|SIYE Time:14:26 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: 9192; Chapter Total: 764
Awards: View Trophy Room
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?
“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.
“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.
BOY WHO LIVED MISSING: MUGGLE RELATIVES MURDERED
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.
BOY WHO LIVED STILL MISSING: MINISTRY COMPETENCE CALLED INTO QUESTION
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.
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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