Harry sped through the air on his Firebolt, enjoying the wind through his hair. He wasn't playing Quidditch; he was just flying, something he rarely did. But when he started to descend, without really meaning to, towards an old, ivy-covered house on a hill, he realized what was happening and whimpered in his sleep. He didn't want to go there again, but he didn't seem to have much choice, since he couldn't make himself wake up.
Without trying to, Harry circled the house once, then swooped down into a room...the same room as before...with the same arm chair, but this time it was facing a table, and Harry could see who was sitting in it. Voldemort. His face seemed to be paler than ever, his red eyes were narrowed even further than usual, and he was laughing. The other men in the room were laughing, too, but Harry couldn't make out who they were.
"Yes, it's better this way," Voldemort was saying, his high-pitched voice sounding positively gleeful. "He will think he is safe now, since he escaped from my clutches. But, one by one, the people he cares about will disappear, and die, and he will never know which will be next. Yes, imagine it...he will suffer as I suffered for thirteen years...until he is alone and friendless, praying for the end...yes..."
The other men in the room agreed with him, though Harry still couldn't tell who they were. He thought he recognized one laugh, but his dream self rejected that idea.
"And then," Voldemort continued. "Once he is bereft of everyone he ever cared about, he will get what he is praying for. Oh, yes, make no doubt about it. Harry Potter has no chance against me...he never did...and he knows it, too."
Harry heard agreeing voices, but, try as he would, he couldn't remain there. When Voldemort spoke his name, a pain more intense than he had felt before made him clutch his scar in his dream...which made him fall off his broom...which made him wake up.
Harry sat upright in bed, still clutching his scar, but already the pain was fading as he remembered what he had heard. "...the people he cares about will disappear...bereft of everyone he ever cared about..." He couldn't let that happen. He just couldn't. But what could he do? Voldemort knew about all his friends, he knew about Sirius and Professor Lupin, and, thanks to Wormtail, he knew about the Weasleys. He would want to kill them, anyway, since Mr. Weasley, Bill, and Charlie were already working to bring him down, too. Percy would come around soon, Ron said in his letters, but for right now, he still believed the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, when he said that Voldemort hadn't returned. It hurt Harry that Percy didn't believe him, but that was yet another thing he couldn't do anything about.
Harry lay back down on the bed, the pain in his scar almost forgotten. He didn't know what to do. He couldn't stay with the Dursleys forever - setting aside that he didn't want to, they would never allow it. And staying away from those he loved wouldn't save them, not if Voldemort was already set on this course. What could he do to help if he was stuck at the Dursleys, unable to do any magic at all? What could he do to help if he was right there, though? He had no idea.
Well, there was one thing to do right away. He had promised Professor Dumbledore to write him if he had any dreams of Voldemort. Of course, he had had dreams of Voldemort every night since the third task, but he knew that this one was different. Those were just nightmares - scary and horrible, but just nightmares. This one was different. He should write to Sirius, too.
The letter to Dumbledore was easily written, and set aside for when Hedwig came back. But Harry got stuck halfway through his letter to Sirius. How could he tell Sirius that he was in danger, all because of him?
"Oh, by the way, godfather, you're in more danger now than you have been since you escaped Azkaban, all because you love me." Yeah, that sounds about right.
Harry threw his quill down and put his head in his hands. Why me? he thought. All I ever wanted was a normal childhood, with parents and friends and...normal things. Why did I have to be The Boy Who Lived, so that even my friends are in awe when they think about it? He always tried very hard not to think these things, but sometimes, like now, he just couldn't help himself.
As Harry sat there, allowing himself a few minutes of despair, he heard the familiar flap of wings. Then he heard more wings, and more. Hedwig appeared in his window, swooping in to land on his desk. She was followed by at least twenty other owls, all bearing packages and letters. Harry took Hedwig's first, of course.
It was from Hermione.
Happy Birthday! I hope you don't mind that I kept Hedwig an extra day...I wanted to make sure that you got this on your birthday. I've been thinking about giving it to you for awhile, but wasn't sure you were ready. But you said you had been studying a lot, so I guess you are. Promise me you won't try it without me, though, I've been doing lots of research, and it could very easily go wrong. We'll work on it together, OK?
Ron is still being a complete and utter idiot. Harry, you have to make him see sense. It's nothing to him if I write to Viktor, is it? Or if it is,
Well, I'm not going to spoil your birthday with my problems. I hope
you'll be able to go to the Burrow, but, at any rate, I'll see you on September 1st.
With love from,
Harry stared at the letter, thinking about his friends. How could he make Ron see sense? Ron never saw what he didn't want to see, and it was painfully obvious that he didn't want to see his feelings for Hermione. Oh, well, there was nothing he could do about it now. He turned to her present, which he could feel through the wrapping was a book. When he opened it, though, he gasped. Animagi: A Guide to Finding Your Inner Animal. How had Hermione known? Ever since he had found out that his father was an Animagus, he had wanted to do it, too. But it was very advanced magic, and he wasn't sure he was up to it. If Hermione helped him, though... Wow, Hermione!
Harry tore himself away from the book, and looked at the other owls perched around the room. Thinking about Aunt Petunia's face when she saw the mess in here made him smile, but he set about removing all the letters and packages so that the owls could leave. He left Pigwidgeon for last, because he was flitting about the room, instead of waiting for Harry to remove his burden, like a proper post owl should. Hermes was there too, with a positively enormous parcel. Hermes was Percy's owl, and always reminded Harry of his owner, since he held himself very stiff and looked very proper. Harry was surprised to see him - usually he was out delivering yet another letter to Percy's girlfriend, Penelope. Hermes hooted softly at Harry, then took off again into the night, making Harry grin. Percy must have told him to come right back.
The enormous parcel Hermes had carried contained a large chocolate cake, a blue Weasley sweater (which was a good thing, because his old one was several inches too short now), a picture in a frame, and a letter.
Dear Harry, the letter read in a small, firm hand that Harry didn't recognize:
Happy Birthday! Mum sends along the cake and sweater, of course, and we all send our (here a word was heavily scratched out) best wishes. The pictures are from Fred, George and me. I got them from people around school, and Fred and George invented the frame to hold more than one. They should be real inventors, not just of Weasley's Wizard Wheezes. No, we shouldn't.Yeah, what does she mean, real inventors? You just tap lightly on the upper right-hand corner of the frame to switch pictures. You can add more, too, but that's more complicated, and Fred and George will have to show you how.
Hope you had a tolerable birthday, Harry, even with the Dursleys. If I don't see you before, see you on the Hogwarts Express.
Harry couldn't help but grin at the letter, especially at the twins' interjections. But he could guess what the word was that Ginny had scratched out. He hoped she wouldn't mope around after him again this year. Though she actually hadn't last year, come to think of it. He had been so busy with the Triwizard Tournament and watching Cho to realize it then, but now that he thought about it, he hadn't really seen much of her last year. Well, that was a good thing, wasn't it? She was probably just embarrassed about her old crush, that's why she'd scratched out ‘love.' The rest of the letter was certainly just plain friendly.
He turned to the picture frame, which currently held a picture of Ron, Hermione, and himself, flopped down on the ground out by the lake at Hogwarts. He remembered when it was taken, after a particularly grueling Transfiguration class. Dean Thomas, another Gryffindor friend of theirs, had taken it, saying that he wanted to prove that even Hermione was overwhelmed sometimes. Harry grinned, and tapped the upper right-hand corner of the frame. Most of the rest of the pictures were also of Ron, Hermione, and himself, but there was one with all of the Weasleys outside their house, waving at him. It had obviously been taken this summer, because Ron was even taller than he remembered, and everyone, though waving furiously, looked a little sad and worried. He knew what Aunt Petunia had meant about everyone being happy but also looking haunted. Harry didn't want to see the Weasleys like that. He flipped to the last picture quickly.
This one, Harry didn't remember being taken. It was of Ron and himself at the Yule Ball last year, sitting at a table and talking. Their dates for the ball, Parvati and Padma Patil, weren't in the picture, which, considering how mad the Patils had been at them, was probably a good thing. He and Ron were laughing, so they couldn't have been talking about Hermione or Hagrid, two things they had talked a lot about that evening. Behind them were the dancers, including Hermione and Viktor Krum, so it was a good thing Ron wasn't looking around. Fred and Angelina were dancing, too, and so were Professor Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall, and poor Ginny and Neville, with Ginny wincing at every other step as Neville stepped on her feet. Remembering how carefree and happy they had been at the ball, and how many of the people in the picture were now in grave danger, Harry flipped the picture frame again, back to the first picture.
Trying not to think about it, Harry turned to Ron's letter and parcel.
I have the best birthday present ever - Dumbledore says you can come here for the last week of the summer! I'm going to ask Hermione, too. Hopefully she can tear herself away from Vicky for that long.
Things are still weird here. I'm still doing my "internship" at dad's office - it's a lot more interesting than I thought it would be. Muggles do come up with some useful things. Like your real birthday present - we've gotta think of some ways to get Malfoy with this!
Well, I'll see you soon. I can't wait!
Harry tore open the wrapping on Ron's gift to reveal a water gun. He had to grin, imagining Draco Malfoy's face when they hit him with a stream of water without using a wand. Ron was right, there were definite possibilities here. But the best news of all was that he could go to the Burrow. Maybe he could even help Ron out with his "internship" at the Ministry. In reality, Ron was helping his dad's assistant to run the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts office while Mr. Weasley did things for Dumbledore. Ron had been enormously flattered when his dad asked him for help, even though he had complained again about his dad working in the most boring office. Harry was glad that it was turning out better than he had thought it would.
Harry put down the water gun, and set about opening the rest of his presents. Hagrid had sent him some fudge, which was actually good, so Harry suspected that maybe Madame Maxim had had a hand in making it (Hagrid mentioned he was still with her in the letter attached to the fudge).
Colin Creevey gave him a picture, too, and Harry could certainly understand why he hadn't given it to Ginny for her present. It was a picture of the Gryffindor vs. Ravenclaw match from Harry's third year, when Malfoy and his goons dressed up as dementors to try to scare Harry and sabotage the match. Harry had conjured a wonderful Patronus to charge down the "dementors," so the picture was of the four Slytherins down on the ground, tangled in their cloaks and obviously out of it.
Everyone, from Professor Lupin to Neville, sent him wonderful presents, but nothing compared to what Sirius sent him. It was a set of letters that his dad had written to Sirius - nothing earth shattering in importance, but they were letters that his dad had written, and it was the best birthday present Harry had ever gotten. He settled down to read them, forgetting, for the moment, about his dream and all that it meant