Harry Potter had suffered a great deal in his young life.
He’d done many things that were both equal parts grand and terrifying. Utterly tragic things at the heart of it. He’d done the impossible and survived the Killing Curse when he was just a year old. It left him an orphan and left him to a fate nearly worse than death. A fate he suffered in silence for fear of what the truth would bring.He’d faced the a three headed dog and a two headed man and still managed to come away from the ordeal alive. He’d survived a professor who’d left him for dead. He’d slain a Basilisk and would have died beneath his school if not for the tears of one very loyal phoenix, all at the tender age of twelve. He’d seen Cedric Diggory, his first crush, and his own godfather -the closest thing to a father he’d ever known- killed before his very eyes within a year of one another. They ripped pieces of him with them when they’d gone. Even worse, he’d been forced to be an unwilling participant in the resurrection of Voldemort by the same traitorous bastard that helped murder his parents.
The wizarding world sat on the brink of war.
Yet and still, preparing to break up with Ginny Weasley felt like one of the scariest, most deadly things he’d ever had to do. But it had to be done. All of the information he’d learned from Dumbledore swirled in his mind as his sixth year quickly snapped to a close. The Headmaster was dying and the war was coming to a head. Harry had a job to do and he couldn’t bear to bring Ginny into the chaos of it all. Harry’s life teetered on utter chaos and there was no telling what his final year at Hogwarts would bring. He had an objective now...
Severed pieces of Voldemort’s soul sealed away in mundane objects.
It was Harry’s job. His responsibility to find them, destroy them, and then destroy their maker. It wasn’t particularly conducive to relationships. Ginny had already been touched by the putrid evil of one of Voldemort’s horcruxes before. It had nearly shattered her. Tom Riddle’s diary had tainted Ginny in a way Harry couldn’t bear to put her through again. He refused.
Dumbledore would already be added to the list of people Harry had lost in due time. He didn’t want Ginny to be added to that list. Ron would never forgive him for putting his baby sister, his own sister, in danger. He wasn’t sure if he loved her, or rather- loved her in the way he thought a boyfriend should. But he felt something for her. She was warm, kind, fierce, and wild, she was his best mate’s little sister, she was fantastic, and he wanted her to survive. He couldn’t guarantee anyone’s safety through the war. He had no clue who else would have to die “for the cause” before he would have all the pieces in place to finally go toe-to-toe with Voldemort. But he knew for an absolutely certainty Ginny Weasley wasn’t safe being his girlfriend. No person was safe so long as they stayed by Harry’s side. Ron and Hermione, perhaps, were in too deep but Ginny...she could be spared.
He had to do it before he lost his nerve.
“Ginny listen…” Harry paused, swallowing thickly as his words refused to make the jump from brain to lips.
“We’re breaking up,” she said simply, her words a quiet fact like stating the sky is blue or the weather pleasant.
Ginny met his gaze with the same hard, blazing look he had seen when she’d hugged him after winning the Quidditch Cup in his absence. Fire flickered behind her warm brown eyes and even though Harry felt something awful and cold pang against his heart, he knew they understood each other perfectly. She knew it had been coming all along and she had no intentions of telling him to, “be careful,” or “don’t do it,” because she had accepted his decision long before he ever came to it.
“I’m sorry, Gin,” he breathed, summoning courage from Merlin only knew where.
“It’s alright Harry,” she tucked a strand of red hair behind her ear “war destroys a lot of things; lives, families, worlds...it’d be foolish to think romances are immune.”
Harry hated the truth in her words. The guilt slithered across his stomach like snakes; filthy, coiling, squirming, slithering.
“I’ll tell Ron,” she told him as scarlet flooded their peripheral vision and the carriage smoothed to a halt “over the summer at the Burrow, it’ll be easier coming from me.” She stepped out of the carriage carefully, setting her gaze on him. Something Harry couldn’t identify flicked in her eyes as she watched him climb out after her but it was gone before he could put more thought into it. He looked at the thestral pulling the carriage to avoid her gaze but the thought of death made him blanch and look at her determinedly. Fire flickered in her eyes, blazing and stubborn. Their relationship felt simultaneously over and open-ended.
“Maybe when the war is over…” Harry didn’t know how to finish that sentence. Maybe what? They’d try again? Get married? Have children? Try? Harry barely knew if he’d make it out of the war alive. He didn’t want to go around making promises he couldn’t keep.
It seemed to make Ginny smile all the same.
“Maybe when the war is over,” she parroted, leaning over to kiss him on the cheek “Goodbye, Harry Potter.”
Harry Potter had suffered a great deal of tragedy in his life. Nothing, however, had prepared him for the amalgamation of pain, sorrow, and utter, inescapable relief that settled in his chest as he watched Ginny Weasley walk onto the Hogwarts express as a single woman once again.
“You alright, mate?” Harry looked up from the window to see Ron and Hermione looking at him, all furrowed brows and down turned lips.
Mate...I’m sure I won’t be called that come September. Harry could only imagine how Ron would treat him once he knew of the breakup. He wasn’t sure how any of the Weasley’s would treat him once they knew what he’d done. Something awful twisted in the pit of his gut. The Weasley’s were the closest thing he’d ever had to a family. Molly Weasley gave him the first Christmas present he’d ever received. Fred and George treated him as close as blood. Ron had been his very first friend. For a while he’d been Harry’s only friend.
He’d ruined it, all of it, botched it up nice and good and beyond repair.
“I’m fine, Ron, just a lot on my mind.” It was such an easy lie.
“Well, you know that we’re here if you ever need someone to talk to, Harry,” Hermione leaned over and pat him on the knee gently, making him jerk away from the contact sharply. He covered the sudden movement by pretending to have an itch on his back, scratching roughly at absolutely nothing.
Hermione said it so sweetly Harry nearly believed her. Just nearly. He couldn’t help the wave of resentment that sloshed around in his stomach like a violent tide. Where had Hermione been when “vicious murder Sirius Black” had been on the loose and Harry went all summer without a scrap of news? Where had Ron been when Harry was reeling from Cedric’s death? Where had either of them been every single time that Harry had to go back to them? The Dursley’s?
They were together.
They had each other.
Sure they were on Harry’s side but it was clearer each day that there was a definitive line between them and him. They would spend the second half of the summer together, it had already been decided before the end of term. They would write to him, so long as Dumbledore said it was say. They would wait for him to potentially join him once Dumbledore decided it was safe. They would have each other...and Harry would have the Dursley’s.
“Cheer up, mate,” Ron urged, giving Harry a large, goofy grin.
“It’s just for the summer, Harry,” Hermione reminded “then you’ll be back at Hogwarts, of age even . This is the last time, try to find some solace in that, once you’re of age…”Hermione looked around the compartment and cast a silencing charm on the door, leaning in close. “You’ll be able to join the Order and we can head to Headquarters to start research on the horcruxes. Sir-Snuffles,” she knew hearing Sirius’ name still did dangerous things to Harry. “Snuffles came from a dark wizarding family. His family library is bound to have something useful. Something to point us in the right direction. There’s no need to worry, Harry, it will be over before you know it.”
“Yeah mate, no worries. Quicker you go home, quicker your birthday’ll come around, and the quicker you can leave. The quicker we can end this, yeah?” Ron’s enthusiasm made Harry want to vomit. Ron calling Privet Drive home made him want to punch him in the face. Harry wasn’t one hundred percent certain which would make him feel better.
They both looked at him so expectantly that he settled on neither.
“Yeah, no worries,” he murmured. He forced a smile and they grinned back at him honestly, both of them nodding in unison before falling into quiet conversation.
Harry slumped in his seat and turned green eyes out to the lush verdant scenery passing them by. Each second that ticked away putting him in closer proximity to Number Four. The tears fell on their own accord, slow and trickling down his cheeks.
No one noticed.
No one ever noticed.
Hermione and Ron saw when he exploded, when he snapped, when he was biting, snarling, and wild with rage so deep it terrified him.
They never saw the tears.
He’d lost count of the times he’d cried in front of his friends.
He’d lost count of all the times he’d flinched because they’d moved their hands far too quickly.
He’d lost track of every “I’m sorry” and every time he’d relented to their will.
“I don’t want to go back there,” the words were on the tip of his tongue but he knew it wouldn’t do any good. The entire conversation would just go around in circles. Harry didn’t have the energy to put up with it. Not with the weight of the horcruxes on his mind. He would be forced to go home no matter how the thought pained him, no matter how much “home” and “hell on Earth” seemed to be synonymous. He would go back to Privet Drive and spend his time thinking about horcruxes so he didn’t have to face anything else.
...the cup...the snake...something of Gryffindor’s or Ravenclaw’s...the locket...the cup...the snake...something of Gryffindor’s or Ravenclaw’s...
It was a mantra that seemed to pulse through Harry’s mind as he fell into a fitful sleep. His nightmares were a twisted assortment thick with cups, lockets, mysterious objects, and Dumbledore’s decaying hand.
“Harry,” Hermione’s voice cut through the nightmare sharply, shaking him awake “we’re here,” she informed him. Disoriented, Harry pried his eyes open to look out the window, Kings Cross station staring back at him. Time to go home , something awful twisted in his gut as he rose from his seat and began pulling down his trunk and Hedwig’s cage. She seemed to sense his apprehension and gave a soft, reassuring hoot.
What did it say about his life that an owl showed him more consideration and caring than ninety percent of the humans surrounding him on a daily basis?
“Remember Harry, it’s just until your birthday,” Hermione reminded him as she pulled him into a hug he didn’t ask for. He tried to stop his entire body from clenching.
“We’ll write when we can, won’t we ‘Mione?” Ron gave his shoulder a squeeze.
“Happy hols, guys,” Harry knew his smile didn’t reach his eyes. Once Ron knew he broke up with Ginny after all the trouble he’d gone through to get his approval, none of it would matter. Things would be very different by the time September 1st rolled around.
“Bye Harry, be careful,” they chorused, all smiles and happy waves. Ron and Hermione didn’t understand. Or maybe they didn't care. Six years in and the line was beginning to seem rather blurry to Harry. It didn’t matter. It wasn’t their burden to understand, it was Harry’s and just like with Voldemort and the basilisk and losing Cedric and battling with his sexuality and surviving the summer...Harry would go at it alone.
He was always alone in the end.
He walked into the muggle world by his lonesome, to see a very irate Vernon Dursley waiting for him nearly out of sight. His uncle was nearly purple with barely contained rage and the mere sight of it sent a shiver down Harry’s spine. Shaking himself out of his stupor, he put all of his energy into getting to his uncle’s side as quickly as possible. Eyes lowered and head bowed, he stowed his luggage into the trunk without a word, shushing Hedwig with a harsh hiss when she moved to make a noise meant to comfort him.
“In,” his uncle ordered, opening the back door, fingers clutching the metal viciously. Nodding, Harry situated Hedwig’s cage and clamored in obediently after her.
The ride back to Privet Drive was tense. The silence between uncle and nephew unsettling and foreign. Typically Vernon complained the entire way back home. About anything really. The heat, having to pick up “the boy,” something ignorant he’d heard on the radio, or some arsehold who’d cut him off. All the usual expletives and rantings were gone behind a stony mask of tight lipped rage. Harry nearly missed his aunt Petunia. At least when she was in the car she would hum gentle platitudes to her husband that seemed to quell his road rage.
Though Uncle Vernon’s rage seemed to have nothing to do with the road.
Something awful twisted in Harry’s stomach.
When they arrived at Number Four, Harry’s heart began to hammer in his chest as the car glided effortlessly into the garage, the door closing ominously behind them. Uncle Vernon never parked his car in the garage.
Uncle Vernon had a nice car.
He liked to park his nice car in his nice driveway in front of his nice house so he could be the envy of all his nice neighbors.
Harry could feel his heartbeat thrumming against his throat. His uncle barked at him to get inside but it barely registered. On its own accord, his body jerked forward as if moved by puppet strings until he had Hedwig’s cage clutched against his chest and had moved into the front room of the house.
Things were untidy. Aunt Petunia would never leave the house in such a state even if it meant she got to bark at him from morning until night to clean it all up again.
Harry felt as if all the wind had been sucked out of his lungs with a straw, a bead of sweat forming on his brow as he took in the state of things. Aunt Petunia had not been home in a while. He was alone with his uncle. His uncle who was purple and furious. His uncle who had parked in the garage and shut the curtains before leaving the house.
Vernon Dursley did not want anyone to know he was home.
Harry took short, shallow breaths, only moments away from hyperventilating as he listened to his uncle banging his trunk around trying to get it into the house. Harry’s fingers itched with the instinctive desire to wrap around his wand, to feel a sliver of power and protection running against his finger tips. He didn’t care about being expelled. Something awful twisted in his gut and the panic felt like a cauldron ready to bubble over and spew all of him against the walls. Idly, he thought he would prefer being splattered potion on the walls as opposed to whatever he’d be by the time his uncle finished with him.
Heart hammering in his chest with the ferocity of a frightened rabbit, Harry gauged how much time he had to throw open the door and run to Mrs.Figg’s. His uncle was still lumbering in the garage trying to navigate his clunky trunk and his clunky frame through the narrow space of the rarely used garage.
Foolishly, he tried to run, fingers just having undone the locks when his uncle descended on him like the Angel of Death.
“We could have been normal if it hadn’t been for you,” his uncle growled, shoving the deadbolt lock on the door back in place with a sausage finger.
“ You came along and ruined everything ,” Vernon accused, plucking Hedwig’s cage from Harry’s arms and setting it down on the ground. Hedwig bristled but made no noise, sensing the tension and her master’s desperate, feverish need for her compliance.
“Petunia had to take Dudley away for a while. There’s nothing you haven’t tainted ,” his uncle accused, fat sausage fingers reached up into Harry’s hair and grabbed tight, forcing Harry’s head up until they were eye to eye.
“I should have killed you,” was the last thing Harry heard before a blunt object crashed down so hard upon his head that there was nothing but a ringing in ears. Stars danced across his vision as he felt himself falling to the floor with a loud crack, his knees searing. Vernon was on top of him before the damage registered completely. His large, meaty claws came down and wailed on him, on any part of of Harry his uncle could reach, with unrelenting force. His face, side, and back ached with a deep, sharp burning that seemed to rattle his very core. His bones were being broken, on some level he knew that even as his glasses were shattered and he felt the tiny bits of glass puncturing his face.
Ron’s words danced around in his skull as he felt a sharp cracking in his ribs, like crackling of wood in the hearth; Quicker you go home.
Quicker you go home.
Quicker you go home.
The words seemed to taunt him. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t see. He could barely breathe. All he could do was feel. All of it. Not just his uncle’s angry blows but all of it. His parents’ death, Cedric, Sirius, everything that had happened at Hogwarts from his first year to his sixth. The emotion consumed him, threatening to drown him as he curled protectively into a ball at his uncle’s mercy...if his uncle even knew mercy.
“Ruddy bird!” Vernon hollered. Harry had nearly forgotten about Hedwig. She had long since forgotten about his fevered attempts to quiet her and sat shrieking in her cage. It took Harry a long moment of concentration to see the blurry white smudge of her without his glasses. Even battered and broken, he still tried to quiet her. To convince her that he was alright. She was such a good bird...so concerned for him. No one else was concerned for him.
Harry was torn away from the white smudge of Hedwig’s figure by the thick footfalls of his uncle marching over to her cage and rattling it around. Her shrieks brought tears hot, fresh, and angry down his cheeks. He had to get up. He had to help Hedwig. Groaning, every bit of his body screaming in protest, Harry struggled to his hands and knees and made a strangled, unintelligible noise. His words felt like sandpaper trying to wriggle through his throat. All he knew was that he had to help Hedwig.
But it was too late.
Uncle Vernon gave her cage one swift swing and Hedwig’s cage was up and over the stairs, out of view with a warbled squawk.
“You!” his uncle thundered, stomping over to Harry and hoisted him up by the collar of his shirt and punched him hard. Right in the stomach.
Groaning, Harry felt the vomit and bile lurching upward. He was helpless to stop it. He sputtered, a violent cough sent it all spewing forth. He choked on it. It felt like acid on his tongue, in his throat. He feel...small, filthy, pathetic...
He broke up with Ginny to protect her?
He couldn’t protect himself. His wand was in his trunk. He couldn’t protect Hedwig. He could barely move. He couldn't save Cedric and it was his fault Sirius died. It would be his fault when Dumbledore died because he forced him to drink the poison. He couldn't protect anyone he was supposed to. How in Merlin’s name was he supposed to protect the entire wizarding world?
His uncle dragged him away from the puddle of vomit on the floor, sneering down at him. “Always thought you were special did you? You and your freakishness?” his uncle laughed humorlessly, pointing a finger at Harry as if he had him all figured out. “I wanted to drown you, you know,” his tone was conversational but there was a steel behind it that made that awful, awful thing twist painfully in Harry’s gut again and again and again and again…“But no, Petunia was merciful, begged me to keep you. I let you and your worthlessness infest my family. What kind of father does that make me? Hm? You have ruined my son.”
Harry could hardly register anything his uncle was telling him. His head felt underwater and stuffed with wool all at once. Everything thing around him was a blurry, blood streaked haze laced with pain so intense he consumed and detached from it all at once. Maybe when he was permitted to sleep…or most likely pass out... maybe could pretend it was all a dream. A vicious attack on his mind by Voldemort. Something to break him...he certainly felt broken….but none of it could be real. It had to all be in his head. If any of it was real...surely someone from the Order would come...wouldn’t they?
Someone had to come. Someone was going to come for him, blood protections be damned. Someone was going to come. They had to...they had to….they had to...they had to...
Harry chanted the words over and over in his head, a mantra like drum beat that thumped in tune with his heart. Someone had to come save him. He was sure of it. If for no other reason than him being the Chosen One. They couldn’t let him die when he still had to find the horcruxes...when he still had to defeat Voldemort.
...the cup...the snake...something of Gryffindor’s or Ravenclaw’s...the locket...the cup...the snake...something of Gryffindor’s or Ravenclaw’s...someone’s going to come...they had to...they had to...they had to...the cup...the snake..something of Gryffindor’s or Ravenclaw’s...the locket...someone’s going to come...they had to...they had to...they had to…
Harry let the words fill him up, give him strength, until he heard the clink of his uncle’s belt and the soft sound of trousers being pulled down.
His eyes widened, the safety of the words in his head forgotten quickly. His heart stilled for just a split second before fluttering and erupting with a quickness in his chest. He crawled away from his uncle, making it about a foot or more before he felt a thick hand around his ankle. He fought against it, his pain nonexistent as adrenaline pumped through him. Anything but this...please not this... He made it close to the fireplace before his uncle had him pinned down to the ground, tugging his pants down roughly. The cool air in the house made him feel painfully exposed and the heat of his uncle's body pressed against his made him feel close to vomiting again. He squirmed, hitting his uncle wherever his fists landed. But it was no use, he let out a mortified scream as his Uncle thrust his manhood into him, rough and unrelenting. The pain felt like fire through his veins. He let out a choked sob and thrashed wildly against the pain which earned him a sharp slap to the face. .
"Please stop..." Harry croaked, barely able to speak.
"No," was the last thing that Harry heard before something broke inside of him. His body felt like a telly clicking off. Shut down. Void. Nothing but a blank, cold, object robbed of the colorful images within with a blink of the eye. Dumbledore always told him that coming back to the Dursley’s was for his protection. Protection? What happened to him had nothing to do with protection.
It was power.
It was control.
It was pain.
So much pain.
Why? Why was no one helping him?
They were supposed to care about him. At least until after the war. Someone was supposed to care about him...but no one did.
Harry was alone...and he’d never felt so small in all his life.
His consciousness began to slip away as his uncle pumped in and out of him furiously, screaming about how he’d ruined Dudley. With each painful shove into him, his uncle reminded him of all his transgressions since Hogwarts. How he’d trapped Dudley in a snake habitat. How they’d had to take Dudley to some shoddy back alley doctor to get the pig tail removed. The incident with the dementors. Harry laid there, motionless, feeling half dead, and suffered in silence, feeling but not feeling the rough carpet burning his cheek raw.
His mind wandered back to the moment before his eleventh birthday when he had freed the snake from the enclosure at the zoo. He thought about how the glass had faded away into nothingness in order for the snake to escape. He wanted that nothingness now, more than anything. He wanted to escape. He whimpered when his uncle came inside of him, feeling the hot liquid violate him. His eyes drifted shut, he couldn't do it anymore. Exhaustion over took him and he let the world fall away from him behind a sheet of darkness.
Sleep claimed him with welcoming arms.