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SIYE Time:21:03 on 5th December 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: 118
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: 12767; Chapter Total: 297
Awards: View Trophy Room




Author's Notes:
Maybe it's the birth control I'm on, or past trauma that resurfaced a year ago I keep refusing to acknowledge, or just life in general, but my brain hasn't been creative in quite a while. Part of me feels like I'm still surviving from day to day with little blips of excitement or creativity before I return to the monotony. I don't know.

I do love this chapter despite how awful it is for Harry. First, it's the two weeks the Order was actively searching for Harry, and he will NEVER talk about it. This is literally your only chance to know what happened. Second, this chapter is where you finally begin to understand how Harry was able to so quickly trust Ginny clear back in chapter four. Third, this final part of Harry's time in captivity ends in hope, hope that carries on through the next two chapters as we see Harry's POV finally catch up to and progress forward with everything else you've read up to this point. This chapter explains better than anything else Harry's struggles to communicate, the real/not real cues, Ginny's importance, even why Harry didn't think Sirius and Remus had really come to rescue him.

I hope you enjoy this chapter, because I poured my heart and soul into it. P.S. I see something off with the formatting of the long dashes, or the em dash. It keeps coming up with a ? symbol and I'm not sure why, nor do I know how to fix it when it looks perfectly fine on the editing page. Weird.




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Chapter Fourteen: Nothingness



Harry dreamt about Ginny for the first time the night the Dursleys died.

He hadn’t had much in the way of dreams due to exhaustion, and even when he did, it was a confused tangle of everything he was experiencing in Voldemort’s mind. He most frequently had nightmares where his friends didn’t see him, didn’t recognize him, didn’t think he was real. It made dreaming painful.

This dream, however, was different.

Harry found himself walking down a dark passage that ended in a horribly familiar wall with snakes carved into it, a wall that cracked open and slid out of his way as he approached. He passed through into the long, dimly lit chamber beyond and headed for the end where Ginny sat cross-legged on the cold floor, clutching the ruined diary in her hands.

“You came,” she said, voice echoing softly in the Chamber of Secrets. She looked just as she had when Harry had last seen her at King’s Cross, thirteen years old, long red hair spilling freely over her shoulders, though darker than usual in the gloom of their location.

“I had to, didn’t I?” Harry told her, shrugging uncomfortably. “I could never let you die down here.”

Ginny nodded and looked around at the stone pillars with carved serpents which surrounded them. “You saw what was wrong,” she said at length.

“Not really,” said Harry. “Not soon enough, anyway. You nearly ”” He broke off, staring at the diary in Ginny’s hands and really allowing himself to remember what happened that horrible night two years ago, the terrible things Riddle had said and done to her. He let himself feel the horror from the realization that the diary had contained a piece of Voldemort’s soul, that the soul piece had possessed Ginny, taken control, had been inside her…

She was very much like him. Touched by something evil.

“But you were there when it mattered the most,” said Ginny. “You were trying so hard to piece the puzzle together and you nearly had it when he took me.”

Harry sank to the floor, facing Ginny. “I’m so sorry I didn’t see it sooner,” he said.

Ginny smiled. “I’ll believe that when you forgive me for not seeing sooner.”

Harry frowned, puzzled. “What are you talking about?”

“I’m seeing the pieces,” Ginny told him. “I’m seeing it, but I’m not putting it together. You’ve noticed it, haven’t you?”

Harry blinked, thinking hard, and realized Ginny was right. He’d been able to sense her beginning to understand that all was not well, but she hadn’t figured it out, hadn’t come to the realization that the Harry she saw was not the real one soon enough. And now he was going to…

“I want to see what’s happening, but I don’t have enough of the puzzle,” said Ginny earnestly. “It’s the same thing as the diary.” She held it out to him now. “You didn’t have enough of the pieces, but you figured it out and saved me.”

Harry stared at the diary he had stabbed with the basilisk fang two years ago. It had long since dried up, ink still staining the pages, the whole thing slightly warped. “I’m trying to see,” whispered Ginny, and Harry looked up to see she was blindfolded now. “Please forgive me.”

“Of course I forgive you!” said Harry without hesitation. “You’re… I know I can trust you.” He suddenly needed a word to describe what he felt. “You’re… real.”

Real.

It was the only word that fit.

“You’ll tell me that when you get away from this place? You promise?”

They were suddenly back in the cellar, sitting on the hard dirt floor, and Ginny was still blindfolded, still holding out the diary. Harry reached out and took it from her. “I promise,” he said.

Ginny smiled and then the oil lamp went out, plunging Harry into a deep, dreamless sleep.



It was the sharp, burning pain in Harry’s scar that woke him next morning, remnants of the strange dream clinging to his mind. Pushing it all aside, he rubbed at his forehead and was surprised to see he was alone. After a moment, he forced himself up to use the bucket as had been his custom for the last few weeks.

Harry knew Voldemort was close by, that he was eager to begin the next phase of experimenting on him, and he shuddered, teetering on the edge of the unknown after so long with the routine of potions and commands to become lost in Voldemort’s mind. He didn’t know what was going to happen now, but he hoped it would end in death sooner as opposed to later.

The pain in his scar increased along with the sound of footsteps above him, and Harry knew his solitude was at an end. He curled up tightly in his corner and awaited Voldemort’s next move.

The Dark Lord strode into view, mouth curled into a wicked smile. “I am pleased to see you awake, Harry,” he said with a careless flick of his wand in the direction of the bucket to empty it. “I know you have become accustomed to eating breakfast, but I have many things to do, and that obviously takes precedence over your needs.”

Harry dropped his gaze and nodded his understanding. This didn’t surprise him. He had known everything would change once Voldemort ended his deception.

“I expect a verbal response, boy.”

Harry bit his lip, uncertain what to say. “Yes, sir,” he finally settled on, hating how weak and raspy his voice sounded.

Voldemort smirked and drew up the lone chair in the cellar, which had always been located just out of reach, and settled down. Harry could feel the man eyeing him speculatively, and waited.

“Which of us made the joke about being killed and replaced with a fake?”

Harry blinked. This wasn’t what he had expected. Still, there was only one answer that made sense to him. “You, sir,” he answered quietly.

“It was taken from your self-deprecating humor,” said Voldemort. “Which of us said the prize money should have been Cedric’s?”

Harry’s heart clenched at the reminder that Cedric Diggory was dead. “You did,” he said again.

“Incorrect,” said Voldemort evenly. “I simply allowed you to verbalize your thoughts.” He leaned forward. “Every word spoken about Diggory was yours.”

Harry stared at Voldemort. “I ” but you ” I can’t control ””

“How often have you felt confused about what was truly said and done by you?”

Harry looked down at his knees. “Every day,” he whispered. “I felt like me, but I wasn’t me. I was you.”

“You were you sometimes,” said Voldemort. “I am curious as to whether or not you’re able to distinguish the difference.” He asked Harry more questions, correcting Harry every time he gave the wrong answer. This occurred far more often than not.

“Who wanted to give the Weasley twins the gold?”

“I did,” said Harry, “but you ” that was you doing it, arguing for them to have it.”

“Was it?”

Harry opened his mouth, then paused. The reality was that he was uncertain as to whether or not it had been him.

“How often was it you, Harry?” whispered Voldemort. “How often was it me?”

Harry shook his head. “I don’t know,” he finally admitted. “I don’t know who did what when I mostly felt like me. I couldn’t think of who the boy was, I don’t know who did the homework assignments or wrote the letters, I ” I don’t know what’s mine and what isn’t!”

Voldemort smiled. “And what if none of it was really you?” he asked. “How could you tell the difference?”

Harry gaped at Voldemort, unsure how to answer. “What was me?” he said, hating the desperate tone in his voice but unable to do anything about it. “You keep saying I did and said some things, but I don’t know if that was you or me or what, not really. I don’t ”” He broke off and stared at the ground. “I don’t feel real,” he admitted so softly he thought Voldemort hadn’t heard him.

Voldemort rose abruptly, and Harry flinched. “You aren’t real,” he said coldly. “I took that from you every day for the last three weeks. You do not know your own mind because I used it so effortlessly that there was no way to tell where you ended and I began.” He moved closer and knelt beside Harry, who stiffened in fear.

“You are not real,” Voldemort whispered harshly in his ear. “You were a mistake made only to fulfill a prophecy that will never come to pass. Your pitiful mind is mine to use however I please, and it will never be your own again.”

Harry squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. “Yes, sir,” he forced himself to say.

Voldemort rose, and Harry sat rigidly, staring at the ground.

A moment later, the Dark wizard left Harry alone, pausing only to move the chair out of Harry’s reach. Harry stayed curled up, waiting, confused, and then, less than a minute later, the aching in his scar all but vanished.

He was alone.

Why was he alone?

He stayed put for several minutes, but when nothing happened, Harry finally allowed his muscles to relax and leaned back against the wall, frowning and feeling horribly confused. Nothing about this made sense. Shouldn’t there be torture? What did “experiments” even mean?

After a couple more minutes, Harry made himself rise to walk around. Though his reach was limited, it was good to be able to move at all after three weeks of mostly being in one spot.

The injury on his left leg still hadn’t fully healed, and it stung to walk on it as the scabbing pulled with every step, but he let it ground him, used it as a reminder of who and where he was. He was Harry. He was locked in a cellar with no means of escape, but he was in his own body, in his own mind, and he had to hold onto that.

It wasn’t until he felt the blood sliding down his leg that Harry realized he had overdone it with the still-healing spider bite and collapsed in his corner, pulling apart the rip in his trousers to see the scab had ripped open anew. He hissed a bit as the skin pulled and thumped his head against the stone wall in irritation. He knew it hadn’t been an acromantula that had bitten him because its bite was poisonous, but perhaps there had been something in this spider’s secretions that had prevented his leg from healing fully. It was frustrating, but it was also real, and Harry needed real just then.

He was so consumed with what he ought to do with his leg that he didn’t notice that the chill in the air became more so. It was the way the oil lamp suddenly flickered that caught his attention.

Then the screaming in his head began.

No. No, it couldn’t be. He hadn’t ”

“Not Harry! Not Harry! Please ” I’ll do anything ””

“Stand aside ” stand aside, girl””

“Noooo,”
Harry moaned, slamming his hands over his ears even though he knew it would do no good.

The Dementor glided into view, and Harry shoved himself into his corner, wandless and terrified. He had no defenses, no way to fight off the Dementor or the horrible memories rising in his mind.

He couldn’t see, couldn’t think, was lost to the night his life had changed irrevocably and fell, down, down…



When Harry came to, it was completely dark. He was lying on the ground in the corner, leg aching dully and head pounding, feeling as though it had been stuffed with cotton. He was also shivering fiercely and felt horribly drained and weak.

He tried to sit up, but he was shaking too much and couldn’t manage more than a few scant inches off the ground before his arms gave out and he slumped to the dirt floor. Breathing hard, Harry tried again.

He couldn’t do it, didn’t have the strength to get up.

Harry felt tears of frustration and tried to keep them from spilling free as he tried once more, but it was no use. He was too weak.

Slumping to the floor again, Harry focused on his breathing, hating how winded he felt by something that should’ve been so simple. He curled up on his side instead, clumsily pulling his robes around his body and staring into the darkness, mind wandering aimlessly. There were no windows, so he had no idea what time it was, let alone how long he had been out.

Harry had never been scared of the dark, having had little access to light in his cupboard as a child, but there was something oppressive about the darkness here; the silence and loneliness were unfamiliar and foreboding.

What was familiar was the cramping of Harry’s stomach. It had clearly been a while since he’d last eaten, but Harry shoved the discomfort to the back of his mind. He had endured too many moments of going hungry when he’d been younger to let this bother him now.

The thing that was bothering him was the lack of interaction from anyone. Why was he being left alone?

Exhaustion threatened to consume him again, and Harry decided not to fight it. Whatever was going to happen next would happen, and there was no use worrying about it until the time came. He closed his eyes, and drifted off.



Harry woke with a scream of pain, his scar feeling as though it might burst, and he knew through the pain that Voldemort was back, grasping him by the neck. He scrabbled uselessly at the hand, choking when it tightened painfully, cutting off his airway and ending his ability to cry out.

Several tense moments later, Voldemort pulled his hand away, and Harry let out a heaving gasp for air, trembling as he desperately filled his lungs. The pain in his scar faded to a dull throbbing.

“It seems that I can use Occlumency to shield my presence from you,” said Voldemort with the air of a scientist taking notes on his latest experiment; after all, that was all Harry really was to him. “Touch, however, negates the effects.”

Harry didn’t say anything to this, still feeling lightheaded from the pain and doing all he could to regain his breath. He could feel his glasses cutting into the side of his face.

“Sit up, boy.”

Knowing he had no choice, Harry gathered his shaking arms beneath him and pushed. He wasn’t certain he was going to be successful in sitting up this time, but he managed, slumping against the stone wall in exhaustion.

Blinking slowly, Harry could see now that the oil lamp had been relit. Voldemort’s face was shadowed, but speculative again. Nothing good was going to come from this.

A moment later, Voldemort smiled. “Tell me about your experience with the Dementor,” he said.

Harry shrugged uncomfortably. “It got cold,” he said softly. “And I ” I heard the same thing I always hear.”

Voldemort smiled. “Your mother begging me to spare your life.”

Harry looked away and nodded. “You said she needn’t have died,” he said abruptly. “You told her to stand aside. Why?”

There was a long moment of silence in which Harry wondered if the skeletal form above him would answer him or torture him for daring to ask a question when he had no power in this situation at all.

“One of my followers desired her and wished that her life be spared,” said Voldemort at last. “He had been the one to tell me of the prophecy, and asked this one favor only when I made my choice.”

Harry felt disgusted by this. Maybe it had been better that Lily Potter had refused to stand aside. But her refusal had, in a way, landed Harry in a heap of trouble that had only prolonged his inevitable death at Voldemort’s hand.

“What happens now?” Harry dared to ask since his last question had been answered. “Are ” are you going to kill me?”

There was a pause.

“Not yet,” said Voldemort. “I have not finished my experiments, nor have I allowed my followers the chance to take out their anger and misery on you for the years they spent hiding amongst our enemies.”

Of course there would be torture. Harry closed his eyes and bowed his head. “And then?”

“And then… you die.”

Harry nodded his acceptance, and Voldemort took his leave once more.

Harry curled up in his corner again, stomach aching with hunger, and allowed his misery to consume him.

He was never going to escape. All he had left was hanging onto what little he still had until death came. And death had to come; the truth needed to stay hidden in order to cut off one of the many ties holding Voldemort to the living plane of existence.

Harry had nothing else left to fight for but his own death now.



“Does it bother you?”

Harry looked up from the Exploding Snap cards in his hands at Ginny. “Does what bother me?” he asked.

“That no one saw,” was Ginny’s reply.

Harry realized this must be another dream, but shrugged. “A bit, I suppose,” he said. He glanced around the Gryffindor common room. Ron was challenging Sirius to a game of chess while Hermione discussed a piece of homework with Remus and Bill. Dumbledore was chatting quietly with Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, and the twins huddled over product ideas in the corner. All these people Harry knew and thought he could trust…

“Are any of them real?” he found himself asking Ginny. “I know you are, but I don’t know about anyone else.”

“We can talk about them,” suggested Ginny. “Sometimes talking things out can help make sense of things.” She grinned. “I mean, I prefer taking my time and thinking it over on my own, but I’ve heard it helps.”

“Yeah ” all right.” They carefully set down their playing cards and Harry scooted around next to Ginny so he could survey the room better.

“Let’s start with Ron,” said Ginny. “Did he even suspect the truth?”

Harry shook his head. “He was right next to me every day and never realized it wasn’t me,” he said.

“Okay,” said Ginny, “so not real.”

Ron vanished. “Sirius?”

Harry considered. “I know Voldemort fooled him, but it was before he made me see. He mostly had letters, and those were in my handwriting.”

“Do you think he could’ve guessed the truth?”

Harry shrugged, uncertain. “I’d like to think he could,” he said.

“Could be real, then,” decided Ginny. “He stays. What about Hermione?”

Harry felt his jaw tighten. “Same as Ron,” he said at once. “She didn’t see. Not real.”

Hermione vanished, as well. “Bill?”

“He watched your mum hug Voldemort,” said Harry stiffly. “He didn’t see.”

“So Bill and Mum aren’t real, then.” They were both gone in the blink of an eye. “Remus?”

Harry stared at him. “He just had letters. He didn’t get the opportunity to really prove himself one way or the other.”

“Then he could be real,” said Ginny. “Like Sirius.”

Harry nodded.

“Next up: Dumbledore.”

“Not real,” said Harry before he could even think it through.

“Okay,” said Ginny simply, and he was gone. Now it was just the twins and Mr. Weasley left. Harry looked at them and shook his head. They all vanished, leaving Harry alone with Ginny, Sirius, and Remus.

“Now we know who’s real,” said Ginny.

“Yeah,” said Harry softly, feeling tears prick the corners of his eyes. He turned to look at Ginny. “Can they ” the others ” can they ever be real again?”

Ginny shrugged. “That’s up to you, I think.” She sighed. “They didn’t see the truth of it, didn’t even suspect.”

Harry nodded. “It hurts,” he admitted quietly.

Ginny reached out and took his hand. “I wish there was a way to save you from what’s coming. It’s only going to get worse from here.”

Harry tightly grasped her hand. “I know,” he whispered, and everything went black.



Harry had no idea how long he’d gone without food, but based on how he was feeling, it had to be longer than he’d ever done at Privet Drive. He spent his time curled up thinking of nothing, or curled up sleeping. He lacked the strength to get up for anything besides using the bucket, and those moments seemed to occur less frequently than before.

Voldemort’s experiments were highly unpleasant, ranging from calculated moments of pain and torture to mind games that warped more and more what felt real and what didn’t.

The first one had been awful.

He was awoken from a fitful slumber by a familiar voice. “Harry?”

Harry forced his eyes open and blinked hazily at the face in front of him. It took him a moment before he recognized it with a jolt.

“Sirius?” he whispered breathlessly. “But ” how?”

“Dumbledore figured it out,” said Sirius. “I’ve got Remus with me, he’s making sure the coast is clear. C’mon, up you get.”

“But ” I’m chained up.”

Sirius frowned. “What’re you talking about?”

“Shackles,” said Harry, forcing his legs out to show Sirius the metal chains keeping him trapped.

But they weren’t there. Harry frowned in confusion. “I don’t ” but I swear, there were chains and ””

“Never mind that now,” said Sirius quickly, pulling Harry to his feet. “We need to get out of here before we’re spotted. Let’s go, boy.”

Harry frowned as he stumbled forward. Something didn’t seem quite right to him, but freedom was freedom, wasn’t it?

Remus was waiting at the top of the stairs. “There was only one Death Eater,” he told Sirius and Harry as they approached him. “Took him out easily enough. But let’s hurry up, we don’t want to risk getting caught.” He smiled at Harry. “I’m glad we found you,” he said.

He led them to the kitchen door and outside. It was night outside, and the air felt warm and dry. “How did Dumbledore figure out where I am?” he asked quietly. “I don’t even know where I am.”

“Severus told him,” said Remus tensely. “Come on now, we don’t want to waste any more time.”

“But Snape doesn’t know where I am,” said Harry. “Voldemort doesn’t fully trust him.”

“He got the information from Malfoy,” said Sirius.

Harry stopped walking. “He’s not going to say anything,” he said. “He’s too busy trying to get back into Voldemort’s good graces.” He stared at the two men. “This ” this isn’t real.”

“Of course it’s real,” snapped Sirius. “Remus and I have just about gone mad with worry the last few days. Just keep moving, boy, we’ve got to clear the anti-Apparition enchantments before we can get out of here.”

“No.” Harry stood his ground. Sirius had never called him ‘boy’ before. This wasn’t adding up. “This ” it’s not real.”

“We’re here to save you, Harry, not trick you,” said Remus with a frown. “Why don’t you believe it’s us?”

Harry bit his lip. He wanted to believe it was real, he really did. “Your nicknames,” he blurted out. “What are they?”

The silence dragged on for a beat too long. “Not real,” said Harry, backing away on trembling legs. “This isn’t real.”

Harry’s scar seared with pain, and then Voldemort was there, wand out, scarlet eyes narrowed. “Avada Kedavra!”

Sirius was dead, Remus joining him a moment later.

Harry stared. This wasn’t ” but what if he’d gotten it wrong? What if they had been real?

“Is it real, boy?”

Harry forced himself to look away from the blank eyes of the two men upon the ground and up at Voldemort as he drew close. “I don’t ””

“Crucio!”

Harry screamed, burning out from his very bones, wishing only to black out or die ”

The curse was lifted, and Harry gulped in air as he lay on the ground, face pressed against the cold grass.

“Was it real?”

“No,” gasped Harry. “Not ” not real.”

Voldemort grabbed Harry by the arm and pulled him upright, slamming him harshly against the stone wall behind him, chains rattling as Harry’s legs shifted ”

Harry forced his eyes open and realized he was back in the cellar. Or had he never left?

He didn’t know. He had no idea if that had actually happened or only been in his mind.

“Did you leave this place?”

Harry felt his breathing pick up as he panicked, unsure of anything right now. “I don’t know ””

“Crucio!”

White- hot knives plunged into him from all sides as he cried out again, and he was nothing but pain in that moment.

It ended at last, and Harry felt a sob escape him before he could stop it. He curled up on his side, staring hazily at the oil lamp, chest heaving as he gasped for air once more.

“Did you leave this place, boy?”

Harry stared at the lamp and shook his head. “Never leaving this place,” he said dully.

“Good.”

There were other mind games, faces of people Harry cared about, attempting to rescue him or brought in as prisoners to be tortured. It felt so real, looked so real, sounded so real, that Harry sometimes fell for it, pleaded for Hermione’s life over his own, begged Dumbledore to hurry up and get him away from this horrible place…

But it was never real. Harry wasn’t real. Not anymore.



“You know what he’s doing.”

Harry snorted. “Doesn’t change how good at it he is. Or that it’s working, for that matter.”

Ginny sighed and leaned against a tree in the orchard of the Burrow. Harry wished so badly it was real as opposed to yet another dream.

“You can’t let him win, Harry.”

“Can’t let him see the truth,” Harry countered her. “There’s only two ways this ends, Ginny.” He ticked them off on his fingers. “Rescued, or dead. If he learns the truth, then this never ends, and I can’t ”” He broke off and shook his head. He couldn’t verbalize the reality that would face him should Voldemort realize what Harry really was to him, what he had done that Halloween night so many years ago.

Ginny gazed sadly at him, and he stared at the sparse grass between the trees and started plucking at it.

“He’s going to take away everything you are,” she finally said.

“He already is,” snapped Harry, looking up to glare at Ginny. “He fooled everyone! They were all convinced they saw Harry, but they didn’t! No one saw the truth, not even you.” He straightened and turned away, taking in the sight of the home he loved but would never see again. “Harry isn’t real anymore,” he forced out. “I… I’m not real. I’m just… nothing.”

It hurt to say the words, but it was the truth. Real was a construct no longer afforded to him, let alone his own name. “Can’t keep doing this,” he muttered. “Seeing you, places that are real, it hurts to look at.”

“It’s your mind trying to hold on,” Ginny told him, and he could hear her rising and stepping closer and before she laid a hand on his arm. “Trying to hold onto the things that matter, people that matter.”

“S’just you here,” he said, looking over his shoulder at her. “You’re the only one who matters?”

“It’s your mind,” said Ginny with a smirk. “Clearly you value me over others. Why is that?”

He shrugged and turned away again. “Dunno,” he said. “You just ” you understand better than others?”

“Do I?”

He nodded, finally spinning round to face Ginny completely. “He’s been in your head,” he told her. “No one else knows what that’s like.”

Ginny sighed again and nodded. “You remember that,” she said, and she sounded sad.

“Didn’t think much about it after it happened,” he admitted. “It ” what he did… and the way he described it… it was easier to remember that I saved you than it was what I was saving you from.”

Ginny nodded. “His games, his tricks, using me…” She took his hand. “You need to remember that someone understands when you’re rescued.”

He knew his smile was lopsided as he looked down at her. “Never getting out of here,” he sighed. “But… yeah. I’ll remember that.”



Food was scarcer than water. Harry could recall, as though from another life, one of his Muggle teachers in primary school explaining how humans could last longer without food than without water.

Clearly Voldemort knew this, too; it wouldn’t do to have Harry die from dehydration before he was ready to kill him himself, after all.

There were long periods of isolation, but when torture came, what Harry was forced to endure usually consisted of the Cruciatus Curse; that didn’t stop Voldemort or his followers from getting creative, however.

The first cut came as a complete shock. The gash Wormtail had made as part of the ritual to give Voldemort a new body had long since healed in a jagged line down the crook of his arm, but the wound in his leg from the spider’s bite wasn’t there yet, and this had been taken advantage of more than once. Harry was starting to wonder if it would ever heal before he finally breathed his last.

“Diffindo!”

Harry cried out in equal measures of shock and pain as a cut bloomed across his upper arm. Macnair laughed. “The Dark Lord told me how you cheated me of the chance to kill that hippogriff,” he told Harry fiercely. “If I ever get my hands on the Mudblood, she’ll suffer just as much.”

He slashed his wand again, the cut landing this time on Harry’s chest, and laughed again as Harry gasped out in pain.

The first punch came as a shock, as well. That was from Goyle. “My son is angry you knocked him out and used Polyjuice Potion to become him his second year,” he grunted at Harry. “That was for him. This one is for Crabbe.”

The next punch resulted in Harry’s glasses cracking.

Worst of all were the endless experiments. If it wasn’t the mind games, then it was tests of his ability to understand and speak Parseltongue; being forced to explain Voldemort’s moods and thoughts; being pulled into his mind when asleep, or worse, when Voldemort would invade Harry’s mind and laugh at the agonizing pain that accompanied it…

Harry’s mind was not his own. He wasn’t real, nothing was real except the pain and torment.

Harry wasn’t real.



Dreaming became a muddled experience. Ginny was there, but it was harder to see her, her voice muffled and distant as though through water. She called a name, but it was a name with no owner, and thus easy to ignore.

He didn’t have a name.

“Draco wishes he could see you like this, boy,” laughed Lucius as he set a tray of milk, bread, and cheese at the boy’s side. “Pity my master has forbidden photographs. Perhaps if I can retrieve a Pensieve…”

He didn’t care anymore. He was nothing, after all. Slowly, he turned to the tray and ate the meager meal in silence.

Being a quick learner did bring minor advantages. Sentences where he said words such as “I” or “my” tended to result in pain.

It was better not to refer to himself out loud. He wasn’t real anymore. Perhaps he’d never been real at all.

“Was that real?” asked Voldemort after another mind game.

He stared at the ground. “Don’t know,” he said.

“I expect a yes or a no, boy.”

He sighed softly. “No,” he said. “Not real. Never real.”

“Are you real?”

He shook his head. “Not real,” he said.

Time ceased to have meaning. There was pain or no pain. There was food or no food. There was cold, but that ceased to be a bother. There was even a bit of coughing, even pain in the lungs and stomach, but that probably wasn’t real, anyway.

Nothing was real.

It was all games. Just games. Just pain. Just loneliness and the dark cellar. It didn’t matter that things had been real once. That wasn’t the case, not anymore. There was only the cold and the dark, the bucket and the shackles, the chains and the rips, the pain and the nothingness of being.

It wasn’t real.

Nothing was real, nor had it ever been.

Until it was.

“How can we convince him it’s really us?” the fake Remus whispered to the fake Sirius. “We don’t know how much Voldemort prised from his mind when he was digging around in there.”

Too much was the answer, but there was no point saying anything to these illusions. It wasn’t real, after all.

“I don’t know,” said the fake Sirius in a defeated voice. “I don’t know what to do, Moony. I never thought ””

Moony.

Moony was real. That nickname was never used in the mind games. There was no way that would change now.

The sensation of curiosity meant taking another look at the illusions.

A thought had to be verbalized now. “You ” you said ” Moony.”

“My old school name,” said the fake Remus softly. Was the man fake? Was this real? “You remember Moony and ” and Padfoot?”

Those nicknames… it had been so long… no one used them in the mind games… could it be?

Maybe it could. No, not maybe. It was or it wasn’t; Voldemort didn’t allow for indecision. It was time to make a choice.

Those nicknames were real. If they were real, then so were the people. And so the decision was made:

They were “Real.”

Sirius had a sad, but relieved smile on his face, as did Remus. “Yes,” he said, voice filled with an emotion that seemed familiar somehow. “Yes, Harry, real. It’s us. We’re here.”

Real. This was real. They were there. As impossible as it had once seemed, death was no longer the only option.

There was something more.

Something real.

Maybe… maybe Harry could be real again, too.
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