Nothing More You Need
* * *
The banging on the door had died
down hours ago, but every now and then there'd be a small knock, and a
tentative "Harry..?" following it seconds later. Harry didn't answer; he
wasn't in the mood for their questions or their sympathetic silence. They
pitied him, and it made him feel so… useless. So weak. When they looked at him
he felt like a child, and it made him so angry that he had to walk away before
he hurt someone. He'd spent most of his time locked in Sirius' old room since
his return, voices filtering through the door every few minutes, asking him if
he was alright, if he wanted to talk, if he wanted to come down for dinner. He
ignored them for a long as he could, until it all got too much, then he'd
scream at them to leave him the fuck alone. Things usually went silent after
He generally took his dinner up to his room, but several times he'd made himself join the others down in the kitchen. He could feel the tension in the room as they all ate; feel the way they all forced themselves not to look at him, though he knew they all wanted to. Every now and then one of them would ask him to pass the salt or pepper, trying to engage him in some sort of conversation, despite the salt being easily within their reach. Harry would do so without a glance and continue with his own food until the stilted silence became too much for him to bear, and he’d stalk off up to his room once again, locking the door behind him.
He found it was the women who wanted to talk to him the most. Molly, Hermione... they wanted to sit him down and get him to open up, to let it all out. They'd touch his arm and look at him with sad, pained eyes and in those moments, he hated them. Hated them more than anything because they made him feel pathetic – like a child. Ginny, thankfully, was not as bad, and some nights he would even let her sit with him in silence, until they both fell asleep, slumped against each other on the floor. She didn't ask questions, nor did she look at him as if he were a poor defenceless animal – she just let him be, and he was grateful for that. Sometimes he wanted to kiss her, but he didn't think it would be appropriate. It would make her uncomfortable, and the last thing he wanted was to make anyone feel worse than they already did. So he just sat with her, in silence, thankful for the company.
The men were different. Ron… Sometimes Harry felt Ron was hurting even more than he was. Ron found it hard to even look at him, and Harry didn't know sometimes if he should be angry or sad or hurt. A lot of the time he was angry. Remus looked devastated, and Harry could almost see something of Dumbledore in his amber eyes. He felt distant from all of them. Cut off, almost, as if all sorts of doors had been closed. He knew it was partly his fault, but he couldn't bring himself to not hate them sometimes, and for that, he hated himself.
Even the picture of Sirius he kept in the drawer by the side of his bed seemed to look at him with a strange mix of pity and unease and Harry had come close to ripping it up several times.
He just wished there was a way to make everyone stop. Stop treating him like he was made of spun glass. Stop treading on eggshells around him all the time. He wanted to go down and help them devise battle plans and defence strategies, but every time he entered the room, an awkward silence would fall, and Molly would rush to her feet and tell Harry not to worry, that he didn't need to trouble himself with this dull business, and should go get himself a snack. He'd shout and swear until she relented, and sit and listen to plans being made, but every time anyone mentioned Voldemort or any of the Death Eaters by name, there would be an uneasy shifting in seats, and the flicker of pity-filled eyes in his direction.
Once, he'd overturned the table without even touching it and sent papers flying, scattering them messily across the floor, before standing there glaring at them for several moments and leaving the room.
"You don't have to talk about it, Harry," Remus had said to him one day, sitting on the bottom of the bed while Harry sat up the other end and looked blankly at Remus' shoulder. "But I think you're doing yourself harm by bottling it up the way you are."
Harry couldn't see how talking about it would make anything any easier. It would bring everything to the surface, and he was doing quite a good job of trying to forget it ever happened. And who else would want to hear it, anyway? Who would possibly want to sit there and listen to him tell them how he'd suffered? Would they want to hear in explicit detail just exactly how much he'd bled? How ashamed he'd felt when he'd been forced to react? No, he didn't want to talk about it, and he wished everyone would stop expecting him to.
He ate alone again that night, pushing peas around on his plate as he gazed vaguely into a darkened corner of the room. He was lonely, and he was scared of never getting back what he'd once had. He wanted Ron to look at him again… he wanted Hermione to smile. He wanted to kiss Ginny and watch her as she undressed in front of him and climbed into his bed. He stared out of the window for hours, until the pale light of early morning cracked a line across the inky black horizon and fell asleep with his back against the window frame.
* * *
His back ached against the rough stone wall, but he found it was preferable to the cold, damp stone floor. His clothes were torn and caked in sweat and dirt and parts of his ruined t-shirt had hardened with mud that had dried into the fabric. He sucked absently at the slice in his lip, tasting the familiar metallic tang of blood on his tongue as shadows filtered past the bars of his cell door. He'd grown used to the dim light now, torches flickering in their sconces just beyond the cell door, close enough to fool one into thinking they could reach out and touch it, but just far enough away to drive them mad trying. Harry had never tried.
His stomach rumbled and he wondered if there would be any food for him, today. He hadn't eaten in almost forty eight hours and he was beginning to wonder if this was finally it. If Voldemort had finally decided, after God only knew how many weeks, that it would be highly amusing to let him starve to death. Harry's pride stung at the thought, but he was too hungry, and in too much pain to dwell on it. Greyback had left ages ago… Harry knew little of time down here. It wasn't a full moon tonight, however, Harry could tell by the lack of prominent fangs, and the smell of something vaguely human about the man. And he used the term 'human' very loosely. Greyback pawed at him, bound him and spent time sniffing between his legs, under his arms and the backs of his knees. He shoved his nose into joins in the skin, creases and folds, getting snot and saliva on Harry's flesh and letting it dry there. Harry always felt dirty when Greyback left, but at least the beast had never done anything more. A comfort only until he realised that Greyback was one of the few.
He shuddered in his cell and pulled his knees closer to his chest, curling up to try and fend off the cold. He closed his eyes momentarily and opened them again when the sound of footsteps from beyond the cell bars caught his attention. He raised his head and saw Pettigrew scurrying from the stairs, holding a chipped wooden bowl in his hands. Harry's stomach rumbled as he caught the scent of some unidentifiable food, and he shifted slightly to try and disguise it. Pettigrew stopped a few feet from the bars and stood for a while, watching Harry in the gloom.
"Master says you are to eat, now," he said, and Harry could hear the snivelling apprehension in his voice. A small part of him felt vaguely smug. The first few times Pettigrew had been sent to deliver food, Harry had grabbed him by what little hair he had left and brought his head crashing repeatedly into the bars until the hair had ripped out in his hands, and he'd fallen over backwards. Pettigrew had threatened to cast all manner of nasty hexes and curses, but that's all they had remained; threats. Harry knew the rat was scared of him, and that gave him a small sense of satisfaction, in spite of everything.
Today, though, he didn't feel like moving. Not just yet. He felt tired and worn and he could feel his joints groan every time he moved. The damp dungeon air was getting to him. He watched as Pettigrew slid the bowl in through the bars and stepped back quickly, making sure he was out of arms reach before giving Harry a smirk. "The Dark Lord will be down to see you tomorrow, Potter. I suggest you get some sleep after you've finished eating."
Harry just looked at him, unblinking, saying nothing. There was a silence between them for a while, then Pettigrew turned and scurried back up the stairs and out of sight. Harry waited until he was gone, before crawling over to the bowl and bringing it to his lips. They had provided him with no spoon, but even if they had, he doubted he would have had much use for it. The soup was green and tasted like vegetables and cheese, and as he drank, droplets of it ran from the corners of his mouth and dripped off his chin.
When he finished he felt both relieved and slightly ill, but he refused to be sick. He needed this food, and the warmth that had spread pleasantly throughout his body. He could feel his body complaining, his eyelids drooping from exhaustion, and he remembered what Pettigrew had said. Pushing himself back against the wall, he leaned against the cell bars and sat in the light that the nearby torch cast against the floor. It was marginally warmer here than in the shadows, and as he closed his eyes, he could almost imagine he was sitting by the fireplace in the Gryffindor Common Room.
* * *
He'd not had a chance to mourn Moody or Kingsley properly, and he felt guilty. Everybody around him put on a brave face and he'd not heard a word from them about either of their fallen comrades. Their friends. It was like some surreal game they were all playing with him and he couldn't help but be angry at their lack of emotion. He felt sick sometimes when he thought about it, how they'd died pointlessly. Uselessly. How nothing had been accomplished by their sacrifice. War, Harry thought, was the most infuriating, random, and nonsensical thing. It felt to him as if somebody had thrown them all -- their whole world -- into a tumble drier and was occasionally opening the door to see what mess would come spilling out.
On the nights he couldn't sleep, he thought about war, and on the nights he could, he dreamt about it, too. And what made it worse was that he didn't feel he could talk to any of them anymore, not without feeling patronised. How did they expect him to fight this battle for them? How did they expect him to go up against Voldemort when the second he walked in the room, everything went deathly silent?
He stood in the hallway outside the kitchen with his ear pressed to the door. He'd been standing there for almost an hour and all he'd been able to make out was that they were talking about him. The voices were somewhat muffled through the large wooden door, and he lost a lot of what was being said, but every now and then he could make out his name and the fact that Molly wanted nothing to do with it… whatever 'it' was.
"They wouldn't let us in there," came Ginny's voice from the stairs, and Harry jumped before turning to face her. He could feel his pulse pounding in his throat from the shock and he averted his gaze until he'd got himself under control.
"What are they talking about?" he asked, finally lifting his eyes to her face, once his body had relaxed and the tension in his muscles had dissipated.
Ginny shrugged and descended the last three steps, before moving to sit herself on the bottom most one. "Dunno. You, I guess. The war. You-Know-Who." She stopped talking and looked at him for a while; Harry could feel her eyes on him, like little hot spots on his skin, burning holes into his chest. "What do you want them to be talking about?"
Harry frowned in confusion. How had she known to ask that question? He looked down at the floor again and was silent for a while, gathering his thoughts and trying to think of a decent way to word what he wanted to say. Ginny was silent with him, watching him, but giving him his space. Harry loved her for that. After a while, he walked over to the stairs and sat beside Ginny on the bottom step. "Do they ever talk about Moody? And Kingsley?" he asked, looking absently down at his hands, picking at the bit of skin peeling away from the side of his thumb nail. "I mean… like… did they cry… when they died?"
"Mum did," said Ginny quietly, and Harry felt her nod. "Dad sort of did."
"Sort of?" Harry asked, turning his head to look at her.
"You know… he had tears in his eyes, but didn't actually cry. He might have done when he was alone or something…"
"And the others?"
Ginny was quiet, and Harry felt his chest tighten, though he couldn't quite identify which emotion had caused it.
"I think they're trying to be strong. I don't think it's because they don't miss them."
Harry said nothing, just sat in silence, letting his emotions battle away in the back of his head. He wanted them to cry. He wanted them to break down and collapse under the weight of their emotions. He had a burning desire to watch it happen, and he berated himself for being so cruel. These people were his friends, yet he couldn't help but feel apart from them. He must have been shaking, because he felt Ginny's hand on his and he instinctively tensed all over. She didn't grasp at him, or squeeze him, just laid her fingers gently on the back of his hand and sat there with him in silence.
After another hour and a half, the kitchen door opened and Molly came out of the room in tears, Arthur immediately behind with his hand comfortingly on her shoulder. Harry didn't ask what was wrong, partly because he knew it was about him, and partly because he didn't care. He saw the way she suddenly stiffened when she saw him, and the way she tried to wipe at her eyes, hoping he hadn't noticed her tears. Nothing was said, nobody moved for several long moments, then Remus emerged from the room and smiled weakly at Harry. "Harry…" he began, but Harry stood up, letting Ginny's fingers slip from his hand.
"Don't worry, I'm going," he said, anger and bitterness obvious in his tone, as he turned and made his way back up the stairs. Part of him wanted to hear footsteps behind him, following him, but there were none. He felt his chest tighten again and a painful heat burning away just behind his rib cage. It felt like acid in his blood and he wanted to break something. Something big, something satisfying. He slammed the door closed and stood in the centre of the room for ages, trying to muster the energy to scream, to shout, to do… something.
Instead, he collapsed to the floor and buried his face in his hands; crushed under the weight of his own emotions.
* * *
Tears ran down Harry's cheeks, making thin, winding pathways through the mud staining Harry's skin. His body shook all over and his messy fringe clung to his sweaty forehead, damp, not due to heat, but sheer physical exhaustion. The raw iron manacles around his wrists dug cruelly into his flesh, scraping skin almost clean from bone and letting droplets of blood drip down off his knuckles and onto his bare feet.
The room was empty, save for him, Snape, Pettigrew, and Voldemort, sitting before him on a throne of twisted iron and stone, his pet snake coiled menacingly around it. Harry's breath came in deep, hurried gasps, furious puffs of air that made his chest ache with strain and effort. His knees cried out in pain, his joints complaining of having been bent in the same position for much too long. At this point, he feared he would never walk again. The heavy metal collar locked around his throat was chained to the floor and weighed down on his collarbone, digging into his skin and scraping it bloody. He wanted to collapse, to curl up and die, but on the back of the collar was another chain connected maddeningly to the ceiling. His position was fixed, he could neither stand, nor fall and every part of his body screamed for some way to make the pain disappear.
He blinked through a fresh wave of tears as the effect of the curse wore off, leaving him hanging limply in his metal noose and choking to inhale. He heard Voldemort's silent laughter, could almost feel it ripple across his bare skin, and he forced himself to look up. Those red eyes gazed hungrily at him, and Harry shuddered at the implication. He furrowed his brow and looked down at the floor, clenching his aching hands into tight fists behind his back.
"So resilient, Harry," Voldemort hissed. "A fine trait in one so young. You do impress me, boy."
Harry pursed his lips and bit back the retort that was fighting for release on the tip of his tongue. He just wished Voldemort would hurry up and do whatever it was he intended to do and be done with it. He knew he shouldn't be wishing for death, he knew he was the Wizarding World's only hope, but he couldn't help it. He was in too much pain to care. All he wanted was for it to end. The smell of rot filled his nostrils and made his head spin with nausea. He closed his eyes and felt a tear drip off the end of his nose.
He had no idea how long they'd been here, but he could feel himself going insane. He remembered Neville's parents, the way they'd been when he saw them in St. Mungos. He could understand just how it had happened, why they were the way they were. His brain felt like it was giving up, along with the rest of his body. He screwed his eyes shut tight and concentrated on counting to ten over and over again in his head to try and cling onto his sanity.
He managed to do this nearly seven times. He counted off each round of ten on his fingers, one finger for each round counted. He'd made it to eight on the sixth round before he heard it…
His whole body exploded with pain once again, worse than anything he'd felt, worse than all the previous times Voldemort had cast it, he was sure. It felt like red hot steel rods being driven into his skin, pushed through melting flesh and past failing organs to his very essence; his very core. His skin was being flayed; ripped from his bones, leaving his muscle tissue bare and unprotected to have acid dripped mercilessly onto it, one drop at a time. He screamed louder than he could ever remember screaming, his throat boiling and bleeding until he was choking and dying and all he could see in front of his eyes was red…
He wasn't sure when the spell had ended, he'd not heard the words uttered, but the next thing he was aware of was sobbing uncontrollably, straining to sit up in his restraints and feeling like he was about to be sick. His head was pounding, his body throbbed painfully in unison for some sort of relief and it was difficult to swallow. He kept his eyes to the ground and tried in vain to control himself, to take deep breaths and stop crying, but he found he couldn't. His body was overriding his willpower and all he could do was give in to it. God, he wanted to die.
He heard Voldemort push himself up from his metal throne, and make his way over to where he was bound, helpless and shaking, on the floor. He didn't move, hardly breathed; just waited for death.
"What do you want of me, Harry? What is your heart's one desire right at this moment?"
Harry said nothing. He would not beg for death. He felt long, skeletal fingers run almost affectionately through his hair and he felt shame and hatred course through his body like fire.
"Ahh, beautiful boy." Voldemort spoke softly. "I cannot give you what you do not ask for."
The fingers left his hair and he kept his eyes closed as he heard Voldemort move behind him. "I think our boy hero has had enough for tonight, Severus."
Harry's jaw clenched painfully at the mention of the man's name, but he remained perfectly still, it hurt too much to move. His legs were going numb and blood from his wrists was now drying sticky on the soles of his feet. Harry listened to the swish of robes, felt Voldemort move back to his throne, but kept his eyes closed.
"Return him to his cell, Wormtail. I grow tired of his arrogance."
Arrogance? God, what arrogance? Harry almost wanted to scream, but he couldn't; he'd screamed his throat raw and bloody and he could taste blood every time he inhaled. He didn't fight when Pettigrew released him from his chains and pulled him roughly to his feet. His knees creaked like rusty door hinges when he stood, and he whimpered as he was made to walk back down to his cell on legs that felt as if they would crumble at any moment.
"Get some sleep," was all Pettigrew had to say, before throwing Harry's clothes into the cell, and turning and making his way up the stairs.
Harry fell back against the wall and let himself slide down it, hardly noticing the feel of the rough stone scraping away the skin from his back. When he finally hit the floor, he pushed himself onto his side and used his discarded clothes as a pillow to rest his head. He would get through this, he told himself, fighting back the nausea in his gut. He would fight this and he would escape. Because he had to.
He had to.
* * *
Everyone looked up as he entered the room, silence falling once again over the crowd as they all silently tried to decide what next to say. Harry clenched his jaw, feeling the ache in the side of his face that came from doing so too many times already, and pulled up a chair at the table. Everyone looked around at each other, as if waiting for someone else to break the silence. Eventually, Harry leaned forward in his chair and crossed his arms on the tabletop in front of him. "What's our plan of action?" he asked, looking first at Remus, and then to Arthur.
Molly stood up and gave Harry a tired smile. "Harry, love, perhaps you shouldn-"
"I'm staying." It was all Harry had to say, and it was enough. Molly took a shaky breath and took her seat once more.
There was another silence, and a slight shift, and then Remus passed what looked to be a map to Harry over the table. All eyes were on him as he pulled the map closer and examined it for a while. "Where is this?" he asked, frowning, running his fingers over place names he didn't recognise.
"It's a map of the grounds surrounding Voldemort's headquarters," Remus explained. "Magically guarded, of course, not visible to the Muggle eye. It's where we found you."
Harry's back stiffened slightly, but he nodded and continued to study the map. "And what is it for?" he asked, feeling a sense of frustration wash over him. "I mean, presumably, since you've already found the place and got in, once, sitting around for hours looking at a map is waste of everyone's time?" He tried to keep his voice level, but he could hear the venom oozing out of his last words.
Everyone looked at Remus, including Harry, and he could see the patience and compassion in the man's eyes. It made him angry, though, he wasn't sure why.
"Harry," Remus began, talking softly, as if making a conscious effort to try and soothe him. "You remember your old map? The one your father, Sirius and I helped to make?"
Harry nodded, but said nothing. Of course he remembered the map. He still had it somewhere.
Remus continued. "Well, it's been a few years, and I'm not sure quite how successful it will be without the others to help, but… if I can… I'm going to try and replicate the magic we used to create your map, to do the same to the one you have in your hands, now."
Harry felt the heat rising in his cheeks at his previous angry accusation, but he looked back down at the map and nodded, again. It would be very helpful if it worked, but Remus sounded doubtful and Harry didn't want possible solutions. He wanted results. "How likely is it that you'll be able to make it work?" he asked, looking up again. "How powerful does the magic have to be?"
Remus looked slightly at a loss, and he reached out and pulled the map back across the table towards him. "I… I don't know for sure. A lot of magic was put into our map back then. It took us several years to complete it."
Harry felt his heart sink slightly.
"The one major difference with this map, however," Remus went on, "is that it has already been drawn. That part of the work is done, and that is the part that took us the longest to complete the first time. That shaves off a lot of time. The problem now, of course, is whether or not the magic will work the same, or as effectively, with only me working on it. Unfortunately, I can't predict the outcome."
The room fell silent again and everyone turned to look at Harry aghast. He hadn't even thought about it, it had just come out, but it made sense. Why shouldn't he help make the map? He could take over from his father. It would take the pressure solely off Remus' shoulder; it would increase the likelihood of success. He waited for a response for several moments, and when none came, he repeated himself. "I said I'll help… I want to help."
Remus looked a little shocked." Harry… I-"
Ginny had spoken up, and now everyone's eyes turned to fix on her. Harry couldn't help but smile and she smiled back as their eyes met across the table.
"I want to help, too," said Hermione, followed by Ron who nodded determinedly beside her.
Harry wanted to touch them, to just hold their hands or something, but he didn't move. Not yet. He wasn't ready to open himself up for anything, right now.
"Thank you for your offers of help, but I don't think I can accept them," Remus said, instantly putting a damper on the hope bubbling in Harry's chest. "There are too many things for you to be doing elsewhere. However… Harry…"
Harry looked up from the table.
"I do think I could do with your help."
Later that night, Harry passed Ron on the stairs and brushed against his arm as they crossed paths. Ron apologised and gave him a small smile. Harry watched him as he finished descending the stairs and for a split second felt the burning desire to call out to him, to ask him not to leave… but he didn't. His stomach tightened and he frowned as he stood there on the stairs, staring blankly into the empty space Ron had left behind him.
* * *
He slumped back down again the table, his arms and legs sore and trembling from strain as his chest heaved with every breath. He could feel his heart thumping behind his rib cage, feel it in his temples and in his throat. His whole body was covered in a thin sheen of sweat, and fatter droplets formed on his forehead and rolled down into his hair already damp hair. He gave another tug on his chained wrists as he heard footsteps beyond the door and growled furiously into his gag when they held him fast.
The door creaked open and a procession of Death Eaters entered the small room, standing with their backs against the walls until Harry could no longer see the brickwork. Behind them all, entered Voldemort, his red eyes almost illuminating the dimly lit scene and casting an eerie pale pink glow over Harry's moist skin. Harry grunted and struggled again, feeling his muscles burn from effort and fatigue. He had no idea how long he'd been tied here, burning hot despite the cold, damp breeze, fear and anger rushing through his blood and almost boiling it in his veins.
The cold, heavy metal around his wrists and ankles scraped against his skin and made him wince every time he moved. He could feel the blood getting sticky against his skin and it only added further discomfort to his already dire situation. He stopped moving when Voldemort stepped forward from the crowd, and glared at him, wondering if the others in the room could hear his heartbeat as loudly as he could.
"Ahh, Potter. Our most esteemed guest," Voldemort cooed softly. Harry felt sick. "What a pleasure it is to have you grace us with your presence."
Harry wanted to scream and shout at him, but the wad of cloth stuffed tightly into his mouth, and the strip of fabric securing it in place made him think better of it. His hands clenched into tight fists as he stared furiously into Voldemort's eyes, trying to ignore the dozens watching from the shadows.
He flinched when he felt a finger on his chest, right over his heart, his breathing instantly become heavier. For a moment he had no idea what to expect, he tried his best to hide any sign of fear from his eyes, but he knew he was shaking. The finger moved down his chest, one long nail scraping gently at his skin, sending shivers down Harry's spine until it stopped just below his navel. Instinctively, Harry tried to close his legs, pulling futilely on his chained ankles, but to no avail.
"Severus," Voldemort called, looking up and breaking eye contact. Harry felt his gut clench and he turned his head about the room to locate the bastard traitor. "Come here."
One robed, masked Death Eater stepped forward from the crowd and made his way over to Voldemort's side. Harry narrowed his eyes and stared hard into that mask, looking into the slitted eyes, trying to make out Snape's face behind it. Harry wasn't quite prepared for the anger and hatred that overcame him when the mask was finally removed and he could see the look in Snape's sickly, sallow face.
It was like a knife in the chest. Snape's eyes met his momentarily and Harry went out of his mind with rage and fury. He remained silent, only because he knew trying to talk was no use, but he could feel something hot and painful building in his chest and rising in his throat.
"Severus," Voldemort hissed. "My most faithful. It is clear our young guest is uncomfortable in his new surroundings."
Harry hated the falsely hospitable tone Voldemort had adopted. He'd rather have the bastard torture him than patronise him like this.
"I am giving you the honour of making him feel more at home. More… comfortable… I'm sure you can think of something."
Harry growled into the cloth and struggled again, watching Snape's eyes; the way that no emotion passed over them. Harry wanted so much to kill him; to blast a smouldering hole into the man's chest and rip out his heart. He tried to move away as Snape walked towards the table, tried to struggle and squirm off the end of it, but the chains held him in place and the hard wood table dug into his shoulder blades. He swore through the gag when he felt Snape's hand on his stomach and bucked, as if trying to knock it away, as if it wasn't attached to the man's arm. Thoughts were rushing through his head, now, what he could do, plans of escape, but all he could do was struggle and twist as the hand moved slowly down over his hip and took hold of his cock.
Harry froze. His body went completely rigid and he could feel his heart trying to climb its way up his throat and out his mouth. The back of his throat had suddenly gone very dry and he couldn't swallow. He coughed as Snape began moving his hand, and tried to sit up; his pinned arms holding his torso infuriatingly flat to the table. He tested his legs, trying to kick out, to pull free, to do… something… but he couldn't. He was trapped.
"Doesn't that feel better, Harry?" Voldemort hissed from over Snape's shoulder, and Harry grunted, narrowing his eyes and trying to ignore the sickeningly familiar sensation in his groin that meant he was actually starting to get aroused. He felt disgusted and he closed his eyes tight and turned his head, still able to feel every pair of eyes in the room watching.
He could feel his arms start to shake after a while, and he could hear the chains rattle as they did so. The feeling in his groin grew increasingly stronger, Snape's hand moving faster and faster, and nothing Harry did; no matter what disgusting, nauseating images he conjured in his mind, he found he couldn't fight it. His throat was so dry that every whimper caused him to cough and wheeze, and he could hear the sounds of amusement from around room every time he struggled to suck air down into his lungs. He felt sick and ashamed and all he could do was lie there and pray to God that it was all just some horrible hallucination brought on by lack of food and sleep.
Finally, after what felt to Harry like an eternity of humiliation, he came, his stomach clenching as he forced himself not to rock into the torturous hand. His eyes were still closed, and he had no intention of opening them. The warmth around his cock was gone almost instantly and the cool dungeon air against his rapidly softening cock stung like a million pin pricks. He coughed again and felt the corners of his eyes begin to sting. He clenched his eyes tighter to try and force the unshed tears back into their tear ducts, and concentrated on just breathing. The room was silent, save for the rustle of robes and the sound of footsteps as Snape moved away from the table.
"You see, Harry," came Voldemort's voice, suddenly, alarmingly close to Harry's ear. His eyes remained firmly shut. "This is the state of things, now. Do try not to feel too utterly wretched. I don't like my toys broken."
Harry exhaled angrily through his nose as he felt a cold finger brush against his sweaty cheek. He was not a toy, nor would he ever be. And he be damned if he'd ever be broken. He frowned and felt his arms trembling again, this time with suppressed anger and rage. If he could, he'd go for the bastard with his own bare hands.
Without opening his eyes, he heard the sound of the door opening and many footsteps gradually fading until the room was plunged once again into silence. He didn't move for a while, letting the sound of his heartbeat fill his consciousness until he felt his body relax. When he finally opened his eyes, Pettigrew was standing several feet away, watching. Harry looked at him for a while, unable to think of anything else to do. Neither moved for several moments, then Pettigrew jumped and scurried forward as if he'd just been shot in the bum. He untied the gag from Harry's mouth and tossed it aside, before picking up a small metal goblet from the floor and holding it to Harry's lips.
Harry didn't have any time to ask what it was before he was almost drowned in it. He coughed and sputtered and turned his head, then frowned. "What are you doing?!" he demanded, and Pettigrew flinched.
"Master says you are to be kept properly fed and hydrated. It's water."
Harry tried to sit up again, but gave up when the chains refused to give him any leeway. Pettigrew held the goblet to Harry's lips once more and this time Harry was able to take a sip. The water felt good as it slid down his dry throat and he gladly accepted all that was offered, until he felt he'd had enough. Pettigrew put the goblet back down on the floor and scurried away from the table. Unfortunately, it was only after he'd left the room and bolted the door behind him that Harry realised he had a question. He called out, but it was too late. Pettigrew was gone.
* * *
The three of them had been sitting at the dinner table for almost an hour before Hermione had spoken.
"How are you and Remus doing on that map?"
Harry felt a little weird having Hermione address him so casually. It hadn't happened for a while. "Oh… well… we've managed to locate all the secret passageways. There are several underground tunnels that we're almost positive Voldemort doesn't know about."
Hermione nodded and smiled, helping herself to more peas. "That's great. Have you managed to get it to show you who's inside the building, yet?"
Harry's heart sank a little and he sighed. "No…" he and Remus had worked day and night on the map for almost two weeks, now, and so far they'd only made a little progress. He wasn't sure how long something like this was supposed to take, but from the look in Remus' eyes whenever they sat down to work on it, he could see it clearly wasn't going as smoothly as he had planned. "We… uh… we're trying new spells as well as some of the ones Remus and dad and Sirius used. He's been studying the old map to see if there's anything they did then that he's missed this time."
He wasn't sure how much of this would actually interest his friends, but it felt good to be talking to them. He'd missed it rather a lot, actually. He finished the food on his plate and reached over for an extra Yorkshire pudding. "How are you doing on…" he stopped. He realised he had absolutely no idea what Ron and Hermione were working on. He hadn't spoken to them about anything for weeks, not even what they were doing to help out. He felt like a terrible friend and the back of his head started to burn slightly.
"Ron and I have mainly been helping Mrs. Weasley with making sure the house is ok. Going with Mr. Weasley to pick up papers and packages from the Ministry. He had us help read through reports, the other day. Sightings, damages… that sort of thing." She gave Harry a warm smile and Harry felt a pang of loneliness.
"Have you found anything interesting?" He wasn't sure if 'interesting' was the right word, but it seemed the only word suitable.
"Well, attacks have actually gone down since you… well…" she paused, and Harry could tell she was trying to think of a way to word her sentence without upsetting him." Since…"
"Since I was rescued?" Harry prompted, trying to sound as casual as possible, to make her feel at ease.
Hermione nodded. "Yes. Since then. Anyway, Mr. Weasley thought this was highly significant and he called an urgent meeting with the others, but we weren't allowed to be present. He didn't tell us why. Nobody did, actually."
Harry frowned a little, trying to think of any reason why the decline in attacks would seem so significant. And why it should be kept secret from him and his friends. Surely this sort of information, if it was so important, was something they should all know?
They ate the rest of their meal in relative silence, exchanging the odd snippet of conversation until Hermione yawned and politely excused herself from the table. Now Harry was left alone with Ron. Ron… whom Harry hadn't exchanged more than a handful of words with since he'd arrived back in Grimmauld Place. The silence hung in the air like a fog, Harry could almost see it, floating there, pointedly not making any noise. Harry could see the tension in Ron's shoulders, and he almost felt sorry for him. He probably would have done his friend a service if he'd just got up from the table and gone to bed, but he missed his friend. More than he'd really considered. He could have got up and walked away, but he really didn't want to. Not tonight.
He cleared his throat and looked down at the table under his folded arms. "How are you and Hermione coming along?" he asked, trying to think of a no-pressure topic to start off with.
Ron shrugged and grunted a bit. "Alright."
Silence, again. Harry bit his lip and looked up, forcing a light smile. "So, you've been helping your dad at the Ministry? Are there many people left there after the attack?"
"Yeah, there's a few."
Harry felt slightly helpless. He was floundering; he had no idea what to say. "Did you read the cartoons in the Prophet this morning?" he asked. "They're calling Voldemort 'The Dork Lord'." He grinned, and was relieved to see the faintest of smiles flicker across Ron's face.
There was another silence and Ron finally looked up. "It's good to have you back, you know." He said, uncharacteristically quietly. Harry felt something hard and painful rise in his throat and he smiled. Unable to say anything, he nodded. They sat in silence again for a while, but it felt more comfortable this time. The clock chimed midnight some time later and Ron rubbed his eyes and pushed himself up from the table. "I better get to bed, now. Dad's taking us out to the Ministry again tomorrow morning."
Harry nodded and smiled, feeling tired himself, now, too. "Yeah. I've got to be up early to help Remus with the map. I… I'll see you tomorrow, then?"
Ron nodded. "Yeah. Goodnight."
Harry gave his friend's retreating back a wave and waited a while before making his way up to his own room. He felt… odd. A strange mix of happy and profoundly alone. It had been weeks since he'd been able to hold anything resembling a conversation with them, and now he had, and he was going off to bed alone. He missed his Hogwarts days, up in the Gryffindor boys dormitory, sharing a room with friends, staying up late into to the night talking about… all sorts of things. Everything. Anything. His bedroom here felt empty and cold and void of everything he used to have back at school. He felt the tears roll down his cheeks before he'd even realised they were in his eyes. Tomorrow he would make more of an effort to talk to them, to try and get back at least some semblance of his normal life. He missed them so much.
He changed into his pyjamas, climbed into bed and closed his eyes.
* * *
He was choking. His feet were sweaty and he kept losing purchase on the stone floor. His bound hand kept scrabbling at the body behind him, grasping for something to hold on to. His lack of oxygen was far outweighing the pain in his arse as Voldemort forced his cock brutally into his body. He imagined Voldemort liked to think the fucking was going to traumatise Harry more, but right now all Harry could think about was surviving. The noose was pulled taut and every struggle seemed to make it tighter. The rough course rope scraped away at the flesh around his neck and tiny, thin bits of it broke off and stuck into his skin like splinters.
He'd been made to stand on his tiptoes for hours with the noose around his neck, pulling his spine straight, and holding his head forward at an angle. The rope was tight to begin with, and with his arms bound tightly behind his back, there was nothing he could do to escape. The only thing keeping him alive had been his trembling legs that felt now as if they would give away at any moment.
He groaned and grunted as Voldemort thrust violently into him, before pulling out slowly, rubbing hot dry skin against hot dry skin and making Harry feel like his body were on fire. Voldemort's hands on Harry's chest did nothing to help, in fact, every time the man moved forward, he pulled down on Harry's torso and made white spots appear before Harry's vision. Harry's windpipe was struggling to stay open as he coughed and fought and struggled, but he was fighting a losing battle. He could feel himself fading away and he knew that this was it. This was how he was going to die, and he felt a despair larger and more all-encompassing than he'd ever felt before in his life. He felt Voldemort come inside him after one brutal last thrust and, finally, Harry passed out
When he awoke, he was back in his cell. His clothes, now barely more than rags, thrown in a heap beside his naked body. There was a goblet of water and a bowl of soup by the bars on the far end of the room. Harry dressed quickly and swallowed, wincing in pain at the raw, bloody feeling in his throat. He reached up and felt the sticky, drying blood and scabs the noose had left behind. He could tell by the pain that it was going to take a while to heal, and he didn't particularly fancy trying to drink hot soup, right now. With a sniff, and another painful swallow, he pushed himself up against the wall and sat with his knees pulled up tight to his chest and his head buried in the crook of his arm.
* * *
They had made some progress, he and Remus. The map not only showed secret passageways and underground tunnels, but, unlike the Marauder's Map, it also told you when said passageways and tunnels had been created. Interesting, but none too helpful in the grand scheme of things. Harry was starting to lose hope, but he kept trying, simply because there didn't seem to be any other way. Remus, Harry could tell, was likewise disheartened by the whole thing, but would never admit it. He would sometimes ask Remus if there was another way to do things, something easier? Remus would go very stiff for a moment, then smile and shake his head, assuring him that if they just stuck with it, eventually, they'd figure it out.
He'd made more of an effort to speak with Ron and Hermione, sitting with them at meal times instead of taking his food up into his room, and trying to find out as much about their jobs as possible. Hermione seemed more willing to open up than Ron did, and Ron's seeming reluctance to close the distance made Harry's heart ache a little, but he was making progress, and he couldn't rush something like this.
One night, while Harry was talking with his friends in the kitchen, Molly came into the room with red eyes and asked them all to leave.
"What's wrong, mum?" Ron asked, looking concerned, but Molly simply shook her head.
"Noting, dear. Just a meeting."
"But why can't we be part of it?" Ron asked, looking around at Harry and Hermione. "We're helping in every other aspect."
Molly looked flustered and in no mood to argue. "RON!" she shouted, and all three of them jumped in shock. Molly relented. "… I'm sorry. But no, this is adults stuff."
"But we are adults," Ron insisted and Molly looked ready to blow her top again, when Harry interrupted.
"Is it about me, again?"
They all stopped. Molly looked at him as if she were about to burst into tears. "Oh, Harry, love… no… of course not." She smiled, but it seemed painfully forced. Harry's jaw clenched. He remembered what Ginny had said the last time there'd been a meeting he and his friends hadn't been allowed to go to. There was obviously something about him they were discussing that they didn't want him to know about. That made him angry. He could feel the anger rising through his body and heating up his cheeks. How dare they discuss him behind his back? And the only reason his friends weren't allowed to attend is because the adults feared they’d come to him with what they'd heard.
If there was something so serious about him that they needed to hold private meetings about it, then why the fuck wasn't he allowed to hear it?
He realised that the room had fallen silent again and that all eyes were on him. Remus came in the door behind him and cleared his throat. "We're all ready, Molly."
Molly nodded. "Alright. I'm sorry, you three, but you're going to have to go talk somewhere else for a while," she said, shooing them as tenderly as she could manage. Ron and Hermione left without another word, casting a glance at Harry on their way past. Harry stood where he was for several moments, looking at Molly accusingly, making sure she knew that he was on to them. Then he turned and glared angrily at Remus before making his way from the room.
He marched up the stairs, feet falling heavily onto each step and sending spirals of dust swirling through the air around his feet. He slammed his bedroom door behind him and slumped down onto his bed where he sat for a good fifteen minutes before there was a knock on the door.
"What?" he snapped, expected Molly or Remus' voice to filter through old decaying oak.
"Can I come in?" was the response. It was Ginny.
It was like a plug had been pulled, and all of Harry's anger seemed to drain instantly away. He let out a breath and sat back on his bed. "Yeah… sure."
The door opened and Ginny stepped into the room, closing the door behind her and leaning back against it. "I heard you come upstairs. They're having another meeting, aren't they?" she asked, moving forward towards the bed and taking a seat beside Harry.
Harry nodded and sighed.
"I saw mum crying again, last night," Ginny continued after a while, looking down at Harry's arm. "I asked her what was wrong, but all she ever tells me is that war is unfair and stupid and that she just wishes it would all end… stuff like that. I don't think that's what it is, though."
"It's something about me," Harry replied, eyes fixed on a spot on the floor. "I know it. That's why they won't tell you, in case it gets back to me. I just…" he frowned, curling his hands into fists in his lap. "I'm sick of everyone treating me like a child. Ever since I've been back all anyone has ever done is try to protect me. They've only just started letting me sit in on most meetings… and I'm sure Remus is only letting me help him so as to keep me out of everyone else's hair."
Ginny remained silent. Harry looked up at her, still frowning, feeling more angry and confused than he had for weeks. Months, even.
"I don't want this, Gin. I don't want everyone being too afraid to talk to me, or to tell me what's happening in case it upsets me. I don't want my best friends to look at me like I'm some sort of freak, or some homeless puppy that they have to feel sorry for. I don't want to have to constantly reassure people that I'm alright, simply because I'm being quiet. I want things to just go back to how they were before any of this shit ever happened."
"Do you ever want to talk about it?" Ginny asked, abruptly, and Harry stopped in his tracks. He thought about it for a while, and was a little shocked that he'd never done it before. He'd never actually even considered talking about it, and to suddenly be asked if he'd wanted to threw him slightly.
"I don't… I don't know…"
Ginny was silent again and Harry sat and thought about it some more. He thought about it for a long time, and eventually, he decided.
"I don't count it. It… it doesn't count." He said, sounding a little unsure.
"What doesn't?" Ginny asked, and Harry struggled with the words.
"What they did to me. How they…" he trailed off, then changed tack. "I've only ever been with you, before, and so that's all I've counted. What they did… it doesn't count." He hoped Ginny understood what he meant. He watched her across the bed, the way she looked at him, the faint flush to her cheeks, the redness of her lips… and he wanted her. He'd never felt so strongly about anyone in his life.
He moved closer and kissed her gently, experimentally, to see how she would react. He didn't want to scare her off or make her feel as if he was forcing himself on her. She kissed him back, just as tenderly at first, then deepened the kiss, enough to let Harry know she wanted him just as much.
They made love twice that night, and Ginny fell asleep in Harry's arms. After everything he'd been through, after all the pain he'd suffered, he still wanted to be the protector.
* * *
The scene was chaos. Spells and hexes were being fired across the room, bricks being blown from walls and doors being blasted clean off their hinges. The sound of screaming filled the air and Harry didn't know which way to turn. He backed into a wall just as something blue and hot whizzed past his face, narrowly missing his nose. He had no wand, he had no idea where he was or how to get out. He turned and made his way along the wall until he got to a doorway and turned to see what was through it. No sooner had he done so, however, than he felt the tip of a wand pressed harshly into the nape of his neck. "And just where do you think you're going, boy?" hissed Bellatrix Lestrange in his ear as she grabbed him by the wrist.
Without a wand or any other means of protection, Harry was stuck. He froze and looked around wildly for anything he could use to defend himself with. Thankfully, no sooner had he realised he was completely defenceless, Lestrange was knocked over, and as Harry turned, he saw Tonks giving him a wide grin. "Wotcher, Harry. Want to be a bit more careful."
"I have no wand," he explained, heart still pounding in his chest. Tonk's grin faded and she looks suddenly very serious.
"Oh… well... stick with me, then." She grabbed Harry's hand and pulled him through another open doorway and down a brightly lit corridor. The sound of battle rang behind them as they ran and Harry had only enough time to look back before they rounded a corner to see the door they'd just come through close behind them. He had a horrible sinking feeling in his gut. They kept running, Harry's whole body thrumming with fear and adrenaline, when Tonks let out a shriek and fell to the floor beside him, letting go of his hand. He turned back round and saw a masked, robed and armed Death Eater walking towards him, wand outstretched. Harry didn't have time to think as the jet of red light streamed towards him, just threw himself to the opposite wall and narrowly missed being hit in the face. He glanced quickly down at Tonks, who was already moving again, and made a split second decision to run for it. The Death Eater was obviously after him; if he could get them to follow him, hopefully somebody would be able to find and help Tonks before any of the others could do her any harm.
He turned and sprinted down the corridor, hearing the Death Eater behind him give chase immediately. He had no idea where he was going or what he was looking for. A door, a window, a friend… anything, he just needed to keep running until he found it. He rounded corer after corer, he was sure he was going round and round in circles. Eventually he came to a dark stone spiral staircase and stopped, unsure where to go. He heard the hurried footsteps behind him and knew he had to make a choice. He rushed up the stairs and made it all of seven feet before running into a closed and locked door. Quickly, he changed direction and started back down, but the Death Eater appeared in front of him and in his shock, Harry lost his foot and fell down the stairs, rolling and tumbling round and round the circular stairwell until he landed on the floor, sprawled and barely conscious.
He tried to move, but his limbs didn't want to obey. He could hear the footsteps on the stairwell getting closer and he let out a sob. This was it. This was finally the end of him. He'd been so close to escaping - the Order was just upstairs… God, he couldn't let them have come here in vain. Once again he tried to get up, but his back spasmed in pain, and he collapsed.
The Death Eater flew out of the stairwell and came to stand over him, wand pointed squarely between his eyes. "Oh for Merlin's sake, Potter," said the voice, and Harry recognised it as Snape's. He was infused with such an intense, burning hatred that it made him feel sick, and it was the last thing he knew before his vision filled with bright blue light, then faded to black.
* * *
Harry screwed his eyes shut even tighter, then opened them all at once. He didn't recognise his surroundings at first. The bed was comfortable and smelled faintly of damp and mothballs. The walls were not stone and there were no bars. The light seemed to be coming from several lamps dotted about the room, and there were no flame torches burning on the walls.
He blinked several times and moved the covers off his head. A sound from the corner made him jump and he sat up quickly in the bed and turned to face it.
"Harry? You're awake."
Harry was confused. That was Remus' voice, but… why? Where was he? How had he got here?
Remus stood up and walked towards Harry, a small smile on his friendly face. "You've been asleep for nearly four days. We were wondering if you'd ever wake up. How do you feel?"
Harry reached up and rubbed his eyes, looking around for his glasses.
"They're on the cabinet," Remus said and Harry reached for them and put them on.
"Is this… are we at… Grimmauld Place?" Harry asked, confused, still looking around. Something about it seemed familiar, but he was so disorientated.
"Yes, Harry," Remus nodded, "We brought you back here after we found you. Someone, we don't know who, carried you to safety during the fight. Like I said, you've been sleeping for almost four days."
Harry sat up and frowned at the floor for a while. The last thing he remembered was lying on the floor in the dungeons, knowing he was about to die. He remembered Snape's voice and his body filled with anger once again. "Snape. What about him? He was chasing me. I… fell down the stairs."
"Snape?" Remus sounded confused. "I don't remember seeing Snape."
There was a silence for a while, and Harry shifted uncomfortable in the bed. Eventually, the door opened and Molly Weasley walked into the room.
"Is everything alright, Remus, I thought I heard…"
She stopped when she saw Harry and her eyes filled with tears. "Oh… oh, Harry." She walked over to him and went to hug him, then stopped and brushed a lock of messy hair from Harry's forehead. "I'm so sorry, Harry." She said, eyes brimming, and Harry wanted to ask her what she was sorry for.
He looked between the two of them, Molly's shimmering eyes, awash with unshed tears, and Remus' stoic compassion, and it occurred to him… they must know. Somehow, they'd found out.
He suddenly felt very ill. He got up and ran to the toilet, throwing up the lid before being violently sick into the pan. They knew. Oh God, they knew. Nobody had ever been supposed to know. He'd made a vow that if he escaped, he would carry the secret with him to his grave. But they knew… they knew…
He'd screamed and shouted and refused to see anybody for days after he'd first woken. He'd thrown things and smashed windows and been sick several more times before falling asleep again, exhausted, at about half past three every morning.
He felt disgusted with himself. He felt dirty and wrong and unclean. He felt he didn't deserve to have anybody talk to him, and other times he felt angry that they wouldn't. Hermione would look at him sadly, like Molly, try and force him to talk, but he didn't want to talk to them. They were only doing it for their own wellbeing and peace of mind, anyway. It had nothing to do with him.
Ron… Ron wouldn't even look at him. Harry was torn between hating him and wanting to beg his friend not to hate him. But he couldn't blame him. Who would want to look at him, anyway, after what he'd been through? Who would want to deal with that kind of baggage? He felt useless and worthless and pathetic.
It was only Ginny who would treat him like a normal human being, and he loved her so much for giving him that. For letting him keep that one scrap of dignity.
Sometimes at night, he would find himself wishing he was still back in his cell. At least then he didn't have to face what was missing.
* * *
One question. Just one question kept playing on Harry's mind. Kept repeating like a scratched record.
Why was he still alive? He'd lost count of how long he'd been here, but it felt like an age. They'd hurt him, they'd humiliated him, but they'd kept him alive through all of it. He kept meaning to ask Pettigrew why they hadn't killed him, what it was they were hoping to achieve by letting him live, but he kept forgetting.
He was currently sitting in his cell, legs apart and sprawled on the floor, with his back propped up against the wall. He was drifting between asleep and awake, the steady dripping on… something, keeping a hypnotic rhythm that had his eyelids drooping.
He didn’t understand. He ran the prophesy through in his head several times, repeated the one line -- and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives – plagued him into the early hours and made him feel like he was going crazy. He tried to think of all the things Voldemort might have planned, but none of them made any sense. None of them made it logical for him to still be breathing.
Several times since he'd been here, he thought his time had come. Several times he'd closed his eyes, expecting it to be the last time. But death just never came.
He finally closed his eyes, lulled into fitful slumber by the continuous drip drip dip…
* * *
He couldn't stand it anymore. He forced Remus into a corner, throwing a vase that narrowly missed the elder man's shoulder. "TELL ME!" he demanded, face bright red, heart beating a fierce rhythm against his ribs.
Harry could see that Remus was cracking, he'd been shouting at him for almost two hours, refusing the let him leave the room. He advanced and grabbed Remus by the lapel, pulling him away from the wall before slamming him back into it again with all the force he could muster. "Tell me, PLEASE!" He screamed, pleading, now, voice hoarse and broken. "I'm going insane. I can't take it anymore, please tell me."
Remus' own eyes filled with tears and Harry momentarily forgot himself. He'd never seen Remus cry. "Harry… please don't…" he whispered, but Harry would not be stopped. He'd taken enough of it.
"Tell me, Remus. Tell me or I'll get it out of somebody else, I swear to God. You owe me this much! After everything I went through, you OWE me this much!!"
"I can't…" Remus was breaking, and it both satisfied and horrified Harry. He could feel the magic and the power in the room all but buzzing around him and he felt dizzy.
"You can. You have to. Please, Remus… you don't understand what this is doing to me. I'm going crazy… please. Please."
Harry slammed Remus against the wall again and screamed. "TELL ME!!"
Remus screamed back "YOU'RE A HORCRUX, HARRY!"
… and everything stopped.
Time melted away, and after what could very well have been months, Harry finally let Remus go.
"Harry…" Remus began, but Harry interrupted.
"Why didn't you tell me?" he said, voice so low as to be barely audible.
"You were never meant to know… we've been looking so hard, Harry… for months… trying to find another way. That's what our meetings were about. That's why you couldn't be there."
Harry's whole body felt painfully numb. He looked down at the floor, then out the window into the dark street. "That's why Voldemort kept me alive? That's why he didn't want to you rescue me? He knew that you knew?"
"So…" Harry swallowed thickly and felt the corners of his eyes start to burn all over again. "What happens, now?"
"We're going to keep looking for another way. I'm positive one exists, Harry… but it's going to take some time."
"And if there isn't one? If you don't find one? If you keep looking and looking and you come up with nothing? How long do you keep looking before you decide to call it a night?" Harry didn't know whether he was angry or desperately afraid.
"We'll keep looking for as long as it takes," Remus said firmly, moving forward to place his hands on Harry's shoulders. "Harry, we're not losing you."
Harry dined alone again that night and told nothing of the conversation to his friends. He wasn't sure what to do with the information… where to go with it. There were several more secret meetings, that he was still not allowed to attend, but now the one thing pressing on his mind was how futile it seemed. How long could they go on looking? If Harry survived, Voldemort survived, and there was only so long they could keep going without finding any answers before an end had to be reached.
Harry gave them three months; he made a pact with himself, despite being sick every time he thought about it. Three months to come up with an answer; three months to absolve him of all responsibility. He wanted so desperately for them to find the answer, but with every day that went by, he became more and more prepared for what he knew he had to do.
He really did have a saving people thing.
* * *
I don't really know how to go about writing this. I've tried seven times, already. I was going to write you all individual letters, but I don't have time, anymore. I wish I did. I'm writing this from Godric's Hollow Cemetery… I just feel it makes more sense to do it here. God, this is hard.
First of all, I love you. All of you. Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Fred, George, Bill, Charlie, Percy, Molly, Arthur, Remus, Tonks… all of you. More than you'll ever know. You were my family… the one I chose, and I would never trade any of you for the world. You will always mean more to me than anything ever has or ever will, and I want you all to remember that. You gave me the best years of my life, you stood by me through everything, and there were times when I was angry at you, or rude, or inconsiderate, and I want to apologise for everything I ever did that upset or hurt you. I love you.
I love you!
Secondly, importantly, I want you to know that this was my choice. I made it freely, and I don't want any of you to feel guilty. I know how hard you were looking for another way, but there is only so long you can wait. If you had just kept looking, nothing would have ever ended. The war would still be raging years from now, until I died of old age. More people would die, more Death Eaters would rise up. This is not about personal feelings, this is about the survival of our world. I'm doing this for you and for everyone. Because I want to.
God… this is hard. I know I've already said that, but it is. I keep folding the paper and unfolding it again. By the time you get this, you can act. Don't leave it any longer than you have to. The other Horcruxes are gone… there's nothing more you need to wait for. Please, if for nothing else, then for me, don't waste any more time than you already have.
I feel as if I haven't said enough, but I can't think of anything more to say. I love you so much. Every one of you. I wish there was another way, but we all know there isn't. I would give anything to have been able to say goodbye face to face, but I think that would have made this harder than it already is. God… I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.
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