Potter raced from one hot spot to the next, helping his friends battle the seemingly endless army of Death Eaters. He cast a Bone-Removing Curse at a Death
Eater, then noticed Dennis Creevey was injured and
trapped underneath some debris. The
battle moved away from Dennis long enough for Harry to try to free him. Blood was running from Dennis’s ear, probably
from a bomb the Flying Squad had dropped nearby mere moments before.
“Come on, mate, let’s get you out of there,” Harry said as he Levitated the debris from the explosion off of his friend. He pulled on Dennis’s arm, trying to get him to his feet and away from the battlefield before the fighting surged back toward them. With another tug, Harry thought he’d succeeded, but he hadn’t got Dennis up. He looked in horror at the bloody arm he was holding. There was Dennis’s hand, so talented with a Beater’s bat, but the arm ended in a ragged stump just above his bicep.
Harry shuddered and dropped the arm, then grabbed Dennis around the chest and lifted, trying to pull him behind a nearby tree. “Hang on, Dennis, I've got you.!” Harry shrieked and dropped his friend when he realized Dennis’s legs had stayed where they were. Dennis lay in bloody pieces, his normally cheerful young face stilled in a shocked expression.
Harry took shaky steps away from Dennis, forcing himself to get back to the battle. But as he ran over the hill to join the D.A. members fighting there, he saw Fred Weasley lying on the ground, his broom broken under him, his chest a gaping hole, his eyes open and staring right at Harry.
“No! Fred, no!” Harry dropped to his knees beside his friend’s body, his heart pounding so hard, he thought it would burst out of his chest. He looked around for George. Surely George wouldn’t be far away with Fred hurt! No, Fred wasn’t hurt. Fred was dead. Where was George? He looked around frantically. Oh no. There was George, his body sprawled on the ground about ten feet away.
“George! I’m here, mate! Hang on!” Harry ran to George, his feet slipping on the gore-covered ground as he slid to a stop, hoping to help his friend. But no, George had a deep bloody gash across his stomach, his intestines oozing out of the hole. Like Fred, George was undeniably dead.
Harry fell to his knees beside George, a scream building up inside him. “NO!”
“Harry Potter, sir! Wake up! Harry Potter, sir!”
Something was shaking Harry’s shoulder with a painfully tight grip. Harry swam out of the depths of his nightmare to see huge green eyes staring into his. Dobby was nose-to-nose with him, his ears drooping, a worried expression on his face.
“Harry Potter, sir! Please wake up!”
“I’m . . . awake, Dobby. Thanks.” Harry sat up and held his head in his hands. His room seemed to be spinning around him. He blinked, swallowed hard, then got out of bed and wobbled on shaking legs to the bathroom, where he threw up until there was nothing left inside him. He felt a damp flannel being placed carefully on the back of his neck.
“Thanks.” He turned to see who was helping him and saw Dobby standing nearby, wringing his hands.
“Is Harry Potter ill, sir? Did dinner disagree with Harry Potter’s stomach? Does Harry Potter want some ginger tea, or—”
Harry waved his hand to stop Dobby from saying more. Just hearing the words “ginger tea” made him nauseous all over again. “Nightmare. Just a nightmare.”
The elf shook his head. “Not just a nightmare, sir. A terrible nightmare.”
Harry couldn’t agree more, but if he said that, he’d feel obligated to talk about his dream, and he really didn’t want to do that just now. He took a deep breath and hoped his stomach would quiet down soon.
“I’ll be all right, Dobby. Thanks for waking me. Sorry I disturbed your sleep.” Harry straightened and took the flannel off of his neck, then wiped the sweat off his face with it. He turned to look at the house-elf. “Did you hear me all the way down in your quarters?”
Dobby took a step back, a guilty look on his face. “No, Harry Potter sir. Dobby stays outside Harry Potter’s room at night in case he is needed.”
Harry frowned, his brain still muzzy from sleep. “Needed for what?”
“Harry Potter has terrible nightmares and has trouble waking up on his own. Dobby is glad he is here to help Harry Potter, sir.”
“How long have you been doing this? And how did you know about my nightmares?”
Dobby wrung his hands again before speaking. “Last night, Dobby hears a noise upstairs when he gets up to start breakfast. When Dobby comes upstairs to find the noise, he hears Harry Potter sir screaming in his sleep. Dobby wakes Harry Potter enough to stop the dream but Harry Potter doesn’t wake up all the way. Now Dobby keeps watch outside Harry Potter’s door in case he has bad dreams again. Dobby calls Harry Potter’s name a long time to wake him tonight.”
Harry felt even worse now than he had after waking up from the nightmare. The house-elf was losing sleep trying to look after him. “You don’t need to do that, Dobby, but I appreciate your concern.”
“Dobby is honoured to look after Harry Potter, sir,” the elf said with great dignity.
“I don’t want to be a bother to you.”
Dobby stood as tall as he could, his ears fully erect. “Serving Harry Potter is a privilege, sir! Never a bother!”
Harry smiled. What could he say to such devotion? “Thank you, Dobby. I appreciate your help.” He rinsed the flannel in cold water and wiped his face again. “Dobby?”
“Yes, Harry Potter, sir?”
Harry swallowed hard. It was a stupid question. He knew the answer. But until he heard Dobby’s answer, he was going to worry. “Are Fred and George Weasley all right?”
“Dobby believes so, sir. Why does you ask?”
“When’s the last time we saw them?”
“Mr. Fred and Mr. George comes for dinner on last Sunday, sir, does you remember?”
Harry’s brain finally clunked into gear. Of course they were alive, both as cheerful and funny as ever most of the time, although the loss of their brothers Bill and Percy did cast a shadow over even the ebullient twins at times. Harry breathed a sigh of relief. Dennis was probably fine too. It was just a stupid dream. Just a dream. Not real.
“Thanks, Dobby. I’ll be all right now. You can go back to bed.”
“Yes, Harry Potter, sir.”
Dobby left the bathroom, but Harry noticed the sound of the elf’s feet stopped long before they reached the stairs. Dobby was waiting for him in the hall. He’d probably stand watch by Harry’s room for the rest of the night. Harry hated the idea of the house-elf losing so much sleep over him, but he was grateful, too, for Dobby’s dedication.
“Dobby?” Harry called.
Dobby raced into the bathroom. “Yes, Harry Potter, sir?”
“If you’re going to baby-sit me at night, why don’t you and Winky sleep in the next room down the hall? That way, you’ll be close by, but you’ll be able to sleep, too.”
“Oh, no, Harry Potter, sir! House-elves isn’t sleeping in masters’ beds!”
“You won’t be sleeping in my bed, Dobby,” Harry said. “Nobody’s using that room.”
“But sir, that room is master’s quarters, human quarters, not house-elf quarters!”
Harry bent down to be eye-to-eye with Dobby. “For now, that room is house-elf quarters because I say it is. OK? You and Winky can move in tonight if you want to. Just don’t tell Ron and Hermione that you’re staying up here or why you’ve moved your quarters. They don’t need to worry about me. OK?”
Dobby’s eyes were swimming with tears. “Yes, Harry Potter, sir! Harry Potter is too kind, too generous! Thank you.”
Harry gave Dobby a wan smile. “’Night, Dobby.”
“Goodnight, Harry Potter, sir,” Dobby said, then popped out of sight with a loud crack.
Probably off to bring Winky upstairs, Harry thought.
He rubbed his face with the flannel again. He was so tired. He wanted to go back to bed, but his legs just wouldn’t cooperate yet—they were still too shaky.
Harry sat down on the floor next to the bathtub and rested his cheek against the cool porcelain. How long was this going to go on? Ever since Ginny left for Hogwarts, Harry had been plagued with horrible nightmares. He was losing weight from throwing up so much. When Ginny was with him, he didn’t have so many bad dreams, or when he did, she woke him before they went on too long. She’d only been gone a couple of months now, but it seemed like a lifetime. How was he going to survive the rest of the school year without her helping him through the night?
Finally feeling a bit better, Harry struggled to his feet and caught a glimpse of his too-pale face in the mirror. He turned and studied his reflection more closely.
“You look dreadful, dear,” the mirror said. “You need to eat something.”
“Oh, shut up,” he said irritably. But the mirror was right. He’d lost so much weight that his normally thin face looked gaunt, and there were dark circles under his eyes. What could he do about it? Nothing. With a heavy sigh, he put his hand on the doorknob and was about to leave when he remembered the Glamour Charm he’d put on himself and Ginny as disguises when they went to a concert for her birthday. He turned back to the mirror, thinking hard now. Would it work? What would he have to do? Hmm. What if he made his face just a little more full in the cheeks and lightened the circles under his eyes? Would that take care of it? He nodded. He’d try it in the morning and refresh the spell whenever he noticed the charm fading. He was tired of hearing how bad he looked all the time.
trudged wearily back to his room, staring at Ron and Hermione’s closed
door. They’d been married just over a
month now, and kept a Silencing Charm on their room for privacy. Harry had set another one on the outside of
their room so his nightly torment wouldn’t disturb them. He knew they were dealing with their own problems. Besides being newlyweds, they were both
grieving over lost loved ones and trying to put the horrors of war behind them
while dealing with the stress of going to new schools, Hermione to
Harry pulled off his sweat-soaked pyjamas, then dressed in a t-shirt and briefs, shivering a bit in the cold room. He looked at his bed sadly. He wanted to sleep, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to relax for a while. He wrapped himself in his dressing gown to keep warm and paced around his room, missing Ginny so much he could taste it. She always found ways to get his mind off the things that haunted him, or to comfort him if he couldn’t escape those memories.
He sat down at the little writing desk he’d had moved to his room after Ginny left so he could study without disturbing Ron, Hermione or the house-elves when he couldn’t sleep. This same desk had contained a Boggart that had appeared to Molly Weasley a couple of years ago as dead Arthur, dead Ron, dead twins, dead Harry. He knew there was no Boggart in the desk now, but as frequent as his nightmares were, he was almost willing to blame them on the desk. If only it were that simple. If only taking the desk out of the room would solve his problem! He’d burn the bloody thing if it would help, but the problem was in his head. The horrors of war haunted him every night.
Harry looked at Merlin’s empty perch and regretted letting the phoenix stay at Hogwarts, where he was enjoying visits with Dumbledore, McGonagall and Fawkes. Harry had talked with Merlin several times about his nightmares, but the old wizard had no more idea how to cure Harry’s nightmares than Dobby did. Harry had considered using his Pensieve to remove the memories of the war, but dismissed the idea as soon as he’d thought of it. After what he went through when he removed too many memories at once after Casey’s death, he wasn’t going to use a Pensieve to help him forget anything. He’d just suffer through the pains of recovering from the war and returning to a normal life the same way everyone else did, one day at a time.
Merlin’s only comment on the subject was that such suffering after a war’s end was part of a warrior’s lot in life, and that Harry would learn how to deal with his memories in time. Merlin said he’d experienced the same thing many times himself when he was human, and had seen many others suffer through it, including King Arthur. Arthur, like Harry, became a warrior far too young and had a great deal of trouble dealing with the emotional pain that was part of the aftermath of war while he was also learning how to rule his people wisely. Merlin’s only suggestion to Harry was going to the Land of the Phoenixes to heal, but Harry had promised Ginny he wouldn’t go there again since it was so easy to lose track of time in that magical place. Besides, Harry was too busy to take time off at the moment. And after spending several nights in phoenix form, hoping the transformation would allow him to sleep better, he wasn’t certain even the Land of the Phoenixes would help. As a phoenix, as any of his Animagus forms, really, he still had his human sensibilities, which meant he still had the dreams of a human, so he still suffered from his nightmares. Some distorted sense of right and wrong made Harry think that, if he were going to dream about things he’d done during the war, he should dream them in human form. It felt like a point of honour for him, although he couldn’t explain why. Silly, really, but there it was.
The worst part of the nightmares was suffering through them alone. Without Ginny there to comfort him, Merlin’s wisdom was the best reassurance Harry could find. He wished the old mage were here. He missed his company.
Just as he finished that thought about Merlin, the phoenix appeared in a flash of light.
Harry smiled, both glad and relieved to see his friend. “What are you doing here?”
Merlin chirped, telling Harry he’d heard his wish, so he’d come. He continued chirping, beginning a conversation with the young wizard.
“Thanks. Yeah, I had another rough night. I can’t go back to bed yet. And yes, I know I look like hell.” After another meaning-filled chirp from Merlin, Harry replied, “In a little while. I just can’t relax yet.” Merlin settled in Harry’s lap and began crooning his soothing song. “That helps. Thanks a lot.”
Nightmares weren’t his only problem. At the oddest times when he was awake, he’d see flashes of battle memories that blinded him to what was happening around him. Thankfully, these usually lasted only a second or two, but still, they were quite disturbing. Visions of his friends who’d died or been badly injured broke his heart over and over in his dreams or during these flashes when he was awake. Sometimes the visions were his imagination playing tricks on him, as in the dream he’d had tonight. He realized that part of the problem was that he still had an overwhelming fear for the safety of Ginny, Ron and Hermione, as well as himself. In his rational mind, he knew these fears were groundless. Voldemort and the Death Eaters were gone, after all. He knew that! But his sleeping or exhausted mind simply wasn’t rational.
Harry pulled out a piece of parchment with a project he’d been working on and tried to make some progress with it, but his mind simply wouldn’t cooperate. He looked at his ring and wished he could call Ginny on it, but it was the middle of the night. Then again, she had told him to call whenever he needed her, and right now, seeing the image of her beloved face above his ring was the most comforting thing he could think of. After another moment’s hesitation, he pressed the stone and said her name. A moment later, she appeared, her hair sleep-mussed, her eyes puffy and shadowed with sleep.
“Hi, Harry,” she said through a yawn. “Is everything OK?”
“I’m sorry, sweet girl,” Harry said, already feeling better. “I shouldn’t have called so late.”
“I don’t mind. I was dreaming of you, actually. The reality’s a lot better than my dream.” She gave him a smile that warmed his heart. “Are you all right? You look pale. Bad dreams again?”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
She chuckled. “Then why did you call? Never mind, I know why. I love you, Harry. I wish we could be together. I’d protect you from those nightmares!”
“I know you would. I wish we could be together too.” He sighed. “Just talking to you has helped a lot. Are you still having nightmares too?”
“Yes, but when they start to get bad, Trouble wakes me up. Nothing like needle-sharp kitten claws to pop you out of a dream quickly! I’m so glad you gave him to me. He’s still a little stinker, but so much fun, and he does look after me well.”
Harry smiled. “I’m glad. If I find another part-Kneazle kitten, I may keep it for myself if Trouble’s that good at stopping your nightmares. But I’d rather have you wake me than a kitten.”
“Mmm, me too. Harry, maybe it was a mistake to decide not to live in your quarters here at Hogwarts. Why don’t you change your mind? Then I could stay with you every night and we’d both sleep better.”
Harry shook his head. “I can’t. I overheard some Board members talking just before the last Quidditch game there. Turns out I was right to worry about them. They're not happy with me teaching there since we’re engaged. They’re wondering what actually goes on in my quarters.”
Ginny gasped. “Have they put some kind of alarm or something on your quarters? How would they know we’re not studying?”
“No, no alarms. It’s just speculation.”
“They should let you do what you want! After all, you saved them from Voldemort!”
He snorted, a derisive sound. “I guess not everyone is impressed with me being the hero of the wizarding world.”
“They should be! Shame on them!”
“That’s my warrior princess,” he said fondly. “I’ve offered to resign many times now, but Grandfather won’t accept my resignation. He thinks the students are benefiting a lot from my teaching, and he says it would be very difficult to find another Flying Instructor as qualified as I am. I guess he’s right, but I hate the burden the Board is putting on him—and me.”
“Why should the speculation of some stuffy old people keep us apart?”
“I don’t want to cause Grandfather any trouble. He’s having a hard time getting things back to normal there. I suppose those blokes on the Board blame me for so many students being killed or wounded during the war. Well, actually, they’d be right for blaming me for that.”
Ginny’s eyes flashed. “Harry Potter, stop that right now! Nobody fought who didn’t want to. You know that!”
Harry knew she’d be shaking her finger under his nose if they were together, which made him smile for a moment, but then he sighed. “I know, but still, I trained them. I led them.”
“And thinking that way, taking the blame for their deaths, is why you’re having nightmares. Stop it!”
A sad smile crossed Harry’s face. “If only it were that easy.”
Ginny’s eyes went from fiery to sympathetic in an instant. “Oh, Harry. I wish we were together. You need a hug!”
“That’s the truth.”
She gave him a flirtatious smile. “And a kiss or two, as well?”
“Yeah, I’ll take anything you offer me, sweet girl. I’d better let you get back to sleep. Thanks for the chat. I love you.”
“I love you too. Try to get some rest, Harry. You look awful.”
“And you look beautiful. Good night, Gin.”
Feeling a bit better, Harry climbed back into his bed and lay down. He shuddered at the memory of the dream, but reminded himself that Dennis, Fred and George were all very much alive. “It was just a dream. Just a truly horrible dream.” He swallowed hard, determined to clear his mind so he could get to sleep. Merlin nestled in next to him, continuing his lovely song. Harry yawned hugely. “Thanks for the help. Maybe I can get through the rest of the night now. G’night.”
Harry took off his glasses, stretched and yawned. With luck, he’d get a few hours of decent sleep. Merlin’s soothing song finally lulled him back to sleep.
* * *
The next morning, Harry put a Glamour Charm on himself to hide the dark circles under his eyes and make his face look less emaciated. Fairly well satisfied with the results, he went down to breakfast.
“Good morning, Harry!” Hermione said brightly. “Did you sleep well? You look more rested than usual.”
“I’m fine,” he said, smiling at her. “How are you? And where’s Ron?”
“He remembered something he wanted to add to an essay for class. He’ll be down soon.” She looked at him more closely. “Hang on. Your face was much thinner yesterday. What have you done? A Glamour Charm?”
He shrugged and tried to hide the guilty look he knew was in his eyes.
“Why are you using a glamour?” she insisted.
“Because I look like hell, and I’m tired of hearing people tell me that,” he snapped.
She put a hand on his arm. “Oh, Harry. Are you having nightmares again?”
He slumped in defeat. She could see through him better than most people. “They never stopped. What about you and Ron? Are you still having nightmares?”
“Ours were never like yours, Harry. We’re grieving over lost family, but we flew above the battles. You were down in the thick of them all the time. You suffered a lot more in the war than we did, and before the war, as well. I don’t know how you’ve managed to stay sane, with the link you had to Voldemort and seeing all the horrors he did, and then the war and everything. I wish I knew how to help you, Harry. I’m still researching Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but haven’t found anything I thought would be helpful.”
He was touched, as always, by the depth of her friendship. “Thanks.
I know you’re busy. Don’t waste a
lot of time trying to sort out what’s wrong with me. I’ll get through it. And don’t tell
Hermione shook her head. “I think you should get some help, Harry.”
“Yeah, in all my spare time, right?” He laughed, a dark sound with no humour in it.
“Maybe you should drop something, so you can rest.”
Harry made a huge effort to answer her with patience, not the anger that had flared inside him at her suggestion. “I don’t want to drop anything. If I try to rest, my mind does evil things to me. I’m much better off being busy.”
She sighed. “All right. Well, if you’re going to use a Glamour Charm, you should do something about how puffy your eyes are, too. You look like you haven’t slept in ages.”
He shrugged. “That’s the truth, though.” He held up a spoon and looked at his reflection. “Make my eyes less puffy, eh? OK.” He did the spell and looked at her for approval.
She smiled “That’s better. I just wish you didn’t need that charm to look healthy.”
“You and me both. You won’t tell Ron, though, right?”
“If you insist.”
“I insist. Thanks.”