The Sugar Quill
Author: imc130d  Story: A New Game  Chapter: Default
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A New Game

A New Game


By imc130d


A/N: This is J. K. Rowling's sandbox; I'm just playing in it.  I'd also like to thank Helen, who beta'd this story.


A/N 2:  The opening quote is from pg 825 of the American hardcover edition of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.




               "It is my fault that Sirius died.  Or I should say almost entirely my fault -- I will not be so arrogant as to claim responsibility for the whole."


               Harry Potter stared at the ceiling, blinking only when it became too blurry to see.  Just inside the door, his trunk sat disregarded, as it had since his return to Privet Drive two days before.  He had dragged it and Hedwig's cage up the stairs into his room and closed the door behind him.  After opening the window and the door to the cage, he'd flopped onto his bed.  Other than getting up to use the bathroom, get a glass of water, or feed Hedwig, he hadn't moved since.  He just stared at the ceiling, and thought about what had happened at the Ministry.


               Dumbledore's fault?  Who is he kidding?


               A loud BANG startled Harry into sitting upright, hand on his wand.  The next thing he heard was an even louder screech of tires.  He snorted quietly.  The combination of sounds had reminded him of his first encounter with the Knight Bus.  Probably just some local kid learning to drive, he thought, laying back down.  Then there was another loud BANG, and he added, learning to drive the equivalent of a Tinderblast.


               Then there was a knock at the front door of the house, and he sat upright again.  What if it had been the Knight Bus?  I don't want to see anyone. And I really don't want anyone to see me.   He looked around.  The room didn't look too bad, mostly because he hadn't unpacked.  But he hadn't showered, or even changed his clothes, in two days.  He considered getting up, then discarded the idea.  Probably just coincidence anyway.  He lay down again, closing his eyes.  He could hear his aunt clicking across the tile towards the door.  Then there was murmuring, and then more clicking, and the light creak of footsteps on the stairs.  Harry groaned under his breath.  Someone had come to see him.


               Through the bedroom door, Harry heard a sharp knock, and then Aunt Petunia's voice.  "You have visitors.  From that family of redheads."


               Harry's eyes opened wide.  He REALLY didn't want any of the Weasleys to see him like this.  Especially Ron.  Maybe if I pretend to be sick, they'll go away.  No, noone ever leaves me alone when I'm sick.  Asleep, perhaps.  Then he felt guilty for having thought that about the family that had given him so much more than he felt he deserved.  For all I know, they're here to take me to the Burrow already, and I'm sitting around having a pity party.  He got up to open the door and ask his aunt to stall them for a couple of minutes while he took a quick shower.  But as he opened the door, he found not his aunt's retreating back, but the face of the youngest Weasley.




               No sooner had her name left his mouth than he realized that he hadn't brushed his teeth in two days, either.  He clapped his hand over his mouth.  "Erm.  I'm really sorry.  Would you mind waiting downstairs for a few minutes while I clean up a bit?"


               "I don't mind waiting, but...erm... would you mind terribly if I waited up here?  I don't think your aunt wants to see very much of me," Ginny said, wrinkling her nose.  "Of either of us, actually; she's glaring through the front window at George.  I think she remembers him."


               "George is outside?  Why didn't he come in?  And why didn't Ron come?"  Harry asked, hand still sort of covering his mouth.  Feh.  I am never going to skip taking a shower or brushing my teeth again.


               "George is standing guard.  Ron doesn't know we're here."


               Harry was so surprised by Ginny's last statement that for a moment he didn't know what to say.  "Oh.  Right.  Anyway.  Let me get some stuff out of my trunk and I'll be with you in about ten minutes.  Make yourself at home."  He turned around and threw open his trunk, digging around for some clean clothes and his toiletry kit.  When he had what he needed, he stood up again, turning around as he straightened, and then came very close to walking into Ginny.  He stopped just in time, but was sufficiently startled to drop everything on the floor.  Fighting the impulse to yell in frustration, he tersely said, "Sorry," picked up his things, and with as much dignity as he could summon, carefully walked around the suddenly blank-faced Ginny and went into the bathroom.  For a moment, he thought he heard quiet giggling, but it ended almost before it began.




               Fifteen minutes, a shower, a shave, and two teeth-brushings later, Harry walked back into his room, where he found Ginny perched at the foot of his bed, legs wrapped underneath her.  The room looked...brighter, somehow.  Ginny had opened the blinds, but even taking that into account the room still felt a bit less dingy than normal.  He looked at Ginny again.  She smiled, and for a moment, Harry could see the girl who ran after the Hogwarts Express his first year.  It unnerved him a little.  "Erm...hi."


               "Hi, Harry.  Feeling better?"


               Harry shrugged.  "Cleaner, at least.  Which is probably for the best.  What's up?"


               Ginny looked at a spot slightly over Harry's shoulder.  Feeling nervous - he wasn't quite sure what he saw in her eyes - Harry followed her gaze.  "Is something wrong with the wall?" he asked lightly, hoping to defuse the moment.


               Ginny chuckled, clasping her hands together.  "No.  I'm sorry.  I came because I thought there was something you needed to hear, and now that I'm here I'm feeling a bit off about saying it to you."


               Harry frowned.  "Are you here to try and tell me it's not my fault?  Because I've had that conversa--"  He stopped as he recalled a rather unpleasant conclusion he'd come to recently.  He'd been thinking about a lot of things from the previous year, and one comment from Luna about his behavior had stuck in his mind.  "I'm sorry.  I don't mean to be rude."


               Ginny briefly focused on Harry, and smiled again.  "I know you don't.  Somebody already tried to tell you?"


               "Yeah.  Dumbledore.  Was that really why you came all the way out here?"


               "No.  Well, kind of.  I guessed that if someone hadn't already tried to tell you, they would soon, and I thought you might want somebody to tell you what I wish someone had told me."


               "What's that?"


               "That it's bollocks, really."


               Harry just stared at Ginny, dumbfounded, for several seconds.  She had precisely captured his feelings on the matter, better than he had been able to so far.  Or he thought she had, at least.  Eventually he recovered his voice. "What do you mean?"


               Ginny bit her lip gently, looking at the floor.  "All that stuff people try and feed you about it not being your fault... they're trying to make you feel better, I think.  They think it should work because they don't know what it's like to truly feel responsible for someone else getting hurt."  She shrugged, absently tying and untying knots in the bottom front of her button-down shirt; for an all-too-brief moment, Harry could see her midriff.  "I think a lot of people don't even bother to understand the difference between being at fault and being responsible.  If Dumbledore told you it wasn't your fault, then it probably wasn't.  He would know.  But he didn't do you any favors if he didn't remind you that you were responsible for your own actions."


               All at once, Harry felt as though a great deal of his recent life had suddenly snapped into focus.  He continued to stare at Ginny, considering what she had said.  Responsible for my own actions...  He had gone over his conversations with Dumbledore, Hagrid, Ron, Hermione -- nearly everyone whose opinions mattered to him at all -- time and time again since leaving Hogwarts, and he hadn't understood why any of them would say what they did.  Of course it was his fault.  How could it not be?  But he hadn't really thought about the difference between being at fault and being responsible either.  Unbidden, a memory from a conversation he'd had with Dumbledore three years ago briefly surfaced.  "It is our choices, Harry, that show us what we truly are..." And choices determine action, and actions determine responsibility...  "That makes a lot of sense, Ginny.  Thanks.  But how do you-oh."  Harry looked down, feeling a flush creep outwards from the back of his neck.  "Sorry."


               "Well, I don't know if your memory is improving, but your recall speed is," Ginny said, her mouth quirking up on one side.  "Good show."


               Harry nodded, still looking down, and fumbled around for something else to say.  "Do you still think that...all that with the your..."  He corrected himself.  "erm...that you were responsible?"


               "Well, naturally I was for some of it.  But I didn't create the diary, or the Chamber itself.  And I didn't willingly do what Tom wanted me to - I fought him with everything I had, once I realized that...what was happening..."  She trailed off.


               Sensing that something was wrong, Harry looked up.  "Oh, hell.  I shouldn't have--"  he started, but Ginny put up a hand, breathing carefully.


               "Don't.  You've got enough on your mind.  I chose to come here, and I knew we might talk about this.  And I won't back away from it.  I've done that long enough."  She looked Harry in the eye, and Harry had to resist the urge to take a step back.  She looked angry, and he didn't understand why.


               Ginny hissed air out of her mouth, and continued.  "I fought him with everything I had.  I lost, but I didn't make it easy.  Tom had to fight.  I like to think that I took enough out of him to make your job a little easier when you showed up."


               Harry nodded.  "I think you did."


               Ginny froze for several seconds, her eyes wide.  "I'm... I'm sorry, Harry...?"


               "I think you managed to hurt him.  Or slow him down at least.  He wasn't entirely... there...when he confronted me in the Chamber.  He was still fuzzy.  He seemed stronger when he was in the diary.  More sure of himself.  And he forgot that phoenix tears could heal injuries."


               "Oh."  Ginny's eyes were very bright; Harry forced his own away.  "Thank you for telling me that."


               Feeling heat on the back of his neck again, Harry looked out the window.  "Sure."  He cleared his throat.  "How... what did eventually make you feel better?"


               "A few things.  Understanding the difference between being responsible, and being at fault.  Understanding what happened as much as possible, so that I knew exactly what my mistakes were and how to avoid making them again.  Fred and George helped with that the most.  Everyone else treated me like I was made of glass.  Mum still does, occasionally," Ginny said, scowling slightly as she finished.  "And she'll probably treat you the same way when you come over to the Burrow."


               "She already does, sometimes,"  Harry said.  "It's okay.  I don't mind."  He looked at the floor.  "Well, normally I don't mind," he muttered, thinking about how he would have reacted had he met Mrs. Weasley at the door rather than her daughter.


               "That was the other reason I came over.  I guessed I'd find you doing exactly what you were doing, and I wanted to warn you that it would only make Mum worse."


               Surprising himself, Harry laughed out loud.  "Thanks.  I'll keep that in mind.  --How did you know what I'd be doing?"


               Ginny looked away.  "I...recognized what you were doing at the end of the year.  Trying to act like you were okay long enough to get away from everyone.  And I remembered why I did that at the end of my first year, and what I did next."


               Harry didn't really know what to say to that, but he didn't want to say the wrong thing, either.  And he was a little annoyed with himself; he had seen Ginny a few times at the end of her first year, and had completely failed to notice that she might not have been feeling as fine as she had seemed.   So he just sat there for a little while, wondering what to do next.  Eventually, he settled for changing the subject.  "Erm, have you talked to any of the others?"  Oh, BRILLIANT, Potter.  She only lives with one of them.


               Ginny nodded.  "Yeah.  Ron's a little weird - those brain tentacles affected him a lot, but he actually seems happy about it now.  He said he feels like he understands certain things better than he used to."  Harry started to snicker, and turned it into a cough; Ginny shot him a merry glance before continuing.  "And speaking of "certain things", Hermione is worried sick about you, as usual.  I had to promise to tell her everything before she helped me figure out a way to get out here and back to the Burrow without Mum or Ron finding out.  And she feels guilty -- she says if she hadn't talked you into teaching the DA, Dumbledore wouldn't have been unavailable when you needed him."


               Harry's eyes widened.  "SHE feels guilty?  That's...that's... if we hadn't been practicing, I don't know if we would've all lived through it!"   No, that's not what Ginny's talking about.  The DA is why Umbridge got Fudge to come to Hogwarts, and that's when Dumbledore left.  "Oh, I see.  What did you tell her?"


               "I pointed out that it wasn't simply that the class existed that got Dumbledore in trouble, and then I reminded her whose idea the name 'Dumbledore's Army' actually was."


               "Oh."  Harry remembered perfectly well whose idea it was; he'd rather liked the suggestion.  "Are do you feel about all of...this?"  He gestured vaguely as he finished.


               "Angry, mostly.  I wish I'd been a better fighter.  I wish there hadn't been so many witnesses when Sirius died; I heard about that trick you and Hermione pulled two years ago with the Time Turner.  And I miss him.  I'm still not used to the idea that he's...gone...yet."  She exhaled once, then drew her legs out from under her and lay down on the bed; Harry watched her trim ankles bounce lightly over the end.


               "Me neither," said Harry, very quietly.  "I'm not even sure how to get used to it."


               Ginny rolled sideways, and bent to face Harry.  Her eyes were calm and accepting, and Harry felt like he could tell her anything.  The next words were out of his mouth before he could think about them.  "Up until I got to Hogwarts, I never had anyone to lose.  All I remember from before the Dursleys is a flash of green light."


               Calm and accepting widened into shocked and horrified.  "That's... Harry, that... I wish I knew what to say."


               Harry shrugged and looked around his room, annoyed with himself for having affected Ginny that way and trying to think of a way to change the subject.  He wasn't able to come up with anything, and it irritated him.  Then he remembered that changing the subject hadn't worked the last time he tried it anyway.  "You don't have to say anything, really.  Although talking to you helps."  As his brain caught up with his mouth, he wondered if he should have simply kept it shut.


               Ginny smiled weakly.  "Glad to hear it."


               Blushing, Harry smiled back about as weakly as she did.  "Yeah, well.  Wish I'd known earlier.  Last year might have gone better.  Less yelling, for one thing."  His smile faded.  And why did I bring that up?  She already knows I'm a git sometimes.


               "You know, beating yourself up for things you regret doesn't make you less likely to do those things in future.  It probably makes you more likely to do them, if anything."


               Harry furrowed his eyebrows.  "Oh?"


               Ginny's eyes unfocused slightly.  "Well, yeah.  I reckon... I reckon that most people do things they later regret because they weren't thinking clearly.  And if you're beating yourself up, you're definitely not thinking clearly."


               "I see," Harry said thoughtfully.  "What would you do, then?"


               "Apologize to the people you hurt," said Ginny.  She didn't quite smirk.  "And mean it.  Don't think we can't tell when you don't mean it, Harry.  You aren't very good at lying to people who love you."


               The implications of that last statement were so large that Harry decided to ignore them, because he didn't know what else to do.  Ginny had tactfully ignored his blushing earlier, so he thought it was only fair that he ignore hers now.  He had to admit that his earlier admission -- that talking to Ginny helped -- was certainly true, and he wanted her to feel that way as well.  So as casually as he could, he put his hands in his pockets and said, "I'll keep that in mind.  Do I owe you an apology?"


               Ginny's eyes widened as she looked at him again, and she straightened slightly.  "Oh... Perhaps for trying to leave me behind when you were going to the Ministry."  One side of her mouth quirked upward.  "You really should have more confidence in your teaching ability."


               "No," said Harry.  He carefully looked Ginny in the eye.  "I simply underestimated you.  And Neville and Luna; I owe them apologies for that as well.  I'm sorry."  He thought for a second or two.  Then he said, "I'm sorry for being a git, too.  Even if it wasn't aimed at you, you had to put up with me anyway."


               Ginny arched an eyebrow at Harry.  "All right then.  Apologies accepted."  She looked around as she sat up.  "I think I'm almost out of time.  I'll have no end of grief from George if we don't get back soon."


               "Oh, do you have to leave?"  Harry asked.  "I just realized I haven't had lunch.  Or breakfast..."  He trailed off, counting the number of meals he'd missed.  "I was hoping you might join me.  --And George," he said hurriedly, remembering that Ginny's brother was outside.


               "Well, it's the nicest offer I've had all day," Ginny said, wrinkling her nose, "but I do need to get back.  Otherwise Mum will find out I came here, and then we'll all be in for it.  You'll just have to treat me to lunch later this summer.  And don't think you'll be able to weasel out of it, Potter."  She wagged her index finger at him as she said this.


               "I wouldn't,"  Harry said defensively.  Then he realized that she was teasing him.  "Erm.  Anyway.  I'm glad you came by."


               "So am I,"  Ginny said, smiling.  "We're all looking forward to having you at the Burrow again this summer.  Dad's got Moody helping with the new wards.  CONSTANT VIGILANCE!" She shouted the last part in a passable imitation of the grizzled Auror, and Harry chuckled.  "And now I really must go.  One of us will send you an owl before the weekend with the details, but it won't be more than a fortnight.  Try to get some fresh air between now and then."  She stood up and kissed Harry on the cheek.  "Take care, Harry."  The kiss startled Harry; by the time he recovered, she was down the stairs and out the door.


               Harry watched her go down the front path and greet George, who promptly turned around, looked up at Harry's window, and seeing him there, executed a mock salute that started out ridiculously formal and ended as a rude gesture.  Harry waved back, amused.  Seconds later, there was the BANG and screech that signified the arrival of the Knight Bus, but it couldn't drown out the growling in his stomach.  He decided to go downstairs to get something to eat.  Halfway down, the blood rushed away from his head, and he had to catch himself to keep from falling the rest of the way.


               You're not going to be in any condition to kill anyone that way, Potter.


               His grip tightened on the banister.  Even though they had talked about Voldemort, he hadn't thought about the prophecy the entire time Ginny was there.  But now that she was gone, he wanted to tell her.  He wondered what Dumbledore would say if he did, and whether or not he should even care what Dumbledore thought.


               He's still my best chance at figuring out what I'm supposed to do.  For that matter, he's my best chance at figuring out what my mistakes were, and how not to make them again.  If I can get him to tell me.


               You can't get him to tell you anything if you aren't talking to him.


               Harry almost went back upstairs to send a brief note to the headmaster, but his stomach rumbled again, and he continued on to the kitchen.  Dumbledore wasn't going anywhere.

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