Disclaimer: All characters belong to JK Rowling, not I. I hope I won't embarrass her too much by what I do with them. : )
The Promise Ring - by The White Lily
Chapter 1: Return to Privet Drive
Harry Potter bit hard on his lip as he sat up in bed drenched in cold sweat for the fourth time that night. He bit hard enough to stop himself from crying out; he already had one bruise on his cheek from earlier that night and a colourful collection of bruises all over his face at different stages of healing. Uncle Vernon wouldn't hesitate to give him another. Harry lay back down in bed and not for the first time, he wished that things could have been different.
He wished that the dark wizard Voldemort had not tried to kill he and his parents while he was only a baby, that his Mum and Dad still lived, and that he hadn't grown up being despised and kept in the cupboard under the stairs by his only surviving relatives. He wished that he could live with his godfather, Sirius Black, but Sirius was still wanted for murders he hadn't committed. He wished that he could stay for the summer holidays with his best friend Ron Weasley, with Ron's kind and loving parents and boisterous masses of brothers. He even found himself wishing he could see Ron's little sister, Ginny, who blushed and ran away whenever she saw him. He wished he could get a good night's sleep. His sleep was always plagued with nightmares of the year before, where he had won the Triwizard Tournament, but Voldemort had turned the cup from the Triwizard Tournament into a Portkey that would transport anyone who touched it straight to him. Voldemort had then used Harry's own blood to regain his body and former strength. Most of all, however, he wished that he hadn't insisted that his competitor, Cedric Diggory, take the cup with him for a tie and that he had never heard the words he heard a million times every night in his sleep. Kill the spare. A vision of Cedric's lifeless grey eyes in his slightly surprised face swam up before him. The spare.
Of course all his friends agreed that it wasn't his fault and told Harry he was a hero for bringing Cedric's body home and Harry believed them, a bit. Even though he knew deep down that it wasn't his fault, he still felt overwhelming guilt. The fact remained: if he had not insisted on sharing the win, Cedric Diggory would still be alive. And so he felt guilty.
He relived that entire horrific night in his dreams many times every night, and every time he woke up screaming, with cold sweat running down his body, gasping for breath. If he were back at Hogwarts, he would have willingly gone to Madam Pomfrey, the school nurse, for the first time in his life, to ask for a dreamless sleep potion.
But all he had at Privet Drive were the Dursleys. His porky uncle would yell from his bedroom "Go back to sleep, boy! Why we put up with you, I don't know!" or come in and cuff him around the head. At breakfast Aunt Petunia would shoot Harry nasty looks and ask his cousin loudly whether "that horrible boy's screaming" had disturbed his sleep in the night. Dudley would say yes, of course, for although Dudley slept like a log (and a very large log at that) his favourite hobby was getting Harry in trouble.
And so every morning, Harry would be assigned a list of chores so long that he wouldn't be finished until dinnertime. He didn't even write to Sirius about how he was being mistreated because at least the exhaustion took his mind of Cedric for a while. So every night, he would fall into bed, exhausted, only to begin the cycle again.
Always before, when Uncle Vernon had tried to hit him, he had fought back, threatened them with retribution from Sirius, or accidentally made things explode in his fear and rage at his treatment. This summer was different, however. This summer he couldn't shake himself out of depression to do anything about his circumstances. He put up with his infrequent meals and ignored the pain in his stomach from his hunger. He did his chores without complaint or threats of retribution. He hid his bruises from the neighbours, as requested, and did not resist receiving them, lying passively where he had been flung while Uncle Vernon kicked and punched him.
Harry sighed. If only things could have been different. His rough and lumpy pillow pressed against his face as if to block out the world, he slipped back into sleep and began dreaming immediately.
He was in a forest. Dark trees arched towards the sky on all sides, seeming ominous in flickering light of a fire in the middle of the clearing. A semi-circle of masked and hooded figures clothed in black robes stood around the fire. Nagini, the large snake whose venom had kept Voldemort alive for a year, circled restlessly, weaving around and between the Death Eaters. In the middle, in front of the fire, stood Voldemort, his hideous snake-like face unmasked and coldly cruel.
"So, my faithful Death-Eaters - how goes the search for a hostage?" asked Voldemort.
A man with white-blonde hair protruding from between his mask and his hooded robe stepped forward. "My Lord, I have the perfect person. In his second year, Harry Potter saved a young girl's life. The resulting bond between them has been seen little since the event, but it is sure to be strong, as the boy came within an inch from death in her defence. Her brother is Potter's best friend and he often stays with her family for a few weeks during the summer holiday. No one will be able to stop him from attempting to save her. Not only is she special to Potter, but also her family are Muggle and Mudblood lovers, heavily connected to Dumbledore's Order of the Phoenix. It would be a heavy blow to the Order indeed if they were killed."
"Perfect. We will launch an attack to capture this girl tomorrow. Regrettably we will not kill the family, as their grief will spur Harry Potter on. Once we have Harry Potter, we will go back and finish the job. What is her name, Malfoy?"
"Ginny Weasley, my Lord."
Harry rolled out of bed with a thud, hitting the floor hard in his panic, and trembling from the overwhelming pain in his scar. Voldemort. After Ginny. He knew that if Voldemort succeeded, he would stop at nothing to get her back. The Weasleys had done so much for him - treating him like a normal boy, accepting him into their family, and providing him with the love he had never known at the Dursleys. If their daughter was kidnapped and tortured or killed because of him, he knew he would never forgive himself.
He pulled up the loose floorboard under the bed for the first time this summer and shakily grabbed a piece of parchment, a quill, and an inkbottle. He wondered briefly who he should write to, deciding on Mr. Weasley. The Weasleys' home was closer to his current location than Hogwarts. Mr. Weasley could easily call whomever he needed to through the Floo network, or take Ginny immediately to safety.
He hurriedly scribbled out a note and folded it. Then he looked miserably at Hedwig, his owl, who had been locked in her cage this summer by the Dursleys. Sensing his distress, she was hopping from foot to foot agitatedly, glaring at the huge padlock holding the bars of her cage closed.
Then it hit him and he wondered why he hadn't used it already; his godfather had given him a penknife with attachments to open all locks for Christmas. Scrabbling once again under the floorboard under his bed, he quickly came up with the item. Unlocking her cage quickly, he tied the note to her leg and said "To Mr. Weasley, as quick as you can." Hedwig rubbed his cheek with her beak comfortingly for a moment, then launched herself off his arm and into the night.
Harry watched her snowy white form until it was only a memory of a speck in the sky and then slumped onto his bed. It was a long time before sleep claimed him and when it did, it was plagued with nightmares. This time the lifeless eyes staring back into his own were Ginny's.