The whispered name is coming from somewhere...somewhere just beyond consciousness. The voice is familiar somehow...but he can't place it.
"Harry?" There it is again, soft and questioning and sure all at the same time. Harry Potter blinks his eyes open once, twice...it's dark in his dormitory, but by the moonlight streaming in from the tower window he can distinguish the outline of a girl standing at the foot of his bed.
She brings her face closer. "Harry, are you awake?" It's Ginny Weasley. What's she doing here?
Harry can only nod his head, still trying to blink away the sleep from his eyes, letting the girl come in focus. "Okay?" she whispers. "You were having a bad dream again."
Ginny looks hesitant. "You were screaming in your sleep," she tells him, her eyes shifting around the room.
Harry wonders how Ginny knew he'd been screaming in his sleep. Were his nightly yells so loud that he was now waking up the entire tower? He turns his head to see if Ron or any of his other dormitory mates have woken up. Harry realizes is that he is not, in fact, in his dormitory. He is at the Burrow, and it is Christmas time, and Ron isn't in the room with him because Harry now has his own room at the Burrow. A room complete with Chudley Cannons posters that Mrs. Weasley thought he would like and an old Muggle lamp that Mr. Weasley had enchanted for him so that it worked without electricity.
This explains why Ginny has heard his screams – hers is the closest room to his – but why had he been screaming?
Stupid of him, really, to forget. It is always the same dream. It moves like a snowball through his mind. Starting at the top of the mountain – his parents dying in a horrible flash of green light – his mother begging for his life, screaming when her own is ripped from her. He's had this dream since his first encounter with the Dementors, his third year at Hogwarts.
After his fourth year, the dream...grew. It didn't really change so much as new horrors were added. There is Cedric, falling to the ground – his eyes lifeless. And Wormtail...tying him to a grave, piercing his skin. And Voldemort. "Bow to death, Harry." A multitude of hideous masked men, mocking him, laughing at his impending death.
After his fifth year, of course, the dream grew again. The snowball becomes larger - moving faster down the hill – moving so fast that Harry is unable to stop its inevitable course, until it overtakes him, burying him alive. Now, after he relives the horror in the graveyard, he is forced to watch his friends flee desperately from Death Eaters. He watches helplessly as a flash of light hits Hermione's chest and she collapses to the ground. He watches Neville writhe about in pain as Lestrange Crucios him. He watches that woman aim a spell at Sirius, watches his godfather fall through a veil...a veil that takes his life.
Enough horrors to last four lifetimes. But that isn't the end.
These last horrors that he has seen, they were what caused his screams tonight...because Ron...Ron.
It is too horrible to name. And entirely his fault. It is always his fault.
With a wrenching sigh, Harry sits up. He is surprised to find Ginny's eyes on him, glistening with unshed tears. He'd forgotten that she was even in the room, outlined in pale moonlight that created a halo around her too-bright hair. He doesn't want to talk to her. It was her brother, after all. Her brother who had followed him down into the Shrieking Shack. Her brother who had confronted Wormtail.
Her brother who took the bolt of green light meant for Harry.
Harry breathes in deeply, trying to quell the tears just below the surface, trying to stop his heart from pounding...willing it to stop beating altogether so that he can just stop being; so that he can just stop living.
"I'm sorry, Ginny," he says in a tight, controlled voice, hoping she doesn't hear the tremor just beneath the surface.
Her eyes narrow slightly. "Don't apologize, Harry. You have nothing to be sorry for."
Harry feels a bitter laugh escape him. "Don't I?"
"No," Ginny answers firmly, "you don't. Harry...Ro – well, he loved you. He would've – well…" She pauses, draws in a breath, distress evident in her eyes. "He would've –."
"He would've what, Ginny?" Harry cuts her off harshly. He moves to his knees, kneeling in front of the small girl. "He would've died for me? Is that what you were going to say?" He glares at her, watching her face fall, watching a tear forge a path down her pale cheek, magnifying a freckle on its way down.
Slowly, Ginny nods her head. The action causes more tears to slide down her face. It's the sight of those tears that undoes Harry.
"He did die for me Ginny!" he tells her, no longer whispering, no longer concerned about controlling the tremors and the anger in his voice. "And I didn't ask him to. I never asked anyone to. But that never seems to matter, does it? Everyone puts their life on the line for Harry Bloody Potter because he's so damn special! Well, I don't want it! I don't want to be special. I never asked for this."
Ginny's eyes darken, narrow, become hard and soft all at once. She breathes in through her nose, her nostrils flaring as if she is trying to restrain her temper. But Harry has had enough of people treating him like a bomb. He has had enough of politeness and pity and every damn person walking on eggshells around him.
"Ron didn't want to die. He didn't and nothing you can say is going to chance the fact that he did die. He died for me…the stupid…if everyone would just stop caring about me, maybe people would stop dying, and I wouldn't hur – this pain wouldn't…." Harry pauses and gives a short cry, pressing his lips together in an attempt to muffle the sound. His breathing grows laboured; his heart begins pounding frantically against his chest; his eyesight grows fuzzy.
"How could he? How could he just…just do that?" Harry brings his hands up, grinding the heels of them against his eyes in an effort to stop the memories that spring unbidden into his mind. But no matter how hard he presses, that day comes back to him, tumbling through his mind….
They were waiting for them in Hogsmeade. It wasn't a terribly brilliant plan on Wormtail's part, but it didn't matter. Even with all the Aurors and professors in the village to supervise, they still managed to get Harry alone. Not that it was a difficult task. In the corridors, in the classroom, on the Quidditch pitch, the professors stalked him, never letting him out of their sight. When the opportunity came in Hogsmeade to break away from everyone without detection, Harry took it. And no one honestly thought anything would happen. It was three weeks before Christmas. Thevillage was teaming with wizards and witches, braving the danger of You-Know-Who to shop or visit or have a butterbeer.
Harry, Ron and Hermione had turned on the worn, but empty path that led to the Shrieking Shack, grateful to have a sunny, brisk day full of laughter and freedom…and happiness. Harry was happy. For the first time in a long time, he was happy. He watched Ron and Hermione walk a few paces ahead of him, smiling at one another, Hermione's cheeks stained a pretty pink colour, Ron's ears turning as red as his hair. He saw Ron's hand slowly creep across the distance between the two of them and grasp Hermione's hand in an awkward, earnest way that was touching, even to Harry. He put more distance between them, letting the new couple walk a few more paces ahead so that they could have this time, just the two of them. He thought about turning around, heading back into the village, maybe finding Neville or Ginny and spending the day with them to give his two best friends some much-needed alone time.
Harry watched the tall redhead stop, turn around, call out to him. "Harry, mate, c'mon! You're walking so slowly."
Hermione turned around, laughter in her eyes. "Yeah, c'mon Harry, let's go!" She gestured with the hand that held Ron's, urging him forward. "You can hold my other hand if you want," she teased, holding out the hand.
Harry laughed, shook his head.
"You want to hold my hand, then?" Ron joked, holding out his arm as well, causing both Harry and Hermione to laugh. Harry made a gesture at Ron that made the older boy guffaw as Hermione screeched his name.
"I'm fine, you two. Don't worry. I'm just a little behind you."
"You sure?" questioned Hermione, looking around.
"Yeah, I'm sure."
"All right, Harry," said Ron, seeming to sense Harry's longing to be alone. "Just be careful." He hesitated. "And don't fall too far behind, ‘kay?" Ron blushed, obviously embarrassed by telling Harry what to do.
But Harry didn't really mind, today. It was good that they cared. It was nice.
"G'ahead," he demanded affectionately. "I'm okay."
Harry watched his friends turn around. He watched them walk away, holding hands, their legs moving in unison, their arms swinging between them as they strode further up the path, farther away from the village…from protection.
"Harry." Ginny's voice brings the memories to an abrupt halt. "I know that Ron didn't want to…to die, but he did." She draws in a shaky breath. "And he did so to protect you. You would have done the same for him. You would have done the same for just about anyone. It's okay… it's okay…you're allowed to –."
"I'm allowed to…?" Harry prompts brutally.
Ginny's voice is quiet. "You're allowed to be angry with him," she says simply.
"I'm not angry with him," Harry growls. He lets his hands fall limply to his sides. "I'm not…I'm angry with…." Harry trails off. Ginny is watching him with round eyes, still wet and red from tears. He isn't angry with Ron. He isn't. It's ridiculous to be angry with Ron. Ron is dead. Dead. He isn't mad at a dead person, not his parents, not Cedric, not Sirius and certainly not Ron. He isn't angry with them; not because they all died for him or because of him. Not because they all thought he was something worth dying for…not when he never wanted people to die. He wants them back. What good is saving the world if there's no one left to save?
Harry watched them walk away, happy. He stood in the sunshine, squinting slightly behind his glasses against the bright winter light that shimmered with everything good. He never felt the Stunning Spell. He didn't even remember the world going black.
He just remembered looking around, wondering how he had got there and where his glasses had gone. His eyes travelled over the familiar walls, stained so red with blood spilled long ago that they were almost black. It hurt to look for long. His head hurt, and his eyes burned, and his body ached. He tried to move, but soon realized he was bound to the bed that resided in the middle of the Shrieking Shack. Panic set in.
And he heard her laugh.
Harry whipped his head around. With blurry eyes he watched Bellatrix Lestrange move toward him. She was quiet. She came to the edge of the bed and pulled something out of her robes. Harry winced involuntarily, anticipating a wand, causing mad laughter to pour from her lips. She didn't pull out a wand. Instead she took his broken glasses from her pocket and placed them on the bridge of his nose, using one finger to slide them up until her ravaged face came fully in focus, her eyes alight with fury, glee and insanity.
"Look at Harry Potter," she said in a rough voice, obviously having forsaken the childish tongue he was used to her using. "Look at him now. He is not brave! He is not bold! He is weak and he can do nothing." More laughter issued from her mouth. It was joined with laughter from a corner of the room.
Harry inclined his head and saw Lucius Malfoy and Peter Pettigrew standing in the corner. Malfoy's eyes were hard and cruel, matching his laughter. His smug face held more lines than Harry remembered, probably evidence of his time spent at Azkaban. Pettigrew's eyes were less cruel than Malfoy's, but far less timid than they had been the last time Harry had seen him.
"Harry Potter has no one to help him now." Lestrange's voice brought his attention back to her. "Where are your precious protectors, Potter? Where is your Order?"
She paused as if waiting for an answer. Harry glared at her, trying to figure out a way to stall, frantically racking his brain to see if there was any way he could possibly get out of this. His wrists and ankles were bound to the bed, stretched in opposite directions. He wondered if anyone knew he was here.
Harry listened to Lestrange talk of making him ready, presumably for Voldemort. He was surprised the dark lord was not there already, finishing him off quickly.
Harry's mind still searched for ways to escape. No doubt they had taken his wand when they stunned him. Maybe if he concentrated…maybe he could break free of the ropes that kept him pinned down. But what then? He didn't have a wand; even if he did he was still out numbered…there was no hope….
"Crucio!" Her voice had rung out completely unexpected. And the pain, it was as he remembered and yet so much worse. Within seconds, the wand fixed on him was joined by another, as Lucius Malfoy's voice called out the painful curse as well.
Harry screamed, the sound issuing from his throat, booming of the walls of the shack and echoing, shaking the small room with its intensity. The scream was so deafening that no one in the room heard the footsteps above. Nor did they hear the cry of "Accio wands" that caused both Bellatrix's and Lucius' wands to stop their painful affliction and fly from their hands. Harry's vision was hazy from the pain. All he could truly make out was a shock of red, standing at the entrance. Almost weeping with relief, Harry heard Ron's voice cry out, "Professor! He's down here! Someone hurry."
Ron trained his wand on Bellatrix, staring at her with a fury Harry had never seen in his best friend's face. He kept a tight grip on the Death Eaters wands in his left hand. Slowly, he moved into the room, his eyes sweeping around in circles. That was when he saw Wormtail. "You," Ron growled at the man. Harry saw Ron's eyes grow wide at the sight of Pettigrew's wand aimed at his chest, obviously surprised he still held it.
Pettigrew gave a cold smile and said, "Hello, Ron," in a quiet, steely voice – very unlike the whimpering, pathetic voice he had last used in this room. "Accio –."
Footsteps heard from above distracted Pettigrew. Ron, his eyes wide with terror, called out again for help. The footsteps grew louder, closer.
"You fool," Lestrange hissed to Wormtail. "Do it now! Master will not forgive you if we mess this up again."
Pettigrew raised his wand slightly, aiming it at Ron, who in turn had raised his own. Time seemed to speed up and slow down simultaneously. Harry, still tied to the bed, began tugging furiously at his bindings, concentrating with all his might to break free of them, using both physical and mental force.
Harry watched Wormtail move his wand off Ron and aim it at him. Still struggling to free his wrists, Harry watched Ron start toward him. His ears had begun to buzz; he felt as if he'd been submerged under water, and he couldn't hear Ron's shout. He could only watch his friend's mouth form the word "no". He could only watch Pettigrew's mouth form the words "Avada Kedavra" and he could only watch as a stream of green light poured from the end of Pettigrew's wand, hitting Ron square in the chest.
Noise hit his ears, and he realized that the sound was coming from his own throat as he yelled out Ron's name. The room was suddenly full of people, people Harry recognized, but he could not identify. They were his professors and his guardians, but he could not call to mind any of their names. He heard three successive pops as the Death Eaters who had been there moments before Apparated out of the room. He looked on as his Headmaster rushed to Ron's side. But it was too late.
"Why did he follow me?" Harry asks Ginny. He takes in a quick breath and swallows unsteadily. "I didn't…I don't…why did he…?"
Ginny's eyes hold no answers. She takes a step closer to the bed so that her knees hit the edge of it, and moves one hand in front of his face, briefly touching the crown of his head. She says nothing, but her touch seems to uncoil something within Harry, something wound tight, something black and blue and purple – an ugly bruise on his heart.
Hermione was the worst. Watching her face was the hardest thing he'd ever done. It was harder even than watching Ginny cry silent tears and the twins' shoulders shake with grief and Bill's jaw set as he walked out of the room to grieve in private. Harder than watching…God…than watching Mr. Weasley stand over his son at the wake and place steady hands on his prone body, shutting the bright blue eyes for the last time. It was torture to watch Mrs. Weasley, as her worst fears were realized and a child of hers died because of the war, when she broke down at the funeral, her screams echoing off the cavernous room they were in.
But Hermione's eyes, haunted and full of a dread that was terrifying in its intensity, were the worst. She walked around the Burrow under a shroud of grief that would not be broken. She spoke very little and her eyes were stained red from crying. Harry felt sure that she was blaming him for Ron's death. He felt more sure that she was worried now what would happen to her. If Ron was capable of dying, then so was she. Harry feared she would never forgive him.
Harry never cried. Tears were for after the last death, when he would have the luxury to mourn, when he would have the luxury of feeling the emotions that others took for granted. He would be stoic, a rock, unbreakable. It was the only defence he had; it was his only mode of defeating Voldemort. So, at the wake, at the numerous memorial services, in class, at the Burrow…he did not cry. Not in front of anyone. His grief manifested itself in his dreams, more than even he realized.
Harry feels Ginny's palm slip down his face and cup his cheek. He feels it press into him. He feels tears – horrible, weak, betraying tears – spring uninvited into his eyes. "I can't…and Hermione – God – what does she think? What will she do…without him? What will I do without him? She must hate me…she must…it's all my –."
"No, Harry," Ginny says again, "it's not your fault. Hermione is scared, mostly for you. She's scared you'll turn away from her…from everyone. She doesn't hate you. She loves you. We…we all love you. We just want you to be okay. But you can't keep everything locked up. You have to cry."
"I can't cry! I can't be weak. I can't let him win!"
He hears Ginny sigh. She moves her hand on his face. He shudders at the touch. It's been so long since he let anyone touch him – even a hug, a handshake, a nudge on the elbow – he's distanced himself so far that the wall he has built is both physical and mental.
"Harry, the only way he – Vol…Voldemort wins is if you shut down. If you become like him, he wins. You have to feel. You have to let yourself feel."
Harry looks into two bright, dark-brown eyes. They beg him to trust her. With a sob, he lunges forward. He, who never willingly touches anyone, grabs Ginny by her upper-arms and pulls her into a tight, desperate hug.
The two of them cling together, both sobbing, until their eyes run out of salty tears and their breathing grows ragged, then calm. After what feels an eternity, Harry slides back onto his bed, pulling Ginny with him, and sleeps.
A/N: I suppose I should apologize to Ron. I highly doubt JKR will be so cruel as to kill him off, but if she did (I would be angry), I think it would be in some manner such as this, because he is just a big ball of loyalty and freckles. I did not intend to kill him. This story was supposed to be a one-shot about Ginny comforting Harry after a nightmare. It wasn't until I was done with Harry's dreams that my hands demanded Ron die. They are evil hands. I have six chapters planned out. The next is from Hermione's point of view. And don't worry. They will get a little happier…a little.
Many, many thanks must go to Susan, who has looked at multiple copies of this and other chapters. Your help is deeply appreciated. Thanks must also go to Annika, whose comments and advice are always helpful in making my stories better. Thank you to Alexandra for looking this over, and offering some great advice. And of course, last but not least, thank you to Allie (my official PS beta) who is always wonderful!