For all the years that he had been a pariah, a prisoner in the Dursley's home, he had never thought he would feel anything even coming to a sense of relief for being there. However, following the events of his fifth year at Hogwarts, Harry was more than grateful to be away from the world that he had come to treasure more than anything, the only place where he ever felt like he belonged.
The anger that possessed him in Dumbledore's office had not completely subsided, but he had managed to push it into the background. Unfortunately, the anger had given way to an ache in his chest, a feeling of emptiness, of guilt. Sirius had represented a real link to his parents, to his family, that he had never had before. The Dursleys were poor excuses for humans, let alone family, and though he had great respect and affection for Remus, they had never shared the same closeness that Harry had felt with Sirius. Deep down, Harry knew, that a part of him held resentment for the fact that Remus had never sought him out after his parent's deaths. Harry sympathized with Sirius' need to hunt the man who had sold out his best friends, but Remus had never been inhibited through incarceration the same way.
Now Sirius was gone, partly due to Harry's own impulsiveness, however well meaning. While Voldemort had seemingly abandoned his forays into Harry's thoughts, those thoughts were now plagued with constant replays of the painful moments from the Department of Mysteries. Then there was the fact that some old crazy woman claiming to be a seer, but more likely drunk on sherry in Harry's opinion, had spoken a prophecy which a dark lord was using as fuel to pursue Harry's death. His friends did their best in their letters to offer sympathy, or supportive words, but words could only do so much, especially considering he hadn't yet told them about the prophecy.
Harry tried valiantly to distract himself. He avoided the news, both muggle and wizard. Instead he spent his time doing the best version of Hermione he could, practically memorizing his magical textbooks. Some of it was so frustratingly difficult to understand, that it was almost effective at distracting him from his memories. At least he was being productive.
When he wasn't holed up in Dudley's old bedroom, he was outside doing whatever chore he could find...cutting the grass, pulling weeds, trimming bushes. The weather that summer was unseasonably hot, and usually Harry was the only one outside, and not in the comforting embrace of air conditioning. The Dursleys did not even have to prompt him to do it. He was outside so often that Uncle Vernon had warned him against dropping dead from heat stroke on the front lawn. Harry knew the man wasn't actually concerned for his safety, but for the unnecessary attention that would come from having to remove his body from the yard. Appearances were still everything in the Dursley household.
He had just finished the lawn once again, for the second time that week. The sun was blaring down on him, and his shirt was completely glued to his body with perspiration. After putting the mower away, he slid into the house and went into the kitchen to get a drink. As his luck would have it, all three of the Dursleys were at the table, just tucking into their evening meal.
"Finished the lawn again, did you?" Vernon grumbled, digging his fork into a piece of roast in the middle of the table.
"Yes, Uncle Vernon," Harry responded. He pulled a glass out of the cupboard and filled it with water from the sink. As soon it filled, he threw it back in one go.
"Are those other freak friends of yours still outside our home?"
"I'm sure they are, Uncle." Harry didn't really know that for a fact, but he had little doubt that the Order was still keeping watch over him, especially now with Voldemort officially returned and operating in the open.
"Not that I lament having the most well maintained yard on the street, but I'd rather not have the freaks show up at my door again complaining that we're mistreating you. Maybe give it a week next time? We've barely had a drop of rain, so god knows it's not actually growing."
Harry simply shrugged. He would find something else to distract his mind. "Whatever you say, Uncle. Do you mind if I take something to eat to my room?"
Aunt Petunia looked at his haggard, sweaty state, and scrunched her nose in her normal judgmental way. Without a word to him, she placed a little-"little" being the key word-of everything on a plate and handed it to him.
Harry accepted it with a brief nod of thanks. That was how he and his relatives had managed to get along since returning from Hogwarts. There was an air of forced politeness on both sides, with the Dursleys and he staying out of each other's way for the most part. Granted, the Dursleys were only doing it because they were afraid that Mad-Eye would show up one night and murder them in their beds, but progress was progress as far as Harry was concerned.
Upon entering his bedroom, he noticed Hedwig sitting on his windowsill with a letter attached to her leg. Her attention was not on him, however, but on the sleek black owl that was currently occupying her cage, and drinking from her water bowl. Sitting his food down, Harry wandered over to the cage and extracted the rolled parchment from the owl's leg. "I don't mind if you stick around mate, but I would probably vacate the cage before my owl does so by force." Hedwig ruffled her feathers after that, apparently to seal the threat. The visiting owl heeded the warning, darting out of the cage and then through the window into the dwindling daylight.
He glanced down at the rolled parchment in his hand, surprised to see a Gringotts seal on it. Opening it, he immediately began to read and realized that the contents were likely to do nothing to improve his mood.
Dear Mr. Harry J. Potter,
We write to you in regard to the recent passing of Sirius Black. Mr. Black died without any children. However, he named you as his sole heir, and heir to the Head of the Black household, with all assets, properties, and responsibilities that come with said position. We apologize for not contacting you sooner, but due to Mr. Black's fugitive status with the Ministry of Magic, and the age and size of the Black Estate, there were many formalities and contestations that needed to be properly addressed.
Rest assured, that all outstanding matters have been settled, and you are now entitled to access all Black vaults and properties managed by Gringotts Bank. As these holdings are extensive, please feel free to contact Gringotts with any questions you may have, or any assistance you may require. We look forward to continuing to serve the House of Black's financial needs into the future, as we have done for centuries.
As a final matter, attached to Mr. Black's Last Will and Testament was a key. Unfortunately, no further information about the key's purpose was provided by Mr. Black, and Gringotts was not able locate or discern anything about its origin. The key is attached to this letter. We wish you better luck in discovering its purpose.
Regards, Gringotts Bank
Harry read through the letter several times, each time only serving to verify the fact that Sirius was dead. He hadn't really needed a reminder. The rest was just money, something that he already had plenty of. It would do him no good if Voldemort caught up with him, and sent him to an early grave. Though, the notion that he, Harry Potter, was now the Head of House Black, gave him some satisfaction, because he knew that there were purebloods out there that would be furious and offended. Sirius continued to annoy people even in death. Mischief had been managed.
Suddenly, his attention was drawn to the key, which he hadn't even realized had fallen onto his lap when he opened the letter. It wasn't large, but looked to be considerably old. It was made of smooth, perfectly carved stone, with a red jewel in the handle. As Harry looked closer, he noticed that there looked to be something glowing within the jewel. He brought it right up to his eye level and saw what he could only describe as a gold, glowing triangle. He had absolutely no idea what it meant. And if Sirius hadn't seen fit to tell him, he doubted he would ever know. He thought that maybe he would ask Remus the next time he saw him.
Storing the Gringotts missive and key in his trunk for safekeeping, Harry relieved Hedwig of her own delivery. He recognized his name written in Hermione's neat scrawl. She had written to wish him a Happy Birthday, promising to give him his gift in person, as she feared it would be too much of a burden for Hedwig to carry. Harry finished reading, and immediately dropped down so that he was sitting on his bed. He laughed when he realized that he completely overlooked the fact that it was July 31st. He had forgotten it was his birthday. He was officially sixteen years old today. Turning around he suddenly noticed that there were other parcels and letters on his pillow, which must have been left earlier. Obviously more birthday greetings.
The fact that he had managed to forget his own birthday was a bit of a wake up call to him. He knew he needed to get his head together. There was no use wallowing anymore, as it wouldn't help him meet the reality that was the return of Lord Voldemort. His parents were dead. Sirius was dead. But he was alive, and his friends were alive, and that was reason enough to carry on.
Feeling more composed, and with a better sense of purpose, he practically inhaled his dinner, then showered away the evidence of the day's labor. Clean, fed, and exhausted, he settled into his bed, transfiguration book opened to where he had left off the previous night. He was dead set on actually impressing Professor McGonagall when term started. Making it through two chapters, he began to feel his eyes fighting him to stay open. Thinking he could make it through a few more pages, he read on, only to drift off one sentence in.
He had been asleep for only a few hours, when he woke suddenly. At first he thought he had been having a nightmare, but he couldn't recollect dreaming about anything at all. It was now fully dark outside, and the household was quiet, except for the normal thrum and clanks that plagued a house at night. The clock next to his bed read fifteen minutes before midnight. As he hadn't expected to drift off so suddenly, the bedroom light was still shining. Making sure to save the page in his book, he swung his legs over the side of the bed and headed for the light switch.
Harry was half way there when he felt something odd. He would have sworn that the floor beneath him had shaken. Stopping for a few seconds, he waited, but felt nothing. Shrugging and dismissing it as an illusory manifestation of his tired state, he moved again towards the light. Two more steps forward, and the next thing Harry knew, he was on the ground holding his hand over ringing ears, and wincing at the pain in his back where his body had impacted the floor. He was confused about what had just happened, but then a flash of orange shone through the window, a boom like thunder sounded, and the ground shook again.
Harry shook his head to try and clear his senses, then scrambled to his feet and over to the window. He looked on with a sense of dread as he watched swarms of black robed figures marching loosely down Privet Drive. Flames blazed in the distance as numerous homes were already in the process of burning. Down the street, he watched as one of the Dursley's neighbors came through their front only to be ripped apart by a red streak of spellfire. Screams began to echo in the night as Death Eaters spread their brand of horror through the muggle neighborhood.
Coming out of his initial shock, Harry pulled on a pair of jeans and his trainers, grabbed his wand and headed for the stairs. Before he could make it there, he was blocked by his Uncle's massive frame.
"What in the hell is going on, boy? These are your people aren't they?! Why we ever agree-"
"Uncle Vernon, shut up!" Harry cut the frantic man off. "Get Aunt Petunia and Dudley and shut yourself in your bedroom. They can't enter the property."
"Dudley isn't here!" Harry looked over and saw his Aunt practically shivering where she stood clinging to the doorway to her bedroom.
"What do you mean he isn't here? Where is he?" Harry demanded.
"With his friends," Petunia cried, as another explosion roared in the distance. "I think he said something about the park." Of course they were in the park. Harry knew that was where Dudley and his band of idiots went to drink and smoke. Harry slipped passed his Uncle and started down the steps.
"Where are you going?" Vernon shouted after him.
"To hopefully save your son," Harry answered, already fearing he would be too late. Voldemort was obviously wasting no time now that his anonymity had been removed. Knowing that going through the front door was probably not a good idea, he headed toward the back of the house. As he reached the back door, he was surprised to see a harrowed Tonks coming into the house, blocking his exit.
"Where do you think you're going, Harry? You need to get back upstairs."
"My cousin is out there. I'm going to bring him back."
"I can't let you do that," Tonks frowned, moving so that she was stood firmly in front of the door. "Dumbledore would-"
"Tonks!" Harry practically snarled. "I don't give a damn what Dumbledore would say. Dumbledore isn't here. People are dying outside, innocent people who have no way of defending themselves. Have you called for help? I don't see any aurors or Order members out there!"
Tonks instantly looked ashamed. "They have anti-apparation wards up and my patronus isn't working right."
Harry suddenly remembered his savior from the previous year. "What about Mrs. Figg? She can contact the Order."
"Dead," Tonks answered solemnly. "They got her first. There's barely anything left of her house."
"You need to get beyond the wards, Tonks. I'll distract them somehow, but you need to get help," Harry exclaimed.
"I'm supposed to be protecting you," Tonks whined, clearly arguing internally over the best option.
"I didn't ask for your protection Tonks. I appreciate what you're doing and your loyalty to the Headmaster, but I'm done standing behind people and watching them die." Harry was done conversing with the conflicted witch, and pushed a still stunned Tonks out of his way before making his way into the yard. The protections over number four held strong, as there was no sign of damage, but he could clearly feel the heat from the fires burning rampantly nearby.
He immediately sprinted north, cutting through gardens and over fences. He was going through the third yard when he was confronted with an agonizing scene. A family had tried to escape the fire burning through the second story of their home, but had run straight into a Death Eater, a hulking cloaked figure. The mother and father lie dead, sprawled out on the immaculately maintained grass, while the black robed figure tortured a small blonde-haired girl, just a few years younger than Harry. The girl screamed in unbearable pain as the cloaked figure laughed in sickening glee.
Harry, blind with a sense of rage, crept silently until he was within a step of the man, stuck his wand into the Death Eater's back, and sent a banishing spell with all of his might. Being so close, the spell impacted fully, shooting the figure off of the ground and straight into the burning house where his victims had exited. Harry could hear him scream as the flames engulfed him. Not sparing the man's ruin another thought, he turned and pulled the trembling, crying girl to her feet.
"Can you walk?" he asked the girl, trying to keep her attention as she wailed in both fear and pain. She nodded at him the best she was able. "Listen to me. You need to go three houses down and go inside. It's Number four. You'll be safe there. Go quickly!" He practically had to push her to get her started, but eventually the girl took off towards the Dursley's, stopping to look back repeatedly at her unmoving parents.
Harry proceeded on, knowing that he was about to hit the end of the block. Crossing Wisteria Walk meant he would be out in the open. He moved quickly, doing his best to not focus on the carnage and death spiraling around him. There would be time to think about that later, but not now. Finally, reaching the end of the block, he sidled up to the house, pressing himself as tightly as possible so he could peer into the street. He immediately regretted that he hand run off without his invisibility cloak. He counted almost two-dozen robed figures laying waste to the street. Spells of all colors rained destruction everywhere. It was quickly apparent to him that he would not be able to cross the street unmolested.
Suddenly, fake Mad-Eye Moody's advice from fourth year came to him...play to your strengths. He looked back toward Four Privet Drive, raised the Holly and Phoenix feather wand, and sent off the strongest summoning charm he could muster. He waited as patiently as he could, dodging flying debris, until he saw a blur streaking through the distance. Then the Firebolt was upon him, stopping instantly to hover within his grasp. When his hand touched the polished wood, it was like embracing an old friend. He mounted the broom, and took off. He cut through the night air swiftly. Looking down he saw that he attracted the attention of the Death Eaters as he flew by. However, with his speed, their spells trailed off harmlessly behind him.
He could see the park approaching before him, and while he had hoped the Death Eaters would have avoided it for lack of attractive targets, he was disappointed. Four cloaked figures surrounded the swing sets, and as he got closer, Harry's stomach dropped when he saw bodies latched to the supports. He knew without a doubt that one of them was Dudley. He slowed the Firebolt, aimed his wand, and casted at one of the figures. The shot missed, but his intended mark turned giving him a wider target. His second blasting curse hit dead on.
Two of the other Death Eater's were tracking him, wands raised, so Harry decided to put his seeker skills to the ultimate test. Practically laying flat on his broom, he accelerated to the Firebolt's limit. He could feel the skin on his face pulling back at the dizzying speed, but he kept going until he split between the Death Eaters, close enough that his fingers could skim the grass. The Death Eaters both had the same idea, to hit Harry as he passed, but he was just too fast to time the attacks accurately, and the bright green killing curses missed completely. Unfortunately for the two Death Eaters, they had ended up facing each other when they casted, so the errant spells crashed into them, the friendly fire killing them instantly.
Seeing that the odds were now even, Harry brought his broom around, decelerating and landing across from the remaining Death Eater. The man, which Harry could only guess from his build due to the mask, looked to be somewhat stunned by the fact that his compatriots were now dead. Taking advantage, Harry disarmed his last foe and petrified him. The rigid form clattered to the ground. With the last threat contained, he finally looked to his right to the swing set. He instantly doubled over at the sight.
The first of the bodies his eyes came upon strapped to the swings was Pier Polkiss, Dudley's best friend and head lackey...at least what was left of him. His body looked like it had been boiled from the inside out. The scream of unimaginable agony looked like it would forever be frozen on his face. Forcing down the bile in his throat, Harry passed two more bodies he did not recognize, each of which were equally dead, subject to unmentionable horrors that turned his stomach. His cousin was strapped to the last support post. Somehow, miraculously, he looked to still be alive, though it was hard to tell with the beating that Dudley's face had taken. His eyes were practically swollen shut and the right side of his upper lip was bleeding profusely and the size of a lemon.
"Dudley!" Harry exclaimed, moving to work at the bindings around his cousin's massive torso. "Dudley, it's Harry. Can you hear me?"
"P-P-Potter?" Dudley managed to squeeze out.
"Yes, it's Potter," he answered, finally managing to pull apart the bindings. Dudley fell forward into Harry, who was barely able to support the large teen's weight. Harry pushed back until Dudley was standing, barely, on his own two feet. Before Harry could say another word, though, a streak of red passed by the left side of his face, singeing his cheek before crashing into the ground and causing an explosion of dirt and rock. He grimaced, grabbing his cheek, and turned behind him. Six more Death Eaters were running towards him, hurling spells as they moved. He dodged a jet of green light before turning back to Dudley.
"Dudley, listen to me." Seeing that his cousin was still unfocused, Harry grabbed the boy's face in his hands, and forced his attention. "Dudley, you need to run into the forest and hide. Stay there until at least morning, and don't come out for anyone. I'm going to draw them off."
"Go, Dudley! Or I'm going to turn you into a whole bloody pig this time! Go!" That was sufficient motivation for his cousin, who squeaked and took off for the woods. Two more spells raced at Harry. He raised a shield to the first, but had to duck at the second. As he crouched, he was not able to do anything about the third blasting spell that landed just in front of him, slamming his body back into the post that Dudley had just moments earlier been strapped to. Sharp bursts of pain shot through his back, crippling him for a second before he regained his bearings. Standing again, he raised his wand and casted everything he could think of at the approaching enemies. The barrage was enough to slow them, leaving Harry time to stagger toward his abandoned Firebolt.
He mounted the broom, quickly kicking off from the ground. Shooting off back toward the Dursley's, he had intended to try to go back to the house. However, what he saw quickly changed his mind. The entire neighborhood was a war zone. At some point, the aurors must have arrived, because they were engaged in fierce combat with the terrorizing Death Eaters. The muggle police had shown as well, but clearly had not faired well at all. Some of their vehicles had been flipped, mangled, or were burning freely... as were most of the houses. The smoke and ash was thick, a choking, burning smog over Little Whinging, so much so that Harry was forced to fly out of it as it attacked his lungs.
Harry's mind was in a state of complete indecision. Everything inside of him was telling him land in the middle of the madness and fight, but his head told him that was a mistake. Harry Potter showing up would likely distract the aurors and harden the Death Eaters. That also meant that he could not risk going back to the Dursleys. At least he knew they were safe.
Harry's uncertainty cost him, because someone had noticed him in the sky. A cutting curse sliced through his shoulder, and another curse impacted his broom. The protective charms on the Firebolt negated the brunt of the damage, but Harry's shoulder was not as lucky. He felt the blood begin to trick down his back, and that was impetus enough to take off towards London.
The clean night air was a relief from the smoke, but his whole body ached. The daily exertions added with fighting Death Eaters had drained all of his energy reserves. Add on to that the knowledge that the place he had grown up, albeit reluctantly, had been decimated, and he could barley grip his broom. He soared over neighborhoods and towns, lost in his own thoughts. He wasn't entirely sure where he was going. Grimmauld Place had been his first thought, but with Sirius dead, he wasn't sure of its status. As he was considering other options, he felt his Firebolt give a sudden jerk sideways to the left. He gripped it tighter, trying to straighten it, but the broom jerked again, this time more violently.
Suddenly concerned, Harry looked behind him and saw that the tail of his broom was smoldering. Apparently the Firebolt's protections weren't foolproof. He pulled his wand from where he had tucked it in his pocket and put out the fire with quick burst of water, but the damage was done. He battled the erratic movements, as best as he could, but knew that he needed to land. He took in his surroundings ahead, and realized that his best option would be Diagon Alley. He followed along familiar streets, until he saw the general area where he knew the Leaky Cauldron was situated. Landing in a muggle street wouldn't be an option, so the only way in would be to go directly into the Alley. The only thing that had not occurred to him was whether that was even possible.
The Leaky Cauldron got closer and closer, until he was practically on top of it. His broom was almost completely unmanageable at that point. As he expected, the Alley wasn't visible, but his hope was that was simply an illusion for muggles, and there were not actually repelling wards. He quickly reached the point of no return, so he pushed his broom down, gambling as to exactly where the Alley began. In the end he guessed correctly, passing through the illusion, and seeing the familiar storefronts appear. However, when he tried to slow down, his broom decided that he meant to go faster, propelling him forward. No longer in any sort of control, he hugged himself to his broom and rocketed straight toward the side of an oncoming shop. He was moving too quickly to notice anything in detail, but he could have sworn he saw endless amounts of garish orange and a giant fake head before he crashed through the building and lost consciousness.