It had been a week since school had finished for the year, and being back on Privet Drive still felt like it wasn't quite solid or tangible. Harry just wished to hell she could sleep.
Every day spent cleaning the house and working in the yard felt like it was happening to someone else, like she was watching her body go through the motions from about three feet back and couldn't find it in herself to care much about anything. Whenever she was back here it was always hard to work out if it felt like her life in the magical world was the real one, or if this was real and her time at Hogwarts was all some kind of fantastical dream thought up by a lonely orphan.
It had been ten days since Sirius had died.
It felt significant somehow that by now it had been ten days, that the aching hole in her chest was no longer measured out in single digits. Ten days of cloying, never-ending sympathy and news headlines and whispers in the corridor, followed by sitting on a train full of even more whispers and unwanted sympathy and then finally, the blessed anonymity of white collar suburban Britain.
She never expected that there would come a day that the Dursley's patented mix of passive-aggression and actual aggression at the fact she continued to draw breath would actually be a relief. That being treated like nothing remotely special and worked every second of the day so she had no time to get lost in her own head would be preferable to the alternative.
She really was barely sleeping, so even though her skin was starting to get the sun-kissed golden-brown tan she got from any kind of sun stronger than what could brave the Scottish highlands, the bags under her eyes meant she still just looked ill. Her by now waist length unruly black hair, which she'd been growing out on Parvati's advice ever since third year in order to try and 'weigh down the curls', had become greasy and matted in the lazy plait she hadn't bothered washing or even brushing out since she arrived back from Hogwarts.
In short, she looked a mess.
Her lack of concern for her appearance was clearly bothering Aunt Petunia too, like that delightfully pinched sort of look she got on her face when Mrs. Number Six's daughter came home on the weekends from university for Sunday dinner with blue hair and ripped jeans. Like it offended her and her tasteful nailpolish (refreshed during her standing weekly salon appointment every Tuesday) and tacky pearls (inherited from Vernon's spinster aunt in her will) and her outdated middle class pretensions leftover from the 50s (which she hadn't even lived through, go figure). It was clear that she really wanted to do something about it, but didn't at the same time because then that would mean she was remotely invested in Harry at all, which she refused to be on principle.
So Harry did all her chores without complaint, feeling hollow and empty but still gaining some perverse enjoyment from wearing shorts that showed off her increasingly unshaven legs. It was like the Cold War of feminine hygiene, and she couldn't wait until Petunia went nuclear. It couldn't be more than a couple days away by Harry's estimate before she would accost her with a safety razor and snipe that she wasn't raised to act like some kind of wild animal or feminist, heaven forbid, and it was sure to be hilarious.
Or at least it would be if she made it that far without snapping herself. She was no stranger to nightmares and insomnia, a shitty upbringing and being repeatedly targeted for mayhem and death by madmen since you were eleven would do that to a girl, but this was a new low even by her admittedly appalling standards. Between staring blankly at the wall until the wee hours every night and then being woken up at 6am every morning to cook breakfast, she was running dangerously close to empty and she knew it.
When she finally fell properly asleep around 2am that night, apparently just exhausted enough to fall unconscious, she was surprised to find herself in a library. It wasn't a library she recognised but it still somehow felt very familiar despite it's opulence. It was a massive, stately room with complicated wall sconces and high ceilings and neatly stacked shelves all the way up, with those funny little ladders on wheels they always had in the movies. She seemed to be standing in an open area near one end, facing a large, cozy looking fireplace with a single leather armchair and a coffee table placed neatly in front of it on a pretty green rug.
She was just about to explore some more when she heard a sudden voice coming from behind her.
She knew that voice.
Her veins turned to ice, and she spun around to see none other than Lord Voldemort himself sitting behind an antique mahogany desk in the corner opposite the fireplace, wearing a well tailored black suit with a black open-front robe over top and apparently going through a pile of what appeared to be paperwork of all things. It took her a split second to recognise him, he seemed to be looking more like an older, maybe late 30s version of the handsome Tom Riddle from the diary in her second year than the snake faced monstrosity she'd faced a week and a half ago. His eyes were still the same burning red though, and he seemed to be caught in what must be a rare state of shock.
"Voldemort?" She blurted out, apparently just as caught off guard as he was.
"What on earth are you doing here Potter?" He demanded.
"Well then." She said awkwardly, giving her arm a sharp pinch. "This isn't the first dream with you in it, but it's certainly the weirdest so far."
He raised an eyebrow. "You think you are dreaming about me? Does that happen often?"
"Sometimes." She replied to this odd dream-Voldemort, coming over and jumping up to sit on the edge of his big desk just to annoy him. "Normally just the nightmares, you've given me rather a lot of fuel for them over the years you know. Though they're not as bad as the other ones, when I am you."
He stared at her incredulously.
"You dream that you are me?" He asked slowly.
"Yeah, that or I'm Nagini, and they're always awful. They make my scar bleed too, which is never fun to wake up to let me tell you."
His eyes narrowed. "Your scar bleeds? Does it do that a lot?"
"Not too often." She shrugged, wondering why she was talking more now than she had all week but figuring it couldn't hurt any since it was just her subconscious. "It hurts sometimes though, especially when you're around or touching me. The actual you that is, not this weird human version of you I'm dreaming up. I wonder why I am though, it's all a bit strange really but then again I've been so sleep deprived lately pretty much anything was possible. It could have been Snape and McGonagall doing a tango or something, so really this is probably me getting off easy."
"Potter." He said, actually sounding amused. "You are not dreaming me."
She shook her head dismissively, kicking her bare feet lazily. "Nah, because that would mean you're actually here and not trying to kill me, and that would never happen."
He sighed the sigh of the long-suffering, pinching the bridge of his nose as if he had a headache. "You can't actually kill someone in a dream, it would be pointless for me to even try."
She frowned at him. "But, that would mean you're really in my dream."
"Technically you are in mine." He said conversationally, sitting forward to lean on his folded hands while studying her closely like she was a particularly disgusting type of insect. "I frequently meditate so that I can lucid dream. My lucid dreams take place here, in this library I constructed in my mind palace so I may access any relevant information I need. I have no idea how you ended up in here though."
She froze, slowly starting to wonder if perhaps he was telling the truth, and that she really was sitting brazenly on Voldemort's big, important desk with messy hair that hadn't been brushed in a week and wearing her pink floral nightie from Oxfam that was two sizes two big and falling off one shoulder.
"Oh." She said weakly. "Um, oops?"
He raised an eyebrow. "Indeed."
They were both silent for an increasingly awkward minute.
"Er, are you going to try and hurt me now?" She eventually asked, still sitting on the desk as if any sudden movement on her part would make him strike like one of Aunt Marge's bulldogs.
"Hmm, I don't think so." He said absently, head cocked to the side. "That is, unless you want me to?"
"Of course not!" She squealed, folding her arms primly across her chest and blushing furiously. "Why on earth would I want that?"
"Considering your apparent deathwish ever since we renewed our acquaintance in your first year at Hogwarts?" He smirked. "If your habit of running headfirst into every dangerous situation you can find is anything to go by, such predilections would not be entirely out of the realm of possibility."
She gaped. Was Voldemort teasing her? "Even if I did have any 'predilections', which I most certainly do not thank you very much, why on earth would I want you to have anything to do with them?"
He smiled briefly, flashing sharp looking white teeth. "Why me indeed Miss Potter? You are the one who barged into my dream unannounced after all, thinking of me were you?"
"It's a bit hard not thinking about the psycho who's out to kill you." She huffed, still very red in the face and refusing to meet his eyes.
"Now there is no need to be rude." He scolded. "Though I am curious to know about the other times you have dreamt of me. I know you have visions from time to time, but I was unaware that during them you saw through my eyes."
"Why would I tell you anything?" She snarled. "I can't trust you as far as I can throw you!"
"Well correct me if I am wrong, but I assume you don't actually enjoy these dreams? If so, it would be in both our best interests if they stopped happening altogether. Surely you can trust that I want my sleeping mind to be separate from yours as much as you do?"
She bit her lip. He had a point there. "Well, what exactly did you want to know?"
"You were receiving training in Occlumency with Severus over the last year, correct? How did that go?"
She didn't like having to admit it, wondering briefly if she was giving out sensitive information, but in the end she begrudgingly nodded. "Yes. I was rubbish at it though, he was an awful teacher."
Voldemort smirked. "He is an incredibly powerful practitioner of the Mind Arts it's true, but he is not one to suffer fools is he?"
"No. He hates me because of my father too, which didn't help matters. The lessons ended when I saw some of his memories in his Pensieve, and he kicked me out."
The Dark Lord raised his eyebrows. "Severus is an incredibly private person, what on earth did you expect would come of a such an act?"
"I didn't expect that he'd catch me!" She replied hotly, not sure if she was more annoyed at him or herself. "I was looking for proof that he was spying for you!"
"Typical Gryffindor." He sneered. "Always rushing in without thinking things through properly."
"Typical Slytherin." She shot back. "Lying and keeping secrets and blaming everyone else for his problems."
They both glared at each other, clearly at an impasse, and he eventually clenched his jaw in irritation before pressing on.
"What happens in the dreams exactly? And how long have you been having them?"
She bit her lip, still not wanting to tell him anything potentially important but really, really wanting a solution to the shared dreams no matter where it came from. "Off and on since the summer before the start of my fourth year, and it happens more when you're feeling especially murderous or Crucio-happy. I'm seeing through your eyes, or sometimes Nagini's. And I'm not me, I'm thinking and feeling whatever you are. One of the worst was when you sent Nagini into the Department of Mysteries after the prophecy and she attacked Mr Weasley. I can still remember how hot his blood tasted, the feel of him in my mouth as I bit him. I woke up screaming, my scar feeling like it was on fire, and it took two showers to get all the blood out of my hair."
Voldemort was starting to look more and more disturbed. Harry started to feel even more apprehensive, not knowing what would make Voldemort look worried but knowing she wasn't going to like it whatever it was.
"Do you get flashes of emotions sometimes, even when you are awake?" He asked quietly. "Emotions that there is no explanation for, or cause that you can detect?"
She nodded emphatically. "Yes! All last year especially, I've been getting so angry. I've got a bit of a temper if provoked yes but I'm not actually a particularly angry person, but out of nowhere I'd suddenly be so furious that I wanted to slap someone. Madam Pomfrey said it was just hormones, but it sure as hell didn't feel like it. I live in a dormitory with three other teenage girls, and they might get weepy or mean sometimes, but never so bad that they nearly hurt someone over nothing."
Voldemort's eyes narrowed. "No, I expect they don't."
"Do you know what it is then?" She asked, arms still crossed defensively over her chest.
He ran a hand through his dark, wavy hair, clearly lost in thought. "I have a few ideas, none of which are particularly reassuring."
She sighed dramatically. "Well, pick the worst possible option then. Knowing my luck that's probably what it is."
He stood up, slowly walking around the desk towards her. "Tell me Miss Potter, have you ever heard of something called a horcrux?"
She blinked, feeling more and more nervous the closer he came but refusing to let it show. "I haven't, no. What's a horcrux?"
"A horcrux." He said, standing directly in front of her now and staring down at her intently with the sinister air of one who has just experienced revelation. "A horcrux is an object in which is hidden a piece of someone's soul. A soul can be split through murder and Dark magic, but by the laws of magic it is still considered to be one complete thing. Therefore, as long as the soul piece in a horcrux is intact, the rest of the soul cannot pass into the afterlife, making the owner of the soul immortal."
Her jaw dropped, and she felt cold dread trickling down her spine into her stomach. "That's why you didn't die." She breathed. "You had a horcrux."
"Horcruxes." He said with a smile that was all teeth. "Plural. My body was destroyed as well you know, but as my soul remained anchored to this world I couldn't die."
He kept staring at her, unblinking, and all of a sudden the cold dread hardened into ice. "No." She whispered, hands clenching the edge of the desk until her knuckles were white as what he was saying began to sink in.
"Yes." He said softly, running a fingertip ever so lightly along her frantically tingling scar.
"You're lying!" She said, shaking and absolutely refusing to give him the satisfaction of seeing her cry.
He shook his head, still stroking her scar with terrible gentleness. "It appears that you, Miss Harriet Lily Potter, are a horcrux. My horcrux. It was all quite unintentional I assure you. I knew from your visions and from when I attempted to possess you that something was not as it seemed, but never in a million years would I have imagined this."
She smacked his hand away, hating the strange warmth that radiated from his touch. "Can people even be horcruxes?"
He hummed, resuming petting her like she was his blasted pet snake and she just couldn't bring herself to move even an inch. "Apparently so, though I have never heard of such a case. You truly are unique."
"Why are you telling me this?" She cried desperately, wanting it to be a trick. "Surely you know I'll just go straight to Dumbledore?"
He grinned like a cat, lazy and mean. "Haven't you worked it out yet? Dumbledore wants to kill me, but I cannot be killed with any kind of permanence until all of my horcruxes are destroyed. That means, I cannot die. Until you do. Telling him would just paint an irresistible target on your back for your allies to stab you in. And you know some of them would too, if it was for the greater good. Not to mention that I can tell you feel far too ashamed to tell any of your friends, because you are scared they will start to look at you like you are a monster just like me." He leaned in close to whisper in her ear. "So no, I don't think you will be telling anyone Miss Potter. I don't think you will tell anyone at all."
She sat up in her tiny bed with a cry, breathing like she'd just ran a marathon and her scar still burning from his touch.
A horcrux. She was a fucking horcrux.
Resisting the urge to laugh hysterically, she curled up under the thin blanket and tried to muffle her tears in her pillow so she wouldn't wake her relatives. Because it turned out they'd been right all along, she was indeed a freak. A freak who had part of Voldemort's soul inside her, the man who was responsible for the death of her parents and Cedric and Sirius and so many other people. Who had to be stopped at any cost, and whether she liked it or not apparently part of that cost was going to be her life.
Harry curled up tighter and cried and cried and cried.
She didn't get any more sleep that night.