|SIYE Time:14:45 on 4th July 2022|
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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: 18412; Chapter Total: 1352
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I don't have much to say, other than thank you for your kind reviews! I'm so glad this story is being so well-received. I hope you enjoy this next offering!
Chapter Four: Morning
Despite her best efforts, Ginny was unable to fall back asleep after what she had seen. How could she? The boy she had fancied for so long was…
If she was right, how would any of them ever help Harry heal? If he had been gone as long as she feared, would he even trust any of them again?
Then there was the guilt Ginny felt, that she had noticed signs but not understood what they meant until it was clearly too late. Could she set aside her own guilt to help Harry in his recovery?
She knew she had to. The guilt from her own family could have easily drowned her after the diary had been destroyed. Bill hadn’t been the only one to offer Ginny the space and support she needed, but he had done it the best out of everyone in her family. Could she do the same for Harry? Would he even want her to?
Hermione shifted in her sleep, Molly’s movements could be heard as she left her own room and retreated down the stairs, the front door to the house opened and shut, and the questions in Ginny’s mind circled round again and again until she could no longer stand lying in bed for another moment. Rising, she snagged her dressing gown and slippers and headed for the kitchen, desperate for a cup of tea.
Unsurprisingly, Molly was already in the kitchen, still in her dressing gown as she had been some three hours earlier. What was surprising was that the headmaster was there, too. It must have been him Ginny heard coming inside while she had been lying in bed, trying to sleep and failing.
Ginny paused in the doorway, uncertain if she should enter or go back to bed.
“Oh Ginny, dear, you’re up early,” said Molly, suddenly bustling around for another mug to add to the tray of tea she had already prepared.
“Have a seat, Miss Weasley,” said Dumbledore softly.
Ginny sat down opposite him and stared at the table. Gathering her courage, she asked the main question that had been on her mind the last few hours. “Sir, it wasn’t really Harry that came back from the maze, was it?”
“You were awake when Sirius and Remus arrived?” asked Dumbledore. Ginny nodded.
Molly’s breath caught as she set the tray down on the table. “Ginny, you weren’t supposed to be up to – to see that.”
“It’s all right, Molly,” sighed Dumbledore. “The news will travel fast once the others wake.” He gazed at Ginny from behind his half-moon spectacles, blue eyes invariably sad. “You are correct, Miss Weasley,” he said quietly. “It would seem Voldemort himself used Polyjuice Potion to take on Harry’s appearance whilst keeping Harry his prisoner.”
Molly gasped and dropped the mug in her hand. It rolled a bit on the table, thankfully empty of any tea. Ginny closed her eyes for a moment to shut away the horror Dumbledore’s words evoked in her.
“But I – I hugged –” Molly shook her head, a sickened expression on her pale face as she clasped a hand to her mouth in horror.
There was a moment of silence.
“I – I kept thinking there was something off about his eyes,” Ginny finally admitted as she reached for the mug her mother had dropped and began filling all three with tea from the teapot. “The few times he looked directly at me, his eyes never matched what he was saying or doing.” She shook her head. “I couldn’t figure it out, but it’s not like we’re close friends, so I thought I was being paranoid, or that it was a side-effect of him being Obliviated…”
“No one suspected the truth,” said Dumbledore somberly as he accepted the mug Ginny offered him. “Not even I saw it. Worse still, he was not the only person pretending to be who they are not.”
“Who else, Albus?” asked Molly sharply.
Dumbledore sighed again. “Alastor Moody,” he admitted. “A Death Eater has been using Polyjuice Potion to be him since Arthur was called to his house last September to smooth things over with the disturbance of the dustbins.”
Ginny felt her lungs turn to lead. “That – this whole year –”
“I’m afraid you have never known the real Alastor Moody,” said Dumbledore. “He fooled us all well until a small slip alerted Sirius and Remus to the truth.”
“Who was he really?” asked Ginny.
“A man who should have been dead and buried at Azkaban many years ago.” Dumbledore looked over at Molly. “Barty Crouch Jr.”
Molly clapped her hands to her mouth. Ginny stared. “Percy’s missing boss had a son?”
Dumbledore nodded. “He was sentenced to Azkaban along with three others for torturing two Aurors into insanity.”
Ginny’s mouth was dry. Someone who had done something so completely horrible had been her teacher this past year?
“Harry...” she whispered. “He’s not...?”
“No,” said Dumbledore at once. “But he is very fragile right now.”
“He seemed… scared of me,” whispered Molly. “Wouldn’t let me touch him. He just shrank against Sirius and I –” She broke off with a sob.
“I saw him leaning on Sirius when you passed my room,” Ginny admitted quietly. “He responded to him?”
“And Remus,” said Molly tremulously. “I’m glad he isn’t… completely closed off.”
“But his journey to heal from what he has experienced will undoubtedly be fraught with difficulties,” said Dumbledore heavily. “We do not know the full extent of what happened while he was being held captive.”
Ginny nodded silently and sipped her tea. “We can’t let guilt hold us back,” she finally spoke. “It just… eats away at you.”
“You’re thinking of your brothers,” said Molly softly. “And me.”
Ginny nodded. “The lot of you either wanted to smother me in attention or apologize for ignoring me all year, and I… it wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate the attention,” she admitted, staring at her mug. “The diary did a lot of damage to my self-confidence, twisted up my perception of how my brothers felt about me… a whole year not knowing if anyone actually cared about me on top of all those blank spots in my memory, and it…” Ginny sighed. “That summer after reminded me how much I was loved and cared for.”
“Ginny, I –”
“It’s okay, Mum,” said Ginny firmly. “My point is, it was easier to move forward from that experience when everyone could set aside their guilt and just be present. It wasn’t up to me to be in charge of everyone else’s feelings of guilt. I needed the support to work through what happened without being burdened by how everyone else thought about what had happened to me.”
“Well said,” smiled Dumbledore fondly. “I daresay your daughter’s perspective could be very useful in how we all approach Harry.”
Ginny felt herself flush at the praise. “Thank you, sir,” she murmured before burying herself in her mug of tea once more.
Molly had breakfast ready by the time her brothers and Hermione came down to eat a few hours later, during which time Ginny had consumed two more mugs of tea as well as her own food. “Has something happened, sir?” Hermione asked the moment she stepped into the room and spotted Dumbledore. “Has Harry been found yet?”
Ginny looked over her empty plate at Dumbledore and watched him nod silently.
“Wait, he’s – you actually found him?” said Ron in shock. “He’s – he’s alive?”
“Yes,” said Dumbledore, “but I must warn you that Harry has been through a terrible ordeal and is not up to visitors at this time.”
“Sirius and Remus ought to be starving, though,” said Molly as she loaded a tray. “I suppose I could…”
“He’s here?” said Fred. “Where?”
“Never you mind that right now,” snapped Molly. “We don’t want to overwhelm him.” She hesitated, hands on either side of the tray as though she wanted to pick it up, but was uncertain.
“I’ll take it up, Mum,” offered Ginny quietly. “Someone who isn’t that close to him might be for the best right now.”
Molly sent Ginny a searching look that Ginny met without flinching. She knew what her relationship, or lack thereof, to Harry was. She was about as neutral as anyone could be at this point.
“Oh – all right,” said Molly softly, handing the tray to Ginny. “Please be careful.”
“I promise,” said Ginny as her mother held open the kitchen door. “Be back soon,” she added with a smile at everyone else before heading up the stairs.
Ginny felt her confidence begin to slip as she headed up towards the topmost floor. What if Harry reacted badly to her? She knew she wouldn’t be upset by his appearance, having already seen him, but there was really no telling how he might take her presence after so long away from everyone who cared about him.
Reaching the top floor, Ginny hesitated, then carefully balanced the tray with one hand so she could knock on Sirius’s door. “Sirius?” she called out softly. “It’s Ginny. I have breakfast, Mum thought you might be hungry.”
A moment later, the door opened, revealing the exhausted face of Remus Lupin. “Come in,” he said, running a hand through his sleep-rumpled hair. “We’re up.”
Ginny stepped inside. She had spent several hours in here with Sirius over the last few weeks, so the posters of Muggle girls in scanty outfits didn’t faze her. She looked over at the bed to take in Harry, unsurprised to see him here instead of in the other bedroom.
Sirius was curled up around Harry in his Animagus form, but he was awake and staring listlessly at the lamp on the bedside table. Sirius slowly raised his head to look at Ginny, then leapt off the bed and transformed back into his human form.
“I’m surprised Molly sent you up instead of coming herself,” he said as he took the chair next to the bed, one hand already reaching for the trembling hand Harry had lifted silently without looking around and holding it firmly in his own. It seemed Harry craved Sirius’s touch.
“I saw you come in earlier,” Ginny admitted. “Mum’s still shook up, but since I’ve already, well…” She trailed off awkwardly and moved to the desk to set down the tray. “I just thought someone not as close to him might be better,” she said to the tray.
“Thank you Ginny,” said Remus, smiling when she turned to look at him. “We do appreciate it.” He looked over at Harry. “Is Albus here?”
“In the kitchen,” said Ginny. “D’you want me to fetch him?”
“No, I’ll go speak to him myself,” said Remus, shaking his head. “I’ll be back as soon as I am able, Harry.”
Harry nodded slightly, but otherwise didn’t move, and Remus swept from the room.
“You look tired, Ginny,” said Sirius after a moment. “Did you get back to sleep after we got back?”
Ginny shook her head. “Mum sent you the usuals as well as some porridge,” she said, quickly focusing on the tray she had set down. “I think that’s supposed to be for Harry.”
Sirius nodded. “Bring it over?” he asked her before turning back to Harry. “I’m going to sit you up so you can eat, all right?”
Ginny turned with the porridge and a spoon as well as a piece of toast for herself to see Harry nodding slightly. Setting the porridge and toast on the bedside table, she quickly gathered up the pillows to go behind Harry as Sirius sat him up. She backed away a moment later as Sirius gently settled Harry against the stack of pillows and sat down on the bed.
The movement seemed to have been too much. Harry started coughing, curling over his bent knees and nearly toppling over but for the hold Sirius had on his shoulders. When the fit ended, Sirius helped Harry lean back against the pillows again as Harry wheezed, eyes screwed shut and face almost white as a sheet beneath the bruise which covered most of the left side of his face.
“Sorry,” murmured Sirius. Harry shrugged a bit as the wheezing eased up and opened his green eyes, staring blankly at the ceiling. Ginny saw his thin hands grasping at the blankets and felt her heart construct with the unfairness of the situation.
Slowly, she moved to the foot of the bed as Sirius situated himself next to Harry with the porridge. “I know it isn’t ideal, but I don’t think you can feed yourself yet, and you’ve got to eat something if you’re going to get your strength back.”
Ginny quietly watched as Harry’s eyes moved to focus on Sirius and he nodded. Sirius grabbed Harry’s glasses and slipped them onto his pale face, and Ginny saw his flat green eyes flicker over to her.
“Do you want me to leave?” she asked him carefully. It was fine if that was what he wanted. Ginny wasn’t there to do anything that might make him uncomfortable.
To her surprise, Harry shook his head before his eyes returned to Sirius, so Ginny curled up and slowly munched on her piece of toast as Sirius fed his godson small spoonfuls of porridge. Toast devoured, Ginny returned to the tray and spotted a small glass of water, which she carried over to Sirius now. He nodded to her gratefully and helped Harry take a few small sips.
Ginny returned to the foot of the bed with some bacon and a new cup of tea for herself. It wasn’t long after that when Harry turned his head away from Sirius’s next spoonful of porridge. “Full?” Sirius asked him.
Harry nodded. He’d barely managed a quarter of what Molly had sent up, but given how incredibly thin he was now, Ginny was certain he had been horribly starved. His stomach could no longer handle the amounts of food she’d known him to be able to consume at the Burrow the two times he had stayed.
Sirius sighed, set aside the porridge, and went to the tray to grab a plate for himself. Harry didn’t move, dull gaze fixed on a distant wall. Ginny turned to see what he was looking at and spotted the photograph Sirius had stuck to the wall of himself at Hogwarts with his friends, Harry’s dad among them. She wished she could take it down to show Harry, but with the Permanent Sticking Charm on it, that wasn’t going to happen.
“Do you know where you are, Harry?” Ginny found herself asking.
Harry’s eyes moved to her, and he shook his head slightly after a moment.
Ginny scooted a bit closer, inwardly pleased that Harry didn’t tense up as she did so. “This is where Sirius grew up,” she said. “His parents are both dead, so he inherited the house. We’ve been using it as headquarters for the Order of the Phoenix. Do you know what that is?”
Harry gave a minute shake of his head.
“A secret group that fought against You-Know-Who in the last war,” Ginny told him. “Dumbledore founded it. Sirius, Remus, and your parents were all a part of it the last time.”
Harry’s eyes flicked to Sirius, who nodded around a fried egg. “I’m not supposed to be out and about, being a wanted criminal and all,” he said, unable to keep the bitter note from his voice, “so I offered this place for the Order to use.”
“The trouble is,” continued Ginny, “all kinds of Dark things and creatures have been festering around here since Sirius’s Mum died, so we’ve been doing a lot of dejunking. Mum had us tackle some drapes infested with doxies last week – disgusting, except I think Fred and George snuck a couple of them for their experiments.”
“The money?” asked Harry unexpectedly in a thin voice.
Ginny’s mouth fell open. How did he know about that? That hadn’t been Harry on the train giving the twins all that gold, it had been You-Know-Who. Had he told Harry about it? Why would he do that?
“They’re using it,” she said. “Bought plenty of supplies already, but they’ve also been using all kinds of things for the products they’re developing that they’ve come across here. How did you –?”
A knock on the bedroom door interrupted her question. A moment later, Remus came in, followed by Madam Pomfrey who was carrying a large bag.
“Really,” she was saying as she stepped in, “first Minerva, then you and the headmaster, all this secrecy is highly unnecessary –” She broke off a moment later when she spotted Harry.
“Oh dear,” she said, striding forward and shooing Ginny out of the way of her large bag, which dropped onto the bed where she’d been sitting a moment earlier. “You’ve certainly presented quite the challenge, gentlemen. How long?”
“Since the Third Task,” said Remus quietly.
Madam Pomfrey froze, wand in hand. “I beg your pardon?” she said. “I treated the boy for a cut arm and detected use of the Cruciatus Curse in his system that night.”
“Wasn’t him,” snapped Sirius. “Polyjuice Potion.”
Madam Pomfrey gaped at Sirius. “That wasn’t – then who did I treat?”
“It doesn’t matter,” said Remus quickly. “If you could please –” He gestured at Harry.
“Of – of course,” said Madam Pomfrey, and she seemed to quickly regain her brisk manner as she sat down in the chair Sirius had occupied while feeding Harry. Sirius quickly resettled on Harry’s other side, clasping his hand once again.
Ginny was starting to wonder if Sirius was the only thing keeping Harry grounded in what was happening. As it was, he appeared wary and tense as Madam Pomfrey pulled out her wand and waved it over him. “Dehydration, severe malnutrition…” She reached for her bag and started pulling out an assortment of potion vials and jars.
“For the bruises,” she said, thrusting a jar at Sirius. “Dittany for the cuts. Nutritional potions… let’s see, you’ll need to encourage fluids: milk, water, weak teas, and so forth…” She waved her wand over Harry again.
“No infections in any of the wounds, good… means his magic reserves are strong… lungs are a bit weak – excessive coughing?” she asked Harry sharply. He nodded and looked away. “Definitely pneumonia, but easily curable…” She pulled out more vials, then suddenly frowned. “Stomach ulcers, caused by potion intake. What kind of potion were you given, Mr. Potter?”
Harry blinked at her for a long moment before opening his mouth. “Ask… Snape.”
Ginny and Sirius looked at each other and frowned. “What do you mean, Harry?” asked Remus.
Harry shifted and gripped Sirius’s hand. “Snape… created it.”
“Snape hasn’t been asked to make any potions,” said Sirius in confusion.
Harry shook his head. “Years ago. Invented.”
Remus moved closer to Harry. “What did it do?”
Harry closed his eyes, looking distraught. “Have to listen,” he said so softly Ginny had trouble hearing him. “Like… like Imperius.”
Sirius’s face darkened. “How often?” he asked quietly. “Every day?”
“I’m going to need to know the ingredients in this potion in order to best treat the ulcers,” said Madam Pomfrey in an unusually quiet voice. She seemed unnerved by the information Harry had just given them.
“I’ll see to it,” said Remus at once. He left again, and Ginny watched him go, starting to wonder if she ought to leave herself. She was just taking up space at this point.
“I’m hesitant to give you any oral potions until I know more about Professor Snape’s potion,” said Madam Pomfrey after a moment. “We can focus on the cuts and bruises for now.” She moved the potions to the bedside table. “Arms, legs, and upper torso, correct?”
“Yeah,” said Sirius. “Harry, can you sit up on your own?”
Harry considered and then nodded. Sirius helped him readjust and pulled away the pillows Ginny had placed behind him.
“I’ll need to take off your jumper and top, Mr. Potter,” said Madam Pomfrey, but Harry flinched and shook his head.
“Sirius,” he whispered.
Sirius pulled off the jumper and top, revealing the half-healed cuts and dark bruises that littered Harry’s skin. Ginny felt her breath catch at how much weight he’d lost, how skeletal he was now.
Madam Pomfrey snagged a bottle and sat down on the bed next to Harry, but he winced away from her, almost toppling into Sirius.
“I need to use the dittany immediately followed by the bruise salve,” she told him. “It’ll go faster if Mr. Black and I work together.”
“Not you,” said Harry with surprising forcefulness.
“Mr. Potter, I –”
Ginny was startled by how loudly Harry spoke, but the expression on his face was more fearful than angry. The words tumbled out of her mouth before she could think them through:
“Will you let me do it?”
Harry stared at her, surprised, then nodded. Ginny smiled at him and approached him. “Tell me what to do,” she said to Sirius.
“I’ll take the dittany if you can follow right behind with the bruise salve,” said Sirius, handing her the small jar.
Ginny accepted it with a nod as Madam Pomfrey backed away and set to work. Sirius used the dropper to go over the cuts, which immediately sealed over with light scars or no scars at all. Meanwhile, Ginny carefully located each bruise and rubbed in the salve, working quietly and feeling both impressed and worried over how still Harry was holding himself as the cuts healed and bruises faded from view.
Taking in the nasty bruise covering most of the left side of Harry’s face, Ginny couldn’t help but hesitate a moment. “Is it all right if I take off your glasses to get this bruise?” she finally asked him.
Harry nodded, and Ginny gently pulled off and set aside the round frames on the nightstand. Then she turned back to face Harry and met his eyes once more.
There was something about his eyes which had always drawn her gaze. The green irises, filled right now with pain and exhaustion, seemed much brighter without the thin glass barrier, and Ginny felt her breath catch.
Harry’s eyes told a deeper story of fear and loss than he normally showed. For a moment, Ginny thought she could see into his very soul, to the lonely boy hiding the worst of the hurt and pain where no one could see it.
No one but her.
Carefully, Ginny grasped Harry’s chin and tilted his face to the side a bit so she could clearly see the entire bruise. Then she collected some of the salve on her fingers and began rubbing it into the bruised skin, highly aware the entire time that Harry’s eyes were on her, silently watching. It ought to have felt odd or uncomfortable, and Ginny thought her cheeks felt warm, but it wasn’t awkward. It was simply a needed task, yet it felt… intimate.
Ginny didn’t know what to think and did her best to focus on what she was doing. The bruise faded away as she carefully applied the salve; when she finished, she gently slid his glasses back on his face.
“Thanks,” Harry whispered, and Ginny smiled before moving on.
A few minutes later, she and Sirius finished up with his arms and torso. “We need to get your legs, Harry,” said Sirius softly. “Do you still want Ginny using the salve?”
Ginny waited, and a few seconds later, Harry nodded. Sirius redressed him and pulled down the blankets to remove Harry’s woolen socks and the pajama bottoms while leaving his pants on. Harry flushed a bit, but said nothing, using his shaking arms to balance himself upright.
Harry’s legs weren’t as covered in cuts and bruises as his torso save for the ragged mess on his left leg that looked as though it had suffered multiple interruptions in the healing process, and the raw, blistered skin of his ankles. “What happened here?” Ginny asked him, pointing to his left leg.
“Giant spider,” said Harry. “Third task.”
The dittany left behind a mangled-looking scar, but it was healed over.
“And these?” she asked, pointing to Harry’s ankles.
Sirius’s jaw worked as he positioned the dropper over an ankle. “Manacles,” he finally muttered. “He was chained up so he couldn’t escape.”
Ginny pressed her lips together to keep herself steady and returned to work, carefully rubbing in the salve (Harry’s knees were almost black from bruises) and sitting back as Sirius pulled the socks, pajama bottoms, and then the covers back up. Harry was starting to shake from the strain of sitting independently, so Ginny placed the pillows back behind him. Harry slumped against them and looked at her.
“Thanks.” The word was spoken softly, but was genuine. Ginny smiled at him and set the salve aside.
“I’ll need to go speak with the headmaster about a few things,” said Madam Pomfrey. “Please have Remus alert me when he returns.” She stepped out of the room, leaving silence behind her. Ginny dropped into the chair she had vacated.
“So,” said Sirius at length, “why weren’t you able to fall back asleep, Ginny?”
“I couldn’t stop thinking about…” She glanced over at Harry, uncertain if she should share what had really been on her mind, but decided honesty was her best option. “I kept feeling as though something was wrong after the Third Task, but I couldn’t figure out what.”
“Not s’posed to know.”
Ginny startled and looked at Harry. He was staring at her again. “Harry?” she said.
“Game,” he said softly. “Just… a game.” He looked away and fell silent once more.
“He likes games,” said Ginny before she could think it through.
Harry’s eyes darted to her again.
“The – the diary,” she forced out. “It – well, he, I suppose – thought it was a game, seeing how far he could go. How many holes he could punch in my memory, how many people he could hurt, how far he could push before I tried to say anything…” She swallowed. “Playing with our minds, seeing how far people can be pushed before they break –” Ginny broke off and straightened. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be talking about this right now, I’ll just –”
Ginny stared at Harry. Out of all the things she could’ve expected to result from her verbal vomit, this had not been it.
“I – are you –?”
Harry gazed at her. “Please,” he said. “Stay.”
Ginny swallowed again and sat down again. “All right,” she told him. “I’ll stay.”
Harry nodded. “Tired,” he said quietly.
“D’you want to lie down again?” Sirius asked him.
Harry nodded once more, and Ginny removed the pile of pillows again so Harry could lie down. “Padfoot?” said Harry.
Sirius nodded and transformed into the big black dog, curling up with Harry straight away. “Real,” Harry sighed.
Ginny settled in the chair beside the bed. She wasn’t quite sure what Harry meant, but it seemed to mean a great deal to him. “Real,” she agreed. “It’s real.”
Harry smiled a bit and closed his eyes. It didn’t seem to take long for him to drop off to sleep. Once she was certain he was out, Ginny stood, smiled sadly at Sirius, collected the tray, and headed back downstairs.
It was no surprise that she ran into her brothers and Hermione on the second floor. “How is he?” Hermione whispered to her, pulling her towards their shared bedroom, Ginny’s brothers following behind.
“Tired,” said Ginny, readjusting the tray in her arms. “He’s resting again.”
“He was awake?” said Ron. Ginny nodded. “How’s he look?”
Ginny bit her lip, uncertain if she should say anything. George shut the bedroom door and took the tray from her, setting it on the nearby dresser.
“Did Mum tell you anything yet?” she asked instead.
“Just that Remus and Sirius found him last night,” said Fred. “She wouldn’t let us ask Dumbledore or her any questions, nor Remus when he came down a few minutes later. Do you know more than that?”
Ginny hesitated, then nodded. “Dumbledore told me and Mum at the same time.”
“So what do you know?” pressed Hermione.
“I don’t know if I –”
“Ginny, we care about him,” said George. “We want to know, never mind what Mum might say.”
Ginny bit her lip and decided to dump the truth out. “Harry never came back from the maze. It was Voldemort using Polyjuice Potion.”
It was surprising how the name fell so easily from her lips, and yet, it really wasn’t. She found it suddenly difficult to be scared of a wizard she now hated so intensely for the untold damages he had inflicted upon her friend.
The reaction to this bombshell was exactly what she expected. Hermione gasped and clapped her hands to her mouth; Ron gaped before stumbling over to the nearest bed to sit down; Fred ran a hand through his hair and swore under his breath; George shook his head in disbelief.
“That’s not…” he trailed off. “But he… I don’t –”
“I shared a dormitory with You-Know-Who?” whispered Ron blankly. “That’s so much worse than Scabbers.”
“A mass murderer pretending to be your pet, and a mass murderer pretending to be your best mate,” said Fred, shaking his head in disgust. “You sure know how to collect them, Ron.”
“Shut up,” snapped Ron angrily. “Percy had Scabbers first, but this…” His jaw worked and he shook his head.
“He made an awful joke that You-Know-Who had killed him and replaced him with a fake the very next morning,” said Hermione in a small voice. “I said – I said Dumbledore would’ve known if it wasn’t him!”
“Hold on, he gave us his Triwizard winnings to start our joke shop!” exclaimed Fred. “He insisted we’d all need a few laughs.”
“How could that have been…?” George shook his head.
“I don’t know,” said Ginny, wondering again how exactly Harry knew about the money Voldemort had given them. “But it was. Harry’s been his prisoner the whole time. He’s…” She shook her head. “He’s lost so much weight, and he – he had cuts and bruises, and the right side of his hair is shorter than everything else, and his eyes –” She broke off to keep in a sob and turned away.
“He’s bothered by some people,” she said softly. “Mum, Madam Pomfrey… but not me. He seems fine with Sirius and Remus, as well. I’m not sure what that’s about, but I can’t imagine it’s anything good.”
Sighing, Ginny grabbed the tray. “I need to get this back to the kitchen,” she murmured and left, the others saying nothing. She left them to their horror and grief, heading quietly down the stairs.
Her mum was cleaning up the remains of breakfast when Ginny entered the kitchen again. Madam Pomfrey was still speaking quietly with Dumbledore at the kitchen table, and it sounded as though they were discussing the real Moody’s condition.
“Thank you, Ginny,” Molly said, taking the tray. “Harry didn’t eat much.”
Ginny nodded. “Sirius said his appetite was awful after he escaped Azkaban,” she reminded her. “It’s going to take time for Harry to get back to where he was.”
“I know, dear,” sighed Molly sadly, a hand reaching out to run through her hair.
Just then, the kitchen door opened and Remus entered with Professor Snape. Ginny tensed, recalling Harry’s words about the potion he had apparently created and felt a swoop of anger.
“Ah, Severus,” said Dumbledore, rising from his seat. “Thank you for being here on such short notice.”
“Lupin says Potter was dosed daily with a potion I created?” said Snape, stepping further into the kitchen.
“Indeed,” said Dumbledore solemnly as he gestured Snape closer. “Has Voldemort already contacted you about Harry’s rescue?”
Snape nodded. “He believes that I had nothing to do with Crouch being caught,” he said. “It may take some time to fully convince him of my loyalties after the damage done by Crouch’s deception, however.”
Dumbledore nodded. “Do you know which potion Harry was referring to upstairs?”
“I do,” said Snape, looking even more uncomfortable. “It was an as-yet unnamed potion I was developing to use in place of the Imperius Curse for those who are able to resist its effects.” He shook his head. “I believed I had destroyed all traces of it save for my own private notes so it could not be completed or replicated.”
He sat down at the table and revealed a piece of parchment which he thrust in Madam Pomfrey’s direction. “I had not tested it for prolonged exposure, and given the presence of the hellebore and the shrivelfig, I think it obvious how Potter ended up with stomach ulcers.” He paused, then asked, “Has the boy said where the potion came from?”
“No,” said Remus. “Just that you invented it.”
“Ginny,” said Molly quietly as Snape and Madam Pomfrey bent over the parchment with Dumbledore, “you ought to go and get dressed now.”
Ginny looked down at her dressing gown and nodded. Then she figured she had best let her mother know what she had told her brothers and Hermione. “I told the others about Harry,” she said to her. “About how he looks and that it was Voldemort the whole time at Hogwarts after –”
“Ginny!” Molly cut her off. “Certain people may feel the need to say his name, but you –”
“I’m not afraid of the name, Mum,” snapped Ginny, flushing a bit when the others in the kitchen looked over at her. “It’s difficult to be afraid when I’m so angry about what he did to Harry!”
It felt better and better each time she referred to him by name rather than a fearful title.
“Regardless,” said Molly, “I am deeply uncomfortable with –”
“I don’t care!” Ginny shouted. “Harry’s never been afraid of saying Voldemort’s name!”
“That could very well have changed after what he’s been through,” said Molly tightly.
Ginny shook her head. “He wouldn’t do that, Mum,” she said. “I know it.” And with that, she spun on her heel and marched out of the kitchen.
When she reached the second landing, she could hear her brothers and Hermione speaking in her bedroom. It sounded as though they were going over every moment after the maze, trying to figure out how they hadn’t known it wasn’t Harry. Not the least bit interested in joining that depressing conversation, and further blocked from being able to change out of her pajamas, Ginny crept past and continued up the stairs to the top floor. Sirius’s room seemed suddenly a haven from the fears and guilt of everyone else.
Ginny quietly opened the door and stepped inside. Sirius raised his head from where he was curled around a sleeping Harry. “Sorry,” muttered Ginny. “It’s less awful up here than it is down there.”
Sirius cocked his furry head to one side. “The guilt and everything,” sighed Ginny as she dropped into the chair by the bed once again. “My brothers and Hermione are dissecting every moment after the maze, Snape’s discussing the potion Harry talked about with Madam Pomfrey, Remus, and Dumbledore, and Mum’s upset with me.”
Sirius’s dark eyes appeared puzzled as he continued to stare. “I said his name,” Ginny explained. “Voldemort. I’ve never said the name before today. It’s just…” Sighing, Ginny looked away at the window. “I’m so angry at what he did,” she admitted softly. “I’ve never felt this angry about another human being before, and I can’t – I can’t be afraid of a name that makes me feel this way.”
Ginny jumped. Harry was awake again and staring at her. He swallowed hard and then he actually reached for her. Hardly daring to draw breath, Ginny lifted a hand and let Harry hold it in his own. It was cold and thin, but firm and real –
Oh. That’s what he meant.
“Hate him, too,” said Harry quietly, and Ginny refocused on his face. “You’re real,” he added a moment later.
“I am,” said Ginny, chest tightening painfully at his words. “And I’m not going anywhere, I promise.”
Harry nodded and smiled a bit before closing his eyes and drifting back off to sleep. Ginny stared at him, considering the green of his eyes.
They had been dark, sad, hurt… but alive.
Harry was alive.
“Alive,” whispered Ginny as she continued to hold Harry’s hand. She met Sirius’s dark eyes. “He’s alive.”
The words had never felt so good.
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