The Sugar Quill
Author: Sanction (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Phoenix and the Serpent  Chapter: Chapter Four: In Memories
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The Phoenix and the Serpent


The Phoenix and the Serpent


The entire Harry Potter universe belongs to J. K. Rowling. Any original characters belong to the author and may not be used without permission.


    Chapter IV : In Memories

Things had not gone any easier for Harry that summer after Fourth Year.

It was not as if things had changed in Number 4 Privet Drive, at least, not on the surface. His foster family the Dursleys were still every bit as nasty to him, Dudley every bit as fat, if not more so. They still made Harry do all the cleaning and the cooking and he still had to endure their caustic remarks. They never dared touched him, though. Especially not Dudley, who still smarted from the memory of a pig’s tail sticking out of his bottom and the weight of an engorged tongue hanging from his mouth. So they left him well enough alone. As for Harry, he could still look forward to August, when he was scheduled to go to the Burrow and be with Ron and Hermione once more.

It wasn’t the Dursleys that made his life difficult—it was his own thoughts. Memories of last school year’s events often came drifting back to him, especially thoughts of Cedric. It seemed that the solitude he was given allowed bad memories to fester. They haunted him most in bed, in those odd moments between waking and sleeping. While he sometimes felt like talking to someone about them, he thought better of worrying either his friends or Sirius with his own depression.

“I can get through this,” he thought to himself one night as he lay in his little bed. “I’ve gone through worse.” He pulled the covers to his chin and tried to sleep.

That night he had a dream.

He dreamt he was back at Hogwarts, in the middle of a Quidditch tournament. The Chasers of Slytherin and Gryffindor streaked below him, the Quaffle nothing more than a red blur as it was passed from one player to the next. A flash of gold suddenly caught his eye, and in a heartbeat he was racing on his Firebolt straight down at the Snitch that was hovering a foot above the grass. One twist of the broom, one swipe of his hand, and the game was over—Gryffindor had won the last match of the season.

Harry drifted down onto the pitch as his teammates swarmed around him, cheering loudly and slapping one another’s backs. Soon the crowd joined in, and Harry found himself in the midst of an excited mob. Before he knew it he was raised onto the shoulders of the Weasley twins and the Quidditch Cup passed into his hands. Grinning broadly, heartbeat thudding in his head, he lifted it high as the crowd around him chanted, “Harry! Harry! Harry!”

It seemed to go on forever. He had never felt happier, never more alive. Then he spied something from the corner of his eye.

Turning, he saw that the Hufflepuff team had gathered in one corner of the field. They stood in solemn, motionless rows, brooms clutched in hand. The line of players was broken by a gap in the middle. When Harry saw this gap he abruptly fell silent. And When the Ravenclaw seeker, Cho Chang, walked onto the pitch, he felt a cold twist in his stomach.

Cho was dressed in battered and muddied Quidditch attire, carrying her broom in one hand. She approached the Hufflepuff team and spoke with them. Harry could not make out what she said, but the team nodded in understanding. When Cho handed them the broom in her hand, Harry finally understood—the broom was not hers, but Cedric’s.

It was no longer even a broom, Harry realized, but a coffin. Without a word, four Hufflepuffs hefted it onto their shoulders. Then, led by Cho, they all began to file out of the pitch in a funeral march.

Riveted, Harry watched the whole line of them go. Without thinking, he let go of the Cup, pushed himself off the Weasley twins’ shoulders, and began shoving his way through the mob. He had to join them, just had to. He owed it to Cho and to Cedric. But the crowd surged around him, ruffling his hair, slapping his back, getting in his way. He fought his way to the edge of them, calling out to the passing team.

Cho turned to look at him. He had never seen her so beautiful and yet so distant. All the life and sweetness that had once drawn him to her had been bled from her features—Her face was wan and gray, her black brows etched over fathomless eyes. She said nothing; that blank look conveyed all that needed to be said. She left him to the crowd and the Hufflepuffs followed.

That was when Harry woke. The night was still and deep, yet despite the cold air he found himself drenched with sweat.

He sat up slowly and covered his face with his hands. At that moment he knew he could not face the Hufflepuffs out on the pitch. Neither could he face Cho. It was not fair: they had both lost Cedric and he was partly to blame. Why should he get to fly through the air while Cedric lay beneath the dirt?

It took all of two days’ brooding before he decided that he was not going to play Quidditch that year, and probably not ever. It would be his penance. It did not seem like much, but it was something.

All that was left to do was tell them—McGonagall, his teammates, Ron and Hermione. He could already imagine what they were going to say, but he blotted the words out of his mind. They were going to have to live with it—he had already decided.

So he half-dreaded the last weeks of July, when he was set to go to the Burrow once more. Still, he packed up his belongings, put his trunk and Hedwig’s cage out on the sidewalk, and waited. Presently, a battered old Sedan driven rolled by. Mr. Weasley was driving and Ron was there with him. “Company car,” Ron said to Harry as he helped put the luggage in the trunk. “Perfect disguise for wizards on business, or so Dad says. I don’t know—all that clunking from the engine makes everyone stare.”

“I think it’s perfect,” Mr. Weasley said. “Nobody’ll suspect a car like this to be owned by a wizard! Speaking of which, Harry, does a Rolls-Royce really roll?”

Ron talked the entire long trip to the Burrow, but Harry only half-listened. He could not stop thinking about how to even begin telling any of them his thoughts.

Life in the Burrow was a world of a difference from Privet Drive, but they were the same in the sense that, on the surface, things did not seem to change. Gnomes still squatted in the garden, the ghoul kept making noises in the attic when it felt things got too quiet, the odd collection of objects remained scattered throughout the house, and of course, its inhabitants were as lively as ever.

Despite the burden on his thoughts, Harry was glad to be among friends at last. The bustle of so many people was a welcome distraction. Mr. Weasley still pestered him with questions on how Muggle stuff like “elvelators” and “refereegerators” worked. Fred and George gave demonstrations of several new gags and devices they had developed over the summer, such as the Spitball Sniper and the Bluster Bomb. Mrs. Weasley merely sniffed, unimpressed, and praised Hermione for starting on lessons even during vacation. On her turn, Hermione tried to get both him and Ron to join her study sessions, and he and Ron made a sport out of finding excuses out of it. Ron would talk incessantly of chess and Quidditch, and occasionally Harry would spy him sneaking glances at Hermione at dinner, or lingering a little too long by the room where she was studying.

And then there was Ginny.

It was his third day in the Burrow. Harry had just taken a late shower and had come down into the dining room. Upstairs he could hear Fred and George’s thundering experiments, and in the living room not far away, Ron and Hermione’s muffled argument. Mrs. Weasley was by the stove, cooking lunch.

“Oh hello dear,” she said as Harry walked in. “How are you feeling today?”

“I’m fine, thanks. Do you need any help?”

She smiled at him. “How sweet of you to ask,” and shot an irritated glance at the floor above her. “There’s little left to do here, unless you know whether the final ingredient to Frugard’s stew is parsley or rosemary. I can’t seem to remember…”

Harry shook his head. He’d never heard of Frugard’s stew, but Mrs. Weasley had never made a meal he hadn't liked.

“Well,” she went on, “that’s all I need. Hmm, maybe Ginny remembers. I thought I saw her go outside—would you kindly go find her for me and ask?”

“Parsley or rosemary, right? Okay.”

“Thank you, dear.”

Harry went out into the garden. The sky was blue and cloudless and a warm breeze was blowing from the distant, dreaming mountains. Ginny was nowhere in sight, so he picked a direction at random and started walking.

His feet took him into the meadow beside the house. Like last year it was covered with wildflowers, but until today he hadn’t noticed just how many there were. They carpeted the meadow with yellows and oranges, nodding together as the wind blew through them. As Harry strolled into the meadow his nose caught the mix of their fragrance, and he smiled. It was as if the summer felt it had to put on its best in the little time left before the fall.

Remembering what he had to do, Harry started walking towards a lone tree at the edge of the meadow. There he spied a pair of worn brown shoes, its laces striped like candy-canes, lying discarded on the ground. He came closer and peered around the trunk.

Ginny was fast asleep. Her feet were bare, her elbows propped against the tree’s thick roots, her head leaning against the trunk. Her mouth was slightly open, a thin lock of bright red hair caught in its corner. In her hands a pair of knitting needles lay tangled with a half-finished scarf and a ball of red yarn. Another ball of gold yarn lay on her lap, and a beige cloth bag hung on a low branch nearby.

Harry was at a loss—should he disturb her just to ask whether parsley or rosemary goes last into Frugard’s stew? He watched her for a few moments, half-hoping she would wake up on her own. Then something else caught his eye: a small hard-covered book lay open beside her right knee. The title on the cover was Ginny Weasley's Treasury of Written Muggle Works. Curious, Harry picked it up.

The book was turned to the last page, apparently the end of a short story. Harry thumbed to the beginning—the title was Small Things. For a few minutes he flipped through the pages, finding an odd assortment of poems, stories, songs, quotes, and passages that really didn’t fit under any category, all in neat, cursive handwriting.

He was interrupted by the sound of yawning. Harry pried his gaze from the pages and saw Ginny stretching and opening her eyes. Her gaze fell on his feet, then flicked up to his face.

“Oh!” she squealed, leaping to her feet and nearly tripping over a root in the process. Her face had gone completely pink. Caught, Harry opened his mouth to explain—and found no words. They stared at each other for a long, uncomfortable minute.

“Harry,” she said, as if describing the impossible, “how long have you been standing there?”

Harry blinked rapidly. “Er, not long…just a couple of minutes. I was looking for you.”

She averted her dazed eyes. “Looking for me?”

“Yeah… your mum wanted to ask you something…”

“Oh, Mum…”

She realized something and began frantically untangling the yarn from the needles.

Harry went on, “Um, your mother wanted to ask about some ingredients for a stew…”

Ginny wasn’t listening. She was trying to stuff everything into her bag while attempting to fix her hair. She was only barely succeeding in either.

“Here, let me help,” said Harry. He stepped forward, and realized he was still clutching her book in his hands.

Ginny realized this too. She stopped for a minute, staring at it. Harry felt an absurd warmth on his cheeks.

“This is yours, I think…” he said. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.” He thought that was a rather stupid thing to say—What else could he have been doing?

Ginny started putting on her shoes. “Um, thank you. Could you hold it for a bit?”

“Yes, of course.” He waited as she continued to fix her bag and her appearance.

Finally she composed herself, drew in a deep breath, and said, “Let’s start over, shall we? Good morning.”

Seeing her calmed down made Harry relax as well. “Good morning. Here,” he said, handing her the book. “Sorry if I startled you.”

“No, no, it’s okay. I didn’t expect to fall asleep like that.”

He motioned to the book. “I…didn’t know you liked to read.”

“Oh, it‘s a new hobby. I started reading some of the fiction books Hermione left lying around in our room. Seeing that I liked most of much she read she started lending me more titles.”

“Is that hers?” he asked, nodding at the book.

She held it up and said. “Oh, this? She gave this to me for my birthday. It’s enchanted. It reads aloud whatever’s written inside.”

She turned the book to the first page and said, “Recitus!” The book began to speak in a cultured, female voice:

Must the winter come so soon?

Night after night I hear the hungry deer

wander weeping in the wood

and from his house of brittle bark hoots the frozen owl.

Must the winter come so soon?

“I copied my favorite works onto it,” she went on. “Most of what I have here is Muggle stuff from Hermione’s collection, although I started researching my own…”

Harry supposed it was only natural that Hermione and Ginny had become such good friends, being both girls and having to share a room. “That’s a nice gift she got you,” he said.

“Yeah,” she replied, grinning. “Sometimes I just sit here and listen to it for hours.”

Harry smiled himself and gazed about. “It’s really peaceful here. I like it.”

In her hands, the book went on:

My secret love has stars for eyes

His face is wise and fair…

Ginny snapped the book shut. Harry thought her face looked pinched. “You were saying something about Mum a while back,” she said quickly.

Harry started. “Of course! Thanks for reminding me. Your mother wanted to ask if the last ingredient for Frugard’s stew was—“

“Parsley or rosemary?”

Harry blinked. “Yeah. How did you—”

Ginny threw up her hands. “It’s neither! You put in basil—BASIL! I swear she always forgets that one thing! Ooooo, come on.” She grabbed her stuff, took Harry by the sleeve and began to drag him back to the house. “I’d better get back there quick before she chooses one or the other.”

They hurried back into the meadow. Ginny seemed to realize something; she blushed and let go of his sleeve. Harry decided to fill in the silence.

“So, you often spend time out here?”

“I guess so. If anything it keeps those thugs Fred and George out of my hair.” She rolled her eyes. “I mean that literally too—I happen to like my hair color, thankyouverymuch. Why do you ask?”

“Nothing, just curious. I haven’t seen you much over the last few days.”

Ginny looked a bit embarrassed. “Sorry, I haven’t been a good host, have I?”

“No, no, that’s not what I meant! I just realized, that’s all.”

“Oh.”

Harry quickly changed topics. “So, you like reading stories then?”

“I love reading stories, though I love listening to them more.” All around them, yellow and orange blossoms bowed with the wind. She paused to pick up a flower that caught her eye.

“Um, how about you?” she asked, looking at him. “Do you, er, know any good books?” She winced at the words.

“My Aunt and Uncle never got me any books,” he replied. “They gave my cousin Dudley tons of books which Dudley never reads but never lends either.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.”

He grinned at her sympathetic look. “It’s okay, I prefer Quidditch to reading. Although if you stick someone like Hermione in that situation I bet she’d be climbing the walls.”

Ginny laughed. “That’s mean!”

He grinned at her. ”Well, it’s true!”

They reached the Burrow by then, and Ginny called from the door, “Mum! It’s basil! You’re supposed to put in basil!”

Mrs. Weasley’s voice floated out of the kitchen. “What’s that? Put it in a basin? Whatever for?”

Ginny rolled her eyes as she removed her shoes. “I’m coming in to help—don’t touch anything!” She placed the wildflower into a nearby vase and turned to Harry. “I better get over there. Sorry about making you go out of your way to get me.”

“Oh, no trouble. It was nice out today, so I’m glad I did.”

“Okay. I’ll see you later.”

“Later. Say, don’t overdo the reading bit or you might end up another Hermione.”

“I’ll tell her you said that!” And she ran off before he could reply.

That was the first time he spoke to her that summer and, he realized later on, also the first time they’d had a real conversation.

Lunch was soon served, and the stew came out fine. For Harry, that wasn’t the problem. The problem was the buttered vegetables.

On his end of the table, Harry gazed forlornly at the peas on his side plate. Mrs. Weasley had laid it on thick today—the mound of peas was as tall as the saltshaker. He never liked them, but it was impolite to leave them as they were. He had gone through about a fourth of the lot when Mrs. Weasley insisted he take another helping, and unceremoniously dumped another spoonful on his plate. Harry looked to Ron beside him for help, but as usual he was engrossed in a heated discussion with Hermione.

“I’m telling you,” she was saying, “Professor Vector was correct! A five-ounce swallow simply cannot carry a one-pound coconut!”

Ron had a rebuttal for everything. “But it could’ve been an African swallow!”

Harry rolled his eyes, and glimpsed Ginny who was sitting to his left. She was slowly munching on a piece of broccoli with severely taxed look on her face.

He leaned closer to her and whispered, “Hey, you okay?”

She snapped out of her trance. “I’m fine.”

“Just try and ignore them, okay? They can get really tiresome sometimes.”

“Oh, I don’t mind them,” she sighed, “It’s all this broccoli. Whenever Mum serves broccoli she makes us finish it. She used to trick me too—‘It makes freckles fade away, Ginny dear.’”

Harry chuckled. “You believed her?”

Ginny put her fork down. “I was six, what do you expect? Urrgh, am I turning green?”

“Just about, and your eyes are watering. Are you sure you’ll be okay?”

“In a minute. Or five,” She swallowed painfully, and eyed his plate. “You don’t seem to be making a dent on those peas.”

“That’s because your mother keeps sending reinforcements. I never took much to them, but I can’t refuse your mum that easily.”

She giggled. “I never knew that. What’s wrong with peas? They’re fine.”

“Huh. I should ask you what’s wrong with broccoli.”

“You should try it.”

“Aunt Petunia serves it all the time. I have a pretty good resistance to it by now.”

They stared at each other. A conspiracy had formed.

“Under the table.”

“When they’re not looking.”

Both gazed around them. Everyone was engrossed in a big discussion; apparently Ron and Hermione were infectious. They quickly brought their side plates under the table, exchanged them, and brought them back up. They shared a secretive smile before starting on their food. Five minutes later, the offending meals were no more.

“Finished already, Harry?” Mrs. Weasley beamed at him. “My, you certainly seem hungry enough. Why don’t you have some more…” Her hand reached for the serving spoon.

“OH NO, er I mean, no, thank you Mrs. Weasley. I’m very full.”

Beside him, Ginny hid her smile behind a small, freckled hand.


The days passed by in idyllic peace, and for a while Harry had forgotten all about his troubles. The one problem he had was how to refuse Ron and the twins should they ask him to play Quidditch. He needn’t have worried though. For days on end black clouds hurtled across the sky and rain came down in sheets. Mrs. Weasley absolutely forbade them to play Quidditch.

“Don’t tempt the lightning, for Merlin’s sakes!” she said.

“Oh Mum, it doesn’t matter what weather it is—we still have to play Quidditch at Hogwarts!” said Fred.

“Then play Qudditch at Hogwarts. While you’re here, you do as you’re told.”

“Bloody English weather,” Ron grumbled.

Despite Ron and the twins’ wheedling, Harry complied with her wishes. So they spent their time playing Wizard Chess and other games, playing practical jokes, and finding ways to avoid studying with Hermione.

It hadn’t always gone so well. Some nights, the memories came back.

Harry lay quietly in his bed, staring at the moonlight crawling across the posters on Ron’s walls. He’d been trying to sleep for hours, but somehow his mind always circled back to the image of a coffin borne by four Hufflepuffs, and the cold, vacant stare in Cho Chang’s eyes.

He wondered if Cho would ever give him that look, if she or the Hufflepuffs still blamed Harry for the loss of Cedric. Then again, whether or not they did hardly mattered. What mattered was Harry knew he was to blame. There was no escaping that.

He’d been putting off telling Ron and Hermione about his decision, partly because it was sure to ruin the summer for all of them. But there was another reason—he simply didn’t know how to begin. The mere idea of saying, “I’m quitting Quidditch,” caused a painful lump to swell in his throat. He threw a worried glance at Ron, sleeping but a few feet away. He hoped that when the time came to tell him, Ron would understand.

Outside a cock began crowing. One glance at the luminous clock on the desk told him it was five-thirty in the morning. He knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep, so he might as well get up and do something. Maybe a cool bath would take his mind off of things.

Making sure not to wake Ron, he slipped out of bed, left the room, and walked down the dimly lit hallway. The bathroom was just around the corner. When he rounded it, he nearly ran into someone. One shrill squeal immediately told him who it was.

“Harry!” Ginny gasped. She was clad in her nightgown, a fact she quickly tried to hide behind her long bath towel. “What are you doing awake? It’s not even dawn!”

Harry flushed and fumbled for an answer. What could he tell her? That he was thinking of quitting Quidditch and couldn’t sleep?

“I…I guess I just felt like taking a bath early,” he said. “I sometimes do that because the Muggles I live with don’t like to see me using their bathroom.” Then he peered at her curiously.

“I was going to take a bath myself,” she explained.

“So early?”

“Oh…you don’t know what it’s like living with six brothers and two adults. It’s always a race to use the bathroom first. I get ahead by waking up really early—no one else can seem to get up before six. I guess I kept the habit even after Bill, Charlie and Percy left.”

They stared at each other for a minute, then Harry said, “Well, why don’t you go ahead then.”

“Oh no! Please, you first. You’re our guest!”

“But you live here.”

“So? I’ll take forever in there. Go on.”

“That’s okay. You go.”

“No, you go.”

He grinned a little. “Not Hugo. Harry. And besides, ladies first?”

Ginny laughed. “Oh, fine. Why don’t you get yourself something to drink in the kitchen while you’re waiting? I’ll be quick.”

Ginny kept her promise. Fifteen minutes and a change of clothes later, they were sitting together at the dining table, having some tea. Talking with Ginny wasn’t the same as having conversations with Ron, but at least it helped him forget what had happened earlier, even a little. He was thankful for that.

He told her, “Next time, though, I think I’ll wake up a little earlier to take a bath.”

She guffawed and said, “Sorry, but I don’t think it’s possible for boys to wake up earlier than girls.” She sipped lightly from her cup, as if the matter were already settled.

Harry cocked his eyebrow at her. “That’s what you think, is it?”

“Yes. I mean, look at my brothers. Look at Ron…well, I don’t really need to say much beyond that.”

“Okay, you’ve got a point. But I don’t think all boys are that way.”

She grinned, mischief dancing in her brown eyes. “Can you prove it?”

He grinned back. “Is that a challenge?”

She pushed her teacup aside and said, “It’s really simple—all you have to do is wake up early enough to take a bath ahead of me. The one who makes the best of five days wins.”

“Sounds tough. Is there a prize involved?”

“Huh, I don’t know. What do you have in mind?”

“Loser gets to buy the winner one sweet of his or her choice at snack cart on the Hogwarts Express.”

“Agreed. And by the way, I prefer the Strawberry Creampuffins.”

They sealed the deal with a toast of their cups, and Harry went up to take his turn in the bathroom.

The next day, Harry woke up at five. Quietly slipping out of his bed, he picked his way to the bathroom, fully expecting to get there first. His hopes were dashed when he heard the water running inside, and Ginny humming to herself.

As he stood outside the door feeling like an idiot, he heard her say, “Why don’t you make yourself some tea while you’re waiting?”

“Yeah, fine,” he said, then added, “I’ll get here first tomorrow!”

“Sure you will.” And she resumed humming.

Harry made good on his promise the very next day by waking up at four-thirty. He managed this by sleeping with Ron’s alarm clock under the pillow. Hastily shutting it off, he groggily made his way to the bathroom. To his relief he got there first.

He wasn’t so lucky the next day. Ginny got up fifteen minutes earlier than he did. Harry groaned and went downstairs again to wait.

When Ginny came down to the kitchen, she found him washing dishes at the sink.

“Looks like your mum left some dishes over for the night,” he said. “I was just trying to lighten the load.”

“That’s not like Mum at all.” She stared at the stack of unwashed plates. “Looks more like Fred and George came down for a midnight snack.”

“A snack? Really? Looks like a full course meal to me.”

“Tell me about it.” She stepped forward to help. “You don’t have to do this, Harry. How many times do I have to remind you you’re our guest here?”

“Bosh. I’ve been living off of you for two weeks. I should at least do something productive.”

She giggled. “If you really want to help, you can pay rent. Heaven knows we need it.”

Harry found himself smiling. It was the first time he heard a Weasley make light of their being poor.

Ginny took the role of washing the dishes and Harry took to drying them. “I feel bad about you cleaning up after my brothers,” she said. “I have a good mind to kick down their door and make them do the washing.”

“I told you, don’t worry about it,” said Harry. “In any case, I think it’s fun living with so many people.”

She snorted. “Fun. Right. It’s fun till you become the object of amusement.” She smiled and continued, “But they’re all okay, my brothers. They may be big fat headaches, but they’re never bores.”

“You have any favorites?”

“That would be Bill, because he used to read to me a lot and give me piggy-back rides all the time when he was still living here.” She brandished a fork at an unseen enemy. “I was Sir Ginny and he was my noble steed! Then we’d fight dragons and giants and rescue kindly grandmothers from evil tax-people.

“It was Ron, though, who took care of me when I started at Hogwarts. We don’t talk as much as we used to now. And he can be such a prat, especially when it comes to Hermione.”

Harry grinned widely. “You think so?”

“Oh yes. Sometimes I think he’s taking after the thugs—I mean, twins.” She turned to him. “Can I, uh, ask you a question?”

“Yeah?”

“Um, what’s it like living with Muggles? Ron doesn’t tell me much but I hear a lot from Hermione. They not really that horrid to you, are they?”

When Harry did not reply, she turned her eyes back to the plates. “Sorry. That was kind of personal, wasn’t it.”

“That’s okay,” he replied, “I was just thinking. There’re all sorts of Muggles, same as wizards. I’m sure there are nice ones out there; I just wish I could get lucky enough to find some. In any case, the people I live with are…” He searched for a word, but found nothing to adequately describe his uncle, aunt and Dudley.

“Rotten as radishes?” Ginny supplied.

He grinned. “Yeah, that’s about right. Not quite as bad as Snape, but they’d be in the neighborhood. I have to cook and clean for them and do their gardening and stuff. Otherwise I’m not allowed out. I’m also the butt of my cousin’s jokes. His idea of funny is me covered in soot from cleaning out the chimney.” He stopped and saw her staring at him, wide-eyed.

“I get by, Ginny,” he reassured her.

She shook her head. “It’s not that. I just find it amazing.”

“What’s amazing?”

“That sounds exactly like how I get treated here!”

They stared at each other for a minute. Then Harry found he couldn’t help it—he started laughing. Out loud. And Ginny laughed right along with him.

When they recovered, she said, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to be impertinent. It’s horrible that they treat their own relative that way. It must really get you down. I wish I could do something about it, like report them to the Ministry or something!”

“Don’t worry about it. It’s sort of a relief that at least SOMEONE knows how it feels.”

“How do you get through it?”

“I keep thinking of my friends and when I can finally get back to Hogwarts. How about you?”

“What do you expect? I fight back!” She brandished the fork again. “I make my brothers realize that he who crosses Ginny Weasley does so at his peril! And if they don’t like the rules, they can cry me a river.”

He grinned again and dried the last of the plates. “You know,” he remarked, “I’ve never heard you talk so much before.”

She lowered the fork, surprised. “Huh?”

“I mean, you were always so quiet. Your brother said you liked to talk, but I didn’t know just how much. It’s nice to know you’re normal.”

For a while she just stood there, her face slightly pink. Then she huffed and said, “Is that so? Well, it would be fair for me to say I find Harry Potter’s a normal boy after all!”

“What do you mean by that?”

“I mean I can have an actual conversation with him,” she said with mock petulance. “Half the time he used to act like complete snob, talking to my brothers while pretending I wasn’t there.”

Harry stopped polishing his plate, feeling mortified. “Did I really?”

She sniffled. “Yes you did.”

Harry looked contrite for all of five seconds before cracking a grin. “So cry me a river.”

None of Harry's Quidditch reflexes could have saved him from what happened next. The next thing he knew, she had dumped a cupful of soap water down his shirt.

“Ginny!” he cried, pulling the wet cloth away from his body. “I’m soaking!”

She glared at him and started taking the plates to the cabinet. “So cry me a river.”

After that, of course, Harry really had to take that bath.

The next day Harry got up even earlier, but he only beat Ginny by a margin of two minutes. With a tied score, neither could give ground. Much to Ron’s surprise, that night Harry said that he’d be turning in at nine o’clock.

“What?” he demanded as Harry climbed into bed. “What the heck are you going to bed so early for? Is Wood haunting you?”

“Made a bet with Ginny,” Harry said. “She said boys can’t wake up earlier than girls. I intend to prove her wrong.”

Ron blinked for several seconds, then said, “Well, she’s right. Don’t waste your time.”

“Huh. Says you. I can prove her wrong.”

“Suit yourself, mate. It’s your funeral.”

How true those words rang when Harry woke up at three in the morning and felt like a corpse. Nevertheless, he pulled himself out of bed and somehow made it to the hall. There was Ginny, red-eyed, disheveled, and tottering. They made it to the bathroom door at the same time.

“You don’t…look so good,” he muttered.

“The pot…kettle…black,” she replied.

“You okay, Ginny?”

“Ginny isn’t here. Her spirit hasn’t come back to her body yet.”

Harry grinned and she sniggered. “So,” she said, “who won?”

“Look,” said Harry, “I don’t even feel like taking a bath. So I say, let’s not and say we did, okay? I’ll buy you the Strawberry whatsits.”

“Strawberry Creampuffins. And since this is an official draw, I’ll buy you a sweet of your choice too.”

“Fine. Chocolate Frogs. I’m going back to sleep.”

“Agreed.” And they promptly turned around and shlumped back to their rooms. As he fell back into bed, Harry thought that the best thing about the past five days was that he hadn’t had a chance to get depressed.


They talked more often over the next few days. Ginny would join them in games and chores, give an occasional side-comment during a Wizard chess match, or help Harry arbiter a debate between her brother and Hermione. Harry found that her company gave yet another dimension to his life with the Weasleys, and he was glad for it. He’d never been bored or lonely in the Burrow, and now he was sure he never would be.

It was the day before the end of summer vacation when Harry abruptly tried to tell Ginny something important.

They were sitting together on the porch, gazing out onto the sunlit lawn. She had been knitting her scarf then, listening to the lilting voice of her book, and he found himself asking her, “Keep a secret, Ginny Weasley?”

She stopped working and gazed at him. Her eyes read the look on his face, and she shut the book beside her. “Yes I can, Harry Potter.”

He watched her wordlessly for a minute. Why was he going to tell her? It had come so unexpectedly, that need to talk. But why her? Maybe because he was nervous as hell about tomorrow and he had to tell someone before he burst. Maybe because she was a third party, or because she didn’t care about Quidditch.

Maybe because he knew she would keep her word and never tell another soul.

He took a deep breath and said, “There’s something I have to tell Ron and Hermione. I’ve been putting it off for a long while, but I can’t anymore. Tomorrow I have to tell them. Well, not just them—the twins, Professor McGonagall, a lot of people at school. And…it’s not something anyone’s going to like.”

He looked at her worried expression and quickly said, “I’m not sick or dying, Ginny.”

“Oh.”

“What I have to say, well, it’s a decision I’ve made. I’ve given it serious thought over the past few weeks. I finally figured out how I’m going to say it, so I’m planning on telling Ron and Hermione on the Hogwarts Express…”

They sat still for a while, gazing at one another.

After a while, she said, “You do realize haven’t really told me anything yet, don’t you?”

Harry gave a nervous laugh and brushed back his bangs. “Er, right. I guess…I guess I’m not quite—”

“Is it that bad?”

He picked at a piece of grass near his foot. “…Yeah.”

She nodded and said, “You don’t have to say anything, then, if you don’t want to.”

Harry thought for a minute, and decided he was more relieved than anything else. He didn’t have to say anything. Why did he feel he had to, in the first place?

“…Yeah, okay. You’ll find out tomorrow, anyway. I guess everyone will be talking about it, so when you hear it, try not to be shocked.”

“Oh. I see.”

He felt the need to lie down, so he got up to go inside. “I think I’ll take a nap. Tomorrow then.”

“Okay,” she said, then called after him, “You’ll be all right, Harry.”

He turned and smiled sadly at her. “We’ll find that out tomorrow too, won’t we?”


As it turned out, things had gone bad the moment he told them.

Ron sat there in shock for a while. "You...you can't quit,” he kept muttering. “You can't."

Hermione was saying, "But Harry, Quidditch is something you love to do. Please don't think quitting is going to help in any way..."

"You CAN'T quit!” Ron cried, bolting from his seat. “You’re going to be the best Quidditch player there is and you're just going to turn your back on it all?! You're going to throw it away? What's wrong with you?"

"There's nothing wrong with me, Ron," Harry replied, getting angry in spite of himself. "It's just something I have to do—"

"And you deliberately kept quiet until today, didn't you! You planned this all on your own! You had all summer and you didn't say a word until the last minute, didn't you!"

Harry raised his voice right back, and not five minutes later they were shouting loud enough to be heard five rooms away. Harry could not remember all of what was said, even hours after the haze of anger had settled—He supposed the mind shuts down under a lot of stress. But he remembered how all that shouting made him feel as if he were being pelted with pieces of glass.

Finally, the conductor came over and broke them up, saying they were disturbing the other passengers. He made Harry take a separate room further down the train. Without another glance at Ron, Harry marched into the hall. There was a small crowd gathered there, and when he came out they all averted their eyes. Except for Draco Malfoy. He stood to one side with Crabbe and Goyle, all smiles. Why wouldn’t they be happy? High times for them, right? Potty and Weasel had a falling out and they didn’t have to lift a finger for it! What a joke, right!? What a goddamn treat!

Harry had used all his willpower not to slug that smirking face, and very nearly did anyway. But he saw Ginny standing there in the crowd. She hadn’t looked away like the rest. Their gazes locked for a second; somehow she looked paler, smaller. There had been concern in her eyes—for her brother or for him, he could not tell. Harry opened his mouth to say something (“Well, what d’you think? Pretty bad wasn’t it?”), but promptly shut it. Breathing hard, he stalked past them all towards the end of the train.

As he sat there alone in the compartment, he felt his anger fade, leaving only a vast regret. Their argument that had not shaken Harry as much as the look on Ron‘s face. He had looked utterly betrayed.

And Harry felt so tired, drained. Mercifully, after some time he found himself drifting off.

He woke when the whistle shrieked and the train came to shuddering halt. He rose wearily from the seat, head buzzing, a rotten taste in his mouth. He didn’t feel one bit like moving from his spot, but he had no choice. Sighing, he brushed back his hair with one hand and slipped on his glasses. That was when he noticed something lying on the seat opposite his own. He reached over and picked it up. Then his lips formed a wan, regretful smile.

It was a small pack of Chocolate Frogs.



After that first hurdle with Ron, the rest of the work was comparatively easy. He did things with a single-mindedness that was almost ruthlessness. First, he spoke with the Quidditch captains, Fred and George. Neither had outbursts like Ron’s; apparently they knew they owed him their life’s work. They begged and pleaded and offered him all sorts of bribes, but Harry remained adamant. Next was Professor McGonagall. When he told her, the Headmistress of Gryffindor did not react. If she felt disappointment or anger, it did not cross her mind to show it. She merely gazed at him coldly through her spectacles and said, “Very well,” then went back to her paperwork. Harry left her office feeling more depressed than he expected to be. Lastly, there was Professor Dumbledore, who alone took it well.

The rest of the school was surprised by the news of his decision, but it had been merely the first of a long line of surprises. Hogwarts had two new teachers. The first was Professor Cowl, who replaced Snape as Potions Master. Of course, rumors of Snape’s whereabouts flew thick and fast.

“He’s been sacked!”

“He’s found a better job as new Headmaster of Durmstrang!”

“He’s hiding from the Dark Lord and ran away to Finland with a jazz band!”

Many theorized he was working as an agent for the Order of the Phoenix, but there was neither proof of this nor of the Order’s existence. Snape had vanished with no more explanation than the official one—he was on holiday in Siberia, for health reasons. To this Ron commented, “If there is anyone in the world who could get healthier living in Siberia, it would be Snape.” Amen, said the Gryffindors.

Professor Julius Cowl was a tall, balding man in his mid-thirties, with large ears and spade feet. He was always immaculately dressed, but often kept pushing up his glasses and nervously tugging at his robes, as if these didn’t fit him well. He’d also bring a dozen Potions books with him to class, packed in two bulging briefcases. When he lectured, he’d read straight from a book without ever looking up. He never asked questions. Exams were all written. He never made a real potion let alone touched any of the instruments on the table. In his own words, Potions were all about “exposition, exposition, exposition.” This of course, was no problem with Hermione, but did absolutely nothing for Harry or the other students. It got bad for the Slytherins in particular, who practically lost a doting godfather. They called Professor Cowl the cruelest things behind his back and almost never turned in homework.

“They’re just plain awful!” Hermione remarked one lunchtime. “Some of them openly sleep in class!”

“Well,” said Harry, “it’s not as if the Professor notices.”

Defense against the Dark Arts class was quite the contrast. From the moment Professor Adrianna Summershield swept into the room, all eyes were on her. They stayed on her from the moment she said hello till she bid them goodbye. And when she left, the room went abuzz with talk.

“I don’t believe it!” said Hermione. “She must be no older than twenty-five!”

“Let’s hope she’s more than her looks,” said Harry.

As it turned out, she was a capable professor. Certainly not in the caliber of Lupin or Moody (the fake one, that is), but close enough. Her style was always the same—lecture in the first half, hands-on in the second. In this way they tackled stirges, will-o-wisps, frostlings, and lastly, imps. The only complaint Harry had was that she was rather slow in getting to the next topic. It was as if there was not much road to cover, and she was purposely taking her time.

No one else seemed to notice, though. In the days that followed, there appeared to be a gradual change in seating arrangement—boys occupied the front area more, and girls stayed at the back. Everyone found her pleasant and accommodating, even if she was a bit of a loner. Lavender and Parvati disliked her for some obscure reason. Well, thought Harry as he observed the class, maybe not so obscure.

Harry hadn’t the chance to talk with Ginny again for a week—schoolwork and that business with Ron simply took him away. Then one Saturday, he spotted her sitting by herself at the Gryffindor table, idly writing in the same book he had picked up in the meadow. As he gazed at her, he was seized by a sudden thought—he hadn’t bought her those sweets he’d promised.

He approached her and said, “Hello, Ms. Weasley.”

She looked up at him in surprise, but only for a moment. “Mr. Potter!” she said with measured cheerfulness. “How nice to see you again.”

“Ginny, you saw me just yesterday, at Gryffindor. We said hi.”

“It’s nice to see you up close, for once.”

He chuckled. “Okay, okay, I’m sorry we hadn’t had a chance to talk. Mind if I sat down?”

She said nothing, but looked down at her book and started writing again.

“Please, Ginny?” he said, sincere as can be. “I’m really sorry. Really.”

Again, she said nothing.

“Look, I’ll get you the Strawberry Creamwhatsits on the next Hogsmeade weekend.”

She looked up again. “Creampuffins.” But she smiled this time, and made space for him to sit beside her. They whittled away the afternoon in the Great Hall, talking as they had in the Burrow. Harry had a great time; Ginny never seemed to run out of stories.

“So I said “Wingardium Leviosa’ and did the swish-and-flick thing with my wand, but the feather didn’t float! So Professor Flitwick said, ‘Try again,’ and when I did…the feather shot off my table like a dart and struck him on the nose! Poor Professor Flitwick was so shocked he tumbled off the stack of books he was standing on.”

Harry had laughed so hard he’d gone beet red. “And that was when the stack collapsed on him and you had to dig him out?”

“Stop laughing!” said Ginny. “It wasn’t funny. I was lucky he was too nice to give detention to a First Year.”

While talking with Ginny was fun, it wasn’t the same as talking with Ron. However, they hadn’t said a word to each other throughout the whole of September. If Harry had to know something important, he had to talk to Hermione. It was Fourth Year all over again, and this time things were even worse. It was physically impossible for him to study in the same room Ron was in, and even eating at the same table became a chore. He could not be sure how Ron felt about it all, but he was downright miserable: not speaking like this made him feel like he’d been holding his breath for far too long.

As such, life with Malfoy had become even worse; he got vicious at every opportunity.

“Awww, are the lovebirds still having a spat?”

“Why so glum, Potter? Don’t have your Ronniekins to hold your hand, hmmm?”

“Kiss and make up! Kiss and make up! Kiss and MAKE-UP!”

The Slytherins would roar in laughter and join the chant. Harry would grit his teeth as he walked past. He couldn’t say anything. Not if Ron wasn’t fighting back either.

Hermione liked the situation between the two even less. She would spend her time finding ways to get them to talk to each other. She’d plead, cajole, threaten, stomp her foot, slap Ron upside the head—nothing worked. Ron remained adamant, Harry likewise. Finally, Hermione decided on the extreme: she tricked them into going inside a pitch-dark walk-in closet containing a boggart, and locked the door.

It had gotten nasty, but it worked. Despite opening old wounds all of the first hour, they were forced to work together to get out and in the process, made up. Of course, both of them ended up not talking to Hermione, but that didn’t take her half as long to patch up.


The days went by in Hogwarts—life was slow and uneventful, for once. Perhaps it was the absence of Snape that did it. Perhaps because there hadn’t been a single sign that Voldemort was back in the world. So for the most part, the students of Hogwarts went on with their lives as if the last year hadn’t happened.

For Harry, there had been a thread of unease he couldn’t ignore.

Since the school year began, his scar had been occasionally bothering him. Sometimes it would itch or burn for a little while, other times the pain would lance through his forehead before instantly vanishing. Harry thought of telling Dumbledore about it, but then again, he was not comfortable with the idea of running to his office with every minor ache he had. Besides which, there was really nothing much to tell. There was an itch, a sting, then nothing.

It was the middle of October when finally Harry got an idea of how bad things were eventually going to get.

One night he woke in agony, screaming and clutching at his scar. Every boy in the dormitory woke with a start. Ron stumbled out of bed, demanding to know what happened. Harry remained huddled where he was, trembling in pain and fear. It was as if someone had traced his scar with a white hot razor. It took several minutes for the pain to die away so he could finally think.

Voldemort had done something very hateful—perhaps even murderous. But try as he might, he could not recall enough of the nightmare to figure out what it was.

Part of the answer came the very next day.

Harry could clearly remember that moment. It was breakfast time and everyone had gathered in the Great Hall. Harry had just finished eating when an owl flew in and dropped the Daily Prophet in front of Seamus who sat beside him. Seamus read the headlines aloud.

“…a 42-year old Muggle Michael Dunn and his three wizard sons Justin, Douglas and Sean, have been missing for the past 72 hours. The Dunn family was last seen in Balder's Hill, preparing for a weekend camping trip. Officials believe they had lost their way to the campsite…”

Harry’s skin prickled as Seamus skipped to the description beneath the picture.

“Michael Dunn and his three sons. Rescue Wizards are combing the forests south of Balder's Hill. If you have seen any of them, please inform the Ministry of Magic…”

Against his will, Harry turned and looked at the picture on the paper. His fears were confirmed—both the name and the kindly face of the missing man were those from his dream. He felt his blood turn to ice water as he watched the man’s three handsome sons squeezing into the small frame, waving up at him. Voldemort had called this man by name, had personally done something to him and his sons.

He had heard it, the high voice of the Dark Lord—

“Watch them carefully, Michael Dunn. Can you see the life ebbing from their eyes? I never tire of watching that.”

And the man was crying, screaming through the bars of his cage. “No! Please let them go! I’ll do anything you ask—just don’t let them die, I beg you!”

“Their deaths will not be in vain, my friend. They shall die for you. So you will become stronger. So you will know what it is like to hate.”

He sat still, staring at Michael Dunn’s kindly face. In his mind, it seemed to be twisting, turning feral, angry. It was something not human. Something very, very bad.

Beside him, Ron was commenting, “Is it me, or are more people getting lost in the woods nowadays?”

“If they’re lost, I’m sure they can use the Point-Me Charm to find their way,” Dean said.

“It’s not much help if they don’t know where they are,” Hermione interjected. “It’s the Rescue Wizards’ job now.”

“So, what’re we doing for Potions later?” someone asked. “What? Not another quiz! What is it with Cowl?”

Ron said, “Don’t get me started on Cowl! Did you know that Colin and Dennis have started a poll? ‘Which Professor is more boring: Binns vs. Cowl!’ I heard they were thinking of a title fight where both give lectures and we see which puts the most students to sleep.”

“Oh, stop it,” said Ginny. “Don’t make fun of Professor Cowl. He gets enough of that from the Slytherins.”

Dean—“Skeeter’s writing again? Lemme see—”

Parvati—“I hear Summershield likes—“

Neville—“Could someone pass the pepper—?”

“Harry?” Seamus suddenly said. “Harry, are you all right?”

Harry’s skin had lost all feeling. Everything sounded odd and distant. The faces looking at him had turned into bright blurs. His throat burned. It hurt to breathe.

“Harry?” Ron was looking at him, puzzled. Harry felt him touch his shoulder, and flinched as if stung.

“I need to get out,” he said hoarsely. He stood and left his seat without another word.

When he got to the doors of the Great Hall, he broke into a run.

He ran as if it meant his life. Shouts came from behind, some running feet, but he did not stop or turn. He kept on going—out the Hall, down the steps, swerving through a crowd, past bewildered faces of students and teachers. Figures in paintings turned to watch. A suit of armor he passed saluted stiffly. Somebody shouted, “No running in the halls! No running—”

He hurtled through the main doorway and into bright sunshine. Before he knew it he was sprinting across the grass towards the lake. When he made it to the shore he started running along it, going clock-wise around the lake. Presently he found what his mind had been half-looking for—a lonely copse of trees on a grassy hillock he’d once seen on the road to Hogsmeade.

He ran behind the largest tree and collapsed on his hands and knees. He felt his stomach convulsing, then came the bitter taste of bile. His hand clamped onto his mouth. He didn’t know how he held it down, but he did.

He crawled to the tree and sat down, leaning against it. His eyes strayed to the lake on his right. It was a moving mass of deep blue, glittering beneath an autumn sun. It looked beautiful, but it only invoked a sharp ache inside of him. Somewhere on this earth, a man and his three sons were never going to see anything like it ever again.

The lake vanished like a mirage before his eyes as a pain-filled moan filled his ears. It sounded like a dying animal, and at first he couldn’t convince himself that it came from him. He screwed up his eyes and clamped his jaws shut, but all the same tears burned their way down his cheeks and sobs broke from the deepest part of his lungs. It seemed almost ludicrous—he was crying, for someone he’d never met. But some internal voice told him he had to mourn them, because no else could. No one else knew but him.

Perhaps he also mourned for himself, for that same reason.

He didn’t know how long he stayed there, waiting for his grief to empty itself. When he looked up again, the shadow of the tree had shifted some feet away and the breeze was cooler on his face. He felt empty and exhausted, but he knew that things would only get worse the longer he stayed there.

Wiping his face, he got up to walk back to Hogwarts. But just as he rounded the tree, he stopped.

Ginny was sitting on the other side. She’d been so quiet he hadn’t noticed her there at all.

She looked up and met his gaze. “Hi,” she whispered. “Do you want to go back now?”

He stood there, wondering at her, until she repeated the question.

“I don’t know,” was all he could reply.

She lowered her head, and in small voice, said, “We could just stay here, if you like.”

Classes, he almost said, but pushed the thought away. He couldn’t, not looking like this.

“All right,” he said.

She seemed grateful and shy at the same time, making space for him to sit beside her while keeping her eyes averted. Harry sat on the grass and crossed his legs.

He was afraid to ask, but couldn’t help it. “How long have you been sitting here?”

“I got here a few moments after you did…I…I saw you running away, and everyone stood there staring. I couldn’t…well, I didn’t think. Ron and Hermione are looking for you too. I ran out here and…and I heard you. I’m sorry, I…”

He nodded. “Guess I catch people’s attention no matter what I do, huh?”

“It’s not like you did anything wrong! Sometimes…people need to get away…”

She fingered a blade of grass beside her for a moment, then drew a breath and said, “Harry, what happened? Can you tell me? I…I want to help if I can. I don’t like seeing you like this.”

“I don't like it anymore than you do. But no, I don’t think you can help.”

“But, but why? I don’t understand.”

He longed to tell her. He wanted to let her know that he sometimes knew these terrible things. He wanted to let her know how he felt so helpless and angry. How much he hated being Harry Potter.

And yet, he felt there was no way to describe its totality. He felt that if he tried, his faltering words would burn him as anew, that he’d break down again and cry like a child in front of her.

“Harry?” she persisted.

“I, I need…” He swallowed, tried not to shudder. “Time. I just need a little time.”

She watched him, disappointed that he wouldn’t say any more. She pulled her knees closer to her body. “I…I could go…” she whispered.

He felt something tighten in his chest. “Don’t,” he said. Then, more gently, “Don’t.”

They sat still for a time. He waited for her to ask again. He knew she wanted to ask why.

But she didn’t anymore. Side by side, they continued to stare at the gentle waves on the lake, and at the sunlit wildflowers that nodded with the wind. After a while she looked at him, smiled, and picked up a dandelion near her shoe. She held it up. “Make a wish, Harry.”

He returned her smile sadly. “Do they count for anything?”

“They do. They always do. Trust me.”

So he closed his eyes—

I wish that no one would ever suffer because of me

—and blew on the dandelion in her hand. The little tuft burst into a cloud of spiraling wisps. Ginny picked up another dandelion and blew on it. Her cloud mingled with his, and they watched the dandelions rise into the air, borne gently by the wind.

It was a good half-hour before they spoke again. “Better now?” she asked.

“A little better, I guess.”

“Let’s go back then. Ron and Hermione must be having seizures by now.”

As they stood up and dusted their robes, he caught her eye and said, “Ginny?”

“Hmm?”

“I just realized…I haven’t even gotten you your Creampuffins yet.”

Another one of her little smiles lit up her face. “That’s all right. I only like watching them waddling around anyway. And Mum always told me not to play with my food.”

It was strange to see her take his hand and look him in the eye, and not even blush.

“Will you tell me, someday?” she asked.

Her hand was small and soft and warm in his. It was an odd, sweet warmth that spread throughout his body, easing his grief. And something in him responded. He gave her hand a light squeeze.

“I will, Ginny. Someday.”



Curiously, though both Harry and Ginny did get separate detentions for missing class, none of their friends mentioned the incident. The Gryffindors never asked Harry if he was all right, though he sometimes saw them watching him from the corner of his eye. It made him uncomfortable. Once again it crossed their minds that he was different from them, that he, as Rita Skeeter mentioned, was ‘unstable.’ But he could hardly blame them this time. Not with the way he’d behaved.

Ron and Hermione tried to ask him what had happened, but each time they tried Harry always managed to change the subject. It worried Hermione and frustrated Ron to no end, but to Harry’s relief they eventually quit asking.

But Harry could not escape Dumbledore. The Headmaster called for him that very evening, although not to his office. They met at a deserted balcony, overlooking the expanse of the Forbidden Forest.

As they stood together, gazing at the moon as it rose over the forest, the Headmaster said to him, "I do not wish to add to your burden, Harry, by having you recount what you have seen. I am also sorry I have not given you time to recover. It is difficult, but…”

“…People’s lives may depend on it—I understand, sir,” Harry finished. He did not mean to be rude, but he felt very weary. He wanted this to be over. He did not look at Dumbledore. He did not want to see pity or sympathy in the old man’s gaze. No one could ever understand how much he was suffering. He did not want to see anyone try and fail.

So he told the Headmaster what he saw as stoically as he could, though he still had to pause several times. Dumbledore did not interrupt or bother to ask questions. Half an hour later, he let Harry go.

As Harry lay in bed that night, he waited for another onslaught of nightmares. They came, but only as repetitions of what he had already seen. Just shadows plays in his head, destined to fade. No more agonizing visions came to him in the months that followed, and for this he was relieved.



His friendship with Ginny grew as the year went by, something he was very thankful for. They talked often, sitting together at Gryffindor Table long after classes were done. She would go with them on trips to Hogsmeade. She chose to stay at Hogwarts for the holidays, and when Christmas Day came Harry found a gift from her sitting at the foot of his bed. He read the attached letter, and opened the gaily-decorated box.

It was the scarf she had been making all summer. Harry held it up and gazed at it in wonder. Golden griffins played on a red background, no two of them alike. At each end of the scarf, two large griffins stood upright, wide wings outstretched like sun rays. In their beaks each held a rose as if in offering. The edge of the scarf was trimmed by golden vines. The wool was soft and carried a ghostly scent of lilac.

Hardly believing his luck, he left the dormitory to find Ginny and say thank you. When he got to the balcony, he found her sitting in the Common Room with some very amused Gryffindors, staring at the table where she had placed Harry’s gift for her.

On the table were dozens of red and pink Creampuffins, waddling here and there, looking over the table’s edge and blinking up at the onlookers with their caramel eyes. Ginny watched them in delight. Then she seemed to sense him watching her and gazed up to where he was. A smile formed on her lips, as it did in her eyes.

It would’ve been perfect. It would’ve been one of the best friendships he’d ever had. Then one day in late January, while walking with her from the Library, he accidentally dropped his glasses on the floor, and she picked them up and put them back on his face. Then everything changed.


~~@~~


The main doors had long been locked, so Harry took a secret entrance located behind a bush, on the east wall of the school. With his Invisibility cloak on, there was no danger of being seen, but Harry was careful as he picked his way through the dark, sloping passage, one hand splayed on the wall to guide him along. Moody and Dumbledore spoke of a spy in Hogwarts. He hoped he was sleeping right now, whoever it was. He forced himself not to think about what would happen if he got caught through his own carelessness.

The tunnel exit was hidden behind a tapestry. Harry lifted it aside and stepped back into the halls of Hogwarts. It felt odd to be back here. He had walked through these halls countless times before during the day and night, yet the wide, moonlit halls looked alien to him now, its curtains and carpets only vaguely familiar. He didn’t know if this had to do with his leaving Hogwarts, or because an unknown intruder was lurking somewhere in this school.

He looked from one end to the other, listening for footsteps. Not a sound could be heard. Nodding to himself, Harry slowly made his way up to Gryffindor Tower.

The walk seemed torturously long. Sweat pasted his hair to his neck, his jaws hurt from the strain of being clamped shut. But he made it to the portrait of the Fat Lady just the same.

She was fast asleep on her enormous chair, one cheek cushioned by a hand. Here, Harry had no choice but to show himself. After one last furtive glance around, he took off his Invisibility cloak and said, “Harry James Potter.”

Instantly, he felt his skin crawl and swell as his own form returned. Tucking his folded cloak beneath one arm, he then looked up at the Fat Lady and coughed loudly. She snorted once, but remained asleep.

“Excuse me!” Harry said. When she did not respond, he rapped his fist on the portrait.

She nearly leaped out of the chair. “Good heavens!” she cried, and peered down at him in drowsy anger. “You?! Didn’t I let you in already?”

“Rumplestiltzkin,” he said.

“Yes, yes,” she said bemusedly. “But I could’ve sworn…”

Harry had neither the time nor the mood to be polite. “No you haven’t. Do you mind?”

She huffed, but allowed the portrait door to swing open. Harry scrambled into the Gryffindor Common Room, careful to leave the door ajar.

As he had hoped, the room was empty. Despite his relief at this, Harry thought there was something sad about seeing only the moonlight occupy the cushy chairs, and only ash sitting in the normally cheery fireplace. He did not want this to be his last memory of his Common Room.

He snapped out his reverie as he heard the Fat Lady’s gentle snoring from behind him. There was little time to spare. He hastily made his way up the stairs to the girl’s dormitory. He was in the process of turning the door handle when he abruptly stopped.

What was he doing?

Was he really thinking of going in there, waking Ginny in the middle of the night to tell her some fantastic story about Harry Potter and his amazing double? Was she going to swallow all that? He could already imagine the look of disbelief on her face, followed by a disgusted glare. It sounded like a prank worthy of the twins. Maybe she wouldn’t even let him talk—she could just as well throw him out the moment she laid eyes on him.

Do I really have to talk to her? he wondered. Maybe I don’t. Maybe all I need is to see her face again.

He could settle for that. That had been the plan all along. He didn’t have to wake her. He didn’t have to tell her anything. He could just look at her face again as she slept. And, with that captured in his mind, maybe he too could sleep.

He added a little more pressure on the doorknob. It squeaked as if in protest, and from the other side, a voice said, “Who’s there?”

Harry leaped back and nearly toppled down the stairs. At the sound of his steps, the voice called again, “Is someone there!?”

Caught. Guilt and panic surged through his veins, and it took several seconds before it occurred to him that the voice was familiar, that it belonged to—

“Hermione?” He stepped forward, relief washing over him. “Hermione? You’re awake?”

The door opened a crack and a pair of wide eyes peered fearfully at him in the gloom. There was a gasp and the door swung open completely.

“What—!”

“Quiet!” Harry hissed at her, stepping closer.

“Harry?! But, but is it—I mean, it’s really you, isn’t it?” She reached out as if to touch his face.

“Yes, yes it’s me, Hermione,” he replied, grasping her hand. “Why are you awake?”

“I couldn’t sleep. I was going to get a glass of water when I heard a noise and…Oh Harry! Wait here—I’ll go wake Ron!”

“No, just a minute!” he said, stopping her. “You can’t...I mean, I don’t have much time.”

“But I thought you left already! The carriage…”

Harry swallowed, looked her straight in the eye. “I decided to take some good advice before I go.”

Hermione stared him, confused. Mustering his courage, he said, “Can I…can I go in and see Ginny?”

Her eyes widened in surprise, and then filled with comprehension, then just as suddenly, excitement. ”Wait here,” she said. She turned and ran down the corridor.

“Wh-where are you going?!” Panicking, Harry made a grab for her hand but missed. “You’re not going to—“

“Quiet!” she admonished, and vanished into the shadows.

Harry waited in the doorway, palms dampening anew, heart pounding much too loudly in his ears. Twice he started down the stairs, but something kept him going back. He had come too far. He had to see this through.

It did not take long for him to hear the soft sound of approaching footsteps. His heart leaped to his mouth as he heard that familiar, sleepy voice: “Hermione, d’you have any idea what time it is?”

“One minute, one minute,” wheedled his friend. “It’s just something you have to see.”

They stepped into the slant of moonlight from a nearby window. Ginny was in her pale blue nightgown, rubbing her bleary eyes, her pillow-tousled hair lying free on her shoulders. Harry was struck by the sight of her; she had looked just like that once, back in the Burrow. The memory filled him with a sudden, sweet ache. Somehow that time no longer seemed so far away. He felt he could breach that barrier of two summers here and now, if he so wanted.

Hermione whispered, “Harry? Are you there?”

At the mention of his name, Ginny froze. The hand that had been rubbing her eye fell to her side.

“Yes,” Harry said softly. He kept his eyes on Ginny as he stepped into the light. “I’m here.”

For a moment, they merely regarded each other.

Then she broke the silence. “Harry,” she said, frowning. “Isn’t it a little late for us to be talking?”

Harry flinched. Everything he’d thought of saying fled from his brain. It took every inch of his will to remain standing where he was.

“You’re right,” he said after a moment. It sounded like the right thing to say. “I’m sorry I bothered you…”

He paused, eyes flicking to Hermione. Her eyes seemed to reassure him. Go on.

“I came here because I wanted…because I thought we could talk for a bit.”

“I don’t know if we’ve anything to talk about,” she replied.

“We do,” Harry said quickly. “There’s something I have to tell you. If you’d only listen—“

“If I say no?”

Hermione spoke up. “Harry’s leaving, Ginny. Dumbledore’s sent him on some kind of mission, and he came here to say goodbye.”

Harry felt at once relieved and dismayed by his best friend’s interruption. Helplessly he watched Ginny look at Hermione in surprise, then drag her eyes back to him. He swallowed again, stepped forward. “Can we talk, then? Alone? Please?”

She did not respond, did not even seem to know what to say. Her white hands clutched at the hem of her gown. He took another step towards her. “Ginny?” When was the last time he said that name out loud? And why did it feel wrong to say it?

She stood there quietly, eyes shifting to and fro, looking at anything but him. Finally she looked up and nodded once.

Harry felt that odd mix of relief and nervousness surge again in his veins. He nodded numbly to her as if in thanks, and turned to Hermione. “Go ahead,” she said, “and hurry up! I’ll just go make sure they’re all asleep. Heaven knows,” she added, in a low voice, “Ron’s never going to forgive me if he found out you were here and I didn’t even wake him.”

Harry nodded again, turned and started down the stairs. He heard Ginny’s light footsteps follow behind him, not too closely. He swallowed. His tongue tasted of sun-baked sand.

In a few moments he found himself in the Common Room once more. The moonlight from the window cut a pale box in the middle of the floor. Harry stepped into it gingerly and turned around. Ginny followed, watching him cautiously. Harry watched her red hair burn copper in the ashen light. They stood together, half-illuminated, half-hidden in the gloom.

“Is it true?” she asked. “You’re going away?”

“Yes,” he said. “The journey’s supposed to be a secret. I’m supposed to leave tonight. In an hour, in fact.”

“How long will you be away?”

“I think only two weeks.”

She averted her eyes. “Is it…is it someplace dangerous?”

“I don’t think so. Dumbledore’s made sure I’ll be safe.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“Okay.” She simply nodded, not knowing what more to say. He went on, “Ron and Hermione were the only ones who knew. After a while, I thought…I thought it would only be fair if I came here and said goodbye to you.”

“At the last minute?” she asked, looking up at him.

He felt shame burning in his cheeks. He’d never considered she’d see it that way.

“I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do,” he said. “Dumbledore wanted me to keep it secret.”

“So why didn’t you?”

He looked at her in disbelief. “What?”

“Why didn’t you keep it a secret? Why didn’t you just go?”

He suddenly—surprisingly—found himself defensive. “You wanted me to keep it secret? You didn’t want me to tell you? Is that it?”

“What if it is?”

“Oh, that’s nice—I guess I wasted my time by coming here!”

Her eyes flashed. “I guess you did! Considering how you’ve behaved over the past few months this would be a waste of time for you!”

He bit down on harsher words. “I may be late but at least I didn’t leave. At least I’m here.”

She stepped forward, fists clenched. “And I want to know why you’re here, Harry! After all this time! For half a year you made me feel like I’d fallen off the face of the earth, and now you’re suddenly here talking to me! Why do you want to tell me all this? Don’t you think I should know that?”

He said the only thing that came to his head.

“Because…because I thought you deserved to know!”

An odd expression crossed her face, and she turned her gaze away. When she spoke again, it was in a strangled voice.

“You’re not going to tell me anything more, are you.”

He suddenly felt dirty, like he had played a trick on her. He wanted tell her something, to apologize, but she spoke first.

“Why are you going away?” she said, her voice still unsteady. “Are you allowed to talk about it?”

“…No. Dumbledore made me promise. I can’t even tell Ron and Hermione.”

“But you’ll be back after two weeks.”

“Yes,” he said, then added, “I promise.”

She looked at him. “You promised things before, you know.”

“Yeah,” he said, with sincere regret, “I know. I…”

She shook her head, saying, “Don’t say it, if you don’t mean it.”

He gazed at her steadily. Then he said, “I’m sorry, Ginny.”

Her mouth was silent but her eyes were not. Were there tears in them, or was it just the moonlight? He didn't know. He only knew that he had to keep talking.

He said, “Ginny, there’s something else.”

And he told her all about the homunculus. It took all of ten minutes, and as he spoke, Ginny’s eyes kept widening in shock. When he was done, she sucked in her breath and let out a long sigh.

“This is a bit much,” she said, shakily.

“Tell me about it,” he replied. “When Dumbledore told me what had to be done, I nearly fell off my chair.”

She turned her head to look out the window. “I didn’t think it would be this bad,” she said. “I didn’t think that things would change so much or so fast, that we’d have to worry about such things. All we had before were grades and friends and who’s going out with whom…” She turned, walked to a chair, and sank down. Her eyes were large and shiny with fear. “What’s happening, Harry? I don’t understand. It…it didn’t used to be like this.”

Harry sat down on an adjacent chair. “I know, Ginny. I think there’s going to be a war. Dumbledore thinks so too. Things will be harder for us from now on.”

She shook her head as if to deny it, as if she could make it go away.

“But if I succeed,” Harry went on, “if I make this journey worth it, maybe this nightmare won’t last.”

He half-regretted those words; he was already bending his promise. She turned to look into his eyes. “You’re going to face Him again, aren’t you?”

He could not reply, realizing that part of the reason he could keep going was that he had tried very hard not to think of the moment he’d have to fight Voldemort once more. This journey was a trifle compared to that.

But if he was going to die, he might as well come clean, and say the things he wanted to say. Or at least…say the ones that wouldn’t do any damage.

He looked down at the carpeted floor. “Ginny?”

“Yes?” she whispered.

“I’m sorry about…” He fought for words. His mind trembled at the edge of memory, but he pushed the distracting thoughts away.

“I’m sorry about that time in February.”

From the corner of his eye he saw her look down as well.

“Okay.” Her voice was low, quiet.

“I was angry and stupid,” he went on. “I wasn’t myself. I didn’t mean those things I said.”

She nodded, still not looking at him. He turned his head to watch her in the dim light. Her cheeks had reddened, but she was shivering as if cold.

“Do you forgive me?” he asked.

“Yes, Harry. It’s okay.”

Again he wanted to touch her, to make her stop feeling cold or sad or unsure. He reached for her hand, for the soft warmth he remembered from that time by the lake. If he held her hand, maybe that day would come back. Maybe everything would be all right.

She spoke abruptly. “You’d better go. It’s dangerous for you to stay here any longer.” She stood up.

His hand dropped to his side once more. Something sank inside of him.

He slowly got to his feet and stood beside her. Without a word he allowed her to lead him to the portrait door. There, she faced him once more.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen, and I barely know what’s going on. But I do know we’ll all be waiting for you to come back. Ron, Hermione, and me.”

“Thank you.”

“Thank you, too. For stopping by.”

“…Yeah. Okay.”

She smiled a little and said, with measured cheerfulness, “Well, take care, Mr. Potter.”

He returned her smile as best he could. “I will. You too, Ms. Weasley.”

He pushed the portrait door open and slipped outside. It shut softly behind him.

He stood there for long moments, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the dark. Coming here had been a relief, yes, but he also felt the cold comfort of their goodbye squarely in his guts.

I shouldn’t be feeling this way, he told himself, as he put on his cloak. He found himself fumbling with the clasp; his fingers were turning numb from his dried sweat and the cold air. I shouldn’t be feeling like this. I did what I came here to do.

The feeling would not leave, promising sleepless nights ahead. Harry pulled the Invisibility Cloak tightly around his shoulders, vanishing from sight.

“I did what I came here to do,” the air whispered hoarsely.

Then there was only silence.


~~@~~


Ginny remained where she was, watching the square of light lying on the Common Room floor. Was it just moments before that Harry was standing there? It seemed surreal. It seemed like it happened years ago, or that it happened with someone else and she was merely watching from across the room.

She kept on staring, picturing him there and straining to remember his voice, and how the moonlight glimmered in his green eyes. She tried to call back his words—and it hurt to do so. She had not felt it hurt in so long. And she had thought he’d never be able to hurt her again

Hermione stepped into the box, breaking moonlight and silence. “Is he gone? I, I wanted to say goodbye too.”

Ginny looked into her friend’s eyes, at the sorrow mirrored there.

“Yes, he’s gone.”

To her surprise, the last word came in a sob. Her hands flew to her mouth—she could hardly believe she was crying, but she was. Tears were running freely down her cheeks and onto her fingers. Her vision was blurring, her breath hitching in her lungs.

Hermione quickly closed the distance between them and put her arms around her. Ginny sank gratefully into her embrace, burying her face in her friend’s shoulder.

“It’s okay, Ginny,” whispered Hermione. “It’s going to be okay. He’ll be back, I know he will.”

Ginny was not listening. She could only hear her sobs, and the wild thudding of her heart, brimming with confusion and longing and fear.


To be continued


Sanction


//
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