Harry Potter had lain in this bed many nights for the past five years; he had seen the same cracks in the ceiling, heard the same creaks in his mattress as he moved, felt the same air rush in through the window. This year, the weather was no different, the room was unchanged. It was he who was sleepless, changed, older.
Sirius was dead.
He rolled over in bed, grunting as the familiar lumps hit him the wrong way. Outside, it was raining, sending little pitter-pats of sounds into his ears and soothing him with the regular pattern. He couldn't think of anything but Sirius; he couldn't think of anyone without thinking of Sirius. It felt like last summer all over again, but closer to his heart, deeper and more painful. This kind of guilt and grief he could not escape, not even in his waking hours; it haunted him, making sure he felt every pang.
Sometimes he would reach for a piece of parchment and a quill, wanting to write to someone. But what would he say? Hello. I'm fine. How are you? Besides, the only way he could get a letter to anyone was through a member of the Order, because owls weren't allowed to come to Privet Drive, for fear of interception. An Order member, usually Tonks or Remus, came every three days to check up on him, make sure he was getting by. They brought him correspondence, little food items, news from the outside world. But he never gave them anything in return, especially not letters.
How mechanical it all seemed to him now, the thoughts that went into letters. Was there anything meaningful left to write anymore? Everything he thought about revolved around his own pain and the agony he had caused to others. He couldn't even bring himself to write to either Ron or Hermione. Ron he knew would try to avoid any mention of feelings or Sirius or anything that might remind him of Sirius. Hermione would be totally opposite; she would nag him, ask him to write about how he felt, tell him that grieving was normal.
He didn't want any of that anymore. He cared for and appreciated his friends, but they couldn't understand him now. There was no one left to understand him.
Letting out a quiet sigh, he rolled onto his back, grimacing as the lumpy mattress prodded into his spine. He would give anything to have Sirius back, just to feel like himself again. What was the point of living if he had no one to understand him?
The rain continued through the night. He stayed awake to listen to the sound of it in his ears, just as he had the night before. Sometimes, he liked the rain. When it fell at night, it gave him company during his sleepless hours; the silence of a clear night hurt much more than a rainy one.
Sitting in the slightly damp grass of his uncle's lawn nearly two weeks later, he looked up into the grey sky and saw a glimmer of gold, a flash of hot red sun that disappeared within seconds. But it was enough to make him think of a girl with flashing eyes and bright hair, a girl who had believed in him since the very first time she had seen him. His thoughts remained on her, and he latched onto her with a maudlin sort of joy; she wasn't Sirius, so she was safe to think of. She was the first person he had thought of for longer than a few moments, other than Sirius.
He wondered about her as the clouds moved on, leaving him behind. On the night they had gone to the Ministry, she hadn't questioned his vision; she had only refused to be left behind.
She had always supported him, even when that included shaking some sense into him, like she had at Christmas. Somewhere deep inside him, past the apathy that had built around him, he was horrified that he had forgotten about her experience with Voldemort. It was like he hadn't seen her before that moment, and then she was suddenly there. After Christmas, he remembered noticing her a lot more. She had brought him that Easter Egg, talked to Fred and George for him, followed him unquestioningly to the Ministry.
He just didn't understand why, now that he thought about it. She had no obligation to him, and he had never treated her very well, which was a painful admission on his part. But she just did these things for him without question; why?
Abruptly, he thought maybe he should write to her.
That thought stayed with him as Uncle Vernon came out and ordered him to get inside, a command which he ignored. Rain was beginning to fall, but it felt good on Harry's skin.
When he finally did go in, he sat down and wrote a letter to her. It was short, almost painfully short, but he said what he wanted to say. Now all he could do was wait for a member of the Order to come by and take it to her.
I hope this finds you well. I'm sorry for not writing to you before this, but I've been busy. Please tell me how you are, and what everyone is up to. Send greetings to Ron, and Hermione, if you see her.
I'm sorry I forgot about you.
Glancing up from his seat on his bed, Harry gave Tonks a weak nod in greeting as she walked in the door. Her hair and eyes were a matching brown, quite subdued for the usually perky Auror. She was dressed quite conservatively as well, in a black sundress, and Harry had to wonder why; when she had come to check on him before, she'd always been in more casual clothing. She looked pale and pinched, not at all normal for the woman.
Wiping her brow, she shut the door and practically fell into the rickety chair by his desk. "Merlin, it's so hot, you could cook a Hippogriff," she lamented, fanning herself with a crinkled piece of parchment from his desk. A hefty schoolbag rested at her hip, the strap around her shoulder, clunking as she shifted her weight.
Gesturing at it, he raised an eyebrow. "What's in the bag?"
She looked at him blearily. "Oh, letters from Remus, Ron, and Hermione; and I brought pumpkin juice, since I know you like it and you can't get it here."
He was touched by the thought of anyone bringing him something. "Thanks, Tonks," he said as she pulled out two goblets and a flask and set them on the desk.
She flashed him a brief grin. "Of course. Now, let's see if I can pour this without making a mess, shall we?" She opened the top of the flask. "How do you like your pumpkin juice?"
"Sweetened, not stirred."
Again, she gave him a small smile. "Same here. Lucky guess, I reckon," she said, pouring slowly and handing him the first goblet.
Taking a drink, he let the familiar sweetness slide down his throat and felt relieved to still know how things tasted; he had thought he had become completely numb.
Tonks closed her eyes as she took a long drink. "Ah, relief from the heat!" she exclaimed, putting the half-full goblet down.
The mention of the heat brought him back to the question of her clothes. Why would she wear that, since it was so hot out today?
"Why are you wearing that?" he asked.
She blinked, then looked down at her dress. "Oh! Well, you see..." she trailed off, looking miserable.
He raised an eyebrow at her. Scowling, she muttered a curse under her breath. "Where the hell is Remus when I bloody need him?" she said.
A morbid thought grabbed him and held him fast. "Someone has died, haven't they?" he asked tonelessly.
Looking quite helpless, she nodded slowly. "Yes; I just came from the funeral."
She swallowed, eyes brightening. "Amelia Bones."
Harry glanced at Tonks for a moment. Yes, he remembered the monocled witch who had presided over his hearing last summer, and he felt a slight pang of sadness at the news of her death. But he wasn't overwhelmed, and neither was he very affected. He sat there, watching Tonks as she scrubbed her eyes, finishing off her pumpkin juice, and felt nothing.
Tonks finally composed herself and was able to look him in the eye again. "Well, there it is. That's what we expect in war," she said softly, nearly to herself.
Abruptly, she dug through her bag and pulled out three very similar pieces of parchment. Harry recognized the handwriting on all three; they were the letters from Ron, Hermione, and Remus. Holding them out to him, she managed a smile. "They're worried. You haven't written them," she said.
Taking them silently, Harry felt the burn of her gaze and the sudden heat of the small, folded parchment in his pocket. Hesitating briefly, he took the little note out and held it out to Tonks. She took it eagerly.
"Oh, they'll be so glad! You haven't sent..." she trailed off, eyes glancing at the name scribbled on the front in his messy handwriting.
Fidgeting, he turned his eyes to the floor.
"This is for Ginny?"
She sounded astonished, almost disbelieving. Hot anger raced through him, and he crossed his arms over his chest. "I can write to Ginny if I damn well feel like it, can't I?" he said heatedly, looking straight into her shocked stare.
Flailing her hands about for a bit, she tried to placate him. "Of course you can! I just thought you might want to write to Ron or Hermione, but it's none of my business!"
Sighing silently, Harry attempted to settle his rising blood. "It doesn't matter. Just give it to her, ok?"
Tonks nodded vigorously, placing the note in her bag with care. "Of course I will, as soon as I see her."
He frowned slightly, but shut his eyes against the hot sun pounding into his room. "When am I getting out of here?" he muttered.
There was silence but for his breathing, and then a gentle hand on his arm. "As soon as we can, we'll get you out. Remus will be by for the next visit, and he'll know," she said quietly.
Opening his eyes, he saw her stand and collect her goblets and flask. After muttering a quick Cleaning Charm on the goblets, she shoved everything into her bag. "I'll be back soon, all right? You take care now, Harry," she said, smiling briefly as she headed for the door.
"Thanks, Tonks," he replied.
She nodded and left, shutting the door behind her. Harry was left behind with one of his near-constant companion, the shadow of Ginny Weasley.
I must say it was a surprise to hear from you yesterday, but more to Ron and Hermione than to me. You just needed space and I understand that. It's good to know you're still with us, though. Ron nearly had a heart attack when he saw that your note was for me, not him or Hermione. He demanded to read it, but I didn't let him; do you mind?
Hermione has been at the Burrow for two days, and something feels different between the two of them. He's not as annoying right now; he's calmer, more sensitive to some things. This must be because she's here, because he was always getting on my nerves about the Dean thing until she got here. And they just go off and disappear, leaving me with Mum, who only smiles. It's just odd.
We don't do a lot here right now; Dad is never home, and neither are Fred and George. Bill's with Dad, and Charlie's still in Romania. Percy still hasn't written, but then again his pride is an awful thing. It could take him a while to own up to his mistakes. So it's mostly me, Ron, Hermione, and Mum at home. We do chores for a bit, and then Ron and Hermione disappear and I go off to fly. Order members pop by sometimes, mostly Remus or Tonks. They tell us that you're getting along, and I reckon that's good enough for now.
I'm sorry I don't have too much interesting stuff to tell you, but there is life for me in a nutshell. Please write again! I'm always glad to read your letters.
P.S.---You didn't forget me, Harry. I was never worried about it. You have nothing to be sorry for.
Her eyes were the key to her feelings, Harry decided on his birthday. When she was said or happy, angry or content, her dark eyes showed everything she was feeling, and nothing stopped it.
He was idly re-reading one of her letters, trying to distract himself from thinking of Sirius or his birthday. He was 16 years old, but he didn't feel young. He felt ancient with pain and experience, and he didn't want to feel that way. The day had gone practically unnoticed by his relatives, and now all he had to do was survive the evening.
Going back to her letter, as he lay sprawled across his too-small bed on his back, he saw the tentative seeds of a relationship growing. While most of the things she told him were of the everyday life at the Burrow, the little hints she left him were the most appealing. She never came out and told him he needed to open up, as Hermione might have done, but she did always end her letters with a "tell me anything you feel like" sentence. It was nice to see subtlety in his friends; he appreciated her words more than he ever told her.
After giving Tonks his first note, it had been a hellish three days of waiting for Harry before Remus came, delivering a return letter. It had been a page of goings-on and salutations from his friends at the Burrow. Ginny had never asked how he was; it was a release in a way. He didn't understand or know how he was, and he didn't want to go around sharing his feelings with just anyone.
Soon, after the third letter from her, it became clear that she was someone he would share his feelings with, if he was aware of what those feelings were. He didn't feel comfortable with the subject of Sirius, and she understood that unspoken agreement completely, never blatantly mentioning him. Her letters were casual, humorous, and most of the times brought an unfamiliar smile to his face. It was perfect.
He began to think of her appearance from the last time he had seen her at King's Cross. Her hair had been pulled back; freckles stood out clearly on her pale skin. The brightness had never left her eyes, drawing him to her gaze as he had played chess on the train with Ron. She had looked the same in the Library when she had brought him the Easter egg, and when she had followed him to the Ministry. He wondered what took him so long to notice how pretty she was, and then promptly killed that thought. He had enough problems to deal with; he didn't need any girls in the mix.
Still, he wondered about what she had said about Dean on the train home. Had she been bluffing? Was it all a big joke?
He hoped it had been, in a secret place in his heart.
There was a knock on his door. He lifted his head and glanced towards it. "It's open," he called.
The door opened, and the bright pink head of Tonks popped in. "Wotcher! Happy birthday, Harry," she said cheerily. "We've come to get you!"
He sat up, brow furrowed. We?
The door opened fully, and Harry saw not only Tonks standing in his doorway, but also Ginny, looking quiet and slightly nervous. His eyes widened slightly, and he nearly smiled.
Grinning knowingly, Tonks strolled in, pulling Ginny in behind her. "I didn't want to come by myself, and I thought you might want someone else to talk to other than me on the way back, so Ginny volunteered to come," she said, winking subtly.
A gentle blush started on Ginny's neck, but she conquered it quickly and met Harry's gaze. "She ordered me to, since Ron and Hermione had disappeared," she amended, smiling at him.
Tonks only rolled her eyes and headed for the door. "I've got to chat with your relatives, Merlin have mercy, so you get your stuff together! I'll be back soon; if I'm not, send a search party! Your aunt might chop my head off," she quipped before running out the door, shutting it softly and leaving Ginny alone with him.
Harry let himself give Ginny a small smile. "You look well," he said, noting that she actually did look pretty. Her hair was pulled back in a messy yet appealing bun; the blue Muggle skirt and top she was wearing did justice to her dark eyes.
She shrugged. "Thanks. So do you," she said, clasping her hands behind her back.
Moving over, he gestured to the bed. "Do you want to sit? Who knows how long Tonks'll be."
With a grin, she sat on the edge of the bed, a little ways away from him. "She made her hair pink just to see your aunt's reaction, you know," she said with a little laugh. "She remembered from King's Cross."
"Yeah; Aunt Petunia had some things to say to me about that," he added. "I mostly ignored her."
"I saw that cousin of yours downstairs. I think he gave me the once-over," she said with a mocking shudder. "Is it just me, or is he approaching Hagrid-size?"
Smiling wider, he chuckled, the sound feeling unfamiliar in his throat. "He's past that. Did he really look you over? I'll have to beat him up."
Laughing, she shook her head. "I have enough brothers to defend my honor, thanks."
A surprisingly comfortable silence fell, and Harry noticed how casual it was between them, an odd thing to him. Letters were one thing, but he hadn't expected real-life interaction to be so normal. Normalcy was foreign to him, but it felt very right. And he wondered whether she felt the same about him.
Suddenly, he remembered Dean. His dark mood came back with a vengeance.
"So, how's Dean?" he asked coolly.
Eyebrows raised, she glanced at him. "How would I know?"
His train of thought was derailed at her response, and he looked at her in confusion. "I thought that you said on the train that you and he were…"
Looking at him quizzically for a moment, she suddenly laughed. "Oh, that! I was just trying to make Ron mad. He was hinting at silly things, and I wanted to irk him," she commented.
He searched his mind for Ron's words. Choosing better next time… And that strange look at him…
What did she mean, silly things?
"Silly things? What's that supposed to mean?" he asked hotly, strangely irritated.
Her face flushed abruptly, but her voice stayed strong. "I just wanted… I just thought… Well, I wanted to spare you from any things he might say to you about me, that's all," she replied, back straightening.
He crossed his arms, not mollified in the least. "Maybe I didn't want to be spared," he muttered. How dare she assume about his feelings!
Eyes flashing, her mouth narrowed. "Well, there's no need for you to snap at me! I'm sorry for the whole thing," she said stiffly, turning away.
Astonished, he looked at her in wonder. She had actually snapped back at him, after all the tip-toeing around him! Instead of inflaming him further, he was nearly impressed. Sirius would have appreciated her retorts.
Sirius was dead. It didn't matter what he thought.
He wanted to apologize, but didn't know if he could get the words out. He had never been good at apologies.
Another moment of silence was torture to him. He shut his eyes. The guilt, which had been pushed aside at Ginny's appearance, was beginning to seep back into his mind, enveloping him with a chill. Someone needed to say something before he tore his hair out. All he could see was Sirius' body falling through the air, the look on his face—
"I'm sorry, Harry. I didn't mean to snap."
He felt her gaze on his face, and opened his eyes to see her looking sincerely apologetic. Guilt of another kind ripped at him; she had nothing to apologize for. She had come to Privet Drive of her own accord to keep him company, and here he was snapping at her.
"Don't worry; it's my fault. You've done a lot for me, and I haven't deserved a bit of it," he said quietly.
"Like what?" she asked, true curiosity in her eyes.
He looked straight at her, gaze unwavering. He had to be brave and get this out, something that had been brewing since he began writing to her. "You gave me that Easter egg," he said.
Fidgeting under his gaze, she twisted her fingers together in her lap. "Well, Mum sent it for you. I just brought to you," she said softly.
"You told Fred and George that I needed their help."
She bit her bottom lip, a movement strangely alluring to him. "You wanted to talk to... to Sirius," she murmured. "I just thought you would appreciate their help. And I knew they had something planned, anyway."
Leaning closer to her, he pinned her with his eyes. "You came with me to the Ministry."
The blood left her face and she looked away, casting her eyes to the scuffed floor. "I had to. You needed help, no matter what you said otherwise."
"I was wrong. I got you hurt, and everyone else, because I was wrong," he said bitterly, wishing she would look at him again. There was something calming about the way her eyes rested on him.
Abruptly, her head jerked up. Her mouth was inches from his chin; he could feel her uneven breathing on his skin. "I don't care. I believed you," she said with strength, meeting his eyes.
Looking at her, he felt the foreign beginnings of a smile on his face. "And now you've come to get me here."
"Tonks said..." she trailed off, seemingly at a loss for words.
"Why do you do these things for me?" he asked.
He heard her sharp intake of breath; she stood from her seat on his creaking bed and walked towards the window, back to his eyes. "Because I'm your friend, Harry."
"Hermione didn't believe me," he said softly, watching the bared nape of her neck in the cloudy light. "She's my friend, too."
"She's different; she thinks like that," Ginny said immediately.
He stood up, walking quietly to stand behind her. Their reflections in the smudged glass stared back at them, hers quite pale. "You're just as smart; so why did you believe me?" he asked.
He thought he saw a shiver race through her as his breath brushed her skin, but he couldn't be sure. Through the reflection, he saw her close her eyes.
"Because you did the same for me."
She was talking of the Chamber. It shook him; she hadn't said anything to him about that year since it occurred, except for Christmas. "And I nearly got you killed. I have a track record, it seems," he commented harshly, staring out into the rainy afternoon.
Suddenly she turned to him, looking up at him with a softness he had never seen before. "You don't have a track record; you didn't nearly get me killed. I was the one who put myself in that situation, and don't think you can use that as more blame," she said quickly.
"What about Cedric? And Sirius, hmm? What about them?" he retorted loudly, wondering where the hell Tonks had gone.
Ginny didn't say anything for a moment, only staring up with the calm eyes he had thought of daily for nearly a month. Then she cleared her throat, eyes becoming suspiciously bright. "Cedric wasn't your fault; you didn't know that the Cup was a trap," she said softly.
A burning sensation grew in his throat, and he had to look away. "I told him to take it with me; I killed him," he said, feeling the words come from some faraway place inside him. He remembered saying the first words once before, but he had never said the second part out loud before; he had thought it, but never voiced it.
A hand touched his cheek gently. "Voldemort killed him, not you. You didn't know. How were you supposed to?" she whispered softly into his ear, fingers reaching up to stroke his hair.
Her touch felt like a mother's; gentle, soothing. He leaned into it, a shuddering breath escaping his lungs. "I should have known," he muttered.
"No, you shouldn't have, Harry. It wasn't your fault."
He lifted his head, challenging her with his gaze. "I killed Sirius," he said hoarsely.
A tear slipped from her eye, but she kept her fingers in his hair. "No; Bellatrix Lestrange killed him. You tried to save him, even if it was only a dream. You loved him; that's not why he's dead," she murmured, voice scratchy with unshed tears.
Something inside him broke with her shaky words. He nearly fell on top of her, burying his face in the curve of her neck and feeling horrible, streaming guilt overwhelm him. Her back pressed into the window as her arms came up around his shoulders, fingers in his hair. He burned with shame, pain, and guilt; it made him forget where he was and who he was. All he knew was the warm breath near his ear, the fingers in his hair.
"Oh Harry," she murmured softly as he shook in her arms. "I'm so sorry. I miss him, too."
"You didn't kill him," he rasped, mouth lightly brushing her skin as it moved.
She shivered under him. "Neither did you."
"Harry, are you ready yet? We've got to... Bloody hell…"
Tonks' awed voice rumbled in his ears, but he still said nothing, only holding onto Ginny more tightly. He felt her squeeze him briefly before speaking to Tonks.
"We need a few more minutes. Is that all right?" she asked, voice near to breaking.
"I'll be outside," Tonks said immediately. There was a shuffle of feet, and the door closed.
He felt Ginny put her hands on his face and pull him up to look at her in the eye. "Nothing was your fault, all right? No one blames you," she said, dark eyes swimming with sympathy and pain. His pain.
Looking down at her face, he watched her lips move as she spoke, and nodded as if in a daze. Her mouth mesmerized him. He wondered if Sirius could see him. If his parents were watching from wherever they were.
Suddenly, he leaned down and kissed her.
She froze under him for a moment, before leaning into his arms. It was shallow, yet filled to the brim with their mutual pain and understanding. Her lips were chapped under his, rough but smoother than his own. He relished the moment of connection before he pulled away, fairly amazed at his own audacity.
Ginny looked up at him through lidded eyes, dark eyes full of something he couldn't place or name. Licking his lips, he took a step back. She was going to hate him now; hadn't Hermione said that she was over him?
"I'll just grab my trunk, then," he said quietly, turning away.
A hand grabbed one of his, and he turned back to see her lacing their fingers together, a small smile on her face. "I'll help you," she replied softly. "I'll always be here to help you."