|SIYE Time:14:08 on 30th July 2021|
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Category: Alternate Universe
Warnings: Mental Abuse, Mild Language, Violence/Physical Abuse
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?
Hitcount: Story Total: 9190; Chapter Total: 748
Awards: View Trophy Room
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.
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.
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