Ginny stormed off towards the Burrow and left a deeply shaken Harry behind.
She was right, of course. His outrage had led him to insulting her, but the Weasleys always had been Gryffindors ..., while the Sorting Hat had wanted to put him in Slytherin. Maybe it was right after all? Perhaps he did not fit into Gryffindor and perhaps he did not fit into this family. He certainly could not understand Ginny and she was right: He was no real Weasley and he would never be. His family was dead ... and it was all his fault.
What she had said about Ron and Hermione was probably not true, but it hurt terribly, anyway. It simply was safer to stay away from him, and in the end ... it was quite likely that he would die too.
Lines of lyrics were drifting through his mind. He had heard them on the radio some time. I'm a walking nightmare, an arsenal of doom ... I'm the sort of thing they ban, I'm a walking disaster, I'm a demolition man ....
And wasn't it true? In his second year, Ginny had almost died, because Tom Riddle wanted to kill Harry. He had messed up so many things since then. Cedric had also died because he happened to be in the way. So had Sirius. All dead, because of him. And even the good things that might have happened had been spoilt because of his stupidity. He had lost Cho, and he would never be able to make things up to Ginny again.
A small rational part of Harry's mind told him that there was a different side to his self-accusations, but the rhythm of his aching heart painfully stuttered doom ... doom ... demolition ... disaster ... doom.
* * * *
Ginny burst into the kitchen of the Burrow, hardly stopping to tell her mother in her most sarcastic voice that the party had been a real "pleasure," and sped up the stairs to slam the door to her room behind her.
She did not see Harry again that night. She refused to come down to dinner, but she only went to bed late. She read in one of her favourite novels until past midnight, but the soothing effect of the well-known story did not come this time. When the lights were out, her thoughts strayed towards Harry-the-Idiot-Potter once again. Every thought started with "why" or "how". Why was he ... and how could he ...? She was still fuming and sleep eluded her until the wee hours. She awoke much later than usual and was still grumpy with lack of sleep when she made her way into the kitchen.
Instead of the usual morning bustle, she found her mum sitting quietly at the table, looking downhearted. Ginny's heart beat erratically. Something must have happened. Something with Voldemort? An attack? Had somebody ...?
"Mum?" she asked cautiously.
Mrs Weasley looked up, as if she had not noticed her coming down before.
Being run over by the Knight Bus would have been a similar sensation. "Gone?"
"When I came down this morning," her mother said as if she had not heard her, "he was already waiting for me. He apologised for being a burden to us and insisted on leaving at once. I tried to make him stay, tried to make him explain, but he was adamant .... I've never experienced anything like it. His eyes were." She shook her head. "Not even Dumbledore has ever looked at me like that. So much power." Her voice died down. "So much pain."
Ginny felt extremely uncomfortable, and sure enough, her mother's eyes examined at her suspiciously.
"What happened during the party yesterday?"
Ginny blushed. "What did Harry tell you?"
"He didn't tell me anything," her mother said quietly. "That's why I'm asking you."
Ginny did not really dare looking at her. "There was nothing."
"Don't expect me to believe that."
"We ... just didn't, you know ... get along too well."
Mrs Weasley's face was stern, and Ginny shuddered at the thought of a thorough interrogation. Quickly, she said, "Where did he go?"
"He went to Hogwarts to ask Albus for that house elf, Dobby, to look after him at Grimmauld Place, and I suppose that's where he is now."
Ginny had no idea how she had made it out of the kitchen and how she had avoided the questions of her mother; she was still in shock. Harry had left ... had left her.
He ran away, the little voice said.
Anger stirred in her again. Let him go if he must, she thought. But why did he have to go? Why did he have to make everybody around him miserable?
Ginny felt terrible. She rightly felt that part of what she had said in her anger yesterday had not been quite fair. But then again: neither had he been. In the end, she decided to blame Harry.
He could really have shown a little more sense, the little voice said, and Ginny hated Harry for making her mother sad, for disappointing her father and for ruining her summer.
As much as she tried to ignore the gnawing thoughts during the next weeks, she just could not do it. Why was he so stubborn, why had he never allowed her to help him?
Why should he? the quiet voice asked. After all, you're just his friend's little sister.
She knew that, of course. Ron's little sister, nothing more. Over and over again, her mind returned to those tumultuous days, and that did not really improve how she thought about Harry.
Neither did the return of Ron and Hermione.
The two of them obviously had had a brilliant summer. They had tramped the continent for weeks without any contact to the wizarding world for security reasons, and had grown increasingly close. Ron had been torn between his obvious attachment to Hermione and the respect he had for her parents, especially her father. But on the nightboat that took them back to England, facing the cliffs of their home bright in the moonlight, he had finally made his move.
He and Hermione were ridiculously happy when they arrived at the Burrow for the last two weeks of the holidays. Ginny was disgusted and envious at the same time. Still, she had been hoping that the Burrow would become a more lively and therefore more sufferable place with Ron and Hermione, but as soon as they heard where Harry was, her hopes were shattered.
Ron never actually blamed her for it, but she could not mistake the suspicious glance of his eyes. Within two hours of their arrival, Ron and Hermione left again in order to join Harry at Grimmauld Place ... and Ginny was again left out and alone. Her mood reached an all-time low and in her frustration she lashed out at the first person available. Her mother was not impressed and grounded her for the remainder of the holidays. There was no doubt in her mind whose fault it all was.
If he just hadn't been born, the little voice whispered.
* * * *
Ron and Hermione found Harry well-fed, composed, but deeply depressed. He had spent the most lonely summer of his life. There had been little company at Grimmauld Place. The occasional Order member had come in, but apart from that, Dobby had been his sole companion.
For sheer misery Harry had taken to reading. The library of Grimmauld Place was extensive, and he found burying himself in books had a soothing effect on him. Still, he had spent hours and hours blindly staring at the dark walls of the old house, trying to comprehend what had landed him in this mess. He knew that he could not go on without any friends and he was sorry for his fight with Ginny. But he did not know if he had the courage to make it up with her. The way her eyes had burned that evening made him doubt she would ever talk to him again. He had made her hate him and he felt wretched for it.
(A/N: Thanks to my pre-beta, Wolf's Scream, and my beta, Jenadamson, for their help. For a disclaimer, take a look at my profile. The lyrics are from The Police's "Demolition Man." )