SIYE Time:13:30 on 30th July 2021

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: 106
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: 9186; Chapter Total: 642
Awards: View Trophy Room

Author's Notes:
I hope those of you who celebrate Christmas had a good one!

This chapter will wrap up Harry's first day at Grimmauld Place. After you read it, you will have all the pieces of the puzzle. The question is, can you make them fit? If not, the next chapter is when you see the pieces fall into place.

I talk about the Bond of Blood charm in this chapter, but I have to give credit to a discussion I had on the Ginny Lovers Discord back at the end of January 2020 for my interpretation of said charm and how it's meant to work. AneurysmIncoming and blattgefluester were instrumental in that discussion, and I am grateful for their contributions to my approach in this story. Enjoy!


Chapter Six: Grasping

Sirius headed down the stairs to use the bathroom and saw Tonks stepping out of the room Barty Crouch Jr was being kept in.

“Wotcher, cousin,” said Tonks with a small smile. She nodded towards the stairs. “How is he?”

“Tired, really quiet,” sighed Sirius. “Not at all the kid I last saw.” He ran a hand through his hair roughly. “Aren’t you supposed to be with Crouch?” he asked, jerking his head toward the door Tonks had come through.

“Emmeline just barely showed up and took over,” said Tonks, yawning widely. “I’d only just gotten off my shift when you lot sent for me. Fudge has been making Bones and Scrimgeour run us Aurors just about ragged trying to find Harry.”

“Sounds like a desperate man trying to maintain his control,” said Sirius dryly. “Has Crouch said much?”

Tonks shook her head. “Kingsley dropped by, says he’s thinking he’ll take him in for questioning later this evening, make sure the right people are around so we can do this without Fudge trying to find a way to keep it quiet.”

“Is there a plan for revealing Harry’s been found? The uproar over his disappearance at the Ministry –”

“I don’t think there’s a plan just yet,” sighed Tonks. “I’ve been enjoying how bad this has all been making Fudge look, though,” she added with a grin. “You should see the pinched expression on his face every time he comes into the Auror department to demand what progress has been made and gets told nothing.”

“Maybe Kingsley takes the credit,” mused Sirius, “says he was speaking with Moody about my actions before I was arrested and thought the man seemed off. Dueled him, won, discovered he was actually Crouch Jr. and managed to get the truth of where Harry was being held captive from him.”

“It could work,” said Tonks thoughtfully. “There’s supposed to be a meeting this evening to discuss how best to handle this. I can bring that up for you unless you’re planning on attending.”

“I’m not,” said Sirius. “Harry doesn’t seem ready to let me out of his sight just yet. If he wasn’t sleeping right now…” He trailed off and shook his head. “Remus will have to attend for the both of us, he’s managed to step out of the room without issue.”

“How’s Remus doing with all of this?” asked Tonks, and it warmed Sirius to see genuine concern on her heart-shaped face. She had been quick to strike up a friendship with Remus despite his quiet demeanor.

Of course, it took a special soul to see through to the witty man beneath the withdrawn exterior. That was part of what had made their friendship at Hogwarts so strong.

Sirius shrugged. “Probably about as good as I am,” he admitted. “Seeing Harry locked away like –” He broke off and shook his head, unable to put it into words.

“Harry’s got you,” said Tonks. “He obviously knows you care about him. That should help.”

“I hope so,” said Sirius quietly. “Anyway, bathroom, excuse me.”

Tonks threw her arms around Sirius without warning. “I wish I could tell Mum about you,” she said. “She always spoke fondly of you, you know, even with you locked up in Azkaban and all.”

“She was always my favorite cousin,” Sirius smiled as he returned the hug. “She and Ted doing well?”

Tonks nodded as she pulled away. “I’ve been considering testing the waters to see if they’d be interested in joining the Order,” she admitted. “Obviously I want the support of everyone else first before I approach them, but I think they could help, too.”

“I support it,” said Sirius. “They’re good people. Have to be to raise a brat like you.”

Tonks laughed and punched Sirius in the arm. “I’ll see you later,” she grinned before yawning again. “I need to crash for a bit.”

“Take care,” murmured Sirius as Tonks stumped down the stairs. He took care of his personal business and returned to his room to see Harry’s hand was still clasped in Ginny’s.

“Still sleeping?” he asked quietly. Ginny nodded. “I’m going to see if he can stand a proper bath after he wakes next,” he sighed as he settled down at the foot of the bed again. “Cleaning spells only do so much, you know.”

Ginny smiled and nodded. “Maybe Harry’s things ought to be up here instead of in Ron’s room,” she suggested. “I don’t think he’s going to be up for being around the rest of them for a while.”

Sirius nodded his agreement. “I’ll go fetch his trunk,” said Remus, and he departed.

There was a moment of silence.

“Do – do they use chains in Azkaban?” asked Ginny softly.

Sirius stiffened slightly at the question before shaking his head. “They don’t need to,” he said. “No one has the ability to fight back once they’re in the clutches of the Dementors.”

He barely suppressed a shudder at the thought of those dark days.

“I’m so sorry you had to experience that,” said Ginny earnestly. “It wasn’t fair, what happened to you.”

“It wasn’t fair,” agreed Sirius. “But it also leaves me looking at my godson and feeling I can understand at least a part of what he has suffered.” He looked up at Ginny. “Can you not say the same?”

Ginny smiled sadly. “I can,” she sighed. “I wish I could be just as clueless as my brothers or Hermione are, but at the same time, if I didn’t know, I probably wouldn’t be in here right now.” She shifted. “It’s better being up here, you know. Even if I don’t know everything that happened, I do know what it’s like to be manipulated by Voldemort.”

Sirius nodded a bit as she suddenly yawned. “Need a quick kip?” he asked her. Truth be told, she looked exhausted.

“I’m all right,” said Ginny. “I’d rather be here, anyway.”

Remus half-hoped Ron’s bedroom would be vacant when he went downstairs to retrieve Harry’s trunk, but both he and Hermione were in there, quietly discussing how horribly they had failed Harry.

“How is he, sir?” Hermione asked the moment he entered.

“Tired,” sighed Remus as he approached Harry’s trunk. “Quiet.” He stared at the open trunk for a moment before bending down to double-check that everything was still there. Then he closed and locked it firmly.

“What are you doing?” asked Ron.

Remus sighed again. “Harry is not in the position to be around others, and likely won’t be for some time.” He pulled out his wand and jabbed it at the trunk, watching as it levitated a few inches off the ground. “Sirius is determined to care for him, so his belongings ought to be up there for easy access.”

Ron nodded glumly. “Makes sense, I suppose,” he said. “This is – it’s all wrong, all of this.”

Remus looked at Ron, at the smudges under his eyes. Hermione didn’t look much better.

“I know,” said Remus heavily. “There’s so much we still don’t know, but Harry is not completely closed off. We must take heart from the fact that he is willing to interact with anyone at all.”

“Is Ginny still up there?” asked Hermione.

Remus nodded, unsurprised when she scowled a bit at this. “She has been most helpful this morning,” he told the two. “I’m grateful Harry has responded positively to her presence, but I don’t think we’re ready to push for others to be around him just yet. He’s been mistrustful of Madam Pomfrey, for example.”

“Madam Pomfrey?” Hermione said with a frown. “That’s odd.”

Remus nodded and headed for the door; the trunk glided silently through the air before him and through the doorway. “I promise Sirius will allow more visitors,” he told the two teenagers, “but I must ask you both to be patient until that time comes.”

Neither Ron nor Hermione looked happy with this, but nodded, and Remus left.

Molly was just stepping out of her bedroom, now dressed. “Taking his things upstairs?” she asked him softly. Remus nodded.

“Ginny suggested it,” he said. “I think it’s for the best.”

Molly nodded with a tremulous smile. “Lunch will be ready within the hour,” she whispered, lightly patting Remus’s shoulder before heading downstairs. He watched her go, wishing so very badly this could all be different.

One flight of stairs up, he heard Severus call his name. “Lupin, I have the potions and directions for Potter’s recovery.”

Remus stopped and waited for the other man to approach him, holding a vellum case and a piece of parchment. “Madam Pomfrey expects you and Black to follow these directions to the letter,” he said, handing both over.

“Of course,” said Remus, accepting the case and instructions carefully. “Thank you for your assistance with Harry. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen you speak as calmly and carefully as you did earlier during your testing.”

Severus scowled slightly. “I did nothing more than what the circumstances called for,” he said shortly. “I do not care for the boy.”

Remus felt his temper rising, but forced it down. “Regardless, setting aside your personal feelings to do what needed to be done… I am thankful that you did so.”

Severus looked deeply uncomfortable. “Potter should start the first round right after lunch,” he said, bypassing Remus’s words. Remus let it go, knowing that to say more would likely lead to antagonizing neither man needed at that moment.

“I will see to it,” he said instead. “Thank you, Severus.”

Severus jerked his head in a semblance of a nod and departed without another word. Remus watched him go and sighed, returning to his task of bringing Harry’s belongings upstairs to Sirius’s room.

Sirius looked up when Remus returned with Harry’s trunk and floated it to the foot of Sirius’s bed. “Molly says lunch should be ready within the hour,” he said. “I also received written instructions from Madam Pomfrey along with another bag of potions for Harry from Severus,” he added, lifting up the vellum case in his left hand. “We’ll start the first round after he eats lunch.”

“Sounds good,” said Sirius. He and Remus set about organizing the various potions on the desk while Ginny remained sitting next to Harry.

They had just set aside the first batch of potions when Ginny leaned forward and started making gentle shushing sounds. “It’s all right, you’re safe,” she whispered, and Sirius turned to see that Harry appeared to be in the throes of a nightmare. However, he was already beginning to settle as Ginny gently ran her fingers through the hair at the nape of his neck.

“Gin –?” came Harry’s groggy voice moments later.

“I’m here,” said Ginny gently. “So are Sirius and Remus.”

Sirius moved back to the bed to see Harry nodding. “Nightmare,” he said softly.

“I know,” said Ginny. “It’s over, you’re still safe here.”

Harry nodded a bit and continued to clutch at Ginny’s right hand as her left ran through his hair. “Feels nice,” he murmured to her.

“Good,” said Ginny with a small smile. “Mum likes to run her fingers through my hair, and I always thought it was a nice feeling.”

“Never had that before,” whispered Harry.

Memories of Lily’s fingers ruffling soft tufts of black hair as she hummed a lullaby to her baby, of James grinning as he played with the bits always sticking up in the back of the tiny head of his son filled Sirius’s mind.

“Hey, kiddo,” he broke in now, heart aching at his godson’s words but not certain now was the time to correct him on something he’d obviously have no memory of. “You think you might be up for a bath before Molly gets lunch ready?”

Harry considered this before nodding. “I’ll go change and collect a tray from Mum,” Ginny offered.

“Sounds good,” said Sirius, watching as Ginny squeezed Harry’s hand one last time before rising and heading for the bedroom door.

“I just thought – the Extendable Ears,” she said, turning back. “What if –?”

“I’ll place an Imperturbable Charm on the door,” said Remus quickly. “That should block them in case anyone gets desperate.”

Ginny nodded and left, and Sirius watched as Harry’s eyes followed her exit from the room. “Why is Ginny real to you?” he asked without thinking.

Harry blinked up at Sirius. “She…” He frowned and took the hand Sirius offered him to sit upright, holding still as Sirius then slipped his glasses back on. “She wasn’t fooled. Not really.”

“Fooled by Voldemort using Polyjuice Potion?” asked Remus.

Harry nodded. “She didn’t know it wasn’t you, Harry,” said Sirius carefully. “Nor did I.”

Harry stared at him for a long moment, and seemed to be struggling with what to say.

“You weren’t really there,” he finally seemed to settle on. “You both… mainly had letters. Ginny saw but didn’t understand.” He shrugged. “You’re real.”

This didn’t make much sense to him, but Sirius accepted the explanation for the time being and set about pulling clothes from Harry’s trunk. “Not that any of this is going to fit you right now,” he said sourly, “but a lot of this looks like it was far too large to begin with.”

“Dudley’s old clothes,” said Harry quietly.

“Did the Dursleys never buy you clothing your own size?” Sirius asked. Harry shook his head.

“Waste of space,” he said dully, face flushed and eyes downcast.

They hated him. Sirius had never fully grasped this before, and he had to take a deep breath to keep from reacting as he wanted. “We’ll have to see to that, won’t we?” he forced himself to say as lightly as possible as a storm of anger raged within. “I think this lion jumper will fit well enough.”

“Molly made that his third year,” remarked Remus with a sad smile. “She has always gone the extra mile with Harry, I think.”

Harry stared at the jumper with an unreadable expression on his thin face. “She didn’t see,” he said stiffly. “She hugged him.” He abruptly shook his head. “Not real.”

Sirius stared at Harry. “How do you know that, Harry?” asked Remus quietly. “Molly has been beside herself with that realization, and she only found out the truth a few hours ago.”

Harry looked down and seemed to shrink in on himself. He said nothing.

Perhaps, Sirius thought, Voldemort had told him, had gloated over all the people who had been fooled by his deception. That sort of made sense. “Is the jumper going to be an issue?” he asked Harry gently.

Harry looked up at him and shook his head. Sighing, Sirius bundled up the clean clothes and handed them off to Remus while he helped Harry stand up. They slowly trekked across the bedroom, through the doorway, and to the bathroom the floor below. Harry seemed nervous on the stairs, but his footing was sure enough that they made it in one piece. Remus started a warm bath while Sirius helped Harry undress. “I’m sorry about the lack of privacy, Harry,” he told him. “I swear that’ll change once you’re strong enough.”

Harry shrugged bony shoulders and wrapped his thin arms around his torso. “Don’t mind much,” he sighed.

It wasn’t fair, Sirius thought, not for the first time since he’d spotted Harry in that dark and cold cellar. He helped the boy to step into the warm water and sit down. “Temperature all right?” Remus asked him.

Harry nodded and stared at the water’s surface silently. Sirius and Remus set to work, scrubbing down Harry’s body and washing his hair. Sirius carefully poured water over Harry’s head to wash away the last of the suds and gently pressed a small towel over his pale skin to dry off his face. “Thanks,” Harry whispered. He was starting to tremble again.

Remus retrieved a fluffy towel as Sirius all but lifted Harry from the bathtub. Once the towel was around his waist, he set him down on the closed toilet lid as Remus snagged another towel and began to dry Harry’s hair, neck, torso, and arms. Sirius tried not to count Harry’s ribs, but it was impossible not to notice how clearly they stood out. He held Harry steady as Remus completely dried Harry off, and then they switched so Sirius could get Harry dressed in clean clothes.

“Can you walk back upstairs?” he asked Harry quietly.

Harry stared at him for a long moment before nodding. “Help?”

“Of course,” said Remus. “We’ve got you.”

The trek back up to Sirius’s room took even longer than the trip down; Harry’s footing was less even, his face growing paler with every step, and then he started coughing again.

“Harry?” came Hermione’s voice from the landing below.

Sirius quickly lifted Harry in his arms without a word as Remus turned and hurried down the stairs to make sure she didn’t come up. Harry heaved in his hold from the force of his coughing, and Sirius knew they needed to get him fed so he could start the first round of potions.

He could only hope the potions healed the damage clearly being done to his godson’s lungs.

Ginny was in his room once more when he nudged the door open, dressed in jeans and a Holyhead Harpies t-shirt, and organizing the contents of the tray she had undoubtedly retrieved from the kitchen. Her hair had been brushed and swept into a long ponytail.

“Hey,” she said, looking up with a cheerful smile, though her eyes looked a bit red as if she had been crying not so long ago. The smile faded as she took in Harry’s wheezing form, and she scrambled to get the bed ready before Sirius lowered him onto it. He made sure to maintain a hold on Harry’s shoulders as he trembled and gasped.

“Mum made up a soup for Harry, and a pile of ham sandwiches for the rest of us,” said Ginny softly as Remus entered the room.

“All good?” Sirius asked him.

Remus nodded.

“You two save some for me,” Sirius told Ginny and Remus. “I’ll get Harry fed first so we can get him started on his first round of potions. Sound all right?” he asked Harry.

His godson wheezed in a breath and nodded. Remus separated the sandwiches out for the three of them while Sirius settled in the chair next to the bed with the soup and tapped it with his wand to make it the perfect temperature. “Ready?”

Harry nodded again, and Sirius focused on feeding him as Ginny quietly chatted with Remus about one of her summer homework assignments. He had learned over the last few weeks that Ginny wasn’t fond of homework, but usually tried to get it done sooner rather than later so she could spend more time enjoying the summer holiday.

Of course, this summer had been very different.

Harry’s wheezing eased as he ate, but his eyes kept flickering over to where Ginny and Remus stood talking between bites of food. “I doubt anyone is going to make you worry about summer homework at this point,” said Sirius, trying for levity.

Harry shook his head. “Already did it.”

Sirius paused and lowered the spoon in his hand as Ginny and Remus fell silent. “What?”

Harry nodded to his trunk. “Look,” was all he said.

Remus was already moving to Harry’s trunk, opening it and reaching in. He rummaged around for a few moments before abruptly rising, a bundle of parchment in his hand. “This is...” He shook his head, flipping through the stack with wide eyes. “I saw Ron and Hermione’s work. This is all of it, all done. But… how?” he breathed, looking up. “It’s in your handwriting, Harry, just like the letters were.”

Harry flushed and looked down at his hands, which were clenched together in his lap. “He was bored,” he said. “W-we needed something to do.”

Sirius blinked in confusion at Harry’s words. We needed something to do…

It made no sense. Why would Voldemort make Harry do his homework while being held captive in that cellar? He had been planning to kill Harry, not torture him for a bit and then send him on his merry way when term resumed.

Harry nodded at the bowl of soup. “More, please?”

Sirius started. “Of – of course,” he said quickly. “Sorry,” he added.

Harry didn’t finish the soup, but he did manage about a third of it before turning away.

There was a set of five vials of potions Harry needed to take now. He quietly drank them all down and then asked to sleep again. Ginny sat down with Harry while Sirius took his turn eating. “How many did she eat?” he asked Remus.

“Six,” said Remus with a small smile, though his eyes were still glued to Harry’s summer essays. “I don’t know how someone so tiny can pack away that much.”

“I can still hear you,” said Ginny in amusement. “And it’s just the famous Weasley appetite. Now if I could just cook half as well as Mum…”

“She’s gifted at cooking, I'll give her that,” said Sirius between sandwiches. “I’ve not eaten so well since my days with the Potters.”

“Did Harry’s mum cook?” Ginny asked him.

“Pretty well, yeah,” said Sirius.

“James was better,” said Remus, flipping to Harry’s next essay. “Lily had a few select dishes she made, but James was able to cook a variety of things from just a cookbook, even from his own imagination sometimes. He must’ve learnt that from his mother.”

“Euphemia was practically a master chef,” said Sirius reminiscently. “Fleamont never had it so good.”

“Weird names,” came Harry’s voice from the bed.

“You’re just feeling lucky they didn’t pass on Fleamont to your father,” laughed Sirius. “They had him a lot later in life than most, so their names were very reminiscent of the times they were born in.”

“Still weird,” said Ginny. “I’m completely with Harry on this one. Mind you, I was almost saddled with my great-aunt Muriel’s name, so I can’t exactly talk.”

Harry chuckled, and Sirius felt his breath catch. A chuckle!

“What,” he forced himself to speak, “is Ginevra really any better?”

The pillow caught him in the face without warning. “Good shot,” said Harry.

“Next time there’s an empty Chaser spot on the Gryffindor Quidditch team, I’m taking it,” said Ginny with confidence.

“You – you play?” Harry asked her.

Ginny nodded. “I’ve been nicking my brothers’ brooms at night since I was six,” she told him. Then she blushed. “I nicked your Firebolt a couple of times last summer, actually.”

Harry grinned at her. “Secret’s safe,” he said. “Promise.” He let out a wide yawn.

“Sleep, Harry,” said Ginny fondly. “You need it.”

Harry nodded, eyes drifting shut and staying shut this time.

Sirius waited to make sure Harry was completely out before explaining to Ginny what Harry had said about the three of them being real, including his comments about Molly and even the Dursleys.

Ginny was outraged at the “waste of space” comment, but kept her cool only by virtue of the fact that she was still holding Harry’s hand. “That explains so much,” she hissed to Sirius and Remus. “They never loved him, it’s no wonder he acted the way he did that first summer he came to our house.”

“Tell me,” said Sirius at once.

Ginny sighed. “I was too embarrassed to talk to him, but Mum would fuss over the state of his socks and he seemed so baffled that she cared. And then Dad would ask him all kinds of questions and it always seemed like he didn’t know what to do with the idea that an adult wanted to hear what he had to say.”

She looked down at the sleeping Harry. “The Dursleys didn’t care about him,” she said softly. “That’s why he’s always been so happy at our house or at school. Those are the only places he experienced what it’s like to be cared about.”

Sirius had to agree with this. Talk turned back to Harry’s interpretation of who was and wasn’t real.

“I could see Voldemort laughing about all the people he fooled,” said Remus at one point, “but how does that fit in with the completed summer homework? Or the letters we all received in his handwriting? Or why we three are 'real’ and others are not? We were fooled, as well. And his comment about Ginny seeing but not understanding –”

“I mentioned that I knew something was off even though I couldn’t figure out what,” Ginny cut in with a frown, “but that doesn’t explain why he trusted me to help with the bruise salve so quickly, not when I said it after. He let me help him, almost as if he… already knew.” She looked at Sirius and Remus helplessly. “Would Voldemort actually tell him about the moments I was bothered by when we were barely even friends at the time?”

Remus shrugged helplessly. “I don’t see that he would,” he said. “I’d expect he would be more likely to laugh about those closest to Harry. I just can’t quite grasp at Harry’s perception of who he can and can’t trust.”

Ginny was chewing on her lip as she stared at Harry. “You said Voldemort was looking through the connection earlier,” she said abruptly. “And Harry was having dreams about what he was doing before the maze?”

“What are you thinking, Ginny?” asked Sirius.

“I – I dunno,” she sighed. “Nothing, I suppose.” She looked around at him and Remus again. “Mum wanted me to help clean up the kitchen for the meeting this evening,” she said, straightening and gently setting Harry’s hand down on the bed. “I’ll take the tray downstairs and get that taken care of.”

“You’ll come back?” asked Sirius. “I don’t dare leave Harry’s side for that meeting, but Remus should attend it.”

Ginny nodded. “I’ll be here,” she promised, collecting the tray and quietly leaving the room.

“I wonder what Ginny’s thinking about,” Sirius mused, staring at the closed bedroom door. “I can’t help but think she’s got a line on the answer.”

“She’ll probably share when she’s thought it through more,” said Remus with a shrug. “Ginny likes to mull over a problem for a bit before saying anything.”

Sirius nodded at this and settled down next to Harry. To have him there, sleeping in his bed, safe and alive… It didn’t matter that there was going to be a long journey of healing and recovery. It didn’t matter that there would be nightmares, trust issues, agonizing days of regaining his strength, none of it mattered.

He was there, and Sirius would make sure that Harry was never taken from him again.

Ginny nearly ran into Hermione on the second landing, only just keeping her grip on the tray in her hands.

“Sorry!” said Hermione. “I was so lost in thought I wasn’t watching where I was going.”

“It’s fine,” said Ginny. “No harm done. I was pretty much lost in thought, myself.”

This was very true. Ginny had a great deal to think about thanks to the last few hours.

When Ginny had stepped out of Sirius’s bedroom an hour or so ago to change and procure lunch from her mother, she had headed numbly for the bedroom she shared with Hermione, vaguely grateful that the older girl wasn’t in there. She had picked out her clothes, set them on the bed, and stared at them blankly for far too long.

That laughter…

She knew Sirius and Remus hadn’t recognized what was going on in that moment when Voldemort had invaded Harry’s mind, but Ginny had.

That was exactly how Tom Riddle had laughed after he had emerged from the diary and told her she was “nothing more than a silly little girl.”

Ginny had lost consciousness to the echoing sound of that horrible laugh, and it had haunted her dreams for months after as she worked to recover from the experience. To hear it again, and from Harry, no less, had made a part of Ginny want to run away and never look back.

But she wasn’t eleven, anymore.

This wasn’t the Chamber of Secrets.

Tom held no power over her now, and he couldn’t have Harry, either.

But grasping this hadn’t stopped her from sobbing over her clothes as the reality of what had happened finally crashed over her. She had allowed herself this moment of weakness before painfully piecing herself back together so she could get dressed and fetch lunch. Harry didn’t need to carry her pain from Voldemort’s attack on his mind when she was quite capable on her own.

She did take heart in a few things despite the pain and horrors this day had wrought thus far:

Harry was alive.

Ginny was somehow amongst those he trusted.

He knew that she had seen yet not understood, and likely knew that before she had even said anything about it in his presence.

Truth be told, that last one baffled her.

Sighing, she went to move past Hermione, but Hermione gently caught her by the upper arm. “You’ve been up there all this time?” she asked.

Ginny shrugged. “I’m helping,” she admitted.

“And Harry?”

“Mostly sleeping,” replied Ginny. She shrugged free of the hand on her arm and continued down to the kitchen, Hermione following silently as they tiptoed past the portrait of Walburga Black.

“Does Harry know it’s his birthday?” asked Hermione when they entered the safety of the kitchen.

“No one’s brought it up,” said Ginny. “At least, not that I’m aware of. But again, Harry’s spent a lot of time sleeping.”

“Do you have any idea what’s happened to him while he was – gone?”

Ginny thought of the cuts and bruises, the spider bite and the damage done by manacles. She noticed her mother was listening in from the other side of the kitchen and carried the tray over to her. “No idea,” she said.

It wasn’t entirely true; she could tell that there had been torture, knew that food had been withheld far too much, could see that there were new depths to Harry’s withdrawn demeanor which she could scarcely guess at.

“I just know that whatever happened, it was bad,” she finally settled on.

Hermione frowned. “That’s not like Harry,” she said. “He’s always been willing to talk about what happened before.”

“Undoubtedly this experience is very different compared to the events of the past few years,” said Molly, finally relieving Ginny of the tray and setting it beside the sink. “This wasn’t three first-years going after a traitorous teacher, or two second-years trying to save my little girl. This wasn’t even Harry desperately trying to save Sirius’s life.” She sighed as she squeezed Ginny’s shoulder and looked at Hermione carefully. “This was a horrible, drawn-out nightmare, the result of a plot far too complicated for any teenager to unravel, let alone any of us adults. I expect it will be very difficult for Harry to tell us what happened.”

Ginny thought of Tom’s laughter emitting from Harry’s mouth, of the haunted set to Harry’s green eyes. “And some things you just can’t speak about,” she said quietly.

Hermione sighed. “There must be something I can do to help,” she said.

“You’re helping Ron take care of Hedwig,” offered Ginny. “I think that has to count for something more than hauling food trays up and down.”

“I wonder if the stomach ulcers are affecting his appetite,” mused Molly as she eyed the tray Ginny had brought down. “Barely a quarter of what I prepared…”

“Stomach ulcers?” said Hermione. “From what?”

“Potion of some kind,” shrugged Ginny. “But he’s thin enough to have been starved quite a bit too, Mum.”

Molly hummed a bit at that. “The potions from Madam Pomfrey and Professor Snape will help with all that,” she said. “He did get started on his potions regimen, yes?”

Ginny nodded. “Right after lunch.”

“Good,” said Molly.

“There must be something else I can do to help Harry, though,” persisted Hermione. “Maybe if I wrote a letter –”

“I don’t know if that’s what he needs right now,” Ginny cut her off carefully.

“But he’s got to know how sorry we all are for not seeing what was happening!” Hermione insisted. “He’s got to know he can still trust us!”

It was like a chain of those Muggle dominoes her roommate Megan Thatcher played with sometimes as Ginny grasped at the fullness of Harry’s distrust. If Harry didn’t see Molly as real, then that had to mean he didn’t trust her. The way he had flinched away from and shouted at Madam Pomfrey meant he didn’t trust her, either. And for Dumbledore to say that Harry had problems with even him –

Harry really knows exactly who was fooled, she realized. She knew Dumbledore had spoken to Harry in the hospital wing the evening after the maze, but since that wasn’t Harry… obviously Voldemort would gloat to Harry about having fooled the greatest wizard of their time so easily. He must have laughed about the school matron and Molly failing to see him for who and what he truly was.

Which also meant he had to have done the same in regards to Ron and Hermione. Maybe even Fred and George.

This still left his knowledge about her, and while that piece of the puzzle didn’t fit, the rest made a horrible kind of sense.

“I know he’s more your friend than he is mine,” said Ginny, carefully filing away her thoughts for later examination, “but I just don’t think Harry is ready for any of that yet.”

“I expect Ginny’s right, Hermione,” Molly said as Hermione opened her mouth. “We need to tread carefully for the time being and give Harry the space he needs.”

Hermione looked quite frustrated, which seemed to be Molly’s cue to put both girls to work cleaning and organizing the kitchen for the Order meeting that evening. Fifteen minutes before the meeting was due to start, Ginny was finally able to beg off the finishing touches by telling Molly about Sirius wanting her back upstairs before it began.

She didn’t dare examine the expression on Hermione’s face as she hurried from the kitchen carrying a tray filled with supper for her, Sirius, and Harry, but she could imagine what the other girl must be feeling.

And none of it was likely positive towards her.

“I might have one piece of the puzzle figured out,” Remus told Albus and Molly a few minutes before the meeting started that evening.

“Which piece?” asked Molly.

“Why Harry is fine with some of us but not with others,” sighed Remus. “Sirius asked him why he said Ginny was real, and he explained that she had seen but not understood. He said Sirius and I really only had letters, but you…” He hated to say this to Molly, but the truth had to be shared. “He said you didn’t see, that you hugged him, the – the fake Harry. He said…”

“Said what, Remus?” asked Albus quietly.

“He said you’re ‘not real,’ I’m afraid,” Remus finally forced out. Molly gaped for a moment, and Remus was unsurprised to see tears in her eyes.

“Sirius and I both think Voldemort must have bragged about all the people he fooled,” he added quickly to try and move forward with the conversation. “I fear such a thing has deeply impacted Harry’s perception of who he feels he can trust.”

“And what of Voldemort’s intrusion into Harry’s mind?” asked Albus.

“Severus mentioned that?”

Albus nodded.

“Harry was starting to dream about what Voldemort was doing, and it seems he figured out how to use that connection in reverse,” said Remus. “Harry said at one point that Voldemort was always there, but not always looking.”

Albus nodded, blue eyes grave. “He undoubtedly knows Voldemort’s presence better than most after everything he has been through,” he said sadly. “As for his comment of ‘not real,’ it is possible he may say the same of his friends, not to mention myself. We did not see the truth of the matter, either.”

“I worry about that, as well,” said Remus. “Ginny is determined to figure it all out.”

“Of course she is,” said Molly in a tremulous voice. “She’s never been one to back down from a challenge.”

Arthur entered the kitchen, and Molly practically flew into his arms, sobbing softly. It hurt to see her pain at the realization that the boy she had come to think of as a seventh son didn’t seem to trust her.

Too many questions remained, however: If Voldemort had gloated about everyone he had fooled, then why hadn’t Ginny and Sirius been marked as “not real?” Wouldn’t it have been enough that Sirius had been fooled the mere hour or so that he had spent in Voldemort’s presence after he had come to Hogwarts with Cedric’s body? Shouldn’t it have been enough that Ginny hadn’t put the pieces together in time to see what was going on? And how could he forgive Remus for not knowing when the letter had been in Harry’s own handwriting?

There was also the completed homework. It was written in Harry’s hand, Harry’s style, exactly the way Harry would have done it. How was that possible?

“All right, Remus?” whispered Tonks as she took the seat next to his.

Remus shrugged. “I suppose I’m as good as can be expected,” he answered.

Tonks smiled sadly and squeezed his shoulder. “I’m glad you found him,” she murmured, leaning close. “I hope he can recover from this, though, whatever happened.”

Nothing good, thought Remus instantly, but he smiled in return.

Albus called the meeting to order a few moments later, and Remus settled in so as to best represent Harry, Sirius, and his own interests in whatever came next.

“How’s the real Moody doing?” asked Tonks at one point during the explanation of all that had occurred the previous night. She looked exhausted, but determined.

“Madam Pomfrey has been seeing to him,” said Albus. “Having been under the Imperius Curse for so long has left its mark.” His expression was grave. “I do not know that he will be ready to assist the Order anytime soon after his forced isolation.”

The question remained: what did they do with Crouch, and how did they keep the Ministry from getting their hands on Harry? “Would this even be enough to convince them of You-Know-Who’s return?” questioned Minerva McGonagall at one point.

“I am not hopeful for it,” said Albus heavily. “Even if we directly alert those who might listen such as Amelia Bones, Cornelius may yet do all he can to spin this in a direction that paints the man as a lunatic who kidnapped Harry and killed the Dursleys.”

“The Bond of Blood Charm would have prevented that, would it not?” asked Arthur.

“The Charm only protected Harry from Voldemort himself,” answered Albus. “The location of Harry’s residence was not disclosed to anyone in the Ministry until it was deemed safe enough, approximately two years after Voldemort’s disappearance when the Death Eaters most likely to attempt to harm him were either in prison or dead.”

“That’s why we were guarding both Harry’s house and the entrance to the Department of Mysteries,” said Arthur, nodding. “I fear I misunderstood that before.”

“Fat lot of good it did,” grumbled Mundungus Fletcher from a corner. “Bamboozled, we was. How is it no one knew the Charm was broken, anyway?”

“It is far too ancient a Charm to monitor in the same way breaches against the Statue of Secrecy or the Trace on underage children are,” said Albus. “I trusted Petunia Dursley to remember the letter I left with Harry explaining the importance of taking him in and raising him alongside his cousin. She took him in and sealed the Charm by doing so. It was meant to last until Harry turned seventeen, or it was clear that he and his relatives would part ways forever.”

A hushed silence fell over the group at the oblique reminder that the Dursleys were dead.

“I can forge paperwork that led me to speaking with Alastor regarding Sirius’s movements in the days before his arrest,” said Kingsley at length.

“Sirius wouldn’t mind being used as your scapegoat,” said Remus with a smile.

“Given that the end result is his godson safe and alive, I think he’d agree to just about anything to help this situation make sense without compromising the Order,” agreed Tonks, shooting Remus a smile.

Their group discussed this some more to really nail down the details, and eventually Kingsley headed upstairs with Tonks to relieve Emmeline and make the arrangements to transport Crouch to the Ministry.

Remus returned to Sirius’s room to tell Sirius and Ginny the plan. “Sounds good,” said Sirius softly, as Harry was slumbering at his side. “If they can get him to implicate Wormtail, that would be even better.”

“We can only hope this plays out in a positive way,” said Remus. “For all our sakes.”

The others agreed somberly, and beside them, Harry slept on, safe and protected as could be.
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