The mercury seemed like it would never stop rising. Through the static of the television in the next room and the buzz of the various fans that were blowing throughout the Dursley house, Harry could barely make out the voice of the weatherman on the radio. “Pressure systems from the north may shift as the week goes on, but don’t keep your hopes up. This heat is here to stay until at least Sunday evening. Now to Jonas...”
Harry twisted his wrist and used the handle of the spatula he was holding to flip the switch of the radio to off. The spatula moved back to the pan he was holding over the stove, flipping bacon and shielding his hands from the grease which spattered and popped as the meat cooked. He placed the lid over the pan and set the spatula down on the counter, listening to the hollow, tinny sound of the sizzling grease hitting the lid. A small pool of grease slowly formed underneath the spatula on the kitchen counter, but Harry didn’t bother to wipe it up as he fanned himself with a dishtowel.
The stove in the already sweltering house was almost oppressive, but the kitchen had become Harry’s base camp for the past two weeks – Aunt Petunia had discovered that using Harry as her chef for her garden club meetings as well as the cook for normal meals was much cheaper than a caterer. However, the kitchen was far cooler than his bedroom upstairs where there was almost no air circulating, and every evening when he went to bed, the room just seemed to solidify around him, as if he had stepped into a giant dish of gelatin.
He walked over to the icebox and while he grabbed the orange juice, he glanced at the flowers-of-the-month calendar Petunia had taped to the door. Only one week left. Today was Monday, July 22, and he would be allowed to leave the Dursleys’ forever on the 29th, only two days before his seventeenth birthday.
The war was still going on, but from Harry’s end, everything was quiet. The connection between him and Voldemort seemed to be more of a hindrance than a help to the would-be overlord, and so he had essentially rendered it null. Nothing had been happening recently, though, except for a Death Eater being found in the middle of a Wizarding suburb, clinging to life.
He hadn’t been wounded in battle or cursed by Voldemort – he suffered from a severe case of heat stroke and was to be put on trial as soon as St. Mungo’s deemed him fit to sit on the witness stand. Apparently, the robes which were charmed to protect the Death Eaters from spells in battle also made it impossible for Cooling Charms to work, making it unlikely that Voldemort’s forces would be attacking anytime soon. For the Wizarding world, the heat was a blessing in disguise.
Harry knew it, too, but every once in a while he cursed the paradox that was the unstoppable weather; the only time that he had been completely free from nightmares and bad thoughts came at a time that it was so hot he had just as much trouble sleeping. Of course, as soon as those thoughts ran across his mind, he felt guilty for wishing that more people were in danger so that he could sleep and forget how much he missed Ginny.
They’d broken up at Dumbledore’s funeral, at his insistence, and patched some things up in a quiet argument on the Hogwarts Express, at hers. She’d taken his hand and squeezed it between both of hers. “Harry, I appreciate you wanting me to be safe, but no matter how far away from you I get, I’ll still be involved. He knows who I am, and he’s going to come for me – his pride won’t hold forever against the fact that an eleven year-old girl held him off for almost a year.”
Harry opened his mouth to speak, but Ginny silenced him with a look. “If we’re ever going to work out, we’re going to keep this relationship together now. I don’t care if I can’t follow you everywhere, or you can’t do the same for me, but I’m not going to sit back and wait for you like a damsel in distress. I haven’t taken Defense for five years to cower in a kitchen or behind some knitting somewhere.”
Harry frowned. “But, Ginny...”
“No, Harry. This is what I’m standing up for. Either we’re together, or we’re back to being just friends. I’d rather it didn’t come to that.” She leaned in and kissed him softly on the cheek. “You’re always the best at sticking up for what you believe in. This is what I believe, and I’m sticking to it. Maybe I’m stubborn, but in the end, this same determination to stand up for what I want to is the determination that can make this relationship work.”
Harry slumped against the counter, remembering this; they weren’t on great terms, but they weren’t on terrible terms, either. He sighed. Ron was easier to deal with when stubborn – you could just punch him. He couldn’t punch Ginny, and she’d probably punch back twice as hard. He dished up breakfast and put the plates on the table before taking a deep breath and going to brave the sweltering heat of his room. He needed to write Ginny a letter, and perhaps let Hedwig take a trip to the Arctic Circle to cool off on the way.
Ginny decided that there were few things worse than de-gnoming a garden that happened to be on the surface of the sun. At least it felt to her like the Burrow had suddenly been uprooted overnight and transported into a furnace. She kept having to stop to reapply the Sunscreen Charm so she wouldn’t freckle any faster than she already was, and her eyes burned from the intensity of the sun, even under the brim of her hat and behind some sunglasses.
The one bright spot she wasn’t upset with at the moment was next week, when Harry came to the Burrow for good. The Weasleys had insisted, though it hadn’t taken much convincing. Harry had always felt more at home at the Burrow than anywhere except Hogwarts, and was seemingly ecstatic to be able to live there. With Bill, Charlie, and Percy now living elsewhere and the twins still claiming their old room for the nostalgia and the ongoing experiments, there were enough tower bedrooms to go around for the remaining Weasley children.
Harry would be near the top, in Bill’s old room. Mrs. Weasley claimed she didn’t put him in Charlie’s because his wallpaper featured a rather prominent Horntail pattern, but Ginny knew that was just her mother’s excuse for getting him in the farthest possible room from her daughter. Even though they weren’t exactly dating at the moment, and even though Hermione would be sleeping directly across the corridor from Ron’s room, Ginny was forced into being babied like a little girl.
A potato-like creature with what seemed to be a grass mohawk escaped Ginny’s grasp as she thought about Harry’s pig-headedness on the train. “Aarugh!” she screamed in frustration and ran after it. As it scurried towards a hole in the flowerbed, something inside of her snapped, and she kicked it as hard as she could, punting it into the neighboring field. Her newfound fury de-gnomed the entire garden faster than ever until Hedwig swooped down and landed in a nearby tree, hooting in amusement.
Ginny calmed down enough to read the letter while sitting in the shade of her favorite tree. Every once in a while, she would take a break from pondering the short note and stare at the tops of the cattails by the lake, lolling their heads to one side or the other as if napping in the soporific heat. Harry rambled in his note, but there was one part that Ginny kept reading and rereading to herself.
I’ve never had someone deal with my stubbornness with more stubbornness before, and I don’t really know how to deal with it. I don’t want to hurt or be hurt, but I can’t tell what I should do just now. I want you to be happy. I can’t wait until I get out of this place for good, and we can talk about this in person.
Ginny had no idea what it meant, but she was hopeful that it meant that there was a change on the horizon. As she walked back towards the house, fanning herself with Harry’s letter, she didn’t notice the cattails start to bob in the first breeze in days.
Harry was lying on his back on the tile of the kitchen floor when the phone rang. He was the only one home, left alone with complete trust for the first time in years. Petunia knew it was too hot today for him to try anything, and she was right. Harry was so lethargic in getting up, however, that the phone had already rung five times before he reached the receiver. A familiar, but unexpected, voice greeted him.
“Harry! How are you holding up on your last week?” Ginny’s melodic tones soothed Harry’s temper, which had risen as he stood up into the wave of heat coming from the oven. He cradled the cordless phone between his right ear and shoulder while gazing through the tiny window at the potatoes he was baking for Aunt Petunia’s committee meeting later that week.
“I feel like I’m the one in the oven instead of these potatoes for Aunt Petunia, but other than that, I’m okay. Is the phone line working well in the Burrow?” Hermione and Harry had chipped in to get the Burrow telephone service – both for easier contact for Hermione and her parents and for another emergency means of contact for Harry; no Death Eaters practiced wiretapping just yet.
“Yeah, it’s doing great. Dad’s even getting the hang of it, and yesterday he started dialing random numbers to see if he could guess the number for McGonagall’s office. He punched in the number equivalent of “Cockroach Cluster,” and ended up accidentally buying some strange Muggle kitchen gadget that makes juice out of anything, even vegetables. Of course, Mum doesn’t want any help in her kitchen and Dad thinks the thing is fascinating, so it keeps getting moved around.” Harry could almost feel the gestures Ginny made when she talked, like they were both sitting on a couch in Gryffindor Tower, and her arm movements made the cushions bend and sway with every move she made.
He chuckled, and returned to his place on the floor, feeling the cooler surface of the tile relieve the heat from his back. They stayed like that for half an hour, chatting about nothing important, but having the best time either of them could remember having for a long time. The conversation eventually petered down to a comfortable silence, and Harry felt his face crack into a huge grin. The best part was he could hear Ginny’s smile through the phone somehow. Neither knew who started laughing first, but neither needed to.
When Ginny went to talk to Fred, she found him stringing various plants from a conjured rafter in his bedroom. Some of the dried greens looked like they had come from the Weasley property, while others looked rather vicious and like he had filched them from somewhere – probably Greenhouse Seven. “Can I talk to you for a minute, Fred?” she asked, leaning against the doorframe. She’d learned the hard way when she was little to never try to enter the twins’ room without express permission from one of them.
“Come on in, Gin, but be prepared to dethorn. Grab a pair of pliers,” Fred answered as he levitated the last bundle of vines towards the ceiling. Ginny snorted. Fred was the best of her brothers to ask for advice, and he knew it, so he would always con a sibling into paying for his time with their labor. Never anything big or dangerous, but enough to remind you that he was the best listener in the house.
People always assumed that Bill or Charlie would be the one that the younger ones went to for help, but Fred had a way of reading people and understanding human emotions unlike anyone else in the family. This helped him make friends and was why he never seemed to be without a girlfriend in his later years at Hogwarts – he knew what to do and what people needed to hear. He could press buttons the right way for anyone.
Ginny showed him the passage from Harry’s letter that she couldn’t get out of her head. Fred stuck it to the worktable with a thorn and waved his wand over it, enlarging the offending text. His eyes scanned it and Ginny watched in fascination as a flurry of understanding came over his face. A thorn was snipped off neatly in his satisfaction, and he turned to his little sister. “What exactly did you not understand?”
Tossing her hair out of the way, Ginny yanked at a particularly large thorn. “I’m not certain. I guess I was confused by his statement about stubbornness. I know that I am stubborn, but I didn’t really get what he meant by others’ determination in regards to his own.”
Fred sighed. “Ginny, it’s probably most of what his relatives did to him when he was younger. Who really knows what happened when he was really little? We don’t. But you and I both know that whenever he insisted his innocence at accidental magic, he was met with brute force and cramped spaces. Their solution to their Harry problem was to shove him in that cupboard, or to lock him in the bedroom with bars on the window. Having someone fight back without doing him any damage – Harry doesn’t know what to do next. Did you ever think about that?”
Ginny had never considered the possibility.
“Even when he was in school, his determination and conviction in his own beliefs and actions led him to physical fights with Malfoy, or irresolvable arguments with Ron which only came to a head when some outside tragic force appeared. And of course we can’t forget about Voldemort, who seems to make it his life goal to stamp out all of Harry’s stubbornness one way or another.”
Ginny and Fred sat in silence for a moment, before the sounds of thorns being wrenched from the vines resumed. When she was finished with her bundle of greenery, Ginny asked, “What do you think I should do about it, then?”
“Do whatever you think is best for the two of you. He says that he wants to make you happy, so why not be stubborn in a kindly fashion and convince him that being together is what makes you the happiest?” Fred looked at his blushing sister and prodded at her with the stem he had in his right hand. “Don’t be shy. I knew that’s what you were looking for the whole time. Little Ginny, all grown up...” He swiped a fake tear.
In retaliation, Ginny tossed a handful of the thorns she’d just pulled, not realizing that when they reached a certain velocity, they had a tendency to explode, which is what made them such fantastic ingredients for fireworks. Since Fred was between her and the door, when he ducked and they exploded, a mass of rubble and expanding vines was blocking their only exit.
After the smoke cleared and Ginny let out a small “oops,” Fred turned to look at her with half glee and half irritation. “And just how are we supposed to get out of here now for you to sway Harry over to the light side of your love?”
“What do you mean, how? We always have an escape plan! Don’t tell me you and George never actually made an escape plan from your own room?”
Fred shrugged. “We were usually escaping from Mum, not high-velocity thorns. But thanks for pointing out my flaws instead of being helpful, sis.”
When Fred and Ginny finally were able to emerge from the room that seemed to be once Fred and George’s, it was past midnight and far too late to call the Dursley residence.
On Friday, Harry helped Aunt Petunia make chocolates for a dinner party at Grunnings later that evening. The melted chocolate sat in the double boiler that Petunia had meticulously watched, adding milk to get what she deemed the right consistency. That double boiler was now sitting on a trivet in the middle of the kitchen table, surrounded by old newspaper. Two spoons rested dangerously on the edge, leaning ever so slightly more into the decadent liquid each second.
Petunia pushed a small bowl of almonds towards Harry, who was sitting opposite her. “Coat them twice, as evenly as possible, please,” she said, before brushing a small amount onto a pitted cherry. Harry nodded out of habit and began to fulfill the request before his brain registered that that was what it was – a request, not an order.
The silence, instead of being oppressive and overpowering, was a strange mix of confusion and calm that afternoon in the Dursley kitchen. Three dozen almonds later, Harry finally was able to gather the words to speak. “Aunt Petunia, why was that the first time you’ve said ‘please’ to me in my entire lifetime? Why now, now that I’m leaving in three days?”
A wave of guilt mixed with something that looked like regret washed over the skinny woman’s face. “I know that I should have treated you better than you had, Harry,” she began. “Nothing I say will ever make up for the fact that I neglected your well-being for the first few years you were here, while I was focused solely on Dudley and left your care to Vernon, which meant you were left solely to your own devices.”
Harry was listening more than he ever had before to his aunt; a drop of melted chocolate landed on the back of his left hand, but he was so distracted he didn’t even notice until it had already started to burn him. He sucked on his hand while Petunia continued, “After you boys started school, it was too late. Vernon was set in his ways, and Dudley picked up on them quicker than ever before. I was never stubborn enough to stand up to him, and for that, I am sorrier than anything else.”
The pair was silent for a long while as the pile of chocolates grew. Occasionally, they could hear an automobile pass by their house from the street or muffled noises from Dudley’s room that were most likely him swearing at the video game console. Eventually, the dredges of the chocolate hardened against the sides of the double boiler. Petunia began to wrap the various desserts for her meeting, and Harry started cleaning the pastry brushes.
“Harry, this won’t make up for anything that I’ve done, but you’re free to take with you anything that’s in the cupboard under the stairs. I know that was a terrible place for you to sleep, and I should turn myself in for abuse, but I think you should look and see if you want to take anything with you.” With that, Petunia sniffed a bit and walked out of the kitchen.
Monday morning, Harry awoke to the same stifling heat that had been plaguing him for over a week now. Can it get any hotter? he wondered to himself as he changed into clean clothes and started packing his things away. He still had very little, and Ginny wasn’t due to come retrieve him for another two hours, so he took his time with packing, looking at each item he found in the nooks and crannies of the room and savoring the happy memories they brought.
A worn pair of socks reminded him of Dobby and Dumbledore, and Harry realized that wizards seemed to put a larger amount of stock in woolen footwear than Muggles. Small packages of sweets hidden beneath the floorboard were old and had to be tossed away, but they reminded Harry of Hagrid and Hermione and her warnings against tooth decay as well as his first ride on the Hogwarts Express with Ron where they sampled all the best sweets the Wizarding world had to offer.
Soon, Harry had packed everything from his bedroom, and it looked incredibly bare to him, even though it was how it had looked every year upon his return to Hogwarts. The finality of the step he was about to take finally hit him, though he was not as overwhelmingly relieved as he once thought he would be. He’d be gone from the Dursleys’ and their wretchedness forever unless he sought them out, but he’d also be isolating himself from the one person in the world still alive who was at one time close to his mother.
Glancing at his watch, Harry noted that he still had twenty minutes before Ginny arrived to take him back to the Burrow. Maybe I should go look through the cupboard, he thought. Aunt Petunia never says something unless she means it, right? Besides, I need to get out of this heat.
Five minutes of impatient deliberation later, Harry was standing in the entrance corridor of the Dursley home, staring at the door under the stairs. The Dursleys were gone for the day, leaving early so they didn’t have to see him off with any fanfare (or in Vernon’s case, see him at all). He shouldn’t have been feeling as stupid as he was, he knew, but for some reason he couldn’t shake the feeling that something could go wrong at any moment.
Shaking himself, Harry threw open the door and flipped on the light inside, revealing the all too-familiar cramped space. Boxes of junk were pushed into one corner, and the trunk with a ratty blanket and dusty pillow where he used to sleep was still the first thing he saw. He turned and sat on the trunk, curling up in a ball and ducking his head to fit through the short doorjamb. Taking long, deep breaths, Harry lost track of time until he heard footsteps and the front door opening.
He shot out of the cupboard, wand in hand, and fell to the ground – not in defense, but because he had somehow wrapped the blanket around his legs. A familiar giggle relaxed him, and he grunted. “Ginny, help me up, don’t just laugh.”
She gave him her hand and a swift hug before starting to pull the trunk from the cupboard. “I thought you got to keep your trunk with you now?” she questioned, grunting as the trunk scraped through the door.
“I do. That’s the Dursleys’.”
“What are you talking about? This is a Hogwarts trunk.”
They looked at each other and then at the grime-covered initials on the end. There, emblazoned in peeling gold paint, were the letters LRE.
“My mum’s,” Harry breathed. Ginny’s arms were around him in a moment, and they lost track of how long they sat on the floor, wrapped in each other and their thoughts. Eventually, they collected Harry’s belongings, each dragging a trunk out the door.
While they walked to Mrs. Figg’s, the weather finally broke. Rain began to pour down, steaming up as it hit the heated pavement. Ginny grabbed Harry’s free hand and threw her head back and laughed, savoring the cool drops. Harry looked over at her, happy and stubborn and his, he realized. He couldn’t let Ginny go, not after what they’d built. The mercury began to fall, and Harry decided that everything was somehow, some way, going to be all right.