SIYE Time:13:37 on 1st July 2022

Through Shadows
By hp_fangal

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Category: Alternate Universe
Characters:All, Harry/Ginny
Genres: Angst
Warnings: Mental Abuse, Mild Language, Violence/Physical Abuse
Rating: PG-13
Reviews: 133
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: 18324; Chapter Total: 441
Awards: View Trophy Room

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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