#C a t. i n. S h a d o w s.
To begin with, the world was in shambles.
It was bound to happen sooner or later, but it happened without the presence of Harry Potter. In fact, they thought it would happen because of Harry Potter. Their miscalculation turned out to be the biggest mistake they would make.
Fudge proved him mad, the Minister did. Had reports of psychotic behavior and consorting with Death Eaters. Of course, they brought him to St. Mungo's first. That was when the fits started, when Fudge himself oversaw his interrogation in secret, because the Minister was almost positive that Potter held the key to defeating Voldemort and thereby ensuring Fudge's place in office. The Minister was no better than the lowest of the Death Eaters.
When they realized Potter had nothing to offer, they shipped him off to Azkaban. By then, society was in a steady state of decline and Voldemort had never had so many supporters. Your best friend, your mailman, the nice witch who greeted you at the local potions' shop -- any one of them could have been a Death Eater, a Dark Wizard, the worst of their kind.
As for Harry, the torture did bring some startling news to light. Accusations of psychotic tendencies the boy expressed strengthened. He made delirious claims and was sentenced to death. By then, the world needed a scapegoat and Fudge was happy to provide one.
Fudge died a day after the sentencing of a mysterious heart-related illness. And Harry Potter was buried alive, left to rot with the rest of Azkaban.
"The only alternative to sanity is lack thereof," someone had once told me. I remember puzzling that one over for a bit; it's funny how these things come back to you. But here, in the dark and delirious reaches of my cell, it's hard not to think about the matter at hand.
What matter? Sanity, of course. I wonder how much my mind degrades each and every day I spend locked inside this hellhole. My consciousness has lost count of how long I've been here, but my darker half keeps track. A year and a day. Funny numbers, those. A year and a day. It seems longer, then shorter, then longer again -- as if time is not truly constant, but stretches and flexes like some giant ubiquitous rubber band.
There hasn't been a single minute when I have not questioned myself: am I crazy? Perhaps my obsession with the given query truly proves my insanity. Maybe I am psychotic, as they say. "They" -- the people who imprisoned me here. Jailed me here.
Buried me alive.
I'm supposed to be dead; there's no question about it. Dead and gone. They haven't fed me, they haven't given me any water, they haven't allowed me light, for a year and a day.
They think me dead. They've abandoned this place -- my darker half reminds me of its name. Azkaban. They've left me here, under the strongest wards possible. At fist, I screamed for release, for freedom, for my innocence, until my throat ran raw and red with blood. I pounded the doors, the walls, swore, sobbed, pleaded, and begged. And then I stopped, never to speak an audible word again. They must have thought me dead at that point.
But I'm not. I wish I were, but I'm not. It's ironic, really -- my desire and that of my captors' is one and the same, yet fate with not grant either. It's the magic in my blood, I suppose. I've been infused with so much of it, it feeds off the power of this heap of rubble. For wizards and fouler things once trod here. Their memory remains, and upon that, my body feasts.
Now having heard this, you must think me insane. Living without sustenance, feeding off of dreams and nightmares. I wonder what I look like now. Have I grown? I was a child when they took me -- has the single year and day shaped me beyond recognition? I realize there must be changes; my hair must have lengthened to some extent, I may be taller and definitely thinner, and dirty beyond recognition. Yet what I feel goes against that logic. If I run my hand along my face, there is no trace of even stubble. There is no hair brushing against my cheeks; it still remains short, only curling a bit around my ears, like how I left it. I feel sterile. That's the best word for it. Sterile and preserved and still the same.
My darker half accuses me, of course, you should know this. Who is he? you wonder. Who is this scrap of imagination, this figment of shadow, of my embroiled brain, you ask? He is half the reason why they were able to put me in here.
No one, not even Dumbledore the all-knowing saint, believed that two souls could inhabit one body. I am a living refute for that fallacy.
If there were not two of us, who, then, keeps me alive? Who keeps track of the time, when there is no sun or any source of light to give me an idea of night and day? Who continuously tells me not to give in to death?
He has no name. He has many forms. He has been with me ever since that fateful night in Gordic's Hollow where the Dark Lord came to take me. He has remained with me, a whisper in the back of my mind, a kind voice giving advice, a warning knoll to tell when trouble comes. I have often wondered why Dumbledore lied about how I survived the Killing Curse. How many mothers have given their lives for their children in the past? And none of those children live anyway, making theirs a futile effort. A brave one, perhaps, but still futile. How could Dumbledore think me to believe such an outrageous statement? My darker half has always known the truth, that he was stirred from the depths of my soul in the last minute. We separated; he saved my life.
Again and again.
Even now he is whispering, escape, escape. Your time draws short here. You have taken almost all of the magic in this desolate place. Why do you not leave? Yet I know I will continue to cling to this pit of despair until I know the truth.
Am I crazy?
He cuddled close to himself, back against the cold gray stone, knees drawn up to his chest. His clothing was worn and his figure even more so. He was not emaciated, but every haggard breath he took spoke of exhaustion. There wasn't much left here for him to take. He knew that he would have to leave soon.
How long he stayed there in that position, in the dark confinements, even the stones could not tell. It was more than a week, less than two; the breathing grew more shallow each day, the pain starting out as a faint hum at first, but then blossoming into a fully-fledge roar in the sides of his head.
He was not alone, and that was comforting. He was not alone and his mind did not linger in the darkness. Over the past year, he had developed a mental retreat, a sanctuary in another plane, to which he could escape when the situation was beyond hope. One day, his other half feared, the mind would decide to leave the body entirely and stay in that fifth dimension forever -- maybe longer.
It was getting close. He was almost there.
Voices, eating him alive, it seemed.
"I tell you -- right here, in this very spot. His flesh left to rot and his bones left to bleach when the cell collapses over time. A damn creepy place, if you ask me."
The tone was familiar, yet deeper, and it sent torrents of hatred through his thoughts. He hadn't felt such a raw emotion in a very long time. Unbeknownst to him, the wall directly before him gave a creaking groan, as if pressure by something more than just its burden and the air.
"What was that? Did you hear it?"
The second voice, high and nervous, he'd also heard before. "Why did the Master send us to such a place?" It was positively trembling, and the person inside felt another flash of boiling rage. The wall cracked more to the stress.
"Stop jittering around, Wormtail. Honestly, I don't see why the Master keeps such a fool for a pet." The first voice dripped contempt -- he put a name to it. Malfoy. The anger rolled up his spine and funneled itself towards his surroundings. The other warned him to constrain himself.
It was already too late. Suddenly he was falling, falling back into his own reality, away from his haven, and his surroundings seemed to buckle around him. Light, searing his eyes and senses, pricked through breaks along the stonework, and dust choked his lungs. He coughed, blinked, and rubbed at his eyes. For now, it was better keeping them shut, with the brightness pounding a torn scarlet through his eyelids.
Although he could not see the two intruders with his eyes squeezed shut, he could feel their magical auras about them, recognize their magical signatures and emotions. First came shock, numbness, then fear. Terror poured from them in waves, battering at him, until he felt himself seize up --
Better to not be so emphatic then, the other reminded him wryly. Grudgingly, he toned his desire to know what was going on slip away, and the flood of messages dammed up into only a trickle. He frowned -- there. Into a state of not-knowing.
It was lucky that the other two were indeed petrified, for it bought him time to recover from his own shock. Gradually, faster than it should have, his vision recovered itself, remaining only a bit blurry at the edges, so it was like viewing the world through a puddle. It was a refreshing change, he thought wryly, to see the sun again, and the clear cerulean sky.
The little things came back to him again now, like how they'd told him that Azkaban and its immediate surroundings were always dark and overcast, how it never cleared up no matter what. Now that the prison's evil was dead and gone, gone and dead, effaced from this heap of rubble, the weather was fair.
He felt a thrill of joy for seeing that fair weather. Every breath took in the smell of the lake, the grass that was growing sparsely now amongst the wreckage, and the soft splashes made by the water washing up against the island. It brought a bubbling happiness that wiped away all traces of darkness; even the other seemed less there, more like a smudge of a shadow on a clean, white canvas.
He gave a slow, rich chuckle. He was out. He didn't care if he was crazy, he was out. He didn't know how he managed to break the incredibly strong magic put on his restraints, but he was free.
From the looks of Malfoy and Pettigrew, it seemed like they thought he was a ghost.
Malfoy was the first to recover. A snarl replaced the cowering expression on his face as he whipped out his wand. "I don't know what you are, but you're not Potter! Potter's dead, and so are you!" The words of the Killing Curse slid from his mouth; his target blinked, as if not sure what was happening, then jumped aside as the magic whizzed past him and buckled another of the walls of the destroyed prison. It fell with a crash and more choking white dust.
The target's eyes widened. "Potter," he had called him. "Potter." How long had it been since he'd been referred to by name? It had been too long. Names carry a special power of their own, and upon hearing one, the owner may do strange things. He shook his head, allowing another peal of laughter to overtake him. Damn, it felt so good to be out and to have a name again!
And Malfoy directed another curse in his way. His target jumped back again, startled, as if he didn't know why he was being attacked. But he must have, as Draco Malfoy froze when the glinting emerald eyes bored into his own. Even in the bright sunlight they seemed to glow with their own light, hypnotizing him and somehow interfering with his brain's panicked orders for his limbs to move.
"Malfoy." That single word was spat out, as if it had a particularly foul taste to it. Then the words softened, almost pleading: "Malfoy, what's my first name?"
Draco was taken aback by the question. He had expected a death threat, not a query. With equal dislike, the blonde Death Eater grated out, "you're not him. You're not Harry Potter."
Harry. He felt himself almost overcome with wonderment. My name is Harry; that is who I am. I am no longer a psychotic prisoner. My name is Harry -- how long has it been since I've been just Harry?
Too long, and never again, his other whispered. He ignored the somewhat sad admonition and turned his attention to his assailants.
Wormtail remained motionless. Whether by guilt or fear, he could not bring himself to attack the one in front of him, the one that looked so much like the best friend he betrayed, the one that had the anger of his beautiful redheaded mother radiating from his stare. And yet, there was a shade that flickered behind the clear crystalline green, suggestive of something else that lingered, deep within the confines of his character. Wormtail shuddered. He didn't pretend understand, and he didn't want to understand.
He wanted to run like hell.
Unfortunately, Malfoy and Potter were still glowering at each other. The lack of sunlight had practically bleached the color and vitality out of the prisoner's skin; it looked like marble, smooth with an unhealthy sheen to it. It contrasted sharply with the locks of ebony hair, so that both looked almost as surreal as Potter's eyes. He would be in his sixth year now, if Hogwarts still stood. He was thin, but with a lean quality now, and the muscles that should have decayed long ago were strong. He was not a boy anymore, but not a man either; it showed in the confused line his mouth was set in and his easy, cat-like grace.
Harry smiled and told his other that he missed his wand. There was a dry suggestion for him summoning it, if it hadn't already been destroyed. Further conversation was cut short as Malfoy broke their staring contest by raining spell upon spell on his adversary. Harry had to leap over the nearest piece of debris in order to avoid the barrage of attacks, spurred on by hatred, speeding his way.
Malfoy began to feel the fear licking at the edges of his stomach again. This imposter -- but he was not sure that was an imposter -- flowed on his feet, moving with a fluidity that no human his age should have. He was beginning to feel relieved that Potter's wand was still under the care of Lord Voldemort himself when he heard the two words he didn't want to hear:
It's too far, Draco thought desperately to himself. And you can't do wandless magic without going insane; everyone knows that. Then it occurred to him that Potter was put here because he was insane in the first place. Everything crumbled after that, and the words for Disapparating stumbled off his lips. In the blink of an eye, he was gone.
Peter stood in horror as Harry's head peeked over the rock, acknowledging what had just occurred, and then the Death Eater followed suit. There was no way he was going to stay and get killed.
He really hadn't expected for it to come, and his darker half laughed at that, suggesting that he didn't need it anyway. But it felt good to have it back in his hand, the conformable weight of dark wood, still gleaming despite the trials it must have gone through. Voldemort most likely used it for an infinite amount of evil purposes, but it still felt good to have it back.
The pieces were falling into place now. He would have to return to the wizarding community and catch up with the news, but the other claimed that there wasn't much left.
Funny how they locked him up in case he brought about the demise of the wizarding world, when that very action lead to its collapse. There was no end to the ironies he could find today, it seemed. A grin spread slowly to his face as the other related of his desire to see Sirius. They would be happy to know that he was alive, and grateful too, when the time came.
There was a lot he thought he would never forgive, but he forgave it all anyway. It was not in his nature to stay brooding, although he did walk the line between the real realm and that of delirium's. There was nothing left to forgive. He had what he'd unconsciously desired for so long, and that was good enough.
You've gotten softer in the last ten minutes than you have in your entire life, the other chided him, but Harry was too cheerful to care.
# [ I shouldn't be starting a second fic, when I have a first one that is in the coils of writer's block, but I did have some sort of gothic reversion over the weekend and this is the result. It's probably not going to be humor-filled or light-hearted. Really, a dark fic. And, yes, the title is kinda punnish, but I really didn't intend it to be that way. I think it's cool. This /is/ going to be fun to write and to share. So if you actually made it through that, I'd like to extend my admiration for your patience and a request to drop a review. Please review. Really, it means a lot to the author. Anyway, thanks for your time! Later, #nan --edit-- 27.7.04: repost of this in html format and some revising ]