The sun was bright and uncomplicated the next day in sharp contrast to Harry’s mood. He stared at the letter in his hand and wished that he wasn’t trapped here in this cage. Ron chattered happily in his letter with an excitement Harry was sure was meant for something other than the latest from Fred and George. Hermione’s letter also carried a hint of things unspoken of, but only if one knew to look for it.
---We’ve been spending time in the library this week and it is fascinating. Ron complains of course but manages not to sulk too badly. We’ve found the most interesting things that I can’t wait to show you.---
Hermione wasn’t the only one. Harry could tell they were doing something important, something worthwhile, more than fighting with relatives and reading muggle books. The world was moving and he was stuck outside.
“Do you ever feel trapped in your life?” he asked Mr. Giles that evening after dinner. The Dursleys were glad to be rid of him for the evening so Harry found himself once more in the flat next door reading a book. Shakespeare this time, whose archaic language set his mind to wandering.
“Sometimes,” Mr. Giles replied without looking up from his book. “I imagine most people do from time to time.”
“What do you do about?”
Mr. Giles did look up then. “It depends on the situation, of course, and whether there is anything you can do. Sometimes you must simply wait it out.”
Not hearing anything helpful, Harry sighed and turned back to the play in his hands. He could feel Mr. Giles still watching him and didn’t look up when he spoke again.
“You know,” he said gently, “there are other options to living with your aunt and uncle.”
“No,” Harry closed his eyes, thinking of wards and spells and a love that transcended death, “there really aren’t.”
That night, Harry dreamed of the ministry. The Department of Mysteries was shrouded in a blue the color of the sky as it slid into darkness and the air lay thick and heavy. Harry was alone this time, standing just inside the door that had haunted his dreams last year. He felt for his wand but couldn’t find it in his pocket. Panic gripped him like a shock of cold water as he scrambled through his other pockets – too many – but found nothing but splinters. The room began to shake and blend into the clock room where hourglasses spun uneasily and hands wound too fast and too slow. The world lurched at the disturbances and Harry had to scrabble for balance as if he was on a boat at sea and it was only then that he heard the laughter.
Voldemort’s laughter, but more than that, more than one voice – four. It took a moment to place them, and when he did, they had already arrived. Voldemort on Quirrel’s head, Voldemort as Tom Riddle, Voldemort the deformed baby, and Voldemort reincarnate. Through doors that hadn’t been there before, they laughed as they advanced on Harry from every direction. Each had a wand and that laugh that wouldn’t stop but grew louder and stronger. Harry barely dodged the first curse.
Curse after curse chased him from one side of the room to the other as he leapt over bodies that appeared from nowhere: his parents, Cedric, Sirius, the Longbottoms, Arthur Weasley, Ron, Hermione, classmates, and Order members. All their eyes were open and staring like Cedric’s had been, and Harry knew that they each lay there dead because he had failed them. He hadn’t been fast enough or clever enough or brave enough and they had died because he was helpless and hopeless for saving them. Above them all the laughter continued.
Harry’s limbs trembled and he wanted to stop. He was short of breath and dodged each curse a fraction later than the one before. His lungs stuttered, his muscles burned, and he was tired of fighting, always fighting.
“Face me, Harry Potter,” one of the Voldemorts hissed. “Show me the power that I have not.” And they all cursed him at once. Harry screamed.
He woke to screaming and jabbing, his own throat raw as the noise coalesced into Aunt Petunia shouting for him to wake up and Uncle Vernon for him to shut up. The jabbing came from the broom that allowed his aunt a safe distance from him. Uncle Vernon cowered behind her.
“I’m awake, shut up,” said Harry, pushing the broom away. Aunt Petunia jumped back with a squeak before the shouting began in earnest again.
“Just what do you mean by screaming in the middle of the night?! You’ve woken up us and half the building! You –”
“Shut up! Get out!” Harry hid his face in his hands, the dream still bright and painful. “Just get out,” he whispered. Amazingly, Aunt Petunia pushed Vernon out the door and back to their room. The silence was overwhelming and settled like a shroud over him as the faces swam through his mind’s eye. Harry was just so tired.
He took a deep breath and ignored the sting behind his eyes. That his scar was silent was a small mercy; it had simply been a nightmare. It wouldn’t come true. But he was afraid it would. Reaching out, his hand found his wand next to his glasses on the box that served as his night stand. The cool wood was reassuring to say the least, but Harry could not sleep and instead waited on the dawn.
The soft call of his name startled Harry from his bench in the courtyard and had him whipping out his wand before he recognized who it was. Mr. Giles stood just outside the door with a frown. Embarrassed, Harry quickly spun his wand into his palm and slipped it up his sleeve. He tried to calm the puttering of his heart, but the dream was still too vivid in his mind. “Sorry,” he said sitting back down. “You startled me.”
“No, no, my fault,” Mr. Giles said as he walked over. “I’m sure you weren’t expecting anyone to come along.”
Harry noticed then that he was in more casual wear with a sweater replacing the blazer he normally wore. “Don’t you have work?”
“Day off,” replied Mr. Giles. “I came to ask if you wanted to come up for tea?”
Harry blinked then nodded, grateful for the suggestion and anything that would give him something else to think about. He followed Mr. Giles back inside and upstairs to their floor, neither one of them breaking the silence until they were safely in the kitchen and Mr. Giles asked whether he wanted Earl Grey or English Breakfast. Uncertain what the difference was, he chose the first and leaned against the counter while Mr. Giles busied himself heating water. The quiet was comfortable, and Mr. Giles didn’t ruin it by speaking or staring at him, lost in his own thoughts as the water boiled. A few minutes later they were both seated at the table with their tea. Harry blew across the top to cool it.
“Everything all right, Harry?” asked Mr. Giles, though whether about the tea or his life, the teenager wasn’t sure, so he shrugged.
“Sleeping all right?”
Harry looked up into Mr. Giles’s kind yet intent eyes and knew that he had heard last night. He felt a sick twist in his stomach and couldn’t help the flush of embarrassment as he shrugged again and avoided his eyes. He wanted to leave now.
“And how’s the Shakespeare?”
Startled, Harry looked up again. “All right. A little hard to follow sometimes.”
“I find that the challenge is usually worth it in the end,” Mr. Giles smiled, and Harry had a feeling he wasn’t just talking about Shakespeare. In fact he looked like he wanted to say more. With an unpleasant feeling coiling in his stomach, Harry glanced at the walls that he knew didn’t always block the noise of the telly.
“Look, I’m fine,” he said. “I had a bad dream last night is all.” He shifted under Mr. Giles’s regard until the man looked away.
“Do they always end in screaming and shouting?” he asked softly.
“No,” Harry gripped his teacup. “And thanks for your concern but I don’t see how it’s your business anyway.”
That had his neighbor look up sharply. “If you are being hurt by your relatives I consider it very much my business.”
“I’m not abused!” said Harry exasperated. “They might hate me but they’ve never hurt me. I’ve got people looking out for me who’d know in a second if they did. I’m fine.”
“I can see how fine you are.” Mr. Giles nodded at his whitened knuckles around his teacup.
Harry relaxed his grip and forced a smile. “I’m fine. And there’s nothing you could do about it if I wasn’t.” As much as Harry wanted to leave the Dursleys forever, even he had to concede that the blood protection was necessary. Being with them was still better than dieing.
“It’s complicated and I can’t tell you.” Harry rubbed a hand over his face. “Just leave it.” He heard Mr. Giles sigh but he didn’t say anything. In the silence, Harry sipped his tea and avoided his neighbor’s eyes. He wanted to leave but felt it would be too rude with all that Mr. Giles had done for him. He was just worried and while that was nice and everything, Harry didn’t need it. He had enough people in danger because of him; he didn’t need any more.
“I find that difficult when the people you say are looking out for you are not here,” said Mr. Giles. “Why they would leave you with them –”
“I said it’s complicated,” snapped Harry. He hated it too and it wasn’t fair that he had to defend the whole messed up situation. “It’s not like I have anywhere else to go or anywhere I want to go.” He thought of the Weasleys and immediately their dead faces sprang up form his dream. “It’s too dangerous,” he whispered so quietly that he barely heard himself as his thoughts turned to Sirius falling through the Veil.
“Harry?” Mr. Giles’s voice was soft and too kind for him to take. Blinking back tears, he pushed back from the table, his chair scrapping loudly against the floor.
“I’m sorry. I can’t –”
“Harry, please stay. I won’t say another word about it.” Mr. Giles was on his feet too though he didn’t step forward. He looked tired and helpless in his neat muggle kitchen and somehow not unaware of the complications of life. Behind him, Harry’s eyes caught on the pictures on the refrigerator, and like every time he visited the Weasleys, he was struck by the sudden desire to belong somewhere. Belong properly and simply with no need to save everyone and kill Voldemort and probably die in the process. Belong without the burden of being the Boy Who Lived, heavy with prophesy.
Unable to take it any longer, Harry turned and silently left before the stubborn tears fall.
Harry stared at the sky until he fell asleep, exhaustion finally winning out over anger and resentment. He was so tired of fighting, of being angry, or hurting. He woke when the sun disappeared over the garden wall casting him and his bench into deeper shadows that made him shiver. It was about dinner time; he slept the day away and wanted nothing more than to stay in the garden alone all night.
The noise in the Dursleys’ apartment seemed louder and more useless than usual. Dudley was watching something on the telly that he just had to see the end of, so Aunt Petunia gave in and she and Uncle Vernon joined him on the couch leaving Harry in the kitchen to eat alone. The food was bland and the sounds from the other room unbearable and inescapable. Harry felt like folding up again and wished that it was quiet enough to slip away into sleep. Instead he stared at his half empty plate for an hour before sucking up his pride and stepping out onto the landing.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” he said when Mr. Giles answered the door. His neighbor froze in surprise but nodded and stepped aside for him to enter.
“Have you eaten?” he asked going into the kitchen and putting the kettle on. A pot half full of rice and vegetables sat next to the kettle.
“We had dinner,” he said but Mr. Giles gave him a plate and a pointed nod anyway while he fixed tea. He didn’t say anything or look at Harry, but he didn’t seem mad that Harry had refused his help. The quiet was sharp contrast to the noise he could still hear throbbing through the walls. He didn’t know quite why he had come back just that he didn’t have anywhere else to go.
Still it was awkward. “I’m sorry about earlier,” said Harry when he couldn’t take it anymore. He put his plate on the table but didn’t sit yet. Mr. Giles looked up from watching tea steep and smiled.
“No need to apologize. I was pushing where I shouldn’t have,” he said. He picked up the pot of rice and vegetables and scooped the rest onto Harry’s moderate portion overriding his protests with a mild, “please, you’re sixteen,” before putting it in the sink. He brought the tea over and joined Harry at the table. It was still quiet and a little uncomfortable as Harry tucked in, since it was never comfortable to be the only one eating, but soon Mr. Giles asked if Harry new anything about Tudor England given that he was reading Shakespeare, and at his negative began describing Elizabeth I, court politics, and a thousand details of life that had never been important to Harry or the Wizarding World.
By the time Harry had finished eating he no longer felt unsure of his welcome in Mr. Giles’s apartment. He helped clean up and tidy the kitchen afterwards and once again the refrigerator caught his eye. The pictures of places he would likely never see were as bright as the people in them. “Who are they?” he asked before he realized he was going to.
“Friends.” Mr. Giles smiled. “Dear friends.”
Harry raised his eyebrows. “You’re not related to them?” They were only a few years older than he was.
“I suppose you could call us family after a fashion,” said Mr. Giles. “But we’re not related by blood. Not in the way you mean.” He came over and pointed out a photo of a blond and a brunette sitting on a statue of a horse. “That’s Buffy and her sister, Dawn. They’re in Rome now. There’s Willow and her girlfriend. I’m not sure if they’re still together. Haven’t spoken to Willow in weeks.” The redhead and another brunette smiled brightly from a jungle. Mr. Giles’s finger moved again to the photo with the people in front of a house. “Here’s Xander,” he pointed at the one white man. “I haven’t heard from him in months. And this is Andrew. He lives in London and works for me.” He ended on a curly haired young man. “Though I still wonder why I keep him around sometimes.” He smiled fondly and shrugged. “He means well enough. I met them all when I worked at their high school in California.”
“And you’re family now?”
“Sometimes you must make your own family when the one you have isn’t enough.” Mr. Giles looked at Harry who had to look away from the layers of meaning there. Maybe Mr. Giles did know something about the whole mess, but that didn’t change the fact that Harry was stuck until his birthday. Nowhere to go that was safe yet. No one really to talk to. Any chance he’d had at family seemed gone.
“My godfather died last month,” he heard himself say. “He was protecting me from, well, from something I did that was utterly stupid.” He stopped. But the words, once started wouldn’t let his mouth stay closed. “He couldn’t take me from the Dursleys – it’s too complicated to explain – but he couldn’t even though he wanted to, and he was just a letter away. He wanted me. It’s my fault he’s dead because he came after me when I was so stupid,” Harry choked and belatedly realized he was crying when Mr. Giles put an arm lightly around his shoulders. He pushed his glasses up to wipe his eyes and tried to get himself under control.
Mr. Giles handed him a handkerchief. “Don’t be ashamed to cry for your godfather,” he said gently. “He loved you, faults and all or he would never have come after you.”
“I wish he hadn’t.”
“There are some things we cannot change, no matter how much we would like them too.”
Harry stared at the photographs on the refrigerator and wondered if these happy people of Mr. Giles’s had ever lost anyone like he had.
“I miss him,” he said.
“Come.” The hand on his shoulder tugged him toward the living room and the couch. Mr. Giles had to move a few ancient books to clear a second space for himself, but soon they were settled. “Tell me about your godfather.”
The request surprised Harry that all he could do was blink stupidly before his brain caught up and he realized that Mr. Giles really wanted to know. He began haltingly, tripping over secrets he couldn’t tell, but soon found that it wasn’t so hard to speak of Sirius, the prankster and confidant, and that in fact it eased the open wound in his heart as his memories turned away from his death toward remembering what was good about his life.