Phantasmatic

Chapter Four
Try Not To Breathe

Harry awoke in the predawn hours of the morning to the sight of blackness in what normally was a violently orange room. Noting the darkness, he gave a sigh and shut his eyes, hoping to drift back to sleep, back to dreams.

He had come to the Weasley home two weeks earlier, rescued by the Weasley twins and their sister, the one he loved. They had flown to his home in an enchanted Ford Anglia in the dead of night and the foursome had made it back to the Burrow before the breaking dawn.

The four of them had concocted a cover story, with Fred and George the main weavers of their web of lies, that Harry had taken the magical Knight Bus to Ottery St. Catchpole after breaking out of his bedroom at the Dursleys'. And Molly Weasley, however off-guard she might be caught by his appearance, could never deny her home to a refugee, particularly one so young.

That the next day found Fred, George, and Ginny all exceptionally and – to Mrs. Weasley – inexplicably tired did not seem to catch her notice.

But what was important was that he was free of the Dursleys; whatever shame he felt for his imposition was banished after only a few short hours at the welcoming Weasleys' home. They had set him up in Ron's bedroom, fed him better than he'd eaten, even than at Hogwarts, and treated him like one of the family.

But it was not for this reason that the month of August was the happiest Harry could remember. For though familial affection was something he had always lacked, and something in which he reveled fully now, it was the presence of Ginny Weasley that filled his heart with love and joy, the euphoria coursing through his veins with every beat of his young heart.

They walked a fine line together, teetering between spending not enough time together to sate their desire for the other's company and spending so much as to rouse Ron's ever-near-present envy. Ron's jealousy simmered just beneath the boiling point, but it was always there; and it was Harry and Ginny's constant task to keep his envy from boiling over. A fight within the family was something neither Ginny nor her Harry wanted, not during their de facto honeymoon.

From the first day he arrived, Harry and Ginny had tried to be inclusive, to involve Ron in almost all their activities, from de-gnoming the garden to just sitting around and talking. But Ron had been leery from the start; he couldn't understand, and they couldn't explain, why one desired the other's company, so often and to such a degree.

Ron had a habit of begging off the activities Harry and Ginny tried to include him in, which contributed to Ron's feelings of being left out; it didn't matter that the only obstacle to Ron's inclusion was Ron himself, he felt left behind.

There were, however, some things that Ron had to be left out of, and they usually involved a late-night rendezvous.

The third night Harry spent at the Burrow, Harry and Ginny resolved to write to Professor Dumbledore about the diary and Dobby's warnings.

Dear Professor Dumbledore,

I'm sorry to bother you over the summer holidays, sir, but something odd happened on my birthday, and I don't know who else to turn to about it.

I live with my uncle, aunt, and cousin, sir, and they're all Muggles, but on my birthday a House-Elf named Dobby showed up in my room. He warned me about some things that I don't want to put in a letter if I don't have to, sir, and I think he left something behind – it's a magical object, sir, something that isn't mine. And the Dursleys – my cousin, aunt, and uncle – certainly wouldn't own anything like this. I think you need to see it, sir.

I'm staying with the Weasley family right now, sir. Ginny Weasley says you know where she and her family live, so if you could come see me, sir, I would appreciate it. I think you need to see this object, sir. And I need to tell you what Dobby the House-Elf told me.

Please write me back letting me know if you can see me.

Thank you.

Harry Potter

Second-Year

He and Ginny had sent the letter along to Hogwarts with Hedwig that night, but it was another four days until the Headmaster replied.

Dear Mr. Potter,

I am afraid I will be very busy for the next week with preparations for the coming year and with a few matters that have come before the Ministry in the last days, but I feel it important that we meet. If it is agreeable to you, I will come to the Weasley home on the sixteenth at noon to discuss what is troubling you.

With best wishes,

Albus Dumbledore

Harry had scribbled a reply thanking the Headmaster and confirming the time and date of their meeting. A week. It was a long time for something that made Harry and Ginny so anxious, but Albus Dumbledore was a very important and very busy man; he couldn't just drop whatever it was that required his attention because a second-year asked him to, however important the second-year, however urgent the need.

However cautious they might have been with their time, however much care they might have put in to including Ron, however, he was jealous. Harry could see it in his eyes when he was around Ginny, and he'd started acting rather nastily toward her in some fit of misplaced frustration and anger.

Ron, Harry and Ginny reckoned, would like to see the two spend no time together at all, with him or without him; it saddened Harry, put a feeling he wasn't familiar with in the pit of his stomach. But he wasn't going to give up Ginny, how ever much Ron might like him to.

It was the realization of this which kept him from falling back into the arms of sleep. Ginny meant more to him than Ron, who had been his first and best friend. He and Hermione were close, but Ron was his mate in a way Hermione never could be. But now Harry was willing to throw his friendship with Ron into jeopardy for Ginny; now Harry was choosing Ginny over Ron.

He was right to, he was sure, but that didn't help his conscience. Ron had thrown himself to potential death for him the year before; he had gone after Quirrell with him, and if it hadn't been for his talent for Wizard's chess, then Lord Voldemort would have risen again that night, immortal, invincible; and Harry, surely, would be dead.

But Ginny was in a different league. He loved her and she him. They shared things, intimate things, that Harry could never share with Ron. Never, not even if the stars were falling to the earth. Ginny knew his secrets, and he knew hers, not because one had stumbled on the memories of the other or had needled out a confession, but because they wanted to share themselves with the other, their hopes and dreams and memories. And that was a degree of intimacy that transcended friendship and fraternal love.

It wouldn't be easy, but Ron would have to deal with it, or else walk away.

Harry sat up, tossed his legs over the side of his bed, and ran a hand through his thoroughly messy black hair with a sigh. He wasn't getting back to sleep tonight. With another discontented sigh, Harry rose from his bed, went out the door, and descended the stairs to the Burrow's main room.

Plopping himself onto the couch a few moments later, he stared into the empty fireplace, contemplative. Today was the day Dumbledore was going to come round the Burrow. Guilt and anticipation kept him up tonight. There was Ron to feel guilty about – and Harry still hadn't told Mrs. Weasley that Professor Dumbledore was going to come by. She'd probably have dragons when she saw him strolling up to their door.

Harry continued to stare glumly, both wishing Ginny was awake and glad that she wasn't; they had a penchant for late-night talks, and while that suited them fine in the short-term, too many nights of not enough sleep had begun to take its toll on her. And on him as well, she insisted, but he ignored that; he'd be fine.

"It's a bit late to be down here, Harry," a voice Harry recognized as Percy Weasley's said from behind him. Harry turned on the couch to face the boy.

"Same is true for you, Percy."

The older boy gave a half-grin. "What brings you down here tonight, Harry?"

"I woke up and couldn't get back to sleep."

Percy sat down on the couch beside Harry and nodded. "That's my story," he said. It seemed then that his face became sharper, more angular. "Can I ask you something, Harry, something none of my business?"

He nodded.

"What is my sister to you?"

"What do you mean?" Harry asked, unsure where this was going.

"Is she your friend, or is there something more?"

Harry was silent, considering.

"Is she your girlfriend, Harry?"

"I…. We haven't put it in those… in those terms." He took a breath. He steadied himself. He wasn't nervous, he wasn't fearful; but how was he to explain? "But I guess she is. She… um…. We mean a lot to each other." That was the simplest way to put it. "She means a lot to me. In a way Ron doesn't, and Hermione doesn't. But we're…. She turned eleven just a couple of days ago, and I've only just turned twelve." He swallowed. "We're a little… young, you know? To be… that. To be together."

Percy nodded, his lips pressed in a twisted smile. "You are very young," he said. And it must have been the peculiarity of the night that allowed him to say what he said next. "But age has no say in love, Harry." He had a look in his eye. "And if you were to… decide that's what you want – what both of you want… well, for what it's worth, you've got my blessing."

"Thank you, Percy," Harry said after a moment, considering Percy, himself, and the situation. The words were odd to say, but he didn't know what else to say; he didn't imagine it was often that an older brother's blessing was offered a potential courtier. "But I don't think we're… I don't think we're there yet."

"No," Percy smiled. "I don't suppose you are." His air changed. "I know Ron has been less than… supportive – shall we say – of the closeness you and Ginny share; he doesn't understand it yet, but he will. He'll come around; he just needs time to adjust to the idea that his annoying little sister means as much to his best mate as he does himself."

"I wish he would," Harry said. "Come around, that is. And sooner, rather than later. You know… well, you know what happened at the end of last year. That doesn't get… wiped away. He's like a brother to me, your brother."

"A comrade in arms," Percy supplied with a frown. "I –"

"If there had been another way, Percy," Harry interrupted, his voice graver than usual. Deeper, slower. "If there had been another way, if we could have waited for help, we would have."

"You have to understand, Harry," Percy said with a nod. "It's not that I don't trust your judgment; it's not that I doubt you; it's only that Ron is my brother. And he is young, and he is inexperienced, and by rights, Harry, the three of you should have died down there."

Harry could nod to that. "By rights."

"So, Harry, the other thing I must ask this night…."

"Ah," Harry said lightly, giving a curt nod. H knew where this was going.

"You have a talent for risky situations, Harry. They flock to you like wolves; and you survive them, sure, and you endure, Harry." Percy paused. "But your… your comrades in arms, Harry, they might not always be so lucky. Nor of course might you," he added thoughtfully, "but I have never had a sense, Harry, that you were one who needed much looking-after."

Harry wasn't so sure about that. He had been in his share of bad situations – Dursleys, snakes, Voldemort, the Forbidden Forest, Quidditch – but he never walked away from a single one of them with any confidence in his ability to withstand whatever might next come his way.

"You endure, Harry," Percy said, and the way his voice shifted, sounding more forceful, more… more subtextual, like there was something beneath his words he was trying to convey in a way both maddeningly cryptic and unreasonably reassuring. "You endure. But…. But Harry, I must ask you, as a brother – and she is my only sister – that you shield Ginny from every danger you can, even against her will.

"She is young, Harry, and… and as you've said, you mean much to one another. I have to ask you, Harry, to do all in your power to ensure my sister does not have to endure; that she does not find herself in any circumstance to need to endure." Percy paused again. "Please, Harry. Let her only concerns at Hogwarts be about homework and detention and Professor Snape's shampoo."

"I…" Harry was at a loss. What was he to say to such a thing? Percy was right, of course; and every bit of him wanted quite the same thing. Harry wanted better for his Ginny than he had for himself. He didn't want her to worry about death, hers or anyone's; he didn't want her to wonder if she would see her parents again, or Harry's own face. But trouble found him, and now so had Ginny. If she was insistent, if he had to run off to save someone or something and she demanded on coming, how could he, in good faith, deny her, when his only wish, were roles reversed, would be to do the same for her?

"I know it goes against your instincts, Harry," Percy said, his voice understanding, his eyes tired behind horn-rimmed glasses. "I know replacing Ginny's will – and should anything happen, should you have to run off to save the world or some such thing, I'm sure she would insist on joining…. I know ignoring what she herself wants goes against your nature. It's part of why I give you my blessing. You care enough for her; more than most my age, more than any yours.

"But she is young, and so are you. And there are times when what we want for ourselves is not enough. Ginny will want to help you, should it come to that, should you come to the point of needing help. Harry…. Harry, I must ask you to disregard her wishes in that situation. Harry, you must ignore her. Even if it means hurting her. You must not let her be endangered."

Harry held his breath and tried not to breathe. This wasn't something he liked. This conversation, which had begun so well, which had remained so well until this demand, was too much for him, or nearly so. But a part of him, a vocal part, a wise part, knew that there were times when what we most wanted was what was worst for us; somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew he was echoing Dumbledore.

And so with his face steeled, his heart reluctant, he nodded his head, his eyes downcast, his face turned away from the other in the room. "I will do what I can."

"All you can."

He was silent for a moment, then nodded. "All I can," he allowed.

"Thank you, Harry."

He nodded again. And in the darkness of that room, in the dead of that night, an alliance, an understanding, was formed.

For the greater good.

A/N: I know, I know; it's been awhile. Can't we all just rally around the fact that there is a new chapter now and forget the past? Don't ask when the next chapter will come out – I honestly have no idea. Please leave me with your thoughts.