The dream still painfully vivid in his mind, Harry stood at the window of his room, his forehead pressed against the glass. Although still painful, the dull throb his scar was currently giving off was nothing like the fire that had been burning there only minutes before. He suddenly had an intense desire to kick something, but he knew that the noise would likely wake the Dursleys -- and on top of everything else, he didn't want to deal with them.
Three weeks. It had been only three weeks since that long and horror-filled night. It seemed like much more time had passed for Harry… but then, he had nothing else to do all day except constantly re-play that night in his head again and again. He did that often -- at least when he wasn't worrying about the future. The present was taken care of for him. The present was what made him lie in bed for hours… dreading what he would see when sleep overcame him.
Every night there were the dreams, dreams, and more dreams -- but not really at the same time. Harry gave a humorless grin. At this point, he'd make a better journalist than auror, seeing as how he always had the breaking story as soon as he woke up.
Voldemort was rising. Harry knew (from Hermione's letters) that Fudge was still keeping the Daily Prophet. But every night, Harry saw him. He saw him kill, saw him torture, and heard his plans, and it wouldn't be long before everyone would know.
Part of this was good in a way, Harry supposed. Every morning, he sent an owl to Dumbledore, telling him whatever had happened the night before. Still, these dreams were taking a toll on him. He was suffering badly from lack of sleep. The bags under his eyes were so dark he looked like he had gotten in a particularly nasty fight. He had headaches too, just like the ones he had gotten at the end of his first year. They were not so painful that he was impaired in any way, but bad enough that it was impossible to just ignore it. He also had no way of knowing what sort of psychological damage this was incurring on him -- not that it really mattered.
None of this was all that new to him. Seeing horrible things was something he was used to, but still… the daily -- or rather, nightly -- barrage of images was a new level of horror. Some of the more vivid images he could see whenever he closed his eyes: faces contorted in horror and anguish, piles of dead bodies, and the Dark Mark. In his ears rang the screams of those subjected to the Cruciatus Curse. And even that was not the worst. The most sickening part came when Voldemort planned his next attack -- when Harry had to listen to the pleasure in his voice while he spoke of who was next to die.
Tonight's dream had been a little different. It had started out the way it usually did. There had been a house. The Death Eaters had entered it on Voldemort's order. They had dragged out the people inside, Muggles this time. Voldemort had let the Death Eaters "amuse" themselves for a while. He had looked on and grinned. Then, Voldemort had killed the Muggles and shot the Dark Mark into the sky. Afterwards, they all Disapparated and appeared somewhere else. This was where the dream had become a little different from the others.
The planning session tonight included someone who had entered from a door in one of the walls. This someone had come in, looking very pale and almost reverent. This someone had kneeled before Voldemort.
This someone was Draco Malfoy.
Draco had been there to play the informant. Voldemort asked questions; Draco answered them and then left, looking vaguely pleased with himself. And with this new information, Voldemort had begun to concoct a new plan for killing Harry. This one had been worse than any of the others, because Voldemort was going to use his friends. And Malfoy had told him everything – who Harry hung out with, who he stayed with during vacations, who his Quidditch teammates were.
Harry remained at the window, feeling sick. Part of him knew that it wasn't really his fault they were in danger, but that part wasn't strong enough to quell the wave of guilt that washed over him. They were all in danger. That was Voldemort's genius; he knew how to do something properly. The people Harry most wanted to keep safe were in the most danger.
The desire to kick something rose again, followed by the desire to breakdown sobbing in frustration. Instead, Harry sat down and wrote a short letter to Dumbledore. His letters to Dumbledore were always short. Harry disliked showing how much the dreams affected him. His letters all went in basically the same pattern -- this person was killed, planning to kill this person. He never added any of the details.
"I can't do this anymore," Harry muttered, head in his hands.
In addition to the dreams, Harry found simple day-to-day existence hard. He couldn't deal with the Dursleys. After everything else, he just couldn't be there, knowing always that he was living with people who hated the very thought of him. But where else could he go? He knew that Dumbledore wanted him to stay at the Dursley's, but he simply could not.
As he realized this, a weight seemed to lift from his shoulders. He raised his head. He couldn't stay, so he would leave. He pulled out his trunk and threw back the lid. He was leaving, simple as that.
* * *
Harry stood on the curb of number four Privet Drive and looked back on the last fifteen hours. He had packed his trunk -- which hadn't taken long to do -- then he had snitched a bit of food from the kitchen and had waited for night. The preparations really hadn't been enough to take his mind off the dream.
He shook his head. He couldn't stand there all night. Harry gripped his wand firmly and made a big motion, trying to reproduce what he had done two years ago, although this time he was skipping the falling into the street part. Seconds later there was a loud BANG and the three-story bus was sitting right in front of him.
Leaping out of the bus, the purple-clad conductor began his speech. "Welcome to the Knight Bus, emergency transport for the stranded witch or wizard. Just stick out your --"
"Thanks Stan, can you give me a hand with my trunk?" Harry cut in.
"No problem ‘Arry," replied Stan as he walked over and helped heave the trunk up the stairs and into the bus. Harry pulled his trunk over to a bed in the corner, which was a little more in shadow. When he finished, he looked at Stan and said, "Eleven sickles, right?" Stan nodded, taking the coins Harry handed him.
"So ‘Arry, where do you want to go?"
The thought struck Harry that he didn't know where he was going. "Er…" said Harry, thinking quickly. "I forgot the name… give me a minute and I'll remember."
"All right, take ‘er away Ern."
And the Knight Bus continued on with a BANG.
Harry rested his head against his arm, which pressed against the wood paneling. How could he have missed the fact that he didn't have a destination? Where would he be safe? The answer to that, really, was nowhere. But where could he go that would least endanger his friends? He flopped down onto his bed, onto his stomach. The bus kept going along until suddenly, BANG, it appeared somewhere else.
Harry heard the door open and Stan jumped out to make his speech. Then he heard a voice that made him freeze. It was Mrs. Weasley.
"Thanks Stan, I would have just Apparated home, but as you see… I have company."
"Why, so you do. ‘Ello Ms. Weasley," said Stan.
Harry's eyes snapped open. Ginny was there too.
He listened carefully. He heard one set of footsteps go past his bed and up the stairs to the second level. He waited, but didn't hear the second set.
The moment she stepped on the bus, Ginny's eyes fixed on Harry. It had always been like that. She could pick him out of a crowd at any time. She seemed to just sense his presence. As embarrassing as it was to think about, Ginny knew exactly the way he walked, knew which hand he used to adjust his glasses, and she could hear his voice from the other end of a crowded common room.
Waiting until her mother had gone up the stairs, Ginny walked quietly over and sat on the edge of the bed next to Harry's, amazed at her own daring. The minutes moved by slowly. Ginny could hear the chatter of Ernie and Stan in the front and the noises of trees and mailboxes leaping out of the swerving bus's path. Part of her was screaming just to get up and follow her mother; she shouldn't just be sitting there, staring at Harry Potter. But another part of her said that it couldn't hurt anything.
And then it happened. Harry turned his head and their eyes met. He wasn't asleep after all. Suddenly, Ginny wished that she had just gone up with her mother. What was she doing here anyway? Staring at Harry. That was what she was doing, staring at Harry. Hoping that her blush of embarrassment wasn't too obvious in the candlelight, Ginny desperately sought for something to say; something that hopefully wouldn't make her sound like a complete idiot.
"So, where are you headed?" God, what a stupid question, thought Ginny. But at least she had said something, which was much better than just staring at him.
To her surprise, Harry looked rather embarrassed and kind of depressed at her question, but at least he answered it.
"Well… to tell you the truth, I don't know."
It took her a moment or two to actually understand his answer. She almost grinned, but managed to fight the urge down.
"You mean you just got on the Knight Bus and took off?"
Harry came close to grinning himself, yet didn't quite manage it. It was around then that Ginny noticed the lines of worry and tension that were etched into his face, and the dark shadows under his eyes.
"Well, when you put it that way…" he said, in what Ginny realized was supposed to be a playful tone. It sounded strained instead. She felt awful for him. He looked so tired, so alone. He could always do that; even in a crowd of people, he could always look alone. Often, that was how Ginny often felt herself.
She had the sudden urge to throw her arms around him and kiss the top of his head, but he began to speak again.
"I just had to get out of the house for awhile."
Ginny turned her head to look at him quizzically. "Since when does ‘awhile' require a trunk?"
Harry sat up, but refused to meet her eyes. He stared down at his hands.
Ginny was amazed. Not only by the simple fact that she was here, next to Harry Potter, but that they were talking. Really talking, not the usual one lined greetings; they were talking like she had always wanted them to, like friends. Like, maybe, he trusted her. Not only that, but she found herself saying things she never would've dreamt she'd say to him, pushing answers out of him, and he didn't seem to mind that much.
Realizing he wouldn't, or couldn't answer her, she quickly said, "Don't worry, you don't need to tell me if you don't want to. I just want you to know that you could… if you felt like it."
Slowly, Harry looked up. There was a moment of silence, then Harry smiled. It wasn't a happy smile, but it as so full of gratitude that Ginny couldn't contain herself anymore. She simply moved from the bed she was sitting on to Harry's bed. And amazingly, it wasn't all that hard…
Harry marveled at her. She understood. In some indefinable way, she understood -- and Harry loved her for it, for just being willing to listen to him. And just for a moment, he wanted to tell her everything, but he knew he couldn't submit anyone else to his pain. He wouldn't tell his godfather, he wouldn't tell his friends, and he wasn't going to tell Ginny.
He didn't really know why, but something inside balked at the idea of causing her pain. Maybe he just didn't want anyone to see him weak. He was, after all, the Boy Who Lived -- that thought came with more than a touch of bitterness -- and he had the strong impression that if he began to talk about what was bothering him, he would start crying.
Harry was rather startled to find Ginny no longer in front of him, but beside him. He had been so deeply entrenched in his thoughts that he hadn't really noticed the switch. Not that he minded, really. It felt natural, for some reason, to be next to her. Then again… he had spent the last couple of weeks surrounded by three people that refused to get within a twenty-foot radius of him. So why did he feel like he wanted to rest his head on her shoulder… or maybe in her lap? The thought scared him so badly that he shoved it into the back of his mind.
"Oh, Ginny, it's just… hard, sometimes."
"What's hard, Harry?"
He decided then that he liked the way she said his name. She said it like it was just a name; so many people said it like it meant something larger, but when she said it… it was as though she simply thought Harry was no more, and no less, than the boy sitting next to her…an almost fifteen-year-old, normal guy.
"Just... being me, maybe."
"Is there..." Ginny paused. "Is there anything I can do to help?"
She said it so shyly, so sweetly, so innocently that Harry turned to look into her eyes, and he saw her biting her lower lip. He found that inexplicably adorable.
"You have helped."
"Have I?" she shot back, almost with venom.
There was a strange glow to her normally pale face. Harry found himself reaching to touch her cheek, but quickly put his hand on her shoulder instead.
"Yes," he said, with complete honesty, "you have, really."
Ginny swiftly reached up and put her hand over his, keeping him from pulling it back.
"You know, don't you, that I would do anything for you? All you have to do is ask me. Ask me and I'll do it."
Harry was astounded by the emotion in Ginny's voice. She was too, apparently, as she removed her hand quickly and looked down at the floor of the bus. In response, he gently touched her chin with his free hand, keeping the other one on her shoulder and raised her face until she looked at him again.
"Do you think…could I…I mean…" He trailed off. He shouldn't ask, but he also knew that Ginny would never let him just leave.
Looking at it now, he knew he never could. He couldn't leave his friends. He couldn't leave them to fight without him. He wasn't the only one Voldemort wanted to kill; he had to be there, to do whatever he could.
"What is it, Harry?" Ginny lightly gripped his forearm.
"Could I stay at the Burrow, maybe, for awhile?" he finished quietly. There was a moment of silence, and Harry tried to explain: "It's just that…I can't…it's so…it's lonely…and I --"
Ginny cut him off. "You don't have to tell me why, Harry."
He dragged his fingers through his hair and shoved his glasses onto his nose, feeling like he should be embarrassed for confessing his loneliness, his weakness… but he wasn't. What right did he have to be lonely? He was at the Dursley's to be safe. But Ginny saved him from that; she made him feel like it was okay. And maybe… maybe she was right.
"I think…I'll ask my mum, but I don't think she'd allow it any other way."
He almost wanted to hug her, but he didn't. Ginny left to go ask permission from Mrs. Weasley and Harry stretched out again, this time on his back, and nodded off to sleep…
As she expected, there was no problem getting Mrs. Weasley to agree to having Harry come home with them. Mrs. Weasley had owled Dumbledore several times already, begging him to let Harry come. In fact, the only thing that kept her from giving the twins permission to go get him was the fact that maybe he was safer there. But to have him on the bus now, there was nowhere she'd allow him to go except to the Burrow. Ginny smiled at her mom's enthusiasm but cut her off, in a flurry of planning his favorite meals, telling her she needed to go tell Harry everything was set for him.
Ginny felt like dancing and blushed at her eagerness to have Harry in her house again. She fervently hoped that she wouldn't blush too much when she told him that he could stay. Well, that is a rather useless hope, isn't it, Ginny thought to herself. Still, not even her disgust with her foolishness could keep her spirits down, because this night had been perfectly surreal.
Still, when she came down and found Harry asleep, she felt a bit awkward. He needed it, she thought. Those bags under his eyes gave her a tug somewhere in her chest. Yet, the sleep didn't seem to be doing him much good as he began to struggle, flailing his arms and muttering incoherently. Stan looked over, but Ginny shook her head at him, and he went back to his newspaper. She had a powerful urge to shake Harry awake, but it proved needless as he suddenly sat up, a scream tearing out of his throat.
The sound made Ernie swerve the bus right into a water tower, which quickly moved out of the way. Stan kept his nose in him newspaper, but he looked shaken. Ginny was shocked. No wonder he had bags under his eyes, if his dreams caused reactions like that…
"Harry?" She could see his flinch as she said his name. "Was that…a dream?"
"Yes…well, sort of…not really…no."
His voice was so dejected that she came over to him. She placed a hand on his wild hair in a simple – and probably useless, she thought-- attempt to sooth him. In a sudden movement, he reached up and threw his arms around her waist, pulled her down next to him, and buried his face into the crook of her neck.
Although she was slightly and understandably shocked, she put her arms gently around his shoulders and rocked him. She could feel his silent sobs, and his breath on her neck. She felt she should say something, but she didn't want to ruin this. He so obviously needed to let something go and she wasn't going to be the one to stop him.
After a few silent moments, Harry pulled back. He drew his knees up to his chin and looked everywhere but at her.
"I'm sorry," he said in a choked voice. "I'm sorry you had to see that."
He looked up at her. Her breath caught in her throat at the sight of those tear-filled green eyes. The same eyes she had loved since she was eleven.
"They aren't usually that bad," he admitted. "That's the first time I've screamed. I can usually control it better. I'm sor-"
"I told you not to be sorry." His voice was so was quiet, so unlike his usual confident tone that she wanted to hug him again, but she didn't. She went on, "Has that been happening to you all summer? No wonder you had to get away."
There was a moment of silence.
"What are they?"
He had to answer. After all that had happened, he couldn't clam up now. No, to be honest, he could, and he probably would. Who was she to be his confidant, after all? But still, he could tell her, and maybe he would…in fact… Harry opened his mouth, chewed on his lip for a second, and then…
"Ottery St. Catchpole," announced Stan.
Harry shut his mouth.
Well, we have the rest of the summer, thought Ginny. He'll be with us for a while. Maybe then… but she knew that he was never going to open up like this again, not to her. Not once he had his friends again. Maybe he only talked to her because she sat next to him, because she was the only one there.
Harry felt a rush of emotion. He wasn't sure which one was the strongest of the lot. Was it the relief of not letting his fear show? Was it disappointment? He had come so close to telling her everything; things he promised never to tell anyone. It was just that Ginny seemed willing to listen, it was like she wanted to listen to him. On top of all of that, there was this confusion. He was confused over Ginny. Maybe she was more than just his friend's little sister. He was lost. There was this funny knot in his stomach, but he didn't know if it was from the stress of the evening or something else.
He was going to be at the Burrow for awhile. Hopefully he'd be there all summer. Maybe he'd never have to go back to the Dursley's—well that's not real likely is it Harry? He asked himself—it was possible though. And maybe… maybe he could finish the conversation with Ginny. If that's what he wanted, and maybe it was, maybe...
Ginny, Harry, and Mrs. Weasley got off the bus -- Harry and Ginny dragging his trunk -- and they set off to the Burrow.