‘Harry, where did you get that?' Hermione asked. Her face had paled, but it was nothing in comparison to Ron's expression. His freckles were bright against the white backdrop of his skin, and the faint shadows under his eyes were vividly pronounced as he stared at the flower.
For a moment Harry thought his friend might actually be sick, but Ron swallowed and muttered, ‘Don't touch it. I mean, don't touch it again. You obviously already have because it's glass.'
‘Do you know what it is?'
‘Yeah, and if Mum finds it she's going to have an absolute fit. I mean, not just shouting but crying and everything. She'll never let you out of her sight.'
Harry glared at the flower and gave a sigh. ‘I don't know how it got in there. I threw it in the bin at the Dursleys'.'
‘Huh, can't get rid of it easily mate. You've got to wait for the magic to work.'
‘What is it then?'
Ron faltered and Hermione took over, taking a calming breath before she began to explain. ‘It's a Melancholily. They are a magical kind of flower often used as a death threat and a well-known harbinger of fatality. The number of petals symbolises the number of people that are to suffer. As each death occurs, a red stripe appears on the black petal.'
‘So four have happened already,' Harry muttered, feeling hollow.
‘If I'm right they're deaths you've witnessed or have been in the presence of.' Hermione's voice dropped to a softer tone as she finished. ‘Your mum and dad, Cedric and Sirius.'
‘Am I the last?'
Ron's mouth fell open and then shut with a snick before he shook his head and shrugged. ‘It doesn't always apply to the recipient. It can just be people around you.' He hesitated for a moment before scowling, ‘The worst part is you solidified it by picking it up! Your touch completed the charm!'
‘Well I didn't know that. I just wondered what the hell Pettigrew left on the wall!'
‘Pettigrew was at Privet Drive?' Hermione exclaimed. ‘Have you told anyone?'
‘It might not have been him.' Harry sighed as he flopped on the bed. ‘I didn't even notice him until he almost knocked me over. It was dark; I just saw a glint of silver and leapt to a conclusion.'
‘It doesn't matter Harry. With everyone watching you someone probably saw it and told Dumbledore, but perhaps you should in case they missed it.'
‘Or maybe it was Fletcher on watch and he got some news on hot broomsticks.' Ron snorted as he wrapped a jumper around his hand, picked up the glass flower and put it on the table by the window. ‘You'd better tell them about this, too.'
Harry swore softly and glared at the ceiling. To be honest, he didn't want to tell anyone about it. He had thought he'd seen the last of it when he'd thrown it away. Obviously, he was wrong. ‘I'll tell them later. Everyone's got enough to worry about.'
‘The only thing everyone's worrying about is you, Harry,' Hermione pointed out as she picked up the Sneakoscope and shoved it under Ron's pillow to muffle the chirping. She sat down on the duvet and crossed her legs. Ron grabbed a wad of parchment out of Harry's trunk, a look of astonishment crossing his face as he asked, ‘Hey, have you done all your homework already?'
‘Most of it.'
‘Excellent. Can I copy your History of Magic essay?'
‘Ron!' Hermione exclaimed, opening her mouth to give a lecture.
‘Sorry Ron, that's the only thing I haven't done.'
Hermione smiled at the look of disappointment on Ron's face before reaching down to the floor and picking up one of her books. ‘Well, since there's nothing better for either of you to do you might as well start on that. And Harry, don't think this means you've gotten out of telling people about that thing.' She jabbed a finger at the flower. ‘If you don't, I will.'
The rain smattered on the window, its steady rhythm reassuring as the two boys worked in easy silence. Hermione was reading ferociously and the gentle susurrus of pages turning marked off the minutes. Molly Weasley called them for lunch, but when she realised how busy they were she brought up a plateful of toasted bacon sandwiches and a jug of orange juice for them to eat as they went.
Harry looked up as Ron's scratching quill paused, and noticed his friend staring at something in the doorway. Turning his head he saw the black kitten he had rescued earlier. It was sitting upright, like the statuesque representations the Egyptians were known to treasure. Blue eyes were watching both of them work, and a very quiet purr was gradually becoming louder.
‘Yours?' Ron asked.
‘Ginny's. I'm surprised Crookshanks hasn't eaten it yet.'
‘Harry, he'd never do that,' Hermione said, and smiled as Ginny walked past and gave a huff of exasperation.
Her hair was wind swept and going slightly fluffy. She looked like she'd been out in the garden, possibly under a hedge, and Harry hid a smile as the youngest Weasley scooped the kitten off the floor and began to scold. ‘I've been looking bloody everywhere for you. Harry, are you sure she's not magical?'
‘You're reasonably sure?' Ron groaned and buried his head in his hands. ‘It's probably another Death Eater. It could be what's-her-face. That Lestrange woman.'
‘That's ridiculous,' Hermione spluttered, throwing a quick glance at Harry to check his reaction before continuing. ‘If you ever read anything Ron, you would know that it is unheard of for any wizard or witch to change into an infant version of their form. Morphic resonance is beyond the control of normal magic.'
‘Glad to see you've been keeping up your diet of a library a day Hermione.'
Hermione ignored him and stood up, sweeping out of the door. Harry just had time to catch Ginny say ‘She's called Genesis, Genie for short,' before both the girls vanished from sight.
‘Harry what was the name of the goblin that stopped the minor revolution of 1438?' Ron asked.
‘Snorf the Impaler.' Harry frowned, ‘or maybe Grockl the Crusher. I don't know, make it up. Binns won't notice.'
It was late afternoon by the time Harry had scribbled his way through three scrolls of parchment. Ron had given up hours ago and was reading Quidditch Weekly for the third time. At least Harry thought he was, but when he'd finally put the paper away he saw Ron's eyes considering him, and noticed a very worried expression on his best friend's face.
For a minute he thought Ron wasn't going to say anything, but the boy began to speak, hesitantly at first, then all in a rush.
‘I-I don't know exactly what happened Harry, a few weeks ago but – do you really think Sirius is dead?'
Harry didn't know what to say, and at his silence Ron carried on. ‘I mean, Mum and Dad act like they know he is; in fact, everyone seems to have a better idea than us. Mum told me and Hermione that he fell through the veil, and Hermione's been trying to find out more about it ever since but – well, there was no body or anything and Lupin says – he says that the curse Lestrange used wouldn't have killed him it's just because he fell through that thing-'
‘He's dead Ron.'
For a moment Ron just sat there staring at the floor. ‘I'm sorry.'
‘Don't be. It wasn't you who killed him. It was my fault.'
‘What? Harry that's stupid, how can it have been?'
‘Hermione's right, I guess I do have a "saving people thing". The dream I had wasn't real. If I'd listened to Hermione, Sirius would still be alive now.'
‘But someone else might be dead.' Ron swallowed heavily as Harry looked at him, ‘I mean, You-Know-Who tricked you but then you smashed the prophecy thing. If he'd gotten his hands on it who knows what could have happened and who could have died.'
Harry tried to summon a smile but somehow he could find neither the energy nor the emotion to do so. He had almost said that he didn't care who died as long as it wasn't Sirius, but he knew that wasn't true. He'd care if it had been Hermione or Ron, or even anyone in their families. He just wished, in the most heartfelt way, that he hadn't been so stupid.
A sudden yowl made them both turn towards the door in time to see a ginger blur being chased along the corridor.
‘Ow Crookshanks!' Hermione's voice rose in pain and Ron was on his feet in the blink of an eye, rushing to where she stood at the top of the stairs
‘You all right?'
‘No. Ow - this stupid cat! Ginny get this thing away from me! Your kitten should not be terrorising Crookshanks!'
Harry followed Ron at a slower pace and leant against the wall as Ginny scooped little Genie away from Hermione's feet and Ron tried to remove Crookshanks' claws from Hermione's neck and back.
‘What are you smiling at?' She demanded to know, ‘And why aren't you helping?'
‘I wasn't smiling. I have nothing to smile about, Hermione. And I'm not helping because I don't want to make it worse.'
Crookshanks turned his lamp-like eyes on Harry and took a flying leap off Hermione and onto the floor, spitting and growling as he backed away from the boy.
‘Hermione, I'm really sorry.' Ginny was holding the kitten and apologising profusely. ‘I thought I'd shut her in my room but she must have got out. Are you okay? Let me get some disinfectant.'
‘I can't believe I was attacked by my own cat!' Hermione complained as she sat on the top step of the stairs and examined the scratches on her bare arms. The little cuts were weeping blood and the girl gave a hiss of pain as Ron gently wiped each one with a cloth soaked with antiseptic.
Harry felt abruptly shut out. He had to admit that it was one of those touching little scenes, one in which he definitely didn't belong. He moved away on silent feet, slipping back into Ron's room without making a noise. The rain was still pummelling against the window and he moved to look out, leaning his forehead against the cool glass.
He didn't mind the fact that Ron and Hermione were, well, were becoming more than just good friends. He just wished they'd get on with it and stop being shy and argumentative around each other all the time. He scowled at the trees beyond the garden edge as his mind slipped back to Cho Chang. It had been an experience at least, albeit one which he didn't plan to repeat in any hurry. The kissing was the good part; the rest was rather like having your emotions put through the wringer.
His gaze landed on a raindrop tinted pink, and he frowned as it snaked down the glass. A trail of thicker, brighter red followed it, and Harry felt bile rise in his throat. That couldn't be blood. It didn't rain blood. For a second he wondered if he should run and get someone, but he shook his head. Chances were that it was Fred and George throwing pellets at the window or something.
With great care he opened it and leant out, shuddering as something warm dripped on his neck. Whatever the twins were inventing now, they were getting better at it. They'd even got the temperature of the fake blood about right. Turning his head around so that he could look up at the roof he felt his heart plummet. There was a hand, still attached to its arm, hanging limp over the edge of the roof above Ron's room.
‘It could still be fake,' Harry muttered to himself as he froze on the brink of looking over the roof. Perhaps he should go and get someone. He really shouldn't look. He didn't think that even Fred and George could get this realistic. Gripping onto a creeper that had long ago invaded the gutter, Harry balanced on the window ledge and, ignoring the water sluicing down his front, looked onto the roof.
He felt the blood drain from his face and a strange clanging started in his ears. Tremors wracked his frame as he quickly shut his eyes and tried not to lose his balance. The body was real, still bleeding and very headless. It had happened recently. He slipped back into the room, trying not to be sick, and stripped off his wet and bloody jumper. The t-shirt underneath was comparatively dry but did nothing to stop the shivers that now seized him.
He paused for a moment, trying to think rationally. He had to tell someone, but if Molly Weasley found out – well, as much as he respected Ron's mum he didn't think she'd react well to there being a corpse on her roof. He could hear the sound of voices from downstairs in the kitchen. There was Mr. Weasley's thoughtful voice and Lupin's soft tones as well as the harsh, more military sound of Alastor Moody.
He picked his way past Ron and Hermione who both took one look at him and rose to follow. The kitchen was warm as the stove belted out heat, and Molly looked engrossed in cooking dinner whilst reading her magazine. Mr. Weasley was nursing a cup of tea in his hands as he spoke with the other adults, but he looked up as soon as Harry walked in and paled considerably. ‘Are you all right?'
Harry's eyes went to Molly again, but she hadn't paid attention to her husband's question. ‘There's-' He swallowed and tried again, his voice no more than a whisper. ‘There's a dead body on the roof.'
The three men looked at him as though he'd lost his mind. ‘What?'
‘Above Ron's room, there's a corpse on the roof.'
‘A corpse?' Moody hissed. ‘How do you know?'
‘There was blood running down Ron's windowpane. I thought it was the twins playing a trick but I don't think even they're that good.'
‘It's not one of the twins is it?' Arthur asked, and at that Molly turned around, her eyes narrowing as she surfaced from whatever plane she had been occupying.
‘What was that about the twins? What have they done now?' She froze and her eyes widened as she took in Harry's appearance. ‘Oh dear are you all right? What did you do to your neck?'
Harry's hand shot to the nape of his neck and he wiped the thick blood away. ‘Uh it's not mine, and I don't think it's one of the twins, Mr Weasley.' He tried hard to remember the body, but most of it had been covered in a black robe.
‘Was it anyone we know?' Ron asked from where he was standing in the doorway with Hermione.
‘I don't know many people without heads,' Harry muttered.
‘Right.' Moody growled, setting his mug down and rising to his feet. ‘We'll sort this out. Got a ladder?'
‘Can't you do it by magic?' Hermione asked.
‘With all the wards Dumbledore's put on this place? I don't think so. It's best not to meddle. It's probably those spells that killed whoever it is up there.'
‘Arthur, what is going on?' Molly demanded, looking thoroughly confused.
‘Oh nothing to worry about dear. We'll be back in a minute. Harry, you'd better stay here. In fact, all of you should. We'll tell you about it when we know more.'
The three of them hurried outside into the rain, leaving Harry to slump at the table.
‘Bloody hell, Harry, you've only been here a few hours,' Ron muttered as he sat down opposite him.
Harry lowered his head onto the table with a groan, cringing as Mrs Weasley's angry voice came from just behind him. ‘Will someone please tell me what's going on? Is it Fred and George, what have they done?'
‘Mum, it's not the twins. There's a body on the roof,' Ron said bluntly.
Raising his head, Harry dared a glance at Mrs Weasley. She looked pale and was standing with her mouth partway open, but she seemed to collect her self at once. ‘Ours or theirs?'
‘What?' Ron asked.
‘Was it someone we know or a Death Eater?'
‘It could be both.' Hermione pointed out as she handed Harry a wet tissue. He rubbed ineffectually at the blood on his neck and gave in as Molly took over and scrubbed hard at his skin.
‘Well whoever it is, it's probably their own fault. Dumbledore did say he'd protected all the weak points in the wards with some rather notoriously fatal spells.'
‘But if it was a Death Eater, how did they know Harry was here? I mean Ron's codes were frankly rubbish but still none of our owls were intercepted.'
‘I don't know. Hermione,' Molly sighed, her voice revealing the tiniest hint of her frustration. ‘I don't suppose you could be a dear and clean the window in the boy's room could you?'
‘It's all right Mum, I'll do it.' Ron accepted the bowl of water and cloth before traipsing up the stairs, his ears turning red as he caught sight of Hermione's grin of gratitude.
Just as Ron was returning Lupin sidled into the kitchen and cleared his throat. ‘Harry could you – could you come with me?'
‘Please tell me it's not someone I know.'
‘He was a Death Eater. However, you're one of the few who's seen most of them either masked or not so…'
Harry nodded grimly and stood up, relieved that his shock had diminished enough that he could hold his voice steady as he followed Lupin from the house and into the rain.
The body had been retrieved and lay on the grass covered with a bright blue tarpaulin. The ground seethed as Harry's feet squelched in the puddles the torrential rain had formed. His hair was soon slick against his head as he stood to one side and waited as Moody came forward carrying something in what looked like sacking.
‘It was in the hedges. Some of the gnomes were trying to decide if it was edible or not.' His magical eye revolved until both were focused on Harry. ‘Sorry boy, but we need to see who it was. The body has the Dark Mark. Chances are that it was either one of the Death Eaters who got away, or was too low down the hierarchy for You-Know-Who to bother trusting with the mission at the Ministry. This is just in case it's one of the Azkaban lot.'
Moody's gnarled hands clamped material tightly around the wound that had severed the head, leaving only the familiar Neanderthal face visible.
‘It's Crabbe Senior, or maybe Goyle's dad. They both look the same to me.' Harry frowned, ‘I'm almost sure they were put away.'
‘They were,' Arthur muttered, his face contorted with horrified realisation. ‘I had better get to the Ministry. Either Fudge doesn't know that there has been a successful breakout or he's keeping it hidden. Thank you Harry. Try to forget about this.'
‘Was it the spells that caused it?'
Lupin shot a quick look at Harry but didn't meet his gaze. ‘Yes it was Harry. Dumbledore did say…'
‘It's just, that's a sack, and it looks pretty blood soaked, which suggests the head was in it. I don't know what the wards do, but I don't think they involve body bags.'
‘Harry, just go inside,' Lupin ordered, his tired face suddenly fierce. ‘Stay there until we come back.'
Ron met him at the door, a towel in his hand. Harry took it gratefully and rubbed his hair and face dry before flopping into the chair nearest the warm stove.
‘Are you all right dear?' Molly asked as she put a cup of tea in front of him on the table.
‘Who was it?' Ginny asked. She was sitting opposite him, her light brown eyes considering him carefully, concentrating on his face. He had a distinct feeling that if he told any kind of lie she'd be able to tell. It was unnerving
‘Crabbe, or maybe Goyle.'
‘What?' Hermione gasped.
‘One of their dads, I mean. Not the Snakes in our year.'
‘Uh, gross,' Ron muttered. ‘I had Slytherin blood on my window.'
‘Oh, but poor Goyle or – or Crabbe,' Hermione said without much feeling.
‘They probably won't notice.'
‘Ron…' Molly scolded gently as she grabbed the towel from Harry's hand and attacked his sopping hair.
‘I don't know how you manage it Harry.' Ginny sighed, ‘I think that's a record. Less than twenty-four hours and trouble has already found you. Oh dear.'
‘What?' Harry demanded watching her eyes widen as Molly gave up. Ron took one look at him and snorted tea out of his nose, whilst Hermione struggled to keep a straight face. ‘What?'
‘Look in the mirror.'
Turning his head, he gave a sigh of exasperation and tried to flatten his hair, which was sticking straight out from his head as though he'd had an electric shock.
‘Perhaps it was better wet dear.' Molly said doubtfully before turning her back and continuing to cook the dinner.
It was the middle of the night. The sky was moonless but littered with stars, and Harry had been staring at them for what seemed like hours. There were no clocks in Ron's room. He had no idea how his friend coped with not truly knowing what the time was, but at least Harry couldn't count the minutes until dawn.
When he'd gotten in to bed that night, sleep had come easy. He was full of food, warm and content and very slightly drunk from the rum Mrs Weasley had insisted on putting in his tea to ward off a chill of any kind. He had awoken in a cold sweat, shaking and confused. He had seen Sirius, felt him right beside him, heard his laughter and seen the dog he had feared was the Grim for the best part of a year. The elation at his godfather's return had become horror when the phantom curtains of the veil had engulfed it all and torn his godfather away, leaving Harry alone under a dark sky with only the manic chant of the Death Eaters around him.
Now he wondered if he should have slept longer, if he should have tried to differentiate nightmare from strange reality but the fear of seeing Voldemort's minions was followed by the terror of the Dark Lord's insidious thoughts. Perhaps Riddle could never truly enter Harry's body, but there were times Harry still felt his mind was open to the Dark magic.
A whimper broke the calm night and Ron turned over, mumbling something. Harry ignored it at first, but when his friend began to fidget and toss and turn he advanced carefully on the bed. The muttered words were indistinct, but if he leant close enough he could hear. ‘Let go, let go!' Ron brushed a feverish hand along his own forearms as though trying to free himself. ‘I have to help. I have to!' The next whimper was a stifled scream, and Harry jumped back as his friend began to struggle more violently.
Nightmares. Probably from when Ron had been hurt by those brains. It had never occurred to Harry that whatever mind numbing spell had been placed on his friend might only have been on the surface. Had Ron been beneath it all, worried and aware as he had stumbled along those dark corridors?
‘Ron, Ron wake up.' Harry reached out a hand to touch his friend's shoulder, but it was knocked forcefully away. ‘Ron, you're all right.' Harry tried to think as his friends became more terrified. ‘Ron listen, you're in your bedroom. It's the summer. It's all over. You're safe. Come on, it's me, Harry.'
The movements became subdued, but Ron's face grew paler and his features contorted into a frown. He seemed on the verge of tears. ‘Oh god Harry. They'll kill-'
‘Run,' he whispered.
‘Ron, who'll kill, who's going to be killed?'
‘He can't live without Sirius, Hermione.'
Harry froze as Ron turned over once more, burying himself in his duvet and letting out a sigh, falling into deeper sleep and oblivion. It had sounded like a nightmare at the beginning, but towards the end it had become more coherent and more chilling. It sounded like the future and not the past.
Harry sat on the floor by Ron's bed, ready with gentle words should the bad dreams invade once more, and it wasn't until the sun rose that he got to his feet and walked away.