Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction, and I claim no rights to the characters, settings, and situations contained herein. No money is being made from this work of fanfiction, and no copyright infringement is intended. Recognizable characters and settings are the exclusive property of J.K. Rowling and her associated publishers and agents. I'm just thankful she's willing to let me play and learn in her universe!
Uncle Vernon burst into Harry's room with Aunt Petunia following closely behind. Both wore the heavy expressions of those who had been jolted out of a sound and dreamless sleep. Uncle Vernon violently slapped at the light switch until the room was flooded in brightness.
"What the devil is going on in here, boy? Have you any idea what time it is?" he shouted. "I will not have my family being woken up at all hours of the night!"
Harry did not reply. Still gripped in the terror of his nightmare, he only sat in his bed, his eyes staring blankly in front of him, shaking and sweating. Aunt Petunia noticed his state. For an instant, it seemed as though she was about to go to him, maybe even comfort him. Just in time, however, she got hold of herself and the disapproving scowl she reserved just for Harry set into her face. She crossed her arms over her chest and listened as Vernon continued to rant at their nephew.
"Some people in this household work for a living, Potter. If you want me to continue putting food on the table and clothes on your ungrateful body, you'd do well to let me get a good night's sleep. And your window is open! What did I tell you about that, boy! I don't want the neighbors to know one bit about your...unnaturalness. You're to keep that window closed, hear? And furthermore..."
Another door opened down the hall and Harry's cousin Dudley wandered sleepily into the fray. Although Harry's scream had not woken him, his father's shouting was loud enough to make the windows rattle. Even through the sleepy haze in his eyes, Dudley realized what was going on and grinned stupidly at Harry. Dudley loved to hear his father telling Harry off.
"I'm sorry, Uncle Vernon," said Harry quietly, trying to keep the tremors from his voice. He didn't have the strength or the will to fight with his uncle, and he wanted the Order to have no excuse to try to come to his aid. "It won't happen again."
"You are bloody well right it won't happen again, boy!" Uncle Vernon shouted, his face turning a darker purple as his temper rose. "I don't care what you have to do to stop that blasted screaming, but I won't be woken in the middle of the night again! Screaming like a bloody baby! Are all wiz-"
"Vernon!" Aunt Petunia hissed. "The window!"
Vernon stopped in the middle of his words. No one in the room could believe that he had almost said "wizard," a word as forbidden in the Dursley household as the nastiest swear word imaginable.
Without another word, Vernon strode across the room and slammed the window shut. He paused and turned to face Harry, opening his mouth furiously as if he were about to start shouting again. Instead, he pulled back his hand and knocked Harry in the side of his head so hard that Harry almost fell off the other side of his small bed. Without another word, he turned his back on Harry, stormed past Petunia and Dudley and stomped back to his own bedroom. Now that the show was over, Dudley smiled dumbly at Harry before going back to his own room.
Aunt Petunia stole one last furious glance at her nephew and was surprised to see that, although the boy had not made another sound, a single tear trickled from his left eye and down his cheek. She left the room without another word, closing the door softly behind her.
Harry finally got out of his bed after his relatives had left the room, brushing the tears from his face. Aunt Petunia probably thought he was crying because Vernon had hit him, but the truth was that the nightmare from which he had just awoken had, after the initial shock, left him with a large lump in his throat and a pain in his chest that made him feel that his heart was about to burst. He screwed up his face, fighting the despair that wanted so badly to come to the surface.
It's my fault. Sirius died because of me.
Harry knew from the core of his being that it was true. If Harry had not gone to the Department of Mysteries that night, Sirius would never have died. If Harry had not been there, his parents would never have died. How many more would there be?
Not for the first time, Harry wished that he was not the Boy-Who-Lived. Since his first year at Hogwarts, he had often wished the trials and the celebrity of his status would simply go away. Tonight, he did not wish for that. Tonight, he wished that he had died with his parents. He could no longer bear the pain of his own existence.
Against his will, more tears of despair trickled from his green eyes down his flushed and sweaty cheeks. He swiped them away, feeling stifling hot in the airless room. Listening to make sure he didn't hear his relatives in the hallway outside his bedroom, Harry went over to open the window once again. He knew he did not have to worry about any more nightmares tonight, for tonight there would be no more sleep.
...for neither can live while the other survives...
Upon reaching his window he saw in the glass, instead of his own reflection, another face, a horribly familiar face. A face that was more snake-like than human, a face with evil, red eyes and narrow holes where the nose should have been. Lord Voldemort was staring through Harry's second-floor window, his face twisted in a sick grin.
"I see you, Harry Potter. It's only a matter of time. You are ready to die, I can see it in your thoughts. I eagerly await the pleasure..."
The face disappeared.
Harry's scar exploded with pain and he dropped to his knees, clutching his forehead. He was going to be sick. His body, weakened by lack of food and rest, shaking and pale as a ghost, finally gave in, and Harry fell, unconscious, the rest of the way to the floor.
Molly finished her note to Harry and tied it to Errol's leg, opening the drawing room window to let him into the dark night to take the message to Privet Drive. For years, she had known what it felt like to worry about Harry as well as the rest of her children, but she could not remember a time when she had been more worried about any of them than she was about Harry right now. What the poor dear must be going through...she did not like to think of him alone with those relatives of his when he was obviously in such a fragile state.
Would they care for him, make sure he ate, make sure he slept? Would they be ensuring that he got out in the sun? Molly highly doubted it, and she knew that they would not make themselves available to talk to Harry if he needed help, not that Harry would ask them anyway. She wanted him away from them. She wanted him here, where he belonged, with her and the rest of her family, and with Remus, the last of his father's friends.
No matter what Remus said, Molly had made up her mind that if Harry did not answer her owl directly and did not give a more detailed account of what his life was like this summer, she and Arthur both would be visiting Privet Drive in the near future. Dumbledore be damned. No one messed with Molly's children.
"Mum?" Molly's youngest child and only daughter entered the room behind her. Molly turned to face her, hoping that her worry was not too plain on her face.
"Is Errol taking a letter to Harry?" Ginny Weasley was extremely observant, and she had seen her mother fretting over the letter earlier in the evening.
"Just a quick note, dear, to let him know we are here if he needs us." Molly tried hard not to convey her worry to her children; they were worried enough without adding her own fears to their burden.
"He's been there for almost five days now, and we've not heard anything from him except that short note on the third day. I'm worried, Mum. Harry has an owl. Why isn't he answering our letters?"
Molly went to her daughter and hugged her tight, answering through the embrace. "Harry's grieving right now, Ginny. He's lost the closest thing he has ever had to a father. I imagine he is not writing because he just doesn't know what to say."
"Why, Mum? Why can't Harry be here? He needs us, and we need..." she trailed off, blushing slightly.
Molly broke apart from her daughter and studied her face intently. "Ginny, dear...is there something you want to talk to me about?"
Ginny sighed, lowering her eyes to avoid her mother's gaze. "No, Mum. I'm just worried, thatís all. Ron is, too. Even Fred and George are worried."
"I know...I know, Ginny. But Professor Dumbledore has said that Privet Drive is the only place in which Harry can be safe right now. It's only a few weeks more, dear, until his birthday."
"Is Harry coming on his birthday?"
"That is what we have been planning. I have an idea. Why don't you, Ron, Fred and George put your heads together and plan a little party for Harry's birthday when he arrives? I am sure he would like that. "
"Mum, that's brilliant!" Ginny said happily. "Of course we'll plan a party for him! Will you make food, and a cake? He's never had a real birthday cake before. Can we invite some of our other friends to come, too?"
Molly smiled at her daughter's enthusiasm, and she ruffled Ginny's red hair affectionately as she answered, "I would be delighted to make a birthday cake for Harry, dear, but I'm afraid the party will have to be confined to members of the Order, our family, and Hermione. We simply can't have too many people coming to headquarters. It wouldn't be safe."
Ginny was actually glad of this. If she invited others, she would have to invite her boyfriend, Dean Thomas, and that could prove to be awkward...but why, she wondered? It was not like she had a crush on Harry anymore.
Harry woke to the bright summer sun streaming through his bedroom window and was puzzled at first as to how he had ended up sleeping on the floor and how he had ended up sleeping so long. The clock on his bedside table said that it was nearly noon! Why hadn't his aunt woken him to help with the breakfast? Even though he was mainly confined to his room, he was never allowed to have a lie-in.
Harry's scar gave a familiar twinge. As he reached up to rub it, the events of the previous night came back to him in a rush. Harry jumped to his feet, grabbing his wand from his bedside table and moving more quickly than he had since he had come back to Privet Drive. The house was quiet...too quiet.
Pulling on the same baggy jeans he had worn the day before and a revolting vomit-green t-shirt, Harry crept out of his room and down the stairs. He nearly collapsed with relief when he heard water running in the kitchen and the familiar canned laughter coming from the television set in the lounge. He hid his wand under his shirt and continued to the kitchen, finding that the brief exertion had rendered him quite tired again.
Aunt Petunia was scrubbing the kitchen, peering as usual through the windows to spy on the neighbors as she did so. Harry entered the room quietly and sat at the kitchen table, resting his aching head in his hands.
"We had breakfast hours ago," Aunt Petunia snapped. "Vernon decided that if you are not courteous enough to come down on your own, you simply will not eat. You will have to wait for lunch."
Harry did not reply; he was not hungry anyway. His mind kept straying to the vision of Voldemort looking through the window into his bedroom. Harry knew now that Voldemort could not actually have been there; he must have been using legilimency to enter Harry's mind. Still, the memory was another thing to add to his list of items that were disturbing his peace of mind this summer. How had Voldemort gotten into his mind while he was on Privet Drive, though? That had never happened before.
"You are ready to die. I can see it in your thoughts. I eagerly await the pleasure..."
Although he had been afraid the night before, Harry could no longer even muster the will to worry anymore.
"Harry," Aunt Petunia said abruptly. Harry turned his head quickly to find his aunt looking at him intently, almost worriedly. He realized that this was one of the few times she had ever addressed him by his first name.
"Yes, Aunt Petunia?"
"What were you dreaming about last night?"
Harry was startled enough to come briefly out of his stupor. "I was dreaming about..." He could not tell her about the Prophecy. "I was dreaming about Sirius...about how he...how he died." Harry answered, trying not to choke on the words as the lump in his throat formed anew.
For some reason, he saw definite signs of relief flooding his aunt's narrow face. "Sirius," she snapped, sounding much more like her old self. "Your Godfather is dead, then." This was said without a trace of emotion, nor any question as to what had happened to him.
"Yes," Harry looked down. He did not want to talk about Sirius right now. That was one of the reasons he was avoiding communication with the Order.
"So the dream did not concern the man who killed your parents."
"Not directly, no."
"So we are still safe here."
"As far as I know." Harry, of course, was not about to tell Aunt Petunia that he had seen the face of the Dark Lord in his window the night before.
"Fine. Go back upstairs and make yourself presentable before lunch." Without another glance, Aunt Petunia turned her back on Harry and resumed scrubbing the kitchen sink.
When Harry got upstairs to his room, the first thing he noticed was a bedraggled-looking owl perched precariously on his windowsill with a scroll of parchment tied to his leg. Harry dragged his feet as he approached the window, remembering all too clearly what had happened the night before. In addition to that, he was not looking forward to reading another letter from the Weasleys. He had received a letter each from Ron and Ginny and had not answered them yet. He knew they were probably angry with him, but he just couldn't bring himself to write to them.
Harry raised the window to let Errol come in. The owl immediately flew over to his bed and flopped down, falling onto his back. Harry untied the scroll and was surprised to see the gently flowing handwriting of Mrs. Weasley. She had never sent him an owl before.
How are you doing so far this summer? We are all a bit worried about you. You sent only that short note yesterday, and that did not give us much information to go on.
Are the Dursleys treating you well, dear? Have you been eating properly? And sleeping? I know this must be a very hard time for you, and I know the pain you must be feeling at the loss of Sirius. We are here for you. We care for you. Even though we are not able to be together just yet, it won't be long.
Please send us an owl as soon as you can and let us know how you are doing.
We miss you and we will have you out of there as soon as we can.
Harry sat down on his bed next to Errol and closed his eyes. He could almost hear Mrs. Weasley's mothering voice coming through the parchment, and he did not want to. Because of him, her son and her daughter had been injured at the Department of Mysteries. Because of him they could have died.
The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies...
Because of him, her entire family, herself included, was in even greater danger than the others in the Order. But she didn't know that, of course. Dumbledore had promised that Harry would not have to tell others about the prophecy until he was ready...and he would never be ready, he thought.
It's you, Harry. It's always been you.
It's you, and more people are going to die because of it. I died because of it. I died because of you.
Harry knew that Mrs. Weasley would feel differently about him if she knew. He was not her son, after all, and even though she had said last year that he was "as good as," Harry knew that it wasn't the same. If Ron or Ginny had died...if they did die because of him, Mrs. Weasley would never forgive him. Harry would never forgive himself.
He knew he had to send Errol back with a reply or members of the Order would show up on Uncle Vernon's doorstep even though it had not been three days. He knew he could not bear to look at any of them directly, so he crossed to his desk and took out a piece of parchment.
Dear Mrs. Weasley,
Thank you for your letter and your concern, but I promise you I am fine. Aunt Petunia is feeding me well, and I have gotten enough rest.
Harry cringed. He had never lied to any of the Weasleys. But this time, he knew he had to.
I am spending as much time out-of-doors as I can. This summer is not as hot as last summer, and it has been pleasant in Little Whinging. Taking long walks helps me to sort out my thoughts, as it always has.
Is there any news that I should know about? Tell Ron and Ginny that I will write to them soon and not to worry.
Harry looked at the parchment critically. His handwriting looked odd; he had been having trouble stopping his hands from shaking as he wrote. Almost everything in it was a bald-faced lie, but he would not let the Order come here. He would not put any of them in more danger because of him. A summer at the Dursleys was a small price to pay for the safety of his friends.
Harry rolled and sealed the parchment with shaky hands, tied it to Errol's leg, and sent him out the window and back to the Burrow...or were they at headquarters? Never mind, Errol would know where to find them.
Harry flopped onto his bed, and again focused on the crack on the ceiling and began to count backwards. Instead of calming him as it usually did, each time he counted back, another one of his friends' faces flashed in his mind, their eyes open and blank, like Cedric's had been in the graveyard.
999, dead Ron.
998, dead Hermione.
997, dead Ginny.
996, dead twins.
995, dead Mr. and Mrs. Weasley.
994, dead Lupin...
Harry began to shake uncontrollably. He never heard his aunt's shrill call that lunch was on the table, or later, that he had better come downstairs if he wanted dinner. Harry didn't sleep, but neither did he move from his bed for the rest of the day.
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