|SIYE Time:14:18 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: 9191; Chapter Total: 460
Awards: View Trophy Room
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
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.
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.
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.
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