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It felt like a lifetime in which Harry laid there on the floor of the cell, Kreacher's severed head on one side of him and his decapitated body on the other. For such a small being, there was a devastating amount of blood. It pooled across the stones, puddles of crimson that had oozed towards him in his serpentine bindings.

Harry tried to inch further away several times, but every movement resulted in more pain, more blistering agony against his skin. The snakes would flash a brighter red, and the heightened heat wouldn't lessen until he stilled.

'Hold him… Hold him… Hold him…'

 

 

 

They continued to chorus the words in a low hiss. Harry tried to discern just how many of them there were—four? Five? It was difficult to tell, as they continually slithered around his body. They slid across his waist and shoulders, between his legs, up his back. His robes had been reduced to nothing but ashes in mere minutes, leaving him naked save for a layer of dust and charcoal.

'Hold him… Hold him… Hold him…'

His skin, though… His skin, Harry noticed with a wave of nausea, was—it was being burnt, he could feel it, it was horrible—but they were not actually harming him at all. Everywhere the snakes touched him with their fiery scales was scalding pain—but just for a moment. His blisters would heal over almost at once, leaving trails of pristine, baby-soft skin in their place. Harry's whole body was crisscrossed in tender, pink lines.

'Hold him… Hold him… Hold him…'

He tasted bile in his throat at the message that Voldemort was conveying through this monstrous act of torture:

I can burn you alive, Harry Potter… without burning you at all.

Harry shuddered.

It only made the pain worse.


When Voldemort did finally return, it was unnervingly silent.

Harry had been keeping his eyes closed the majority of the time he lay there, simply trying not to move, despite the fact that he was stuck in the middle of what was now a cold puddle of blood. Though the snakes did burn much less fiercely when he was still, they never stopped hurting him entirely. Harry had therefore begun the exercise of closing his eyes, focusing on his breathing, and…

Empty your mind.

He had never been very good at Occlumency, that was true enough, but Harry had come to the harsh conclusion in the past twenty-four hours that shielding his thoughts was a skill he simply must learn.

And if focusing on this, if practicing could help distract him from the pain, from the parseltongue mantra in his ears…

'Hold him… Hold him… Hold—'

Empty your mind.

A deep breath in, a deep breath out…

Think of nothing… Think of no one…

Harry's eyes fluttered open, and it was easy, for a moment, to imagine that he was not in a cell bathed in cursed, crimson light, but back in his dorm room, in Gryffindor tower, and the red was just the curtains pulled round his four-post bed…

He closed his eyes again…

Empty your mind.

A deep breath in, a deep breath out…

A deep breath in, a deep breath out…

He slowly opened his eyes again, and—

Voldemort.

There, just there—no angry winds, no sound of the gate opening, not even footsteps—but there he was, standing ominously still in the corner where, just two minutes ago, when Harry had last looked, there had been nothing at all—

Harry jerked violently on the ground, startled out of his self-induced meditation in an instant. The snakes around him hissed their disapproval at his action and flashed, chanting more quickly.

'Hold him, hold him, hold him—'

Voldemort's lips twitched. He took a silent step forward, moving towards his human horcrux with a fluidity that was quite reminiscent of a basilisk. For a long moment, the Dark Lord did nothing but stand there, towering over his prisoner and watching him as he gasped in pain with every tremble and twitch.

His scarlet eyes trailed over Harry's body now that it was exposed, covered in nothing but soot. It was a very controlled action, very methodical. First his face, then his neck, then his torso, then…

Harry was burning in more ways than one.

But the Dark Lord's expression remained resolutely blank, and when his eyes flickered back to Harry's, it was without any hint of emotion whatsoever. He lifted a single finger, much in the same way he had earlier, and beckoned for him to rise.

"Come."

The second Voldemort spoke, the snakes slithered across Harry's body in different directions. One around his neck, two on each of his wrists, two on his ankles, and one around his waist.

Six. There were six of them.

They gathered at these places and then pulled him up, magically forcing him to stand and face the Dark Lord. His lips twitched again when Harry failed to suppress a yelp of shock at being so unexpectedly wrenched to his feet.

Voldemort's fingers curled around his wrist, and it was so strange, that moment in which they touched, because the burning pain seemed to fade, and instead—

Harry's astonished thoughts were quickly derailed. Voldemort gave no warning before somehow, impossibly, within the manor walls… they disapparated.


The second they reappeared elsewhere, Harry was thrown to the floor.

To his great surprise, however, the landing was not horrific. His head did not collide with hard brick or concrete, but he instead fell against what was an exuberantly thick carpet.

"Stay. Be silent."

Harry wasn't sure if those parseltongue commands were meant for him or the serpents which ensnared him—probably both. The snakes ceased in their repetitious mantra, though they continued to coil around him. Harry rolled as slowly as he could to his side, taking in his surroundings which, for the first time in what felt like an eternity, were not stone walls and iron gates.

He was laying on the floor of what looked like a dining hall. It was a large and garish space, in the center of which was a long table with over a dozen chairs around it. A giant fireplace on one side illuminated the hall in a soft, golden hue. It was empty. Save for he and Lord Voldemort, there was no one else present. Harry wondered if they were still in Malfoy Manor, or if they had gone somewhere else entirely.

The Dark Lord turned away from his fallen charge and sat in the chair at the center of the table with his back to him. Harry could just barely make out the side of his snake-like face from where he lay.

He couldn't help it. He couldn't not speak.

"Wh-what are you—"

"Silence."

Voldemort spat the command without even turning to look down at him. The snake which had been circling Harry's neck tightened, constricting and burning into the delicate skin there in an unfathomable way. The rest of his question died in Harry's throat, replaced by a sharp breath that he was hardly able to let out through the pressure against his airway.

It only lasted a moment, but it was enough. Harry didn't speak again.

It was quiet for a long time. Voldemort merely sat at the table with his eyes closed, his hands folded in front of him as though in silent prayer.

And then the fireplace flickered green.

Harry's heart fluttered at the sudden shift in the atmosphere, at the way in which the room had gone from scarlet to emerald. Someone had entered the space via the Floo network, but who, Harry couldn't see from the floor…

Footsteps, murmuring, more flashes of green, more muttering… People were arriving, speaking to each other in hushed voices before sitting down in what must have been a pre-arranged seating arrangement based on the way they moved. Voldemort remained motionless with his eyes shut the entire time, like some kind of unnerving, marble statue.

Slowly, they filtered in. The Death Eaters. Harry recognized a few, as they appeared here maskless and unafraid. Dolohov. Yaxley. Bellatrix Lestrange.

And they most certainly recognized him too. Every one of them gaped in shock when they first noticed the charcoal-stained boy in the corner, the supposed Chosen One, trembling and covered in cursed serpents and smelling of burnt skin.

There were two exceptions to this. The first, of course, was Bellatrix, who had just recently seen Harry Potter and was hardly surprised that her Lord had decided to humiliate him further. In fact, she looked gleeful when her eyes landed on his, and she grinned maliciously. Harry glared back at her, but it only served to make her smile widen.

The second person to react more than momentarily shocked was Draco Malfoy.

Surely the Malfoy heir had known that Harry was being held in the dungeon beneath his own home, of that Harry was certain. But nothing could have prepared Draco for this, the sight of his teenage nemesis reduced to a shuddering pile on the floor at Lord Voldemort's feet, covered in ashes and wrapped in slithering, red serpents. He paused when they made eye contact from across the room, and even from so far away, even as the room flickered green again when more people arrived, Harry could see the color drain from Draco's face.

For Harry had just saved his life. Only days ago, Harry had decided to fly headfirst into the Fiendfyre after all, to go back for him, despite the fact that he, Crabbe and Goyle had been the cause of it all…

Draco froze, petrified. It wasn't until his father prodded him impatiently from behind that he moved, snapping out of his stupor and ripping his eyes away from the fallen Chosen One. Lucius didn't look at him.

A few moments later, and the fireplace ceased in its green flickering. The room was bathed singularly in a dull gold, all of the chairs now occupied.

The Death Eaters waited quietly for their master to speak. For a time, there was no sound other than the crackling of the flames. Harry attempted to catch Draco's eye again, to try and convey what message he wasn't even sure, but it didn't work. Though he could just make out the Malfoy heir's profile in the firelight, Draco, along with everyone else, was not looking at him. Their silent attention was fixed solely on the Dark Lord.

Finally, Voldemort opened his eyes. He lowered his hands down towards the table, his arms stretched out wide on either side of him as though in greeting.

"My most faithful followers…"

He said the words in a low and silky voice, like he was paying them all a great compliment. Bellatrix, who sat at his right-hand side, looked upon him with eyes shimmering with adoration.

"We have much to discuss tonight," Voldemort continued. He did not so much as look in Harry's direction, nor did he acknowledge him. "First and foremost, I would like to hear from you, Yaxley. I anticipate that you have made…progress?"

Yaxley, who was a few seats further away and on the opposite side of the table, stood, and even Harry could see that he was very nervous. His eyes barely met the Dark Lord's before he looked to the ground, his head already bowed in submission.

"Most unfortunately, m-my Lord, we have not yet made any discernible progress towards locating the second and third Undesirables…"

His voice trailed off feebly. Voldemort's head tilted to one side as he seemingly contemplated the cowering man before him.

"No progress," he reiterated, his tone dangerously soft. "You have made… no progress."

"Well, no, technically, we have, as we now know that—we know that they are n-not anywhere within Diagon Alley, nor are they in Godric's Hollow—"

"Did I ask where they are not?"

Voldemort's interruption was hardly above a whisper, but it rendered Yaxley silent at once. His face flushed with color.

"I… No, my Lord."

A short but very pertinent pause in which no one dared to breathe. Harry's mind was reeling in the silence—Ron and Hermione were still on the run, they were still okay…

"You have the Minister under your control, and therefore all of the power which the Ministry of Magic has to offer. You have access to all of the Snatchers and have even been granted permission to hire as many more as you like. You have free reign to do anything you deem necessary in order to accomplish this task… and yet you are unable to locate two delinquent teenagers."

Yaxley's blush deepened. He said nothing, only remained standing with his head lowered in shame.

"…I want them found. I want them brought to me alive. And I want them soon." The Dark Lord leaned forward, red eyes flashing. "Is this understood, Yaxley?"

"Y-yes, my Lord."

Quivering, he sat.

"Dolohov," Voldemort said, suddenly much more conversational as he turned his attention to the man on his left. "Your report?"

"Of course, my Lord." The portly man cleared his throat and stood. "While nearly all magical people have pledged fealty to the Ministry of Magic's new regime, we were correct in assuming that the rebellious radio show would continue. Yesterday, they aired a short broadcast in which they told listeners they did not believe Undesirable Number One to be on the run, but with Hermione Granger and Ronald Weasley, wherever they may be, continuing to work on the secret orders of Albus Dumbledore… They said they did not flee out of fear, but were forced to retreat from battle in order to complete these tasks. They spoke of hope. They told their viewers that Harry Potter is still active, still a threat, and is working against you, my Lord, even now… and that this war is by no means over."

His eyes flickered to Harry, who instantly felt his stomach drop. Lee, Fred, and George were continuing to run Potterwatch, then… And they were telling everyone that he, Harry, was still out there, fighting the good fight with his friends…

"Indeed…"

The Dark Lord sounded unsurprised; in fact, he seemed amused.

It was then that he finally shifted his focus to Harry.

"Rise," he hissed, and the snakes immediately moved to obey. They slid across Harry's body to gather around his wrists, ankles, waist and neck as they had before, pulling him upright. The Death Eaters jeered when he stood, completely exposed and vulnerable before them.

Voldemort smirked, motioning him closer with a lazy gesture. "Come."

The bindings forced Harry forward until he was at the Dark Lord's side. Voldemort rose to his feet as well, his demented smile broadening at Harry's utter humiliation. "Tell me, my loyal followers… Does Harry Potter look very threatening to you?" 

They all laughed raucously. "What say you, Bellatrix?" Voldemort asked, glancing at his deadliest lieutenant. "Has his ferocity waned since your last encounter?"

Bellatrix turned in her seat to face him fully, and Harry met her gaze with the most murderous glower he could muster. Looking completely unfazed by his glare, she let her eyes trailed down his naked body, painfully slow, spending an unnecessarily long time lingering on… certain areas.

Whatever rage Harry had bolstered within him quickly died, replaced with sheer embarrassment. Bellatrix grinned, noting the way his face flushed and relishing it. "Yes, my Lord, I would agree with you… Dear Harry's fierceness has most certainly diminished… But other aspects are significantly improved." She paused, her gaze flickering down his torso again and making Harry's face burn hotter. "I must admit, Harry-kins, I prefer this attire much better than your old school robes."

Everyone laughed, and a few even whistled jeeringly. Voldemort let it go on for a while, grinning crookedly as he did, but after a few moments he rose a hand and effectively ended their hollering.

"No…" he said slowly, "Harry Potter is no longer a threat to us or our cause… But that is not to say that he is not without his uses." Voldemort brandished his wand, and before him appeared a tightly furled scroll. He uncurled the long stretch of paper to reveal a very official-looking document, and set it on the table in front of him.

"This here is the legal paperwork detailing the ownership of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place," he said, pointing towards it with his wand. "It was left to Harry Potter upon the death of its last familial owner, his Godfather, Sirius Black. Therefore, when the property was passed on to him, Harry also inherited the servitude of the manor's house elf… Kreacher, was what it went by. He summoned the elf to him in his imprisonment earlier today, in an ill-suited attempt to escape."

The Dark Lord paused, crimson eyes gleaming when they met Harry's. "Was that a wise decision, Harry?" he asked, to which the Death Eaters all chuckled. Harry looked down, unwilling and unable to meet any of their gazes.

"Answer me."

His tenor went from lightly amused to ice-cold in an instant. Though the snakes were still uncomfortably hot, Harry felt his skin break out into goosebumps at the sound.

"…No," he finally muttered under his breath, still staring at the ground.

Voldemort's fingers were immediately around his jaw, nails digging into his skin and forcing Harry to look at him. "No, what?" he seethed, murder in his voice.

Yet even though he was beyond terrified, even though he was surrounded by Death Eaters, his face in the Dark Lord's hands… Harry wouldn't do it.

He knew what the demented wizard expected him to say, and he refused. He outright refused to call him that.

"No, Voldemort, it wasn't wise."

Everyone gasped when he said his name, and Harry thought he even heard Draco yelp from the other end of the table. Voldemort's expression contorted as, for the briefest moment, he looked like he was going to do something truly horrible, and Harry braced himself for the pain that he'd expected in his scar the moment the Dark Lord had touched him—

But then he smiled… and laughed.

The Death Eaters surrounding him looked baffled at this most unexpected of reactions, glancing at each other nervously. "Isn't he a fascinating creature?" Voldemort jeered, his voice condescending in every sense of the word. His followers laughed then as well, though it was a bit hesitant. "Such a bold thing. I will take great pleasure in breaking you to pieces, Harry Potter… but not right now. I require your body to be functioning for at least a little while longer."

He flourished the Elder Wand again and a long quill materialized in his hand. It was extraordinarily sharp, and Harry recognized it as the same kind that Umbridge had forced him to write lines with years ago.

"This document states that Harry Potter has most graciously decided to gift his inheritance of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, to Bellatrix Lestrange, the witch who should have come into ownership of the home in the first place… as Harry hardly has any use for such things anymore."

Harry gaped, so outraged that he was at a loss for words. "Harry, darling! How very thoughtful of you, dear!" Bellatrix exclaimed, holding a hand to her chest and acting as though she was deeply flattered.

"Such a generous child," Voldemort agreed. He held the quill out towards him. "Sign here, Harry."

"No," he gasped, refusing the quill. "No, I won't, I—"

"Sign."

The snakes flashed, burning and tightening around him. Harry's scar throbbed in pain, and before he knew what was happening, the binding around his right wrist had forced his arm into movement, and the quill was in his hand. A second later and he was flung across the table, bent over the parchment with his fingers hovering over the line with an 'X' before it.

"Now."

The snake around his wrist jerked his unwilling hand into action, and then, quite against his will, Harry found himself signing his name in a very inelegant, messy scrawl. The words 'Harry James Potter' were being carved into the skin on the back of his hand at the same time they were being written on the parchment, making him gasp at the stinging pain. The moment he finished, he felt a kind of cool, tingling sensation sweep up his spine, and he knew it was magically binding.

"Very good," Voldemort drawled. He tapped his wand against the document, and it instantly curled back into a scroll. The signature remained imprinted on Harry's skin, weeping with blood—probably because he had been forced into applying far more pressure than was necessary when he'd signed. He stared at the back of his hand, furious.

Harry James Potter.

I must not tell lies.

He was riddled in scars.

"Thank you so much for your…generosity," Bellatrix purred, causing his eyes to snap up to hers. She winked, and everybody chuckled in amusement.

Except Draco. Harry just managed to glimpse his ill-concealed horror and discomfort before Voldemort was speaking again.

"Now that we have that out of the way…"

With a mere flick of his wrist, Harry went flying, landing harshly back in the corner from whence he had come. There was another round of boisterous laughter, and soon the snakes had begun writhing around him again, keeping him down.

"I shall deal with you and your insubordinate nature soon, Harry, I promise you… But we have much work to do here, so I am afraid you must have patience. Do you think you can manage to remain silent and obedient for all of an hour?"

Harry glared up at him, hating him and everything about him—his smug expression, the glint in his eyes, the curl of his lips—he hated him. Bellatrix's high laughter sounded louder than everyone else's, and Harry thought of what she had done to Neville, of how the Dark Lord had orchestrated it, and before he knew it, the words were flying out of his mouth—

"You're a fucking monster… my Lord."

…Silence.

It fell in such a heavy wave that even the fire flickered at the sudden shift in the atmosphere. Voldemort's lightly amused grin vanished, replaced by a cold, emotionless mask.

"…Leave us."

Everyone ran. The fireplace, giant as it was, did not seem capable of getting them out of there quickly enough. The fastest disappeared in a flash of green, but others simply opted to bolt for the door at the end of the hall. It couldn't have been more than five seconds before they had all vanished, every last one of them. The door slammed shut of its own accord after they had gone.

Voldemort stood. The fear that had been eclipsed by Harry's sheer bull-headedness came rushing forward as the Dark Lord advanced on him, his movements slow and purposeful. He motioned for Harry to rise again, and the snakes answered his call. Voldemort didn't hesitate before grabbing his wrist and disapparating with him.

Harry couldn't help but wonder where the hell they had just been, for it to be some place where only Lord Voldemort could apparate in and out of, apparently—but it was a thought that was cut very short indeed as he was flung back onto the familiar stone floor of his cell. Kreacher's body and head, as well as the giant puddles of blood, were still there.

Then, surprisingly, Voldemort vanished the snakes. Their glowing bodies disappeared, enveloping them both in darkness. All Harry could see was piercing eyes and pale skin.

"Do you know what I could do to you, Harry?"

Voldemort kneeled down at his side, his voice deceptively… kind. Harry didn't say anything in response, nor did he move, despite the fact that he was no longer covered in animate, scorching bindings.

He reached down and, after a split second in which he hesitated, Voldemort began running his long, spidery fingers through his hair. Harry stiffened at the action, was about to pull away, when—

That inexplicable sensation of light and warmth swept across his skin, radiating from where Voldemort touched his scalp. He closed his eyes, nearly sighing, because it felt so comforting, so pleasant…

"I could pick apart your limbs so running would never be an option for you again," Voldemort whispered, almost lovingly. "I could rip out your tongue so speaking such disrespectful slurs against your master would be impossible…"

He said it all in such a tender tone that it was deeply disquieting, and Harry was sure that, were it not for the strange ripples of warmth permeating his very being at that moment, he would be horrified. And part of him was, but another part of him… most of him, was just… was just so…

"I could castrate you and leave you as less of a man than your dead house elf," he murmured, his fingers leaving Harry's hair so that they could cup his face. He held his chin lightly, propping his face up so that when his eyes opened, he was looking directly into Voldemort's.

The warmth vanished.

The Dark Lord's blank expression became twisted when he grinned, a spark of sadistic glee glinting in his eyes that made Harry instantly nauseous.

"I could force amortentia down your wretched throat, and you could see what it is like, to love a fucking monster."

Harry made a choked noise that could only be interpreted as a laugh, he was so far beyond fear at this point. Voldemort's eyes narrowed at the sound, and for some insane reason, that just made him laugh again.

"Like mother like son, I guess," Harry spat, feeling delirious from the copious amounts of adrenaline coursing through him.

Voldemort looked uncharacteristically stunned at that. Harry's lips curled into a victorious smirk at being able to garner such a reaction from the Dark Lord.

His feeling of triumph didn't last long.

"How did you know that?" Voldemort seethed, fury cutting across his features. The Elder wand was pressed against Harry's throat so quickly that he hadn't even sensed the movement.

Maybe he was just beginning to crack completely, though, because Harry suddenly felt much more daring than he should have. "Oh, I know all about you, Tom," Harry drawled, grinning. "I know all about your sorry life… About your mum, about how you were born... You said your muggle father had his use in the graveyard that day you took his bone and my blood and got yourself a sorry excuse for a new body, but the best thing your dad ever gave you was his face. You probably would have had a much harder time wrapping the students and staff of Hogwarts around your finger if you had inherited Merope Gaunt's looks."

Harry laughed, and Voldemort looked so atypically horrified that Harry couldn't help but go on. "But I guess it doesn't matter, anymore. The outside matches the inside perfectly now. You look exactly like what you really are." Harry paused, eyes gleaming.

"A monster."

Voldemort was quiet for a long moment. His thunderstruck expression slid into one of cool indifference.

Harry was hurled across the room.

His back hit the stone wall, held against it by an invisible force which pinned him there. Voldemort rose to his feet as well, as inhumanly graceful in his movements as ever.

Harry struggled but couldn't move. The fear, all of the tumultuous anxiety which had been somehow muted before in his moment of reckless bravery, came crashing down.

"Is that what you see when you look at me, Harry?" Voldemort asked silkily. He took a step towards him, and Harry found that, for all he was able to say before, now he was rendered speechless. The Dark Lord's aura of fury was pressing against him like an actual, tangible force, his eyes flashing dangerously in the dark, vibrant and scarlet.

"And now what do you see?"

Harry's glasses shattered.

He hardly closed his eyes in time; slivers of glass went flying against his face—tiny, sharp fragments that he shook away at once. The empty frames fell to the floor, and when Harry blinked his eyelids open again, it was to find that his world, which had already been obscured by the bleakness of the cell, was infinitely hazier. The Dark Lord appeared before him as a blurry, white entity with unfocused blots of red for eyes.

He came closer still. Harry's breath caught in his throat when Voldemort came closer, and closer, too close—

"Do you remember the day you fell to me, Harry? Did you do as I asked? …Do you remember the sky?"

Harry swallowed thickly, his heart racing—there was something profoundly alarming about the way he was speaking, so gently, that made his skin crawl with foreboding—

Voldemort's unclear form was so near to him now that when he inhaled, he was once more hit with the familiar scent of blood on his breath. So cold. So unnatural.

And then, even stranger still, his already distorted outline was marred even further… Tendrils of what looked like smoke, maybe…

"Do you remember the stars, how they shone in my name? Do you recall how the heavens bore my mark, how that great constellation rested above the castle like a crown?"

Only it wasn't smoke, it was shimmery, and glowing faintly… It began swirling around his pale face like an ephemeral halo of silver…

It was… it was a memory.

"A gift," Voldemort said, and then he closed the small gap between their faces, touching their foreheads together. The moment he did, Harry's mind was drenched in a powerful wave of that weightlessness, and he felt himself falling, falling…

The world became bright and clear.

Before him materialized an impossible scene. Harry saw… He saw the sky, only it was the memory through the eyes of Lord Voldemort…

And it was glorious.

Harry couldn't help but think, then, that his own vision really was dreadful. Either that, or the Dark Lord merely saw things exceptionally well—possibly both. For the sky from Voldemort's point of view was nothing short of magnificent.

The stars shone with an impossible clarity, those celestial beings that formed the constellation of a snake within a skull. The colors in the sky were a cascade of indigo and violet and the barest hint of ruby towards the east, and they were so intense, so impossibly, passionately bright through his eyes, that Harry could have sworn there were delicate hues there that he had never even seen before, colors for which there was no name…

He was stunned by the all-encompassing beauty of it. Harry was left breathless, both by the vision and by that radiating lightness that pulsed deep in his soul, and it was his, and it was Voldemort's, and it was endless and they were inseparable—

The memory faded. The warmth faded. Everything turned black.

Harry blinked, momentarily overcome after such exhilarating sensations—but the cold of the cell brought him swiftly back to the horror of his reality.

Whatever magical force that had been holding him to the wall dissipated, and Harry collapsed to the ground. He narrowed his eyes, looking on the floor for his shattered glasses, reaching his arms out, but he couldn't see them, he couldn't see anything

He heard the gate creak open. Harry's head snapped up, peering through the darkness for Voldemort's pale skin and red eyes—

But he couldn't see them. He closed his eyes, and… no difference. None at all. There was only blackness; the same, unwavering, endless sea of darkness… whether his eyes were open or not.

Horror like Harry had never known gripped at his very heart. "I-I can't see," he gasped, his voice small and fearful. There was no response.

"You've… you've b-blinded me."

A long pause. Harry knew he was there, he could just feel him, near him, could tell he was listening…

But when he spoke again, it was not from where Harry expected it to be. The Dark Lord was further away than he'd anticipated, had crossed the cell and must have been on the other side of the gate, preparing to leave him…

"Another gift," Voldemort said softly.

The gate swung shut, and Harry learned what true darkness really was.