course I’ll take care of him!” Ginny quickly reassured Hermione, striding over to her and pulling her into a hug. “And anything I can do to rebuild his trust in everyone else, I swear I’ll do it.”

Hermione nodded against Ginny’s shoulder. “I’ll let you get dressed,” she whispered, pulling away and leaving the room. Ginny watched her go, heart aching fiercely at the distraught expression on her friend’s face.

Voldemort had done a great deal of damage to them all. It wasn’t fair, not one iota of it.

Ron had only just finished getting dressed when his bedroom door slammed open and Hermione came flying in, tears streaming down her face as she shut the door behind her. “What –?” He broke off as she threw her arms around his waist and began to openly sob into his chest. “Hermione?”

But the bushy-haired girl only shook her head and sobbed harder. Ron frowned, uncertain what to do or say. Ginny wasn’t one to cry all that much, and his mother usually turned to his father when she got like this. “Is it Harry?” he finally asked.

Hermione nodded against him. Ron felt his chest tighten in fear. “Is – is he okay?”

She nodded again.

Well, Ron was stumped now, had no idea what else to do besides wait it out. Hesitantly, he placed his arms around Hermione’s shoulders and tried to just hold her like he’d seen his father do with his mother. If Fred and George saw him like this, he’d never live it down.

Still, it wasn’t completely horrible to have his arms around Hermione. She had frequently sat next to him when Harry was missing and just laid her head on his shoulder as they worried together about the fate of their best friend. The twins and Ginny had seen this happen several times, but never said a word about it, which was probably a testament to how worried they had been about Harry, as well.

At long last, Hermione drew back, moving to the empty bed that had once been meant for Harry and sitting on it. Ron watched as she pulled out a handkerchief and wiped her face. “I’m sorry,” she finally whispered in a rough voice.

“S’all right,” said Ron uncomfortably, sitting down next to her. “I mean, if you’ll tell me what brought this on, that might help, though.”

Hermione’s breath hitched as though she was about to start sobbing again, but instead she nodded, dabbing at her eyes again.

“I got Ginny to talk a bit just now,” she admitted softly. “She’s been spending so much time up there with him, and I just… I wanted to know why her and not us.”

Ron nodded quietly. It would be a lie to say he hadn’t himself wondered just that; he had felt so confused by why everyone was being kept at arm's length when Harry had to know how much they all cared for and worried about him.

“I thought maybe he was too fragile or something,” Hermione went on. “Or – well, I don’t know what I thought, not really. But Ginny says…” She buried her face in her hands, shaking with suppressed sobs.

Ron swallowed and said nothing, deciding to wait and let Hermione explain things on her own terms.

“Harry knows who was fooled,” she whispered. “You-Know-Who must’ve told him, because the people who interacted with the fake Harry – he doesn’t trust them.”

It took a moment for the full impact of these words to sink in. Ron blinked, feeling lightheaded and sick as it occurred to him what Hermione meant. “He doesn’t trust us,” he said softly. “We spent so much time with the fake and had no idea – and now he doesn’t trust us.”

Hermione started crying again, face still buried in her hands. Ron felt numb, yet strangely, he was not shocked. It made sense that Harry would be distrustful after everything, that he might feel hurt or betrayed, but how did that make sense when it came to Ginny? She may not have interacted directly with the fake Harry (it was so much easier to call him that than to think about who he had truly been), but she hadn’t known the truth, either. Nor had Sirius and Remus when it came down to it.

“He trusts Ginny?” he forced himself to ask.

Hermione nodded. “He – he knew she had spotted – seen something off,” she forced out between sobs, “and he doesn’t – hate her for not – not knowing – he knows she was confused, and it – he trusts her.”

Ron nodded, thinking it over. “I don’t think he hates us,” he finally said. “Not trusting… that’s different from hate.”

“Is it?” Hermione said, burying her face in her handkerchief again. “We know him best, and we had no idea! We were fooled, Ron! Completely fooled!”

“I know that,” said Ron irritably. “I wouldn’t trust anyone if I was in Harry’s position , either. But hate, that’s…” He shook his head. “Harry could never hate us. We – we just have to show him that he can trust us, that’s all.”

“But what if he never does?” whispered Hermione.

Ron swallowed hard at the question. “We just have to take that risk,” he finally said. “I don’t know about you, but I think Harry’s worth it, isn’t he?”

Hermione blew her nose loudly into her handkerchief and looked up at Ron. “You’re… you’re right,” she finally said. “He’s worth it.”

Ron knew there was a long road ahead of them, but he also knew he was determined to do whatever it took to regain his friend’s trust. Even at the height of their distance this past year, the moment Ron had tried to apologize, Harry hadn’t wanted or needed it. Though the circumstances now were vastly different, Ron was determined to never waver again. One way or another, he would prove himself, and he knew Hermione would, too.

“Hey,” said Sirius in a low voice when Ginny entered with the breakfast tray. “Everything all right?”

Ginny smiled and nodded, setting the tray down next to all the potions Harry had to take. “Porridge again, looks like,” she said. “I suppose that’s easier than anything else right now as far as breakfast foods go.”

Sirius hummed a bit. “I’ll be in the loo,” he said, leaving the room. Remus was gone until the following morning to meet with a group of werewolves, so that just left Ginny for the moment.

Sighing, she picked up the bowl of porridge, then turned around to see Harry was awake and staring at her.

“Hi,” he said softly.

Ginny smiled brightly at him. “Morning,” she said, sitting the bowl and spoon on the bedside table.

Returning the smile in his usual subdued way, Harry looked around the room. “Where –?”

“Sirius just popped down to the loo,” answered Ginny quickly, “and Remus is gone until tomorrow, remember?”

Harry nodded and slowly pushed himself upright. Ginny bundled the pillows behind him once more and handed him his glasses. “Thanks,” he whispered as he slid them on, and Ginny was pleased to see his trembling was lesser today than it had been the day before, almost completely unnoticeable save close scrutiny. That clearly meant the potions were doing their job.

“You’re welcome,” said Ginny, dropping into the seat Sirius usually sat in when feeding Harry.

An awkward silence fell, and Ginny cast about for a topic of conversation. “D’you want to wait for Sirius to start eating?”

Harry stared at the bedroom door for a moment. “The diary,” he said abruptly, and Ginny sucked in a surprised breath. “You never saw what he was doing?”

Ginny stared at Harry before shaking her head. “Never,” she said. “I – I couldn’t remember what I’d been doing for hours at a time. I’d find myself somewhere and not know how I got there.” She bit her lip. “Do – do you see what he does?” she asked hesitantly. The question had long been on her mind, but she had been too scared to ask it before now.

Harry stared at her for what felt like an eternity before he nodded. “Had to,” he whispered. “Every day.”

Ginny couldn’t breathe. The pieces of the puzzle she had been grasping at desperately suddenly began to fall into place. “The potion,” she said woodenly. “They made you see what he was doing every day. You may as well have been him.”

Harry nodded again, eyes anguished. “Used memories,” he said. “Thoughts, he… he used it all.”

“He fooled everyone by using your mind to create the perfect Harry,” finished Ginny in a hollow voice. “All those people who didn’t see, they’re not real to you because only real people see you, the real you.”

“You could see,” said Harry.

“Not soon enough,” said Ginny bitterly.

“You still saw,” said Harry. “Saw it three times. Common room. The train. The station.”

“Four,” corrected Ginny. “Right after the maze, too.” She leaned forward. “Was that before he made you see?”

Harry nodded.

“They all feel guilty for not seeing,” Ginny told him. “Ron and Hermione, my mum, the twins… they’re devastated they didn’t see what was really going on.”

Harry looked away. “Not real,” he said. “They… they’re not real.”

Ginny’s chest felt tight. “How do they become real again?” she asked. “Harry, they want to be real.”

Harry just shook his head. Sirius stepped into the room a moment later. “Everything all right?” he asked, taking in Harry’s stiff posture and the expression of heartache on Ginny’s face.

“I know what happened,” whispered Ginny after a moment.

Sirius frowned and approached the bed. “What’s going on? What are you talking about?”

Ginny looked at Harry. “Do you want to –?”

Harry shook his head again.

That was fine. Ginny could explain. She swallowed hard and met Sirius’s eyes.

“Voldemort figured out about the connection between them,” she said. “He made Harry take that potion Snape invented to force him to look through his eyes so he could – so he could use every memory and thought Harry ever had to fool everyone at Hogwarts. Harry watched his friends, my mum, Dumbledore… so many people looked right at him without seeing that it wasn’t really him. And he had to see that every single day.”

Sirius’s face drained of all color. He stumbled to the edge of the bed and collapsed on it. “That’s – Crouch, he said Voldemort was conducting experiments on you,” he said.

“That was the main one,” whispered Harry. “Others came after he killed –” He broke off and shrugged.

“When he murdered the Dursleys,” finished Sirius. Harry nodded. “And you saw that, as well.”

“Saw everything.”

“When you said he was bored, you stated ‘we needed something to do’, and you meant the both of you,” said Sirius softly. Harry nodded. “So your homework was… which one of you did it?”

Harry shrugged. “Don’t know what came from who most of the time. Hard to… feel real.”

It suddenly occurred to Ginny that Harry had not once used personal pronouns like ‘I’ or ‘my’ or ‘mine.’ He hadn’t referred directly to himself at all this entire time apart from a singular ‘we’ that first morning about the homework.

“It’s all mixed up,” she said. “You’re feeling too mixed up to know your own mind because you spent so much time trapped in his.”

Harry looked at her, eyes grave. “Yeah,” he sighed.

Ginny closed her eyes for a moment. “You’re real, Harry,” she said, meeting his gaze directly. “It doesn’t matter how mixed up it is. You’re still real, and you can untangle it, I know you can.”

“Ginny’s right,” said Sirius, seeming to regain his determination. “We will figure this out, I promise you. Me, Ginny, Remus, and anyone else who is real to you… we’ll do whatever it takes, I swear it.” He reached out and took Harry’s hands in his own. “Thank you for trusting us with the truth,” he said.

Harry nodded a bit and looked away. “Food?” he finally asked.

“Absolutely,” said Sirius, and Ginny moved out of the way so Sirius could feed him the porridge. Harry managed about half of it before turning away. He drank the necessary potions, and was soon asleep once more.

“What do we do, Sirius?” Ginny asked at length. She had curled up on the other side of the bed next to Harry, holding his hand in her own once more while Sirius ate his own breakfast. “This is… this is so much worse than I thought, and we still don’t know what happened during those last two weeks.”

Sirius sighed and set his half-eaten plate of food down on the desk. “I don’t know, to be honest,” he said heavily. “I feel like I escaped not being real by mere circumstance rather than anything I actively did or said. Remus will undoubtedly feel the same once he comes back tomorrow, but you…” He looked directly at Ginny now. “He saw you look at Voldemort with confusion and doubt, and that has made all the difference. No one else did that. You’ve earned being real in a way Remus and I have not.”

Ginny shook her head. “I still didn’t see soon enough.”

“That clearly doesn’t matter,” said Sirius firmly. “You saw Harry in a way the others didn’t, and he recognizes that. It’s not up to us to question who Harry trusts or doesn’t trust, even if we doubt ourselves or don’t feel worthy of said trust.” He looked down at his sleeping godson with a tenderness that made Ginny want to avert her eyes than bear witness to how much Sirius cared for his godson. “We’re here for him, come what may.”

Ginny nodded and leaned against the headboard. “It’s just – odd,” she finally said, “to go from Ron’s little sister to – to being real. Ron’s his best friend, and he’s not real, but I am, and all I had was this tie through someone who’s been more important to him –” She broke off and shook her head.

Sirius chuckled. “And yet, here we are,” he said. “I’m grateful Harry has the ability to trust anyone at this point.”

Ginny nodded. “True,” she allowed. A sudden yawn overtook her.

“I think you’ve more sleep to catch up on,” said Sirius in amusement.

“I’m fine,” Ginny quickly insisted. “Just – give me Harry’s copy of Flying with the Cannons, reading their numerous failures will keep me going.”

Sirius snorted, but obliged. “I’ll take the tray back downstairs,” he told her as she balanced the book on her legs. “I haven't read the Daily Prophet in a few days, and I’m feeling rather out of touch with everything else going on.”

“I don’t care what’s going on out there,” said Ginny through another yawn. “This is the only space that makes any sense right now.”

Sirius nodded. “I’ll not be long,” he promised before he collected the remains of breakfast and left the room.

Ginny used her free hand to flip open the book to one of the Chudley Cannons worst defeats in their history of losses and glanced at Harry. He seemed so at peace despite the horrors he had endured, and to be this close to him, to have his trust…

Don’t think about him like that! she told herself firmly before her thoughts could take that old path. You’re with Michael. You’re happy with Michael!

Was she, though?

Refocusing on the book propped on her legs, she forced herself to read, but it was so warm and comfortable on the bed, Harry’s hand fitting so right in hers…

Ginny’s eyes drooped, and she forced them open. The game against the Appleby Arrows that season saw the team lose by more than 300 points…

So warm… so comfortable… safe...

And sleep claimed her in its warm embrace.

It was warm, and Ginny snuggled into the source, feeling content and safer than she’d felt in years.

Until the rough, wet tongue of the source of warmth made a disgusting track against her face, that is. “Urgh!” she groaned, pushing Sirius’s snout away from her and wiping at her face with the blanket that covered her.

A low, rumbling chuckle interrupted her, and she cracked open an eye to see Harry facing her, his haunted green eyes veiled with amusement and a small, but true grin on his thin face. “Glad to see someone’s enjoying himself,” she muttered, embarrassed that she’d not only fallen asleep next to Harry, but that Sirius had slobbered all over her face.

Harry pushed Sirius completely out of the way and lifted the blanket himself, catching some dog drool Ginny had missed on her cheek. “The look on your face,” he said, still grinning. “It was funny.”

Ginny snorted. “Fair amount of blushing, too,” she admitted.

“It’s cute,” said Harry softly. “Remember when you knocked over your bowl of porridge?”

“I knocked over a lot of things that summer,” said Ginny with a scowl. Harry’s grin widened.

“Your face was glowing,” he said. “Like… like the setting sun.”

Ginny laughed. “You were always too kind, just ignoring everything I ever did. I’m sorry I was so silly back then.”

Harry shrugged. “Just wanted to be friends with you. Glad you’re talking now.”

Ginny smiled. “Hermione said I needed to stop being so stupid and just be myself,” she told him. “It’s hard to be friends with someone who can’t even talk to you without sticking their elbow in a butter dish.”

Harry actually laughed, and the sound gave Ginny a thrill. She grinned rather stupidly at him, pleased to have brought a smile and even a laugh out of him.

She would do almost anything to see him happy again. Thoughts of Michael barely crossed her mind the rest of the day. There was plenty of time to sort out her dating life in the face of Harry smiling at her like that.

Back to index

Chapter 8: Nightmare

Author's Notes: I'M ALIVE!

So January 14, one of my students with autism managed to sprain my right thumb and wrist. I'm right-handed, and I found myself unable to do so much as hold a pen, let alone type. I have spent the last four weeks trying to be careful and take it easy while healing up from this bizarre accident (this kid grabs hands/wrists all the time for a variety of things, it's been nothing new, so it was a surprise when it happened). I attempted to continue writing this story using text-to-speech on my computer and even my phone, but the entire experience was clunky and awkward, so I quickly gave up and focused instead on my job and feeling better while the student in question became more violent towards me, my team leader, the paraprofessional in my classroom who mainly dealt with this young man, and one of our math special education teachers who used to work at the county juvenile detention center. The last four weeks have been hard.

That's actually an understatement. It's been hell.

I'm finally recovered to the point that I can type properly again, though my right hand still feels a bit clunky on the keyboard and I make more errors in my typing than I used to. I'm sure I'll be back to my usual abilities in the next week or two, but that's what's been going on with me, and that's why I've been absent for four weeks longer than I originally stated in the last chapter. Luckily for you, this chapter is like 10,800 words, so there's plenty to read to make up for it!

This chapter is the first of three parts detailing Harry's time in captivity. There are multiple uses of the Cruciatus Curse in this chapter, one instance of mild gore, and the usual scar pains when Voldemort comes in physical contact with Harry. This is not a happy chapter. Sorry.

Not sorry. Enjoy!

Oh, and thank you to everyone who voted for my story for the award of Best Drama for the November 2020 Dumbledore's Silver Trinket Award! It means a lot to me!!!

Chapter Eight: Nightmare

25 June, 1995

Awareness slammed into Harry with such force he thought he might choke on the sudden input of pain that enveloped him.

He ached all over, his head pounding fiercely, and the ground beneath him seemed to be packed dirt, making the aches and pains all the more obvious. Then he noticed that Lucius Malfoy was crouched in front of him in the light of a single oil lamp, smirking.

Harry bolted into a sitting position, breathing fast and blinking several times against the pain in his head.

“Wonderful of you to join me, Potter,” said Lucius, amusement tinting his words. “I have questions, and you are going to answer them.”

Harry clenched his jaw and glared silently at the man. He had no intentions of answering anything the Death Eater might ask. The skin on his arm where he’d been cut for the ritual pulled and stung, and his leg was filled with a dull ache from where the spider in the maze had bitten him. He did his best to focus on this, letting it ground him as the pounding in his skull began to lessen.

“My master wishes to know how it is that you have been able to witness him from afar,” said Lucius after a moment.

Harry continued to glower at him, keeping his silence. He spotted Lucius’s wand as he suddenly lifted his right hand, and reacted without thinking, scrambling away along the stone wall behind him and away from the corner –

Something caught Harry around the ankles and he flattened onto his stomach, breath catching when he turned over and realized he bore manacles around his ankles, attached to chains that were bolted to the corner.


Harry’s screams felt as though they were being torn right from his throat as that bone-burning pain enveloped his every sense, and he was nothing but the pain, the utter agony that burned through his every cell –

And it ended as abruptly as it had begun. Harry was flat on his back, gasping for breath as Lucius laughed. Suddenly, he felt a tug on the manacles and he was being dragged right back into the corner. Harry wanted to resist, but he was shaking horribly and couldn’t quite seem to move his own limbs the right way.

“There is no escape from this, boy,” snapped Lucius as Harry slowly rolled over, forcing his body to listen to him. “You are the Dark Lord’s prisoner now, and thereby subject to his wishes. And right now, he wishes that I interrogate you.”

“Go to hell,” Harry gasped out as he pushed himself upright.

Lucius ignored this. “How is it you have seen the Dark Lord’s movements from afar?”

“I don’t know,” said Harry angrily, glaring at Lucius without disguising the hatred in his expression, “but he’s supposed to be so brilliant, isn’t he? Why can’t he figure it out and save me the trouble?”


The flames in his very bones threatened to overwhelm Harry as the Cruciatus Curse hit him yet again.

“Impertinence will not aid you down here, boy,” said Lucius softly when he at last lifted the spell. Harry’s arms shook so much he almost collapsed again, but he managed to get himself back into a sitting position and wrapped his arms tightly around his middle, breathing hard and hating Lucius with everything he had. “If you answer my questions, I will not hurt you. Any lip, any lies, well…” He smirked. “You already know what to expect.”

Harry ground his teeth together and stared into those pale eyes, which were filled with a disgusting sort of amusement. He didn’t say anything.

“Now, then… are you awake when you see what the Dark Lord is doing?”

Harry hesitated, then shook his head, feeling grateful the dull aching of his skull didn’t increase again.

“Sleeping, I take it?”

Harry nodded, staring at Lucius’s left knee.

“And what of your scar?”

Harry glanced up at Lucius’s face in confusion.

“My master has reason to believe it causes you pain when he is near?”

Harry dropped his gaze and nodded again.

“So when he touched your face in the graveyard, you again experienced pain in your scar?”

Clenching his jaw, Harry nodded once more.

“What a peculiar phenomenon,” mused Lucius softly.

“I reckon the word you’re looking for is ‘painful,’” muttered Harry despite his best judgment.

He tensed, awaiting another bout of the Cruciatus Curse, but Lucius merely laughed.

“My son remarks frequently about your lip, Potter,” he said. “I wonder how long it will take to break you of that habit.”

Harry glared up at Lucius again, but kept his silence.

“Now, tell me more about the dreams you had of the Dark Lord this past year,” said Lucius. “From what perspective did these dreams take place?”

Harry frowned. “What d’you mean?” he asked in spite of himself.

Lucius raised an eyebrow. “Were you a spectator, or were you viewing things as if you were the Dark Lord himself?”

Harry’s eyes widened. Seeing things in the room itself had been awful enough. He couldn’t imagine actually seeing things from Voldemort’s perspective.

“I was just… there, in the room,” he said. “Behind… behind the chair he was in.”

Lucius nodded. “That may change with his return,” he said more to himself than to Harry.

Not liking the sound of that, Harry tried to wrap his robes around himself better. He was starting to become more aware of how cold the place he was trapped in truly was.

Lucius noticed this and a wicked grin lit his pale features. “Difficult to get comfortable in a place like this, isn’t it, boy?”

Harry shot Lucius the dirtiest look he could muster. “You’re obviously enjoying this, locking up an underage wizard,” he shot back. “Made a habit of this the last time Voldemort was around, did you?”

He had a split-second to realize what he’d said before Lucius hit him with the Cruciatus Curse yet again. When at last it ended, Harry curled up on his side, shaking uncontrollably as he gasped for breath, throat feeling scraped raw from his screams.

“I cannot wait for the day when you break, Potter,” said Lucius softly. “I expect it will be glorious to observe.”

There came the sudden sounds of footsteps and muffled voices from somewhere above them. Harry looked up at the ceiling, wondering where he was, then winced as his scar lanced with pain.

Moments later, two figures stepped into view. One was Wormtail, silver hand gleaming dully in the lamplight, and the other –

It was one thing to look at himself in a mirror, but to see himself… The pain in his scar was increasing as the other Harry came closer, and he realized with a jolt of horror that Voldemort himself had used Polyjuice Potion to return to Hogwarts.

“I forget how energetic the youth can be,” remarked Voldemort-as-Harry as he drew nearer to where Harry and Lucius were in their little corner of what seemed to be a cellar of some kind. He let out a laugh that sounded unnatural to Harry, not at all the way in which he laughed…

No, that was the same laugh as the Riddle in the diary, from the coldness and high pitch to the way it twisted his lips.

Then there was the smirk on his face as he stared down at Harry which was out of place, cruel and mocking in nature, so exactly like Riddle’s smirk in the Chamber of Secrets as Ginny lay dying on the cold stone floor.

Harry hated the reminder.

“It was all-too-easy to fool Dumbledore with the memories I stole,” Voldemort told Lucius and Wormtail. “He is certainly confused as to how his precious student is still alive, but he suspects nothing of the truth at this time. My faithful servant at Hogwarts is still in place, and no one will step into the hospital wing ‘til morning.”

He eyed Harry as he struggled to sit up. “Tell me what the boy knows, Lucius,” he said now, voice softer, more calculated.

“His scar pains him when you are near or touch him, my Lord,” said Lucius at once. “His dreams have not been directly from your perspective, but that of a spectator. Also,” he added with a nasty smirk on his face, “his impertinence has yet to be tamed.”

“Developed in a house where he was feared and mistreated, I’m afraid,” remarked Voldemort. “It will take time to rid him of his cheek.” He reached into robes that looked just like the ones Harry wore and pulled out Harry’s wand.

“Your wand is odd to me,” he said quietly, “yet almost as familiar to me as my own. Why is that, Harry?”

Harry didn’t answer, instead staring at the fake Harry’s knees. He knew exactly why his own wand would seem familiar, but he wasn’t about to go sharing this piece of information that tied them together in yet another strange way.

Voldemort crouched down abruptly and caught Harry’s eyes with his own. It was nothing short of bizarre to see his own green eyes staring at him with malevolent curiosity. A moment later, the eyes widened.

“Twin cores,” he whispered. Harry stared at him in confusion. How was he pulling information from Harry’s mind without him saying a word? “You grow more fascinating with every new fact I learn about you.” He straightened, pulled off glasses that perfectly matched Harry’s, and shifted his shoulders; Harry watched as his features blurred and stretched until it was Lord Voldemort who stood before him and not his own visage. A wave of Harry’s wand and the robes suddenly fit his taller frame.

“I must meet with Severus,” he told the other two men in his own high, cold voice as he handed Wormtail the copy of Harry’s glasses. “I have need to see if he waited to return on Dumbledore’s orders to appease him or because of him.”

“What of Potter?” asked Lucius.

Voldemort looked down at Harry. “For now, Severus knows nothing of our deception,” he said. “I suppose the boy can be allowed some food and rest until I return. If our deception is to continue, then I need every moment available before morning to experiment.”

Harry didn’t like the way Voldemort said that last word and barely suppressed a shiver of fear. How was he going to get out of this place? He didn’t even know where he was!

Voldemort turned and started to walk away, pocketing Harry’s wand and taking his own from Wormtail’s hand. “I shall return within the hour,” he told Lucius and Wormtail before he stepped out of sight. “Make the prisoner… comfortable.”

“Yes, my Lord,” said Lucius, and then Voldemort vanished from sight, leaving Harry with Lucius and Wormtail. The traitor hadn’t once looked at Harry.

“What food is fitting for a young prisoner such as yourself?” Lucius mused after a few moments of silence.

Harry didn’t say anything. Growing up in the Dursley’s home meant he was used to extended periods of near-starvation and food that was less than stellar. He waited quietly for whatever it was Lucius would decide.

“Porridge ought to be enough,” the blonde man decided. “Fetch some at once, Wormtail.”

“You’re not my master, Lucius,” snapped Wormtail, though his voice shook.

“Our master left the boy in my charge, and the last thing I will do is leave him with someone as cowardly and weak as you,” Lucius returned sharply. “Porridge, Wormtail, now.”

Wormtail scowled, but retreated.

“I hope the Dark Lord allows me to observe his experiments,” said Lucius as he turned back to Harry. “There is much to discover about the boy who would be his downfall, it would seem.”

Harry clenched his jaw and wrapped himself more tightly in his robes, finally starting to shiver from the chill in the cellar air.

Lucius said nothing else until Wormtail returned with a bowl and spoon which he roughly thrust into Harry’s hands.

“Eat, Potter.”

The porridge didn’t look spectacular by any means, but it was food, and it was hot. Suddenly ravenous, Harry began to shovel it into his mouth. The supper he’d had before the Third Task felt so long ago –

An image of Cedric lying dead on the ground abruptly filled Harry’s mind. Here he was, fearing for his life when Cedric’s had been so cruelly ended. That ending, however, had been quick and likely painless. Harry had no hope that his own death would be anywhere near as merciful, not with the prospect of Voldemort desiring to experiment on him.

So he ate. It would do him no good to face his fate on an empty stomach. All too soon, the bowl of porridge was empty. Harry set it aside and wrapped his arms around himself once more. He was fourteen years old, chained up, and utterly defenseless.

Of all the life-threatening situations he had ever encountered, none were as hopeless as what faced him now. He was completely vulnerable to whatever Voldemort had in store for him.

Lucius had long since become bored of staring at Harry and had stepped away to converse quietly with Wormtail. He Banished the empty bowl when Harry set it aside, but kept shooting expectant looks in Harry’s direction every so often as though waiting for him to try and escape.

Harry knew he was rash sometimes, but even he wasn’t so stupid as to miss the fact that there was no way out. The manacles on his ankles alone kept him from moving far, not to mention that he was being guarded by two adult wizards who knew far more magic than he did.

The sudden spike of pain from Harry’s scar alerted him to Voldemort’s return. He tensed up in spite of himself as footsteps made their way across the ceiling, then descended. Voldemort swept into view, and Lucius and Wormtail immediately bowed to him.

“I trust the boy behaved himself while I was away?”

“He did, my Lord,” murmured Wormtail.

“Pity that,” added Lucius. “His screams of pain are quite delightful to listen to.”

Voldemort laughed softly. “You wish to hear more, Lucius?”

“Only with your permission, Master,” was Lucius’s swift reply.

“You may stay, Lucius,” said Voldemort with a lazy smile that made Harry’s heart rate pick up. “Wormtail, you will go see to Nagini; she needs a proper meal since I deprived her of the feast I originally expected to give her.”

Harry tensed even more, certain that he was supposed to have been the giant snake’s dinner.

Wormtail let out a low whimper, but bowed again and left the cellar. Voldemort turned to Harry, wand out, red eyes speculative.

“The old man thinks I transferred some of my powers to you that night,” he said. “I confess myself curious as to what this might entail.”

Harry sat rigid on the packed dirt floor, terrified of what the man might do. Voldemort lifted his wand, then –


The pain was so intense, so all-consuming, that Harry no longer knew where he was… White-hot knives were piercing every inch of his skin, his head was surely going to burst with pain, he was screaming more loudly than he’d ever screamed in his life –

And then it stopped. Harry opened his eyes to see Voldemort crouched directly over him and scrambled away along the wall, hissing in pain when the manacles cut into his ankles and stopped him from retreating any further. He was breathing fast, feeling starved for oxygen, and shaking almost uncontrollably.

Voldemort smiled at him dispassionately. “Children always try to run,” he said softly. “It was the same in the orphanage I was forced to grow up in.”

Suddenly, his free hand shot out and those unnaturally long, pale fingers buried themselves in the wound on Harry’s leg.

Harry cried out from the pain in both his leg and scar and tried to struggle free, but Voldemort’s grip was too strong, the manacles on his ankles already pulled taut and digging into his skin as he jerked and twisted in pain.

“Stop it!” Harry begged. “Please, stop!”

To his shock, Voldemort let go of his leg, and he slumped on his side, one hand clenched at his forehead and the other clutching at the ground as he let out an involuntary moan.

“The children would beg, too,” said Voldemort in amusement. “You experienced pain in both your leg and scar?”

Harry set his jaw firmly and said nothing.

“I expect you to answer my questions, Harry,” whispered Voldemort with a chilling smile. “Tell me where you experienced pain. Imperio!”

And for the first time since Moody had used the spell on him in controlled conditions, Harry found himself experiencing the sensation that his mind had been wiped of all thought… Ah, it was bliss, not to think, it was as though he were floating, dreaming… just answer the question… say where you felt pain… just answer…

I will not, said a stronger voice, in the back of his head, I won’t answer…

Just answer the question…

I won’t do it, I won’t say it…

Just say where it hurt…

“I WON’T!”

And these words burst from Harry’s mouth; they echoed loudly through the cold cellar, and the dream state was lifted as suddenly as though cold water had been thrown over him – back rushed the aches that the Cruciatus Curse had left all over his body – back rushed the realization of where he was, and what he was facing…

“You won’t?” said Voldemort quietly, the smile on his face gone now.

Harry stared at him, scar aching fiercely as he forced himself to hold still. There was something terrifying about the look on his snake-like face. He didn’t dare move, held the red-eyed gaze as the tension between them tautened and strained –

Voldemort raised a hand and Harry flinched. The smile returned. “I frighten you,” observed Voldemort, sounding pleased.

Harry couldn’t help but feel it was almost a tie between Voldemort and the dementors at this point.

“As do the dementors?” continued Voldemort, his voice even more pleased now.

“How –?” Harry broke off, terrified and confused.

Voldemort laughed softly. “Someone so young wouldn’t know the importance of a well-protected mind,” he said. “An accomplished Legilimens has the ability to extract and interpret feelings and memories of their targets, and you project everything I need loud and clear.”

Reading minds? Harry had felt on more than one occasion that Snape and perhaps even Dumbledore could do the same, but that it was something real that Voldemort could do was –

Voldemort flicked his wand, and the chains attached to the manacles suddenly retracted, dragging Harry once more toward the corner and all the closer to the crouching man. He scrabbled at the dirt floor uselessly, the pressure from the chains more powerful than what he could resist, adrenaline firing in his system yet again as his scar perpetually burned.

“So little time,” said Voldemort idly, “yet still so much to explore.”

Without warning, the pale hand still covered in Harry’s blood from the wound in his leg gripped Harry by the hair. He yelped and started to reach for his head when the other pale hand extended and a long finger landed right on his scar.

It was agony. Harry screamed, feeling as though his head might burst, and he heard Voldemort’s high, cold laughter as he fruitlessly struggled to push the hands away from his head and hair. He wanted nothing more than to escape, to black out, to be anywhere else than right here where he was as powerless as he’d been as a child…

Voldemort released his hold, and Harry curled up, wrapping his arms over his head and unable to stop himself from releasing a strangled sob. He hadn’t cried hard enough to actually sob like that in years, and it was all the more demoralizing to realize that Voldemort had gotten to him this badly.

“There was a time when touching you caused me an equal measure of pain,” said Voldemort softly. “I find it most interesting that it has not changed for you.”

Harry said nothing, shudders of fear and pain still wracking his body. He could feel blood sliding down his injured leg.

“Was he this quiet with you, Lucius?” Voldemort suddenly asked, reminding Harry that the elder Malfoy was still there, watching everything and probably enjoying it.

“Hardly, my Lord,” said Lucius in amusement, “though I doubt he fears me as he does you.”

“I see,” said Voldemort. “This does raise an interesting question, however, something I saw in the boy’s mind…”

Harry lowered his arms just enough to see that Voldemort had risen and turned to face Lucius. “There is a memory in his mind of him standing inside the Chamber of Secrets,” he told Lucius, and Harry couldn’t help but feel a swoop of angry justice at the stiff expression on Lucius’s face at these words. “How did the boy find his way into a place which had been lost to modern memory until I and I alone discovered it?”

“My Lord, I am not sure I know what you’re talking about –”

Harry snorted derisively before he could stop himself. Lucius’s gaze flickered to him. Even Voldemort turned to look down at him.

Harry forced himself to sit up despite how horribly his arms shook, eyes fixed on Lucius. “You planted a diary in Ginny Weasley’s things,” he said, shocked by how hoarse his voice sounded. “A diary that wrote back to whoever wrote in it. The diary possessed her, used her to open the Chamber of Secrets and attack Muggle-borns all over the school, and I think you did it because you didn’t like her dad’s latest Muggle Protection Act.”

“What happened to the diary?” asked Voldemort.

Harry forced himself to meet those terrible red eyes. “I destroyed it,” he admitted fiercely, “and it said it was you at sixteen and tried to have the Basilisk kill me, but I killed it, too.”

He allowed his memories of stabbing the basilisk and the diary to fill his mind, knowing Voldemort was seeing them but not caring. He had no way to hide anything, he knew that now.

After a moment, Voldemort looked away and turned back to Lucius. “I entrusted you with something precious to me,” he said softly as Lucius stood rigid before him. “And you chose to use it for your own personal gains.”

A moment later, Lucius was writhing on the ground, screaming from the Cruciatus Curse, and Harry felt sick at the satisfaction which filled him at the sight. He had already suffered so much that seeing someone else go through a smidgeon of what he had, especially someone whose foolish choice had almost caused Ginny’s death, was oddly pleasing. Harry hated how he felt and at last looked away.

Several seconds later, Lucius was panting on the ground. “I am sorry, my Lord,” he forced out between gasps for breath. “I did not care for your possession, did not look for you or believe as I should have done –”

“No,” said Voldemort pitilessly, “you did not. In some ways, your sins are greater than that of the others who did not look for me. Your selfish actions may very well have alerted Dumbledore to truths he need not be privy to.”

“It will not happen again, my Lord,” said Lucius on hands and knees, and it was revolting to see the normally aristocratic man prostrating himself as he was before Voldemort. “Whatever I must do to prove myself, it will be done, I swear it!”

Voldemort smiled. “You have taken those first steps already,” he said, “volunteering to guard watch and interrogate the boy in my absence. There is much penance I require of you, Lucius, but I believe you may yet prove yourself.” He glanced over at Harry. “Remove yourself from my sight,” he commanded Lucius. “Organize the guard duty of this place. No one knows where we are, so one follower at the door at any time should suffice. After all,” he added with an amused look in Harry’s direction, “it is not as though the prisoner has any hope of escape.”

Harry pressed his back against the cold stone wall, hating the words but knowing they were true.

He was trapped.

“Coordinate your efforts with Yaxley, as well,” added Voldemort after a moment. “He will explain his part of my plans to you.”

Lucius slowly rose, bowed, and then left Harry alone with Voldemort. He waited on tenterhooks, wondering what he was going to do now. He was certain it was nothing good, of course, but beyond that…

“You have dreamt of my actions,” Voldemort spoke at last, eyeing Harry speculatively. “Seen and heard pieces of my plans without my knowledge. Is it possible that such a connection works in reverse?”

Harry swallowed hard, jaw clenched against the dull throbbing in his scar, aching all over and almost numb from the cold and fear that enveloped his person. He didn’t know what Voldemort was about to do, but he was certain that he wouldn’t like it.

Voldemort moved closer to Harry, and he shrank against the wall, cornered in with nowhere to run. He watched as Voldemort settled himself on the dirt floor and then… he closed his red eyes, face one of concentration.

Harry stared at him, confused. He was within reach, which meant Harry could try and dive for the yew wand in his hand, or even his own wand which was undoubtedly still stowed away in Voldemort’s robes, but did he expect Harry to try something like that? And if Harry tried and failed, what would his punishment be?

His scar suddenly seared, white-hot as though the old wound had burst open again – and unbidden, unwanted, but terrifyingly strong, there rose within Harry emotions that were not his own, as though a great serpent was poised and ready to strike at any moment, and elation far beyond anything Harry had ever experienced filled his entire being –

Voldemort opened his eyes, and the feelings vanished. Harry gasped out as the pain in his scar receded to a dull throb once more, one hand flying up to touch it, confused and terrified of what he had just felt. “What did you do?” he asked before he could remember his desire to stay silent.

“You do speak,” said Voldemort in amusement, and Harry scowled at him before remembering who he was glaring at and dropping his gaze, tensing up over what might come. “What I did, young Harry,” Voldemort continued without commenting on Harry’s lapse in judgement, “was carefully seek out this connection between us and look through it just as you have unwittingly done on your own whilst dreaming. And do you know what I found?”

Harry shook his head jerkily, keeping his eyes on Voldemort’s hands rather than looking at his snake-like face.

“It was as though I was you rather than myself,” he told Harry, and he glanced up to see a sick sort of smile on the pale face. “Your pain, your fear, I felt it as if it were my own.”

Harry’s mouth fell open. How was this possible?

“The question is what you experienced, of course,” said Voldemort as he resettled himself comfortably on the dirt floor. “You seemed aware of my presence, I believe?”

Harry hesitated for a long moment before nodding. “You… you were… elated,” he said slowly, knowing the words he spoke were true. He did not know how he knew it, but he did; Voldemort smiled again, clearly pleased by Harry’s answer.

“It is quite different from the experience of possession, you see,” he told Harry conversationally. “The subject does not know it is happening and suffers from blank stretches in their own recollections. This is what your little Ginny Weasley would have experienced whilst under the control of my diary,” he added with a smirk, and Harry felt a swoop of anger at the man’s amusement. “This experience we just shared, however, borne out of this unique connection between us, is quite different. We are both clearly conscious and aware of what is happening, and that aspect of it could, I believe, allow me to further extend my deception at Hogwarts.”

Harry didn’t want to know what he meant by that, but couldn’t stop himself from asking, regardless. “What are you planning?”

“Your emotions, your memories, everything that makes you who you are, ready and waiting, at my disposal,” said Voldemort, his smile wicked now. “Instant access to everything I could ever need to convince even Dumbledore that I am, in fact, you.”

Harry felt the blood drain from his face and shook his head disbelievingly. What Voldemort was describing sounded impossible but for the experience he had just endured. If Voldemort thought it possible, then he would undoubtedly do whatever it took to make it happen. “You can’t,” he whispered.

“I think you will find that I can,” said Voldemort lightly, “though the issue I now face lies in your own stubborn nature, particularly the resistance you have shown to the Imperius Curse. It is not in your nature to give into the desires of others, a curious phenomenon given the nature of your upbringing, but it seems those who suffer abuse either submit to or defy the wills of others in power over them.

“There are ways around this, I think,” mused Voldemort thoughtfully, not looking at Harry but rather the stone wall behind him. “Subtle potions designed to bewitch the mind into susceptibility of the suggestions of others will do, I should think. In fact,” he added, abruptly rising and smiling at Harry’s flinch, “Yaxley should be arriving any minute with just such types of potions for me to experiment with.”

Waving his wand, he conjured a metal bucket that dropped next to Harry with a dull ‘clang’ and smirked. “To attend to your personal needs,” he said in amusement. “Toilets are rather a luxury you are not entitled to anymore.”

The words were degrading, and Harry flushed, recalling almost against his will one time he had wet the bed as a small child and Aunt Petunia had berated him to the point of tears.

Laughing, Voldemort stepped away. “I believe I shall give you a few minutes alone whilst awaiting my follower,” he said. “But I would not waste any time in your place, boy. Better to take advantage of every scrap of privacy allotted to you than to have every personal moment of your life on display.” He swept from view, and Harry was alone.

Turning his attention at once to the manacles on his ankles, Harry could see that they were old with locks that –

Wait. Sirius’s penknife. Did he still have it? Digging around in his robes, he started to think it wasn’t there, but then he found it in his trouser pocket and fumbled it open in the dim light of the oil lamp. It was his only chance, and he needed to do this while he still had a chance.

The penknife worked at once to unlock the manacles, and Harry rubbed his ankles before struggling to his feet, sore all over from the torment he had been forced to endure. He eyed the bucket for a moment in disgust and then staggered away in the direction Voldemort had gone. His scar wasn’t paining him so much, which meant the Dark wizard couldn’t be too close by.

Wherever Harry was, the cellar was larger than he’d first thought, but he eventually found and stole up the stairs, silently wincing at every step he took with his injured leg. He at last emerged into an old and dusty kitchen, and there was a door nearby. Harry crept over to it and peered out into the darkness.

Nothing. Turning the lock, Harry carefully pulled it open and slipped through.

The house seemed more a manor when Harry stepped away from it, uphill from the twinkling lights of a village. Harry knew it was most likely a Muggle village, but it was better than nothing. He could find the police, beg them for help and get back to Privet Drive. Voldemort himself had said he couldn’t touch Harry there. Gripping his penknife and missing his wand, Harry set off, eyes wide and searching in case there was a Death Eater nearby. The knife portion was out and ready for a good swipe if needed.

Harry discovered a tree-lined lane that seemed to head right where he needed to go, so he set his shoulders and started down it, hoping desperately that he would be able to make it to safety.

All was quiet as Harry continued down the narrow lane, starting to limp more and more as the wound in his leg pulled with every step. He knew it would slow him down, but he had to hope that it would be enough to get him away. If he didn’t, he’d never leave that cellar alive again.

A low rumble indicated an approaching car. Harry slowed a bit, trying to decide if he should beg for help from whoever was in it. That would get him to the police quicker than walking was going to manage the rate he was going. Soon enough, the headlights of a small car approached, and Harry stepped out into the lane, waving his arms for it to see him and stop.

He wasn’t sure it was going to work, but the car slowed and halted. Harry limped to the diver-side window as the window rolled down, revealing a wary-looking man.

Harry knew he must look a sight, covered in dirt and bleeding from his arm and leg while wearing robes that had been torn and stained; he was definitely not at his best.

“Please,” he said hoarsely to the man, “I need help. Some men took me from my school and tried to lock me up in that big house up the hill, but I got away. I need to get back home.”

“Whereabouts are you from?” asked the man.

“Surrey,” said Harry. “I – I don’t even know where I am! Please, can you get me to the police?”

The man looked carefully at Harry for a long moment, then nodded. “In the back with you,” he said, and Harry could’ve collapsed from relief then and there.

“Thank you,” he told the man fervently. “Thank you, I –”

His scar burned, and he felt again that horrible sensation of the snake within, the all-consuming anger as he stared at the man, hand flying up to his scar.

“Are you all right, lad?” asked the Muggle man.

He sees what I see, Harry thought frantically, ignoring the man and slamming his eyes shut, trying desperately not to think about where he was, but there was a ‘pop!’ and the pain in Harry’s scar increased almost past endurance.

“Foolish child,” said Voldemort coldly from behind him, and Harry opened his stinging eyes, whirling around to see the older man striding toward him in the light cast by the car’s headlights. Voldemort’s red eyes were flashing in rage that echoed through Harry’s whole being. He clutched the penknife in his hand, shaking and terrified as Voldemort raised his wand.

“Don’t hurt him,” he begged. “Please, he’s just a Muggle, I –”


Harry dropped to the street, screaming in pure agony, nothing but the fiery pain filling his awareness as he burned from the inside out –

The pain ceased and Harry heard the Muggle shouting at Voldemort. “He’s only a boy, what the devil are you doin’ to him?”

Harry dragged himself to all fours and grabbed the penknife from where he’d dropped it, chest heaving and scar burning as he looked up.

“You think I would spare him because of your foolish choice, Harry?” said Voldemort, voice dripping with venom as he glared down at Harry. “It seems you need a lesson in what happens should you ever dare defy me again. Avada Kedavra!”

“NO!” Harry screamed, but it was too late.

There was a sickening flash of green light, a horrible rushing sound, and the Muggle man slumped in the driver’s seat, dark eyes wide and staring, and unmistakably dead.

No, this couldn’t be happening, not again. Harry gazed wretchedly at the man who had been his only chance of escape, mind blank with horror. Then a steely grip on his upper arm was hauling him to his feet, and the burning in his scar told him it was Voldemort. The penknife was pulled from his limp grasp a moment later.

“And here I thought Lucius was wise enough to search a teenaged boy’s pockets,” said Voldemort with ice in his voice now. “Especially one as resourceful as you, Harry.”

He started to pull Harry away from the car, and a reckless rage unlike anything Harry had ever felt filled him now. He struggled against Voldemort’s grip and glared up at him.

“Why did you kill him?” he demanded. “He was innocent, Cedric was innocent! My parents never deserved this, either, why would you –?”

Voldemort slammed Harry’s back against a tree lining the lane without warning, the blade of the penknife against Harry’s throat a moment later. He stilled, staring into the merciless red eyes, hardly drawing breath as he trembled in fear. “They all have one thing in common, Harry,” Voldemort hissed into his face. “You. They all died because of you, boy, because of what you are.”

“I’m nothing,” breathed Harry desperately. “There’s never been anything special about me, nothing, I swear!”

Voldemort stared at him. “You don’t know, do you?”

Confusion battled against the fear and pain Harry felt. What was he supposed to know?

“He didn’t tell you,” breathed Voldemort a moment later. “You asked him three years ago why I attempted to kill you, and he claimed that you were too young to know.” He shook his head and let out a short laugh. “The old fool, falling prey to weak emotions for the sake of a child’s innocence.”

Harry tried to keep still, but he was shaking like a leaf against Voldemort’s grip and the knife at his throat.

“A Seer made a prophecy,” Voldemort told him. “A prophecy that you are the only one with the power to vanquish me.”

Harry froze in shock. No, this wasn’t real, this couldn’t be happening –

“You doubt me?” whispered Voldemort. “A child born as the seventh month dies to parents who have thrice defied me. There were two boys, two choices. You, or the Longbottom boy.”


“You think I made the wrong choice, perhaps?”

Harry thought of his quiet, clumsy friend. “Clearly not,” said Voldemort a moment later. “He is nothing to the strength of character you have demonstrated again and again. More than that,” he continued, pressing the knife a bit harder against the skin of Harry’s neck, “he could not be standing here, having attempted to escape from a situation such as yours and pleaded for the life of a Muggle he didn’t even know over his own.”

Harry clenched his jaw, but kept his eyes on Voldemort, not daring to move a muscle.

“I will kill you, have no doubt of that,” Voldemort told him firmly. “However, it would be remiss of me to ignore the opportunity to discover what it is about you that makes you the boy the prophecy spoke of. And make no mistake,” he continued, putting his face very close to Harry’s, “I will discover every secret you have.” He withdrew the penknife from Harry’s throat and jerked him forward and away from the tree trunk. Harry stumbled a bit and watched from the light still emitting from the Muggle’s car as Voldemort stowed away the penknife and withdrew his wand.

“You will not escape me again,” he told Harry, and Harry believed him as he had believed nothing else this long, horrible, nightmare he was stuck in, not knowing that his one safe haven ceased to be the moment he accepted his fate. He looked down at his feet and stayed silent, waiting for whatever would happen next.

Voldemort suddenly twisted, and Harry experienced a sensation unlike anything he’d ever felt before. The world turned black; he was being pressed very hard from all directions; he could not breathe, there were iron bands tightening around his chest; his eyeballs were being forced back into his head; his eardrums were being pushed deeper into his skull and then –

He gulped great lungfuls of cool predawn air and opened his streaming eyes. He felt as though he had just been forced through a very tight rubber tube. It was a few seconds before he realized that the narrow lane had vanished. He and Voldemort were now standing in front of the large house once more.

“Your first time Apparating?” questioned Voldemort. Harry paused as he considered the words, and then nodded. “It is a sensation that takes some getting used to, though I doubt you will ever get the chance. You will die here when I have exhausted my experiments.”

Harry closed his eyes for a moment and nodded again. This was his reality now; subject, for what little life he had left, to whatever Voldemort wanted. It was every nightmare he’d ever experienced and more, with no possible way to escape. He felt numb as Voldemort dragged him back inside the manor, through the kitchen, down the stairs, until he was once more in that little corner of the manor’s cellar. The manacles were magicked back around his ankles, and when Voldemort commanded him to sit, Harry complied, staring listlessly at the ground as he awaited Voldemort’s next move.

He didn’t have to wait long; a blunt-faced man soon stepped into view, carrying a vellum bag that undoubtedly held the potions Voldemort had described to him earlier. Harry silently watched him come closer, bow to Voldemort, and quietly discuss the potions he had brought with him. He didn’t bother to listen to their conversation; there was no way out, nothing left but whatever Voldemort desired. Harry felt sick to his stomach at the thought, but what could he do? He was completely trapped. No one who mattered knew where he was. A tear escaped before he could stop it, and he quickly wiped it away, squeezing his eyes shut to try to calm himself. Crying would get him nowhere, it never had.

All too soon, Voldemort approached as the scar on Harry’s forehead burned dully. He tensed as the pale man knelt before him with a deep red potion in his hand that he didn’t recognize. “Drink,” he told Harry. “Then, we begin my next experiment.”

Harry dully grasped the proffered vial and swallowed it. There was nothing else he could do, after all.

Voldemort took the empty vial from Harry as he waited for the effects of the potion to kick in. Slowly, everything around him started to become hazy, unfocused, and dull. Harry couldn’t think clearly; he felt as though his head was stuffed with cotton, and his stomach roiled, unsettled.

“How do you feel?”

The words were slow to penetrate the fog that filled Harry’s mind, but once he understood the words and what they meant, he opened his mouth. “‘S strange,” he said thickly. “I don’t… I think… I’m gon’ be sick.”

He wasn’t sure how he made it to the bucket in time as his stomach lurched horribly, but it was in front of him and he heaved, emptying his stomach as he clutched at the top edges of the bucket, unwanted tears leaking from his eyes. He almost keeled over when he at last had nothing left to bring up, but firm hands caught him and settled him against the stone walls which formed the corner he sat in. A vial of something was shoved in his mouth and he barely choked it down, letting out a sigh of relief when his stomach settled and the cloudiness cleared. Blinking, Voldemort slid back into focus, eyeing him speculatively.

“Fascinating reaction, was it not, Yaxley?”

“Indeed, my Lord,” said Yaxley quietly. “A rare reaction I’ve only read about before. That would eliminate the second option we discussed, I believe.”

Voldemort nodded thoughtfully. “Agreed. Bring me the next option.”

Yaxley placed a deep purple vial in Voldemort’s hand, which he considered for a moment before uncorking it and handing it to Harry.

Harry reached for it with a shaking hand, wanting nothing more than to smash it on the ground, but knowing better than to do so. He swallowed it and Voldemort took the empty vial away, eyes on Harry as he waited.

A floating sensation similar to being under the Imperius Curse enveloped Harry now, and he felt a strong urge to burst into giggles. He pressed his lips together to stop himself from giving in.

Voldemort seemed to sense his changed mood, however. “Tell me how you feel, Harry.”

The giggles bubbled free, and Harry flushed, slapping his hands over his mouth and feeling his cheeks heat. What was wrong with him?

But this feels good, he thought, and shook from suppressed laughter. “Sorry!” he couldn’t help but burst out. “I don’t know what I’m doing!” He laughed again.

“A rather pleasant sensation, I take it?” said Voldemort. Harry nodded, trying to suppress a smile. “I need you to focus on my voice, Harry.”

Harry nodded again and fought to quell the urge to laugh again. “Okay, I – yeah, focus. What –?”

“Close your eyes and listen to my voice.”

Harry obeyed, trying to settle.

“I need to look deep within yourself, Harry, relax your mind and reach for the sensation you experienced when you dreamt of me.”

Dreaming… Harry had dreamt of Voldemort before, drifting off in the heat of Trelawney’s class… the old fraud.

Harry broke into giggles again at the thought of her. “Sorry, I’m sorry,” he gasped out. “She’s just…”

“Who are you thinking of, Harry?”

“Professor Trelawney,” answered Harry, eyes still closed. “Keeps predicting I’m going to die, but she’s never right, y’know. Wait, she was just that once…” Harry frowned. “Said Wormtail was set to return to his master, that was…” He started laughing again. “I wasn’t born in midwinter, but she thought I was…” Shaking his head, Harry tried to remember what he was supposed to be doing, but he couldn’t recall. “What…?”

“This isn’t working, Yaxley,” said Voldemort’s voice flatly. “The antidote, now.”

A vial was pressed to Harry’s lips, and he opened his mouth, swallowing the bitter fluid that poured in. The floating sensation drained away, and Harry felt empty and horribly embarrassed. He opened his eyes to see Voldemort staring at him and smiling. “Enjoyed yourself?” he asked.

Harry bit his lip and looked away, shaking his head. “What was that?” he asked quietly.

“The wrong potion,” answered Voldemort shortly. “Perhaps the experimental potion Severus was working on fifteen years ago will work the best, after all. I am pleased you were able to make it on such short notice, Yaxley.”

“I live to serve, my Lord,” murmured Yaxley as he reached for the next vial.

The last thing Harry wanted was to consume anything Snape had invented, but when the pale blue potion was offered to him, he drank it, half-hoping it would just kill him rather than work the way Voldemort expected.

For a long moment, nothing happened. Then a calm, clouded sensation filled his senses, and he relaxed against the stone wall, eyes as unfocused as the rest of him. It was almost peaceful, to simply sit and exist without a care in the world.

“Very good, Harry,” murmured Voldemort. “You will listen to my directions.”

“Okay,” said Harry softly. That didn’t seem so difficult to do, after all.

“Tell me, do you recall the circumstances surrounding your last dream of me?”

Harry nodded, gazing at the man before him without really seeing him. “Divination class,” he said. “It was too warm, so I opened a window and just… drifted.”


“Felt like flying,” recalled Harry, lost in the memory. “Like being carried by an owl… and then I was just… there.”

“Very good, Harry,” murmured Voldemort once more. “I want you to close your eyes and recreate that moment in your mind, that drifting sensation.”

Harry closed his eyes, feeling tears slide down his cheeks. “I don’t want to,” he admitted quietly.

“You agreed to listen to my directions, Harry.”

“I know,” whispered Harry, feeling more tears spill free.

“Look deep within yourself and find that connection,” came Voldemort’s voice, almost as quiet as the softest breeze. “Find it and follow it.”

Harry nodded and sank into his mind, feeling for something deep down that had always been there but that he had never consciously explored before, and…

“That’s it, Harry, give in, follow the connection to the other side…”

And then Harry saw himself, pale and small, curled loosely in the stone corner, and he felt mounting satisfaction that wasn’t his own as he rose and stared down at the teenaged boy who had caused him so much trouble.

Harry wanted to pull away from the sight of the boy, but he couldn’t. You are mine, he thought, but was it his thought? He didn’t know anymore.

“This will do,” he said, turning away from the boy to look at Yaxley. “You have more prepared?”

“Yes, my Lord,” murmured Yaxley with a nod of his head. “I will have my house-elf deliver it at once if it pleases you.”

Harry nodded. “Send Wormtail to me,” he said. “Tell him to bring the Polyjuice Potion and a satchel.” He reached into his robes and removed the boy’s penknife. It had been a present from his godfather, so Harry ought to keep it, one more piece of the deception he was mounting.

Yaxley left and quickly returned with both Wormtail and a new bag filled with the as-yet unnamed potion that had clouded the boy’s senses and allowed him access to every thought and feeling the boy had ever had. He looked at Wormtail and saw a memory of the boy refusing to let his old friends kill him, reinforcing the knowledge that he had done well to create the failsafe that now lay within the man’s new hand.

“The satchel, Wormtail,” he commanded, and the balding man handed it over at once.

Harry looked down at the boy. “I’m taking more of your hair,” he told him as he knelt and pulled out the knife again. “The amount of hair it has taken to sustain my faithful servant at Hogwarts is far more than I will need from you, but it is always better to be safe than sorry.”

Reaching out, Harry used the knife to slice away a large swathe of hair along the boy’s right side, using his wand after to make sure each hair ended up in the small satchel. The boy’s hair looked lopsided now, cut almost to the scalp on the one side. Rising, he plucked out a hair from the satchel and dropped it into the vial of Polyjuice Potion Wormtail held, ever amused by how it turned a clear, bright gold. As awful as the potion tasted, it served its purpose well. He breathed through the painful shift, shortening, hair growing where he had none, eyes clouding from the boy’s terrible eyesight, and he took the glasses Wormtail held out to him, the world coming back into clear focus.

Harry used his wand to fix up his clothing so it would fit his shorter stature, and looked around at the boy once more. “Whenever he attempts to fight, he is to be given another vial,” he told Yaxley. “I suspect it will be once a day, but until we know for sure, he stays under constant surveillance.”

“Yes, my Lord,” said Yaxley, bowing. “Your return Portkey awaits you upstairs in the drawing room.”

Harry nodded and glanced down at the boy once more. “My servant at Hogwarts will be in contact soon,” he said. “Now then, time to fool the old man.” And he strode from the cellar, up the stairs, through the kitchen and into the drawing room. The Portkey was right where it had fallen on the carpet, and he stooped down to touch it, feeling the hook behind his navel as he was pulled back to Hogwarts, through a whirl of color and sound –

He stumbled slightly as his feet hit the ground, unused to the difference in height and bearing, and rough, calloused hands steadied him.

“All has been quiet here, my Lord,” whispered Barty Crouch Jr. through his disguise as Mad-Eye Moody. Harry felt a jolt from the boy at the realization, but it faded quickly into his own satisfaction.

“Good,” he said. “My experiments wielded fascinating results, but we will discuss it later.”

Crouch nodded and gestured to the pajamas Madam Pomfrey had insisted he wear before she had been placed under the Imperius Curse. Changing quickly, Harry slid under the familiar sheets and settled. “How long?”

“Maybe an hour,” said Crouch. “Potter’s friends tend to rise earlier when they are worried about him.”

Harry nodded. He could recall every instance the boy had been in this place, the way the blood traitor and the Mudblood loyally stayed by his side, and felt amused by it. Loyalty to someone who seemed to be, at best, exceptionally ordinary?

He settled down on the bed and relaxed, mind wandering aimlessly through the boy’s memories until his two friends arrived. “Is he awake yet?” came the voice of the girl, Granger.

“Yes, but mind yourselves, he’s still very confused,” said the matron in her usual no-nonsense voice.

Crouch rose and glared around the curtain that separated Harry from the rest of the hospital wing. “You get ten minutes,” he said. “Someone at this school isn’t who they claimed to be, and Potter has already suffered for it. I’ll not be letting him out of my sight while he’s in here, understand?”

“Yes, sir,” said Weasley.

“We understand, Professor,” said Granger quickly. Harry forced himself to sit up as the two students came around the curtain. “Hi, Harry,” said Granger – Hermione, quietly. “How are you feeling?”

Harry shrugged. “Dunno,” he said in an equally quiet voice.

“Any nightmares?” asked Ron.

“Madam Pomfrey gave me Dreamless Sleep last night,” Harry lied.

“What about your scar?” asked Hermione. “You kept rubbing it last night.”

“Nothing since I woke up,” said Harry. He shrugged again. “D’you really think he’s back?”

“Dumbledore seems to think so,” said Hermione.

“But wouldn’t he have tried to kill you if he was back?” said Ron with a frown. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

“That’s what makes Voldemort so dangerous,” grunted Crouch with a barely-concealed gleam of amusement in his eye. “Unpredictable, it’s why his followers were so damn hard to catch.”

“Has – has anyone said anything about – about Cedric?” Harry forced himself to ask.

“No,” sighed Hermione quietly, looking at the bag of gold on Harry’s bedside table. “I think most of the school is still in shock.”

Harry looked over at the bag of gold. “It should’ve been Cedric’s,” he said softly. “He had a clear path, and he just – he wouldn’t leave me there, so we took the Cup together.” He shook his head. “How can someone be there one moment and just – just gone the next? I don’t understand.”

There was a moment of uncomfortable silence.

“Whatever happened was bad, no doubt about it,” said Crouch at last. “And if it was Voldemort, I have to wonder if he forgave the followers who abandoned him.”

“He doesn’t seem the forgiving type,” snorted Ron. “Left Quirrell to die when he failed to get the Philosopher’s Stone, didn’t he?”

“But why let Harry live?” Hermione persisted.

“It’s like you think he did kill me and replaced me with an imposter,” Harry tried to joke, but it felt weak to his ears.

“Dumbledore would’ve known if that had happened,” said Hermione at once. “It’s obviously you. I just wish you could remember what happened.”

“I know,” sighed Harry. “It’s strange, not knowing.”

Crouch-as-Moody dismissed the two Gryffindors a few minutes later, and they cast Harry worried looks before they left.

“Your talent for deception is astounding,” murmured Crouch in astonishment. “How have you managed to become the boy so completely?”

Harry smirked. “I told you there is a… connection between us, something I did not know about before,” he said, and Crouch nodded. “I utilized it. The boy’s mind is completely at my mercy to sift through and use at my leisure.”

Crouch gazed at him in amazement and admiration. “Your command of magic knows no bounds, my Lord,” he murmured. “What are our next steps?”

“Finish out the school year and go to the house of the boy’s Muggle relatives,” said Harry decisively. He snagged the boy’s wand from the bedside table and Summoned the robes he’d taken off an hour earlier, reaching into them to retrieve the satchel of stolen hair. “Will your supply of Polyjuice will see us both through?”

“Yes, my Lord,” said Crouch, taking the satchel from Harry. His human eye widened when Harry pulled out his own wand.

“I trust you will keep this safe?” Harry said.

“On my life, I swear it,” murmured Crouch reverently as he accepted the yew wand and stored it carefully in his own robes.

“You have been most faithful,” said Harry softly to Crouch. “You will be greatly rewarded for your service when our ruse is at an end.”

“Thank you, my Lord,” said Crouch. “I will not fail you.”

Harry nodded, certain the words were true. His faithful servant had not failed him once since he had rescued him from his father, and he knew he could continue to depend on him to see things through.

Hundreds of miles away in a cold cellar, the boy couldn’t stop his sobs of despair from the realization that his best friends had been so easily and thoroughly fooled. It was to be the first of many heartbreaks suffered in the days that would follow. The boy wept as he had never done before just a few hours later when Mrs. Weasley engulfed Harry in a warm hug and promised that he could come to stay just as soon as Dumbledore allowed it because that wasn’t him, that wasn’t Harry, and yet it was. He could feel her warm embrace as though she was touching him, but she wasn’t, not really; the boy was trapped with no way out, and she couldn’t even see it!

Cedric’s parents stopped by for a short visit. Harry secretly reveled in leaving them with more questions than answers as the boy shook with suppressed rage in the background of his mind. They would never know their only son died on his feet, confused by a situation he had not been meant to witness, concerned for the boy and only just starting to raise his wand in self-defense when he met his untimely end. Mr. Diggory sobbed, but his wife had merely nodded, seemingly beyond grief.

“Whatever happened, he died thinking he’d won,” she said softly. “He must’ve been happy.”

The boy screamed in rage and heartache that evening when Dumbledore himself visited and explained how Professor Snape had ascertained that Wormtail had killed Cedric on Voldemort’s orders simply because he was there and not needed; that he had merely desired Harry for his blood, to partake in the blood protection from his mother which would allow the Dark wizard to endure physical contact to Harry without experiencing pain; that the blood protection was tied into a very specific charm that protected him so long as he returned to Privet Drive once each year. “He cannot harm you there,” said Dumbledore gravely. “I trust you can understand how imperative it is that you maintain a place of safety, especially now that Voldemort has returned.”

Harry nodded. “Just – how does that work, exactly, sir?” he couldn’t help but ask. “Is it – I mean, that summer when I ran away from Privet Drive, I didn’t want to go back, but Fudge made it sound like I had no choice. But when I thought I wasn’t going back, why didn’t the protection break then?”

“It was because you merely thought you would not be able to return, Harry,” said Dumbledore gently. “You did not know that you would never go back.”

Harry nodded a bit. “So… when does it stop working?”

“When you turn seventeen,” said Dumbledore, “or when it is clear that you and your relatives will part ways forever.”

Harry nodded again. “I don’t like going back there, sir,” he admitted. “I – I hate it there.”

“It is not for long,” said Dumbledore kindly. “I believe you will be able to reunite with your friends sometime around your birthday. There are important things that must be done and put in place first to ensure that can happen, however.”

Harry sighed and gave another nod.

The boy realized the horrible truth in that moment as Dumbledore rose and bid Harry a good night, the awful realization of what he, Harry had done the previous night.

He had accepted his fate.

He had ended the charm already.

Harry pulled hard and gasped, coming back to himself, to the aches and pains of a body that had been crammed into a dirt-stained corner following too much physical torture, stomach painfully empty, and with an uncomfortably full bladder.

“Around fourteen hours,” said a voice, and Harry startled, looking up to see Yaxley sitting in a chair nearby. “Crouch’s owl says you’re allowed your rest at night, so we can wait ‘til morning to give you the next dose and send you back.”

Harry winced as he tucked his legs against his chest and wrapped his arms around them, not saying anything.

“I’ve already checked your pockets to make sure you’ve got no way to escape,” Yaxley told him. “I will give you two minutes to yourself while I fetch your meal for the evening. Don’t waste them.” He rose and strode from view.

Harry stared after him, licked his dry lips, and slowly heaved himself to his feet and towards the bucket as the chains binding him to the corner rattled and clanked; the metal container had thankfully been emptied from when he’d been sick in it early that morning. Having nothing else to use was embarrassing, but Harry knew he had no choice. Despite the heat rising in his cheeks, he did his best to quickly attend to his business and had just collapsed weakly on the dirt floor again when Yaxley returned carrying a tray. He set it near Harry and waved his wand at the bucket. “Evanesco!” The smell disappeared.

“You get fifteen minutes to eat, boy,” said Yaxley. “Once Nott arrives, your leftovers leave with me, understand?”

Harry nodded and reached shaking hands out for the tray. He knew better than to shovel the thin soup and bread into his mouth as quickly as possible after having been sick early that morning, but he was also so very hungry. His stomach cramped, but it seemed everything was going to stay down.

Just as Harry shoved the last bit of bread into his mouth, footsteps overhead announced that someone was there. Moments later, a thin man with brown hair approached. Yaxley rose, Summoned the tray, and started to leave. “Our Lord desires the prisoner get his rest at this time,” he told the other man. “I will return at dawn to give him his next dose so that the Dark Lord can successfully continue his deception at Hogwarts.”

The man shot Harry a smirk. “I’m sure we’ll be best of friends, won’t we, boy?”

Harry pulled his legs closer to his chest and said nothing.

“Good night, Nott,” said Yaxley, and he left.

Nott settled down onto the chair Yaxley had vacated and pulled out a copy of the Evening Prophet. “Best get your beauty sleep, Potter,” he said quietly. “You look about dead on your feet.” He chuckled darkly and said no more.

Harry didn’t have the energy to glare at him, and wasn’t sure if he’d simply get tortured again if he dared try. Instead, he did his best to settle himself on the dirt floor against the stone wall and closed his eyes.

It was a testament to the extreme exhaustion Harry was suffering from that he managed to drop off, too tired to dream, to think, to worry about Yaxley’s inevitable return, to do anything but give into the arms of slumber.

Back to index

Chapter 9: Knowledge

Author's Notes: So the last chapter was rough. Wasn't hard to write, in all honesty. I was in a very dark headspace when I wrote it a year ago. Anyway, I thought I'd share the next chapter early since it's a bit lighter! Or well, as light as is possible given the entire premise of this story. We're picking up pretty much right after where chapter 7 left off; Ginny has figured out how Voldemort's deception worked. Enjoy!

Chapter Nine: Knowledge

Sirius said they shouldn’t share what Harry had told them until Remus returned the next day, so Ginny kept her silence. Hermione pestered her that evening for more information when she came downstairs at her mum’s insistence for dinner (“You eat up there all the time, you can at least give us dinner as a family every once in a while”), but Ginny wouldn’t budge on her need to stay silent. “I’m not about to betray his trust,” she finally snapped when Hermione wouldn’t leave her alone as her mum set an apple pie on the table.

“But we’re his friends and we want to help!”


The entire room fell silent. Fred and George gaped, Bill closed his eyes, and her mother froze, the knife in her hand inches from the pie.

“Ginny…” her father whispered.

Ginny glared at Hermione and then then looked at Ron. “Have either of you ever gone out of your way to betray Harry’s confidence?” she demanded, ignoring the rest of the family.

“No,” said Ron softly. “We haven’t.”

“And yet you expect me to do just that,” Ginny told Hermione angrily.

“Ginny –” said Bill.

“No!” Ginny cut him off. “Pestering me makes it seem like you believe that because you were his friend first, it gives you the right to know everything about him!” She shook her head. “It doesn’t.”

“Ginny, please –” Bill tried again, but Ginny shot him a look of pure venom, and he fell silent.

“I know you’re hurting right now,” she told Hermione. “Harry doesn’t trust you, and I expect that must sting something fierce, but…” She ran a hand through her hair. “You can’t push him into trusting you,” she finally said. “It’s got to be done on his terms, not yours.”

Hermione had tears tracking down her face, and Ron was pale. He sighed heavily. “His terms,” he said. “Not ours. Okay.” He met Ginny’s eyes. “Tell him we’re sorry, but we’ll wait,” he told her. “Whenever he’s ready.”

Hermione nodded and fled from the kitchen. Ginny sighed and dropped her head onto the table. “I seem to bring out that reaction in her a lot lately,” she said to the wooden surface.

“Eh, I do it on a weekly basis,” said Ron dismissively, and Ginny heard the twins chuckle in agreement. “She’s just used to having all the answers and such. This isn’t –” He broke off and Ginny lifted her head to see Ron glancing at the rest of their family before shrugging. “I was his first friend,” he said quietly. “His cousin always chased off anyone who might have tried before Hogwarts, but then he had me, and now, to have gone from that to not real – it’s hard to wrap my head around it.” He shook his head. “I know I was an idiot for a bit there this past year, but this is – well, this hurts more.”

Ginny nodded. “I’m sorry,” she said.

“Not your fault, is it?” said Ron. “It’s all You-Know-Who’s, really.”

“Yes,” said Ginny sadly. “It really is.”

“This is a difficult time for all of us,” said Arthur, pulling off his glasses and rubbing at his face. “We all care a great deal about Harry. It would be a lie to say your mother and I don’t think of him as a seventh son.” He put his glasses back on and met Ginny’s eyes. “I won’t pretend to understand how it is that he is able to trust anyone at all right now, but... I remain unendingly grateful that he maintains that ability, and that he has bestowed his trust upon you.” He reached out and placed his hands over Ginny’s.

Ginny swallowed hard and smiled tremulously at her father. “I truly believe,” he told her, “that out of all of us, you have what it takes to bring him back home.”

“Thank you, Daddy,” she whispered, blinking back tears.

There was a moment of silence.

“Can it be pie time now?” asked Fred.

“Fred!” Molly reprimanded him.

“What?” said George. “You’ve got a perfectly good knife just waiting to slice into one of your best creations!”

Molly opened her mouth, but Ginny beat her to it.

“It’s fine, Mum,” she said, forcing a happier smile on her face. “I would love a slice of apple pie right now.”

Bill caught her eye as their mother sighed, nodded and began to slice up the pie. He leaned in closer. “All right?” he asked her.

Ginny nodded. “You?”

Bill shrugged. “Been better, I suppose. I know I haven’t known Harry as long as the rest of you, but it was clear to me from the moment he stumbled out of the Floo last summer why it is Mum and Dad care about him. Not being trusted by someone who matters to us so much...”

“It’s painful?” suggested Ginny softly.

“Incredibly so,” agreed Bill as Molly set plates of pie in front of them both. “I still keep thinking back to that night, and the next day, and it kills me that I couldn’t see the truth.”

In that moment, Ginny wanted more than ever to explain the truth of the matter, to share what she had only known herself since that morning, but she had promised Sirius to keep her silence. “I know,” she said instead, and turned her attention to the warm piece of pie before her.

Hermione was already curled up under her covers when Ginny entered their bedroom fifteen minutes later; the older girl was clearly feigning sleep. Ginny had no idea what to say to her after that confrontation in the kitchen, so she kept her silence, instead sliding under the covers of her own bed and doing her best to relax. She drifted off into a fitful sleep filled with cold laughter.

“Good morning,” murmured Remus when Ginny stepped out of her shared bedroom the next morning.

“Hullo,” yawned Ginny. “Glad you’re back.”

“It’s good to be back,” said Remus. “Your mother should have breakfast ready. I’ll be up with Harry and Sirius.”

Ginny nodded as Remus gently patted her shoulder and slipped up the stairs.

Sirius fed Harry his breakfast once Ginny had headed downstairs to collect the tray from her mother. Hermione had already been in the kitchen when she arrived, but said nothing, instead staring blankly into her mug of tea, her breakfast plate untouched. Ginny felt awful about the dejected look on her face, but as she had no idea what to do or say to make things better, she kept her silence, accepting the tray from Molly and retreating back upstairs as quickly as possible.

They got Harry up and moving that morning for something other than trips to the bathroom. Harry wanted to see the photograph on the wall of Sirius, Remus, and his father, and he walked over to it slowly, but without trembling as much as he had the day before. He lightly touched the photo and smiled. “You look happy,” he said.

“We were,” said Remus. “Some of the best days of our lives.”

Sirius smiled and nodded. “I’ve got a box in here somewhere of letters I received from James. Lily, too.”

Harry looked around at him. “Want to see them,” he admitted softly.

“I’ll see if I can find them,” promised Sirius.

Harry wasn’t able to manage walking independently for too long, but that he’d been able to manage at all was a testament to the good being done by the food and potions. Harry’s face seemed less gaunt, at least.

Remus had brought an old copy of the Tales of Beedle the Bard to pass the time. Harry hadn’t heard of it, so Ginny volunteered to read the stories out loud to him. She settled down in the chair and decided to start with Ron’s favorite, the Tale of the Three Brothers.

Harry proved a confused audience. “Wait, Death spoke to them?” he interrupted her at one point.

Ginny laughed. “That’s the nature of children’s stories, Harry,” she told him. “Things happen in them that couldn’t occur in real life.”

Harry frowned. “Muggles have children’s stories like this, don’t they?” Ginny asked him.

Harry nodded. “Didn’t really get to hear or read them,” he said. “The Dursleys –” He broke off awkwardly. “They didn’t like anything to do with magic.”

Ginny looked around at Sirius, remembering him telling her about Harry’s comment of having been a “waste of space.”

“And that included you,” Sirius said quietly. Harry looked down at his lap and nodded.

“He killed them because of that,” he said. “Killed a Muggle the very first night after Cedric. Killed… parents.” He swallowed. “Too much death,” he said. He pointed at himself. “All because of…”

“Harry, none of those deaths were your fault,” said Remus, sitting down next to Harry and placing a hand on his shoulder. “Not one of them.”

Harry shook his head. “Prophecy,” he said, pointing at himself again. “Killed parents because of it.”

There was a shocked look on the faces of both Remus and Sirius that Ginny didn’t quite understand. “Prophecy?” she said. “What d’you –?”

“You know about the prophecy?” said Sirius. “Did – did he tell you?”

Harry nodded. “First night,” he said. “Used penknife to escape, tried to get help from a Muggle.” He looked away. “He killed the man. Talked about prophecy.” He shook his head again. “No escape after that.”

Ginny stared at Harry, aghast at what she was hearing. A prophecy was the reason for why Voldemort had killed the Potters and attempted to kill Harry, as well?

And then to know that Harry had tried to get away, only to be caught and see someone else die?

“Cedric?” she asked before she could stop herself.

“He said to ‘kill the spare,’” was Harry’s quiet reply. “He shouldn’t have been there. Told him to take the cup, got him killed.”

“You couldn’t have known what would happen,” said Sirius. “None of us knew who couldn’t be trusted until it was far too late.”

Harry shrugged. “He didn’t like the Dursleys,” he said, completely sidestepping Sirius’s comment. “Didn’t like their attitude about magic. Wanted to undo everything Dumbledore ever did.”

“That isn’t your fault, either,” said Remus. “Every last one of those deaths, Harry, none of them were your fault. You know Voldemort is evil and cruel. You know he manipulates and lies. Lily and James knew what they were getting into when they joined the Order. We all did. And the prophecy…” Remus hesitated a moment, then said, “Voldemort doesn’t even know the entire thing. He acted on partial information, which was, again, nothing to do with you.”

“There… there’s more?” said Harry, looking shocked.

Sirius nodded. “We don’t know what it says, only that the spy who overheard it didn’t hear the entire thing. Dumbledore’s the only one who knows what it says in its entirety.”

“Oh.” Harry blinked and looked down at his hands.

“There’s a prophecy?” Ginny interjected. “That’s why he killed them?”

Sirius and Remus both started, and Ginny realized they must have forgotten she was even there. Harry, however, looked at her steadily and nodded. “Could’ve been Neville instead,” he told her. “The one with the power to vanquish him was going to be born at the end of July to parents who had defied him three times.” He pointed at himself once more and gave her a sad smile. “Two boys. Made his choice.”

Ginny gaped at Harry. She hadn’t taken Divination after hearing Ron and Hermione’s complaints about the subject her second year, not to mention the way every third year Gryffindor student that year had worried about the constant predictions that Harry was going to die, but this… this went beyond what she had ever dreamt possible.

Sirius looked at Remus. “There’s a copy of it in the Department of Mysteries at the Ministry,” he said. “We’ve been guarding it so he can’t hear the whole thing.”

“Sirius –”

“There’s no point concealing the truth, Moony,” snapped Sirius. “He already knows.”

“You know Molly wouldn’t want Ginny to be hearing any of this,” said Remus carefully.

“I don’t care what my mother wants,” said Ginny hotly. “I can’t help Harry get better if I don’t know everything. We’ve got to be on the same page here!”

Remus sighed and put his head in his hands. “Ginny…”

“I’m glad I know,” said Ginny. “Please don’t take that away from me.”

Remus looked up, shocked. “I’m not about to Obliviate you,” he said. “I would never do that. But you’re entwined in a great deal more than your mother would want. You’re only thirteen!”

“That’s the age Harry was when he took on over a hundred dementors and saved Buckbeak so Sirius could escape,” snapped Ginny. “He was twelve than when he faced that basilisk and the diary to save my life. He was only eleven when he faced Voldemort to keep him from getting the Philosopher’s Stone.” She glared at the adults. “Setting aside the fact that I’m almost fourteen myself, does age really matter? I think it’s fair to say Harry and I have already been through more than most adults.”

She happened to glance over at Harry to see him smiling at her. “She gets to know,” he said.

“I think that settles it, then,” said Ginny firmly. Remus sighed and straightened, stepping away from the bed, but Sirius was grinning.

“I knew I kept you around for a good reason,” he said. Ginny rolled her eyes, but smiled back.

“So there’s a copy of the prophecy in the Ministry,” she said, forcing them back on track. “That’s what you’ve all been guarding.”

“We had a guard shift on Privet Drive, as well,” said Sirius, grin fading. “Did Crouch supply more Polyjuice Potion on his shifts as Moody?” he asked Harry.

Ginny watched as he nodded. “Voldemort had the Dursleys under the Imperius Curse,” he added.

“But what about the day he killed them?” asked Remus, turning back to look at the rest. “We had a member of the Order standing guard and she noticed nothing out of the ordinary.”

“Crouch Obliviated her,” said Harry with a shrug. “Took less than five minutes.”

“And you watched Voldemort kill the Dursleys,” said Sirius quietly.

“Saw everything,” answered Harry softly.

Remus frowned. “What does that mean?”

Ginny and Sirius carefully explained what they now knew; the use of Snape’s potion, what Harry was forced to do, all of it. The expression on Remus’s face was nothing short of heartbreaking.

Harry stared at the bedspread through the entire explanation, shoulders stiff. Ginny knew it was painful to have to discuss it again, but Remus was real and therefore deserved to know, just as she deserved to know as much as possible about the prophecy. She carefully reached out when silence fell in Sirius’s bedroom and placed her hands over Harry’s. “None of it was your fault,” she told him gently. “You know that’s what he does, twisting things until we don’t know which way is up.”

Harry nodded a bit, but wouldn’t meet her eyes. “He – he’s –” He broke off with a gasp of pain, pulling his hands away from Ginny and slapping them over his scar as his eyes slammed shut.

No, Ginny thought in horror, no, not again.

“Harry, shut the door, now!” she told him urgently, cupping his jaw in her hands. “Lock him out!”

Harry was gritting his teeth as he hunched over. Sirius and Remus gathered in on either side of him, hands on his shoulders. “C’mon, Harry,” whispered Sirius, “you can do it.”

Harry tensed even more, shaking his head so forcefully Ginny’s hands were almost dislodged. “Hurts,” he forced out through a clenched jaw.

“I know,” said Ginny, voice tight, “but he doesn’t get to do this to you. Shut him out and lock that door.”

Harry had begun to shake, from the effort of getting Voldemort out of his mind or from the pain, Ginny didn’t know, but she wasn’t giving up on him.

“Harry, he doesn’t get to do this to you,” she told him fiercely.

Harry nodded against her hands. “Get out,” he whispered. “Don’t want you in here, get out, get out, GET OUT!” He ended on a yell before slumping forward, Ginny catching him against her chest with a grunt. She wrapped her arms around him and felt him doing the same, breathing harshly as he clung to her.

“I’ve got you,” she told him softly, lifting a hand to the back of his head and scratching at the back of his scalp the way she had come to know he liked. Harry’s breathing slowed along with his heartbeat the longer Ginny held him, and his grip on her became less desperate. She could feel his breath on her collarbone and marveled at how wonderful it was to be this close to him.

“Tired,” Harry finally whispered.

“I’d be surprised if you were bouncing with energy,” said Sirius shakily. “Let’s have you lie down, kiddo, rest up a bit.”

Ginny allowed Sirius and Remus to guide Harry onto his side. He drifted off almost at once, clutching at Remus’s hand. “What he has endured,” he whispered as he gazed at Harry’s sleeping face. “My God, I can scarcely believe he maintains the ability to trust anyone.”

“Yeah, that about sums up the last twenty-four hours for the both of us,” said Sirius with ill-humor. “But this still tells us next to nothing about those last two weeks before we found him.”

Ginny watched as Remus nodded slowly. “We can’t push him more,” he said. “What we already know is monumental enough.”

“Do we tell everyone else?” asked Ginny.

“No,” said Remus, shaking his head a bit. “Or at least, not until necessary. We’re still waiting to figure out the full impact of Crouch’s arrest, among other things.”

Ginny frowned. “What’s happening with that, exactly?” she asked. “I haven’t paid attention to anything but Harry the last few days, to be honest.”

Remus raised his eyebrows. “What about your boyfriend?” he asked her. “Michael Corner, wasn’t it?”

Ginny felt her face heat up and looked away. “Ah, there’s that blush Harry described as being ‘like the setting sun,’” laughed Sirius.

“When did Harry say that?” asked Remus, an amused smile lighting up his tired face.

“When Ginny woke up from a kip yesterday,” said Sirius, grinning widely. “And she just grinned so stupidly at him –” He broke off to duck the pillow Ginny launched at him.

“You are incorrigible,” she hissed at him, knowing her face was positively burning.

Sirius shrugged. “And yet, you’ve not written your boyfriend in how long? I’m only pointing out the obvious –”

Ginny glared, and he broke off with hands raised in surrender. “I think I’ll go write to Michael right now,” she hissed and stalked from the room, completely forgetting to grab the empty breakfast tray as had been her custom since Harry’s arrival.

Hermione was not in the room they shared when Ginny entered, which she couldn’t help but count as a small mercy. Calling Sirius some of the rudest names she could think of under her breath, she snagged the unopened letters from Michael off the top of her dresser and dropped onto her bed to read them.

It took less than three sentences into the first one before it hit her:

It was boring. More than that, Michael was boring. He talked about his family, their trip to Spain, his baby sister’s accidental magic, all perfectly normal things, but not one bit of it piqued Ginny’s interest. None of it felt important. He had been so nice at the Yule Ball and after, he treated her kindly and paid attention to her, and he made her feel happy.

And yet... the happiness she felt with Michael paled in comparison to every moment of Harry’s smile and laughter. And what was more, she was the one bringing out every smile and laugh. He responded to her as he did with no one else. He trusted her.

Ginny squeezed her eyes shut and tilted her head back as the truth hit her: she still fancied Harry, and it was worse than before.

“I’m supposed to be moving on,” she groaned, flopping onto her bed as Michael’s letters fluttered to the floor. “I’m happy with Michael!”

You’re happier with Harry, her traitorous mind whispered.

And it was true. She knew it was true. She wanted to be with Harry, no matter how badly hurt he currently was. But how could she do this when his trust could only mean a new level of friendship? She knew he fancied Cho Chang, someone who was sweet, played Quidditch, and was very popular. Someone everyone liked.

Ginny knew she was sweet enough, but her sense of humor and sharp tongue were quite different from Cho. She also knew she was more than capable of being an excellent Quidditch player, but there was yet to be an opportunity to prove herself. As for popularity… she had friends, a good deal more friends this last year than her first or second years combined. Did she even have a hope of measuring up to Cho?

Stop it, she told herself firmly. You’re with Michael. You like him. He’s nice and pays attention to you. Stop thinking about Harry. Resolving to do better for Michael, she forced herself to sit up and read through the letters he had written her. Her response to him wasn’t the best, but respond to him she did.

Ginny had to move on. Having Harry’s trust didn’t mean she could allow her personal feelings to get in the way. Like her father had said, she was likely the only one who could help Harry regain his ability to trust those she knew he cared about, and she was determined to do just that.

It was close to lunchtime when Pigwidgeon set off with Ginny’s letter to Michael, so Ginny headed down to the kitchen to retrieve the lunch tray her mother had made up. “I don’t suppose you or Sirius will be joining us in cleaning out the rest of the drawing-room?” Molly asked in a would-be casual voice.

Ginny shook her head. “I don’t think so. I can ask Sirius about it, though.” She seized the prepared tray and quickly left before Molly could ask her anything else. In truth, she was wary of staying too long and being asked uncomfortable questions that could lead to her revealing the horrible truth of Harry’s time in captivity. It didn’t matter that she didn’t know all of it; just those first weeks alone was awful enough, never mind whatever had happened after the end of Voldemort’s deception.

Harry wanted to try feeding himself the soup Molly had made for him, and he managed all right for about the first third before he was trembling too much to manage anymore. Sirius fed him the rest, handed over the potions, and then settled down with a box from his wardrobe while Harry laid down again to conserve his strength. “The letters I mentioned should be in here,” he explained at the curious looks both Harry and Ginny gave him. Then he snorted. “This is the only kind of ‘de-junking’ I'm interested in,” he added.

“Mum wanted to know if either of us was going to come help out in the drawing-room again,” sighed Ginny. “I don’t think she’s made the others do much the last few days.”

Sirius snorted again. “Plenty of time for Kreacher to go digging around for things he doesn’t want thrown out,” he said with a scowl.

Harry shot bolt upright. “Kreacher?” he said, eyes wide and face horribly pale.

Ginny exchanged a bewildered look with Sirius and Remus. “He’s Sirius’s house elf,” she said. “Nasty little thing, you should’ve seen the way he stared at that locket we couldn’t open the other day –”

“Kreacher’s dead,” said Harry. “He killed him.”

Sirius stared at Harry, confusion written across his face. “Kreacher’s been a part of my family longer than I’ve been alive,” he said slowly. “He’s very much alive, much as I might wish otherwise.”

“No,” said Harry. “No, he needed an elf and he used Kreacher. He left Kreacher to die on the island in the cave.”

Island? Cave? Ginny was completely baffled by this. Sirius frowned and then called out, “Kreacher!”

There was a sharp crack! and the ugly, wrinkled elf appeared. “Master called for Kreacher?” he asked in a derisive tone of voice.

Harry gaped at Kreacher. “No,” he said. “No, you died that day.”

“Harry, what are you talking about?” asked Ginny, feeling more and more alarmed at the look on Harry’s face.

Harry swallowed hard and looked at her. “Voldemort made Kreacher drink a potion to hide a locket. Years ago. Saw it in his mind.”

Ginny sucked in a surprised breath. So did Kreacher.

“Master Regulus said never to tell,” he croaked in his deep voice. “How does the Potter boy know about the potion and the locket?”

“What’s going on?” asked Remus. “Harry –”

“Where’s the locket?” Harry demanded. “It’s supposed to be in the cave.”

“Kreacher does not have to answer the question of the filthy half-blood, no he does not,” said Kreacher, staring at the bed rather than at Harry.

“Right, I have named and cemented Harry James Potter as the heir to the House of Black, so you’d best be telling him whatever he wants to know,” snapped Sirius. “Answer the question, Kreacher.”

Kreacher quivered, then abruptly broke into tears. “Kreacher failed Master Regulus, Kreacher cannot destroy the locket!”

“Where is it?” said Harry fiercely. “Of course you can’t destroy it, it’s supposed to be difficult!”

Ginny was completely confused by what was going on. Harry was speaking more than ever before, and seemed incredibly on edge. “What is the locket to you?” she forced herself to ask.

“It’s –” Harry broke off. “It’s his. It’s important.” His eyes wandered sightlessly around the room. “The diary,” he said, and Ginny started. “Dumbledore saw, he might know –” He looked at Sirius. “The locket needs to go to Dumbledore,” he said. “It’s like the diary. Tell him that. He’ll understand.”

Sirius stared at Harry. “Please,” said Harry urgently. “It’s important.”

Nodding slowly, Sirius turned to Kreacher. “I order you to bring me the locket,” he said. “Whatever it is, Dumbledore will take care of it. After that, you’ve got some explaining to do about my brother and what happened to him, because I think you know.”

Kreacher nodded through his tears and vanished with another crack! He reappeared moments later holding the locket Ginny had tried to open several days earlier. Harry glared at it in revulsion before looking away, one hand drifting almost unconsciously to his scar.

“What is it, Harry?” Ginny asked him, but he shook his head and quickly dropped his hand back to his lap.

“Evil,” he finally said. “Just… evil.” He didn’t say another word, but listened along with the rest of them as Kreacher spun a dark tale about doing Voldemort’s bidding by drinking a terrible potion on an island in a lake set inside a large cave by the sea; returning to Regulus and telling him of what he had done before hiding for a few days at the younger Black’s command; and taking Regulus to the cave where he died at the hands of Inferi in the lake.

Sirius was white as a sheet when Kreacher finished. “What is this thing?” he said, looking at the locket Kreacher had handed him. “Why did Voldemort go to such lengths to protect it?”

Harry shook his head again. “Take it to Dumbledore,” he repeated. “Sorry about Regulus,” he told Kreacher. “He – Voldemort doesn’t know it’s gone. It worked. Dumbledore can destroy it.”

Kreacher, still hiccupping from crying, nodded. “You didn’t fail,” Harry added quietly. “Please believe that.”

“Harry’s right,” said Sirius, still staring at the locket. “Whatever this is, bringing it to me was exactly what I think Regulus would’ve wanted, given the circumstances.” He swallowed hard and looked down at the old elf. “Thank you, Kreacher,” he told him. “I always feared my brother got cold feet and ran for it – knowing he died to get this away from Voldemort – whatever it is – it seems much more like the brother I thought I knew.”

Kreacher nodded. “Master Regulus hoped never to see his brother in battle,” he said croakily. “He didn’t think he could ever hurt Master Sirius.”

“And nor could I,” said Sirius. “We disagreed on so many things… but he was always my brother, first and foremost. I hope he knew that.”

After a moment, Sirius rose. “I will ensure Dumbledore gets this,” he said. He dismissed Kreacher, and the shaking elf disappeared with another sharp crack.

“Harry,” said Remus softly, “are you sure you won’t tell us what it is?”

Harry shook his head. “Can’t risk it,” he said quietly. “But Dumbledore – he would know. Sure of it.”

Sirius nodded and sent off a Patronus a moment later. Ginny watched the large silvery dog go, then turned her attention to Harry as he picked at a stray thread on the comforter. He looked exhausted. “I think you need to rest, Harry,” she said softly. Harry met her eyes and nodded.

“Stay?” he asked her.

“Always,” she replied, sitting next to him and taking his hand in hers. “I’ll be here when you wake.”

Harry smiled at her, set aside his glasses, and drifted off. Dumbledore’s phoenix Patronus arrived shortly after informing Sirius that he would be there within the hour, and Sirius left Remus with Ginny and Harry to await his arrival.

Back to index

Chapter 10: Forward

Author's Notes: Two chapters in one week? You lot are being spoiled lol

I really like this chapter for the ending. You'll see what I mean when you get there ;) enjoy!

Chapter Ten: Forward

Sirius was sitting on the stairs when the front door opened and Albus entered Grimmauld Place. “Good,” he breathed, rising. “This way, please. I don’t think we want to be overheard.”

Albus nodded and followed Sirius upstairs to Regulus’s old room. Sirius shut and locked the door firmly before turning to face the headmaster.

“Your Patronus said this was an urgent matter,” said Albus. “Is it to do with Harry?”

“Yes, and no,” said Sirius. “It’s – well, I don’t rightly know what to make of what occurred earlier today. I mentioned Kreacher, and well – Harry claimed the elf was supposed to be dead, and at Voldemort’s hand.”

Albus raised his eyebrows but said nothing.

“Obviously I called for Kreacher to prove otherwise, but Harry became very agitated and started asking Kreacher about a locket.”

“A locket,” repeated Albus, expression unreadable.

Sirius nodded. “I got Kreacher talking and –” He broke off and shook his head. “Quite the tale, it was.” He described all that Kreacher had told him about the cave, the potion, the locket, and his brother’s fate.

He had long assumed his brother had gotten cold feet and backed out of being a Death Eater only to die for it, but this story… it told of a very different brother to the one Sirius had thought he’d had at the end there.

Albus’s expression was like stone by the time he finished the story. “Harry insisted on knowing where the real locket was, said it was difficult to destroy.” Sirius reached into his trouser pocket and pulled it out now to show the headmaster. “He says it’s like the diary,” he told him. “He also says you know what it is and how to destroy it.”

Albus reached out almost hesitantly for the locket. “Harry knows,” he breathed. At last his fingers closed around the cold metal and pulled it from Sirius’s palm. “But how…?” He looked at Sirius. “I must speak with Harry. I need to know what he knows.”

Sirius scowled. “Not happening,” he said.

“Sirius, this is of the utmost importance.”

“I don’t care,” snapped Sirius. “He’s not ready to talk to anyone who isn’t real, and you’re not on the list.”

“Sirius, I understand Harry is struggling to trust those who were fooled by Voldemort’s deception –”

“He saw you be fooled!” Sirius hissed venomously. “Snape’s potion was used to make him reach across that connection they’ve got and see everything Voldemort was doing. He watched you look at him without seeing it wasn’t really him!”

Albus closed his eyes for a long moment as he drew in a deep breath. “I had wondered,” he finally spoke, “if that had been Voldemort’s intention. It explains how I saw nothing but Harry when I attempted Legilimency the day after the Third Task.”

Sirius nodded angrily. “His friends, Molly, you... none of you are trustworthy in his eyes. Remus and I escaped the same fate by virtue of not having been there for him to witness the deceit in person. We really only had letters.” He swallowed. “Ginny is the only one who’s earned the right to be real. She saw the moments that didn’t make sense, and even if she didn’t connect the dots quickly enough, Harry still saw her trying. He trusts her, Albus.”

Albus sighed. “I still need to speak with Harry,” he said.

“No.” Sirius crossed his arms over his chest, ready to stand his ground. “He’s too fragile right now.”

“Sirius –”

“He knows the prophecy, Albus,” Sirius cut him off, inwardly pleased when Albus’s face paled. “Or at least, as much of it as Voldemort knows. Do you really think he would want to so much as look at you given your refusal to tell him the truth on your own terms?” He glared at the headmaster. “It seems clear to me Voldemort’s experiments were designed to figure out why Harry’s the one from the prophecy.” He spun away, disgusted. “I expect he found what he was looking for and that’s why he was ready to kill him.”

Albus was silent for so long Sirius finally turned back to look at him. “If Voldemort had realized exactly why Harry is the one from the prophecy,” he said softly, “he would not have killed him. Had he known the truth, then we would never have found Harry at all.”

Sirius stared in confusion at Albus as he looked once more at the locket in his hand. “There is much I must do,” he said abruptly. “I still need to speak to Harry, but I think you are correct in that he is not ready for such a thing yet. I will instead attend to this locket.”

“What is it?” asked Sirius. “Harry only said it was evil.”

“It is that,” said Albus softly. “Thank you for bringing this to my attention, Sirius. I will do all I can to ensure the destruction of this… artifact.”

Albus left shortly after that. Sirius watched him descend down the stairs, feeling confused and worried, but eventually he forced himself to return to his room.

“Did he take it?” asked Harry as soon as he saw him. Sirius nodded as he shut his bedroom door, and Harry let out a relieved sigh.

“He wanted to speak with you,” Sirius told him, unsurprised to see his godson flinch. “I told him no, obviously.”

Harry nodded and stared at his hands which were clenched together on top of the blankets. “Have to, eventually,” he said softly.

“It gets to be on your terms,” said Sirius firmly, “not his.”

“Did he say what it was?” asked Ginny.

Sirius shook his head. “Just agreed with Harry that it’s evil, and that he’ll destroy it.”

Ginny frowned but nodded.

It slowly became obvious over the next few days that there were certain topics over which Harry would clam up tighter than a Niffler’s grasp on a particularly shiny necklace. He would not discuss the final two weeks of his imprisonment, nor was he willing to divulge more of the night Voldemort had returned.

However, Harry quietly enquired about Cedric’s funeral, and whether or not the Diggory’s believed that Voldemort had returned. “Arthur says that Amos Diggory has taken an extended leave of absence from work,” said Remus in answer. “I truly do not know what he or his wife believe at this point.”

Harry looked down and nodded. “He told them he didn’t know what happened,” he said. “He thought it was – amusing to leave them with more questions than answers.”

“It was Wormtail who cast the – the spell, was it not?” asked Remus carefully.

“It – it happened so quickly,” said Harry, nodding. He touched his scar. “Started hurting, couldn’t think, couldn’t do anything – one moment Cedric was standing there, and the next –” He broke off and shook his head. “His parents deserve the truth,” he said.

“Fudge had been going out of his way to discredit Dumbledore before Privet Drive,” said Sirius. “Even now, he’s trying to claim Crouch is delusional after all the years he spent under the Imperius Curse.” He shook his head. “I still struggle to grasp his father’s actions, saving him from Azkaban only to lock him up inside his own mind.”

“Given how well he impersonated Moody, the idea of delusion isn’t holding water too well,” pointed out Remus. “Many of the professors at Hogwarts have come forward to state how well he had fooled them. Everyone thought he was the real ex-Auror.”

“Crouch was so young when he was sentenced to Azkaban, though,” said Sirius, frowning. “Barely out of Hogwarts, wasn’t he?”

Remus held up the latest issue of the Daily Prophet. “New evidence has been coming out that his father had been hiding his misdeeds for years. Even his old Head of house, Reginald Barkley has been quoted admitting that he covered up his involvement in several incidents at the insistence of his father.”

“What?” Sirius seized the paper from his friend. Scanning the article, he quickly found the retired teacher’s statements. “He was involved in the incident with those two Ravenclaw girls,” he breathed. “I told you I saw three boys heading to the West tower that night!”

The actions of Crouch Jr. was a topic Harry didn’t tend to shy away from as much. He was more willing to explain the things the man had done out of devotion to his master than he was much of anything else, including how he framed Karkaroff for putting his name in the Goblet of Fire as well as charming the Triwizard cup to be a Portkey. Still, it seemed he mostly wished to focus on regaining his strength. Harry was finally able to manage using the bathroom independently, but Sirius or Remus would still take the stairs with him to ensure he didn’t take any tumbles, or have unwanted run-ins with those he did not view as real. He was also finally feeding himself on his own, and started requesting more solid foods, which Molly got approval to start making from Madam Pomfrey.

Regardless, he wished to see no one else he knew, though he did have a brief run-in with Tonks three days before Ginny’s birthday that became something more than any of them could have anticipated.

“Oops, sorry!” she said, reaching out her hands and placing them on Harry’s shoulders to try and steady the both of them on the landing beside the bathroom. Sirius quickly intervened on his cousin’s behalf. “One of these days I might not be dead clumsy,” she remarked as she grasped the stairway railing.

“It’s okay,” said Harry softly.

“Harry,” said Sirius quickly, “this is my cousin Nymphadora Tonks.” Harry glanced up at him. “Well, her mum is my cousin, along with Narcissa Malfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange.”

Harry’s face stiffened. “Bellatrix Lestrange is your cousin?”

“An unfortunate side-effect of being a pure-blood,” sighed Tonks. “Don’t think for a moment I like having her for an aunt, but we’re all interrelated in one way or another. My mum was disowned by the Black family when she married my dad – he’s Muggleborn,” she added. “There’s a large family tapestry down in the drawing room, ugly thing, has a long line of the ‘always pure’ house of Black. Mum was blasted off it when she ran off with my dad.”

“‘Tourjours pur.’ I always hated that motto,” said Sirius with a scowl. “Anyway, what brings you up this way?”

“I was looking for Remus, actually,” said Tonks. “Is he in your room? I stopped by his place at his request – looks like his contact wants to talk again before the full moon on the tenth.”

“Yeah, he is,” said Sirius. “Go on up, we’ll be here for a bit.” He ushered Harry towards the bathroom door as Tonks clomped her way up the final flight of stairs.

“She’s nice,” said Harry quietly.

“Before this summer, the last I’d seen of her was a clumsy little slip of a girl,” said Sirius. “Tonks was only eight when I was sent to Azkaban.”

Harry nodded, then asked the last question Sirius could have expected. “Is – is she real?”

Can I trust her?

Sirius met Harry’s uncertain green eyes and nodded. “Yes,” he said firmly. “She’s real.”

Tonks was still talking with Remus when he returned with Harry. Harry sat down on the bed next to Ginny and leaned in close to see what she was reading. “Ancient Runes?”

Ginny nodded. “Bill said it was his favorite subject, so I chose it as one of my classes last year.”

“Oh, sorry!” said Tonks, looking around in alarm. “I should probably clear out, I don’t want to overstep any boundaries –”

“It’s fine,” said Harry, not looking up from Ginny’s book. “Sirius says you’re real.”

There was a moment of silence.

“But Crouch fooled me,” said Tonks softly.

“He fooled everyone,” said Harry, and now he met Tonks’s eyes. “It – it’s different. Don’t know how to explain it.”

Tonks hesitated, then nodded. “I hope I prove myself worthy,” she said with a small smile.

Ginny smiled, as well, and immediately began requesting that Tonks show off her Metamorphmagus abilities, asking for some of her favorite looks. Tonks happily obliged, and Harry watched with something akin to wonder.

Remus watched them with a gentle smile. “I think Tonks was the perfect person to start with,” he murmured to Sirius.

Sirius frowned. “Meaning?”

“Expanding Harry’s circle of trust,” said Remus. “She’s related to you, so there’s that familial bond. She’s also kind, funny, has a unique ability that sets her apart from others...”

Sirius raised his eyebrows. “Misfits unite, eh?” Then he grinned. “She’s something else, isn’t she?”

Remus flushed, and Sirius knew he was seeing something new from his friend. “Yes, she is,” said Remus quietly, and Sirius found himself fascinated by the soft expression on his scarred face as he looked at the Auror with her nose now done up with a snout that was almost pig like.

Something about Remus’s expression… was there perhaps more than friendship as Sirius had first thought?

“If Harry can trust someone who’s completely neutral this easily,” continued Remus, and Sirius refocused on the topic at hand, “we can help him trust the people he actually cares about. You know I had to sit down with Hermione again yesterday?”

Sirius sighed. “Still asking to come up, I take it?”

Remus nodded. “It’s difficult for her to understand Harry’s need for space because he’s never demanded or even wanted apologies before. Still, I think we can rebuild his ability to trust them, again.”

“Yeah, I agree with that,” said Sirius, still thinking over the way Remus had looked at Tonks. “And I have just the thing to help speed things along,” he added impishly before moving forward to make his own request of Tonks – Snape’s overly-large hooked nose and greasy black hair. The grin from Harry and giggles from Ginny were completely worth it. Even Remus grinned reluctantly, and Tonks winked at him, which only looked disturbing because of the Snape-like features she still wore.

Remus pinked. There was definitely something new going on there, Sirius thought, and determined that he would get to the bottom of this as soon as he could.

Ginny hadn’t come back upstairs in the middle of the night since the night before she had figured out what happened, but it was clear she was still struggling to sleep since she had drifted off on the other side of the bed more than once while Harry also rested. Sirius had the feeling that Molly would protest this if she knew, so he kept quiet on the matter.

They were just sleeping, after all.

Ginny ended up splitting her fourteenth birthday between Sirius’s room and the rest of the Weasley’s downstairs. She came up with three slices of chocolate cake to share with them after dinner (Remus was gone for the full moon), smiling brightly as ever and raving about the book Bill had given her about her favorite Quidditch team, the Holyhead Harpies.

Harry sat and listened to her chatter on about their successes over the years – “Gwenog Jones as the captain is easily the best thing to happen to the team in the last twenty years!” – his expression content as it rarely managed to be.

A couple days after Harry accepted Tonks, he willingly met Kingsley. It was plain to see that Kingsley’s easy-going manner and soothing voice set Harry at ease, and as Kingsley had been the one assigned to hunt down Sirius, the stories of the false trail he documented became a source of amusement for all of them.

The day Remus returned from hiding out for the full moon, Kingsley came bursting into the bedroom without warning, looking amazed. “New development with Crouch,” he announced loudly, interrupting the game of Gobstones Ginny and Tonks were playing on the floor.

“What?” asked Remus at once.

Kingsley met Sirius’s gaze. “Madam Bones and I have been pushing for acceptance from Fudge that Crouch couldn’t have acted alone. Of course, he wanted to place you as his accomplice.”

“What a surprise,” said Sirius sarcastically. “Did he succeed?”

“Crouch refused to name you,” said Kingsley. “He kept saying the real traitor of the Potter family aided him in Voldemort’s return and Harry’s kidnapping.”

Harry stiffened on the bed, but continued to listen.

“The real traitor,” repeated Sirius. “He – he told them it was Wormtail.”

Kingsley nodded. “He claimed he was by Voldemort’s side the night Pettigrew brought the news he had been made Secret Keeper, and shared his amusement that everyone had been blaming the wrong man all this time.”

“And how did Fudge take that?” asked Remus.

“Not well at first,” answered Kingsley. “Crouch has been firmly insisting that they locked up an innocent man all those years ago. I was asked to review all the evidence collected at the time of your arrest.”

Sirius snorted and dropped onto the bed next to Harry. “There’s no proof Wormtail is alive,” he said dully.

“Actually, there is.”

Silence filled the room. “What?” said Ginny.

“Crouch said that Pettigrew captured Bertha Jorkins in Albania,” said Kingsley. “He even told them about which forest to check.” He shook his head, still looking amazed. “That’s where I was the last two days, working with the Albanian Ministry of Magic to track down Bertha Jorkins’s remains.”

Harry looked down at his hands. “Voldemort possessed Wormtail to read her mind and then kill her,” he said.

Kingsley nodded, unsurprised by all Harry knew. “I found residents nearby who were able to confirm that they saw Pettigrew when shown pictures of him before he supposedly died. They also corroborated seeing him with Bertha Jorkins at the village inn.” He paused, then said, “We found her remains along with the remains of dozens of snakes and other small animals.”

Harry nodded. “He preferred snakes to other animals to possess while he was in hiding.”

Kingsley grimaced slightly, but carried on. “There were clear signs of Dark magic in the area. The Albanian Ministry has the area under further investigation, but the evidence I have... Sirius, Fudge has been convinced to declare you innocent and allow me to start tracking Pettigrew, instead.”

Shocked silence now filled the room. Sirius stared at Kingsley, feeling as though he hadn’t heard correctly.

“I… I’m free?” he said weakly.

“Fudge is holding a press conference tonight to announce it,” said Kingsley. “He’s going to publicly apologize and ask you to submit yourself to the Ministry in the morning to accept the official pardon and get your old wand back.”

“This isn’t some sort of trick?” said Sirius. “I come in and get chucked back in Azkaban, is that it?”

“No,” said Kingsley. “Bones convinced Fudge to do exactly as I have stated. There has never been evidence that you have ever been to Albania or interacted with Crouch. Given that the public isn’t fully convinced that Crouch is a nutter, giving him an accomplice is a step in the right direction. It also allows me to be more truthful about Harry’s rescue.”

“How so?” asked Tonks. “You said you went with just Dumbledore while I stood guard over Crouch.”

“I intend to admit that Sirius had been trying to track down his godson and started tailing me,” said Kingsley. “That way we establish Sirius’s determination to prove his innocence as well as his desire to be Harry’s rightful guardian – something that ought to have happened the night Voldemort vanished.” He looked at Harry. “It also allows me to explain where you’ve been since Crouch’s capture. If Sirius has been caring for you, then it establishes him in a positive light as a proper caregiver.”

“That’s good, isn’t it?” asked Ginny.

“It is the best outcome we could have hoped for, short of the Ministry admitting to Voldemort’s return,” said Kingsley, nodding. “Tonks and I will escort you in tomorrow, Sirius. You’re going to get your life back.”

It was… Sirius didn’t know what to say, but when Harry suddenly threw his arms around him, he returned the hug and buried his face in Harry’s shoulder.

At last, he was going to be free.

Back to index

Chapter 11: Slipping

Author's Notes: Depression and anxiety are a bad mix. Add in difficulties with students at my job, setbacks with my sprained thumb, and I've just been a hot mess since my last update.

Anyway, this is part 2 of Harry's time in captivity. One thing I love about this chapter is that you start to understand how it is that Harry was able to trust Ginny when he really shouldn't have been able to trust anyone. I would describe most of this read as being on the depressing side more than painful. Enjoy!

Chapter Eleven: Slipping

26 June, 1995

“Wake up!”

Harry jolted awake from a sleep so deep no dreams could touch to see Nott’s face inches from his own. He jerked his head back in alarm, hissing when he struck the stone wall behind him.

Nott laughed. “You get three minutes before I bring your food. Use it well.” He walked away, still chuckling to himself.

Harry scowled after him, still rubbing the back of his skull, but attended to his business as quickly as his sore limbs allowed him. When Nott returned, he Banished the contents of the bucket and handed Harry a breakfast tray consisting of porridge, an apple, and a glass of pumpkin juice.

“Thanks,” muttered Harry before beginning to eat. He was quite hungry and had no idea when he would be able to eat again, but he tried to pace himself a bit.

“Yaxley will be here soon,” said Nott conversationally a few minutes later. “About time, too. You were rather boring to stare at all night.”

Harry kept his head down and focused on the last few bites of his apple. Rising to any bait likely meant getting hit with the Cruciatus Curse again, and he was already so sore…

“Can I get up and walk around a bit?” he asked carefully. “Please?” he added quickly.

“Not like you can go too far,” snorted Nott, “but do as you wish.”

Harry set the empty tray aside and slowly rose, wincing as his sore muscles protested the movement. He really couldn’t pace much with the chains bolted to the wall, but he knew from long periods shut up in his cupboard that he was going to feel less sore the more he was able to move. It had to be enough to be able to get up and slowly pace back and forth along the wall, well out of arm's reach of the Death Eater still watching him.

All too soon, footsteps upstairs announced another’s presence. “That’ll be Yaxley,” said Nott. Moments later, Yaxley appeared, carrying the same bag from the night before. Harry stopped his pacing and tensed, uncertain what was going to happen next.

“Any problems, Nott?” asked Yaxley as he set his bag by the chair.

“Slept like the dead, he did,” remarked Nott quietly. “I suppose he must’ve been very worn out from his experiences thus far,” he added with a grin.

Yaxley hummed a bit at this and pulled out a new vial of the pale blue potion Voldemort had made Harry take the previous morning. “Time for your next dose,” he told Harry. “I’m to direct you back to our master’s mind so he can continue his deception.”

Harry clenched his jaw. He didn’t want to take it, didn’t want to go back in and witness everyone he cared about look at him without seeing that it wasn’t him.

To watch them think he was really there, that it was real…

He wasn’t real when he was trapped in Voldemort’s mind. None of it was real, except it was; it was actually happening, every second of it. Harry hated the whole thing.

“Are you planning to fight me?” Yaxley murmured, and he looked excited at the idea. Harry felt sick looking at him, and dropped his gaze. He shook his head.

“Best make yourself comfortable, then,” said Yaxley, and he sounded disappointed. “Well, as comfortable as you can in a place like this,” he continued with a wicked grin.

Harry couldn’t stop the glare he shot at the man as he sank down in the corner again, but Yaxley paid him no mind, instead approaching with the potion vial and crouching before Harry, holding it out for him to take.

Even though he knew it was no use resisting, Harry couldn’t move. He stared at the vial, remembering the way it had made him feel, and he couldn’t bear the thought of being so empty like that again.

“Well, boy?”

Harry swallowed, and realized he was starting to tremble. Still, he couldn’t bring himself to reach out and take the vial from the Death Eater.

It seemed Yaxley had his limits, however. He stared appraisingly at Harry before suddenly smirking.

Next thing Harry knew, Yaxley had gripped him tightly by the chin and pulled him forward. Harry reacted in a panic, trying to push the hand away, but then Nott was there, as well, pulling Harry’s head back by the hair. He gasped in pain, and Yaxley shoved the vial into his open mouth, dumping in the potion so that Harry almost choked on it.

Right as Harry got ready to spit it out, Yaxley’s hand forced his mouth to close, the other hand tossing aside the empty vial and pinching his nose shut. “You get to breathe when you swallow, boy,” he hissed in Harry’s ear over the tinkling of shattering glass. “I’m pleased you decided to put up a fight.”

Harry struggled against the two men, shoes scraping on the dirt floor for support that wasn’t coming, trying to push away the strong hands on his face, desperate to breathe, Yaxley grinning wickedly at him as the world began to spot darkly at the edges...

He couldn’t do it. He swallowed the potion. A moment later, Yaxley and Nott released him, both of them laughing. Harry collapsed against the stone wall, gasping for air, feeling dizzy and weak, and then…

He felt nothing much at all.

“You are going to listen to my voice, Harry.”

Harry nodded, staring blankly at Yaxley as he worked to catch his breath.

“You remember reaching through your connection yesterday?”

“Yeah,” breathed Harry. “I don’t like it.”

“You must do it again now, Harry, like it or not. Do you understand?”

Harry nodded. “Yes.” There was only Yaxley’s voice, Yaxley’s directions.

“Close your eyes and find it again. Find it and travel to the other side.”

And so Harry did. He sank into the depths of his mind, searching out that strange connection, traveling it, and then…

Harry blinked down at his breakfast tray of bangers and mash. “All right?” grunted Crouch in his disguise as Moody as Madam Pomfrey bustled away.

Harry nodded. “The boy has returned,” he whispered. “It worked.” He grinned and set about eating the delicious meal the house elves had provided him.

This day was much the same as the last. No one but Ron and Hermione were allowed to visit him in the hospital wing, both of them completely at ease with Harry, neither of them suspecting the truth. They expected him to be quiet, withdrawn, confused, and sad. It was everything Harry was supposed to be, after all.

No one saw him as anything but Harry when he left the hospital wing, Ron and Hermione walking him back to Gryffindor tower as if they were his bodyguards. He chanced a wary glance around the room filled with the offspring of his enemies and locked eyes momentarily with Ginny Weasley.

There was something peculiar about her expression Harry couldn’t quite identify. It was different from any other look she had ever given the boy. He decided not to delve too deeply into it; after all, to everyone else, he was clearly Harry. There was no reason for anyone to suspect differently, not even the girl.

And that was how the days progressed. Harry would take the potion early in the morning following breakfast, spend the day lost in Voldemort’s mind, and come back to himself to eat supper and then sleep. Rinse and repeat.

Crouch would check in to supply him with the needed Polyjuice Potion under the guise of ensuring he was still safe. Students didn’t bother Harry in his dormitory whilst he hid himself away, carefully looking through all of the boy’s things, getting the Marauder’s Map back from Crouch since no one else was capable of spotting the deception and stowing it away with the Invisibility Cloak.

It also turned out to be quite easy for Crouch to lay blame upon Ludo Bagman, who he apparently fled after the end of the Third Task due to the copious amounts of money he owed from bets he had placed over the past year. Crouch, with the aid of his master, laid false evidence calling the man into question, be it the Imperius Curse from parties unknown, or his own free will.

It was laughably simple to place the entire thing on a man who had vanished and could not defend himself. Harry’s own memories of the former Quidditch player trying to be encouraging only helped cast suspicion further. After all, he had followed Crouch out the furthest to the maze when he went to place the cup. Who was to say it wasn’t Bagman who had turned it into a Portkey?

“Told Dumbledore he went with me to set up the cup, my Lord,” grinned Crouch. “He only walked me down to the maze entrance and waited for my return to activate the maze, but no one else is to know that with the fool gone.”

In short, Crouch’s cover was secured, and Harry’s was further solidified.

It all started to blend together in Harry’s mind when he would come back to himself. He wasn’t sure that he felt real, anymore. Or that any of it was real. All those people he knew and trusted, looking right at him without seeing him…

He couldn’t think about it, couldn’t look too deeply at the abject horror of his reality or else he felt he might shatter. In some ways, though, the potion he drank each day was almost a blessing; it was easier to be ordered into being lost in Voldemort’s mind than to sit in the cold and barren cellar. There he had no choice but to face his reality. In Voldemort’s mind he was still Harry, even if it wasn’t really him.

When Harry dreamed at night, it was times when he knew he’d been himself, playing Quidditch at Hogwarts, making up death predictions with Ron, catching Ginny’s eye when Percy had strutted off to Penelope Clearwater, Hermione running up to him with Buckbeak when he cast the Patronus that saved his own life… but every time, it twisted up, turned into him living Harry’s life while Harry existed as nothing more than a spectator, a database to pull information from while he faded into nothingness.

Sometimes Ginny was in the background where she didn’t belong; moments Harry knew she hadn’t been around, yet she was there, watching him with the same odd look in her eye as when he – Voldemort had gone to Gryffindor tower after leaving the hospital wing. It made no sense.

But few things did, anymore.

On the train ride home a few days later, Draco Malfoy found Harry and the others, swaggering into the train compartment in a decidedly irritating manner. He quickly escalated the conversation to unacceptable heights.

“You’ve picked the losing side, Potter! I warned you! I told you that you ought to choose your company more carefully, remember? When we met on the train, first day at Hogwarts? I told you not to hang around with riffraff like this!” Malfoy jerked his head at Ron and Hermione. “Too late now, Potter! They’ll be the first to go, now the Dark Lord’s back! Mudbloods and Muggle-lovers first! Well – second – Diggory was the f –”

A fascinating and amusing incident occurred wherein several wands went off at once, cursing and jinxing Malfoy and his cronies such that they ended up distinctly the worse for the jumble of jinxes with which they had been hit from not just Harry, Ron, and Hermione, but also Ron’s twin brothers Fred and George.

After rolling the three Slytherin students out of the compartment and into an empty one across the narrow hall, the twins discussed the issues they had had with Bagman and their winnings from the Quidditch World Cup. Harry was not the least bit surprised by the former Quidditch player’s duplicity in not giving the two boys what they were clearly owed, but the boy thought of that heavy bag of gold in Harry’s trunk, and he knew instantly what to do. What the boy would have done.

One more way to cement himself as the boy in the eyes of those who had known him all this time.

“Fred – George – wait a moment,” he said when it came time to leave the train.

The twins turned. Harry pulled open his trunk and drew out his Triwizard winnings. He thrust it into George’s hand. “Take it,” he said.

The twins gaped at him, and the boy stirred slightly in the back of his mind, but Harry ignored him.

“What?” said Fred, looking flabbergasted.

“Take it,” Harry repeated firmly. “I don’t want it.”

“You’re mental,” said George, trying to push it back at Harry.

“No, I’m not,” said Harry. “You take it, and get inventing. It’s for the joke shop.”

“He is mental,” Fred said in an almost awed voice.

Harry insisted they use it for the joke shop they wanted to create. He thought he spotted Ginny Weasley when he turned to shut his trunk, feeling pleased by how well the two boys had been fooled by this ploy. Still, it had been the boy’s idea, and he would be remiss to ignore such things in the course of his deception. The girl had vanished when he chanced another glance in the direction he had seen her.

Shrugging to himself, Harry set about hauling his trunk out of the train where he joined the queue to get through the barrier to the Muggle side where he knew he would face the boy’s relatives.

It was one thing to see these particular Muggles in the boy’s memories, and something else to see them in person. Vernon, tall and beefy; Petunia, thin and blonde; and Dudley, large and wary.

Wary was good. Harry could use that. He thought once more of Dumbledore’s words on the matter of the Bond of Blood Charm (of course he knew what it was, but that particular branch of ancient magic had never been of interest to him), and was eager to see if the boy had been right in his belief that he had already brought the protection to an end. Hedwig hooted dolefully from her cage, but Harry ignored her. He had too much to do to bother with consoling a silly bird.

There was something almost liberating in walking the world as the boy, however. Harry knew full well what he had become over the years prior to his downfall, what the creation of his Horcruxes had done to his physical appearance; walking around in the boy’s body meant no one outright feared him. He didn’t blend in, per say, given the boy’s misplaced fame, but there was something to be said for being looked at as a seemingly innocent child rather than the terrifying and powerful wizard he truly was.

There was also something in the way the Weasleys spoke to the boy’s relatives that was very unlike anything he had ever experienced. That they cared so much for this strange, orphaned boy…

Ginny was looking at him again. Harry could almost feel the confusion and mounting suspicion rolling off her, and he broke into one of the boy’s small smiles as Mrs. Weasley bid him farewell and hugged him, allowing Hermione to do the same and blinking in surprise when she kissed him on the cheek. Perfectly normal, completely Harry.

There was no reason for anyone, including Ginny, to doubt him.

He set off quietly with the Muggles. This was the final test, the results of which would let Harry know for certain if the charm had been broken and the boy was truly his to do with as he wished.

Harry wasn’t surprised when he had no help loading his trunk into the boot of Vernon’s car. He placed Hedwig’s cage on the backseat between himself and Dudley, who scowled at him but quickly looked away. “You look more muscular than when I last saw you, Dudley,” remarked Harry, pulling from the boy’s memories.

“He is,” said Vernon proudly. “Dudley is the Junior Heavyweight Inter-School Boxing Champion of the Southeast.”

Harry considered this, taking in the boy’s memories of Dudley bullying him. “So your punches land more often than not on moving targets now?” he asked the fat teenager. “I thought they had to be held down for you to get a proper shot in.”

“Volunteering to be my target practice again, are you?” sneered Dudley. “Nothing quite like breaking those glasses of yours, you know.”

“Only when you could catch me,” said Harry coolly. He looked out the window and said no more. Dudley huffed, but didn’t push it.

The drive to Little Whinging was quiet, apart from Vernon’s usual ranting about something at work or other. Harry paid him no mind, simply waiting for the moment to strike. He would have to be careful, well-aware of how smart the boy’s owl was, and when he cast his first spell, Hedwig hooted sleepily and soon had her head tucked under her wing.

Three more spells, and the Dursley family was completely under his control. Muggles were so susceptible to the Imperius Curse, with their weak minds and bodies.

Not long after, Privet Drive came into view. Harry tensed, anticipation racing through his entire being. Would he be able to –?

The car pulled into the drive, and the Dursleys got out and headed for the house as silently directed. Harry seized Hedwig’s cage and followed. The front door was open, all he had to do was step through –

He was in. It had worked.

The boy was completely his.

Smirking to himself, Harry went upstairs to the smallest bedroom to set down the owl’s cage and then went back out to the car for his trunk, the fat uncle helping as the mind-controlling curse demanded he must.

It was delicious to control those who had towered over the boy all these years.

“I expect the three of you to go about your lives, business as usual, as it were,” he commanded the Muggle family come suppertime. “You will leave me alone in my room during the day, and serve me portions of food equal to what Dudley eats at all mealtimes.” He waited as Petunia filled his plate properly, and then ate a full meal.

For a Muggle, Petunia was a decent cook.

The family was immediately back to its usual ways, but they paid Harry no mind as he retreated up the stairs to his room after he finished eating, just as instructed. This would be acceptable for the time being until it was time for his next move. He needed all to appear ordinary to Dumbledore’s foolish followers, after all.

Harry shoved himself away from Voldemort’s mind and came back to himself abruptly as he shivered. He wasn’t quite sure what the next move was, but he was at least certain it wasn’t anything good.

Nothing Voldemort did was good.

“Three minutes, then supper,” said Yaxley in a bored voice as he walked away. Harry took a moment to try and reorient himself before rising.

The worst of the soreness had faded, but his limbs were starting to feel weaker. He was used to spending his days traipsing the castle, and the lack of ability to move whilst trapped in Voldemort’s mind the last few days was clearly beginning to take its toll. He had to cinch the belt on his trousers in one more hole than before now, and he thought his ribs were easier to feel than they had been in the days before his capture.

Still, he was eating twice a day, which was more than he’d expected, and he hadn’t been cursed or fought off taking the potion again. He just… was.

The question was, for how much longer?

“Draco sends his regards, Potter.”

Harry closed his eyes. Lucius.

He hadn’t seen the elder Malfoy since that very first night, but he had seen his son quite recently.

Opening his eyes, Harry shot Lucius a smirk. “How’s Draco doing?” he asked, voice a bit raspy from disuse. “My friends and I –”

He broke off, frowning. That wasn’t right. “I mean, him – Voldemort –”

Lucius raised his eyebrows at the slip.

Harry plowed on as best he could. “– did quite the number on your son and his cronies this afternoon,” he finished. He wished he could keep it all straight in his head better than this moment had proven.

“It is no less than Draco deserved,” said Lucius coldly. “He was cautioned not to approach the Harry Potter he saw at school. I promised to explain when he returned home.” He eyed Harry carefully. “It is my hope,” he continued as Yaxley approached with Harry’s supper tray, “that the Dark Lord will declare the events of today punishment enough for my son’s actions.”

Harry shrugged and took the tray from Yaxley. A warm stew this time. “Thank you,” he said quietly before beginning to eat. It took him a few moments to realize Lucius was staring at him rather expectantly. “What, am I supposed to pop over and ask him for his opinion?”

Lucius arched an aristocratic eyebrow. Harry groaned and lowered his spoon. “Look,” he said, “I found –”

He stopped. He hadn’t talked out loud about his experiences in Voldemort’s mind, and a second slip in as many minutes was embarrassing.

“I mean,” he said, noticing and doing his best to ignore the amused expression on Lucius’s face, “he found the whole thing amusing, all right? He wasn’t angry, he wasn’t interested in torture or killing or what have you, just… amused. He forgot how tedious childhood rivalries can be,” he added before digging into his stew once more. He was both ravenous and exhausted, but food needed to happen first.

Lucius said nothing else, instead whispering for a few minutes with Yaxley before the blunt-faced man left for the night with Harry’s empty tray. Harry wanted to get up and stretch out his legs for a bit, but he was far too tired; instead, he settled himself as best he could in his little corner to get some rest.

“You have truly given up, haven’t you?”

Harry forced his eyes open to look at Lucius. “Voldemort’s in the only place I was supposed to be safe now,” he said bitterly. “He’s there, I’m not. And worse, I’m the one who ended that protection, not him. Given all that, it seems hopeless that I’ll ever leave this place alive at this point, doesn’t it?”

Lucius stared at him for a moment before smiling. “Good,” he said. “You’re breaking, and it’s every bit as horrible for you as I’d hoped it to be.”

Harry looked away, too exhausted to even attempt to think of making any kind of comment to this. In truth, he was breaking. He was mixing up what he had and hadn’t done, and it was starting to show after just a few days trapped in this place. How much harder was this going to be by the time Voldemort ended his deception and came back to kill Harry? Would he even know his own mind, anymore?

“Sleep, Potter,” said Lucius, interrupting his thoughts. “Or I’ll Stun you.”

Harry wanted to glare at the man, but he was too tired. Instead, he resettled himself and drifted off in a restless slumber.

“Did I see in time?”

Harry didn’t know who was speaking. “See what?” he asked the darkness of what must be a dream.

“I’m seeing it, but am I putting the pieces together?”

The question didn’t make sense, and Harry spun around in the dark, trying to find the speaker. He thought he spotted bright brown eyes, but he wasn’t sure. The darkness swallowed everything and left only only nothingness behind.

Still, there was only one answer he could give:

“No,” he said. “No one connected the pieces.”

“But I’m seeing it, Harry, please believe me!”

Harry frowned as he drifted. “Who are you?” he called out.

“I’m seeing the pieces,” the voice said softly, “but I’m not putting them together. Can you see it yet?”

But Harry couldn’t see anything. All that there was oblivion.

“What’s the point?” Harry demanded the next morning. “He’s planning on hiding out in my room, isn’t he? Why do I have to be there for that?”

Nott raised his eyebrows and exchanged a look with Lucius, who merely snorted and walked away. “Our master expects your friends to attempt to communicate with you,” he said. “You are telling me you do not respond to missives or visits?”

Harry clenched his jaw and said nothing. He was so tired of mixing up what was real and not real; it all blended together in his mind and he was struggling more and more to know what had actually been done and said by him. A break from that would have given Harry time to really examine things and try to settle his reality better.

Sadly, that was not in the cards for him. He took the proffered potion and swallowed it down, resigned to his unfortunate existence once more.

Privet Drive in Voldemort’s mind was as boring as it had been in just his own. Reading books, writing letters to people like Remus and Sirius that were done in his own handwriting but not his words, doing his summer homework to pass the time, staying shut up in his bedroom all day...

It was the Dursleys who were different. They had never been able to completely leave alone their best slave laborer, but under the Imperius Curse, they acted as though he didn’t exist outside meals. Harry – no, not Harry, it was Voldemort’s body, not his – ate just as well as Dudley, and claimed in a letter to Ron that the threats his parents had made to them had worked even better than the threat of a mass-murderer for a godfather in the face of that awful diet Petunia had subjected them all to the summer before.

Crouch was a part of the protective watch Dumbledore had apparently placed on Harry, and he would supply more Polyjuice Potion every time he was on shift. The Dursleys were forced to ignore these exchanges; Harry reveled in the control the boy had never been able to afford under their roof. “I’m doing this for you,” he remarked out loud one evening for the boy to hear. “Clearly you never had the presence of mind to try and control your bouts of accidental magic. This is how things ought to have been this whole time. This is the kind of calm existence you could have created for yourself.”

Harry couldn’t listen another moment and pulled away, embarrassed when he realized there were tears on his face that Macnair could see. He swiped at them quickly and kept his head down.

Yes, he had always detested his life at Privet Drive. He had been treated much like a house-elf, forced to endure criticism and emotional pain on the daily, been bullied by his cousin, and looked down on by everyone around him.

And yet…

No one deserved to be treated like this, to have their will stripped from them so callously, to be made to act in a manner contrary to their true demeanor. The Dursleys had never loved Harry, nor had they particularly wanted him around. He knew now the only reason he hadn’t been tossed out was the Bond of Blood Charm. Aunt Petunia had understood the protection being offered to her family in exchange for keeping Harry, and had chosen to seal the charm when she could’ve just as easily left him on her front doorstep.

Even if she didn’t love him, Aunt Petunia had ensured his protection from Voldemort. Not that she could, anymore. He, Harry, had done away with the only shield they had both had these past thirteen years. And now…

“Three minutes, boy.” Macnair walked away.

Sighing, Harry struggled to his feet. He’d been there for just over two weeks now, and had lost a lot of his strength. It was foolish to think Voldemort wanted him any other way; the weaker he physically was, the less likely he was to fight back or try to escape.

There was no escape, of course. His one shot had been made. There was nothing for him once the deception ended. When Voldemort physically returned to this cold cellar, Harry was certain he would finally breathe his last. His only hope was that Voldemort had realized just how mediocre Harry was after all the time he had spent with Harry’s mind an open book to him; he would see there was nothing special about Harry and just kill him on the spot.

At least then he would be with his parents again. Maybe he might also find and apologize to Cedric for getting him killed. Death was the least Harry deserved at this point. There didn’t seem to have been any real good to come from his existence, after all. Four people had already died because of Harry, and many more would surely do the same if he ever escaped this endless nightmare.

He wasn’t ever going to escape, though. He already knew this. No one knew it was Voldemort who had returned from the maze, let alone where Harry even was now. They all thought he was hiding in his room at Privet Drive.

They thought he was real, alive, and there.

Harry wasn’t sure he knew what real was, anymore.

Two days later, Crouch arrived for a twelve-hour shift which Harry planned to take advantage of for calling a meeting of his Death Eaters.

After all, it wouldn’t do for him to rely only upon the missives he sent out with the Malfoy's eagle owl.

Harry exchanged the empty bottle of Polyjuice Potion for the filled one his faithful follower had brought for him. “All is prepared for your shift today?” he asked.

“Indeed, my Lord,” said Crouch. “I’m afraid I must report that Severus has commented in the Order meetings how little everyone has seen you.”

Harry nodded thoughtfully. Severus had provided excellent intelligence regarding what Dumbledore had been doing over the previous decade, but Crouch’s reports of how the man acted in the Order meetings gave him pause. He had detected no deception in their one meeting the night he had been reborn, but he seemed to be reporting more than Harry would prefer that he do.

“The Polyjuice should wear off in a few minutes,” he told Crouch. “I trust you to keep watch over this place and Muggles until my return.”

“As you command, Master,” said Crouch, bowing once more. Harry set aside the boy’s wand and retrieved his own from Crouch, changing into the set of robes his faithful servant had brought him and heading out to the back garden to change. He shifted as his body became his own for the first time in over two weeks, and then he spun on the spot and Disapparated, heading for Malfoy Manor.

It seemed a fitting place for that day’s meeting. Lucius still had much to atone for, after all.

Lucius’s wife Narcissa immediately welcomed Harry inside and left him in the parlor while she went to fetch Lucius. “He’s been teaching our son about our accounts at Gringotts,” she explained before retreating.

Harry settled himself on the sofa by the fire to wait and thought of Gringotts. He knew of the treasures and gold that lay beneath it and allowed his mind a moment to recall the disgust he had felt upon learning how his pure-blood descendants had squandered their wealth and fallen from grace. It was so much less than the line of Slytherin deserved.

Slytherin… Nagini should be nearby, she had promised to stay on the manor’s lands until his return. Closing his eyes, he focused on the connection he had to her by virtue of having turned her into a Horcrux a year ago –

“My Lord,” Lucius unwittingly interrupted his thoughts as the boy shifted and stilled in the background of his mind. “I was not expecting you so soon. I apologize for my tardiness.”

Harry waved a dismissive hand and instead asked for a full report on his orders he had sent by owl when the boy’s owl was out delivering letters to the boy’s friends. Lucius launched into his report at once.

It sounded as though things were under control, and Harry summoned his followers to hear from them directly regarding their progress on his orders; it was important they still see him in the flesh whilst he continued to lure Dumbledore and his ilk into a false sense of security regarding the boy.

Harry also carefully ensured that Severus heard no more than absolutely necessary; he remained uncertain as to whether or not the man could be trusted with the truth of his deception at Hogwarts and Privet Drive. Of course, the other Death Eaters knew better than to bring it up. He was their master, fully in control of the meeting and their orders.

Harry expressed satisfaction when he returned to the Muggle house and accepted the Polyjuice Potion Crouch was already waiting for him with. “Our careful takeover within the Ministry is going as planned,” he told Crouch as he became the boy once more. “Did the Muggles give you any trouble?”

Crouch shook his head. “They lack the ability to fight off one so powerful as yourself, my Lord.”

Nodding in satisfaction, Harry headed back to the upstairs bedroom and changed into the boy’s pathetic Muggle clothing once more with Crouch following behind him. “It is a shame that business as usual couldn’t include a better wardrobe,” he said lightly as he held up one of the boy’s larger shirts. “One more way in which they sought to make the boy feel inferior to his monstrosity of a cousin.”

Crouch raised his eyebrows, Moody’s electric blue eye spinning wildly around. “You’d have thought the old man would have wanted a better living situation for his precious Boy Who Lived,” he said.

“The stories Nagini tells me lead me to believe quite the opposite, Barty,” said Harry thoughtfully. “Dumbledore’s obsession with the power of love in no way stops him from acting for the greater good.”

Crouch frowned. “Wasn’t that –?”

“Grindewald‘s slogan, yes,” mused Harry softly. “He reached too far, spread too quickly. But the idea behind the words, the philosophy of it, Dumbledore follows it to this day, even when matters of the heart interfere. After all, it was I and not he who told the boy why I tried to kill him that night.”

“The boy didn’t know the prophecy?”

“Not for lack of trying, but no, he had no idea.” Harry shook his head. “It is this... belief system, if you will, that allows Dumbledore to act as he does, but it is his adherence to his heart that will ultimately be his undoing, especially insofar as the boy is concerned.” He laughed. “Three more days, my faithful servant, and we will finally make our next move.” He caught sight of the boy’s reflection in the wardrobe mirror.

“Three more days, and the boy will be mine to do with as I see fit.”

Harry couldn’t stand it anymore, felt the will once again to stop following orders, and came back to himself, breathing harshly, mind pondering Voldemort’s thoughts that day, mindlessly rising to do his business as Yaxley left to retrieve his supper.

It wasn’t the first time Voldemort had thought about that word: Horcrux. Today, Harry unwittingly found he understood what it meant, what had happened to him, why he was saddled with the ability to speak to snakes and see through Voldemort’s eyes.

Harry was walking around with a piece of Voldemort’s soul inside him. He was one of several, in fact. The diary had been one. There were others, too; somehow, incredibly, impossibly, he had accessed Voldemort’s memories and seen the truth of it: a ring, buried in the home of Voldemort’s mother and the descendants of the Slytherin line; a locket, hidden in a cave by the sea, placed in a bowl using the sacrifice of the Black family house elf, Kreacher; a goblet, hidden in the vault of the Lestrange family; a diadem, placed within a room that only appeared when you called for it at Hogwarts; Nagini, the faithful serpent who had lived a long life and seen so much; and Harry, the child who never should have lived past that awful Halloween night so many years ago.

Voldemort wasn’t going to kill him if he fully understood what he had done. A piece of his soul… with the diary gone, each piece had to be protected, couldn’t be placed in harm’s way. Never before had Harry wished he had the ability to shield his mind from intrusion, to use what he now knew was called Occlumency. He wanted to protect what he knew so that, if the unthinkable happened and he escaped this place, he could tell Dumbledore that he and he alone knew the secret to Voldemort’s only weakness.

He also needed to protect what he knew because if Voldemort figured it out, Harry’s life would be spared, but more than likely at the expense of what little sanity he had left. He couldn’t let that happen. Either someone figured things out and rescued him, or he died. There couldn’t be a third option in this.

Goyle was his guard for the night. Harry ignored him and focused on all he had learned about Occlumency through Voldemort’s interactions with Dumbledore at Hogwarts. The ability to conceal thoughts and memories he didn’t want anyone else to see… he wasn’t sure he could do it, but he had to try, had to lock away this precious information above all else.

This was more important than even his own sanity. This was real, more real than a Polyjuiced Harry walking around Privet Drive, more real than the cold cellar, or the food he ate, or even the awful metal bucket and dim lamplight.

He had to hide away what he knew.

He had to.

“Today’s the day,” Harry mused to himself. He could see how weak the boy had become; how confused his mind was when it was his own; how well he had already readied himself for his inevitable death. The deception had been a rousing success, but enough was enough.

He had plans to enact; the remaining experiments to conduct on the boy to uncover his every secret; a ministry to infiltrate; allies to recall; and a nation to bring to its knees.

It was almost dinnertime for the Muggles. Harry carefully arranged the boy’s things in his room, setting the holly wand on the bedside table and retrieving his own, followed by changing into his own robes and awaiting the end of his last dose of Polyjuice Potion. Hedwig was drinking water in her cage; she had done well in following Harry’s orders to always come back to Privet Drive, clearly not understanding that he was not her owner. She would see differently soon enough.

Perhaps he ought to kill her, Harry mused, but the boy almost pulled away at the thought, and he wanted the boy to stay put until he had finished with this place.

Crouch briefly appeared on the street, the signal that the Order member currently on duty had been subdued. Good, Harry thought with a grim smile as he stepped away from the window.

He felt the potion wearing off at last, shifted and flexed his way into his familiar height and form, and watched as the owl stared at him with wide amber eyes.

Harry looked down at Hedwig in amusement. “Is it real if everyone is fooled, even a silly bird?”

Hedwig screeched and hopped out of the cage, quivering in a way Harry had never seen before. He smiled down at her. “Fly away,” he told her, “or die.”

She screeched again and flew at him; Harry batted her away, cursing when her talons almost cut his arm, and she landed on the windowsill but for a moment. He raised his wand. “Avada Kedavra!”

A flash of green light – the bird was gone, dead or flown away, Harry did not know or care. But this encounter had given him an idea. He stowed away his wand and grasped the holly wand one last time. The boy had hated this house and everything it stood for; it seemed only fitting that the boy’s wand bring an end to this place.

Gripping the strange yet familiar wand firmly, he swept down to the dining room where the Muggles already sat in their dinner things.

It amused him to think of how his father and grandparents had died just like this.

Petunia looked up from her plate at Harry’s approach. “I’ll get your plate ready –” she broke off at the sight of him and screamed.

Harry laughed. He knew full well what he looked like. It was better this way. “Dumbledore was foolish to think he could trust Muggles to keep the boy safe from me,” he said, raising the boy’s wand. “It is time he learn how grave the situation surrounding his mistake all those years ago truly was.”

Seconds later, the deed had been done. Each Muggle died with terror on their face, just as had been done over fifty years ago to the last of his own Muggle relatives.

It was over.

Harry headed back upstairs to replace the boy’s wand on his bedside table. Sweeping back down the stairs, he headed out to the back garden, then spun on the spot and left Privet Drive forever.

The abandoned house appeared moments later, and Harry at last allowed the boy to pull away. He didn’t need to know precisely the experiments left to do before he died.

Harry gasped out loud as his own eyes snapped open.


It had happened.

They were dead.

And it was all his fault.

“Three minutes, boy,” said Yaxley as he rose to walk away. Harry barely paid him any attention, scar burning and heart pounding as he struggled to his feet.

Seven people dead because of him now. How many more would die before his own life was finally forfeit?

He curled up in the corner when finished and stared at the dirt floor, numb with fear as he awaited whatever would come next. Was his secret going to stay safe? Would Voldemort realize there was something that set Harry apart from everyone else? How many humans were walking around with a fragment of someone else’s soul in them?

The pain in his scar increased, and Harry slammed away all thoughts of Horcruxes, shielded it with his fear and the mass of confused and tangled memories of walking the world in Voldemort’s mind.

“I wonder how long it will take them to realize what has happened?” came Voldemort’s voice from the stairs. “My faithful servant is carrying on as though everything is normal until the fools realize something is not right.”

He stepped into view with Yaxley, an amused look on his face. Harry tensed, feeling the amusement in Voldemort’s emotions and hating how connected they had become over the last few weeks. Voldemort smiled down at Harry.

“I fear the past few weeks have not been so kind to you as they have to me,” he said, laughter tinting the words. Harry pulled his legs as close to his torso as possible and averted his gaze.

It was true. Harry could tell that he’d grown a few inches, but he had also lost weight and strength along the way. He currently cinched his belt in two more holes than before, and he thought his arms and legs looked skinnier than they had previously.

“We will discuss the results of my experiment in the morning,” said Voldemort after a long moment. “It is enough to see how he has fared in my absence.” Harry looked up to see Voldemort smiling coldly at him.

“One night of rest, boy,” he said. “After that, the real work begins.”

He left, and Harry watched him go, feeling miserable and scared. What more was there to do? Why didn’t he just kill Harry and be done with him?

“Your food, boy,” said Yaxley, approaching with the tray he carried. Harry unfolded himself so he could accept the tray and began to eat, barely noticing what he was consuming. Another Death Eater entered as he finished, and Harry paid him no mind as his tray was removed and he was left to sleep in his corner, only the ruffling of newspaper pages and the dim light of the lamp to keep him company.

Tomorrow, he knew, the true terror would begin.

Back to index

Chapter 12: Forgiveness

Author's Notes: This past week was Spring Break, so I forced myself to do some long-overdue housework and got a good chunk of writing and planning in! This chapter picks up where chapter 10 left off; Sirius is going to learn that his newfound freedom isn't quite all its cracked up to be. Enjoy!

Oh, I've been working on a side story that goes more into everything that happened at the Ministry starting from when Tonks and Kingsley take Crouch Jr in. Interested? Let me know in the comments!

Chapter Twelve: Forgiveness

Remus sat at Harry’s bedside that night following Kingsley’s incredible news. Sirius was meeting with the Order to discuss his impending freedom come morning, while Harry lay in bed, quietly staring at nothing as Remus read the Evening Prophet. Ginny had already turned in for the night, determined to be up bright and early before Sirius left for the Ministry.


“Yes, Harry?” Remus asked, looking up from the paper.

“It isn’t a trick?”

Remus didn’t have to ask what Harry meant.

“Dumbledore will be there with other Order members to ensure it isn’t,” he answered.

Harry nodded. “Do – do the others know?”

Remus nodded. “They do.”

Harry nodded again, green eyes subdued. “Miss them,” he whispered, as if ashamed.

Remus set the newspaper aside completely. “It’s perfectly acceptable to miss the people you care about when they hurt you,” he said, “intentionally or not.”

Harry appeared to be thinking hard about this before he spoke again. “Hermione wants to come up, doesn’t she?”

“She does,” Remus admitted. “It has been difficult for her to give you the space you require. I expect she’s used to always being there when you’re struggling.”

“Yeah,” sighed Harry. “Her and Ron were always there when –” He broke off, that frustrated look when he wanted to say something that required a personal pronoun overtaking him, and Remus felt his heart pang in sympathy.

“They were always there when you needed them the most,” he murmured for Harry.

Harry nodded a bit, eyes downcast as he sat up. “Would you forgive them?”

Remus carefully considered Harry’s question, thinking of how best to answer.

“Sirius almost turned me into a murderer when we were sixteen,” he finally said. “His antagonistic attitude towards Severus was very nearly the undoing of our friendship. If James hadn’t shown up when he had…” He trailed off and sighed. “I was incredibly hurt by what Sirius did. He hadn’t meant any harm to come to Severus, but it very well could have. I don’t know that I could have lived with myself had I bitten or even killed Severus that night.”

Harry was watching him now, clearly hanging onto his every word.

“Sirius knew full well how much I despised myself,” he went on slowly. “His desire to put Severus in his place, to keep him out of our business, well… it became more important to him than every precaution put in place to keep the students at Hogwarts safe.”

“But you forgave him,” said Harry.

Remus nodded. “I did. What I had to realize for myself was that one mistake that could have been worse than it was… well, Sirius was beating himself up over it in ways my own anger and heartache could ever do.” He allowed himself a sad smile. “We are all rather idiotic when we are young, Harry. We think we know everything, can do anything, but the reality is that we are still children. We are prone to mistakes, and adults can still do much harm to us.”

He leant forward now and placed his hands on Harry’s. “Voldemort wanted to hurt you, Harry,” he said intently. “He wanted to break your trust in those who matter to you. By all rights, you ought to have lost the ability to trust anyone after what you have been through.”

Harry’s gaze dropped. “Know that,” he admitted softly. “But it – it still hurts.”

“It may hurt for a long time, yes, but you’ve got to remember that this was what Voldemort wanted.” Remus squeezed Harry’s hands gently. “The question is whether you are going to continue to allow his actions to influence your choices going forward, or take back what’s yours.”

Harry frowned thoughtfully.

“Now, that’s not to say your friends will never hurt you again,” Remus went on carefully, “because we are all human and prone to mistakes.”

“Ron would try harder,” said Harry softly. “Hermione might push more.”

“She does have a tendency to prefer having all the information,” agreed Remus quietly. “Is it worth giving her a chance to prove herself? And again, it doesn’t have to be right away. You could start with just Ron, if you prefer it. Or both. It’s up to you as to who you try to trust again and when.”

There was a long moment of silence as Harry considered before meeting Remus’s eyes.

He smiled.

Ginny knew something, Ron was certain of it. As he watched Sirius step out of Grimmauld Place with Kingsley and Tonks to finally gain his freedom, he couldn’t help but notice the odd gleam in his sister’s eyes. He knew she was happy for Sirius, and assumed Harry must be as well, but she had been… increasingly secretive and quiet around the rest of them. All her time was spent with Harry, Sirius, and Remus. What could she possibly know outside of the little that had already been revealed?

The moment the door shut, Ginny turned to him and Hermione. “Harry wants to speak to you both,” she said. “Now.”

Ron blinked. “Right now?” said Hermione. “Are you sure?”

“I wouldn’t be saying this if I wasn’t,” snapped Ginny. “Now c’mon, let’s get this over with.”

Ron exchanged a bewildered look with Hermione before following his sister to the top of the house. She held up a hand when they reached Sirius’s bedroom door and he stopped and waited as she opened the door, Hermione at his side.

“They’re here,” Ginny said, poking her head into the bedroom beyond. “Are you positive you want to talk to them?”

Ron didn’t hear a response, but Ginny sighed and turned to face him and Hermione once more. “Ground rules,” she said, tone brooking no arguments. “One: you do not ask him what happened. Sirius, Remus, and I know, and that is enough for him right now. Two: you can apologize or whatever, but don’t expect automatic forgiveness. He’s really hurt by everything that happened.” She swallowed. “Three: if he tells you to leave, you leave. End of story.” She shot a hard look in particular at Hermione. “Can you accept these rules? If not, you’d best head back downstairs now.”

“I’ll follow the rules,” said Ron quickly, desperate enough to finally see Harry with his own eyes to put up with Ginny’s attitude and demands.

“I will do the same,” said Hermione somberly. “I promise.”

Ginny looked skeptical, but nodded and opened the door. “Come in, then,” she said, and Ron followed her into the bedroom.

Remus was in there, reading a book in the chair next to the bed. And upon the bed sat his best friend.

Ron remembered what Harry had looked like before he’d started the Third Task. Before everything changed. That was not the same Harry sitting before him now.

This Harry was incredibly pale; wild hair uneven through the right side of his scalp; he had lost a great deal of weight as well, which was saying something because Harry had never been much more than thin as it was; his eyes were filled with trepidation the likes of which Ron had never seen before.

He was nervous.

Truth be told, so was Ron.

Ginny immediately crawled onto the bed until she was seated right next to Harry and firmly clasped his hands in her own. Remus shut his book and Conjured two more chairs. “Please, sit,” he offered quietly. Ron obliged, Hermione slowly following suit.

“Hi, Harry,” she said softly.

Harry looked at her and Ron before nodding and dropping his gaze. “Hey,” he finally whispered. Ron could see him tightly gripping Ginny’s hands, and he realized he had no idea what to say.

“We missed you,” said Hermione timidly. “It – it was so scary, not knowing where you were. We just wanted you to be safe.”

Ron thought he saw Harry’s lips quirk ever so slightly. He carefully leaned forward.

“It’s been right boring without you around,” he said. “Hermione’s been driving me barmy.”

Harry lifted his head and met his gaze. “Why couldn’t you see?” he asked.

Ron didn’t have to ask what he meant. He swallowed hard and looked down as he picked at a loose thread in his jeans.

“I’ve been asking myself the same question the last two weeks,” he said. “We – we all have, and I –” He broke off and rubbed at his face. “I don’t know,” he admitted, forcing himself to meet Harry’s eyes. “I don’t know how I didn’t see it, but you’ve got to know how sorry I am for it.”

“We’re both sorry,” whispered Hermione, and Ron could see her brown eyes welling with tears. “I never thought anyone could imitate my best friend so perfectly that I couldn’t see what was really going on, but it happened! It’s been tearing me up inside that you weren’t there and I didn’t realize.” She grabbed Ron’s hand tightly. “I am so sorry that I failed you, Harry.”

Harry looked at her for a long moment before nodding. “It hurts,” he said. “Want – want it to stop hurting.”

“The pain will ease with time,” said Remus gently, “but also with forgiveness. I suppose the real question here is whether or not you are ready to forgive your best friends.”

Harry glanced at Remus. “It doesn’t have to be right now,” said Ginny quickly. “You can take all the time you need.”

Ron felt as though his sister was prepared to fully hex him and Hermione out of the room if that’s what Harry wanted. He couldn’t help but admire her fiercely protective nature in this moment, but it was up to Harry what happened next.

“If you want us to go, we will,” he said, ignoring how Hermione stiffened next to him. “Mate, we are here for you however you want us.”

Harry met his eyes, and he somehow knew what Harry was going to say before he opened his mouth.

“You’re real.”

Hermione let out a harsh sob and buried her face in her hands. Ron reached out to pat her on the back, feeling a bit awkward in Harry’s presence, but Harry’s face broke into the first smile he’d seen since before the maze, and he knew in that moment that they were going to be okay.

Then Harry scooted to the edge of the bed and carefully reached out to take Hermione’s hands in his own. “C’mere,” he said quietly, and Hermione immediately flung her arms around him, sobbing into his shoulder. Harry smiled a bit and wrapped his arms around her. Ron met Ginny’s eyes and saw she was rather teary-eyed herself.

He knew it was foolish to think the pain was gone, but he had been forgiven. He’d take what he could if it meant Harry was alive and healing. And watching as Hermione clung to their friend, he knew they would be okay.

Sirius returned to find that Harry had followed through in speaking with his best friends just as they’d discussed that morning. Judging by the way they were playing Exploding Snap on his bedroom floor with Harry and Ginny, Harry had forgiven them.

His godson wasn’t whole without his best friends. There was much healing still to come, but this was a step in the right direction.

“So you’re free!” said Ron brightly. “How’s that feel, Sirius?”

Meeting Harry’s eyes, Sirius allowed himself a wide grin. “Better than Firewhiskey,” he said. Remus chuckled as Harry grinned right back at him.

Of course, with freedom came new challenges Sirius ought to have expected, yet found himself caught off-guard by. Minister Fudge sent daily summons demanding that Sirius bring Harry to the Ministry for evaluation of his physical and mental health since he had been officially declared Harry’s legal guardian.

Sirius, of course, had no intentions of complying with these demands.

So long as Peter Pettigrew remains at large, I cannot trust that my godson will be safe anywhere but where he is currently located, he took great pleasure in writing before sending Hedwig off with his response. She was looking quite lovely again now that she had fully recovered from two weeks in places unknown.

Perhaps she had also been trying to find Harry, he mused to himself.

But no matter. The fact was that the Ministry would not be getting anywhere near Harry as far as he was concerned, and he knew Hedwig was more than happy to do her part in making sure of this. “Fudge can stuff it for all I care,” he told Remus, who coughed to hide a chuckle.

The day after Harry forgave Ron and Hermione, he allowed Fred and George to visit. They entered the bedroom behind Ginny, uncharacteristically somber. “Hey, mate,” said George when it looked like Fred wasn’t going to speak. “We wanted to say how sorry we are for not seeing what was going on.”

Harry nodded.

There was a moment of silence.

“Why did he give us the winnings from the tournament?” Fred asked abruptly. “I keep thinking it over – it was a barmy move, even for you.”

Harry looked down at his hands, which Ginny had tangled with hers. “It was – the idea…” He trailed off, suddenly looking frustrated, and Sirius thought he must be struggling to explain without the use of personal pronouns. He still hadn’t used a single one the entire time he’d been at Grimmauld Place.

“Whose idea was it?” Ginny asked him, seeming to understand. Harry untangled one hand and pointed at himself.

“Wanted to do it,” he said, “and he used the thoughts and words the – the boy had to convince you both.”

“The boy?” asked George curiously. Harry flushed.

“F-felt like Harry in his mind,” he said. “It’s how he referred to –” He broke off and gestured to himself. “To the body back in the cellar,” he finally finished.

The twins frowned in confusion, and Ginny’s face was stony. As awful as this was to hear, Sirius found he wasn’t totally surprised. Snape had already said that Voldemort frequently referred to Harry as “the boy” rather than by name in his meetings with the Dark Lord. What tore at his heart was the full understanding of why Harry had lost the ability to refer to himself directly in any verbal sense. His memories were incredibly twisted up in what Voldemort had been doing to him, to his mind; his thoughts had been Harry’s thoughts, his actions Harry’s actions. Harry himself had been nothing in the other man’s eyes, and it clearly reflected in Harry’s continued struggles to speak about himself.

"Do you want to stop talking about it?" Ginny asked quietly. "They don't need to know, they can leave right now if that's what you want."

Harry looked at Ginny for a long moment before shaking his head. "Tell them," he said.

And so she did, explaining about the potion, being stuck in Voldemort's mind, everything they knew for certain. The twins bore horror-struck expressions on their faces through the whole thing.

“We never should’ve accepted the gold,” said Fred, shaking his head when Ginny finished. “We’ll give you back what we didn’t use and –” But Harry was shaking his head now.

“Wanted you to have it when you told everyone about Bagman cheating you out of your winnings from the World Cup,” he said, looking stubborn. “Don’t care that he followed through. Keep it. Everything he said came from –” He broke off again and pointed to himself. He couldn’t say the word, but Fred and George seemed to understand, regardless.

“All right, Harry,” said George, smiling a bit. “We’ll keep it. The world needs more laughter, right?”

Harry smiled and nodded.

The next day, he talked with Arthur, but when asked about Molly, Bill, and Albus, he simply shook his head and changed the subject.

Hermione was clearly trying her best to follow the rules Ginny had set out, but there were a couple of times that her curiosity and desire for answers won out and she pushed hard enough to cause Harry to close off and send Ginny into a towering rage.

“I told you not to push for information he isn’t ready to share!” she barked out angrily, wand in Hermione’s face as the older girl paled. Sirius had had to intervene to ensure no one was physically injured.

Hermione hadn’t been allowed back in to see Harry for two days after the first incident, and another full day after the second. After the second time, it seemed she finally learned her lesson, because she stopped asking questions when something was said that didn’t make full sense to her.

Sirius had to wonder if she had a bloody tongue from all the times she must have had to bite it to keep from pushing for answers.

Meanwhile, Harry was having nightmares almost every night, though Sirius was easily able to calm him. Once Harry was strong enough to physically take care of himself, he moved into Regulus’s old room, but this seemed only to increase the nightmares he suffered, so Sirius found himself losing a great deal of rest. Harry’s moans and cries had him up and crossing to the other bedroom in seconds where he would gather his godson in his arms and whisper to him reassuringly until he calmed and either fell back asleep, or revealed in stuttered whispers what he had been dreaming about. Or simply sat, leaning against Sirius without speaking, as though Sirius’s presence was comfort enough.

The last one happened the most out of the three outcomes.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Sirius tried asking once.

“No,” was the quiet response.

Sirius hadn’t asked again. If Harry wanted him to know, he would tell him. It had to be enough that he was there for him regardless.

Harry grew stronger with every passing day, but a week before term was due to start, Sirius was faced with a new dilemma: Harry wasn’t ready to go back to Hogwarts. He was still easily winded despite Madam Pomfrey’s quick cure for the pneumonia that settled in his lungs during his captivity, and even though he had regained most of the weight he’d lost in the Death Eater’s so-called “care,” it wasn’t enough.

“I can’t send him back like this,” he said at that evening’s Order meeting. Harry’s friends were sitting with him upstairs to keep him company while Sirius and Remus were in the kitchen. “He’s not strong enough to handle more than a couple flights of stairs, he’s still underweight, the nightmares are getting worse – he still has yet to use a single personal pronoun.”

“I have to agree with Black,” said Snape unexpectedly. “Potter has made progress, but not enough to successfully navigate Hogwarts in his current state.”

“What do you propose, Sirius?” asked Albus, looking at him over his half-moon spectacles.

“I think he needs at least another month,” said Sirius, “focusing mainly on regaining his lost weight and strength, but I also propose he have a private tutor.”

“A private tutor sounds like an excellent idea to me,” said Minerva McGonagall. “It’s Potter’s O.W.L. year, so the coursework will be accelerated, and the workload will increase. I would hate for him to fall behind in any of his classes.”

“Even Divination?” Sirius asked her with a smirk. He knew how much she despised the subject.

Minerva narrowed her eyes. “Even Divination,” she said tartly.

“So we need to find someone we can trust to be around Harry for hours at a time,” said Remus. “Any suggestions?”

In reality, Sirius knew exactly who he wanted to pay to teach his godson, but he waited to see if there were any other suggestions of people who might be able to tutor his godson. The Order members discussed friends they knew, retired teachers, contacts abroad, but none of those witches or wizards were to Sirius’s satisfaction. There was something a bit exhilarating in having the freedom to decide who (and what) was best for his charge.

“Well, who would you suggest, then?” Molly finally asked him after a dozen names had been proposed and discarded.

Sirius smiled and pointed to Remus sitting beside him.

“Me?” said Remus, surprised.

“You’ve taught Harry before,” said Sirius. “He knows and trusts you. We know and trust you. We’ve proven he can handle complete strangers after introducing him to Tonks and Kingsley, but this is his education we’re talking about. I want him with someone he’ll easily work with, and that’s Remus.”

“You’re just looking for an excuse to shower me with your gold,” Remus mumbled, and Sirius barked out a loud laugh as Tonks giggled from his other side. She reached out and patted Remus’s shoulder consolingly.

“I can’t think of a better way to insult our ancestors than to use their gold on someone they’d disapprove of,” she said brightly. Many in the room chuckled at this.

“So will you do it?” Sirius asked Remus. His best friend sighed and nodded.

“It would be my honor,” he said softly. Sirius clapped him jovially on the shoulder.

“Well, that settles that!” he proclaimed.

“You planned on choosing Remus the entire time, didn’t you?” asked Arthur with a knowing glint in his eye. Sirius shrugged and didn’t answer, but he knew the older man could see right through him.

“Then Harry will be in excellent hands until he is ready to return to Hogwarts,” said Albus merrily. “I know you’ll have Defense Against the Dark Arts well in hand, Remus, but I will have the other professors put together a syllabus for the month as a guideline so Harry stays on track with his fellow fifth-years.”

And so it was decided.

Ginny held Harry’s hand as Sirius and Remus explained their decision to keep Harry at Grimmauld Place for at least another month while he regained his strength, with Remus as his tutor so he wouldn’t fall behind in any of his classes.

“Even Divination?” asked Ron skeptically. “Load of rubbish, that class is.”

Remus smiled mildly. “Every subject Harry has been taking, yes,” he said. “The headmaster will have his teachers send me a syllabus of what they will be covering in September with the expectation that Harry will return by the first of October.”

“But what about Herbology and Care of Magical Creatures?” asked Hermione. “The practical, hands-on application of those subjects won’t work well here.”

“We will do what we can with what we have,” said Remus evenly. “Are you alright with this arrangement, Harry?”

Harry nodded quickly and smiled. “You’re a good teacher,” he said.

“Best Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher we’ve ever had,” said Ron, and Ginny nodded in agreement, heart sinking.

A month without Harry.

A whole month.

She still wasn’t sleeping well, but had long accepted this as the new normal. Her mind drifted over the few times she had woken up from yet another peaceful nap on Harry’s bed (it was unintentional, she reminded herself), and seeing those green eyes first thing every time… well, it had done nothing to quell Ginny’s feelings for him, which was leaving her to face a harsh truth:

She couldn’t stay in a relationship with Michael and keep pining after Harry in secret. Harry trusted her, relied on her as a friend, as support – there was nothing else to it, and there never would be. She needed to focus her attention where it belonged, and that was her perfectly kind and sweet boyfriend.

“It’ll be strange not to be together, though,” said Hermione quietly, drawing Ginny’s attention back to the conversation at hand. “It’s not Hogwarts without Harry.”

Ginny smiled as Harry ducked his head, cheeks pink. She knew he was embarrassed, but also secretly pleased by Hermione’s words.

“It’s just one month,” Ron said bracingly. “Harry’ll be back with us before you know it!”

“Exactly,” agreed Ginny. “Then you three can go getting up to all sorts of mischief together again while the rest of us carry on like normal.”

Harry frowned a bit, but said nothing. Sirius wrapped up the conversation and sent them all off to bed. Ginny returned to the bedroom she shared with Hermione, silently wondering where she fit in. There was no denying that she and Harry had something special now, but they were in different years. Would he even need her at all after a month away?

Really, though, why would he? Ginny hadn’t needed him after her first year. He’d been as kind as ever, but not really there, either. She had relied on her family, the trip to Egypt, and her own determination to put herself back together and move forward. She hadn’t needed any one person, so why would Harry?

But why had she always been real?

Knowing Harry’s reasoning still didn’t mean she fully grasped what made her so different. The reality was that Ginny had not been able to piece the clues together quickly enough to see what was happening, and Harry had almost died as a result. How had he been able to look at her and see someone worth trusting? Would she ever fully grasp what it was that seemed to set her apart in his eyes?

“Are you alright?” Hermione asked, and Ginny blinked back into reality, finding she’d been staring at her pajamas for several minutes without touching them.

“Just tired,” she lied quickly. “I’m not looking forward to another night of tossing and turning.”

“You’re not sleeping at all?” Hermione looked alarmed.

“I mean, I’m still awake a lot, but I’m starting to sleep more,” said Ginny. “I’m sure I’ll be back to normal soon enough.”

Hermione nodded. “It can be hard,” she said, “turning off all the things on your mind. I’ve struggled with it.”

Ginny hesitated then asked, “How do you manage it?”

Hermione looked up from turning down the bedsheets on her bed. “Meditating,” she said. “Careful, controlled breathing for ten minutes to settle my mind so I can sleep.”

“Oh.” Ginny turned away to change into her pajamas, thinking. “I’m sorry for how I’ve treated you since Harry came back,” she said to her bed. “I – I reckon it’s all too easy to become overprotective of Harry.”

“It really is,” said Hermione softly. Ginny pulled on her pajama top and turned to see Hermione watching her, eyes soft. “Ron and I have been pretty much all he’s had for the last few years,” she said. “We’re the ones he’s turned to in a crisis, every time, so this – the way he didn’t trust us – Ginny, we’ve been through a lot together, and all I’ve ever wanted for Harry was to be his friend, but I’ve also been his support.”

Ginny nodded.

“I’m accustomed to Ron and myself being the ones he turns to when there’s trouble,” Hermione continued. “He sent Hedwig to us last summer to ask for extra food so he wouldn’t go hungry while his cousin was on his abysmal diet, and each obstacle he’s faced – it’s always been me and Ron.”

“And then this happened,” said Ginny softly.

Hermione nodded. “I pushed because it’s always been the three of us,” she sighed. “Having the dynamics change so drastically was horrible for me, and – well, I didn’t handle it very well, did I?”

Ginny crossed the small room and threw her arms around Hermione. “We’re going to be okay,” she said. “And so is Harry.”

Hermione hugged her tightly in return, and Ginny knew that all was forgiven. That night, for the first time in a long time, Ginny slept peacefully.

Back to index

Chapter 13: Exclusive

Author's Notes: I was going to post this chapter a week ago, but a stomach bug ravaged my family, instead. I spent the whole time tending to sick kids only to fall prey to their illness Sunday night. My husband got sick, too, though not as bad as me (then again, I was the one tending to the children, not him). I even missed two days of work recovering — though I really should have taken three days off.

Anyway... no one has asked me about the whereabouts of one Rita Skeeter. Surely if she'd been in the hospital wing after the Third Task, everyone would be more receptive to the idea that Voldemort had returned, right? I address this in this chapter when she and Sirius meet.

Why are they meeting? Well, there's a reason this chapter is called Exclusive. Enjoy!

P.S. The next three chapters will all be from Harry's perspective, wrapping up the two weeks after the Dursleys died (which Harry has not once described and likely never will), as well as his rescue and recovery from his side of things. Also, there's more Ginny in those chapters than you'd think, You'll see what I mean when chapter 14 goes up.

Chapter Thirteen: Exclusive

Sirius was reading a rather official-looking letter when Remus stepped into the kitchen the next morning. Judging by the way his lips were pursed and his eyes were narrowed, it likely wasn’t a letter with anything particularly nice to say.

“Morning,” he greeted his friend as he settled down at the table, quietly thanking Molly for the plate of food she slipped in front of him. Sirius grunted, then tossed the letter on the table, causing Bill and Arthur to look up from their hushed conversation about goblins at the other end of the table.

“What a pillock,” Sirius muttered, snagging his mug and taking a large gulp.

“Fudge again?” asked Remus curiously.

Sirius nodded as he shoved the letter towards him. Remus carefully picked it up and began to read:

Sirius Black,

I am reaching out to you once more for information regarding your godson’s health and progress. His disappearance and return has been a very high-profile case, and I would like to request more information than “fine” to report to the public because of it. You must know that we all have Harry’s best interests at heart in ensuring his recovery from his time in captivity.

It is of vital importance that I know who has been overseeing the boy’s recovery as well as his current status. Hogwarts term resumes in six days; we at the Ministry have been working with Albus Dumbledore to ensure there is proper security in place so no other imposters can do as Crouch Jr did and steal away another student.

Please send your response posthaste.

Your obedient servant,
Cornelius Fudge
Minister for Magic

“Bit nosy, I suppose,” Remus allowed, lowering the letter to the wooden tabletop. “But then every letter from him has been this way since your innocence was made official.”

“I know,” snorted Sirius, “but the same sort of thing every day, Remus! Does his persistence truly have no end?”

“I suppose it’s better he fawns over Harry than it is he continues his campaign to convince the public he’s unstable,” said Remus reasonably.

“The public is going to believe whatever the Prophet puts out,” said Sirius with a scowl. “They were going full-steam ahead with that campaign until –” He broke off and looked down at his half-eaten plate of food.

He didn’t need to finish that sentence. They all knew what he meant.

Harry’s disappearance had derailed Fudge’s campaign against him. He’d barely had three weeks to get things rolling when word of the Dursleys’ deaths had reached the Ministry. There had been no discrediting of the teenager after that.

Whatever the public believed about Harry, a teenager going missing following the deaths of his only living relatives was horrifying, especially one as high-profile as the Boy Who Lived. Remus wondered what Fudge might do next if Sirius continued to be uncooperative, and hoped his worst fears wouldn’t come to pass.

Sighing, Sirius slumped in his seat. “I’d better at least tell him Harry isn’t going back right away,” he said unenthusiastically. “Reckon that’ll make the papers.”

“What if…” Bill spoke up hesitantly. Remus looked over at him.

“What if…?” he prompted.

Bill seemed to be indecisive for a long moment before settling on whatever it was he was going to say.

“The Daily Prophet wants to hear your story, Sirius,” he said. “So… give them the exclusive on yourself and the fact that Harry isn’t going back to Hogwarts right away. Make Fudge find out at the same time as everyone else.”

There was a moment of silence.

“Oh, that is evil,” said Sirius, an all-too-familiar grin spreading over his face. If there was one thing Remus’s friend liked to do, it was to one-up people he disliked.

And Sirius very much disliked Fudge.

“Think they’ll be clamoring to write down anything I say if I just stroll in there?”

“I don’t see why not,” said Arthur. “Just – make sure you’re not sharing anything vital –”

“Not a problem,” said Sirius dismissively. “I reckon they’ll be eating out of my hand in seconds.” He grinned again and leapt to his feet. “Remus, you’re in charge of Harry until I get back.”

Remus nodded, and Sirius was out the door moments later. “I hope this doesn’t backfire on us,” said Molly worriedly.

“It’ll be fine, Mum,” said Bill with a grin. “The kinds of trouble Sirius got up to in school aside, he’s a Black. He was raised by a family of manipulators, so I’m certain he can draw on those lessons to get ahead of the curve.”

Remus had to agree with Bill on this. He finished his breakfast and headed up to Harry’s room to check on him and Ginny. He was pleased to find Ron and Hermione in there with them. Harry and Ron were playing chess on the floor, while Hermione read her most recent Ancient Runes text on the bed, and Ginny tried to help Harry beat Ron.

One look at the chessboard told Remus it wasn’t going very well. He watched as Ginny leant close to the board, an intense look of concentration on her face. Ron appeared amused, and Harry –

For a moment, Remus felt he must have mistakenly used a Time-Turner, because the look on Harry’s face as he watched Ginny was exactly the way James had looked at Lily in unguarded moments; it was the expression Remus had witnessed when he was besotted, yet unwilling to admit to it without putting on the loud, confident teenaged front that had only served to make Lily roll her eyes and walk away.

How had he missed this before? He had carefully observed Ginny and seen that she wasn’t very good at concealing her feelings the moment she thought Harry wasn’t looking, but that Harry was doing the exact same thing…

Of course, Remus wasn’t certain that Harry was aware of his own thoughts, or even emotionally ready to handle more than friendship as it was. The damage done to his confidence and self-esteem had yet to be fully repaired, and it certainly wouldn’t be fair to Ginny to be the sole emotional strength of the relationship. It was probably for the best that he stay out of it and let them eventually figure things out for themselves.

Besides, Ginny was already seeing Michael Corner, and Remus knew him to be a nice young man, certainly more stable in his self-confidence than Harry was at this point. Whether that relationship would last was another matter altogether, but he didn’t think it wise to encourage (or discourage) anything. Ginny deserved to be happy, and it seemed she had already done much for herself to be just that.

Relationships were complicated enough as it was without additional interference.

Just then, Tonks barged into the room. “Wotcher, Harry!” she said loudly, smile just as bright as her bubblegum pink hair. “Who’s winning?”

“Who else?” laughed Ginny. “My brother, as always.”

Ron grinned as Ginny threw an arm around Harry’s shoulders and sighed dramatically. “I suppose we’re doomed to bask in his strategic glory.”

Tonks laughed, throwing her head back, face lit up with her amusement, and Hermione grinned from behind her book. “Everyone has to be rubbish at something,” said Ron consolingly, reaching across the board to pat his sister’s knee.

Remus smiled and glanced at Harry to see he had ducked his head. He was grinning, but Remus could see that his cheeks were very pink and likely had been from the moment Ginny had placed her arm around his shoulders. Oh dear, he’s got it bad, Remus thought to himself. Then Tonks looked around and grinned at him, and he felt a bit hot under the collar all of a sudden.

“Aren’t you going to help out here?” she asked him. “I remember you kicking Sirius’s arse at chess when I was a child.”

Remus huffed a small laugh. “Sirius has the tactical skill of a Flobberworm when it comes to chess,” he said, causing Ron and Ginny to burst into peals of laughter. “I’m simply decent at the game, not the master that Ron is.”

“Please stop stroking his ego!” Ginny said loudly. “Next thing you know, we’ll be hearing all about the great Hogwarts chess game of ‘92, and Merlin knows I’ve heard more than enough of that match!”

Ron scowled at his sister. “Well, he did beat chess pieces transfigured by Professor McGonagall,” pointed out Hermione reasonably as she lowered her book a bit. “I suppose he’s rather earned the right to brag.”

Now Ron was beaming, chest thrown out, and Ginny groaned and mimed vomiting all over the chess board. Harry started laughing, green eyes sparkling with amusement the likes of which Remus had never seen before –

Next thing he knew, Harry was curled up tightly, hands on his forehead. Ginny sent the chessboard flying as she scrambled to crouch in front of him, ignoring the chess pieces which shouted angrily from their scattered places across the floor.

Hermione dropped her book completely as Remus quickly joined Ginny on the floor. “What’s going on?” she asked shakily.

“Is it his scar?” Ron pressed. “Is it bothering him?”

“Worse,” said Tonks softly. “He – You-Know-Who is attempting to invade his mind again.”

Remus stopped listening to them at this point, carefully uncurling Harry’s tense form as Ginny began whispering desperately to him, cupping his face in her hands. “I’ve got you Harry, you’re safe, you just need to shut the door again. C’mon, Harry, you can do it…”

She carried on as Remus rubbed Harry’s back soothingly. There wasn’t much more to be done, unfortunately. This battle was fought entirely inside the boy’s mind, and only he could shut down the link between himself and Voldemort.

Harry was breathing harshly, eyes screwed up and hands still over his scar, and he started rocking slightly as Ginny continued to whisper encouragement. “You can do it, Harry,” Remus whispered. “Shut him out.”

Just as abruptly as the mental attack had started, it ended. Ginny gathered Harry into her arms, and he rested his forehead on her shoulder as he gasped for breath, trembling. Remus continued rubbing his back soothingly while Ginny murmured gentle words to him; slowly, he relaxed, arms clumsily moving to grip Ginny’s shoulders.

“Better now,” he finally rasped. “Th-thanks.”

Ginny smiled at him when he sat up straighter. “One of these days you’ll stop thanking me for doing what any decent person would do,” she told him. “That’s when I’ll know you’re all better.”

Harry smiled weakly. Remus helped him over to the bed, Hermione scrambling to pull back the bedcovers and move her book out of the way. Harry flopped on his back, carelessly pulling off his glasses for Remus to set aside, and he covered his face with his hands. “He’s trying harder,” he whispered. “He’s still so angry.”

“But you still got him out,” said Ginny reassuringly as she pulled up the covers. “You’re so strong, Harry.”

Harry shrugged a bit and rolled onto his side, facing away from them. “Tired,” he whispered.

“Rest, Harry,” said Remus gently. “We’ll be here when you wake.”

Ginny clambered onto the bed and leant against the headboard on Harry’s other side; he reached out for her hand without a word. She took it, and soon he was fast asleep.

“That was much worse than I’d been led to believe,” said Tonks softly. Remus sighed.

“It’s incredibly harrowing, to be frank,” he said. “There is so little we can do for him when it happens.”

“Wait,” said Hermione, “You-Know-Who was in his head?”

They still didn’t know everything, and apart from two instances in the past couple of weeks, Hermione hadn’t pushed the issue, having promised to wait for Harry to explain when he was ready. Ginny met Remus’s eyes questioningly.

It was up to him to decide how much to tell Ron and Hermione; Voldemort’s latest attack had robbed them the ability to remain silent. He heaved a louder sigh and settled down at the foot of the bed to explain.

There were few things as awful as their current reality, and having to share that with them in its fullness was quite painful. Hermione’s face paled with every word such that Remus feared she would pass out, and Ron’s eyes were as large as saucers by the time he finished.

“After he served detention in the Forbidden Forest our first year, his scar was constantly bothering him,” said Ron quietly. “There was nothing we could do then, either.”

“I hate that so many awful things have happened to Harry,” said Hermione sadly. “It isn’t fair.”

“That it is not,” agreed Remus, watching Harry’s chest slowly rise and fall. “That it is not, indeed.”

If there was one thing Sirius hoped for, it was to never have to talk about Azkaban ever again.

But for Harry, he would do anything.

Including sitting with one Rita Skeeter for his exclusive interview.

“So, Mr. Black,” she began, “tell me what it’s like to be a free man after years of wrongful imprisonment.”

“It’s nice to go where I want,” said Sirius with a shrug.

“The public hasn’t seen much of you since you were officially declared innocent, though,” said Skeeter, raising one of her heavily penciled brows. “Why is that, exactly?”

“My priorities haven’t been strolling along Diagon Alley or showing off,” said Sirius tightly.

“So why have an interview now, then?” Skeeter pressed. “Clearly something has changed to bring you to me of all people.” She grinned slyly. “You’re well-aware of the articles I’ve already written about your godson, I’m sure.”

Sirius smiled blandly. “Exclusives you managed due to your illegal Animagus form, yes, I’m well-aware.”

The grin slipped a bit. “I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about,” said Skeeter in a would-be casual voice.

“Let’s not play coy, shall we?” said Sirius with a sly grin of his own. “You mistook Hermione Granger for an idiot. Anyone who does that can easily find themselves at a major disadvantage. It must have rankled you not to be able to get into the hospital wing after the imposter returned from the maze, for example. It’s probably a good thing Crouch Jr was as protective of his lord as he was. You could just as easily have become a squashed bug on the floor that night.”

Skeeter glared behind her jeweled spectacles. “So you maintain the drivel Dumbledore insists upon?”

“When did you discover your Animagus form was a beetle?” Sirius returned lightly. Skeeter tensed. “It was far too easy for Hermione to piece together. I wonder what the public would think if they knew how you obtain your most intimate and shocking exclusives?”

“How has the public handled your illegal Animagus form, Mr. Black?”

Sirius’s grin widened. “My livelihood doesn’t depend upon such a deception, so rather well, I should think.”

“What do you want, Black?” Skeeter at last dropped the pretense and eyed him carefully.

“A truthful exclusive,” said Sirius, resettling himself comfortably in his cushioned chair. “You write exactly what I say, no embellishments or lies with that blasted quill of yours, and I don’t share your illegal form with the country. And to add to your exclusive,” he added as Skeeter opened her mouth, “you get to be the one to share some important information about my godson.”

Skeeter froze, eyes wide for a moment. Then a hungry expression overtook her heavy features. “You would let me be the one to tell the world about Harry’s current status?”

“In return for your complete cooperation,” said Sirius evenly. “This includes no prior warning given to the Minster. Fudge finds this out when the paper gets dropped on his desk and not a moment before.”

Skeeter grinned, showing off her golden tooth. “Mr. Black,” she all but purred as she held out a large hand, “I believe you have yourself a willing accomplice and a deal.”

Deal with the bleeding devil, Sirius thought grimly, but he shook on it and settled in, sharing his experiences in Azkaban, his motivation for escape, the origin of his Animagus form (the Wizarding populace already knew Remus was a werewolf thanks to Snape), the details of choosing Wormtail as the Potters’ Secret Keeper, and the night Lily and James died.

Sirius knew better than to specifically mention Voldemort’s return since he wanted Fudge to have no reason to try and declare him an unfit guardian; Skeeter didn’t seem to really believe the Dark Lord was back, as it was. He did describe the modified version of events which had him, Dumbledore, and Kingsley Shacklebolt find and rescue Harry, though he hated that Remus wouldn’t get the credit he was due.

“And what of Harry’s recovery?” Skeeter finally asked him. “Hogwarts term resumes in six days, after all.”

“Harry has come a long way from the state in which I found him,” Sirius admitted, “but he is not physically or emotionally prepared to return to Hogwarts yet.”

Skeeter’s eyes widened. “This is your true exclusive,” she said shrewdly. “The Minister has wanted to know your intentions regarding Harry’s schooling, has he not?”

Sirius nodded. “Harry’s regained most of his strength, but the emotional damage…” He swallowed, unable to finish the sentence. “Harry requires at least one more month before he will be prepared to return to school,” he continued. “I will of course provide him with private tutoring since this is his O.W.L. year, but the intense seclusion he suffered paired with the damage done…” Sirius trailed off once more and looked down at his hands.

“You’re trying not to overwhelm the boy,” surmised Skeeter with surprising insight. “Crouch Jr has claimed that Harry’s mind was not his own during his time in captivity.”

Sirius couldn’t bring himself to meet Skeeter’s eyes, wondering what lengths she had gone to in order to discover that little tidbit Fudge was trying to squash. “It is in my godson’s best interests to have more time to recover,” he stated. “He will do so under the care of myself and any resource I deem fit to meet his needs. Harry has suffered more than any child ever ought to, and it is my job as his godfather and legal guardian to ensure he never wants for anything ever again.”

“You wish to spoil your godson?”

Sirius smiled sadly. “He deserves the world,” he answered in a soft voice, meeting Skeeter’s intense gaze once more. “Anyone who would deny him that has no place in our lives.”

Skeeter didn’t have anything to say to that, so she instead focused on how Sirius planned to spoil his godson. He was happy to discuss the private tutoring, how he had already arranged for Harry’s teachers at Hogwarts to send over their plans for September so the tutor would know what to cover for each of his classes, even his plans to get Harry fitted with new clothes.

“Yes, I noticed his Muggle clothing seemed exceptionally baggy for his size,” mused Skeeter. “Were the Dursleys impoverished?”

Sirius knew how he wanted to answer this particular question; he also realized the additional fallout his answer would have on Harry’s life. “I believe so, yes,” he forced himself to say. “Harry’s cousin was the larger of the two, so clothing was purchased for his size as a result.”

“Yet Harry does have full access to the Potter vault, does he not?”

This made Sirius more uncomfortable. “I believe it was James and Lily’s wish that the money only be used once Harry was ready to attend Hogwarts,” he said carefully. “Lily didn’t have the best relationship with her sister after she was accepted to Hogwarts, either.”

Skeeter eyed Sirius for a moment. “Muggles are capable of caring more for their social standing than those in their care,” she said shrewdly.

“I wouldn’t know,” Sirius shrugged. “I didn’t know Petunia Dursley personally, nor her husband.” He carefully steered the conversation to the importance of education and his plans to ensure his heir had everything he could ever desire. Skeeter ate it up and didn’t bring up the Dursleys again until the end of the interview.

“Has Harry discussed the deaths of his relatives with you?”

“Of course,” said Sirius. “They were the only family he knew growing up. It was horrible for him to know they’d been murdered in an effort to further isolate and harm him. I’ve been working with him to help him understand that their deaths weren’t his fault.”

“You truly sound the perfect godfather and guardian to the Boy Who Lived,” remarked Skeeter. “I’m certain Britain will have its eyes on you more than ever in the coming months with the publication of this interview.”

Sirius grinned. “So long as it’s factual and without embellishments, I reckon I can handle the public scrutiny.”

He left shortly after with a spring in his step. He couldn’t wait for Fudge’s reaction to tomorrow’s headline.

The stony expression on Harry’s face after Remus let him know that Ron and Hermione knew everything now pulled at something inside Ginny. She knew he’d wanted the truth shared on his own terms, but Voldemort’s attack on his mind had taken away his choice in when that information would be shared.

“I’m sorry, Harry,” said Remus softly.

Harry nodded. “It – it’s okay,” he finally sighed. “Couldn’t keep it from them forever.”

“Still, you’d have preferred to tell them on your own terms,” stated Ginny. Harry glanced at her and nodded.

“Voldemort ruined it,” he murmured.

Ginny sighed and pulled Harry close the way her mother always did after one of her nightmares of the diary and Tom. “He certainly loves to ruin everything,” she grumbled. Harry snorted, and Ginny knew he agreed with her.

It came as no surprise that Hermione didn’t sleep well that night. Ginny was vaguely aware of the older girl’s tossing and turning in the other bed, but as she didn’t know if Hermione would welcome an offer to talk about what was obviously bothering her, she stayed silent and slept as well as she could.

The next morning, Harry curled up on his bed with Ginny and Sirius as they read the exclusive interview he’d granted the Daily Prophet.


Ginny was amazed by the accuracy of the article. “Skeeter actually kept up her end of the bargain,” she remarked as she carefully read through Sirius’s story of betrayal and imprisonment. “I’m impressed after the awful rubbish she published last year.”

Harry nodded. “How did you convince her?” he asked Sirius.

Sirius grinned. “Hermione figured out a vital piece of information which allowed me to blackmail her,” he said. “Turns out Skeeter is an unregistered Animagus.”

Ginny felt her jaw drop as Harry stared at Sirius. “Some kind of bug?” he asked. “Hermione ran off to the library the day of the Third Task after talking about Muggle bugging.”

“A beetle,” said Sirius smugly. “She has to play by my rules lest I share how she manages to get her most scandalous exclusives.”

“Like Viktor asking Hermione to visit him over the summer,” said Ginny, thinking quickly.

“Or the dream in Divination,” added Harry quietly.

“Exactly,” said Sirius. “Her interviews with the Slytherin students were managed with her Animagus form, as well. A beetle isn’t what you’re going to be looking for if you’ve banned the woman from the school.”

“And she willingly traded her secret for a straightforward interview,” said Ginny, slightly disbelieving.

Sirius laughed. “I gave her extra incentive by allowing her the exclusive on Harry’s current status. Arthur says the Ministry’s been hounded by the public for any update on Harry’s condition, which means I’ve been inundated by letters from Fudge demanding answers.”

“Sounds annoying,” said Ginny, and Sirius nodded.

“Incredibly so,” he agreed. “Bill suggested that Fudge find out at the same time as everyone else, and well…” He flicked the newspaper lightly. “Here’s the result.”

It came as no surprise that Fudge sent Sirius a Howler which shook the whole house and woke the portrait of Walburga Black. The next day (four days left), the house was flooded with letters from well-wishers for Harry’s speedy recovery, and offers to tutor him or provide his home care.

Sirius grimaced at one such letter and wouldn’t let any of them read it. “The contents are incredibly inappropriate,” was all he grumbled after setting it afire.

All these letters served to remind Ginny of the fact that time was fast running out before she returned to Hogwarts.

Without Harry.

He’ll be fine, she told herself again and again. He’s got Sirius and Remus, he doesn’t need me here.

It would be nice if that last part didn’t feel like a knife to the heart. Even though she still didn’t fully grasp Harry’s logic for why she was real, Ginny did cherish it and prayed she would never do anything to break his trust in her.

The hardest part was pledging to herself at night that she was seeing Michael and liked him, only to see Harry’s smile each morning when she brought him breakfast and feel herself falling just a little bit more than she had the day before.

Harry doesn’t like you like that, she reminded herself sternly. He never has and he never will.

When would her heart understand this so she could move on? She thought she had, but now…

It doesn’t matter.

And it really didn’t. Harry did not need her. She had already done all she could for him, and that was that. Having his friendship was enough.

She just wished she believed herself whenever she had to lie yet again to her own heart.

Back to index

Chapter 14: Nothingness

Author's Notes: Maybe it's the birth control I'm on, or past trauma that resurfaced a year ago I keep refusing to acknowledge, or just life in general, but my brain hasn't been creative in quite a while. Part of me feels like I'm still surviving from day to day with little blips of excitement or creativity before I return to the monotony. I don't know.

I do love this chapter despite how awful it is for Harry. First, it's the two weeks the Order was actively searching for Harry, and he will NEVER talk about it. This is literally your only chance to know what happened. Second, this chapter is where you finally begin to understand how Harry was able to so quickly trust Ginny clear back in chapter four. Third, this final part of Harry's time in captivity ends in hope, hope that carries on through the next two chapters as we see Harry's POV finally catch up to and progress forward with everything else you've read up to this point. This chapter explains better than anything else Harry's struggles to communicate, the real/not real cues, Ginny's importance, even why Harry didn't think Sirius and Remus had really come to rescue him.

I hope you enjoy this chapter, because I poured my heart and soul into it. P.S. I see something off with the formatting of the long dashes, or the em dash. It keeps coming up with a ? symbol and I'm not sure why, nor do I know how to fix it when it looks perfectly fine on the editing page. Weird.

Chapter Fourteen: Nothingness

Harry dreamt about Ginny for the first time the night the Dursleys died.

He hadn’t had much in the way of dreams due to exhaustion, and even when he did, it was a confused tangle of everything he was experiencing in Voldemort’s mind. He most frequently had nightmares where his friends didn’t see him, didn’t recognize him, didn’t think he was real. It made dreaming painful.

This dream, however, was different.

Harry found himself walking down a dark passage that ended in a horribly familiar wall with snakes carved into it, a wall that cracked open and slid out of his way as he approached. He passed through into the long, dimly lit chamber beyond and headed for the end where Ginny sat cross-legged on the cold floor, clutching the ruined diary in her hands.

“You came,” she said, voice echoing softly in the Chamber of Secrets. She looked just as she had when Harry had last seen her at King’s Cross, thirteen years old, long red hair spilling freely over her shoulders, though darker than usual in the gloom of their location.

“I had to, didn’t I?” Harry told her, shrugging uncomfortably. “I could never let you die down here.”

Ginny nodded and looked around at the stone pillars with carved serpents which surrounded them. “You saw what was wrong,” she said at length.

“Not really,” said Harry. “Not soon enough, anyway. You nearly ”” He broke off, staring at the diary in Ginny’s hands and really allowing himself to remember what happened that horrible night two years ago, the terrible things Riddle had said and done to her. He let himself feel the horror from the realization that the diary had contained a piece of Voldemort’s soul, that the soul piece had possessed Ginny, taken control, had been inside her…

She was very much like him. Touched by something evil.

“But you were there when it mattered the most,” said Ginny. “You were trying so hard to piece the puzzle together and you nearly had it when he took me.”

Harry sank to the floor, facing Ginny. “I’m so sorry I didn’t see it sooner,” he said.

Ginny smiled. “I’ll believe that when you forgive me for not seeing sooner.”

Harry frowned, puzzled. “What are you talking about?”

“I’m seeing the pieces,” Ginny told him. “I’m seeing it, but I’m not putting it together. You’ve noticed it, haven’t you?”

Harry blinked, thinking hard, and realized Ginny was right. He’d been able to sense her beginning to understand that all was not well, but she hadn’t figured it out, hadn’t come to the realization that the Harry she saw was not the real one soon enough. And now he was going to…

“I want to see what’s happening, but I don’t have enough of the puzzle,” said Ginny earnestly. “It’s the same thing as the diary.” She held it out to him now. “You didn’t have enough of the pieces, but you figured it out and saved me.”

Harry stared at the diary he had stabbed with the basilisk fang two years ago. It had long since dried up, ink still staining the pages, the whole thing slightly warped. “I’m trying to see,” whispered Ginny, and Harry looked up to see she was blindfolded now. “Please forgive me.”

“Of course I forgive you!” said Harry without hesitation. “You’re… I know I can trust you.” He suddenly needed a word to describe what he felt. “You’re… real.”


It was the only word that fit.

“You’ll tell me that when you get away from this place? You promise?”

They were suddenly back in the cellar, sitting on the hard dirt floor, and Ginny was still blindfolded, still holding out the diary. Harry reached out and took it from her. “I promise,” he said.

Ginny smiled and then the oil lamp went out, plunging Harry into a deep, dreamless sleep.

It was the sharp, burning pain in Harry’s scar that woke him next morning, remnants of the strange dream clinging to his mind. Pushing it all aside, he rubbed at his forehead and was surprised to see he was alone. After a moment, he forced himself up to use the bucket as had been his custom for the last few weeks.

Harry knew Voldemort was close by, that he was eager to begin the next phase of experimenting on him, and he shuddered, teetering on the edge of the unknown after so long with the routine of potions and commands to become lost in Voldemort’s mind. He didn’t know what was going to happen now, but he hoped it would end in death sooner as opposed to later.

The pain in his scar increased along with the sound of footsteps above him, and Harry knew his solitude was at an end. He curled up tightly in his corner and awaited Voldemort’s next move.

The Dark Lord strode into view, mouth curled into a wicked smile. “I am pleased to see you awake, Harry,” he said with a careless flick of his wand in the direction of the bucket to empty it. “I know you have become accustomed to eating breakfast, but I have many things to do, and that obviously takes precedence over your needs.”

Harry dropped his gaze and nodded his understanding. This didn’t surprise him. He had known everything would change once Voldemort ended his deception.

“I expect a verbal response, boy.”

Harry bit his lip, uncertain what to say. “Yes, sir,” he finally settled on, hating how weak and raspy his voice sounded.

Voldemort smirked and drew up the lone chair in the cellar, which had always been located just out of reach, and settled down. Harry could feel the man eyeing him speculatively, and waited.

“Which of us made the joke about being killed and replaced with a fake?”

Harry blinked. This wasn’t what he had expected. Still, there was only one answer that made sense to him. “You, sir,” he answered quietly.

“It was taken from your self-deprecating humor,” said Voldemort. “Which of us said the prize money should have been Cedric’s?”

Harry’s heart clenched at the reminder that Cedric Diggory was dead. “You did,” he said again.

“Incorrect,” said Voldemort evenly. “I simply allowed you to verbalize your thoughts.” He leaned forward. “Every word spoken about Diggory was yours.”

Harry stared at Voldemort. “I ” but you ” I can’t control ””

“How often have you felt confused about what was truly said and done by you?”

Harry looked down at his knees. “Every day,” he whispered. “I felt like me, but I wasn’t me. I was you.”

“You were you sometimes,” said Voldemort. “I am curious as to whether or not you’re able to distinguish the difference.” He asked Harry more questions, correcting Harry every time he gave the wrong answer. This occurred far more often than not.

“Who wanted to give the Weasley twins the gold?”

“I did,” said Harry, “but you ” that was you doing it, arguing for them to have it.”

“Was it?”

Harry opened his mouth, then paused. The reality was that he was uncertain as to whether or not it had been him.

“How often was it you, Harry?” whispered Voldemort. “How often was it me?”

Harry shook his head. “I don’t know,” he finally admitted. “I don’t know who did what when I mostly felt like me. I couldn’t think of who the boy was, I don’t know who did the homework assignments or wrote the letters, I ” I don’t know what’s mine and what isn’t!”

Voldemort smiled. “And what if none of it was really you?” he asked. “How could you tell the difference?”

Harry gaped at Voldemort, unsure how to answer. “What was me?” he said, hating the desperate tone in his voice but unable to do anything about it. “You keep saying I did and said some things, but I don’t know if that was you or me or what, not really. I don’t ”” He broke off and stared at the ground. “I don’t feel real,” he admitted so softly he thought Voldemort hadn’t heard him.

Voldemort rose abruptly, and Harry flinched. “You aren’t real,” he said coldly. “I took that from you every day for the last three weeks. You do not know your own mind because I used it so effortlessly that there was no way to tell where you ended and I began.” He moved closer and knelt beside Harry, who stiffened in fear.

“You are not real,” Voldemort whispered harshly in his ear. “You were a mistake made only to fulfill a prophecy that will never come to pass. Your pitiful mind is mine to use however I please, and it will never be your own again.”

Harry squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. “Yes, sir,” he forced himself to say.

Voldemort rose, and Harry sat rigidly, staring at the ground.

A moment later, the Dark wizard left Harry alone, pausing only to move the chair out of Harry’s reach. Harry stayed curled up, waiting, confused, and then, less than a minute later, the aching in his scar all but vanished.

He was alone.

Why was he alone?

He stayed put for several minutes, but when nothing happened, Harry finally allowed his muscles to relax and leaned back against the wall, frowning and feeling horribly confused. Nothing about this made sense. Shouldn’t there be torture? What did “experiments” even mean?

After a couple more minutes, Harry made himself rise to walk around. Though his reach was limited, it was good to be able to move at all after three weeks of mostly being in one spot.

The injury on his left leg still hadn’t fully healed, and it stung to walk on it as the scabbing pulled with every step, but he let it ground him, used it as a reminder of who and where he was. He was Harry. He was locked in a cellar with no means of escape, but he was in his own body, in his own mind, and he had to hold onto that.

It wasn’t until he felt the blood sliding down his leg that Harry realized he had overdone it with the still-healing spider bite and collapsed in his corner, pulling apart the rip in his trousers to see the scab had ripped open anew. He hissed a bit as the skin pulled and thumped his head against the stone wall in irritation. He knew it hadn’t been an acromantula that had bitten him because its bite was poisonous, but perhaps there had been something in this spider’s secretions that had prevented his leg from healing fully. It was frustrating, but it was also real, and Harry needed real just then.

He was so consumed with what he ought to do with his leg that he didn’t notice that the chill in the air became more so. It was the way the oil lamp suddenly flickered that caught his attention.

Then the screaming in his head began.

No. No, it couldn’t be. He hadn’t ”

“Not Harry! Not Harry! Please ” I’ll do anything ””

“Stand aside ” stand aside, girl””

Harry moaned, slamming his hands over his ears even though he knew it would do no good.

The Dementor glided into view, and Harry shoved himself into his corner, wandless and terrified. He had no defenses, no way to fight off the Dementor or the horrible memories rising in his mind.

He couldn’t see, couldn’t think, was lost to the night his life had changed irrevocably and fell, down, down…

When Harry came to, it was completely dark. He was lying on the ground in the corner, leg aching dully and head pounding, feeling as though it had been stuffed with cotton. He was also shivering fiercely and felt horribly drained and weak.

He tried to sit up, but he was shaking too much and couldn’t manage more than a few scant inches off the ground before his arms gave out and he slumped to the dirt floor. Breathing hard, Harry tried again.

He couldn’t do it, didn’t have the strength to get up.

Harry felt tears of frustration and tried to keep them from spilling free as he tried once more, but it was no use. He was too weak.

Slumping to the floor again, Harry focused on his breathing, hating how winded he felt by something that should’ve been so simple. He curled up on his side instead, clumsily pulling his robes around his body and staring into the darkness, mind wandering aimlessly. There were no windows, so he had no idea what time it was, let alone how long he had been out.

Harry had never been scared of the dark, having had little access to light in his cupboard as a child, but there was something oppressive about the darkness here; the silence and loneliness were unfamiliar and foreboding.

What was familiar was the cramping of Harry’s stomach. It had clearly been a while since he’d last eaten, but Harry shoved the discomfort to the back of his mind. He had endured too many moments of going hungry when he’d been younger to let this bother him now.

The thing that was bothering him was the lack of interaction from anyone. Why was he being left alone?

Exhaustion threatened to consume him again, and Harry decided not to fight it. Whatever was going to happen next would happen, and there was no use worrying about it until the time came. He closed his eyes, and drifted off.

Harry woke with a scream of pain, his scar feeling as though it might burst, and he knew through the pain that Voldemort was back, grasping him by the neck. He scrabbled uselessly at the hand, choking when it tightened painfully, cutting off his airway and ending his ability to cry out.

Several tense moments later, Voldemort pulled his hand away, and Harry let out a heaving gasp for air, trembling as he desperately filled his lungs. The pain in his scar faded to a dull throbbing.

“It seems that I can use Occlumency to shield my presence from you,” said Voldemort with the air of a scientist taking notes on his latest experiment; after all, that was all Harry really was to him. “Touch, however, negates the effects.”

Harry didn’t say anything to this, still feeling lightheaded from the pain and doing all he could to regain his breath. He could feel his glasses cutting into the side of his face.

“Sit up, boy.”

Knowing he had no choice, Harry gathered his shaking arms beneath him and pushed. He wasn’t certain he was going to be successful in sitting up this time, but he managed, slumping against the stone wall in exhaustion.

Blinking slowly, Harry could see now that the oil lamp had been relit. Voldemort’s face was shadowed, but speculative again. Nothing good was going to come from this.

A moment later, Voldemort smiled. “Tell me about your experience with the Dementor,” he said.

Harry shrugged uncomfortably. “It got cold,” he said softly. “And I ” I heard the same thing I always hear.”

Voldemort smiled. “Your mother begging me to spare your life.”

Harry looked away and nodded. “You said she needn’t have died,” he said abruptly. “You told her to stand aside. Why?”

There was a long moment of silence in which Harry wondered if the skeletal form above him would answer him or torture him for daring to ask a question when he had no power in this situation at all.

“One of my followers desired her and wished that her life be spared,” said Voldemort at last. “He had been the one to tell me of the prophecy, and asked this one favor only when I made my choice.”

Harry felt disgusted by this. Maybe it had been better that Lily Potter had refused to stand aside. But her refusal had, in a way, landed Harry in a heap of trouble that had only prolonged his inevitable death at Voldemort’s hand.

“What happens now?” Harry dared to ask since his last question had been answered. “Are ” are you going to kill me?”

There was a pause.

“Not yet,” said Voldemort. “I have not finished my experiments, nor have I allowed my followers the chance to take out their anger and misery on you for the years they spent hiding amongst our enemies.”

Of course there would be torture. Harry closed his eyes and bowed his head. “And then?”

“And then… you die.”

Harry nodded his acceptance, and Voldemort took his leave once more.

Harry curled up in his corner again, stomach aching with hunger, and allowed his misery to consume him.

He was never going to escape. All he had left was hanging onto what little he still had until death came. And death had to come; the truth needed to stay hidden in order to cut off one of the many ties holding Voldemort to the living plane of existence.

Harry had nothing else left to fight for but his own death now.

“Does it bother you?”

Harry looked up from the Exploding Snap cards in his hands at Ginny. “Does what bother me?” he asked.

“That no one saw,” was Ginny’s reply.

Harry realized this must be another dream, but shrugged. “A bit, I suppose,” he said. He glanced around the Gryffindor common room. Ron was challenging Sirius to a game of chess while Hermione discussed a piece of homework with Remus and Bill. Dumbledore was chatting quietly with Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, and the twins huddled over product ideas in the corner. All these people Harry knew and thought he could trust…

“Are any of them real?” he found himself asking Ginny. “I know you are, but I don’t know about anyone else.”

“We can talk about them,” suggested Ginny. “Sometimes talking things out can help make sense of things.” She grinned. “I mean, I prefer taking my time and thinking it over on my own, but I’ve heard it helps.”

“Yeah ” all right.” They carefully set down their playing cards and Harry scooted around next to Ginny so he could survey the room better.

“Let’s start with Ron,” said Ginny. “Did he even suspect the truth?”

Harry shook his head. “He was right next to me every day and never realized it wasn’t me,” he said.

“Okay,” said Ginny, “so not real.”

Ron vanished. “Sirius?”

Harry considered. “I know Voldemort fooled him, but it was before he made me see. He mostly had letters, and those were in my handwriting.”

“Do you think he could’ve guessed the truth?”

Harry shrugged, uncertain. “I’d like to think he could,” he said.

“Could be real, then,” decided Ginny. “He stays. What about Hermione?”

Harry felt his jaw tighten. “Same as Ron,” he said at once. “She didn’t see. Not real.”

Hermione vanished, as well. “Bill?”

“He watched your mum hug Voldemort,” said Harry stiffly. “He didn’t see.”

“So Bill and Mum aren’t real, then.” They were both gone in the blink of an eye. “Remus?”

Harry stared at him. “He just had letters. He didn’t get the opportunity to really prove himself one way or the other.”

“Then he could be real,” said Ginny. “Like Sirius.”

Harry nodded.

“Next up: Dumbledore.”

“Not real,” said Harry before he could even think it through.

“Okay,” said Ginny simply, and he was gone. Now it was just the twins and Mr. Weasley left. Harry looked at them and shook his head. They all vanished, leaving Harry alone with Ginny, Sirius, and Remus.

“Now we know who’s real,” said Ginny.

“Yeah,” said Harry softly, feeling tears prick the corners of his eyes. He turned to look at Ginny. “Can they ” the others ” can they ever be real again?”

Ginny shrugged. “That’s up to you, I think.” She sighed. “They didn’t see the truth of it, didn’t even suspect.”

Harry nodded. “It hurts,” he admitted quietly.

Ginny reached out and took his hand. “I wish there was a way to save you from what’s coming. It’s only going to get worse from here.”

Harry tightly grasped her hand. “I know,” he whispered, and everything went black.

Harry had no idea how long he’d gone without food, but based on how he was feeling, it had to be longer than he’d ever done at Privet Drive. He spent his time curled up thinking of nothing, or curled up sleeping. He lacked the strength to get up for anything besides using the bucket, and those moments seemed to occur less frequently than before.

Voldemort’s experiments were highly unpleasant, ranging from calculated moments of pain and torture to mind games that warped more and more what felt real and what didn’t.

The first one had been awful.

He was awoken from a fitful slumber by a familiar voice. “Harry?”

Harry forced his eyes open and blinked hazily at the face in front of him. It took him a moment before he recognized it with a jolt.

“Sirius?” he whispered breathlessly. “But ” how?”

“Dumbledore figured it out,” said Sirius. “I’ve got Remus with me, he’s making sure the coast is clear. C’mon, up you get.”

“But ” I’m chained up.”

Sirius frowned. “What’re you talking about?”

“Shackles,” said Harry, forcing his legs out to show Sirius the metal chains keeping him trapped.

But they weren’t there. Harry frowned in confusion. “I don’t ” but I swear, there were chains and ””

“Never mind that now,” said Sirius quickly, pulling Harry to his feet. “We need to get out of here before we’re spotted. Let’s go, boy.”

Harry frowned as he stumbled forward. Something didn’t seem quite right to him, but freedom was freedom, wasn’t it?

Remus was waiting at the top of the stairs. “There was only one Death Eater,” he told Sirius and Harry as they approached him. “Took him out easily enough. But let’s hurry up, we don’t want to risk getting caught.” He smiled at Harry. “I’m glad we found you,” he said.

He led them to the kitchen door and outside. It was night outside, and the air felt warm and dry. “How did Dumbledore figure out where I am?” he asked quietly. “I don’t even know where I am.”

“Severus told him,” said Remus tensely. “Come on now, we don’t want to waste any more time.”

“But Snape doesn’t know where I am,” said Harry. “Voldemort doesn’t fully trust him.”

“He got the information from Malfoy,” said Sirius.

Harry stopped walking. “He’s not going to say anything,” he said. “He’s too busy trying to get back into Voldemort’s good graces.” He stared at the two men. “This ” this isn’t real.”

“Of course it’s real,” snapped Sirius. “Remus and I have just about gone mad with worry the last few days. Just keep moving, boy, we’ve got to clear the anti-Apparition enchantments before we can get out of here.”

“No.” Harry stood his ground. Sirius had never called him ‘boy’ before. This wasn’t adding up. “This ” it’s not real.”

“We’re here to save you, Harry, not trick you,” said Remus with a frown. “Why don’t you believe it’s us?”

Harry bit his lip. He wanted to believe it was real, he really did. “Your nicknames,” he blurted out. “What are they?”

The silence dragged on for a beat too long. “Not real,” said Harry, backing away on trembling legs. “This isn’t real.”

Harry’s scar seared with pain, and then Voldemort was there, wand out, scarlet eyes narrowed. “Avada Kedavra!”

Sirius was dead, Remus joining him a moment later.

Harry stared. This wasn’t ” but what if he’d gotten it wrong? What if they had been real?

“Is it real, boy?”

Harry forced himself to look away from the blank eyes of the two men upon the ground and up at Voldemort as he drew close. “I don’t ””


Harry screamed, burning out from his very bones, wishing only to black out or die ”

The curse was lifted, and Harry gulped in air as he lay on the ground, face pressed against the cold grass.

“Was it real?”

“No,” gasped Harry. “Not ” not real.”

Voldemort grabbed Harry by the arm and pulled him upright, slamming him harshly against the stone wall behind him, chains rattling as Harry’s legs shifted ”

Harry forced his eyes open and realized he was back in the cellar. Or had he never left?

He didn’t know. He had no idea if that had actually happened or only been in his mind.

“Did you leave this place?”

Harry felt his breathing pick up as he panicked, unsure of anything right now. “I don’t know ””


White-hot knives plunged into him from all sides as he cried out again, and he was nothing but pain in that moment.

It ended at last, and Harry felt a sob escape him before he could stop it. He curled up on his side, staring hazily at the oil lamp, chest heaving as he gasped for air once more.

“Did you leave this place, boy?”

Harry stared at the lamp and shook his head. “Never leaving this place,” he said dully.


There were other mind games, faces of people Harry cared about, attempting to rescue him or brought in as prisoners to be tortured. It felt so real, looked so real, sounded so real, that Harry sometimes fell for it, pleaded for Hermione’s life over his own, begged Dumbledore to hurry up and get him away from this horrible place…

But it was never real. Harry wasn’t real. Not anymore.

“You know what he’s doing.”

Harry snorted. “Doesn’t change how good at it he is. Or that it’s working, for that matter.”

Ginny sighed and leaned against a tree in the orchard of the Burrow. Harry wished so badly it was real as opposed to yet another dream.

“You can’t let him win, Harry.”

“Can’t let him see the truth,” Harry countered her. “There’s only two ways this ends, Ginny.” He ticked them off on his fingers. “Rescued, or dead. If he learns the truth, then this never ends, and I can’t ”” He broke off and shook his head. He couldn’t verbalize the reality that would face him should Voldemort realize what Harry really was to him, what he had done that Halloween night so many years ago.

Ginny gazed sadly at him, and he stared at the sparse grass between the trees and started plucking at it.

“He’s going to take away everything you are,” she finally said.

“He already is,” snapped Harry, looking up to glare at Ginny. “He fooled everyone! They were all convinced they saw Harry, but they didn’t! No one saw the truth, not even you.” He straightened and turned away, taking in the sight of the home he loved but would never see again. “Harry isn’t real anymore,” he forced out. “I… I’m not real. I’m just… nothing.”

It hurt to say the words, but it was the truth. Real was a construct no longer afforded to him, let alone his own name. “Can’t keep doing this,” he muttered. “Seeing you, places that are real, it hurts to look at.”

“It’s your mind trying to hold on,” Ginny told him, and he could hear her rising and stepping closer and before she laid a hand on his arm. “Trying to hold onto the things that matter, people that matter.”

“S’just you here,” he said, looking over his shoulder at her. “You’re the only one who matters?”

“It’s your mind,” said Ginny with a smirk. “Clearly you value me over others. Why is that?”

He shrugged and turned away again. “Dunno,” he said. “You just ” you understand better than others?”

“Do I?”

He nodded, finally spinning round to face Ginny completely. “He’s been in your head,” he told her. “No one else knows what that’s like.”

Ginny sighed again and nodded. “You remember that,” she said, and she sounded sad.

“Didn’t think much about it after it happened,” he admitted. “It ” what he did… and the way he described it… it was easier to remember that I saved you than it was what I was saving you from.”

Ginny nodded. “His games, his tricks, using me…” She took his hand. “You need to remember that someone understands when you’re rescued.”

He knew his smile was lopsided as he looked down at her. “Never getting out of here,” he sighed. “But… yeah. I’ll remember that.”

Food was scarcer than water. Harry could recall, as though from another life, one of his Muggle teachers in primary school explaining how humans could last longer without food than without water.

Clearly Voldemort knew this, too; it wouldn’t do to have Harry die from dehydration before he was ready to kill him himself, after all.

There were long periods of isolation, but when torture came, what Harry was forced to endure usually consisted of the Cruciatus Curse; that didn’t stop Voldemort or his followers from getting creative, however.

The first cut came as a complete shock. The gash Wormtail had made as part of the ritual to give Voldemort a new body had long since healed in a jagged line down the crook of his arm, but the wound in his leg from the spider’s bite wasn’t there yet, and this had been taken advantage of more than once. Harry was starting to wonder if it would ever heal before he finally breathed his last.


Harry cried out in equal measures of shock and pain as a cut bloomed across his upper arm. Macnair laughed. “The Dark Lord told me how you cheated me of the chance to kill that hippogriff,” he told Harry fiercely. “If I ever get my hands on the Mudblood, she’ll suffer just as much.”

He slashed his wand again, the cut landing this time on Harry’s chest, and laughed again as Harry gasped out in pain.

The first punch came as a shock, as well. That was from Goyle. “My son is angry you knocked him out and used Polyjuice Potion to become him his second year,” he grunted at Harry. “That was for him. This one is for Crabbe.”

The next punch resulted in Harry’s glasses cracking.

Worst of all were the endless experiments. If it wasn’t the mind games, then it was tests of his ability to understand and speak Parseltongue; being forced to explain Voldemort’s moods and thoughts; being pulled into his mind when asleep, or worse, when Voldemort would invade Harry’s mind and laugh at the agonizing pain that accompanied it…

Harry’s mind was not his own. He wasn’t real, nothing was real except the pain and torment.

Harry wasn’t real.

Dreaming became a muddled experience. Ginny was there, but it was harder to see her, her voice muffled and distant as though through water. She called a name, but it was a name with no owner, and thus easy to ignore.

He didn’t have a name.

“Draco wishes he could see you like this, boy,” laughed Lucius as he set a tray of milk, bread, and cheese at the boy’s side. “Pity my master has forbidden photographs. Perhaps if I can retrieve a Pensieve…”

He didn’t care anymore. He was nothing, after all. Slowly, he turned to the tray and ate the meager meal in silence.

Being a quick learner did bring minor advantages. Sentences where he said words such as “I” or “my” tended to result in pain.

It was better not to refer to himself out loud. He wasn’t real anymore. Perhaps he’d never been real at all.

“Was that real?” asked Voldemort after another mind game.

He stared at the ground. “Don’t know,” he said.

“I expect a yes or a no, boy.”

He sighed softly. “No,” he said. “Not real. Never real.”

“Are you real?”

He shook his head. “Not real,” he said.

Time ceased to have meaning. There was pain or no pain. There was food or no food. There was cold, but that ceased to be a bother. There was even a bit of coughing, even pain in the lungs and stomach, but that probably wasn’t real, anyway.

Nothing was real.

It was all games. Just games. Just pain. Just loneliness and the dark cellar. It didn’t matter that things had been real once. That wasn’t the case, not anymore. There was only the cold and the dark, the bucket and the shackles, the chains and the rips, the pain and the nothingness of being.

It wasn’t real.

Nothing was real, nor had it ever been.

Until it was.

“How can we convince him it’s really us?” the fake Remus whispered to the fake Sirius. “We don’t know how much Voldemort prised from his mind when he was digging around in there.”

Too much was the answer, but there was no point saying anything to these illusions. It wasn’t real, after all.

“I don’t know,” said the fake Sirius in a defeated voice. “I don’t know what to do, Moony. I never thought ””


Moony was real. That nickname was never used in the mind games. There was no way that would change now.

The sensation of curiosity meant taking another look at the illusions.

A thought had to be verbalized now. “You ” you said ” Moony.”

“My old school name,” said the fake Remus softly. Was the man fake? Was this real? “You remember Moony and ” and Padfoot?”

Those nicknames… it had been so long… no one used them in the mind games… could it be?

Maybe it could. No, not maybe. It was or it wasn’t; Voldemort didn’t allow for indecision. It was time to make a choice.

Those nicknames were real. If they were real, then so were the people. And so the decision was made:

They were “Real.”

Sirius had a sad, but relieved smile on his face, as did Remus. “Yes,” he said, voice filled with an emotion that seemed familiar somehow. “Yes, Harry, real. It’s us. We’re here.”

Real. This was real. They were there. As impossible as it had once seemed, death was no longer the only option.

There was something more.

Something real.

Maybe… maybe Harry could be real again, too.

Back to index

Chapter 15: Rebuild

Author's Notes: Here, have an angsty, but hopeful chapter for Harry's 41st birthday! This chapter encompasses Harry's perspective of his escape from the basement and his first day at Grimmauld Place — you might want to reread chapters 3-6 as a review. Enjoy!

Oh, also: This is now the second-shortest chapter in this story, not chapter 5.

Chapter Fifteen: Rebuild

Pain. The manacles were painful, but that was normal.

It was all that was known in this place.

Just pain.

Standing and walking had become foreign, but movement was required, and it was “real.”

“Real,” agreed Remus. He was real.

People moving, bits of talking, it all wandered through as the inside thoughts tried to make sense of things beyond moving forward with Sirius and then Remus wrapped around the senses.

Then the scar burned, and the anger roared through with burning intensity because he was “coming. He’s coming, he’s angry ””

Worried voices, a tight grip, the strange sensation of being forced through a tight rubber tube, but nothing compared to the raging serpent within. And it hurt.

“Harry” ” that name over and over again, only heard in dreams ” “I need you to focus on what's going on around you, what's real.”

Only the pain was real, and the blackness was the only way to hide ” if Voldemort can’t see, he can’t come ”

“Please, Harry, you need to focus on us.”

Couldn’t look, couldn’t dispel the darkness because “he'll see. Sees everything, can't ””

Holding on was the only thing to be done, keeping him away mattered more. Could outside pain possibly overcome inside pain? There hadn’t been a chance to try before now, but maybe enough pressure against the source…

“He isn't here. Harry, he can't hurt you here. Please, kiddo, you've got to read this note before we can get you somewhere completely safe.”

But that couldn’t be true. Voldemort had drilled the lesson well that it was “not safe. Never safe.”

The pain inside became too much, screaming the only outlet, gentle hands the only anchor before Voldemort was forced to focus on battling against the others who had come to rescue the boy ”

The serpent withdrew to the shadows, leaving exhaustion behind.

“Is ” is he gone?”

What bliss that would be, to have Voldemort gone, but the reality was that he was “never gone.” As always when the pain inside reduced, he was “just not looking."

A slip of parchment, a place to hide…


“Come on now, dear.”

Not real not real not real she hugged him don’t touch stay away ”

Stairs, kind touch from the real, flash of bright brown ” was that real?

Weakness was becoming ever more present as movement upward continued. Sirius was strong enough to finish the journey, and now there was a bed to sit upon.

Beds were a forgotten concept. There were no beds in the cellar, after all.

Sirius started to move away ” don’t go, please stay, you’re real, don’t want to get lost ”

“I'm here,” murmured Sirius, settling down on the bed, and then Remus was there, too. “I'm not going anywhere.”

Sirius and Remus were real, so they could be trusted with the “scared” feeling within.

“I know,” said Remus, voice thick. “We've been scared for a while now, too.”

Remus placed his arm around tight shoulders, and it felt real. Shoulders belonged to a person, didn’t they? Voldemort had taken personage away, but if there was a person, with shoulders and arms and wrists and hands and all the things that could make a person real, then maybe…

Maybe Harry was real in a way he had been denied. Could that name be his again?

“Harry,” said Sirius softly, “we need to get you changed out of your old clothes. You'll warm up better that way.”

Harry… Harry is real.

Lifting his head for what felt like the first time since sinking in the quagmire of Voldemort’s experiments and games, Harry nodded and allowed Sirius and Remus to help him change into pajamas. Remus almost left, but the thought of real fading was too much not to beg.

Remus stayed, and Harry slept.

“Sirius? It's Ginny. I have breakfast, Mum thought you might be hungry.”

The first words since waking to filter through Harry’s mind were quiet and careful, and he contemplated them as Remus went to let Ginny in.

Real. She was real in the dreams. Is she real?

Ginny crossed to the desk with a tray. Her words washed through, but “I just thought someone not as close to him might be better” stuck around.

They weren’t close. But she had seen, even if she hadn’t put the pieces together. Those dreams had been the only thing to make sense as Harry was lost to nothingness.

So… real. Wasn’t that right?

Breakfast felt… warm. But too much. It hurt. He turned his head away. One could only push a nonexistent appetite so far.

Ginny’s bright brown eyes weren’t scared as she spoke to him. There was warmth, kindness, all the things denied in the state of nothingness that had been the reality before.

Then Remus returned, and he wasn’t alone.

Madam Pomfrey. No no no stay still.

The bustling, no-nonsense attitude was the same, but the memory of how the matron had fallen prey to the Imperius Curse so easily, the way she had looked and not seen ”

Not real not real “NO!” don’t touch go AWAY ”

“Will you let me do it?”

Who was more surprised, Harry hearing the offer, or Ginny for suggesting it? He met her eyes as he tried to decide.

Maybe she’s real. The dreams… they didn’t lie. The dreams could never lie, Voldemort didn’t create them.

There’s no maybe. It
is or it isn’t.

She’s real. She’s safe.

So he nodded, watched her care for him alongside Sirius. There was kindness and… warmth. Why was this so warm? It didn’t make sense.

But she was real, so she was safe. There was no question.

Less pain existed now, leaving behind exhaustion.

“I kept feeling as though something was wrong after the Third Task,” said Ginny, “but I couldn't figure out what."

Harry knew the reality was that she was “not s'posed to know.”

Ginny jumped and looked at Harry. “Harry?” she said.

Everything Voldemort had done was, to him, nothing more than a “game. Just… a game.”

“He likes games,” said Ginny, and Harry startled, met her gaze, considered her words.

“The ” the diary,” she forced out. “It ” well, he, I suppose ” thought it was a game, seeing how far he could go. How many holes he could punch in my memory, how many people he could hurt, how far he could push before I tried to say anything…” She swallowed as Harry watched and listened. “Playing with our minds, seeing how far people can be pushed before they break ”” Ginny suddenly broke off and straightened. “I'm sorry, I shouldn't be talking about this right now, I'll just ””

No, don’t leave, you’re real, the dreams were right, please “stay.”

Ginny stared at Harry. “I ” are you ”?”

Harry gazed at her. “Please,” he tried to form the whole thought, though it was futile. He had to settle and simply ask her to “stay.”

Ginny swallowed again and sat down again. “All right,” she told him. “I'll stay.”

Surrounded by real, it was easy to give into exhaustion, but sleep didn’t linger because Snape came.

Real? Not real? Never saw him as Harry, too much to decide ” not real?

Trust Remus,
he decided in the end.

Then his scar burst and the serpent reared its head, fury and determination rising, and all Harry wanted for him to “stop looking. Please, stop…”

But it wouldn’t stop, and nothing anyone said could change the fact that he barely knew where he ended and the serpent began. The serpent knew this, it could taste victory, and it laughed and laughed, echoing inside Harry’s mind as though ten Riddles were laughing at once ”

“Shut up, Tom!”


Not weak, not lying dead on a stone floor as the life was drained from her, but real, alive, withstanding the storm in the name of casting out the serpent.

A door was imagined, memories hiding in the maelstrom which needed to stay hidden, determination to be real digging into the spaces where Harry was tangled and prying him free, and then the door slammed shut.

Harry slumped, spent, coughing, weak as could be… but he was Harry.

Just Harry.

Brick by brick, he was going to rebuild and find a way to be himself again. It didn’t matter that Snape stayed, that he tested and propped and poked with advance warning until he was satisfied. It didn’t matter that Mrs. Weasley was responsible for every mouthful of food he was to consume. It didn’t matter that bathing wouldn’t be private for some time because he was too weak to manage on his own.

It didn’t matter. Harry was real.

Back to index

Chapter 16: Real

Author's Notes: This is going to be the last chapter I'll post for a bit. I go back to work to prepare for the school year on Monday August 9, and that's going to take up all my brain power, especially once term starts August 18. My plan at this point is to not post again until at least September 4, possibly the 11, instead (I'm in USA Mountain time, if that helps make sense of dates at all). It all depends on how long it takes to settle in for the new school year. Thanks to all of you for your patience as I deal with my personal life and mental health and such!

Chapter Sixteen: Real

You are not real.

Was that real?

Real or not real?

I wish Draco could see you like this…

And then… you will die.

Harry abruptly came to, gasping and trembling as Sirius gathered him in his arms. “It’s all right, kiddo, I’ve got you,” his godfather murmured, and Harry clutched at him, trying to orient himself as to where he was and what was going on.

“R-real?” he asked shakily. It was painful not to be able to tell, but right now, Harry couldn’t be certain of anything.

“Real,” Sirius agreed without hesitation.

Real. This was real.

Harry was real.

He’d been dreaming of the cellar again, of sinking deeper and deeper into that bottomless pit where nothing was real.

Including him.

Thinking about himself was becoming easier as the days passed, but Harry still could not verbalize the right words he was now able to think.

The cellar had been the place where a sense of self had been repressed, lost to the ugly reality of pain and nothingness. It had been easier to curl up and drift without thought than to try and be someone.

There hadn’t even been a someone in the cellar. Just the dirt floor and stone walls surrounding a small corner that had become all that existed. It had been far too easy to dismiss everything else as not real because only Voldemort had the power to determine real and not real. The Death Eaters were real. Boy was not.

Harry shuddered against Sirius at the thought, and he felt his godfather tighten his arms around him. This was real. This was safe. He was safe.

For now.

“Sorry,” Harry forced himself to whisper. He hated that his every nightmare woke Sirius up.

Sirius sighed. “There’s nowhere I’d rather be, kiddo,” he replied softly. “Take all the time you need.”

Time had held no meaning in the cellar, either. It was a construct that only the real could grasp and manipulate. Time could mark intervals like minutes and days, but only to those who were allowed to understand its workings. Being not real meant to exist without meaning, without the understanding of the passage of time and its effect on everything around it.

But Harry remembered time now. He had learned that Sirius and Remus had found him shortly before midnight on the thirtieth of July. His first full day away from the cellar had been his birthday.

He remembered being fourteen and small; fourteen and scared; fourteen and nothing. Now he was fifteen and fractured. Fifteen, but real.


Eventually, Harry was able to settle again, secure in Sirius’s arms and the knowledge that he wasn’t in the cellar anymore and would never be again. It had been two weeks where real had ceased to exist, he understood that now, just a mere fragment of time in his life, but the effects…

Would Harry ever be able to put it all behind him?

He didn’t know. He certainly hoped so.

But for now, he was safe. Sirius was here, offering the physical and emotional comfort Harry had never been afforded as a child, and he drank it in, wondering if his own parents might have done the same.

He liked to think they would have.

The tug towards sleeping crept over him once more. I think I can sleep again now, he wanted to say.

The words wouldn’t come. They never did.

“Tired,” he finally settled on, shifting so he was sitting upright.

“You’re sure?” Sirius asked him. Harry nodded, and Sirius ruffled his hair before withdrawing and allowing him to settle under the bedcovers once more. Harry watched as the blurry form of his godfather headed for the bedroom door.


“Yeah, Harry?”

There was so much Harry wanted to say, but the right words still refused to come. Thank you for saving me. I’m glad you’re real. I’m glad you’re here. The nightmares are easier for me to deal with because you’re always with me when I wake up.

Instead, he managed to only say, “Thanks.”

Sirius paused, then moved back to Harry’s side. “Anytime, kiddo,” he said, and then he did something Harry had never experienced before:

Sirius leaned down and pressed a kiss to the top of his head.

“Sleep well,” he murmured, and then he was gone. Harry laid in bed for sometime after that, mind replaying what had just happened. A kiss on his head, like he’d seen Mrs. Weasley do with Ginny a few times. Ruffling his hair the way Mr. Weasley did with Ron and his brothers.

These kind touches, done by a parent to their child to express… affection? Love?

And now he knew what it felt like.

Is this what it’s like to be part of a family?

If Harry was truly real, then so was the possibility of family. The thought gave him comfort as he drifted off once more into a troubled slumber.

Visits from Madam Pomfrey were always deeply uncomfortable for Harry. It wasn’t her demeanor; he was quite accustomed to her brusque attitude. Nor was it the way she poked and prodded him.

She wasn’t real, yet she was still permitted access to him.

Harry still recalled how easily she had fallen prey to the Imperius Curse, how she had come out from under it without realizing what had been done to her. The way she’d looked at Harry without comprehending that the person before her was using Polyjuice Potion. It hadn’t been Harry, and she had failed to see it.

“Hold still, Mr. Potter,” she ordered as she waved her wand over him while he sat quietly on his bed, shoulders tense. “Appetite has increased?”

Harry nodded silently. “Sleep?” she prodded him.

“Nightmares,” he answered.

“Might prescribe some mild sleeping draughts,” Madam Pomfrey mused as she wrote something on her clipboard. “Weight gain is sufficient, though you’re still quite malnourished…” Harry watched as she placed another set of nutritional potions on his bedside table. He desperately wanted this to be over, for the matron to leave him alone. She wasn’t real, she didn’t belong here.

Harry felt a hand on his shoulder and recoiled, taking in the startled expression on Pomfrey’s face.

“Please don’t touch him,” said Sirius in a quiet yet firm voice as he reached out to steady Harry, and he took comfort in Sirius’s presence and protection.

You’re safe, he reminded himself once more as he drifted through the last few minutes of Madam Pomfrey’s visit. Sirius won’t let anyone harm you or take you away.

Yet it remained difficult to feel safe. Harry could only hope that he would be able to regain his ability to trust in what was real.

Ginny’s happy face was easily Harry’s favorite thing to see first thing in the morning. She always smiled brightly as soon as she entered the room with the breakfast tray and spoke in cheerful tones, even when her mother had been annoying her again.

“Morning, sleepyhead!” she sang out as she entered his bedroom with the usual tray. Harry looked up at her from the floor as he did the morning stretches Remus and Madam Pomfrey insisted upon.

“Not sleepy,” he retorted without bite.

“Your hair says different,” Ginny teased, grinning as she set the tray on the desk. Harry heaved himself upright and moved over to see what had been prepared this morning.

And if he ruffled his hair a bit more when Ginny wasn’t looking, she didn’t need to know it was completely on purpose; judging by the way her eyebrows quirked when she next looked at him, however, she knew it already.

Sirius had started eating breakfast downstairs in the kitchen, but Harry had yet to venture there himself. Truth be told, he didn’t want to.

Being in the kitchen meant anyone could walk in without warning. It also meant being in the same room as Mrs. Weasley.

He couldn’t do it. Not yet.

Settling down at the desk with Ginny, Harry dug into the spread that had been sent up, feeling a pang that Mrs. Weasley had gone out of her way to make his favorites as always. He missed her, yet each thought of her brought back the memories of being hugged when it hadn’t actually been Harry she was hugging. The hurt inside had yet to fade, and Harry didn’t know how to move past it. For all that Ron and Hermione had spent the most time with Voldemort while not seeing the truth, the heartache from the hugs Mrs. Weasley had bestowed upon the imposter somehow hurt much worse.

Voldemort had taken everything from him, and reclaiming that which had been his was difficult.

Somehow, as always seemed to happen, Ginny seemed to know what he was thinking.

“Hey,” she said softly, placing a hand on Harry’s arm. “You know there’s no pressure, Harry. You forgive when you’re ready. It’s your pain that matters the most here.”

Harry nodded, throat tight, and grasped tightly at Ginny’s hand on his arm. “Thanks,” he managed in lieu of everything he wished he could say, and settled in to eat.

He’d regained a lot of the weight he’d lost, but it was hard to tell given that everything he owned had been Dudley’s.

Blue eyes wide in fear as his parents slump dead in their seats, but powerless to do anything about his fate, and Harry laughs, high and cold as he points his wand at the last tie to the Bond of Blood charm Dumbledore had used for so long ”


Refocusing on the present, Harry met Ginny’s bright brown eyes to see them filled with concern. “Are you okay?”

Harry nodded quickly and started eating again. The flashbacks hadn’t occurred too frequently at first, but over the past week, he’d found himself lost in the confused tangle of his memories more and more often. Ginny always seemed to notice when he wasn’t with her and was quick to break through to him.

She made it so much easier to be something like Harry this side of the cellar.

He wondered if it was at all possible to be the Harry from before the cellar. Somehow, he didn’t think so.

It felt as though he was having to rediscover who he was. He knew who he had been, but who he was now? It felt very much a puzzle at times.

He could remember the quick wit, the sarcasm, the laughter and even the curiosity. The laughter was there, easy enough to claim, and curiosity was returning, but the rest?

Wit and sarcasm required a full vocabulary, and Harry still didn’t have that. Or at least, not out loud, anyway.

“We’re calling them Skiving Snackboxes,” Fred explained to Harry after breakfast, showing him the prototype parcel he and George had developed.

“Sweets to make you ill enough to get out of class!” said George brightly. “Chew one end of the sweet for the effects, then, once you’re out of the classroom, chew the other end to relieve the symptoms and enjoy a class-free period!”

“We’ve had to test them on ourselves, of course,” said Fred. “Made Mum throw a wobbly when she realized our nosebleeds weren’t real a couple weeks back.”

And when don’t you manage to make your mum throw a wobbly? Harry wanted to say, but as always, the words wouldn’t come.

He just wanted to be Harry again.

He just wanted to banter and laugh and do all the things he had done before.

It ate at his insides every time he couldn’t form the words in his mind out loud, and Harry found himself suffering momentary flashes of anger because there was so much he wanted to say and share… only he couldn’t do it.

The words simply would not come no matter how hard he thought them. Each and every word he wanted to use stayed locked up because he had learned how not to refer to himself out loud, and it seemed an impossible lesson to unlearn.

Voldemort had done this to him. He hated it. He hated him.

Mostly, he hated himself for not being stronger, for failing to resist the lessons which had been imprinted in his mind, upon his very soul, and in a rare moment of solitude, the self-loathing and frustration became too much to ignore, and he found himself hurling the objects closest to him at the wall. The first, a book, hit the wall with a dull thunk before dropping to the floor, and it wasn’t good enough.

Was anything good enough?

Some objects shattered in a way that felt more satisfying, but it still wasn’t enough.

Harry wasn’t enough.

Harry wasn’t anyone. It was a name which had belonged to someone who had been real once upon a time, but it wasn’t real anymore. Nothing was real and the anger and hurt welled up such that it encompassed everything there was, objects still flying through the air, slamming and shattering against the walls, and it was all just completely out of control ”

The bedroom door slammed open, and Remus was suddenly there, catching the wrist before another object could be loosed at the nearest wall, and he was pulling the body into his arms, but it was like being trapped; fear swamped the senses and a need to struggle free arose, chest tightening ” it’s just a physical reaction ” but Remus only tightened his grip.

“Harry, please, I need you to calm down ””

“Harry isn’t real!” The words exploded free, and the pain of that name and all it had meant… it was too much.

It wasn’t real, but the rage and the hurt wouldn’t go away, and was that too much to ask? Couldn’t it be possible to just stop trying and sink back into oblivion as the end came near?

Existing was too hard. Being fractured was too hard. To be whole would be incredible, but it was never going to happen, never again ”

“Yes you are!”
Remus said in a fierce tone the likes of which hadn’t been heard before from the former professor. “Voldemort doesn’t get to take that from you, he’s never had the right!”

The desire to believe this burned deep within, but the fear and rage had yet to abate. Death had been the only feasible option in the cellar, hiding away the truth so Voldemort would never know a third option existed, and then waiting for the inevitable end to finally come.

Where was that ending? Where was death, the only outcome that should have happened already?

“That isn’t your only option, Harry.”


You came… You saw what was wrong… I’m trying to see… Now we know who’s real… You need to remember someone understands when you’re rescued.

Someone… she had said that in a dream near the end, or what should’ve been the end…

Ginny was real. She was real and she understood.

And Harry snapped back to himself, slumping in exhaustion in Remus’s arms, fingers curled in the front of his robes. His face felt wet, and he realized he must have been crying, yet the embarrassment couldn’t stand up to the tiredness seeping into his very bones.

Being real was so hard.

“I know,” Ginny whispered as Harry found himself sitting on his bed, leaning against Remus as Ginny enveloped his hands in hers. “The right words won’t come, will they?”

Harry shook his head. “Think so many things,” he tried to explain. “But ” never comes out right.”

“I’m certain it will with time,” said Remus. Harry shook his head.

“It was only… days of this,” he said. “Not that long, but ””

“But you also had three weeks of being stuck in his head,” Ginny cut him off gently. “Three weeks of confusing who was who.”

This was true. Harry sighed and nodded.

“You’re going to get frustrated,” said Remus. “It’s normal to feel everything you’re feeling, but this struggle to communicate isn’t going to be forever, even though you’ll carry this with you the rest of your life.”

Remus carried scars.

Ginny carried scars.

Sirius carried scars, too.

Would the scars they carried ever fade away? Still there, but holding less of an impact than when they had first been created?

The unknown future which lay ahead couldn’t give him the answers, much as Harry wished otherwise. All he could do was take things one day at a time and hope for the best.

Easier said than done, the cynical part of his mind whispered.

Shut up, he told himself. Things couldn’t stay like this forever. They just couldn’t.

“Flat enough?”

“No, just slits.”

“Are you sure you’re okay with doing this?”

“You’ve asked him that four times already,” said Sirius. “I’m certain he’s fine, Tonks.”

Tonks scowled at him, but scrunched up her face and eliminated her nose entirely, leaving behind snakelike slits.

“That feels weird,” she remarked, sounding a bit nasally compared to her usual voice. “So no hair anywhere, right? Super pale skin… ugh, the bloke’s ugly, isn’t he?”

Harry cracked a grin.

“Reckon the eyes are the hardest part,” mused Tonks as she stared at her grotesque reflection. “Completely red, yeah?”

Harry nodded. “Pupils are slits,” he added.

“Like a cat?”


“How in the bloody hell do his followers stand looking at this all the time?”

“They don’t,” said Harry. “Stare at his knees, mostly.”

Sirius and Ginny laughed as Remus hid a smile.

“He wasn’t always this ugly, anyway,” said Ginny. “Quite handsome when he was sixteen, if you could look past the whole ‘murder people’ thing, anyway.”

“We even look something alike…” Riddle’s voice echoed from two years ago in Harry’s mind.

“You didn’t fancy Riddle, did you?” asked Sirius with raised eyebrows.

Ginny snorted. “I couldn’t go more than a day without writing about Harry, to be honest,” she said, cheeks going a bit pink. “My awful crush on you,” she sighed. “He only put up with it to get what he wanted.”

Harry nodded. Riddle had been handsome, rather charismatic, even, but good looks hadn’t been able to conceal the monster within for long.

“There we are, then,” said Tonks, turning around to face them. “How do I look?”

Harry shuddered. “I think you’ve got it,” said Sirius quietly. “Now any spies we try to send into his ranks will be better prepared to face the monster in the shadows. The photograph, Remus?”

Remus made quick work of snapping a photo, and Tonks was soon back to her bubblegum pink hair and heart-shaped face.

“I can’t even begin to fathom what he must have done to himself to end up looking like that,” said Ginny.

Harry thought about all he knew.

“The worst of Dark magic would be my guess,” said Sirius. “Claimed he was immortal, didn’t he? Clearly the price was revealing the monster within.”

It’s because he mutilated his soul to anchor him to the land of the living, Harry thought. It’s because he fears death more than anything else.

But he kept his silence. When he was doing better, he’d see to it that fear be made a reality. No one was truly safe until then.

Snape confirmed what Harry already knew two weeks before term was set to resume: Voldemort wanted him back.

Wanted him dead.

The Dark wizard would do all he could to prevent the prophecy from coming to pass. Harry did wonder about the rest of the prophecy ” the part neither of them knew ” but if he didn’t know, then Voldemort had no way to find out without infiltrating the Ministry of Magic to retrieve the copy stored away in the Department of Mysteries.

Harry wasn’t about to help him figure it out any quicker. Mere days still passed between his attempts to break into his mind as it was, proving how vulnerable his mind remained in the wake of the cellar.

The attacks on his mind were… brutal, to say the least. His scar would erupt in pain as that horrible sensation of a serpent rising within struck without warning. Voldemort could see all he saw, and hear all he heard. Harry couldn’t turn off his hearing, but he could shut his eyes to prevent Voldemort from seeing where he was at that moment, focus his energy away from his memories and into the pure desire to have the intrusion end.

Voldemort’s mind had been preoccupied with attacking Dumbledore after Remus had Apparated him away from the cellar, so Harry had been able to be let in on the secret location of the Order of the Phoenix without letting Voldemort in, as well. He’d remained hidden in the shadows of Harry’s mind until he had figured out how to shut down the connection between them.

The trouble was that shutting it down, or slamming shut the door between the two of them, was a temporary measure at best. The slightest fluctuations in Harry’s emotions could weaken his ability to keep the connection shut, and he never knew when Voldemort would notice, let alone when he might try to take advantage of it again.

Fighting this battle on his own was incredibly draining. And despite the comfort and words of support offered each time, Harry truly was alone. It all came down to his ability to keep Voldemort out of his mind and the level of persistence the Dark Lord showed.

When Ginny was there, it felt easier to fight back. Harry didn’t understand what the difference was between Ginny and the others, but questioning it likely wouldn’t get him anywhere. She helped, and that was all there was to it. Not that he was about to admit this to her, or anyone else, for that matter.

Of course, Hermione noticed this after the second time she was present for an attack on his mind. Ginny had been down in the kitchen fetching a tray for the four friends when Harry’s scar had erupted in shattering pain. He knew he’d cried out, he knew someone was talking to him, but it was though he were drowning, the voices around him muffled beyond recognition.

The snake was rearing its head within his mind, overwhelming and stronger than ever before. How could Harry hope to drive him out this time?

He felt her touch before he heard her muffled voice, and he knew he couldn’t give up.

With an inner strength Harry hadn’t realized he possessed, he pushed back against the intrusion until the snake was once again quelled, locked out by the door Ginny and Sirius had made him envision that first morning in Grimmauld Place. Ginny was there when he resurfaced, and he clutched at her as she held him close. It wasn’t until he had rested and eaten, Ginny heading back downstairs with the empty tray, that Hermione said anything.

“You didn’t respond to either of us the way you did to Ginny,” she said quietly.

Harry shrugged, feeling his face warm. “She ” she helps,” he whispered softly. He really didn’t know what else to say.

There was a peculiar expression on Hermione’s face he hadn’t seen before, but she changed the subject, so Harry didn’t have to try and explain what he simply couldn’t explain:

Ginny made it so much easier for him to fight back against every intrusion. He didn’t understand why, but he had already accepted it.

Of course, this only made the reality that Ginny would be leaving with Ron, Hermione, and the twins in a few scant days to return to Hogwarts harder to ignore.

They were going back.

Without him.

It didn’t feel real. But then, Harry still struggled to remember that he was real, too. Reality had been warped beyond reason in ways that still caught him off-guard at unexpected moments. Would he ever find equilibrium?

Would he ever feel as real as he had been before the cellar?

“You will, kiddo,” Sirius promised when Harry found it in himself to express this in a way that made sense. “It took awhile for me to wake up without automatically thinking I was back in Azkaban, but eventually I got there.” His face scrunched up. “Well, most of the time,” he amended. “Being there for you certainly helped, gave me something to think about outside of my past mistakes.”

Harry nodded, wondering when he would be able to go more than two minutes without thoughts of the cellar invading his mind. He was still so fractured. Was there a light at the end of the tunnel? If there was, Harry couldn’t spot it.

He knew he was real. He knew Voldemort wanted him dead. He knew that his ability to continue forward despite the cellar was vital to his ability to regain any sense of wholeness.

Of being and truly feeling real.

“Tom didn’t shatter me,” Ginny told him one night when neither of them could sleep and instead curled up at the headboard of Harry’s bed with hot chocolate and a platter of biscuits Mrs. Weasley had made the previous morning. “Voldemort didn’t shatter you, either. We are alive against all odds, and we’re going to stay that way.”

Against all odds… it seemed a fitting description for their experiences. Ginny was still alive. Harry was real, felt more real in that quiet moment than he’d managed most of the time.

Voldemort’s plan to destroy all that Harry was had failed. Against all odds, he was alive, he was here, and he was real.

“Thanks,” he whispered.

Ginny linked her fingers with his. “Anytime,” she returned like a promise, and for that night, it was enough.

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Chapter 17: Absolution

Author's Notes: I'm not okay. Haven't been for a long time. This school year was really difficult, though not because of my students. I have dealt with a very intense mother, and divorced parents who are amazing when it comes to their child, but toxic towards each other to the point that their child has a court-appointed guardian and a DCFS (Division of Child and Family Services) caseworker. It's been a nightmare to deal with since mid-February.

I am doing some things to try and help myself. I've started therapy. I'm on antidepressants. I'm trying to work on spending time with friends so I'm not at home doom-scrolling various social media apps once I'm home or all weekend. I took a couple days off from teaching to chaperone at my children's field trips in March. I even took a mental health day two weeks ago where I drank a glass of wine in the bathtub while doing a face mask and gave myself a pedicure following a foot bath and foot mask. I'm talking to my therapist about the things that are overwhelming, and it helps.

I've barely written a word of this story since August 2021, though this chapter and the six following it are complete. I'm struggling with my outline after that point, and even though I think about it every day, nothing substantial has come of it. All of this to say that I'm not sure when I'll update next. I do love this story, and I do love writing. I just need to take some more time to figure myself out so that I can get the creative juices flowing again. I miss writing so much, and I miss interacting with the community. Please be patient with me.

Chapter Seventeen: Absolution

"Three more days," Hermione complained to Ron over breakfast, "and still no school supplies list."

It was odd, even Ron had to admit that.

"Here she goes again," sighed Fred as he stood up from his half-eaten plate.

"We've got better things to do than worry about the lack of a supplies list," George agreed. Ron rolled his eyes as the twins scarpered off with identical grins.

"Dumbledore can't find anyone for the Defense post," said Sirius as the kitchen door swung shut. "No one wants it after what happened to Moody."

"How is he doing?" Ron asked curiously. He hadn't seen the ex-Auror once since learning he'd never known the actual man at Hogwarts or at Grimmauld Place.

"Stubborn as ever," said Kingsley in his slow, reassuring voice as he accepted a refill for his mug of coffee from Molly, "but far less trusting than he was before."

"No surprise there," said Ron, "after being locked in his own trunk for eleven months."

Kingsley nodded in agreement. "He is bitter that no one saw the truth of the matter, but he is still doing work for the Order."

There was a moment of silence as everyone ate their food. Ron wondered if Moody and Harry might be willing to meet and discuss their time spent in captivity.

"What happens if Professor Dumbledore can't find a new Defense teacher?" asked Hermione tentatively.

"I expect Fudge will step in and appoint someone he controls," scowled Sirius.

"But the Minister doesn't have the power to interfere at Hogwarts like that!" exclaimed Hermione, aghast. Ron looked quickly over at his father, who gazed pensively at Hermione.

"I fear," Arthur said slowly, "that Fudge is reaching a point where he is willing to do anything he can to discredit and dismantle the headmaster's status and standing in the eyes of the public."

"This isn't really the best topic to be discussing right now," said Molly, hands twisting in her apron. Kingsley sighed and shook his head.

"Fudge interfering at Hogwarts will directly impact your children, Molly," he said. "It would be foolish of us not to prepare them for that possibility."

"Still…" Molly's face was conflicted and worried.

"It's our O.W.L. year, Mrs. Weasley," said Hermione earnestly. "It's N.E.W.T.s for the twins. What if the Minister sets an incompetent teacher?"

"Quirrell was rubbish," Ron agreed, "and Lockhart was even worse. You were the best we had, Remus," he added, shooting a quick grin at his former teacher, "and Crouch Jr was good even though he was Polyjuiced as Moody. Someone in Fudge's pocket is more than likely going to be a hindrance, aren't they?"

"That's exactly it," said Sirius. "Fudge fears Dumbledore's influence, but his public stance on Voldemort's return isn't enough to remove him as headmaster. It's going to be easier to appoint someone who will interfere on his behalf."

Arthur nodded. "My contacts within the Ministry suggest he's pushing through an educational decree today to give him the power to select a teacher if Dumbledore can't."

Hermione scowled. "That's awful," she stated angrily.

"Indeed it is," agreed Remus. "You will both need to be on your guard should the Minister succeed in selecting the next Defense teacher."

"Us?" said Ron in surprise. "Why us?"

"Because Fudge currently has no control in what's going on with Harry," said Sirius, voice and expression now tight. "He has no cause to declare me an unfit guardian, nor does he control my decisions regarding Harry's delayed return to Hogwarts. Whoever he might select will undoubtedly be ordered to watch you both closely as his best friends."

"Including your post," added Kingsley. "Every letter you send must be written as though an outsider without Harry's best interests at heart is reading it, too."

Ron gaped at the adults around the table for a moment. "Hogwarts won't be safe like Fudge claims it is," he finally said.

"He's going to turn it into a hostile environment!" cried Hermione.

"Exactly," said Arthur, voice quiet but no less for its conviction. "It is going to be more important than ever to watch your backs at all times. I know neither of you ever went looking for trouble with Harry these past four years, but trouble has found you all nonetheless. I expect there is going to be very little your mother and I can do to protect you or your siblings this year, Ron."

Molly looked ready to cry at these words.

"So long as Fudge remains in denial, there's going to be little any of us can do," said Remus somberly. "We need you both to be careful this year."

"We will be," said Hermione at once. "I promise."

Ron nodded his agreement, mind whirling. Would there ever be a year where they weren't in danger? And with Voldemort back and Fudge in denial, what form would that danger truly take this year?

He feared the answer was beyond anything he could imagine.

Ginny flopped on the bed after finishing breakfast, head hanging off so she could look upside down at Harry while he did his morning stretches. "I don't want to go back," she told him grumpily, long hair brushing the floor.

Harry raised his eyebrows at her as he curled over to reach for his feet, hands curled loosely around his ankles. "More to do there," he said. "Not much to do here."

"Nice to know you think you're not much," grinned Ginny. "I'll have you know I completely disagree with that assessment."

Harry felt his cheeks grow warm as Hedwig gave a helpful trill from her perch by the window. Ginny had said similar things before, and more and more, Harry found himself feeling an inward mixture of pleasure and something else he couldn't quite name.

This something had started not long after his rescue, but he hadn't been in the position to acknowledge or analyze it before. The last few days, however, he had struggled to understand just what it was he was feeling when he was around Ginny.

It was a far-cry from before, the way Ginny acted around him now. He'd been amazed to discover just how much she could fill up the silence with comfortable chatter about everything and nothing at all. Not having been one to be particularly talkative to begin with, it was relieving to be able to just flow in Ginny's slipstream than to have to work to actively contribute, something that had seemed almost impossible after the cellar.

Ginny was funny, loud, opinionated, and fierce in a way Harry hadn't known to be possible before. The way she had practically stood guard over him the first time he'd allowed Ron and Hermione to talk with him still stood out in his mind. Harry never knew what it was to be cared about so intensely before she was real.

"What?" said Ginny abruptly, and Harry realized he had been staring at her for several moments. His face felt hotter than before as he looked away.

"Nothing," he mumbled, moving into his next stretch.

Why was he feeling so embarrassed? This wasn't like him, to stare at another person so intently without thinking about it ”

Hadn't he stared at Cho Chang in such a way before, though?

The thought hit him like a ton of bricks, because he realized now what he was feeling.

He fancied Ginny.

This was... unexpected. Disastrous, even. Ginny had been as much a part of Harry's new foundation as Sirius and Remus, had been there to put into words the things he had been unable to, and this was how he was going to repay her? She clearly saw him as only a friend now. How horrible to suddenly have the tables turn where she was obviously moving on and he could only see her.

Ginny started talking about all her reasons for not wanting to go back to Hogwarts, and Harry listened with half an ear, still struggling to come to terms with this abrupt realization.

"... and then there's also all the stress of dating and such ”"

"You're seeing someone?" Harry blurted without thinking.

Ginny shot him an odd look. "Michael Corner, from Ravenclaw," she answered, sitting up and turning to face him. "We met at the Yule Ball, and we've been together since the end of the school year. Did ” did I not mention that before?"

Harry shook his head, heart sinking. Ginny definitely only saw Harry as a friend. She had been taking pity on him the last few weeks, that was all. He was an idiot, thinking he might turn things into something more than they ought to be.

"I thought I had," said Ginny, laughing uncomfortably. "Ron always said I talk too much without paying attention to a single thing I say."

"No, you don't," said Harry at once, feeling his face flush when he realized how earnestly he'd spoken.

There was a moment of awkward silence. "Thank you," said Ginny softly.

Harry quickly cast around for something else to say. "Getting better," he said. "And you know Sirius thinks one more month should do it. Be back there before you know it." He forced himself up and moved to the window to gently pet Hedwig, the owl blinking her amber eyes at him with a sorrowful gleam as though she saw through to the turmoil in Harry's heart and mind.

"Yeah," said Ginny quietly. "Are ” are you all right?"

Harry nodded quickly. "Shouldn't Sirius be back already?" he asked, desperate to change the subject. Now Hedwig's gaze was reproachful, but he ignored her.

"Maybe he got held up," said Ginny. "Mum's been trying to find more reasons to keep Sirius interacting with others. She worries about him. And you," she added hesitantly.

Harry closed his eyes, remembering the feel of Mrs. Weasley's hugs and wishing he had felt them in his own skin. He missed her with a sudden pang, and the words tumbled out before he could stop them: "Want to talk to her."

He could hear Ginny rising off the bed. "You ” you want to talk to Mum?"

Harry swallowed and nodded. "She didn't know," he said softly. "She didn't know, but that was the point, wasn't it? No one was supposed to know."

He turned around to see Ginny nodding. "Do ” would you want to see her right now?"

Harry hesitated for a moment before nodding once more. "All right," said Ginny softly, "I'll go talk to her."

She left with the empty breakfast tray in her hands, and Harry watched her go, heart twisting painfully in his chest. A quick check of his mind was done to ensure the door between himself and Voldemort was still firmly shut, and then he slumped onto the bed, head in his hands. He felt rather empty at the realization that he saw Ginny as more than a friend when she clearly did not feel the same way, and he didn't know what to do with this knowledge. Perhaps the easiest thing would be to shove it away like everything else no one needed to know, hide away the hurt and desire and just bury it beneath the surface like the Horcruxes. Hidden, safe, and no one's business.

Hedwig gave a soft hoot from her perch before a flapping sound announced her arrival to his shoulder. He felt her beak gently nipping at his wild hair and lowered his hands.

"Fancying girls dating other blokes," he mumbled to Hedwig. "Once was tragic, but twice means it's starting to become a bit of a trend."

Hedwig's hoot was sharper now and she nipped a bit harder at his ear. "There's no use, Hedwig," snapped Harry. "She's with someone else."

He stood and forced Hedwig to return to her perch before retreating back to his bed. The snowy owl glared before tucking her head under her wing to go to sleep.

Harry sat and stared at the floor in mounting trepidation until he heard footsteps on the stairs, glancing up to see Sirius enter the room, closing the door behind him. He crossed to the bed, sat down, and placed a firm hand on Harry's shoulder. "Are you certain about this?" he asked. "You don't have to talk to Molly today."

Swallowing hard, Harry nodded. "Miss her," he whispered. Sirius nodded and rose, heading back to the door and opening it.

Harry looked up at Mrs. Weasley as she stepped through the doorway, a hesitant, but hopeful expression on her face. "Hello, dear," she said softly.

Harry smiled, uncertain of what to do or say. Sirius settled down next to Harry again as Ginny and Remus entered the room and shut the door. "Hi," he finally managed.

It felt so much harder to do this now she was here, but Harry had never been one to back out once he committed. Mrs. Weasley had been the first adult to show him what it was like to be cared for, and he didn't want to keep up the separation anymore.

Voldemort had taken enough from him already. He couldn't have her, too.

Mrs. Weasley slowly approached. "Ginny said you wished to speak with me?" she asked hesitantly.

Harry nodded slowly, but he didn't know what to say, how to verbalize everything he was feeling. He looked at Sirius for a moment and bit his lip.

"I am so very sorry I didn't see the truth," said Mrs. Weasley softly. "I can't tell you how many times I've thought it over and tried to figure out how I missed it."

"Mrs. Weasley," started Harry, but he stopped. He closed his eyes for a moment. "It hurts because you were the first adult to act like a real parent," he finally said, staring resolutely at the floor and knowing how badly the words must hurt. "Didn't know what that was like before you, and he ” he took that away. He took so much ”" He broke off and shook his head. "Tired of it. So tired of it, of what he took…"

Harry forced himself to rise. Mrs. Weasley was watching him with shining eyes. He noticed they were the exact same shade as Ginny's, and felt his heart constrict. It wasn't fair, but he couldn't go on like this.

Pushing away thoughts of Ginny, Harry stepped closer to Mrs. Weasley, startled to realize that for the first time, he was looking down at her instead of up. He swallowed, shaking a bit at the wave of emotion swelling over him. "Missed you," he finally choked out, staring at her left shoulder.

A moment later, Mrs. Weasley's arms were around him, just him, just Harry, and it was everything the boy had wanted when Harry hadn't known Voldemort from his own mind. He clutched at her and buried his head in her shoulder, feeling tears spill free. For once, he did nothing to stop them or hide them.

The comfort of being hugged, as though by a mother, meant he could let go without being judged.

"He took everything from me," he whispered between sobs, surprised at how easily he was suddenly able to refer to himself. It had been so long.

"I know," Mrs. Weasley told him, warmth and protection filling her voice. "It isn't fair, but I'm here, and so are you. He can't take that from you again, he won't, I swear it."

Harry nodded against her shoulder, believing her as firmly as he had once believed he would never escape Voldemort's clutches.

He cried for Cedric, for his parents, for the Muggle man who had offered him escape, and even for the Dursleys. Mostly, though, he cried for himself, for every hurt, torment, illusion, and loss he had been forced to endure. He couldn't have Ginny, but he could have this.

"Mum looks happier now," said Ron quietly when he and Hermione came up to visit after lunch.

Harry had cried himself in Mrs. Weasley's arms to the point of sheer exhaustion and had slept the rest of the morning away. Strangely, he had woken feeling better rested than he had in a very long time.

Smiling a bit, he nodded. "It ” it still hurts," he admitted softly, "but ” she felt real."

Hermione looked as though she was going to burst into tears and only just restrained herself, instead smiling tremulously. "She's missed you something fierce," she said. "And we're going to miss you, Harry. I can't believe we're going back in three days without you…" She gave a great sniff and dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief.

"He'll be there as soon as he's able," Ron reminded her.

"But the Ministry," whispered Hermione. "What if they refuse to let him back without speaking to him first?"

Harry shifted uneasily on the bed. He knew this was a distinct possibility, had long tried not to think about it, but the reality was that they might insist on making sure he hadn't lost his mind or anything like that.

He didn't want to be poked and prodded or asked intrusive questions the way he had been in the cellar. There was no way he wanted to be declared insane and locked up more than he already was, either. He missed Hogwarts, missed the energy and excitement of flying…

"Dumbledore won't let them do that," said Ron dismissively. "And now that the Ministry made up its mind and decided Crouch isn't talking crazy about Wormtail being alive, Sirius'll be able to stop them, too."

But it was Voldemort who needed to be stopped, and Harry knew how. Could he even allow himself to miss Hogwarts given what he knew needed to happen?

He had to die.

A sudden surge of guilt rose in Harry as he realized his unexpected feelings for Ginny could never be acted upon. Not only was she seeing someone already, but he, Harry had to die in order for Voldemort to die once and for all. How could he have allowed himself to forget how this had to end? How could he want to go flying, roam the castle and its grounds, even think about learning when he was never going to survive the end of the war?

It was all so pointless.

"Harry?" Hermione's voice penetrated his dark and turbulent thoughts. "Harry, are you all right?"

Harry swallowed hard and nodded. "Just tired," he said. He hesitated, then added, "Wish… just… want to be ready to go back."

"You'll come back to Hogwarts as soon as you can," said Hermione.

"Yeah, you'll be back in no time at all!" agreed Ron. "And don't worry about the Ministry, Sirius won't let them do a thing to you, I know it."

Harry put on a smile and nodded. He couldn't allow himself to want to go back to school, he knew that now. He could play along for the time being, but eventually he was going to have to speak to Dumbledore and get the mission to retrieve and destroy the Horcruxes underway.

Nothing else mattered, and he couldn't allow himself to forget that. Not school, not his feelings for Ginny, none of it. The only thing that mattered was the mission.

He pretended all was well for the rest of the afternoon, heart heavy with the truth he carried deep down.

Harry had to die. Better to get it over with quickly before more people could lose their lives. He would continue to work on growing stronger, and when he was well enough, he would speak to Dumbledore and see to it the mission was carried out. Dumbledore knew how to make the hard decisions, didn't he? He would see that there was no time to lose, that nothing else mattered more than destroying Voldemort once and for all.

He would help Harry do what needed to be done.

Still, Harry wasn't ready to face the task before him yet. He needed to regain his strength first. So he pretended all was well, engaging in chess with Ron and wondering who Fudge would pick for the Defense post at Hogwarts if Dumbledore couldn't find a teacher with Hermione. Ron's knowledge of the Ministry meant he had plenty of suggestions of awful people who might come to Hogwarts, but unless the Order decided to tell them who to expect, there was no way of knowing for sure.

It was nearing dinner time when Hermione asked if Harry wanted to remain upstairs or try coming down to the kitchen.

Despite knowing that it would mean seeing Bill, Harry agreed. He hadn't set foot in the kitchen as of yet; he hadn't gone past the third floor in all honesty. It would be beneficial to start exploring the house more since he would be here for at least another month.

Mrs. Weasley all but squealed with joy when she saw Harry enter with Ginny's hand caught tightly in his own, legs trembling slightly from the journey down. "I was just about to prepare your tray," she said, bustling around the table and adding two more plates for him and Ginny.

"Hey, Harry," said Bill softly from near the head of the table.

Harry met his eyes and smiled. "Hey," he returned. "It's good to see you."

Bill was up and moving before Harry realized what he was doing, hands on Harry's shoulders and an earnest expression on his face. "I'm sorry I didn't see what was happening," he told him sincerely. "I hope you can forgive me."

Harry gave him a genuine smile. "Yeah," he said, the pain and worry easily sliding away in the face of Bill's caring. "Of course."

Bill grinned as Fred and George whooped from the table, squeezing Harry's shoulders before leading him and Ginny to the table to sit down by Sirius and Remus.

Harry took a moment during dinner (a delicious cottage pie) to look at everyone gathered around him, recalling one of the dreams he'd had while trapped in the cellar.

"Can they ” the others ” can they ever be real again?"

"That's up to you, I think."

The Ginny in the dream had been right. It had been entirely up to him, and no one had fought him on it, not once. It had been up to him.

The Weasleys, Hermione, members of the Order who happened to be there, all of them…

They were real.

"You all right?" Ginny asked him quietly.

Harry nodded. "Never better," he returned, and for once, he truly meant it. He knew he had to die, but he could allow himself this moment of peace. Ginny smiled, and Harry returned it before tucking into a delicious dinner, surrounded by only the real.

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