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SIYE Time:13:47 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: 9187; Chapter Total: 633
Awards: View Trophy Room




Author's Notes:
I'M ALIVE!

So January 14, one of my students with autism managed to sprain my right thumb and wrist. I'm right-handed, and I found myself unable to do so much as hold a pen, let alone type. I have spent the last four weeks trying to be careful and take it easy while healing up from this bizarre accident (this kid grabs hands/wrists all the time for a variety of things, it's been nothing new, so it was a surprise when it happened). I attempted to continue writing this story using text-to-speech on my computer and even my phone, but the entire experience was clunky and awkward, so I quickly gave up and focused instead on my job and feeling better while the student in question became more violent towards me, my team leader, the paraprofessional in my classroom who mainly dealt with this young man, and one of our math special education teachers who used to work at the county juvenile detention center. The last four weeks have been hard.

That's actually an understatement. It's been hell.

I'm finally recovered to the point that I can type properly again, though my right hand still feels a bit clunky on the keyboard and I make more errors in my typing than I used to. I'm sure I'll be back to my usual abilities in the next week or two, but that's what's been going on with me, and that's why I've been absent for four weeks longer than I originally stated in the last chapter. Luckily for you, this chapter is like 10,800 words, so there's plenty to read to make up for it!

This chapter is the first of three parts detailing Harry's time in captivity. There are multiple uses of the Cruciatus Curse in this chapter, one instance of mild gore, and the usual scar pains when Voldemort comes in physical contact with Harry. This is not a happy chapter. Sorry.

Not sorry. Enjoy!

Oh, and thank you to everyone who voted for my story for the award of Best Drama for the November 2020 Dumbledore's Silver Trinket Award! It means a lot to me!!!




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Chapter Eight: Nightmare



25 June, 1995

Awareness slammed into Harry with such force he thought he might choke on the sudden input of pain that enveloped him.

He ached all over, his head pounding fiercely, and the ground beneath him seemed to be packed dirt, making the aches and pains all the more obvious. Then he noticed that Lucius Malfoy was crouched in front of him in the light of a single oil lamp, smirking.

Harry bolted into a sitting position, breathing fast and blinking several times against the pain in his head.

“Wonderful of you to join me, Potter,” said Lucius, amusement tinting his words. “I have questions, and you are going to answer them.”

Harry clenched his jaw and glared silently at the man. He had no intentions of answering anything the Death Eater might ask. The skin on his arm where he’d been cut for the ritual pulled and stung, and his leg was filled with a dull ache from where the spider in the maze had bitten him. He did his best to focus on this, letting it ground him as the pounding in his skull began to lessen.

“My master wishes to know how it is that you have been able to witness him from afar,” said Lucius after a moment.

Harry continued to glower at him, keeping his silence. He spotted Lucius’s wand as he suddenly lifted his right hand, and reacted without thinking, scrambling away along the stone wall behind him and away from the corner –

Something caught Harry around the ankles and he flattened onto his stomach, breath catching when he turned over and realized he bore manacles around his ankles, attached to chains that were bolted to the corner.

“Crucio!”

Harry’s screams felt as though they were being torn right from his throat as that bone-burning pain enveloped his every sense, and he was nothing but the pain, the utter agony that burned through his every cell –

And it ended as abruptly as it had begun. Harry was flat on his back, gasping for breath as Lucius laughed. Suddenly, he felt a tug on the manacles and he was being dragged right back into the corner. Harry wanted to resist, but he was shaking horribly and couldn’t quite seem to move his own limbs the right way.

“There is no escape from this, boy,” snapped Lucius as Harry slowly rolled over, forcing his body to listen to him. “You are the Dark Lord’s prisoner now, and thereby subject to his wishes. And right now, he wishes that I interrogate you.”

“Go to hell,” Harry gasped out as he pushed himself upright.

Lucius ignored this. “How is it you have seen the Dark Lord’s movements from afar?”

“I don’t know,” said Harry angrily, glaring at Lucius without disguising the hatred in his expression, “but he’s supposed to be so brilliant, isn’t he? Why can’t he figure it out and save me the trouble?”

“Crucio!”

The flames in his very bones threatened to overwhelm Harry as the Cruciatus Curse hit him yet again.

“Impertinence will not aid you down here, boy,” said Lucius softly when he at last lifted the spell. Harry’s arms shook so much he almost collapsed again, but he managed to get himself back into a sitting position and wrapped his arms tightly around his middle, breathing hard and hating Lucius with everything he had. “If you answer my questions, I will not hurt you. Any lip, any lies, well…” He smirked. “You already know what to expect.”

Harry ground his teeth together and stared into those pale eyes, which were filled with a disgusting sort of amusement. He didn’t say anything.

“Now, then… are you awake when you see what the Dark Lord is doing?”

Harry hesitated, then shook his head, feeling grateful the dull aching of his skull didn’t increase again.

“Sleeping, I take it?”

Harry nodded, staring at Lucius’s left knee.

“And what of your scar?”

Harry glanced up at Lucius’s face in confusion.

“My master has reason to believe it causes you pain when he is near?”

Harry dropped his gaze and nodded again.

“So when he touched your face in the graveyard, you again experienced pain in your scar?”

Clenching his jaw, Harry nodded once more.

“What a peculiar phenomenon,” mused Lucius softly.

“I reckon the word you’re looking for is ‘painful,’” muttered Harry despite his best judgment.

He tensed, awaiting another bout of the Cruciatus Curse, but Lucius merely laughed.

“My son remarks frequently about your lip, Potter,” he said. “I wonder how long it will take to break you of that habit.”

Harry glared up at Lucius again, but kept his silence.

“Now, tell me more about the dreams you had of the Dark Lord this past year,” said Lucius. “From what perspective did these dreams take place?”

Harry frowned. “What d’you mean?” he asked in spite of himself.

Lucius raised an eyebrow. “Were you a spectator, or were you viewing things as if you were the Dark Lord himself?”

Harry’s eyes widened. Seeing things in the room itself had been awful enough. He couldn’t imagine actually seeing things from Voldemort’s perspective.

“I was just… there, in the room,” he said. “Behind… behind the chair he was in.”

Lucius nodded. “That may change with his return,” he said more to himself than to Harry.

Not liking the sound of that, Harry tried to wrap his robes around himself better. He was starting to become more aware of how cold the place he was trapped in truly was.

Lucius noticed this and a wicked grin lit his pale features. “Difficult to get comfortable in a place like this, isn’t it, boy?”

Harry shot Lucius the dirtiest look he could muster. “You’re obviously enjoying this, locking up an underage wizard,” he shot back. “Made a habit of this the last time Voldemort was around, did you?”

He had a split-second to realize what he’d said before Lucius hit him with the Cruciatus Curse yet again. When at last it ended, Harry curled up on his side, shaking uncontrollably as he gasped for breath, throat feeling scraped raw from his screams.

“I cannot wait for the day when you break, Potter,” said Lucius softly. “I expect it will be glorious to observe.”

There came the sudden sounds of footsteps and muffled voices from somewhere above them. Harry looked up at the ceiling, wondering where he was, then winced as his scar lanced with pain.

Moments later, two figures stepped into view. One was Wormtail, silver hand gleaming dully in the lamplight, and the other –

It was one thing to look at himself in a mirror, but to see himself… The pain in his scar was increasing as the other Harry came closer, and he realized with a jolt of horror that Voldemort himself had used Polyjuice Potion to return to Hogwarts.

“I forget how energetic the youth can be,” remarked Voldemort-as-Harry as he drew nearer to where Harry and Lucius were in their little corner of what seemed to be a cellar of some kind. He let out a laugh that sounded unnatural to Harry, not at all the way in which he laughed…

No, that was the same laugh as the Riddle in the diary, from the coldness and high pitch to the way it twisted his lips.

Then there was the smirk on his face as he stared down at Harry which was out of place, cruel and mocking in nature, so exactly like Riddle’s smirk in the Chamber of Secrets as Ginny lay dying on the cold stone floor.

Harry hated the reminder.

“It was all-too-easy to fool Dumbledore with the memories I stole,” Voldemort told Lucius and Wormtail. “He is certainly confused as to how his precious student is still alive, but he suspects nothing of the truth at this time. My faithful servant at Hogwarts is still in place, and no one will step into the hospital wing ‘til morning.”

He eyed Harry as he struggled to sit up. “Tell me what the boy knows, Lucius,” he said now, voice softer, more calculated.

“His scar pains him when you are near or touch him, my Lord,” said Lucius at once. “His dreams have not been directly from your perspective, but that of a spectator. Also,” he added with a nasty smirk on his face, “his impertinence has yet to be tamed.”

“Developed in a house where he was feared and mistreated, I’m afraid,” remarked Voldemort. “It will take time to rid him of his cheek.” He reached into robes that looked just like the ones Harry wore and pulled out Harry’s wand.

“Your wand is odd to me,” he said quietly, “yet almost as familiar to me as my own. Why is that, Harry?”

Harry didn’t answer, instead staring at the fake Harry’s knees. He knew exactly why his own wand would seem familiar, but he wasn’t about to go sharing this piece of information that tied them together in yet another strange way.

Voldemort crouched down abruptly and caught Harry’s eyes with his own. It was nothing short of bizarre to see his own green eyes staring at him with malevolent curiosity. A moment later, the eyes widened.

“Twin cores,” he whispered. Harry stared at him in confusion. How was he pulling information from Harry’s mind without him saying a word? “You grow more fascinating with every new fact I learn about you.” He straightened, pulled off glasses that perfectly matched Harry’s, and shifted his shoulders; Harry watched as his features blurred and stretched until it was Lord Voldemort who stood before him and not his own visage. A wave of Harry’s wand and the robes suddenly fit his taller frame.

“I must meet with Severus,” he told the other two men in his own high, cold voice as he handed Wormtail the copy of Harry’s glasses. “I have need to see if he waited to return on Dumbledore’s orders to appease him or because of him.”

“What of Potter?” asked Lucius.

Voldemort looked down at Harry. “For now, Severus knows nothing of our deception,” he said. “I suppose the boy can be allowed some food and rest until I return. If our deception is to continue, then I need every moment available before morning to experiment.”

Harry didn’t like the way Voldemort said that last word and barely suppressed a shiver of fear. How was he going to get out of this place? He didn’t even know where he was!

Voldemort turned and started to walk away, pocketing Harry’s wand and taking his own from Wormtail’s hand. “I shall return within the hour,” he told Lucius and Wormtail before he stepped out of sight. “Make the prisoner… comfortable.”

“Yes, my Lord,” said Lucius, and then Voldemort vanished from sight, leaving Harry with Lucius and Wormtail. The traitor hadn’t once looked at Harry.

“What food is fitting for a young prisoner such as yourself?” Lucius mused after a few moments of silence.

Harry didn’t say anything. Growing up in the Dursley’s home meant he was used to extended periods of near-starvation and food that was less than stellar. He waited quietly for whatever it was Lucius would decide.

“Porridge ought to be enough,” the blonde man decided. “Fetch some at once, Wormtail.”

“You’re not my master, Lucius,” snapped Wormtail, though his voice shook.

“Our master left the boy in my charge, and the last thing I will do is leave him with someone as cowardly and weak as you,” Lucius returned sharply. “Porridge, Wormtail, now.”

Wormtail scowled, but retreated.

“I hope the Dark Lord allows me to observe his experiments,” said Lucius as he turned back to Harry. “There is much to discover about the boy who would be his downfall, it would seem.”

Harry clenched his jaw and wrapped himself more tightly in his robes, finally starting to shiver from the chill in the cellar air.

Lucius said nothing else until Wormtail returned with a bowl and spoon which he roughly thrust into Harry’s hands.

“Eat, Potter.”

The porridge didn’t look spectacular by any means, but it was food, and it was hot. Suddenly ravenous, Harry began to shovel it into his mouth. The supper he’d had before the Third Task felt so long ago –

An image of Cedric lying dead on the ground abruptly filled Harry’s mind. Here he was, fearing for his life when Cedric’s had been so cruelly ended. That ending, however, had been quick and likely painless. Harry had no hope that his own death would be anywhere near as merciful, not with the prospect of Voldemort desiring to experiment on him.

So he ate. It would do him no good to face his fate on an empty stomach. All too soon, the bowl of porridge was empty. Harry set it aside and wrapped his arms around himself once more. He was fourteen years old, chained up, and utterly defenseless.

Of all the life-threatening situations he had ever encountered, none were as hopeless as what faced him now. He was completely vulnerable to whatever Voldemort had in store for him.

Lucius had long since become bored of staring at Harry and had stepped away to converse quietly with Wormtail. He Banished the empty bowl when Harry set it aside, but kept shooting expectant looks in Harry’s direction every so often as though waiting for him to try and escape.

Harry knew he was rash sometimes, but even he wasn’t so stupid as to miss the fact that there was no way out. The manacles on his ankles alone kept him from moving far, not to mention that he was being guarded by two adult wizards who knew far more magic than he did.

The sudden spike of pain from Harry’s scar alerted him to Voldemort’s return. He tensed up in spite of himself as footsteps made their way across the ceiling, then descended. Voldemort swept into view, and Lucius and Wormtail immediately bowed to him.

“I trust the boy behaved himself while I was away?”

“He did, my Lord,” murmured Wormtail.

“Pity that,” added Lucius. “His screams of pain are quite delightful to listen to.”

Voldemort laughed softly. “You wish to hear more, Lucius?”

“Only with your permission, Master,” was Lucius’s swift reply.

“You may stay, Lucius,” said Voldemort with a lazy smile that made Harry’s heart rate pick up. “Wormtail, you will go see to Nagini; she needs a proper meal since I deprived her of the feast I originally expected to give her.”

Harry tensed even more, certain that he was supposed to have been the giant snake’s dinner.

Wormtail let out a low whimper, but bowed again and left the cellar. Voldemort turned to Harry, wand out, red eyes speculative.

“The old man thinks I transferred some of my powers to you that night,” he said. “I confess myself curious as to what this might entail.”

Harry sat rigid on the packed dirt floor, terrified of what the man might do. Voldemort lifted his wand, then –

“Crucio!”

The pain was so intense, so all-consuming, that Harry no longer knew where he was… White-hot knives were piercing every inch of his skin, his head was surely going to burst with pain, he was screaming more loudly than he’d ever screamed in his life –

And then it stopped. Harry opened his eyes to see Voldemort crouched directly over him and scrambled away along the wall, hissing in pain when the manacles cut into his ankles and stopped him from retreating any further. He was breathing fast, feeling starved for oxygen, and shaking almost uncontrollably.

Voldemort smiled at him dispassionately. “Children always try to run,” he said softly. “It was the same in the orphanage I was forced to grow up in.”

Suddenly, his free hand shot out and those unnaturally long, pale fingers buried themselves in the wound on Harry’s leg.

Harry cried out from the pain in both his leg and scar and tried to struggle free, but Voldemort’s grip was too strong, the manacles on his ankles already pulled taut and digging into his skin as he jerked and twisted in pain.

“Stop it!” Harry begged. “Please, stop!”

To his shock, Voldemort let go of his leg, and he slumped on his side, one hand clenched at his forehead and the other clutching at the ground as he let out an involuntary moan.

“The children would beg, too,” said Voldemort in amusement. “You experienced pain in both your leg and scar?”

Harry set his jaw firmly and said nothing.

“I expect you to answer my questions, Harry,” whispered Voldemort with a chilling smile. “Tell me where you experienced pain. Imperio!”

And for the first time since Moody had used the spell on him in controlled conditions, Harry found himself experiencing the sensation that his mind had been wiped of all thought… Ah, it was bliss, not to think, it was as though he were floating, dreaming… just answer the question… say where you felt pain… just answer…

I will not, said a stronger voice, in the back of his head, I won’t answer…

Just answer the question…

I won’t do it, I won’t say it…

Just say where it hurt…

“I WON’T!”

And these words burst from Harry’s mouth; they echoed loudly through the cold cellar, and the dream state was lifted as suddenly as though cold water had been thrown over him – back rushed the aches that the Cruciatus Curse had left all over his body – back rushed the realization of where he was, and what he was facing…

“You won’t?” said Voldemort quietly, the smile on his face gone now.

Harry stared at him, scar aching fiercely as he forced himself to hold still. There was something terrifying about the look on his snake-like face. He didn’t dare move, held the red-eyed gaze as the tension between them tautened and strained –

Voldemort raised a hand and Harry flinched. The smile returned. “I frighten you,” observed Voldemort, sounding pleased.

Harry couldn’t help but feel it was almost a tie between Voldemort and the dementors at this point.

“As do the dementors?” continued Voldemort, his voice even more pleased now.

“How –?” Harry broke off, terrified and confused.

Voldemort laughed softly. “Someone so young wouldn’t know the importance of a well-protected mind,” he said. “An accomplished Legilimens has the ability to extract and interpret feelings and memories of their targets, and you project everything I need loud and clear.”

Reading minds? Harry had felt on more than one occasion that Snape and perhaps even Dumbledore could do the same, but that it was something real that Voldemort could do was –

Voldemort flicked his wand, and the chains attached to the manacles suddenly retracted, dragging Harry once more toward the corner and all the closer to the crouching man. He scrabbled at the dirt floor uselessly, the pressure from the chains more powerful than what he could resist, adrenaline firing in his system yet again as his scar perpetually burned.

“So little time,” said Voldemort idly, “yet still so much to explore.”

Without warning, the pale hand still covered in Harry’s blood from the wound in his leg gripped Harry by the hair. He yelped and started to reach for his head when the other pale hand extended and a long finger landed right on his scar.

It was agony. Harry screamed, feeling as though his head might burst, and he heard Voldemort’s high, cold laughter as he fruitlessly struggled to push the hands away from his head and hair. He wanted nothing more than to escape, to black out, to be anywhere else than right here where he was as powerless as he’d been as a child…

Voldemort released his hold, and Harry curled up, wrapping his arms over his head and unable to stop himself from releasing a strangled sob. He hadn’t cried hard enough to actually sob like that in years, and it was all the more demoralizing to realize that Voldemort had gotten to him this badly.

“There was a time when touching you caused me an equal measure of pain,” said Voldemort softly. “I find it most interesting that it has not changed for you.”

Harry said nothing, shudders of fear and pain still wracking his body. He could feel blood sliding down his injured leg.

“Was he this quiet with you, Lucius?” Voldemort suddenly asked, reminding Harry that the elder Malfoy was still there, watching everything and probably enjoying it.

“Hardly, my Lord,” said Lucius in amusement, “though I doubt he fears me as he does you.”

“I see,” said Voldemort. “This does raise an interesting question, however, something I saw in the boy’s mind…”

Harry lowered his arms just enough to see that Voldemort had risen and turned to face Lucius. “There is a memory in his mind of him standing inside the Chamber of Secrets,” he told Lucius, and Harry couldn’t help but feel a swoop of angry justice at the stiff expression on Lucius’s face at these words. “How did the boy find his way into a place which had been lost to modern memory until I and I alone discovered it?”

“My Lord, I am not sure I know what you’re talking about –”

Harry snorted derisively before he could stop himself. Lucius’s gaze flickered to him. Even Voldemort turned to look down at him.

Harry forced himself to sit up despite how horribly his arms shook, eyes fixed on Lucius. “You planted a diary in Ginny Weasley’s things,” he said, shocked by how hoarse his voice sounded. “A diary that wrote back to whoever wrote in it. The diary possessed her, used her to open the Chamber of Secrets and attack Muggle-borns all over the school, and I think you did it because you didn’t like her dad’s latest Muggle Protection Act.”

“What happened to the diary?” asked Voldemort.

Harry forced himself to meet those terrible red eyes. “I destroyed it,” he admitted fiercely, “and it said it was you at sixteen and tried to have the Basilisk kill me, but I killed it, too.”

He allowed his memories of stabbing the basilisk and the diary to fill his mind, knowing Voldemort was seeing them but not caring. He had no way to hide anything, he knew that now.

After a moment, Voldemort looked away and turned back to Lucius. “I entrusted you with something precious to me,” he said softly as Lucius stood rigid before him. “And you chose to use it for your own personal gains.”

A moment later, Lucius was writhing on the ground, screaming from the Cruciatus Curse, and Harry felt sick at the satisfaction which filled him at the sight. He had already suffered so much that seeing someone else go through a smidgeon of what he had, especially someone whose foolish choice had almost caused Ginny’s death, was oddly pleasing. Harry hated how he felt and at last looked away.

Several seconds later, Lucius was panting on the ground. “I am sorry, my Lord,” he forced out between gasps for breath. “I did not care for your possession, did not look for you or believe as I should have done –”

“No,” said Voldemort pitilessly, “you did not. In some ways, your sins are greater than that of the others who did not look for me. Your selfish actions may very well have alerted Dumbledore to truths he need not be privy to.”

“It will not happen again, my Lord,” said Lucius on hands and knees, and it was revolting to see the normally aristocratic man prostrating himself as he was before Voldemort. “Whatever I must do to prove myself, it will be done, I swear it!”

Voldemort smiled. “You have taken those first steps already,” he said, “volunteering to guard watch and interrogate the boy in my absence. There is much penance I require of you, Lucius, but I believe you may yet prove yourself.” He glanced over at Harry. “Remove yourself from my sight,” he commanded Lucius. “Organize the guard duty of this place. No one knows where we are, so one follower at the door at any time should suffice. After all,” he added with an amused look in Harry’s direction, “it is not as though the prisoner has any hope of escape.”

Harry pressed his back against the cold stone wall, hating the words but knowing they were true.

He was trapped.

“Coordinate your efforts with Yaxley, as well,” added Voldemort after a moment. “He will explain his part of my plans to you.”

Lucius slowly rose, bowed, and then left Harry alone with Voldemort. He waited on tenterhooks, wondering what he was going to do now. He was certain it was nothing good, of course, but beyond that…

“You have dreamt of my actions,” Voldemort spoke at last, eyeing Harry speculatively. “Seen and heard pieces of my plans without my knowledge. Is it possible that such a connection works in reverse?”

Harry swallowed hard, jaw clenched against the dull throbbing in his scar, aching all over and almost numb from the cold and fear that enveloped his person. He didn’t know what Voldemort was about to do, but he was certain that he wouldn’t like it.

Voldemort moved closer to Harry, and he shrank against the wall, cornered in with nowhere to run. He watched as Voldemort settled himself on the dirt floor and then… he closed his red eyes, face one of concentration.

Harry stared at him, confused. He was within reach, which meant Harry could try and dive for the yew wand in his hand, or even his own wand which was undoubtedly still stowed away in Voldemort’s robes, but did he expect Harry to try something like that? And if Harry tried and failed, what would his punishment be?

His scar suddenly seared, white-hot as though the old wound had burst open again – and unbidden, unwanted, but terrifyingly strong, there rose within Harry emotions that were not his own, as though a great serpent was poised and ready to strike at any moment, and elation far beyond anything Harry had ever experienced filled his entire being –

Voldemort opened his eyes, and the feelings vanished. Harry gasped out as the pain in his scar receded to a dull throb once more, one hand flying up to touch it, confused and terrified of what he had just felt. “What did you do?” he asked before he could remember his desire to stay silent.

“You do speak,” said Voldemort in amusement, and Harry scowled at him before remembering who he was glaring at and dropping his gaze, tensing up over what might come. “What I did, young Harry,” Voldemort continued without commenting on Harry’s lapse in judgement, “was carefully seek out this connection between us and look through it just as you have unwittingly done on your own whilst dreaming. And do you know what I found?”

Harry shook his head jerkily, keeping his eyes on Voldemort’s hands rather than looking at his snake-like face.

“It was as though I was you rather than myself,” he told Harry, and he glanced up to see a sick sort of smile on the pale face. “Your pain, your fear, I felt it as if it were my own.”

Harry’s mouth fell open. How was this possible?

“The question is what you experienced, of course,” said Voldemort as he resettled himself comfortably on the dirt floor. “You seemed aware of my presence, I believe?”

Harry hesitated for a long moment before nodding. “You… you were… elated,” he said slowly, knowing the words he spoke were true. He did not know how he knew it, but he did; Voldemort smiled again, clearly pleased by Harry’s answer.

“It is quite different from the experience of possession, you see,” he told Harry conversationally. “The subject does not know it is happening and suffers from blank stretches in their own recollections. This is what your little Ginny Weasley would have experienced whilst under the control of my diary,” he added with a smirk, and Harry felt a swoop of anger at the man’s amusement. “This experience we just shared, however, borne out of this unique connection between us, is quite different. We are both clearly conscious and aware of what is happening, and that aspect of it could, I believe, allow me to further extend my deception at Hogwarts.”

Harry didn’t want to know what he meant by that, but couldn’t stop himself from asking, regardless. “What are you planning?”

“Your emotions, your memories, everything that makes you who you are, ready and waiting, at my disposal,” said Voldemort, his smile wicked now. “Instant access to everything I could ever need to convince even Dumbledore that I am, in fact, you.”

Harry felt the blood drain from his face and shook his head disbelievingly. What Voldemort was describing sounded impossible but for the experience he had just endured. If Voldemort thought it possible, then he would undoubtedly do whatever it took to make it happen. “You can’t,” he whispered.

“I think you will find that I can,” said Voldemort lightly, “though the issue I now face lies in your own stubborn nature, particularly the resistance you have shown to the Imperius Curse. It is not in your nature to give into the desires of others, a curious phenomenon given the nature of your upbringing, but it seems those who suffer abuse either submit to or defy the wills of others in power over them.

“There are ways around this, I think,” mused Voldemort thoughtfully, not looking at Harry but rather the stone wall behind him. “Subtle potions designed to bewitch the mind into susceptibility of the suggestions of others will do, I should think. In fact,” he added, abruptly rising and smiling at Harry’s flinch, “Yaxley should be arriving any minute with just such types of potions for me to experiment with.”

Waving his wand, he conjured a metal bucket that dropped next to Harry with a dull ‘clang’ and smirked. “To attend to your personal needs,” he said in amusement. “Toilets are rather a luxury you are not entitled to anymore.”

The words were degrading, and Harry flushed, recalling almost against his will one time he had wet the bed as a small child and Aunt Petunia had berated him to the point of tears.

Laughing, Voldemort stepped away. “I believe I shall give you a few minutes alone whilst awaiting my follower,” he said. “But I would not waste any time in your place, boy. Better to take advantage of every scrap of privacy allotted to you than to have every personal moment of your life on display.” He swept from view, and Harry was alone.

Turning his attention at once to the manacles on his ankles, Harry could see that they were old with locks that –

Wait. Sirius’s penknife. Did he still have it? Digging around in his robes, he started to think it wasn’t there, but then he found it in his trouser pocket and fumbled it open in the dim light of the oil lamp. It was his only chance, and he needed to do this while he still had a chance.

The penknife worked at once to unlock the manacles, and Harry rubbed his ankles before struggling to his feet, sore all over from the torment he had been forced to endure. He eyed the bucket for a moment in disgust and then staggered away in the direction Voldemort had gone. His scar wasn’t paining him so much, which meant the Dark wizard couldn’t be too close by.

Wherever Harry was, the cellar was larger than he’d first thought, but he eventually found and stole up the stairs, silently wincing at every step he took with his injured leg. He at last emerged into an old and dusty kitchen, and there was a door nearby. Harry crept over to it and peered out into the darkness.

Nothing. Turning the lock, Harry carefully pulled it open and slipped through.

The house seemed more a manor when Harry stepped away from it, uphill from the twinkling lights of a village. Harry knew it was most likely a Muggle village, but it was better than nothing. He could find the police, beg them for help and get back to Privet Drive. Voldemort himself had said he couldn’t touch Harry there. Gripping his penknife and missing his wand, Harry set off, eyes wide and searching in case there was a Death Eater nearby. The knife portion was out and ready for a good swipe if needed.

Harry discovered a tree-lined lane that seemed to head right where he needed to go, so he set his shoulders and started down it, hoping desperately that he would be able to make it to safety.

All was quiet as Harry continued down the narrow lane, starting to limp more and more as the wound in his leg pulled with every step. He knew it would slow him down, but he had to hope that it would be enough to get him away. If he didn’t, he’d never leave that cellar alive again.

A low rumble indicated an approaching car. Harry slowed a bit, trying to decide if he should beg for help from whoever was in it. That would get him to the police quicker than walking was going to manage the rate he was going. Soon enough, the headlights of a small car approached, and Harry stepped out into the lane, waving his arms for it to see him and stop.

He wasn’t sure it was going to work, but the car slowed and halted. Harry limped to the diver-side window as the window rolled down, revealing a wary-looking man.

Harry knew he must look a sight, covered in dirt and bleeding from his arm and leg while wearing robes that had been torn and stained; he was definitely not at his best.

“Please,” he said hoarsely to the man, “I need help. Some men took me from my school and tried to lock me up in that big house up the hill, but I got away. I need to get back home.”

“Whereabouts are you from?” asked the man.

“Surrey,” said Harry. “I – I don’t even know where I am! Please, can you get me to the police?”

The man looked carefully at Harry for a long moment, then nodded. “In the back with you,” he said, and Harry could’ve collapsed from relief then and there.

“Thank you,” he told the man fervently. “Thank you, I –”

His scar burned, and he felt again that horrible sensation of the snake within, the all-consuming anger as he stared at the man, hand flying up to his scar.

“Are you all right, lad?” asked the Muggle man.

He sees what I see, Harry thought frantically, ignoring the man and slamming his eyes shut, trying desperately not to think about where he was, but there was a ‘pop!’ and the pain in Harry’s scar increased almost past endurance.

“Foolish child,” said Voldemort coldly from behind him, and Harry opened his stinging eyes, whirling around to see the older man striding toward him in the light cast by the car’s headlights. Voldemort’s red eyes were flashing in rage that echoed through Harry’s whole being. He clutched the penknife in his hand, shaking and terrified as Voldemort raised his wand.

“Don’t hurt him,” he begged. “Please, he’s just a Muggle, I –”

“Crucio!”

Harry dropped to the street, screaming in pure agony, nothing but the fiery pain filling his awareness as he burned from the inside out –

The pain ceased and Harry heard the Muggle shouting at Voldemort. “He’s only a boy, what the devil are you doin’ to him?”

Harry dragged himself to all fours and grabbed the penknife from where he’d dropped it, chest heaving and scar burning as he looked up.

“You think I would spare him because of your foolish choice, Harry?” said Voldemort, voice dripping with venom as he glared down at Harry. “It seems you need a lesson in what happens should you ever dare defy me again. Avada Kedavra!”

“NO!” Harry screamed, but it was too late.

There was a sickening flash of green light, a horrible rushing sound, and the Muggle man slumped in the driver’s seat, dark eyes wide and staring, and unmistakably dead.

No, this couldn’t be happening, not again. Harry gazed wretchedly at the man who had been his only chance of escape, mind blank with horror. Then a steely grip on his upper arm was hauling him to his feet, and the burning in his scar told him it was Voldemort. The penknife was pulled from his limp grasp a moment later.

“And here I thought Lucius was wise enough to search a teenaged boy’s pockets,” said Voldemort with ice in his voice now. “Especially one as resourceful as you, Harry.”

He started to pull Harry away from the car, and a reckless rage unlike anything Harry had ever felt filled him now. He struggled against Voldemort’s grip and glared up at him.

“Why did you kill him?” he demanded. “He was innocent, Cedric was innocent! My parents never deserved this, either, why would you –?”

Voldemort slammed Harry’s back against a tree lining the lane without warning, the blade of the penknife against Harry’s throat a moment later. He stilled, staring into the merciless red eyes, hardly drawing breath as he trembled in fear. “They all have one thing in common, Harry,” Voldemort hissed into his face. “You. They all died because of you, boy, because of what you are.”

“I’m nothing,” breathed Harry desperately. “There’s never been anything special about me, nothing, I swear!”

Voldemort stared at him. “You don’t know, do you?”

Confusion battled against the fear and pain Harry felt. What was he supposed to know?

“He didn’t tell you,” breathed Voldemort a moment later. “You asked him three years ago why I attempted to kill you, and he claimed that you were too young to know.” He shook his head and let out a short laugh. “The old fool, falling prey to weak emotions for the sake of a child’s innocence.”

Harry tried to keep still, but he was shaking like a leaf against Voldemort’s grip and the knife at his throat.

“A Seer made a prophecy,” Voldemort told him. “A prophecy that you are the only one with the power to vanquish me.”

Harry froze in shock. No, this wasn’t real, this couldn’t be happening –

“You doubt me?” whispered Voldemort. “A child born as the seventh month dies to parents who have thrice defied me. There were two boys, two choices. You, or the Longbottom boy.”

Neville?

“You think I made the wrong choice, perhaps?”

Harry thought of his quiet, clumsy friend. “Clearly not,” said Voldemort a moment later. “He is nothing to the strength of character you have demonstrated again and again. More than that,” he continued, pressing the knife a bit harder against the skin of Harry’s neck, “he could not be standing here, having attempted to escape from a situation such as yours and pleaded for the life of a Muggle he didn’t even know over his own.”

Harry clenched his jaw, but kept his eyes on Voldemort, not daring to move a muscle.

“I will kill you, have no doubt of that,” Voldemort told him firmly. “However, it would be remiss of me to ignore the opportunity to discover what it is about you that makes you the boy the prophecy spoke of. And make no mistake,” he continued, putting his face very close to Harry’s, “I will discover every secret you have.” He withdrew the penknife from Harry’s throat and jerked him forward and away from the tree trunk. Harry stumbled a bit and watched from the light still emitting from the Muggle’s car as Voldemort stowed away the penknife and withdrew his wand.

“You will not escape me again,” he told Harry, and Harry believed him as he had believed nothing else this long, horrible, nightmare he was stuck in, not knowing that his one safe haven ceased to be the moment he accepted his fate. He looked down at his feet and stayed silent, waiting for whatever would happen next.

Voldemort suddenly twisted, and Harry experienced a sensation unlike anything he’d ever felt before. The world turned black; he was being pressed very hard from all directions; he could not breathe, there were iron bands tightening around his chest; his eyeballs were being forced back into his head; his eardrums were being pushed deeper into his skull and then –

He gulped great lungfuls of cool predawn air and opened his streaming eyes. He felt as though he had just been forced through a very tight rubber tube. It was a few seconds before he realized that the narrow lane had vanished. He and Voldemort were now standing in front of the large house once more.

“Your first time Apparating?” questioned Voldemort. Harry paused as he considered the words, and then nodded. “It is a sensation that takes some getting used to, though I doubt you will ever get the chance. You will die here when I have exhausted my experiments.”

Harry closed his eyes for a moment and nodded again. This was his reality now; subject, for what little life he had left, to whatever Voldemort wanted. It was every nightmare he’d ever experienced and more, with no possible way to escape. He felt numb as Voldemort dragged him back inside the manor, through the kitchen, down the stairs, until he was once more in that little corner of the manor’s cellar. The manacles were magicked back around his ankles, and when Voldemort commanded him to sit, Harry complied, staring listlessly at the ground as he awaited Voldemort’s next move.

He didn’t have to wait long; a blunt-faced man soon stepped into view, carrying a vellum bag that undoubtedly held the potions Voldemort had described to him earlier. Harry silently watched him come closer, bow to Voldemort, and quietly discuss the potions he had brought with him. He didn’t bother to listen to their conversation; there was no way out, nothing left but whatever Voldemort desired. Harry felt sick to his stomach at the thought, but what could he do? He was completely trapped. No one who mattered knew where he was. A tear escaped before he could stop it, and he quickly wiped it away, squeezing his eyes shut to try to calm himself. Crying would get him nowhere, it never had.

All too soon, Voldemort approached as the scar on Harry’s forehead burned dully. He tensed as the pale man knelt before him with a deep red potion in his hand that he didn’t recognize. “Drink,” he told Harry. “Then, we begin my next experiment.”

Harry dully grasped the proffered vial and swallowed it. There was nothing else he could do, after all.

Voldemort took the empty vial from Harry as he waited for the effects of the potion to kick in. Slowly, everything around him started to become hazy, unfocused, and dull. Harry couldn’t think clearly; he felt as though his head was stuffed with cotton, and his stomach roiled, unsettled.

“How do you feel?”

The words were slow to penetrate the fog that filled Harry’s mind, but once he understood the words and what they meant, he opened his mouth. “‘S strange,” he said thickly. “I don’t… I think… I’m gon’ be sick.”

He wasn’t sure how he made it to the bucket in time as his stomach lurched horribly, but it was in front of him and he heaved, emptying his stomach as he clutched at the top edges of the bucket, unwanted tears leaking from his eyes. He almost keeled over when he at last had nothing left to bring up, but firm hands caught him and settled him against the stone walls which formed the corner he sat in. A vial of something was shoved in his mouth and he barely choked it down, letting out a sigh of relief when his stomach settled and the cloudiness cleared. Blinking, Voldemort slid back into focus, eyeing him speculatively.

“Fascinating reaction, was it not, Yaxley?”

“Indeed, my Lord,” said Yaxley quietly. “A rare reaction I’ve only read about before. That would eliminate the second option we discussed, I believe.”

Voldemort nodded thoughtfully. “Agreed. Bring me the next option.”

Yaxley placed a deep purple vial in Voldemort’s hand, which he considered for a moment before uncorking it and handing it to Harry.

Harry reached for it with a shaking hand, wanting nothing more than to smash it on the ground, but knowing better than to do so. He swallowed it and Voldemort took the empty vial away, eyes on Harry as he waited.

A floating sensation similar to being under the Imperius Curse enveloped Harry now, and he felt a strong urge to burst into giggles. He pressed his lips together to stop himself from giving in.

Voldemort seemed to sense his changed mood, however. “Tell me how you feel, Harry.”

The giggles bubbled free, and Harry flushed, slapping his hands over his mouth and feeling his cheeks heat. What was wrong with him?

But this feels good, he thought, and shook from suppressed laughter. “Sorry!” he couldn’t help but burst out. “I don’t know what I’m doing!” He laughed again.

“A rather pleasant sensation, I take it?” said Voldemort. Harry nodded, trying to suppress a smile. “I need you to focus on my voice, Harry.”

Harry nodded again and fought to quell the urge to laugh again. “Okay, I – yeah, focus. What –?”

“Close your eyes and listen to my voice.”

Harry obeyed, trying to settle.

“I need to look deep within yourself, Harry, relax your mind and reach for the sensation you experienced when you dreamt of me.”

Dreaming… Harry had dreamt of Voldemort before, drifting off in the heat of Trelawney’s class… the old fraud.

Harry broke into giggles again at the thought of her. “Sorry, I’m sorry,” he gasped out. “She’s just…”

“Who are you thinking of, Harry?”

“Professor Trelawney,” answered Harry, eyes still closed. “Keeps predicting I’m going to die, but she’s never right, y’know. Wait, she was just that once…” Harry frowned. “Said Wormtail was set to return to his master, that was…” He started laughing again. “I wasn’t born in midwinter, but she thought I was…” Shaking his head, Harry tried to remember what he was supposed to be doing, but he couldn’t recall. “What…?”

“This isn’t working, Yaxley,” said Voldemort’s voice flatly. “The antidote, now.”

A vial was pressed to Harry’s lips, and he opened his mouth, swallowing the bitter fluid that poured in. The floating sensation drained away, and Harry felt empty and horribly embarrassed. He opened his eyes to see Voldemort staring at him and smiling. “Enjoyed yourself?” he asked.

Harry bit his lip and looked away, shaking his head. “What was that?” he asked quietly.

“The wrong potion,” answered Voldemort shortly. “Perhaps the experimental potion Severus was working on fifteen years ago will work the best, after all. I am pleased you were able to make it on such short notice, Yaxley.”

“I live to serve, my Lord,” murmured Yaxley as he reached for the next vial.

The last thing Harry wanted was to consume anything Snape had invented, but when the pale blue potion was offered to him, he drank it, half-hoping it would just kill him rather than work the way Voldemort expected.

For a long moment, nothing happened. Then a calm, clouded sensation filled his senses, and he relaxed against the stone wall, eyes as unfocused as the rest of him. It was almost peaceful, to simply sit and exist without a care in the world.

“Very good, Harry,” murmured Voldemort. “You will listen to my directions.”

“Okay,” said Harry softly. That didn’t seem so difficult to do, after all.

“Tell me, do you recall the circumstances surrounding your last dream of me?”

Harry nodded, gazing at the man before him without really seeing him. “Divination class,” he said. “It was too warm, so I opened a window and just… drifted.”

“Drifted.”

“Felt like flying,” recalled Harry, lost in the memory. “Like being carried by an owl… and then I was just… there.”

“Very good, Harry,” murmured Voldemort once more. “I want you to close your eyes and recreate that moment in your mind, that drifting sensation.”

Harry closed his eyes, feeling tears slide down his cheeks. “I don’t want to,” he admitted quietly.

“You agreed to listen to my directions, Harry.”

“I know,” whispered Harry, feeling more tears spill free.

“Look deep within yourself and find that connection,” came Voldemort’s voice, almost as quiet as the softest breeze. “Find it and follow it.”

Harry nodded and sank into his mind, feeling for something deep down that had always been there but that he had never consciously explored before, and…

“That’s it, Harry, give in, follow the connection to the other side…”

And then Harry saw himself, pale and small, curled loosely in the stone corner, and he felt mounting satisfaction that wasn’t his own as he rose and stared down at the teenaged boy who had caused him so much trouble.

Harry wanted to pull away from the sight of the boy, but he couldn’t. You are mine, he thought, but was it his thought? He didn’t know anymore.

“This will do,” he said, turning away from the boy to look at Yaxley. “You have more prepared?”

“Yes, my Lord,” murmured Yaxley with a nod of his head. “I will have my house-elf deliver it at once if it pleases you.”

Harry nodded. “Send Wormtail to me,” he said. “Tell him to bring the Polyjuice Potion and a satchel.” He reached into his robes and removed the boy’s penknife. It had been a present from his godfather, so Harry ought to keep it, one more piece of the deception he was mounting.

Yaxley left and quickly returned with both Wormtail and a new bag filled with the as-yet unnamed potion that had clouded the boy’s senses and allowed him access to every thought and feeling the boy had ever had. He looked at Wormtail and saw a memory of the boy refusing to let his old friends kill him, reinforcing the knowledge that he had done well to create the failsafe that now lay within the man’s new hand.

“The satchel, Wormtail,” he commanded, and the balding man handed it over at once.

Harry looked down at the boy. “I’m taking more of your hair,” he told him as he knelt and pulled out the knife again. “The amount of hair it has taken to sustain my faithful servant at Hogwarts is far more than I will need from you, but it is always better to be safe than sorry.”

Reaching out, Harry used the knife to slice away a large swathe of hair along the boy’s right side, using his wand after to make sure each hair ended up in the small satchel. The boy’s hair looked lopsided now, cut almost to the scalp on the one side. Rising, he plucked out a hair from the satchel and dropped it into the vial of Polyjuice Potion Wormtail held, ever amused by how it turned a clear, bright gold. As awful as the potion tasted, it served its purpose well. He breathed through the painful shift, shortening, hair growing where he had none, eyes clouding from the boy’s terrible eyesight, and he took the glasses Wormtail held out to him, the world coming back into clear focus.

Harry used his wand to fix up his clothing so it would fit his shorter stature, and looked around at the boy once more. “Whenever he attempts to fight, he is to be given another vial,” he told Yaxley. “I suspect it will be once a day, but until we know for sure, he stays under constant surveillance.”

“Yes, my Lord,” said Yaxley, bowing. “Your return Portkey awaits you upstairs in the drawing room.”

Harry nodded and glanced down at the boy once more. “My servant at Hogwarts will be in contact soon,” he said. “Now then, time to fool the old man.” And he strode from the cellar, up the stairs, through the kitchen and into the drawing room. The Portkey was right where it had fallen on the carpet, and he stooped down to touch it, feeling the hook behind his navel as he was pulled back to Hogwarts, through a whirl of color and sound –

He stumbled slightly as his feet hit the ground, unused to the difference in height and bearing, and rough, calloused hands steadied him.

“All has been quiet here, my Lord,” whispered Barty Crouch Jr. through his disguise as Mad-Eye Moody. Harry felt a jolt from the boy at the realization, but it faded quickly into his own satisfaction.

“Good,” he said. “My experiments wielded fascinating results, but we will discuss it later.”

Crouch nodded and gestured to the pajamas Madam Pomfrey had insisted he wear before she had been placed under the Imperius Curse. Changing quickly, Harry slid under the familiar sheets and settled. “How long?”

“Maybe an hour,” said Crouch. “Potter’s friends tend to rise earlier when they are worried about him.”

Harry nodded. He could recall every instance the boy had been in this place, the way the blood traitor and the Mudblood loyally stayed by his side, and felt amused by it. Loyalty to someone who seemed to be, at best, exceptionally ordinary?

He settled down on the bed and relaxed, mind wandering aimlessly through the boy’s memories until his two friends arrived. “Is he awake yet?” came the voice of the girl, Granger.

“Yes, but mind yourselves, he’s still very confused,” said the matron in her usual no-nonsense voice.

Crouch rose and glared around the curtain that separated Harry from the rest of the hospital wing. “You get ten minutes,” he said. “Someone at this school isn’t who they claimed to be, and Potter has already suffered for it. I’ll not be letting him out of my sight while he’s in here, understand?”

“Yes, sir,” said Weasley.

“We understand, Professor,” said Granger quickly. Harry forced himself to sit up as the two students came around the curtain. “Hi, Harry,” said Granger – Hermione, quietly. “How are you feeling?”

Harry shrugged. “Dunno,” he said in an equally quiet voice.

“Any nightmares?” asked Ron.

“Madam Pomfrey gave me Dreamless Sleep last night,” Harry lied.

“What about your scar?” asked Hermione. “You kept rubbing it last night.”

“Nothing since I woke up,” said Harry. He shrugged again. “D’you really think he’s back?”

“Dumbledore seems to think so,” said Hermione.

“But wouldn’t he have tried to kill you if he was back?” said Ron with a frown. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

“That’s what makes Voldemort so dangerous,” grunted Crouch with a barely-concealed gleam of amusement in his eye. “Unpredictable, it’s why his followers were so damn hard to catch.”

“Has – has anyone said anything about – about Cedric?” Harry forced himself to ask.

“No,” sighed Hermione quietly, looking at the bag of gold on Harry’s bedside table. “I think most of the school is still in shock.”

Harry looked over at the bag of gold. “It should’ve been Cedric’s,” he said softly. “He had a clear path, and he just – he wouldn’t leave me there, so we took the Cup together.” He shook his head. “How can someone be there one moment and just – just gone the next? I don’t understand.”

There was a moment of uncomfortable silence.

“Whatever happened was bad, no doubt about it,” said Crouch at last. “And if it was Voldemort, I have to wonder if he forgave the followers who abandoned him.”

“He doesn’t seem the forgiving type,” snorted Ron. “Left Quirrell to die when he failed to get the Philosopher’s Stone, didn’t he?”

“But why let Harry live?” Hermione persisted.

“It’s like you think he did kill me and replaced me with an imposter,” Harry tried to joke, but it felt weak to his ears.

“Dumbledore would’ve known if that had happened,” said Hermione at once. “It’s obviously you. I just wish you could remember what happened.”

“I know,” sighed Harry. “It’s strange, not knowing.”

Crouch-as-Moody dismissed the two Gryffindors a few minutes later, and they cast Harry worried looks before they left.

“Your talent for deception is astounding,” murmured Crouch in astonishment. “How have you managed to become the boy so completely?”

Harry smirked. “I told you there is a… connection between us, something I did not know about before,” he said, and Crouch nodded. “I utilized it. The boy’s mind is completely at my mercy to sift through and use at my leisure.”

Crouch gazed at him in amazement and admiration. “Your command of magic knows no bounds, my Lord,” he murmured. “What are our next steps?”

“Finish out the school year and go to the house of the boy’s Muggle relatives,” said Harry decisively. He snagged the boy’s wand from the bedside table and Summoned the robes he’d taken off an hour earlier, reaching into them to retrieve the satchel of stolen hair. “Will your supply of Polyjuice will see us both through?”

“Yes, my Lord,” said Crouch, taking the satchel from Harry. His human eye widened when Harry pulled out his own wand.

“I trust you will keep this safe?” Harry said.

“On my life, I swear it,” murmured Crouch reverently as he accepted the yew wand and stored it carefully in his own robes.

“You have been most faithful,” said Harry softly to Crouch. “You will be greatly rewarded for your service when our ruse is at an end.”

“Thank you, my Lord,” said Crouch. “I will not fail you.”

Harry nodded, certain the words were true. His faithful servant had not failed him once since he had rescued him from his father, and he knew he could continue to depend on him to see things through.

Hundreds of miles away in a cold cellar, the boy couldn’t stop his sobs of despair from the realization that his best friends had been so easily and thoroughly fooled. It was to be the first of many heartbreaks suffered in the days that would follow. The boy wept as he had never done before just a few hours later when Mrs. Weasley engulfed Harry in a warm hug and promised that he could come to stay just as soon as Dumbledore allowed it because that wasn’t him, that wasn’t Harry, and yet it was. He could feel her warm embrace as though she was touching him, but she wasn’t, not really; the boy was trapped with no way out, and she couldn’t even see it!

Cedric’s parents stopped by for a short visit. Harry secretly reveled in leaving them with more questions than answers as the boy shook with suppressed rage in the background of his mind. They would never know their only son died on his feet, confused by a situation he had not been meant to witness, concerned for the boy and only just starting to raise his wand in self-defense when he met his untimely end. Mr. Diggory sobbed, but his wife had merely nodded, seemingly beyond grief.

“Whatever happened, he died thinking he’d won,” she said softly. “He must’ve been happy.”

The boy screamed in rage and heartache that evening when Dumbledore himself visited and explained how Professor Snape had ascertained that Wormtail had killed Cedric on Voldemort’s orders simply because he was there and not needed; that he had merely desired Harry for his blood, to partake in the blood protection from his mother which would allow the Dark wizard to endure physical contact to Harry without experiencing pain; that the blood protection was tied into a very specific charm that protected him so long as he returned to Privet Drive once each year. “He cannot harm you there,” said Dumbledore gravely. “I trust you can understand how imperative it is that you maintain a place of safety, especially now that Voldemort has returned.”

Harry nodded. “Just – how does that work, exactly, sir?” he couldn’t help but ask. “Is it – I mean, that summer when I ran away from Privet Drive, I didn’t want to go back, but Fudge made it sound like I had no choice. But when I thought I wasn’t going back, why didn’t the protection break then?”

“It was because you merely thought you would not be able to return, Harry,” said Dumbledore gently. “You did not know that you would never go back.”

Harry nodded a bit. “So… when does it stop working?”

“When you turn seventeen,” said Dumbledore, “or when it is clear that you and your relatives will part ways forever.”

Harry nodded again. “I don’t like going back there, sir,” he admitted. “I – I hate it there.”

“It is not for long,” said Dumbledore kindly. “I believe you will be able to reunite with your friends sometime around your birthday. There are important things that must be done and put in place first to ensure that can happen, however.”

Harry sighed and gave another nod.

The boy realized the horrible truth in that moment as Dumbledore rose and bid Harry a good night, the awful realization of what he, Harry had done the previous night.

He had accepted his fate.

He had ended the charm already.

Harry pulled hard and gasped, coming back to himself, to the aches and pains of a body that had been crammed into a dirt-stained corner following too much physical torture, stomach painfully empty, and with an uncomfortably full bladder.

“Around fourteen hours,” said a voice, and Harry startled, looking up to see Yaxley sitting in a chair nearby. “Crouch’s owl says you’re allowed your rest at night, so we can wait ‘til morning to give you the next dose and send you back.”

Harry winced as he tucked his legs against his chest and wrapped his arms around them, not saying anything.

“I’ve already checked your pockets to make sure you’ve got no way to escape,” Yaxley told him. “I will give you two minutes to yourself while I fetch your meal for the evening. Don’t waste them.” He rose and strode from view.

Harry stared after him, licked his dry lips, and slowly heaved himself to his feet and towards the bucket as the chains binding him to the corner rattled and clanked; the metal container had thankfully been emptied from when he’d been sick in it early that morning. Having nothing else to use was embarrassing, but Harry knew he had no choice. Despite the heat rising in his cheeks, he did his best to quickly attend to his business and had just collapsed weakly on the dirt floor again when Yaxley returned carrying a tray. He set it near Harry and waved his wand at the bucket. “Evanesco!” The smell disappeared.

“You get fifteen minutes to eat, boy,” said Yaxley. “Once Nott arrives, your leftovers leave with me, understand?”

Harry nodded and reached shaking hands out for the tray. He knew better than to shovel the thin soup and bread into his mouth as quickly as possible after having been sick early that morning, but he was also so very hungry. His stomach cramped, but it seemed everything was going to stay down.

Just as Harry shoved the last bit of bread into his mouth, footsteps overhead announced that someone was there. Moments later, a thin man with brown hair approached. Yaxley rose, Summoned the tray, and started to leave. “Our Lord desires the prisoner get his rest at this time,” he told the other man. “I will return at dawn to give him his next dose so that the Dark Lord can successfully continue his deception at Hogwarts.”

The man shot Harry a smirk. “I’m sure we’ll be best of friends, won’t we, boy?”

Harry pulled his legs closer to his chest and said nothing.

“Good night, Nott,” said Yaxley, and he left.

Nott settled down onto the chair Yaxley had vacated and pulled out a copy of the Evening Prophet. “Best get your beauty sleep, Potter,” he said quietly. “You look about dead on your feet.” He chuckled darkly and said no more.

Harry didn’t have the energy to glare at him, and wasn’t sure if he’d simply get tortured again if he dared try. Instead, he did his best to settle himself on the dirt floor against the stone wall and closed his eyes.

It was a testament to the extreme exhaustion Harry was suffering from that he managed to drop off, too tired to dream, to think, to worry about Yaxley’s inevitable return, to do anything but give into the arms of slumber.
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