Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters contained in this story, nor am I making any profit from this. No copyright infringement of J.K. Rowling’s property is intended.
Harry lay staring at his ceiling, as he had every night since he had returned to Privet Drive. The only noises in his small room came from one of the other occupants’ loud snores and the insects buzzing outside. The breeze coming through his window every couple of minutes felt impossibly cool. During the day, the three of them were required to stay inside his tiny, stuffy room as part of his agreement with the Dursleys for letting his friends stay until his birthday when they all would leave. Compared to the stifling heat of those long hours, the nights were delightfully chilly. It took him a while to get used to the new sleeping arrangements, even though he was used to sharing the dormitory with Ron and the others. But that’s not what was keeping Harry awake.
Harry had received an owl from Ginny earlier that day. It was full of humorous anecdotes about the wedding preparations as well as Fleur’s latest antics. The overall tone of the letter was very light-hearted, considering how they had left things. It appeared that Ginny was determined for things to be normal between them, almost as if they had never gone out at all. Harry knew he should have been happy that Ginny was honouring his request and keeping her distance. Plus, it appeared that she wasn’t annoyed with him or going to ignore him completely as he had feared.
The part of him that was closely affiliated with the scaly beast within his chest wanted her to be inconsolable and distraught. Harry knew that it wouldn’t have made things easier for either of them, but it might have lessened the gnawing sensation in his gut that occurred whenever he thought of their few weeks of bliss. Ginny was the not the type of person to dwell on negativity of any kind. Just because she wasn’t sulking didn’t mean she wasn’t feeling just as bad. Harry found himself feeling quite proud of her, completely against his will. But thoughts of Ginny weren’t robbing him of his sleep on this particular evening.
Since arriving at Privet Drive, Harry, Ron and Hermione had talked non-stop about their plans to track down the horcruxes. For a while, it felt like they just kept talking in circles, never getting closer to any kind of workable plan or solution. By now, Harry had told them everything he could remember about what the horcruxes might be and where they might be found. Truth be told, Dumbledore hadn’t left Harry that much information to be getting on with at all; not even directions on how to destroy a horcrux without losing a hand, or worse. Harry had a hunch that Ron and Hermione were also wondering where in the world to start.
Harry looked at his friends, each sleeping on a camp bed crammed into his impossibly small bedroom. Once he was certain they were sleeping soundly, he silently peeled back the covers and swung his legs over the side of his bed. Slowly he rose, concentrating on avoiding the creak of his bedsprings as much as possible. On bare feet, he padded to his door, opened it barely a foot, and slipped into the hallway. Pausing on the landing for a few seconds to ensure that he could hear all three Dursleys snoring, he descended the stairs into the hallway. He stopped briefly to regard the cupboard door he had known all too well in his younger years. He could easily recall the first time he had ever done what he was on his way to do now.
He had been locked in his cupboard for the night as usual, following Dudley’s ninth ninth birthday party. After having witnessed ill-behaved Dudley receive everything his little heart desired from his doting parents, Harry couldn’t take it anymore. He quietly pulled aside his Aunt Petunia and asked her why he had never had a birthday party with cake and presents. Her harsh reply was that Harry’s parents hadn’t cared about him enough to stay alive and give him those things, and it certainly wasn’t her responsibility.
Harry had not wanted to believe that his parents chose to be killed in a car accident, but he could not help but be a little bit cross at them for dooming him to a life with the Dursleys. It was at that moment that young Harry decided he wanted to have a conversation with his parents. Even at eight, he knew it was a silly thing to do and that it would really only be himself he was talking to, but he was desperate. That night, Harry’s parents assured him that they were dreadfully sorry for leaving him all alone in the world, and that they would have indeed given him a party with cake and presents if they were there with him. They had even said that Harry would have received more presents than Dudley!
Harry shook himself from the memory and continued his path through the kitchen and into the back garden. He walked to the middle of the lawn and lay down on his back, staring up at the few visible stars. If he stared straight up, he could almost pretend that he was nowhere near Privet Drive or even in England. He could be anywhere, far away from his problems, far away from Voldemort. Almost at once, his thoughts came crashing back down to earth. He knew Voldemort would track him down no matter where he fled, and probably kill everyone he loved in the process.
There weren’t many times in Harry’s life when he felt lost enough to resort to extreme measures for some consolation. Even as he lay there in the grass, the logical “Hermione” voice in his head was screaming that this was a daft waste of time. His parents were dead and he would never really be able to talk to them, but Harry was at his wits’ end.
He had to kill Voldemort, an impossibly powerful and equally evil wizard, but not before he found and destroyed four horcruxes about which he had very little knowledge. His mind was racing in ten different directions, so much so that he feared his skull might split open. He knew without a doubt that he had to kill Voldemort before Voldemort killed him. He also felt absolutely sure he had no idea how to do that, or how to track down the horcruxes. He couldn’t do it… but he had to do it… how could he possibly succeed… yet he couldn’t afford to fail. He took a deep breath to calm his nerves and concentrate, and he squeezed his eyes shut tightly.
He began to picture his parents in his head. They would be about 40 years old by now. He saw in his mind’s eye his mother with long auburn hair and kind green eyes, and his father with the familiar untidy black hair and spectacles over his muddy hazel eyes. Harry pondered for a moment what he would say to his parents if they were around to give him advice. After a few short moments, he began a conversation that could only happen within his mind.
Hermione sat up in her bed, breathing very hard. She had been in a deep sleep only seconds ago. She had no idea what had awoken her, or even what it was she had been dreaming about; only that it had terrified her. Looking to her left she saw Ron sprawled on his cramped bed, mouth wide open and snoring away. It was strange sharing a room with two boys, especially since she had more than friendly feelings for one of them. Though they hadn’t discussed it, she was fairly certain that those feelings were reciprocated.
She found it ironic that under normal circumstances, she and Ron would be self-conscious around each other now that no one stood in the way of them finally getting together. If they didn’t have Harry and the matter of Voldemort and his horcruxes to worry about, they would probably be too embarrassed to be in the same room for more than a minute. They both knew that it was hardly the time to start a relationship. Hermione guessed that Ron, like her, was more than a little relieved that they didn’t have to worry about all of that on top of ridding the wizarding world of Voldemort. Sadly, the seriousness of their task left no room for awkwardness.
That didn’t stop Hermione, however, from stealing a rare unnoticed glance. She could look at him for as long as she pleased while he was sleeping, because he’d never know. She glanced over at Harry’s bed, just to make sure he wasn’t awake to catch her “Ron-gazing” and found it empty. For one brief moment she panicked, thinking the worst. Logic quickly caught up with her and she calmed down a bit, but not so much that she didn’t still feel the need to find Harry and make sure he was alright.
She quietly got up from her camp bed, though she knew by now that no amount of noise (short of a minor explosion) would wake Ron from a dead sleep. As she made her way downstairs, she heard a voice that could be Harry’s coming from the garden. She immediately wondered who he could be talking to, and went to see for herself.
Their faces swam in front of his closed eyes. Harry had forgotten just how hard it was to recall the exact features of someone’s face when they weren’t right in front of you, especially when you’ve never actually seen those particular faces in person. It was more of a vague impression of certain features, rather than an exact replica, that existed in his head. However, he had no trouble at all imagining their voices; he heard them loud and clear. It was his mother that spoke first, an unmistakable sadness in her gentle voice.
“Harry, you’re so young, and you’ve already suffered and lost so much. Don’t ever forget, though, that what sets you apart from monstrous creatures like Voldemort is the fact that you can hurt.”
“But I’m sick of hurting. I know you’re right, but sometimes I just don’t want to feel anything. Then he can’t hurt me anymore.” Harry knew he sounded like a petulant child, but he didn’t particularly care. If he couldn’t behave that way with his own parents, then he couldn’t behave that way with anyone.
“He’s taken so much from me already. I’m afraid of what I’ll become if I have nothing left to lose. Dumbledore tried to tell me once that I couldn’t be corrupted by Voldemort’s power, but what will I have to do, what kind of person will I have to be to kill him?” Harry wanted to believe Dumbledore, but part of him was still uncertain about the man’s judgment after what happened with Snape.
“Harry,” his father replied calmly, “I think you know Dumbledore was right when he said that it’s your heart that will beat him. He can’t understand it, and he won’t know how to fight it. You may not know all the answers yet but you will soon enough.”
“Dumbledore couldn’t even beat Snape. And when he duelled with Voldemort last year, it was a draw. If Dumbledore couldn’t even fight him and win, how can I?” Harry was doing his best to hide the rising panic in his voice, with little success. It’s not that he was afraid of losing but of Voldemort winning. So many people were counting on him that sometimes he thought he might be crushed under the weight of his duty.
James cut through his frantic thoughts. “I know you’re not afraid to die, but evil like his can’t prevail; he won’t win. Remember that, Harry.” He sounded so sure that Harry wished he could believe it without a doubt.
His mother joined in before Harry was able to voice his doubts. “I know it seems like you’ve got so far to go, but just take one step at a time. And don’t forget there are so many who would help you in an instant.” Harry immediately thought of Ron and Hermione, and all the Weasleys. A small glimmer of hope surfaced through all his doubts as he realized that just about anyone in the Order would help if only he asked.
“We’re so sorry we can’t be there with you, Harry.” He could hear the sorrow in his father’s voice. “But you’ve already got everything you need. You’ve grown into a fine young man and I believe in you. I know you’ll beat him. We’re so proud of you.”
Harry didn’t fight the tears. This was exactly what he needed to hear. He didn’t have the words to express the bittersweet relief that he got just from hearing that his parents were proud of him and believed in him. Harry knew he’d got about as much comfort as he could have from this imagined conversation.
“We love you so much, Harry. We’re with you always. Whenever you need us – we’re there… we’re with you.”
Hermione could just barely make out what Harry was saying. He was speaking so quietly that he could only have been talking to himself. Was he asleep, talking to his parents in a dream? Harry sniffed once and wiped a few errant tears from his cheeks. Not dreaming, then. When realization finally hit, Hermione’s knees nearly gave out from the wave of emotion crashing into her.
It wasn’t pity she felt, not by a long shot. Here was Harry, one of the strongest people she knew, in a moment of striking vulnerability. Hermione was overwhelmed by the genuine affection she felt for the person before her. The loyalty she felt for her friend at this moment was startlingly strong. On his behalf, a fury raged inside her, directed at the demons that drove Harry to such lengths. He must be so scared, confused and weighed down by his responsibility to have to resort to an imagined tête-à-tête with his dead parents.
Hermione knew Harry was no more delusional than she was. Certainly he knew it wasn’t really his parents he was drawing comfort from, but himself. It immediately brought to mind the sad stories she’d seen on the news about overcrowded orphanages in which the toddlers rock themselves back and forth in their cots because they don’t get the physical contact and comfort that every child needs. Should she be angry at the Dursleys for not being the caring parent-figures Harry desperately needed? Should she be angry at Voldemort for taking Harry’s parents away in the first place?
She considered going back inside without saying a word. As quiet as she had been and as engrossed as he was, it was unlikely that he heard her come outside. He would never have to know what she had witnessed. Something told her that Harry needed to know that it was okay to want reassuring sometimes. The same instinct that made her want to comfort each and every one of those poor rocking orphans led her over to where Harry still lay in the grass.
He sat up quickly and turned towards her once he heard her approaching. She lay down next to him without a word, and eventually he lay back down as well. The two friends were silent for a long time, listening to the symphony of insects that can only be heard in the wee hours. It was Harry who finally broke through the quiet.
“I’m sorry if I woke you up.”
“You didn’t. But I’m glad I woke up anyway.” Hermione considered her words carefully before continuing. “I heard you… talking to your parents just now.”
“Oh. I, erm…” Harry didn’t really know what to say. It was too late to deny it, not that he could ever fool Hermione. Strangely, he found he didn’t even want to this time. He felt oddly relieved that she had overheard him. Though he would never admit it to himself, he secretly hoped that she could make him feel less pathetic about the whole situation.
“It’s silly, isn’t it?” he finally said, gazing down dejectedly.
“No,” she replied matter-of-factly, “I think I understand. Sometimes, you just really need a parent. You’ll never know how sorry I am, Harry, that yours can’t be with you, especially at a time like this. I know you’ve got people like Professor Lupin, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, and even Sirius and Dumbledore while they were here; but it just isn’t the same, is it?”
“Not really, no,” Harry said quietly, still not looking at her.
“Harry, look at me. You know you can talk to Ron and me about anything at all, right?”
“Well then, that’s settled,” she said with an air of finality. Harry was not so willing to let the matter drop.
“But Hermione, I was just carrying on a conversation with my dead parents in my head, even though I know it’s only me who’s been answering. Aren’t you going to tell me that Wibblebird’s 101 Psycho-Magical Conditions or something states that this is some abnormal stress reaction? Aren’t you going to tell me I’m insane?” Harry’s voice rose in anger, though it was himself and not Hermione at which he was angry. Luckily for Harry, Hermione knew this.
“No, Harry. Wibblebird’s is a load of old tosh, frankly. Besides, I know you’re not crazy; I don’t need a book to tell me that. It’s perfectly natural for you to want to talk to your parents. If you chose to do so by talking to them in your own head, then that’s fine by me.”
“Hm.” Harry really didn’t know what to say. He certainly felt sheepish for raising his voice, and thankful that Hermione hadn’t returned his ire.
“There’s just one thing I want to say. If you know that it’s really only yourself you’re talking to, and if you’re doing it because you need to hear certain things, to get certain things off your chest, then logically it must follow that –”
“Hermione,” Harry sighed, “in English, please?”
“It’s been in you all along, Harry. You know what you need to hear. You know what needs to be done. You know that you’ve got it in you to do it. Everything you need, you already have – in here.” She placed her hand briefly on his chest.
Harry thought about she’d said, and about what his parents had told him. That was me. I was telling myself those things. He knew Hermione was right. Some part of him did know what to do. Suddenly, Harry didn’t feel quite as lost anymore.
After a while, Harry stood, brushing all the grass from his pyjamas and heading for the door leading back into the kitchen. When he was almost inside, he turned and regarded his friend, who was still sitting on the lawn. Not for the first time, he wondered where he would be without the indefatigable loyalty of his two closest friends.
“Thanks, Hermione.” He offered her a heartfelt smile, his first in several days. He knew that he’d have no more trouble sleeping tonight.
“You’re welcome, Harry. Goodnight.”
After Harry had gone, Hermione allowed herself a few tears. It was all so horrible, what they had to do. She couldn’t help but rage at the injustice of it. Harry should be a normal teenager, teasing his mates, falling in love, and worrying only about the next quidditch match. Not chasing after the most evil wizard in 50 years. Not trying to squeeze what little comfort and reassurance he could from an imagined conversation with his murdered parents. And she and Ron should be fumbling their way through a new relationship instead of standing by Harry’s side ready to face horrors of which most wizards and witches couldn’t possibly dream.
After a few minutes, she got up and made her way quietly inside. She did not see as she closed the door leading back into the kitchen two stars in the night sky over Little Whinging glow brighter for a moment before winking out completely. It was almost as if whoever these two stars were watching over no longer needed their light. After all, he had his own light inside all along, and now he knew it.