Disclaimer for this and all subsequent chapters: none of this really belongs to me. Characters, settings and most other devices are cheerfully lifted from other people. A few words might be mine…maybe. The hot buttered toast certainly is! Thank you JKR for providing all these hours of fun with such marvellous characters.
The owls winged their way back and forth all summer long. Harry was even more restless than usual, confined within Privet Drive and doing his best to keep out of the way of the Dursleys. Not even his birthday had lifted his spirits, even though his friends had risen magnificently to the occasion; for the fact remained that Voldemort had risen and was at large in the world again. This thought made Harry anxious for news of the wizarding world, depending on the owls to reassure him that those he knew were safe and well.
A soft hooting made him lift his head from his new Quidditch book, and he threw it aside and scrambled to open the window. A snowy white owl flew gracefully in to the room, a piece of parchment attached to her leg.
"Hi Hedwig," Harry murmured, stroking her feathers and relieving her of her message. "It's good to see you back." Hedwig fluttered over to her cage and began gulping gratefully at the water as Harry unrolled the parchment. A note from Ron, and judging by the state of the handwriting it had either been written in a bit of a hurry, or whilst hanging upside down from a broomstick. Harry grinned at this mental image of his friend and read:
Good to hear from you. It sounds awful in Privet Drive again but it's probably not as bad as it is here. Dad is working all hours at the Ministry, and so for that matter is Percy. He loves it though - you know what he's like. Mum's been in touch with Dumbledore again and he reckons it'll be safe for you to come to us for the last week of the holiday. What do you reckon? I'll tell you about the other stuff then.
Let me know
Harry's heart gave a great leap as he scribbled an equally hasty reply back to Ron. The Dursleys he was certain would be only too grateful to get rid of their nephew and he could think of nothing better to calm the restlessness in his mind than a week with the Weasleys. As Hedwig soared out again into the darkening sky, Harry felt that things were looking up for a change.
Harry stepped into the fire place and closed his eyes, feeling the now familiar warm breath of air around him. The whirling, tumbling, falling filled all of his senses and seemed to last an eternity. Finally when he opened his eyes again, it was to face the warm and welcoming environment of The Burrow's small kitchen, Ron sitting at the table eating toast and his mother cooking at the opposite end of the room.
Instantly he was aware that something was wrong, terribly wrong. The faces of Ron and his mother were strained and white, dark shadows under their eyes belying a lack of sleep. Harry paused. Usually The Burrow was a hive of activity, filled with noise, laughter and even the occasional explosion from the vicinity of Fred and George's room. Today it was silent, the only noise was the regular ticking of the clock which in the stillness seemed to reverberate around the room. Harry continued to hesitate on the hearth, uncertain of what to do, when suddenly Mrs Weasley turned and caught sight of him.
"Oh Harry, dear!" she exclaimed a little breathlessly. "How lovely to see you." She hurried over to hug and kiss him as she always did, and Harry relaxed in the warmth of the embrace. It had been embarrassing to start with, but now he was used to her treating him like just another one of her many children, and he felt reassured by it.
Cup of tea in hand Harry sat down at the table and cast a puzzled glance at Ron that he swiftly deflected by a shake of his head. Mrs Weasley sighed heavily, flicked her wand casually at the large basket of wet laundry, which floated in the air and then followed her obediently into the garden to dry.
"What is it Ron?" Harry prompted urgently. "What on earth's happened? Where is everyone?" The panic was beginning to rise in his stomach. Surely, surely Voldemort couldn't have…
Ron looked at him directly and spoke in a low whisper.
"Everyone's fine. Well, basically fine. We're worried about Ginny though."
"Yeah. Ever since You-Know-Who has been back she's been having nightmares. Bad ones. You know, about what he did to her back in our second year with the Chamber of Secrets and stuff. You'll hear it soon enough; she wakes up screaming the place down. She's sleeping now. Just as well really because she had a bad night last night. Mum's at her wits ends with it." Ron rubbed his face roughly with his hands, his toast now lying unfinished and forgotten on the table. "I just don't know what to do," he confessed desperately to Harry. "She's my little sister, and I should be doing something."
Harry could remember vividly that time in their second year when he had gone into the Chamber of Secrets after Ginny, and come face to face with Tom Riddle. Suppressing a shudder, he realised what must be going on in Ginny's mind. If Voldemort could do that to her as no more than a past memory in his diary, just think what he could make her do now that he was back to full strength. No wonder she was having nightmares.
"Y'know," muttered Ron thoughtfully, "maybe it would help her to hear about what happened again. Not the nightmare, but what really happened in there. I was stuck with that git Lockhart in the tunnel, but you," he looked anxiously at Harry, "you were in there with her. Maybe you could talk to her or something?" A high piercing scream broke across Ron's train of thought and made Harry's heart pound against his ribs. The screaming continued, wild and uncontrolled and terrified. Mrs Weasley fled through the kitchen towards the stairwell and her only daughter, looking even more strained than ever. Slowly the shrieks subsided into sobbing and then the house was still once more.
"It'll be OK now," Ron reassured his friend who was looking shaken by the experience. "Mum's really good at sorting her out. I just wish… well, y'know."
Harry nodded. He understood.
"If you think it'll help, I could talk to her," he began hesitantly. He knew he wasn't very good at that sort of thing, but Ron was right, once you'd heard Ginny so terrified you had to try and do something. Anything.
Leaning against the kitchen door, Mrs Weasley closed her eyes and took a steadying breath. Then, with effort, she moved across the room and poured milk into a mug, tapping it with her wand to bring it to the boil. Ron hurried over and put his arm round his mother, hugging her tightly, and told her about his idea. Mrs Weasley smiled weakly,
"Harry, if you're sure you could talk about it..." her voice faded away, cracked with emotion. "Please." Her eyes were bright and shining with unshed tears, but there was a hope contained within them which gave Harry the courage he needed. He pointed towards the mug of milk.
"For Ginny?" A nod. "First door on the left at the top of the stairs?" Another nod. Harry left the kitchen to the sound of Mrs Weasley breaking down and quietly sobbing as he headed into the hallway.
Standing in the cool darkness outside Ginny's room Harry was regretting his offer. What on earth was he going to say to her? He felt totally inadequate for this, but knew he owed it to all of them to try. It couldn't be worse than that Hungarian Horntail – could it? Stiffening his resolve, he knocked gently at her door, heard a muffled "C'me in," took a deep breath and stepped over the threshold.
"It's me Ginny. Your mum sent this up."
Ginny was sitting on her bed looking even worse than the rest of her family. She was almost translucent as her skin was so pale. The sunlight streaming through her window made thousands of shades of red and copper dance through her hair, the only bit of her which seemed to have any life left at all. Her brown eyes, so often full of fun, looked listlessly at Harry, and then travelled to the cup he held in his hand.
"More hot milk?" she asked gloomily.
Harry grinned at her.
"Yeah. You getting a lot of hot milk then?"
Ginny pulled a face. "You have no idea! I hate the stuff too. I reckon mum must think it's good for nightmares." She stopped suddenly, and looked at Harry as if she'd just realised that he was there. "Harry!"
"It's OK – your mum suggested I came up," Harry said quickly, suddenly realising that he was, in actual fact, in Ginny's bedroom.
"It's not that. Did you hear…did you hear me before?" she asked awkwardly. Harry nodded slowly and watched a dull red flush cover Ginny's face.
"Ginny…" he began, not knowing where his sentence was going to lead, but he stopped as he saw silent tears begin to stream down her cheeks, forming rivers and then tributaries. "Ginny, stop it. It's not your fault! None of this is your fault."
It took a while for Ginny to regain control, and the silently shuddering sobs continued. Harry sat on the end of her bed talking gently to her all the while until finally he whispered,
"Ginny, I want to help. Tell me how."
Ginny smiled weakly at him.
"Oh it's just my old nightmare," she said shakily. "It's nothing."
"Ginny, this isn't nothing. Look at you. I've never seen you like this before, not even…" his voice trailed off. He didn't know if it was wise to mention the Chamber of Secrets or if that would provoke another outburst of sobbing. There was silence between them for a while.
"Harry," she paused, and then continued quickly before she changed her mind. "How can you go through so much, with Cedric's death and everything else that's happened to you, and not have nightmares?"
Harry smiled wryly at this. Ginny had spotted something which he had been careful to conceal, even from Ron and Hermione. He did have nightmares, he frequently had Voldemort haunting his dreams and he relived the horror of the deaths of his parents and Cedric over and over again in his mind. Like Ginny his dreams had been worse since the Triwizard tournament ended. He looked at her carefully, and saw her watching him, a hunted look still present in her eyes. He knew he could trust her, but this was so difficult for him to talk about. He was meant to be here helping her, and somehow he was about to lay his own soul bare instead. He looked steadily into her eyes, those deep brown pools, liquid almost to the touch.
"I do have them Ginny," he said quietly. "I've had them for a long time. And I think I understand why you're having them too." He held his breath and waited.
Ginny reached for his hand and held it in hers.
They had reached some sort of understanding, an unspoken connection, a calmness.
"Harry, you know what really frightens me? If HE could control me just like that by magic in his diary, he can do the same again but using the real him this time. It'll be even worse. How do I fight that? Last time I could have killed people… my brothers…even you! What do I do?" The terror in Ginny's voice was clear. "It's that Imperius Curse I've heard Dad talking about. I'm dreaming he uses it on me and I do all sorts of awful things again."
"You can learn to fight the Imperius Curse you know," Harry reassured her. "I learnt to last year. Nearly fractured my kneecaps in the process, mind you!" He winced at the memory. "Maybe we could get permission to try it out? I'm not like Hermione but I could try and help. If you want me to?"
Ginny's face broke into a small smile.
"You mean it? You'd really help?"
"Well, it's a curse so we'd need permission to use it, but I reckon Dumbledore'll understand. It's got to stop the nightmares if you do. Anyway," his face twitched mischievously into a real grin, "I can use it to make you kiss the ground I walk on."