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SIYE Time:20:52 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: 12765; Chapter Total: 302
Awards: View Trophy Room




Author's Notes:
This is going to be the last chapter I'll post for a bit. I go back to work to prepare for the school year on Monday August 9, and that's going to take up all my brain power, especially once term starts August 18. My plan at this point is to not post again until at least September 4, possibly the 11, instead (I'm in USA Mountain time, if that helps make sense of dates at all). It all depends on how long it takes to settle in for the new school year. Thanks to all of you for your patience as I deal with my personal life and mental health and such!




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Chapter Sixteen: Real



You are not real.

Was that real?

Real or not real?

I wish Draco could see you like this…

And then… you will die.


Harry abruptly came to, gasping and trembling as Sirius gathered him in his arms. “It’s all right, kiddo, I’ve got you,” his godfather murmured, and Harry clutched at him, trying to orient himself as to where he was and what was going on.

“R-real?” he asked shakily. It was painful not to be able to tell, but right now, Harry couldn’t be certain of anything.

“Real,” Sirius agreed without hesitation.

Real. This was real.

Harry was real.

He’d been dreaming of the cellar again, of sinking deeper and deeper into that bottomless pit where nothing was real.

Including him.

Thinking about himself was becoming easier as the days passed, but Harry still could not verbalize the right words he was now able to think.

The cellar had been the place where a sense of self had been repressed, lost to the ugly reality of pain and nothingness. It had been easier to curl up and drift without thought than to try and be someone.

There hadn’t even been a someone in the cellar. Just the dirt floor and stone walls surrounding a small corner that had become all that existed. It had been far too easy to dismiss everything else as not real because only Voldemort had the power to determine real and not real. The Death Eaters were real. Boy was not.

Harry shuddered against Sirius at the thought, and he felt his godfather tighten his arms around him. This was real. This was safe. He was safe.

For now.

“Sorry,” Harry forced himself to whisper. He hated that his every nightmare woke Sirius up.

Sirius sighed. “There’s nowhere I’d rather be, kiddo,” he replied softly. “Take all the time you need.”

Time had held no meaning in the cellar, either. It was a construct that only the real could grasp and manipulate. Time could mark intervals like minutes and days, but only to those who were allowed to understand its workings. Being not real meant to exist without meaning, without the understanding of the passage of time and its effect on everything around it.

But Harry remembered time now. He had learned that Sirius and Remus had found him shortly before midnight on the thirtieth of July. His first full day away from the cellar had been his birthday.

He remembered being fourteen and small; fourteen and scared; fourteen and nothing. Now he was fifteen and fractured. Fifteen, but real.

Real.

Eventually, Harry was able to settle again, secure in Sirius’s arms and the knowledge that he wasn’t in the cellar anymore and would never be again. It had been two weeks where real had ceased to exist, he understood that now, just a mere fragment of time in his life, but the effects…

Would Harry ever be able to put it all behind him?

He didn’t know. He certainly hoped so.

But for now, he was safe. Sirius was here, offering the physical and emotional comfort Harry had never been afforded as a child, and he drank it in, wondering if his own parents might have done the same.

He liked to think they would have.

The tug towards sleeping crept over him once more. I think I can sleep again now, he wanted to say.

The words wouldn’t come. They never did.

“Tired,” he finally settled on, shifting so he was sitting upright.

“You’re sure?” Sirius asked him. Harry nodded, and Sirius ruffled his hair before withdrawing and allowing him to settle under the bedcovers once more. Harry watched as the blurry form of his godfather headed for the bedroom door.

“Sirius?”

“Yeah, Harry?”

There was so much Harry wanted to say, but the right words still refused to come. Thank you for saving me. I’m glad you’re real. I’m glad you’re here. The nightmares are easier for me to deal with because you’re always with me when I wake up.

Instead, he managed to only say, “Thanks.”

Sirius paused, then moved back to Harry’s side. “Anytime, kiddo,” he said, and then he did something Harry had never experienced before:

Sirius leaned down and pressed a kiss to the top of his head.

“Sleep well,” he murmured, and then he was gone. Harry laid in bed for sometime after that, mind replaying what had just happened. A kiss on his head, like he’d seen Mrs. Weasley do with Ginny a few times. Ruffling his hair the way Mr. Weasley did with Ron and his brothers.

These kind touches, done by a parent to their child to express… affection? Love?

And now he knew what it felt like.

Is this what it’s like to be part of a family?

If Harry was truly real, then so was the possibility of family. The thought gave him comfort as he drifted off once more into a troubled slumber.



Visits from Madam Pomfrey were always deeply uncomfortable for Harry. It wasn’t her demeanor; he was quite accustomed to her brusque attitude. Nor was it the way she poked and prodded him.

She wasn’t real, yet she was still permitted access to him.

Harry still recalled how easily she had fallen prey to the Imperius Curse, how she had come out from under it without realizing what had been done to her. The way she’d looked at Harry without comprehending that the person before her was using Polyjuice Potion. It hadn’t been Harry, and she had failed to see it.

“Hold still, Mr. Potter,” she ordered as she waved her wand over him while he sat quietly on his bed, shoulders tense. “Appetite has increased?”

Harry nodded silently. “Sleep?” she prodded him.

“Nightmares,” he answered.

“Might prescribe some mild sleeping draughts,” Madam Pomfrey mused as she wrote something on her clipboard. “Weight gain is sufficient, though you’re still quite malnourished…” Harry watched as she placed another set of nutritional potions on his bedside table. He desperately wanted this to be over, for the matron to leave him alone. She wasn’t real, she didn’t belong here.

Harry felt a hand on his shoulder and recoiled, taking in the startled expression on Pomfrey’s face.

“Please don’t touch him,” said Sirius in a quiet yet firm voice as he reached out to steady Harry, and he took comfort in Sirius’s presence and protection.

You’re safe, he reminded himself once more as he drifted through the last few minutes of Madam Pomfrey’s visit. Sirius won’t let anyone harm you or take you away.

Yet it remained difficult to feel safe. Harry could only hope that he would be able to regain his ability to trust in what was real.



Ginny’s happy face was easily Harry’s favorite thing to see first thing in the morning. She always smiled brightly as soon as she entered the room with the breakfast tray and spoke in cheerful tones, even when her mother had been annoying her again.

“Morning, sleepyhead!” she sang out as she entered his bedroom with the usual tray. Harry looked up at her from the floor as he did the morning stretches Remus and Madam Pomfrey insisted upon.

“Not sleepy,” he retorted without bite.

“Your hair says different,” Ginny teased, grinning as she set the tray on the desk. Harry heaved himself upright and moved over to see what had been prepared this morning.

And if he ruffled his hair a bit more when Ginny wasn’t looking, she didn’t need to know it was completely on purpose; judging by the way her eyebrows quirked when she next looked at him, however, she knew it already.

Sirius had started eating breakfast downstairs in the kitchen, but Harry had yet to venture there himself. Truth be told, he didn’t want to.

Being in the kitchen meant anyone could walk in without warning. It also meant being in the same room as Mrs. Weasley.

He couldn’t do it. Not yet.

Settling down at the desk with Ginny, Harry dug into the spread that had been sent up, feeling a pang that Mrs. Weasley had gone out of her way to make his favorites as always. He missed her, yet each thought of her brought back the memories of being hugged when it hadn’t actually been Harry she was hugging. The hurt inside had yet to fade, and Harry didn’t know how to move past it. For all that Ron and Hermione had spent the most time with Voldemort while not seeing the truth, the heartache from the hugs Mrs. Weasley had bestowed upon the imposter somehow hurt much worse.

Voldemort had taken everything from him, and reclaiming that which had been his was difficult.

Somehow, as always seemed to happen, Ginny seemed to know what he was thinking.

“Hey,” she said softly, placing a hand on Harry’s arm. “You know there’s no pressure, Harry. You forgive when you’re ready. It’s your pain that matters the most here.”

Harry nodded, throat tight, and grasped tightly at Ginny’s hand on his arm. “Thanks,” he managed in lieu of everything he wished he could say, and settled in to eat.

He’d regained a lot of the weight he’d lost, but it was hard to tell given that everything he owned had been Dudley’s.

Blue eyes wide in fear as his parents slump dead in their seats, but powerless to do anything about his fate, and Harry laughs, high and cold as he points his wand at the last tie to the Bond of Blood charm Dumbledore had used for so long ”

“Harry?”

Refocusing on the present, Harry met Ginny’s bright brown eyes to see them filled with concern. “Are you okay?”

Harry nodded quickly and started eating again. The flashbacks hadn’t occurred too frequently at first, but over the past week, he’d found himself lost in the confused tangle of his memories more and more often. Ginny always seemed to notice when he wasn’t with her and was quick to break through to him.

She made it so much easier to be something like Harry this side of the cellar.

He wondered if it was at all possible to be the Harry from before the cellar. Somehow, he didn’t think so.

It felt as though he was having to rediscover who he was. He knew who he had been, but who he was now? It felt very much a puzzle at times.

He could remember the quick wit, the sarcasm, the laughter and even the curiosity. The laughter was there, easy enough to claim, and curiosity was returning, but the rest?

Wit and sarcasm required a full vocabulary, and Harry still didn’t have that. Or at least, not out loud, anyway.

“We’re calling them Skiving Snackboxes,” Fred explained to Harry after breakfast, showing him the prototype parcel he and George had developed.

“Sweets to make you ill enough to get out of class!” said George brightly. “Chew one end of the sweet for the effects, then, once you’re out of the classroom, chew the other end to relieve the symptoms and enjoy a class-free period!”

“We’ve had to test them on ourselves, of course,” said Fred. “Made Mum throw a wobbly when she realized our nosebleeds weren’t real a couple weeks back.”

And when don’t you manage to make your mum throw a wobbly? Harry wanted to say, but as always, the words wouldn’t come.

He just wanted to be Harry again.

He just wanted to banter and laugh and do all the things he had done before.

It ate at his insides every time he couldn’t form the words in his mind out loud, and Harry found himself suffering momentary flashes of anger because there was so much he wanted to say and share… only he couldn’t do it.

The words simply would not come no matter how hard he thought them. Each and every word he wanted to use stayed locked up because he had learned how not to refer to himself out loud, and it seemed an impossible lesson to unlearn.

Voldemort had done this to him. He hated it. He hated him.

Mostly, he hated himself for not being stronger, for failing to resist the lessons which had been imprinted in his mind, upon his very soul, and in a rare moment of solitude, the self-loathing and frustration became too much to ignore, and he found himself hurling the objects closest to him at the wall. The first, a book, hit the wall with a dull thunk before dropping to the floor, and it wasn’t good enough.

Was anything good enough?

Some objects shattered in a way that felt more satisfying, but it still wasn’t enough.

Harry wasn’t enough.

Harry wasn’t anyone. It was a name which had belonged to someone who had been real once upon a time, but it wasn’t real anymore. Nothing was real and the anger and hurt welled up such that it encompassed everything there was, objects still flying through the air, slamming and shattering against the walls, and it was all just completely out of control ”

The bedroom door slammed open, and Remus was suddenly there, catching the wrist before another object could be loosed at the nearest wall, and he was pulling the body into his arms, but it was like being trapped; fear swamped the senses and a need to struggle free arose, chest tightening ” it’s just a physical reaction ” but Remus only tightened his grip.

“Harry, please, I need you to calm down ””

“Harry isn’t real!” The words exploded free, and the pain of that name and all it had meant… it was too much.

It wasn’t real, but the rage and the hurt wouldn’t go away, and was that too much to ask? Couldn’t it be possible to just stop trying and sink back into oblivion as the end came near?

Existing was too hard. Being fractured was too hard. To be whole would be incredible, but it was never going to happen, never again ”

“Yes you are!”
Remus said in a fierce tone the likes of which hadn’t been heard before from the former professor. “Voldemort doesn’t get to take that from you, he’s never had the right!”

The desire to believe this burned deep within, but the fear and rage had yet to abate. Death had been the only feasible option in the cellar, hiding away the truth so Voldemort would never know a third option existed, and then waiting for the inevitable end to finally come.

Where was that ending? Where was death, the only outcome that should have happened already?

“That isn’t your only option, Harry.”

Ginny?

You came… You saw what was wrong… I’m trying to see… Now we know who’s real… You need to remember someone understands when you’re rescued.

Someone… she had said that in a dream near the end, or what should’ve been the end…

Ginny was real. She was real and she understood.

And Harry snapped back to himself, slumping in exhaustion in Remus’s arms, fingers curled in the front of his robes. His face felt wet, and he realized he must have been crying, yet the embarrassment couldn’t stand up to the tiredness seeping into his very bones.

Being real was so hard.

“I know,” Ginny whispered as Harry found himself sitting on his bed, leaning against Remus as Ginny enveloped his hands in hers. “The right words won’t come, will they?”

Harry shook his head. “Think so many things,” he tried to explain. “But ” never comes out right.”

“I’m certain it will with time,” said Remus. Harry shook his head.

“It was only… days of this,” he said. “Not that long, but ””

“But you also had three weeks of being stuck in his head,” Ginny cut him off gently. “Three weeks of confusing who was who.”

This was true. Harry sighed and nodded.

“You’re going to get frustrated,” said Remus. “It’s normal to feel everything you’re feeling, but this struggle to communicate isn’t going to be forever, even though you’ll carry this with you the rest of your life.”

Remus carried scars.

Ginny carried scars.

Sirius carried scars, too.

Would the scars they carried ever fade away? Still there, but holding less of an impact than when they had first been created?

The unknown future which lay ahead couldn’t give him the answers, much as Harry wished otherwise. All he could do was take things one day at a time and hope for the best.

Easier said than done, the cynical part of his mind whispered.

Shut up, he told himself. Things couldn’t stay like this forever. They just couldn’t.



“Flat enough?”

“No, just slits.”

“Are you sure you’re okay with doing this?”

“You’ve asked him that four times already,” said Sirius. “I’m certain he’s fine, Tonks.”

Tonks scowled at him, but scrunched up her face and eliminated her nose entirely, leaving behind snakelike slits.

“That feels weird,” she remarked, sounding a bit nasally compared to her usual voice. “So no hair anywhere, right? Super pale skin… ugh, the bloke’s ugly, isn’t he?”

Harry cracked a grin.

“Reckon the eyes are the hardest part,” mused Tonks as she stared at her grotesque reflection. “Completely red, yeah?”

Harry nodded. “Pupils are slits,” he added.

“Like a cat?”

“Yeah.”

“How in the bloody hell do his followers stand looking at this all the time?”

“They don’t,” said Harry. “Stare at his knees, mostly.”

Sirius and Ginny laughed as Remus hid a smile.

“He wasn’t always this ugly, anyway,” said Ginny. “Quite handsome when he was sixteen, if you could look past the whole ‘murder people’ thing, anyway.”

“We even look something alike…” Riddle’s voice echoed from two years ago in Harry’s mind.

“You didn’t fancy Riddle, did you?” asked Sirius with raised eyebrows.

Ginny snorted. “I couldn’t go more than a day without writing about Harry, to be honest,” she said, cheeks going a bit pink. “My awful crush on you,” she sighed. “He only put up with it to get what he wanted.”

Harry nodded. Riddle had been handsome, rather charismatic, even, but good looks hadn’t been able to conceal the monster within for long.

“There we are, then,” said Tonks, turning around to face them. “How do I look?”

Harry shuddered. “I think you’ve got it,” said Sirius quietly. “Now any spies we try to send into his ranks will be better prepared to face the monster in the shadows. The photograph, Remus?”

Remus made quick work of snapping a photo, and Tonks was soon back to her bubblegum pink hair and heart-shaped face.

“I can’t even begin to fathom what he must have done to himself to end up looking like that,” said Ginny.

Harry thought about all he knew.

“The worst of Dark magic would be my guess,” said Sirius. “Claimed he was immortal, didn’t he? Clearly the price was revealing the monster within.”

It’s because he mutilated his soul to anchor him to the land of the living, Harry thought. It’s because he fears death more than anything else.

But he kept his silence. When he was doing better, he’d see to it that fear be made a reality. No one was truly safe until then.



Snape confirmed what Harry already knew two weeks before term was set to resume: Voldemort wanted him back.

Wanted him dead.

The Dark wizard would do all he could to prevent the prophecy from coming to pass. Harry did wonder about the rest of the prophecy ” the part neither of them knew ” but if he didn’t know, then Voldemort had no way to find out without infiltrating the Ministry of Magic to retrieve the copy stored away in the Department of Mysteries.

Harry wasn’t about to help him figure it out any quicker. Mere days still passed between his attempts to break into his mind as it was, proving how vulnerable his mind remained in the wake of the cellar.

The attacks on his mind were… brutal, to say the least. His scar would erupt in pain as that horrible sensation of a serpent rising within struck without warning. Voldemort could see all he saw, and hear all he heard. Harry couldn’t turn off his hearing, but he could shut his eyes to prevent Voldemort from seeing where he was at that moment, focus his energy away from his memories and into the pure desire to have the intrusion end.

Voldemort’s mind had been preoccupied with attacking Dumbledore after Remus had Apparated him away from the cellar, so Harry had been able to be let in on the secret location of the Order of the Phoenix without letting Voldemort in, as well. He’d remained hidden in the shadows of Harry’s mind until he had figured out how to shut down the connection between them.

The trouble was that shutting it down, or slamming shut the door between the two of them, was a temporary measure at best. The slightest fluctuations in Harry’s emotions could weaken his ability to keep the connection shut, and he never knew when Voldemort would notice, let alone when he might try to take advantage of it again.

Fighting this battle on his own was incredibly draining. And despite the comfort and words of support offered each time, Harry truly was alone. It all came down to his ability to keep Voldemort out of his mind and the level of persistence the Dark Lord showed.

When Ginny was there, it felt easier to fight back. Harry didn’t understand what the difference was between Ginny and the others, but questioning it likely wouldn’t get him anywhere. She helped, and that was all there was to it. Not that he was about to admit this to her, or anyone else, for that matter.

Of course, Hermione noticed this after the second time she was present for an attack on his mind. Ginny had been down in the kitchen fetching a tray for the four friends when Harry’s scar had erupted in shattering pain. He knew he’d cried out, he knew someone was talking to him, but it was though he were drowning, the voices around him muffled beyond recognition.

The snake was rearing its head within his mind, overwhelming and stronger than ever before. How could Harry hope to drive him out this time?

He felt her touch before he heard her muffled voice, and he knew he couldn’t give up.

With an inner strength Harry hadn’t realized he possessed, he pushed back against the intrusion until the snake was once again quelled, locked out by the door Ginny and Sirius had made him envision that first morning in Grimmauld Place. Ginny was there when he resurfaced, and he clutched at her as she held him close. It wasn’t until he had rested and eaten, Ginny heading back downstairs with the empty tray, that Hermione said anything.

“You didn’t respond to either of us the way you did to Ginny,” she said quietly.

Harry shrugged, feeling his face warm. “She ” she helps,” he whispered softly. He really didn’t know what else to say.

There was a peculiar expression on Hermione’s face he hadn’t seen before, but she changed the subject, so Harry didn’t have to try and explain what he simply couldn’t explain:

Ginny made it so much easier for him to fight back against every intrusion. He didn’t understand why, but he had already accepted it.

Of course, this only made the reality that Ginny would be leaving with Ron, Hermione, and the twins in a few scant days to return to Hogwarts harder to ignore.

They were going back.

Without him.

It didn’t feel real. But then, Harry still struggled to remember that he was real, too. Reality had been warped beyond reason in ways that still caught him off-guard at unexpected moments. Would he ever find equilibrium?

Would he ever feel as real as he had been before the cellar?

“You will, kiddo,” Sirius promised when Harry found it in himself to express this in a way that made sense. “It took awhile for me to wake up without automatically thinking I was back in Azkaban, but eventually I got there.” His face scrunched up. “Well, most of the time,” he amended. “Being there for you certainly helped, gave me something to think about outside of my past mistakes.”

Harry nodded, wondering when he would be able to go more than two minutes without thoughts of the cellar invading his mind. He was still so fractured. Was there a light at the end of the tunnel? If there was, Harry couldn’t spot it.

He knew he was real. He knew Voldemort wanted him dead. He knew that his ability to continue forward despite the cellar was vital to his ability to regain any sense of wholeness.

Of being and truly feeling real.

“Tom didn’t shatter me,” Ginny told him one night when neither of them could sleep and instead curled up at the headboard of Harry’s bed with hot chocolate and a platter of biscuits Mrs. Weasley had made the previous morning. “Voldemort didn’t shatter you, either. We are alive against all odds, and we’re going to stay that way.”

Against all odds… it seemed a fitting description for their experiences. Ginny was still alive. Harry was real, felt more real in that quiet moment than he’d managed most of the time.

Voldemort’s plan to destroy all that Harry was had failed. Against all odds, he was alive, he was here, and he was real.

“Thanks,” he whispered.

Ginny linked her fingers with his. “Anytime,” she returned like a promise, and for that night, it was enough.
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