I sit by the window and stare out at the garden, or at the people on the road. Most of them, the Muggles, almost never turn their heads to look. I wonder what they see. Do they see the house? Do they see me in the window? Could they possibly imagine what I am thinking while I sit here on the sill, gazing out? I don’t think so. What I see in my mind’s eye, what I thought I would never think about again, is too bizarre for them to even imagine. I think it would be too bizarre even for a witch or wizard, unless they were one of the few—maybe a dozen in all the world—who knew what happened to me.
I know that Harry has things on his mind, things to think about; he has lots going on. But I don’t think he sees what I’m going through, or maybe he sees it but he doesn’t think it’s anything to be concerned about, no a big deal.
But no, I really don’t believe that. I’m just feeling sorry for myself. Harry would never minimize me that way.
I haven’t felt like this since a couple of years after it happened, but maybe things start to pop up, and you suddenly remember more of what you have forgotten, or what you thought you had forgotten, or what you wanted to forget.
This is what happened. This is why I’m sitting here instead of being where I should be. Last night I awoke from a nightmare. It was after midnight. I got out of bed and looked out the window, like I am now. It was dark, no moon, no stars. The evening had been clear, a pretty sunset; I had watched it through this window. I was sitting at my mirror brushing my hair, and when I turned my head I glanced outside and saw the colors: gold and red, orange and rose. It was quite beautiful, not hinting at what the night would bring. Harry was already in bed, reading a thick textbook, revising for the exam he will be taking today. I joined him and he absentmindedly leaned over and kissed me. Then he went back to his reading and I turned over and slept.
The nightmare came. I was in a long empty room; it was dark, pitch black except for a dull gray light at the far end. I had a sense of doom and I didn’t want to walk toward the light, but something compelled me. As I approached it, I became more and more terrified, I knew I was approaching my death. But I could not stop. Then two eyes appeared out of the dull gray. They were black and hypnotic, and as they pulled me in I felt myself disappearing, and I knew that I was going to die.
I awoke in a sweat; my heart was pounding, and I was weeping. Harry was asleep next to me, the book lying open on his stomach; he had fallen asleep while he was reading. I was drenched in sweat, and I looked around the bedroom, expecting a beast to spring out of the shadows and tear me to ribbons of blood and flesh with sharp claws and pointed teeth.
I forced the thoughts and the images away; I knew it was only a dream. But . . . where did it come from? And why? It was vaguely familiar, I knew I had felt that same terror and dread at some time in the past.
I pushed the covers back and went to the window, thinking I would see a waning crescent moon off in the west where I had seen the magnificent sunset, and the moon would calm me with a silvery balm of tranquility. But the sky had turned cloudy, and there was no moon and no stars.
Harry moved in the bed and I looked over at him. He was still on his back, but now with the book pushed aside and one hand across his chest, his mouth wide open, still sound asleep. I went and got under the sheets next to him and put my hand on top of his. I buried my nose in his neck and breathed in his slightly sweaty scent. I knew how much he loved my own smell, the flowery scent of my hair. Amortentia . . . all that old stuff from Hogwarts . . . Hogwarts—and then, like a sharp pain in my skull, I knew where the dream had come from.
But why now? It had been so long . . . but yes, that was it: ten years. It was ten years since I found that book, that blank, empty, festering diary, the book that had taken me into the worst time of my life, of any life I could possibly imagine. Ten years . . . and this decade anniversary had brought it back, up out of my past, out into the open where I had hoped never to see it again.
I rolled away from Harry, afraid of awakening him with my hammering heart. For that was how I had lived for all those months: gasping for breath, my heart lurching every other moment, at every sound, every movement, because I never knew when he would appear.
I couldn’t fall asleep again that night. In the morning Harry got out of bed and went into the loo, while I lay there, hugging my pillow and waiting for him to come back and start getting dressed. We usually talked then, while he was getting ready to go to work. But today was different: today his final Auror exams began, today he would begin the final steps in the final stage of the training program that Kingsley Shacklebolt had begun only weeks after the last battle, only weeks after Harry had killed Voldemort. When these exams were over, Harry would be an Auror.
He came out of the loo toweling off his face, then he threw the towel down on the bed—he knew it annoyed me when he did that, but today he was distracted and I was too preoccupied to say anything; the thoughts and fears of last night were echoing in my mind, and this morning I really didn’t care what he did with his towel.
“I’ve got to run,” he said. “Ron wants to do some last-minute revising. He’s more nervous than he ever was at Hogwarts. He really cares about this. At school he never really gave a damn.” He glanced at me; I was lying on my side, sort of curled up. “Is something wrong? Are you okay?”
I shrugged. “Fine. It’s nothing.”
He turned away and started pulling clothes out of his wardrobe. “I’m running down to Surrey with Seamus and Susan after the exam is done. It’s that case where some dingbat Aparated into a Muggle supermarket. They were never able to ID all the Muggles who saw it, so now they’re having a hearing at the Wizengamot in a couple of days and we have to get our ducks lined up. They’ve already told us we need to tighten up our case. I don’t want to mess this up.”
“Okay. I’m sure you’ll sort it out.”
“If it goes how I hope it does, I may be home early and I’ll get dinner started.”
Harry finished dressing, went downstairs, and a few minutes later I heard the swirl of the green flames in the fireplace as he Flooed to the Ministry.
He sometimes acted that way: distracted and not noticing anything, but it usually didn’t bother me. I knew that he was really busy and worried about things at work. He had been in the training program for three years, not only training to be an Auror, but also being groomed to be Head Auror, part of Kingsley’s vision for the world he wanted to create. The Minister of Magic had wanted Harry from the very beginning, and it certainly was not something that I wanted to complicate, to stand in the way of. Normally, I would have gone to him on his way out the bedroom door and delivered a goodbye kiss, and Harry would have returned it. Today I understood why he didn’t notice my own distance, but as I lay there, curled up alone in our bed, I realized that this time his distraction had made my distance worse.
I finally got up and went downstairs and made a pot of tea. I sat at the kitchen table and tried to think. The dream had felt like more than a dream. It had felt like when it had actually happened. I had felt gut-twisting fear, terror, panic, helplessness, the inevitability of my death, and a painful death at that. My life would end when the being whose faceless eyes had mesmerized me could discard me because I would be of no more use to him, to anyone. I would be a worthless empty husk. And why not? What use is an empty husk? No use at all. And what had I been used for? As bait to lure Harry to his death.
Feeling rage and grief, I slammed the teacup down on the table, sloshing tea all over it. I snatched up my wand and cleaned it with an angry gesture that also removed two inches of the flowery decoration that ran around the border of the table.
“Dammit!” I shouted, and put my hands to my face and wept. Why was Tom Riddle back in my life? I needed Harry.
* * * *
Harry looked up from the table in the Auror lounge, where he had just set down his morning cup of tea, as Ron dumped a load of textbooks on it and fell into a chair. “I was up all night,” his friend said, staring at the books. “This is worse than O.W.L.s. If I flunk this I’ll have to go out and get a real job. Plus I’ll never hear the end of it from Hermione.”
“That would be the worst, for sure.” Harry grinned at him. “And as I recall, you sweated plenty over your O.W.L.s.”
“Yeah, you’re right.” Ron heaved a sigh and glanced at Harry. “I ran into Seamus. He said you have to get down to Little Whinging this afternoon. I hope nowhere near Privet Drive.”
Harry grimaced. “The place is right around the corner. I really hope I don’t see anyone.”
“They did go back home, didn’t they? Didn’t you tell them it was safe?”
“Yeah. I probably should have let them stay in hiding for the rest of their lives.” Harry stared at the table top, seeing memories—unpleasant memories. “Ever since we got this assignment I’ve been thinking about them and . . . all that crap. I really don’t want to see any of them again. Ever. Well . . . maybe Dudley.”
“Highly unlikely, isn’t it, at least today? Didn’t they always space out in front of the telly every night after supper? Dudley may have moved out by now.”
“Who knows?” He waved at the pile of books that Ron had dumped on the table and grinned again at his brother-in-law. “Panic mode?”
Ron sighed again and picked up one of the textbooks. “Might as well at least give it a try.”
Early in the afternoon, after five grueling hours of written and practical exams, Harry Apparated into the safe house maintained by the Ministry in Little Whinging. He had left Ron with assurances that, after investing so much time and money in his training, the Ministry of Magic could not possibly flunk him out of the program, but Harry wasn’t sure how successful his reassurances had been; Ron seemed pretty much down in the dumps about the exams.
The safe house was the old Figg place; Arabella Figg no longer lived there but it still smelled of cats. Susan Bones and Seamus Finnegan soon followed and, after a moment to don Muggle clothes the team reviewed their task: to view the scene of the crime where the wizard had Apparated directly into a crowd of Muggle shoppers waiting in line at the deli counter of the supermarket, and to take photographs of the scene without being overly intrusive. The supermarket was a few blocks from the Figg house and from Privet Drive, which Harry wanted to avoid almost at all cost.
They were walking briskly down a heavily trafficked road lined with shops when Harry saw them. Vernon and Dudley were getting out of a parked automobile, a blue Anglia that reminded Harry of the Weasleys’ old vehicle that, for all he knew, was still roaming the Forbidden Forest at Hogwarts, keeping company with the centaurs and unicorns.
Dudley saw him first. He had grown so large that Harry wondered why an ordinary car like the Anglia didn’t collapse under his weight. When he spotted Harry his triple chins dropped and a look of shock froze on his blubbery face. Vernon was locking the car and didn’t see Harry until he turned. He, too, froze, but his look quickly morphed into anger with a veneer of hatred. Harry, who would have tried to talk to Dudley if his cousin had been alone, felt a bud of his own anger start to blossom in his gut when he saw the look on his uncle’s face.
Susan and Seamus noticed nothing. As they approached and drew level with the Anglia, Vernon made a sudden movement with his hand and muttered, loudly enough for them all to hear, “What the bloody hell are you doing here, Potter?” He took a step toward Harry.
They all stopped. Harry glared at Vernon. Susan was startled and surprised but Seamus glanced at Harry and stepped in front of Vernon.
“Back down, mate,” he said quietly to Vernon, putting his hand between him and Harry. “We’re just doing a job, and we’ll be gone.”
“I wasn’t talking to you, freak,” Vernon snarled. “This is my home. Potter and his like aren’t welcome here.”
Harry grabbed Seamus’s arm and pulled him away. “Come on,” he said. “This isn’t what we’re here for.” He pushed Seamus and Susan along and moved them quickly down the pavement.
But Vernon called after them, “Don’t show your face around here again, freak. I’ll expose you if you do.”
“What in the name of Merlin was that about?” Susan said as Harry’s pace quickened.
Harry didn’t answer. He was furious, first at Vernon Dursley’s hateful face, and second at himself for letting the bastard affect him like this. For he was shaking with anger, and also with a surge of emotion that he had not experienced in years: resentment, embarrassment, humiliation, fear, and sadness for the emptiness in his life where his parents should have been but never were.
“That was Harry’s uncle,” Seamus said as they stood at the front door of the supermarket. “The one who—”
“Never mind,” said Harry. “Let’s do this.” He looked at the sliding automatic doors as shoppers went in and out. “I want to. . .” But what he wanted was to get away from Little Whinging and everything in it that reminded him of the sixteen years he had spent here.
“Harry,” Seamus said, “leave, go, we can handle this.” He put his hand on Harry’s shoulder.
“No.” He was an Auror; he would do his job.
An hour later they walked out of the supermarket. In his pocket Harry carried a small parchment with a short list of names, gathered from the slightly Confunded deli man with an excellent memory for the names of his customers. The Aurors would pass the list on to the Muggle-Worthy Excuse Committee who would take care of the rest.
Out on the road, walking back to the Figg house, Harry kept his eye out for the Dursleys’ car, but it was nowhere in sight. They were soon inside and then back at the Ministry. Harry handed the list of names to Susan, told her and Seamus to handle it, and, thinking to get Ron’s perspective on the obscenity that was Vernon Dursley, joined him at the table in the lounge; his friend had small flask in hand.
“Why are you drinking?” Harry asked, a little apprehensive about the answer.
“Why not?” Ron put the flask down on the table. “How was Little Whinging? Did you drop in and say cheerio to Dudley?”
“Actually, I saw him, and Vernon too. Talk about bad luck.”
Ron glanced at him and took a swig from the flask. “Too bad,” he said.
“Yeah, it was.”
Ron reached into his back pocket, pulled out another flask, and threw back what seemed like half of its contents. He didn’t speak, but leaned back in his chair and scowled at the tabletop. Finally he said, “I think I flunked.”
“What?” Harry exclaimed. “How could you flunk? What the hell are you talking about?”
“What do you think I’m talking about? I went over the answers with Ernie. He says I flunked.” He sighed. “I wonder if they need dishwashers at the Leaky Cauldron.” He took another swig.
“Ernie doesn’t know his arse from his elbow. You didn’t flunk—”
“I failed!!” Ron yelled, standing up and waving his arms in the air. The other people in the room—Aurors and trainees—turned and looked at him. “I flunked! I blew it!” He abruptly sat again and put his head in his hand. “What am I going to tell Hermione?”
Harry stared at his best mate, speechless. Ron was being completely idiotic; there was no way he could have flunked. Harry had just taken it too, and could not imagine that Ron had not passed. “I’ll talk to Ernie, he must have—”
“Oh, screw Ernie and screw you!” Ron was now slurring his words.
Harry was, for his part, becoming annoyed. He had just unexpectedly re-lived the nightmare of his childhood and Ron, with whom Harry had wanted to talk about it before he went home, was acting like a moron. “Well, you go deal with Ernie, then. Maybe he’ll also tell you how not to sound like a blithering idiot.”
He got to his feet and turned away, leaving Ron with a sour look on his face. He left the Ministry but did not go home. Instead he Apparated in Diagon Alley into the small courtyard behind the Leaky Cauldron. He stood there for a moment, unsure if he should go inside and have a drink, or not. But Ginny was at Holyhead at a Harpies practice session, so why not? He thought about Vernon and about his irritation at Ron’s brainless belief that he had failed the Auror exam, based on what Ernie Macmillan, of all people, had told him. Harry had thought that his friend had got over his schoolboy inferiority complex.
Then the look of fury and hatred on Vernon’s face, his walrus mustache quivering and his beady little eyes glaring, came back into Harry’s mind. And Harry’s own hatred was building. Sixteen years in hell, that was what it had been, what it still was. Vernon and his horse of a wife had almost destroyed Harry. How could he forget the nights he went to bed hungry, the nights he had to sleep in a cupboard on the floor, the bullying and the humiliations. No, he could not, and he did not want to forget, at least not right now. Today it had taken all his willpower to keep from pulling his wand on Vernon and hexing him out of existence. It was too much to ask of anyone, to forget, to go on with his life as if none of it had ever happened.
At least back then he and Dudley had parted well, and now he felt sorry for his cousin and his gross obesity. His life must not be going very well.
He pushed open the door and entered the tavern.
Harry got home an hour later and was surprised to find Ginny sitting at the kitchen table. A parchment tied with a string lay on the table. Harry picked it up and glanced at it but put it down.
“I thought you would still be in Holyhead,” he said, hanging his traveling cloak on a hook near the door. “Didn’t you have practice? I had a bad day.” Ginny looked at him, and he noticed that she was clutching several moist-looking tissues in her hand, and that her eyes were red. “What’s wrong?”
“I had a bad dream last night. Where were you? I thought you said you would be home early.”
“A bad dream? That kept you from a practice session? You’re kidding. That’s ridiculous. I said I would try to be home early.”
She stared at him for a moment, then got up and left the kitchen without a word. Harry went after her.
“Ginny, wait! What’s wrong? Ron is being an idiot about the exams and then I ran into Vernon Dursley and—”
She whirled on him. “I ran into Tom Riddle.” When Harry just stood there with his mouth hanging open, she turned away and went up the stairs. “How many drinks did you have?” she called without looking back. “I can smell it on your breath.”
“Wait! What are you talking about? I only had two.” Harry followed her but she slammed the bedroom door on him. As Harry reached for the handle he heard, “Colluportus!” and a squelch as the door sealed. He stood there, his mouth hanging open again. “Ginny!” he called through the door. “I only had two drinks. But I thought you were at practice. Hey, I’m sorry.”
There was no response. Down in the kitchen he made himself a cup of tea, sat at the table, and thought as he sipped. He had never seen Ginny like this. He had no idea what had happened, or why she was so angry. Tom Riddle? What in Merlin’s name was she talking about?
He noticed the parchment. It was a letter of some kind, addressed to him. When he opened it he received his second surprise of the evening: it was from Dudley Dursley.
I told my Mum that we saw you today on the High Street. She told me to phone Mrs. Figg, the old lady who used to babysit you. She moved a couple of years ago, but Mum kept in touch. Anyway, she helped me send this letter to you. I really would like to see you again, maybe have a beer someplace. Ignore my old man, he’s daft anyway. Hope to hear from you.
Your cousin, Big D
Holy Merlin, Harry thought, I never thought I would ever hear from Dudley again. He pocketed the letter with a smile.
Back upstairs, his mood improved a little, he knocked on the bedroom door. “Ginny, please open the door. The owl is from my cousin, Dudley, would you believe it?” After several moments of silence, he said, “Honey, I’m sorry. Please tell me what happened.”
After a moment: “Go away.”
The good mood shriveled. “Fine then. I’ll see you later.”
Harry stomped down the stairs. In the sitting room he took Floo powder from the pot on the mantel and in a moment was in another sitting room. Ron looked up from his lounger, where he was reading the Daily Prophet. “Hey, mate. What’s up? What are you doing here? I heard the job went fine but you ran into an old friend.”
Before Harry could answer, Hermione came in through a door that led to the kitchen; she was holding a bowl in which two large wooden spoons were tossing a salad. She smiled. “Hi, Harry. I heard you had an experience in Little Whinging. How do you think you did on the exams? Ron did great, we went over his test answers and I think he may have scored close to a hundred. He was a little worried at first, but it’s good.” She glanced at the dark fireplace. “Where’s Ginny?”
Harry grinned at Ron. “So you cancelled the job interview at the Leaky Cauldron?”
Ron rattled the newspaper but didn’t look up. Hermione looked at him, puzzled. Harry laughed, but turned sober. “Ginny is locked in the bedroom. She said she ran into Tom Riddle.”
“What!” Ron and Hermione both exclaimed. “How can that be?” Ron went on. “What is she talking about?”
“Funny,” Harry answered, “that’s exactly what I said.”
Hermione looked worried. “Harry, you have to go back and talk to her. Don’t you know what this year is?”
“Um . . . 2003?”
“Yes. It’s ten years since she was possessed, since you and Ron went into the Chamber of Secrets. It probably all came back to her.”
Harry didn’t even take the time to scoop up more Floo Powder. He turned on the spot and was back in his own kitchen. Ginny was sitting at the table, looking at him, obviously startled by his sudden Apparition. Harry went right to her, pulled her out of her chair and put his arms around her. But she would not let him pull her close.
“I’m so sorry,” he said as Ginny tried to pull away. He held onto her arms and she glared at him. “Hermione reminded me how long it’s been. I should have remembered.”
“Yes, you should have.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“So do you also remember what I said to you—” she poked him hard in the ribs “— in Grimmauld Place, when you were so scared about all those visions in your head that were coming from Voldemort? I reminded you that I was the only person you knew who had been possessed by him.”
“Yes, I remember.”
“But you forgot that too. Do you remember what I said to you then?”
“Yes, you said—”
But Ginny’s expression had suddenly changed; it was no longer an angry glare, and she put her hand on his mouth. “No, love, you don’t have to say it.”
“Oh. Okay.” For a moment Harry hesitated, but he pulled her again into an embrace, and this time she came.
Later, they went upstairs and got ready for bed. Ginny slipped under the covers and held them up, smiling, as Harry joined her. He was not sure why, so suddenly, her demeanor had changed, but right now, as he took her in his arms, he didn’t care.
* * * *
Harry comes to me in bed and when he touches me I put my arms around him and revel in the weight and the feel of his body on mine, the warmth and the love. I fear nothing. I need nothing else. I am the lucky one.
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