Hope is the thing with feathers That perches in the soul, And sings the tune--without the words, And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard; And sore must be the storm That could abash the little bird That kept so many warm.
I've heard it in the chillest land, And on the strangest sea; Yet, never, in extremity, It asked a crumb of me.
Harry Potter was tired.
The problem, you see, was that he was having a bit of trouble sleeping lately. Which is kinda like saying that a herd of Blast-Ended Skrewts was going to cause just a bit of trouble if they escaped in the middle of Muggle London. Harry reckoned that the last time he’d had a decent night’s sleep was about two years ago. Two years ago almost to the day, if he hadn’t lost a week or three somewhere again. It was two years ago today that he'd left Ottery St. Catchpole on this ill-fated quest to “find himself”. Or whatever it was that he thought he was supposed to accomplish. He reckoned now that he'd just been running so long he'd forgotten how to stand still. First he was the hunted, then the hunter. And then he'd found his quarry and vanquished it. And everyone around him was so happy that the war was over; there could be peace again. For everyone except Harry, that is. He'd forgotten what peace was, if he ever knew.
And so, he'd left. Stupid thing to do, really. He knew that now, for all the good that it did him. He couldn't go back now. Going back would be admitting that he was wrong, admitting that he had failed everyone that he had ever loved. And worse, going back meant facing them again. Facing everyone again would force him to face himself, at last. He would have to face all of the pain, anger, and sorrow that had driven him out of England in the first place and had kept him running for two years straight. The things that he had lost, the things he'd given up, and the things that had been taken from him; all because of words, spoken before he was born, that said that he was the one with the power to defeat the greatest threat to the wizarding world in many centuries. Oh, how he wished that those words had never been spoken, that his life had not been ruled by those words.
The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches...born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies...and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not...and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives...the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies...
It had all come to pass, exactly as it was spoken. But it was the parts that were not spoken that troubled him. Because the prophecy never spoke of the costs. Oh, the costs that he had had to pay to make these words become true.
But it does not do to dwell too long on these things. It was his never-ending reflection on such things that had driven him out of England, out of his home, and continued to drive him onward. At first he was seeking peace of mind. Trying to come to terms with the costs, so that he could finally heal, and move on. But now he sought only oblivion. Pushing himself each day to the utmost, in hopes that he would find some small oblivion in sleep and forget, if only for an hour, the demons that haunted his steps. It never worked. Which is why he hadn't had a good night's sleep in so long that he had almost forgotten what it felt like.
The sound of a twig snapping under foot brought his attention sharply back to the present, and earned him a reproachful glare from the shaman that was leading him through the woods.
“Many apologies, Teacher, for my wandering attention,” whispered Harry, careful not to disturb the silence any further than it had already been disturbed.
“Your apologies mean nothing here. Only your actions. Keep your focus, or the spirits themselves will teach you to pay attention, and they are not so kind as I.”
Harry grimaced a bit to himself, cursing his wandering mind, before focusing his attention back on the trail that he was following. It had taken him a long time to get even this far along, it wouldn't do for Teacher to refuse him now because he couldn't control himself.
Today was not to be the day, however, for he was interrupted in his thoughts again, this time by the fluttering of wings close by. Owl's wings, by the sound of it. But no ordinary owl would be flying about the forest at noon. Which could mean only one thing: he'd forgotten to renew the charm again. It had happened only once before, he'd been two days late renewing it and he'd woken up one morning to find nearly a dozen owls waiting for him. He hadn't even taken the letters from them, he'd just sent them on their way and renewed the repellent charm to make sure they stayed away.
He turned to the owl, intending to shoo it away like the others, but he stopped short. He recognized this particular owl. More than that, this was his owl. His very own Hedwig. Just the sight of her was enough to bring all the memories flooding back again and all the emotions that went along with them.
Harry looked towards Teacher, not quite knowing what to say. But when each saw the look in the other's eyes there wasn't a need to say anything at all. His teacher was an accomplished Legilimens, after all. More than that, though, he was a natural Empath. And so Teacher understood that Harry would go no further today. Today Harry would spend time with Hedwig, and with his memories. He held out his hand and the weight of her settling down on his arm felt right, as though no time had passed since he last held her this way. He began the long walk back to the camp, hardly paying any attention to his surroundings, lost in the memories already.
It was the summer after 5th year that I finally realized that something had changed between us. Nothing that anyone could see, I hope. I know Ginny didn't notice anything at first because I asked her about it, much later. Hermione probably noticed, she was watching me like a hawk after the catastrophe of dealing with the toad woman for a year; and that debacle at the ministry. And... Sirius. That one still hurts, a little bit. The one consolation was that in all the commotion somebody let slip to Mrs. Weasley what Umbridge had made me do for detention. They say that the Howler she sent to Dumbledore shattered the few pieces that I hadn't been able to reach a couple weeks before. She was ready to set the twins on the Dursleys even; anything to get me out of that wretched house. So I spent that whole summer at the Burrow. Not Grimmauld place, thankfully. Sirius had made out a will leaving the whole thing to Remus, to make sure that he'd always have a place to stay, and that the Order could still have a headquarters. So we could've stayed there, I guess. But he also left a sizable fortune to the Weasleys. With strict instructions: they were to spend at least a thousand galleons that summer just living. Told us all how he'd spent so many years just trying to stay alive that he'd forgotten what it meant to live. And he wouldn't allow us all to suffer the same fate. You just can't deny a dying man his last wishes, can you?
So that summer was actually really great. Arthur fixed up the burrow, expanded it a little bit more, got Dumbledore himself to cast the strongest wards he could find, bought Ron and Ginny some new brooms, and generally did a lot of stuff they just couldn't afford before. And then we had a party. Oh, what a party it was. Mrs. Weasley had found out a lot of things that I'd tried to hide from everyone, after she released me from the Dursley's tender care. Like the fact that I'd never had a proper birthday party. So that summer, we had the “party to end all parties”. That's what the twins decided to call it. Everyone got in on it. Hermione took us all shopping, muggle style, for some fancy dress clothes. Mrs. Weasley cooked up all my favorites; enough food to feed an army. There were presents and party games, music and dancing, and everyone was having the time of their lives. Ginny looked amazing. I knew she was sort of attractive before, in an abstract sort of way. She'd been on more dates than I had, she had to have something going for her. But that night, all dressed up, she just looked radiant. I started having that funny feeling in my stomach, the one that used to happen around Cho. And I caught myself quite a few times just staring at her from across the room. I think a few other people caught me, too. Hermione had a bit of a smirk on her face when I looked up at her once. And Mrs. Weasley was definitely smiling extra big about something; she looked like the cat that ate the canary. But nobody said anything. Good thing they didn't, since it probably would've made me retreat or try to hide again. I had always looked at Ginny at “Ron's little sister” before. It was that night that I really started to think of her as just Ginny. And I was thinking about her a lot more than I had been.
“Ummm.... Ginny? Can I talk to you for a second?”
“Sure Harry, what's on your mind?”
I'd been trying to get her alone for days now, ever since I decided I was going to ask her to Hogsmeade. Might be the last chance, since it was looking like the war was really going to start getting worse. But she was always with her friends, or on her way to class, or I was with Ron and Hermione. They'd run off to find a broom closet somewhere. Hermione said she had some Prefect duties to do, but Ginny was a Prefect this year, too, and she'd mentioned to me once that Hermione didn't have nearly as many duties as she'd been claiming and she had caught the two of them coming out of a closet up on the third floor once.
“Er, well... I was wondering...” I sort of sputtered to a stop, I couldn't seem to get the words to come out right.
“Harry, is everything all right?” She sounded really concerned.