Summer at the Burrow after the battle of the Ministry was a rather dismal affair. Hermione had gone to her parents' home, but had decided after less than just a week that she needed the company of her friends to get over the last events. The next day she had arrived at the Burrow. They all had injuries to nurse, outside and inside, but the worst thing was that they had been separated from Harry. They knew he must be suffering terribly due to the loss of Sirius, and his letters did nothing to relieve their fears. They all wrote to him, giving good advice, well-meant support or just gossip to distract him, but all they had in return was a dutiful answer:
Don't worry about me, I'm fine. Enjoy your summer.
Harry's unrelenting silence was a cause of alarm to everybody, including Albus Dumbledore, who came to discuss what to do about it with the Weasleys and Remus Lupin - the closest to family Harry still had. As soon as Ron, Hermione and Ginny had found out what was going on they insisted on taking part in the discussion, but if it had not been for Ginny's perseverance they would not have succeeded. As when going to the Ministry, she had simply and flatly refused to be left out, and even her mother's most sincere effort to exert her parental authority had shown no effect other than to harden the determined expression on her daughter's face. In the end, Ron thought, Ginny's lips had been as thin as Professor McGonagall's.
Mr and Mrs Weasley wanted to get Harry to the Burrow, while Dumbledore remained adamant that he was much safer at Privet Drive. Remus tried to negotiate between them, being torn between anxiety for Harry's well-being and his safety. Finally, it had been Ginny again whose intervention led to a decision.
"Professor," she said at a moment when both parties seemed lost for more arguments, "aren't we forgetting about something?"
Dumbledore looked at her with his usual mild interest. "Which would be what, Miss Weasley?"
"The fact that we're talking about a real person here. Harry has been deeply hurt - time and again. Not just by Sirius' death, but in many ways we hardly know about. He has been very ... difficult during the last year, more critical even than any product of Filibuster's or Weasley's Wheezes'. Your suggestion may insure Harry's survival, Headmaster, but you're cutting him off from what he needs most: friends. Chances are, he will come back in a worse state than even last summer."
Dumbledore looked at her thoughtfully, she had reminded him of his own mistakes without knowing it, and it took a moment before his usual twinkle returned.
"Very well, Miss Weasley. You go get him."
Ginny's eyes widened. "Me?"
"Certainly." He seemed to enjoy his reprisal wholeheartedly.
Dumbledore looked at all the others. "Maybe, we could speak to each other alone for a moment?"
Even Molly Weasley did not debate this. After a few moments Ginny had been left in the kitchen alone with Dumbledore and was asking herself what she had got into. Dumbledore looked at her piercingly.
"You were perfectly right, Miss Weasley, in pointing out, how much Harry has been hurt. You probably don't know - or you were just to polite to mention it," there was a short twinkle in his eyes, "that much of this is my fault."
Without really knowing it, Ginny shook her head.
"I'm afraid it is," Dumbledore insisted. "I'll not embarrass Harry by informing you about the course of our last interview, suffice it to say that our relation is a little strained on his part - and I don't blame him for it."
"Ok, I can see why you can't go there, but why me? Why not somebody from the order? Professor Lupin Remus for example."
"My fear, Miss Weasley, is that Harry would not come."
This possibility had crossed Ginny's mind at some point, but she had not given much thought to it. Now that Dumbledore had openly mentioned it, she somehow felt deeply hurt.
"You see, I can only guess what Harry is thinking right now. He might feel betrayed, he might blame all the world for his misery or he might consider himself a danger for all those he cares for. Either way, he will want to be alone - to brood, to be heroic or to both . It will be hard to convince him that he is not doing himself - or anybody else for that matter - a favour."
"And why do you think I could do it?"
Dumbledore looked at her with appreciation. "Why did you insist on joining this discussion against the explicit wish of your mother?" he asked her in his typical, indirect way.
"I don't really know. It did seem necessary."
"Do you care for Harry?"
Ginny seemed a little uncomfortable, but said, "Of course I do. He's a friend. Mum and Dad have always considered him another son." She secretly winced at the notion of Harry Potter being her brother.
"I see. It might be necessary to convince him of that. You should be prepared to reveal some of your feelings for him. You see, Harry might take it for granted that your brother and Miss Granger care for his well-being, but the fact that you care as well could be just the surprise that we need to crack his shell. The notion to help somebody else is quite likely to be more appealing to him than the idea to help himself."
"Very well. You take on quite a responsibility, Miss Weasley. But." He smiled at her. "I'm very confident, indeed, that you can do it. Be ready tomorrow at twelve. Tonks will act as your escort."
* * * *
Before Dumbledore left for Hogwarts he had a short interview with Mr and Mrs Weasley.
"Your daughter has really surprised me tonight."
"Me too," grumbled Mrs Weasley.
"Molly, she has shown great compassion and sense of responsibility. I admire her for it and I think you have every reason to be proud of her."
"But what will come of this, Albus?"
Dumbledore looked at the anxious faces of Ginny's parents, and when he answered there was a stern note in his voice. "The future is not easy to see. I think, at this point Miss Weasley does not want to think of Harry other than as a friend, and that he will be quite surprised to discover just how deep this friendship goes. I suspect, however, that at some point the two of them may feel that friendship alone ... is just not enough. - If they agree on this, you will face a very determined couple." He smiled at them. "But do not be afraid. Your daughter is in this war as much as we all are, she does not run into additional risks. On the contrary, I have great faith in Harry's abilities as a wizard and Miss Weasley might just be what he needs to go on."
* * * *
At noon of the following day, Tonks arrived at the Burrow to find a nervous Ginny waiting for her.
"Don't worry," she said brightly. "Harry will be thrilled to see you. How long did it take to do your make-up this morning?"
Ginny scowled at her, but Tonks only laughed. Ron and Hermione were there to see them off. Ron gave Ginny a brotherly pat on the shoulder, and Hermione hugged her hard.
"Do bring him with you, please."
"We're going to Mrs Figg's house," Tonks explained and handed Ginny floo powder.
A minute later they stepped out into a street in Little Whinging. Ginny took in every tiny detail of the place. The many houses looking so much alike, the meticulously mowed lawns, the careful arrangement of typical flowers, the shiny cars. This is where Harry had grown up - a sterile suburban idyll. A few minutes' walk took them to Privet Drive; Number four seemed just the same as all the other houses. If there was a difference, it was just a nuance more antiseptic.
Tonks walked up to the door, but ushered Ginny in front of her. "Now, there are guards everywhere, up and down the street, so don't worry."
Ginny took a deep breath and rang the door bell. A man answered it, he was not really huge, not compared to Hagrid, but he was extremely fat. Little, pig-like eyes assessed her.
Ginny had decided to try the polite approach first. "Hello, I'm Ginny Weasley. I'd like to see Harry."
"There's no Harry in this house."
She looked at the man, whom she rightly supposed to be Harry's infamous uncle, and decided that politeness would get her nowhere.
"Oh," she said, "has he gone to his golf club?" She was immensely proud to have remembered this detail from Muggle Studies in the hour of need.
Uncle Vernon looked at her as if she was growing antlers. "Golf club, what ...?" Then he remembered that there was supposed to be no Harry and his eyes grew even smaller. "I don't know any Harry."
"Oh!" Ginny's voice grew unnecessarily loud. "You don't? I'm sorry to hear that, because I thought you were Vernon Dursley, the uncle of Harry Potter, you know? Young guy, a little scrawny, but not altogether unpromising from a girl's point of view, black, messy hair, beautiful green eyes and ... oh, yes, a scar on his forehead. Shape of a lightning bolt, got it when a powerful curse from an evil wizard hit him." She paused to relish in the sharp intake of breath from Uncle Vernon. "Oh," she said again, "haven't I mentioned that? Harry's a wizard, his parents were wizards, and I." She cheerfully ignored Uncle Vernon's wild gestures that were meant to shut her up. "I am a witch!"
"Come in!" he hissed.
"Are you certain?" she inquired politely. "You said you didn't know any wizards, didn't you?"
"Yes." Uncle Vernon seemed near to pulling the little hair out he still had, so Ginny decided not to point out to him that 'yes' could take on different meanings under the circumstances. He had just closed the door behind her, when heavy footfall was heard on the stairs. Ginny looked up at Dudley in amazement. She had not believed that there could have been a human being that would outstrip Uncle Vernon's massiveness - but Dudley did. Ginny had never been tall, but she was not really petite either - she was a comparatively small person, however, and Dudley was just ... enormous.
"Who's that, Dad?" he asked, ogling Ginny.
"That," Ginny retorted acidly, "is standing right here."
Dudley looked at her in total consternation. Nobody had ever spoken to him like that - let alone in his own home, where he was used to supreme rule.
"She wants to see ... the boy."
Ginny's colour began to rise. "The ... boy?" She cocked her head dangerously.
Uncle Vernon only let out a low grunt, and Dudley asked incredulously, "What, the freak?"
Ginny's face was deep red now.
Dudley looked at his father in deep disbelief. "Why would she want to see that useless jerk?"
"You may find that hard to believe," Ginny pressed out, "but we care for Harry."
Dudley sniggered, and for a fleeting moment Ginny felt reminded of Draco Malfoy. "What? That whimpering coward who cries for his mummy at night?"
Ginny winced at the idea how much Harry had to be suffering. "I don't think you have the faintest idea what you're talking about. Your greatest fear seems to be missing your next meal. Harry's fears are of a kind you don't even want to know about."
"That's correct," Uncle Vernon threw in. "Because we don't care for your abnormality. You're leaving."
"I certainly won't."
"Awww," Dudley mocked, "and what you're going to do? Tell your big brother?"
An idea flashed across Ginny's mind and she smiled her sweetest smile at them. "There's only one problem ... I have six big brothers. Which one should I tell?"
Her smile was more unsettling to the Dursleys than any threat could have been. "Ron's Harry's best mate. He tends to be slightly overprotective, but he's not allowed to use magic outside school, so he might not be the best choice. My brother Percy on the other hand, could use magic, but he works for the Ministry of Magic, he's a terrible git and more likely to bore you to death that to hex you properly."
Both Dursleys stared at Ginny bewildered.
"I think you've met my twin brothers as well. They liked you. They've turned practical joking into a profitable profession. Remember their tongue ton toffee? They've come up with quite a few inventions since then. Would you like to grow elephant ears or sprout pink hair?"
Uncle Vernon felt for his thin hair as if to make sure it had not changed colour already.
"My brother Charlie works with dragons, you know? Do you think your neighbours would mind a 50 feet dragon landing in your driveway? Dragons are a bit nasty, though, you never know what they're up to. He might burn down your house before Charlie could stop him. Or." she turned her eyes on Dudley as if seizing him up. "He might go for the biggest bite around."
"Not very appetising, is it? And then there's Bill, my eldest brother, and I think he's just the perfect choice. He's an expert on charms, having worked in Egypt for quite a while. Those Egyptians knew how to protect their tombs, I can tell you." Ginny really began to enjoy herself. "Now, here's an idea. He could charm your letterbox to bite the postman. Or he could turn one of the stones in your garden path into a trick step that vanishes when you step on it, or he could make the street lamps bow down and look people who pass by into the face and wish them a 'nice evening'. He could hex the door bell so it makes a sound like a toilette or like an oncoming train or a ship's siren or it could turn anybody who rings it into a blast-ended Skrewt." Her eyes fell on the door of a small cupboard under the stairs, and anger lighted up her beautiful features. "Or he could see to it that ringing the bell will send you right into that cupboard you had the nerve to hold Harry in."
Father and son stared at her, agitation stamping their features into monstrous likeness.
"You ... are ... insane," Uncle Vernon stammered.
"Mad," his son assisted.
Given the state of Ginny's temper at that moment, it took very little to let it flare. "You're probably right. I'm here to help Harry and instead I'm bandying words with two flubbery fat worms."
Dudley growled something with "freak" in it, but Ginny turned towards him, making a sweeping gesture with her arm and pushed him to the wall, without ever touching him. Her sudden display of powers that were not visible made the scene erupt into chaos. Dudley wailed in a high-pitched Banshee-like voice, and Uncle Vernon howled with fury, lounging himself at the tiny girl, but when she held up her hand against him he felt like slamming into a solid wall.
At that moment Petunia Dursley stormed into the hall, only to see a red-haired witch torturing her husband and her beloved sun of a son at the same time. Her eyes widened so much that Ginny feared she was having a heart attack. After seconds of total silence, Petunia shrieked, "You're dead!" and fled back into the kitchen where she collapsed onto the table with Dudley's breakfast.
Ginny did not really understand, but she did not care either. She managed to press by Dudley whose knees gave way the moment she regained control of her powers and tumbled down the last steps where he crushed his father to the floor.
It would not have been difficult to find Harry's room even if Tonks had not told her where it was; it was the only one with a bolt on the outside and a cat flap. She knocked, but there was no answer, so she went in. Harry was looking out of the window and had his arms wrapped around himself. The room was small with little furniture, and its occupant had obviously not cared to keep it tidy.
"What's all the ruckus down there?" he asked without looking at her.
"Oh," she said with as much cheerfulness as she could manage, "must've been me."
He turned round and stared. "Ginny?"
She stared back. Black rings rimmed Harry's eyes and made the green stand out even more than usual and gave them an unhealthy gleam. He had lowered his arms, and in spite of his far too large T-shirt, Ginny could see that he had lost a considerable amount of weight and that his ribs were caging out. Without thinking, she crossed the distance and laid her hand on his forearm.
"Harry, what have you done to yourself?"
He gazed at her, as if he did not understand.
"Have you looked at yourself in a mirror lately?"
He shook his head.
"You look as if you had neither slept nor eaten in weeks."
He seemed to consider that. "I ..." His voice croaked and he had to clear his throat. "I don't think I have really."
"For cryin' out loud!" Ginny's temper returned. "Is that what you meant with being 'fine' in your letters?"
"Ginny, why are you here?" he asked in an obvious attempt to avoid her anger.
"That's exactly, why I'm here. We're not buying what you're writing. Not that you're writing much, anyway."
"Mum, Dad, Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, Lupin, Tonks ..." she gushed, and he raised his hand in a defensive gesture.
After a moment's silence she continued with quiet determination, "It may come as a surprise to you, but we care for you."
She could see it in his eyes that this was, indeed, a surprise to him.
"I'm not ..." he started angrily.
"You are our friend, Harry," she interrupted him. "You're Remus' last connection to your parents and Sirius, you are Dumbledore's best student and all of his hope." She paused, not sure how to go on, but avoided her own feelings once more. "You're my parents' seventh son."
There was something stirring behind his eyes. "Why?"
"Well, it's not for your charming company or your refined manners, I can tell you."
A fleeting smile pulled on the corners of his mouth. "Why are you here, Ginny?"
"As I said ..."
"No, why are you here, Ginny? Anybody could have checked on me. I'm sure Order members watch the house."
"I'm not checking on you, I'm getting you out of here. You're coming to the Burrow."
His eyes widened, and his face showed a series of feelings: hope, joy, fear, depression and then - resignation.
"I can't come."
There it was again. Dumbledore had warned her that Harry might refuse to go, and she experienced a pang of disappointment because of it. She knew or supposed she knew, but she had to ask anyway, "Why not?"
"It's safe here, that's why I have to go here at least once a year." He let his head hang.
"And you think you're putting everybody in danger when you're with us instead," she stated.
His head snapped up and then dropped again. "Yes."
This made him look at her. "What?"
"You need us. It may be safe here, if you want to survive - and survive only. But not all of us have given up the hope that life may have more for us in store than misery. We want more than just survival. And if you want to heal and to be whole again, you need your friends. It took Hermione less than a week to find out about that, and she arrived at the Burrow just a few days later."
He had to smile in spite of his confusion. "Well, she is the smartest witch in Hogwarts."
"Well, you rarely showed a tendency towards that area of expertise."
He almost smiled again, and Ginny felt she would make him laugh sooner or later.
"There's not much hope for me, Ginny."
"Because," he burst, "the damned prophecy says that Voldemort will kill me if I don't kill him first. 'Neither can live while the other survives'."
Very carefully, Ginny stepped closer, as if trying to touch a wounded animal, and put her arms around Harry. He was watching her in disbelief, but when she encircled his body and leaned her head against him, he felt life pulse through him for the first time in what seemed ages. She was warm, gentle, but teeming with a vitality that he had lacked for far too long. He had no idea how his arms found their way around her, and he could have basked in the feeling of having her near him for much longer, but she stepped back all too soon.
"That's not nice. But it's hardly surprising, and you know as well as I do." Her eyes hardened. "he deserves it ... Would you please pack now?"
"Yes, you should." Her eyes locked with his. He had known that they were brown, but he had never recognised that it was a light brown, like amber, dotted with specks of golden sunlight. She knew that this was the point where her feelings had to come into it.
"You need your friends, Harry, you know that. And we need you. We need to know you're ok. We can't go on worrying about you. We want to help and we need your help in return." He wanted to say something, but she held up her hand and continued with a slightly unsteady voice. "That's why I'm here. When I wake up after my own nightmares every morning, I don't want to ask myself if you're still alive or wonder if you've had a rough night, too. And if you did, I don't want to worry, because I know you don't have anybody to talk about it and it'll eat you up, but I want to be there with you and comfort you. And I need your comfort, when I'm dreaming that Tom's coming back for me. I feel safer with you than without you."
Harry had never looked away from her eyes, nor blinked. He was very quiet for a very long moment, then he drew a deep breath, and she thought, she could see some colour return to his face.
"Can you give me a hand with my stuff?"
* * * *
Half an hour later, Harry and Ginny sat in the back of a car the Order had provided. Tonks was in the front seat, an Auror was driving. Harry's leave of his family had been unceremoniously short - none of them had bothered or dared to show up. When the car turned from Privet Drive into the main street, Harry was already fast asleep, and his head rested against Ginny's shoulder. Ginny shuddered inwardly, she had taken many risks today, but it had been worthwhile. She was fiercely determined to make this summer end much better than it had started - for all of them.
(A/N: Look at my profile for a disclaimer. Thanks a lot to my beta, Jenadamson. I really thought I had the punctuation right this time – and I'm truly sorry!)