Harry stumbled up the stairs away from the insanity that was double Potions with Snape and turned up the marble staircase towards double McGonagall and lunch. The strap of his bookbag bit heavily into his right shoulder, but Harry was past caring. The pain helped to keep him awake, stopping the edges of the surrounding reality from blurring into a film-like quality, but just barely. It was a film-noir in Harry's opinion.
He was barely seventeen and the target that had been painted over his heart at fifteen months of age had only succeeded in enlarging the gold over the last two years.
Harry held onto the banister and hauled himself up the stairs two at a time, counting automatically; the way he was doing everything this week.
Six, eight, ten, twelve… Seeing the numbers in his mind's eye as a series of flash cards. Twenty-eight, thirty, thirty-two… He kept going; the strap tugged at his newly mended ligaments with each weary step up. Forty-four, forty-six… There were times when he wasn't sure if it was him that was moving or whether the stairs were moving under him and he was stationary. Nothing felt quite real. Textures were wrong, tastes had faded into the background but conversely, smells were stronger.
Reach, step, haul endlessly up these cold stone steps.
"Harry? Harry!" A sharp huff. "Honestly!" A hand plucked at the sleeve of his robe but he jerked the fabric roughly away and continued climbing.
"This is ridiculous! He's half asleep on his feet!"
Hermione Harry thought, still watching his feet ascend his own private Everest until hands on either side caught him and conflicting scents assailed his sense of smell.
"Harry, stop. You're here." His foot came down hard. Where had the steps gone? He stared down in bemusement at the stone under his feet. It's got little sparkly bits in it. Odd. Never saw that before.
The head of untameable black hair came up; the brain cradled within the skull too befuddled to register surprise or say vaguely that he thought it ought to be a couple more flights yet. Maybe he'd counted wrong
Hermione Granger bit her lip and frowned anxiously at one of her best friends. It was patently obvious from his ashy complexion and red-rimmed eyes that Harry had not slept again last night. That made it the fourth night in a row this week. The situation was untenable and couldn't be allowed to continue. She wouldn't let it continue.
Harry had been his usual tight-lipped self when asked how long this had been going on and Hermione had surpassed her tolerance level. If Harry wouldn't be reasonable about this, she'd speak to Professor McGonagall herself and consequences be damned! She'd take a leaf out of Ginny's book and fight with Harry if she must!
"Hermione? Hems! Look at his hand!"
Hermione pulled herself back into the moment and stared where Parvati was pointing. Harry's right hand, dangling uselessly at his side, resembled a bunch of over-ripe bananas – so mottled and dusky as to appear black in the poorly lit corridor.
"Let's get that bag off his shoulder," Hermione commanded, making an instant decision. This proved to be easier said than done.
"Hell fire!" Parvati said as she tried to heft it up. "What's he got in here? A baby dragon?" It took the combined efforts of both girls to ease the strap from Harry's shoulder and set it down with only a slight bump. Hermione got down on one knee, lifted the cracked leather flap of her fellow Gryffindor's bag and peered inside.
"Potion texts," she announced. The name of the previous owner caught her eye, S Black. The 'Black' had been crossed through and 'Padfoot' superscribed at some later date in rainbow flashing ink. With a sudden loss of visual acuity, Hermione dropped the flap and stood up, blinking hard.
Harry was leaning with his back against the wall and feet braced forward. He was staring into the middle distance with all the attention of a recent recipient of a powerful 'Obliviate' charm.
Parvati waved her hand in front of Harry's eyes but she couldn't elicit any response. She pushed his slack jaw closed and giggled. "Someone should tell him!" Hermione gave her The Look. "He needs a shave!"
Parvati's fingertips roamed lightly over Harry's jawline, her cheeks becoming duskier. She had just reached the angle of his jaw when Hermione cleared her throat and Parvati dropped her hand as well as her dark gaze guiltily.
"Sorry, Harry," she murmured. Harry gave no indication he was even aware he had been spoken to. "At least his hand looks a more normal colour," Parvati continued with unusual briskness, holding his wrist up to exhibit said appendage for Hermione's inspection.
Hermione took one look and, with a muffled expression of considerable indelicacy that would certainly have drawn admiring looks from Ron, glanced up and down the corridor before drawing her wand.
Parvati moved to shield her dorm mate from casual scrutiny while the brunette stretched up on tip toe the better to touch her wand to the back of Harry's shoulder.
"Ligamentum redintegra!" she whispered. A soft golden light flowed from her wand tip into Harry's back and he let out a noise of relief.
"Harry, you can't go on like this!" Hermione began, determined to do something about his condition that very minute. "You're suffering from sleep deprivation – I've read all about it– " (Harry managed a faint lop-sided smile.) "–And you'll be having hallucinations next! You're unable to concentrate, your reaction time is slower than a Streeler–"
"Hermione," Harry began only for Parvati to sigh gustily.
"Here we go! What d'you bet me that his next words are 'I'm fine'?"
Hermione pursed her lips. "Well, I didn't need an OWL in Divination to come to that conclusion," she muttered tersely. Parvati shook her head over Harry's obstinacy. Hermione turned Harry's face to meet her own. "Either you speak to Professor McGonagall, or I will!"
But Harry let this assurance pass through him and both young women watched in despair as his stoical spirit slipped away down through the cracks to some place deep inside where they could not reach.
"Can't you slip him some of that potion?" Parvati murmured, her expression betraying her level of concern about Harry's mental and physical state.
Hermione shook her head, sending her bushy hair free from its restraint. This topic must have been under discussion on at least one previous occasion since Hermione understood immediately what her dorm mate meant by 'that potion'.
"No. That's the last thing he needs! ‘Vita Vigilans’? He'd be on 'fast forward' for hours and even more exhausted at the end of it." She pulled her mouth into a dour expression more normally seen on Ron's face. "He needs at least eight hours of uninterrupted, peaceful sleep."
"Why doesn't Madame Pomfrey just make him take the Dreamless Sleep stuff?" Parvati asked, surveying the tall Gryffindor who was loosing the unequal struggle to keep his drooping eyelids open.
"Because of his age. You know what sorts of behaviour the potion elicits after two sequential doses," Hermione said firmly, closing the door on that possibility.
Parvati let go one of her most vacuous giggles and covered her mouth at the Prefect's emulation of Professor McGonagall's most thin-lipped stare. "I can think of a handful of girls who'd be quite happy to keep him occupied until the effect wore off!"
For a whole second Hermione looked interested, then she ruthlessly suppressed the desire to know any more. "Mmm… I'm not saying some affection wouldn't do him the world of good, but he'd die of embarrassment when he came back to his senses –and do I even have to mention that he'd be furious? You've seen what Harry's like when he loses his temper. (Parvati shivered) Would you care to try explaining to him that we did it for his own good?"
Parvati shivered again. "No, I'd leave it to Ginny Weasley," she whispered. "Some Gryffindor I am." Hermione relaxed and then her whole manner altered. She dropped back to her knees to rifle urgently in the ancient bookbag at their feet, muttering characteristically.
"Harry!" she demanded, looking up at him from the floor. "Where are your Transfiguration books? And your essay?"
When Harry showed no signs of having heard the shrill question, much less of responding to it, Parvati gave him a gentle nudge.
Harry's head snapped up. "Six drachms, P'fessor."
"Good Gryffindor!" Parvati muttered. "Harry!" When she received no response either, she emulated Hermione and turned his head to hers. "Where. Is. Your. Transfiguration. Essay?" she said slowly and clearly. She might as well have been speaking to someone with no English. Harry simply returned her enquiring gaze blankly. "He was in the Library last night until Madame Pince threw him out," she volunteered, meeting Hermione's concerned eyes.
Hermione leaped up. "I'll go and check. You keep an eye on him."
Unfortunately for Parvati, no sooner had Hermione rounded the end of the corridor than the Indian witch discovered an urgent need for the lavatory. She jiggled about in increasing discomfort until the imminent threat of doing something childish over-rode any other consideration.
She glanced up at Harry but he was still away with the fairies. "I'll only be a sec, Harry… Don't. Move!" she said firmly and made her way as quickly as possible down the corridor in the opposite direction to that taken by Hermione.
Left alone, Harry responded to the first question he'd been asked. "S'on my bedside table. Damn."
When Parvati hurried back, the door to Professor McGonagall's classroom was no longer adorned by the somnolent figure of the last male Potter. With a sick sinking feeling, Parvati checked the nooks in case Harry had decided to perch in one of them and even opened the classroom door to peep inside but it was clear that Harry had indeed wandered off.
Parvati wailed softly. "Ohh! Hermione's going to be so stressy with me over this!"
Harry had climbed up to Gryffindor Tower and now faced the Portrait Guardian.
"No flamin' idea," he said shortly.
The Fat Lady sniffed. "Most unsuitable! I will insist that it's changed at lunch time!" she grumbled whilst swinging open.
Harry clambered through the hole and managed to hit the top of his head again. Too tired to swear he hauled himself up the dizzying spiral of steps to his dormitory and pushed open the door. The smell of old socks, male sweat, broomstick polish and a clash of colognes hit him in the face with enough force to make him gag.
The music playing softly didn't register on his fogged brain as he stumbled across to his four poster, but the person sitting cross-legged, lolling on his pillow and reading his copy of 'Quidditch Life' did.
It was Ginny Weasley.
Harry stopped in his tracks. "What are you doing here? This is the boy's dorm," he added with magnificent irrelevance.
Ginny hadn't looked up. "I know. Madame Pomfrey just let me out of the hospital wing."
"Oh." The hospital wing? Oh yeah, the Bludger.
"She told me to rest until lunch. Then I can go back to classes."
Harry leaned against the end post of his bed. "How's your…" He waggled his fingers in her direction. It looked like the word wouldn't come.
"Shoulder?" Ginny supplied. Harry gave a slight nod. "Sore."
"Why are you in here?" he asked again. Ginny sighed. It was obviously going to be one of those conversations.
"I'm hiding from Meriel and Kelia. They fuss too much. I hate that."
Harry had no idea who the aforementioned girls were but could empathise with the sentiment. He wanted to nod his agreement but his body wouldn't obey him. It just wanted to sleep.
"Oh… Why my bed?"
Ginny looked up at him, faintly astonished. "It was the neatest and it didn't smell like a pair of cats bedsocks." Something in her tone warned Harry she was winding him up.
He managed a small smile. "Gin, the whole bloody room smells like cats bedsocks!"
"I have six brothers, Harry, it simply means 'home' to me. Mum must be right, boys are allergic to fresh air," she finished in a mutter. From under sagging eyelids Harry watched her direct her wand.
The narrow lancet window that Ron had jammed shut in the gales three nights ago creaked open and a gust of wind bludgered into the room, disturbing Ron's bedhangings.
"Dobby had to change the sheets for me this morning," Harry volunteered. What am I doing up here anyway?
"Right." There was a minor hesitation. "Dreaming all night were you, Aitch?"
Harry could see she was watching him under her eyelashes. He had forgotten she sometimes called him that. "No, I was – NO! Gi-nny!" Harry spluttered with more animation, achieving a little colour in his face as he finally processed her implication.
Ginny's eyes tightened in confusion and Harry felt suddenly very stupid. Ginny's mind wasn't in the gutter. He offered a bald explanation to cover his discomfort. "I puked up again. He's trying harder now I can block him. He's keeping me sleepless. I know it." His voice was as flat as his expression.
Ginny frowned at the portrait of the new Cannon's Seeker and turned the page.
Harry's dull eyes wandered over her small figure in her school robes and onto the collection of objects lurking on his bedside table.
"That yours or mine?" he asked, nodding at the music box. The members of the DA had thoroughly embarrassed him by presenting him with one as a combined present last Christmas.
"Yours," Ginny replied casually. "Well, I was bored," she added slightly defensively. "I like listening to music–"
"–Last time I played that, 'music' was the last word you said you'd use to describe it!" Harry butted in.
"–And besides, there's no decent reading material up here!" Ginny finished pointedly.
The nature of some of the reading material that Ginny might have uncovered had she bothered to look around (Dean was a right lech) brought a more feverish shade to Harry's cheek. He cast about for a distraction.
"That my Quidditch Life?"
Ginny nodded, flicking her brown eyes onto him.
"Do you nick my socks as well?" It came out in a petulant grumble as he shuffled to the edge of the bed and sank down.
Ginny blinked. "No," she said, with her eyes on the glossy pages.
"Huh! Somebody is."
Ginny's glare could have charred a hole through the Gryffindor table more easily than a Laser. "Well it's not me! I don't wear socks any more!" she told him firmly.
This admission had the effect of raising Harry's level of consciousness as well as his gaze. "Don't you? What do you wear then?"
A slow smile that Harry had observed only once before on Ginny Weasley's face blossomed more fully. It seemed to be suggesting new and more confusing opportunities for mischief-making as the petite redhead regarded him under her lashes.
"Tell you when you're older, Aitch." Now her voice was different than usual. Harry couldn't find an adjective to fit the way it made him feel, down in the pit of his belly. Foreknowledge rose up, chilling his insides and cooling this new sensation.
"What makes you think I'm going to get any older?" he mumbled, dropping his eyes away to his trainers.
In a movement too rapid for Harry's dry eyes to follow, Ginny sat very upright, slapped the music box with her wand hand and stopped the music mid-pound.
"I'm going to assume that you're spouting that sort of defeatist clap-trap because you haven't slept all week! If I thought for one second you actually believed it, I'd hex you until you were begging me to get Madame Pomfrey! Or the bats flew you off to the nearest cave," Ginny responded, with more vehemence than Harry had heard her use in a while.
Harry snorted weakly. "Is there anyone I don't get bollocked by?" Even the dry rustling of Hedwig's wings indicated her agreement with the line that Ginny was taking.
The brisk autumn wind eddied around Gryffindor Tower, one of the few sounds in the stillness of the dormitory, as it tried to find ingress to the stuffiness within.
"Why are you here anyway?" Ginny asked.
Harry persuaded his weary facial muscles to indulge him in a frown. After an hour and a half of Potions, it wasn't difficult. "Dunno. Must be something. Why the hell would I come all the way back up here?" He stared at the floorboards, polished by generations of Gryffindors, as though he might find enlightenment at his feet.
"Wha' are you doing in here? S'is the boys dorm," he said after a long minute.
"You've asked me that twice already, Harry." Even in his current mental state Harry caught the long-suffering note in Ginny's voice.
"Have I? Wha' was s'answer again?" he asked plaintively.
Ginny peered at him over the double-page spread headed 'Ten things you didn't know that you didn't know about the Golden Snitch' and her mouth fell open. Despite her oft-repeated assertion that living with the twins prepared her for most things in life, here was one it hadn't.
Harry was asleep bolt upright. His eyes were closed and he was making that odd palatal noise Ron had made when he was younger, before he started snoring.
"Harry?" she whispered, lowering the magazine to her lap.
"Cayoupeatqueshionpeez?" Harry slurred. Ginny sat where she was and watched him.
The bell rang for the end of break but Harry made no attempt to shift himself. With a deep sigh, Ginny abandoned the Quidditch magazine onto the floor and crawled on hands and knees to where he was perched.
He had Transfiguration next. That was probably why he was here, he'd come for his books or something. Maybe those rolls of parchment on his bedside table. Too late now, Ginny wasn't going to wake him up and send him to Transfiguration with only twenty percent of his mind alert.
If she could get him to lie down he might be able to sleep for a while and be better for it. With each exhaled breath his head drooped lower and he leaned a bit further forward. In a few more seconds he'd fall between his knees and land on his face. Probably break his specs again.
Ginny assessed him carefully. He was more or less sitting halfway down the bed. All she'd have to do was swing his top half down and the rest of him would follow naturally. Simple.
She got to her feet and stood in front of him. Taking a quick breath and rubbing her palms together in a gesture suggestive of nerves, she pressed back on his shoulders in the belief that he would respond to the subtle stimulus.
Harry – being Harry – didn't. He resisted.
"Okay," Ginny muttered. "We'll do it the hard way then, Potter."
She climbed back onto the now rumpled bed and slid her arms under his own lax ones, locking the fingers of one hand around the wrist of the other and producing the delightful side effect of pressing her face into his shoulder. Taking another deep breath, (through her mouth, so she wouldn't fog her brains with Harry's scent) she tried to tip them both sideways. Please Merlin, don't let anybody walk in now!
"Gerroff," Harry mumbled, resisting again.
Somewhat reluctantly, Ginny let go and sat back on her feet to exercise her considerable mental faculties.
She could be quite persuasive when she wanted to be, any of her brothers and recent boyfriends would attest to the power of her big soft doe eyes, but that would be wasted effort here. Harry had the same streak of stubbornness that stiffened her spine and made him more of a challenge. And anyway, he couldn't keep his eyes open long enough for that strategy to work.
An idea popped into her head fully formed – a bit like Athena – and with a smile that would have sent Snape looking for cover, Ginny wondered if she had the nerve to pull it off.
Don't overthink it! Do it the little voice in her head urged her.
"Oh Harry," she whispered, keeping her voice soft and low, "Ha-rry! Time for a little snoozle." She removed his glasses with care and was surprised at how much younger and more vulnerable he appeared without them and how much more obvious his exhaustion became. The shadows under his eyes were so dark he resembled a panda, and Ginny wanted to see him sleeping peacefully so badly it made her ache.
"Who would you be more likely to listen to?" she wondered aloud, placing his glasses lenses up beside his homework. "Hermione?"
Ginny frowned in sudden concentration. "Hermione says its time to–"
Harry groaned. "No library!" he whimpered. Ginny bit back a burst of giggles.
"Ron reckons you should– No. That wouldn't work either," she muttered to herself. She was now holding onto Harry's shoulders simply to prevent him falling to the floor. Then it came to her.
Why not? she demanded of her inner muse. He's listened to me in the past.
What have you got to lose? came back the reply.
Thus emboldened Ginny put her mouth over Harry's ear. "Ginny wants to help you."
The faintest change of expression. Harry looked as though he was just about to smile. "Does she?" he breathed. " 'Kay."
"Ginny thinks you should lie down for a minute."
Harry obediently moved in the direction Ginny tugged him as she tried to manoeuvre him into the middle of his bed. He even seemed to be making some attempt to help her. Even so, Ginny was soon breathing hard and her shoulder was feeling the strain.
"You're heavier than you look, Aitch!" she puffed, looking down at his dishevelled figure hunched up on the bedcovers. She attempted one last heave to get his head on the pillow, couldn't shift his dead weight and gave up. Her shoulder was throbbing again. She rubbed her hand round it in an effort to soothe away the dull nagging. She was supposed to be resting it after all, but she was willing to cope with a bit of discomfort if it would help Harry get some peace.
With a few deep breaths to even out her respiratory rate, Ginny deftly snagged his pillow and insinuated it under his head. Regarding the posture she had left him in, she concluded a few minor adjustments would make him more comfortable and thus more likely to sleep longer.
So she bent his arm and moved it up at right angles in front of him and repeated the positioning with his upper leg. "There you go, Harry," she whispered. Then she realised she still had her hand on his thigh rather higher than was good for either of them (lots of muscle though!) and snatched it back.
Then she realised that she could have used magic more easily than manhandle him. She grinned. Manhandling him had been much more fun and it brought certain… compensations. Like the knowledge that Harry James Potter was not a scrawny little runt any more… and he was willing to take Ginny's advice over anyone else's. A theory she would re-test when he was more alert.
"You have a peaceful sleep now, Aitch," she whispered.
His back was pressing against her knees and his lips were slightly parted. She could hear each exhalation whistle slightly as she curled over to study his sleeping face.
She fingercombed his hair out of his eyes, wondering how much shaggier Professor McGonagall would tolerate it becoming before she summoned Harry to her office for a discussion about his appearance. The strict Scottish witch was an absolute stickler for her house presenting smartly. It was probably as well Harry hadn't turned up to Transfiguration; this was the second morning he had forgotten to shave, the scruff.
This simple act of friendship inadvertently uncovered his rune-shaped scar and Ginny stared at it. She considered everything this remarkable young man had achieved and was sure she didn't know the half of it. Determination swelled inside her. With her hand still in Harry's dark hair she leaned down until she was above his ear, feeling the point of his shoulder pressing between her breasts.
"Start running Riddle, 'cos you can't hide! We're coming to finish you Tom – me and him," Ginny whispered fiercely. Her finger strayed to caress the lightning bolt mark lovingly as she tried to fathom the contradictory mind of the young man who carried it.
"Harry will beat you, no matter what it takes out of him, if it's the last thing he does, because that's the way he is. You think all you've got to worry about is Harry, and you forgot about the rest of us. You underestimated and we plan to make you pay! We're all going to be there to spit in your glazed eyes." She drew a fierce breath, her eyes as wild as a hunting animal.
"And for every hurt you inflicted on him, every cut you made in his heart, you only made him stronger! Each time you raise the stakes, we'll match you. We'll drown what you do in so much love and friendship that you won't be able to hurt him without hurting yourself more! So start running, Riddle! You messed with the wrong ones!" Ginny's sweet voice was rough with passion and it stirred Harry's soul in a fundamental way he could no more have explained than he could have apparated to the moon.
Harry lay, at the very fringes of consciousness, on top of his four poster bed, filling with a somewhat guilty pleasure. Guilty, because he had the nagging feeling he was meant to be somewhere, and it wasn't here. And also because Ginny was pulling him about on his bed, although that was sort of pleasant too… Don't start, Potter!
Her small hands were cold but she seemed to know what she was doing. Again, he felt her hand slide around his neck (he shivered) and lift his aching head just enough that she could work the pillow under it. He could have moaned with relief but it was too much effort. Something comfy at last! His body was letting go of the muscle tension and drooping into the mattress. Her harsh breaths were the closest noises as she knelt over him. Harry could feel the points of her knees digging in to his back but he didn't mind. This was the closest he and Ginny had ever been and it felt…
Wha's she doing? Oh, arm...
Whoa! Ginny! give a bloke some warning! Damn…
Like it when sh'calls me 'Aitch'. Sweet voice... listen for hours… hands in my hair… s'nice…
What'sat? Riddle? What sh'mean – 'we're coming…? I'm the one– what? Sh' thinks I can... never heard her like this… passion… cuts in my heart? Wha’sit like t'be loved? Sirius… Oh Ginny, you believe... tha' means... You 'mazing...
Harry's mouth gaped in a cavernous yawn and his buzzing ears caught a low girlish laugh that made his heart miss a beat. Ginny? Thanks, I really, I mean… damn– er. Ginny? Thanks.
Harry knew the words were loud in his head but he couldn't be certain that they had escaped from his mouth. He was fairly well convinced his lips had moved to form the syllables but his ears had provided no feedback.
Many random images were scrambling over his mind's eye and if they contained more than their fair share of the youngest Weasley and her deceptively gentle doe-eyes, Harry was in no fit state to comment upon it.
His exhausted body demanded that the brain disengage and reward all of him with blessed oblivion. The overloaded brain was only too happy to acquiesce. With all sides of his personality in agreement, Harry slipped silently into the realm of peace.
Harry flinched and opened staring eyes. What was it now? The room was dim, there were distant sounds from the common room. It felt late.
A small repetitive scratching sound reached his ears intruding on the oppressive silence of the room. Harry stayed perfectly still assessing his surroundings and performing his internal check first. His mind was as still as the limpid surface of a puddle. There was no feeling that Riddle had wandered through his mind as though it was a library of worthless curiosities.
Light flared close at hand; Harry threw up his arm to shield his stinging eyes and made out a shape behind the shadows. He shot a jet of red light – a stunning spell – before he had stopped to consider. He heard it hit the wall with a stonily splintering crack and shook out his tingling hand. He must have been lying on it for the pins-and-needles to be that bad.
"Three," said a familiar voice dryly. "Harry? It's only me." A freckled hand offered his glasses and Ron's long-nosed face came into focus. What was that smell?Something…good. Harry's belly rumbled loudly.
The lanky redhead leaned closer, watching him by the light of a single candle, trying and failing to look casual. "All right mate?" he called across softly.
Harry managed to nod. His mouth felt too thick for comprehensible speech. He tried to sit up but his arm had about as much strength as wet cotton wool and he only succeeded in rolling onto his side. He indulged in a long, joint-popping stretch until he could feel the wooden headboard against his fingers and his feet left the comfort of their warm covering. Most of his long muscles ached, as though he had been in one position for far too long. Added to that, he had a metallic taste in his mouth and his eyeballs seemed to have been lightly sandpapered while he slept.
Slept… he had been asleep…wonderful thing, that. Shouldn't he be feeling better now that he'd had some? He began to shake and feel slightly nauseous.
"Hermione said you might feel rough when you woke up. Said it's normal, according to what she's read." Ron was trying to sound off-hand but Harry wasn't fooled. He nodded to acknowledge the explanation and tried again to push into a sitting position. The back of his head began to throb with enough force to blur his sight. Harry decided that horizontal was better.
"Ron?" It came out in a rasp so he cleared his throat and tried again. "Ron, did McGonagall…"
The youngest Weasley male shook his head with a smile. "Ginny came and told her what had happened. She said you're to go and see her tomorrow morning. About catching up."
The absurd little lift of his heart faded when Harry worked out that Ron meant he was to see McGonagall first thing and not Ginny. He shifted onto his back and stared up at the inside of the four poster. He had a sense of peacefulness and well being that his insides told him was curiously connected to Ginny, although those same insides could not supply a reason why he should believe this.
Plumbing the shady fringes of his mind, Harry caught a hazy memory of her voice over his ear, her mouth so close that he could feel each breath…. Why could he not pull what she had said into sharper focus?
He had some recollection of Hermione warning him about hallucinations. Had Ginny even been up in the boy's dorm? Harry thought it unlikely yet he didn't want the fleeting suggestion of Ginny talking close over his ear to be just a hallucination.
Harry shivered again and lay still with hip joints and shoulders aching, trying to force his memories into order and then he frowned. Bouncing up and down on a pogo stick while on a trampoline would have been easier. During an earthquake.
"Harry? You still awake?"
He managed to make a noise and Ron snorted.
"Ginny brought you some dinner. Chicken, eggs – what is it with her and eggs? – and some treacle tart. She said to tell you to get it down your neck and get some more kip." The plate appeared before him and Harry decided he felt sick because he was actually very hungry.
Facing Ron over the charmed-to-stay-warm plateful, Harry managed a vague smile and fumbled stabbing the slices of chicken breast onto his fork. "What did she actually say?" The aggravating fork slipped through his shaking fingers and clattered onto the floor. Harry resorted to picking up the slices of meat with his fingers. It was the finest thing he had tasted in ages.
This time Ron chuckled. " ‘Tell him if he doesn't eat it, I'll come and make him’." He looked very smug. "She would too. She and Hermione had a discussion across the table concerning 'the relative merits of easily digestible nutritional combinations'." Ron gave a good imitation of the brunette's lecturing manner. "Gave me an appetite just listening to them."
Ron's words produced a vivid picture for Harry; in his mind's eye he could imagine his two friends debating their selections as he finished the succulent chicken and sucked his fingers clean. How Hermione would emphasise her points by ticking them off on her fingers while Ginny would make little stabs with her fork.
"Hermione said you should have a lot of carbo-something." Ron spoke more slowly as he fought to remember the unfamiliar words, "Because they produce the most sero-whatsit… Anyway, I think she meant it would make you sleepy."
Harry made a sort of 'uh-huh' noise in his throat and reached for the generous slice of tart. He couldn't face the hardboiled egg. Maybe later.
How well his friends knew him! Thick slices of roast chicken, no gravy and lots of stick-to-your-palate treacle tart. Harry felt a rush of emotion towards them for their care. He must remember to say something to them, to thank them. To thank Ginny; didn't Ron say she had brought it for him? She was so considerate.
Ron watched his dorm mate gradually demolish the plateful, with the exception of the egg, and then without another word, lie back down and drift once more into sleep.
A/N: Many thanks to y’all for reading and reviewing my other pieces. (That Imperio is still holding, Sherry and Aggiebell) All comment is appreciated.
I’m hoping that I will be encouraged to finish this fic by seeing it posted before Book 6 arrives and turns it AU!
Huggles and a :bowdown: go to my pre-beta, Aggiebell, and my beta, Katieay, for their insightful suggestions, which always get me thinking afresh, and their willingness to read what I write in the first place!