Author's Disclaimer: All characters and past events described herein belong to the magnanimous JK Rowling. I like them so much I'm using them for my own selfish purposes, none of which involve money or the desire to infringe on any copyrights.
Rated: PG for mild language
Spoilers: through OotP
"A Night Like All the Rest"
"It's not FAIR!" roared the boy, kicking a hole in the flimsy wall near the foot of his single bed. He immediately regretted this outburst, for in addition to the cause of his rage, his foot now throbbed and he'd caused irreparable damage to a room that technically was not his to destroy. Plus, he thought miserably as he moved his trunk to cover the hole . . .
"What the bloody hell is going on in here?" bellowed a large man as he threw the bedroom door open. Fortunately for Harry, his uncle's eyes remained fixed on him and did not wander far enough to notice the trunk's new, rather awkward position – not that he ever visited Harry's room enough to recognize when things had been changed up a bit.
"Well?" he demanded. "Explain why I can hear you from the front garden! You're lucky your aunt's not here, she would be mortified if the neighbors heard that. We know you're unstable, but so far none of them do. What are you doing up here?"
His uncle's tirade had given Harry plenty of time to come up with a clever cover, but the only words he could manage sounded something like, "Didn't – I . . . my – I just found out my favorite Quidditch team lost their last match." Undaunted by this very thin and mangled lie, Harry refused to break the stare between him and his uncle, whose already very red face now tinged purple.
"What's . . . Quidditch?" he asked suspiciously.
"It's that wizard sport, played on broomsticks," replied Harry steadily.
"Do not use that word IN THIS HOUSE!" shouted Uncle Vernon, and he turned to storm out of the room as quickly as his size would permit, slamming the door so hard behind him that it flung itself back open. Furious at its audacity, he grabbed the handle once more, pointedly avoiding looking at his nephew as he shut the door again, still quite hard but firmly enough that it stayed closed this time.
Harry closed his eyes and sat dejectedly on the hard floor, listening numbly as his uncle locked the door behind him and thundered down the stairs and out the front door. As his Aunt Petunia and cousin Dudley had taken the car to the movie theatre, Harry knew his uncle was just as stranded at number 4 Privet Drive as he was, and knowing full well that he too would rather be anywhere else, Harry smiled bitterly.
"It's not fair, is it?" he said ruefully to the closed door. "Well, welcome to my life, uncle." He spat the last word, hating the feel of it on his tongue.
Since his arrival a month ago to the place he must, for many reasons he still didn't wholly understand, call home, Harry had experienced easily one of the worst summers of his life. Though he hadn't thought it possible, this summer was shaping up to be even worse than the last. A year ago he'd been starving for news from the wizarding world; looking back now, however, Harry felt ready to pretend none of it existed. So abysmal had been his fifth year at Hogwarts, so painful the past month in particular, and so apprehensive was he to receive the results of his O.W.L.s – though he didn't necessarily care – Harry almost wished it was not real. He didn't know what was going on with the Order of the Phoenix: Ron and Hermione's letters were just as uninformative as they'd been last year. He didn't know what was going on with Voldemort: The Daily Prophet, to which he'd resumed his summer subscription, was as worthless as it'd ever been for important news. He didn't even know what was going on with his supposed "rescue" from Little Whinging: Lupin and Mrs. Weasley were as vague as possible and asked him to be patient while they worked out the details. Anyway, Harry thought wryly, I don't really care. He felt slightly guilty at the realization that he wasn't particularly interested in what was happening in that other world in which he'd taken a sort of refuge for the past five years. In fact, he decided, he frankly did not want to know.
"I'd rather not," he murmured, feeling defeated. He was losing feeling in his legs from sitting on the floor so long. The sun had set lower in the sky and was no longer blazing directly through his window, drawing to a close another miserable Saturday he'd spent locked in his tiny bedroom, much like every other day he spent locked in his tiny bedroom. The only reason he was vaguely aware that it was the weekend was that his uncle had been home . . . and actually, the only reason he'd known his uncle was home was because he'd come to yell at him. Aunt Petunia had stopped at his door to tell him she was taking Dudley and Piers to a double-feature at the local cinema. His uncle refused to walk past Harry's bedroom if the door was open, would not allow Harry to eat with them, and basically delegated to Petunia anything pertaining to Harry in the slightest. She, Harry'd noticed, had been bearable, at least. Though there was certainly nothing in her behavior that could be construed as affectionate, she was the only person in the house on speaking terms with Harry, the food slipped through the flap in his bedroom door was usually near proper temperature, and unless Harry was imagining things, even Dudley had been less horrible than usual, something he knew would never happen without someone else's persuasion. Still, a slightly improved existence at number 4 Privet Drive was little compensation for being forced to remain there.
Harry stood awkwardly, as his legs threatened to not support his weight, crossed the room and turned on the lamp situated atop his wardrobe. It cast a warm, orange glow on the small, abnormally clean room. The light did not reflect Harry's mood, and he stopped at his window, staring desperately into the increasingly darkening sky. He searched for a star, but when he did find one, he could think of nothing to wish for. Turning, he unlocked Hedwig's cage, bringing the stark white owl to the open window. Her amber eyes bore into his own as if asking permission to leave.
"Of course," he smiled weakly at her. "One of us should get to leave here once in a while." Lifting his arm closer to the window encouragingly, Harry said again, "It's okay – go on." Hedwig hooted softly and clicked her beak in his face, which made him smile, though it didn't quite reach his eyes. Seeming satisfied, she took off, leaving Harry to watch until she was nothing more than a white speck under inky cover of night.
Harry turned his back on the window at last and glanced numbly around his room. It was uncluttered for a change, with bare walls and, apart from a pile of dirty clothes in the corner behind the door, showed very little sign that anyone was living in it at all. He hadn't felt like unpacking his trunk when he'd returned from Hogwarts in June, choosing instead to wear some old clothes of Dudley's which had been stored in the bottom drawer of his dresser. His appearance mattered very little in Little Whinging, since he was never brought anywhere and had not been allowed to leave the house, so he was content to wear the usual sizes-too-big trousers and holey t-shirts. Looking around, he remembered how he hadn't been much inclined to decorate the room, however temporarily, in the Gryffindor red and gold as he usually did, hadn't cared to fill the wardrobe with his school, Quidditch and dress robes, hadn't wanted to even recover a leftover box of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, or dig out the bag of Zonko's mischief Hermione had brought back for him from the last Hogsmeade weekend, in which he'd been unable to participate. He hadn't even unpacked his wand; he didn't see the point, really, and besides, it made pretending to be divorced from wizardry easier anyway. Nor had he tacked up the usual count-down sheet on which he tracked the summer days until his return to Hogwarts; there seemed no point in paying attention to individual days, no point in giving them a number, as they all flowed seamlessly into each other, sunrise to sunset, the same pattern of despair over and over again. No, he had no reason to count these days. As he had no Muggle possessions to speak of, Harry noticed for the first time since his return how dismally empty the room actually was.
He shrugged and meandered over to his trunk, which was wedged clumsily between his bed and the doors of his wardrobe. Pulling it from its tight position, he saw with full clarity just how much damage he'd done to the wall when he'd kicked it earlier. Assessing the torn wallpaper and crumbled sheetrock, he knew he'd be unable to repair it himself without magic – which wasn't a possibility, at any rate – but he'd ask Lupin or whoever would finally take him away from here to fix it before they left.
He'd decided to at least take out his robes so that they wouldn't develop an odor or become irreversibly wrinkled by the first of September when he'd be back in attendance at Hogwarts. He unlatched the trunk's multiple locks and the lid sprang open with the release of the pressure that had been holding it down. He cringed as he remembered, upon seeing the various books, clothes and other of his belongings in a jumbled heap, the poor packing job – if you could even call it that – he'd done on his last night at Hogwarts. He hadn't wanted to pack; despite all that had happened, he hadn't wanted to leave, really, and had just thrown everything in together while everyone else was at the end-of-year feast. Sighing, he realized that he couldn't even get to his robes without unpacking everything he'd haphazardly chucked on top of them. Resigned to the task at hand – he really didn't have anything better to do, anyway – Harry began unloading his trunk. He stacked his books, rolls of leftover parchment and bag of Famous Witch and Wizard cards on the floor next to him, piled sweets, quills, Zonko's bags and bottles of ink behind him, and began tossing clothes – socks, robes, and the limited assortment of Muggle apparel he brought to Hogwarts just in case – on his bed to the other side of him. He paused when he came to his Invisibility Cloak, which had once belonged to his father; he let the shining fabric flow liquidly over and between his fingers before he carefully draped it over the back of his desk chair. Rather than hang it alongside the others, he'd return this cloak safely to his trunk, once he'd made a proper place for it. Ignoring the lump now rising in his throat, he returned to unpacking. As he lifted the last ratty t-shirt from the bottom of the trunk, he heard a light tinkle of glass hitting the inside. He closed his eyes. He knew what those shards of glass were – rather, had been. They were what was left of the two-way mirror Sirius had given him the previous Christmas, just before he'd left Grimmauld Place for the new term at Hogwarts. It had been the last time he'd seen his godfather before . . . before. . . . He sighed again, heavily, and under his closed lids, Harry could feel his eyes stinging. He forced them open, determined not to cry, as he'd done in varying intensity so far every night this summer.
Tearing off a piece of parchment, he picked the chunks of glass out of the bottom of his trunk and placed them in the paper which now formed a sort of bowl in his cupped left hand. When he'd gotten the largest bits out, he began pinching up the smaller slivers, even every single tiny splinter of glass imbedded in an old pair of socks still in the corner of the trunk. He cut his fingers more than once, but he neither felt the pain nor cared that the parchment was now splotched with his blood. He folded another piece of parchment around the first, and another over that one, and so forth until he was certain no glass would escape the pocket he'd created, then he Spellotaped every corner and seam until he was absolutely sure no part of the mirror would fall out. Feeling for the first time in a month that he'd done something worthwhile, he gingerly placed the untidy little package in the folds of his father's cloak on the chair. He could not put the mirror back together without magic, but he resolved to repair it as soon as it was legal for him to do so. He would never be able to fulfill the purpose for which it had been given to him – No, he thought angrily to himself, I was too daft to remember it then, I don't deserve for it to work now – but at least it would be properly restored, in the condition it'd been when Sirius had handed it to him. Well, he mused, maybe a little cleaner. Never mind that it was worthless without Sirius on the other end.
He scanned his progress and was half-heartedly pleased to see that he was nearly finished unpacking. Good. He was tired of looking at these memories strewn all around him. He settled back on his knees in front of his trunk and began removing the last few items from it: the old sneakoscope Ron had given him for his thirteenth birthday, the broom servicing kit Hermione had given him that same year, old rolls of parchment full of notes and past exams which she had insisted they not throw away, a thick scarf in Gryffindor colors, a couple chocolate frogs he was sure would be stale by now, and, with a faint smile, his wand, which he kept securely in its now rather worn original Ollivander's box for traveling. Finally, the only thing remaining in the trunk was a nondescript wooden box which Harry removed without looking at, hardly wanting to touch it at all. He'd never told anyone, even Ron or Hermione – especially Ron – about this box, and he didn't need to open it to remember what was kept within. It contained five years' worth of every birthday card, letter and note he'd ever received from anyone in the wizarding world; it also held interesting bits of past Daily Prophets, a copy of the Quibbler in which his interview with Rita Skeeter had appeared, the key to his parents' – his – vault at Gringotts, and of course, the photo album Hagrid had made for him at the end of his first year at Hogwarts. He would never tell anyone about this box, not if he could help it; he wasn't quite ready for anyone to know just how much he cared, just how much the cards, the rushed letters, the silly notes meant to him. He'd bought the box one day in Diagon Alley before his third year, when he was gloriously unsupervised for almost two weeks at the end of that summer. It was an interesting box, though it didn't look it from the outside – But what ever does? Harry thought as he picked it up and turned it over in his hands. The unfinished wood subconsciously burned his skin, as it seemed the ghosts of his past were screaming to be released, revisited. Harry kept his mouth pressed resolutely closed. The box's lock was voice-activated. As long as he didn't open his mouth, he could control it – as long as his mouth stayed shut, his heart could not undermine him and make him utter the single word needed to open this box full of things from which he felt quite apart and not ready to remember.
Standing once more, his face hot and hands sweating, he placed the box decisively on his desk. He piled his clothes over one arm, carefully stepped over the now rather large heaps in the middle of the floor, opened the wardrobe and began arranging the garments on hangers and shelves, surprising himself with how neatly he'd done when he stepped back to close the doors. Pivoting on the spot, he lifted his trunk, turned it upside down near his bedroom door and let the random crumbs, scraps of parchment, lint and other collected rubbish flutter to the floor there. He began returning things he didn't need to the now spotless inside of the trunk. Feeling more than a little disinclined towards his studies, he first put all his books and other school things in one corner, then everything else precariously stacked around them. When at last everything was off the floor or bed and restored to his trunk, Harry closed its lid, shoved it to the dark space under the still open window, and sat wearily on his bed.
He felt homesick. The dull ache in the pit of his stomach, the hollow behind his lungs, the lump in the back of his throat and the stinging in the corners of his eyes was not unfamiliar. In fact, he felt it every single night, most acutely after sundown, but it was always there. Even when he wasn't feeling particularly sad, even when he was on the verge of happiness – as happened every time Hedwig returned for example, letter in tow or not – he knew the sinking feeling would inevitably flood back, and usually with as much or more weight than before. It was always there, whether he would indulge it or not. Tonight, he decided, he would not. He was too tired to be anything but numb. Looking around the room for a distraction, anything to take his mind off the breakdown he felt coming on, he noticed that he'd neglected to stow away his father's cloak, Sirius' mirror, and his box. Those were definitely not the distractions he was hoping for, and he lay on his back, closing his eyes, determined to ignore them.
When he opened his eyes a while later, he was still not keen to put away the last of his belongings. He stared defiantly at the ceiling, he tilted his head uncomfortably to look out the window at the sky, which was now completely black, and unable to uphold the charade any longer, he finally sat up. Panicking, he moved backward until his back was pressed hard against the wall. Sirius was sitting at the foot of his bed. His godfather was in his room, alive as he'd ever been, and Harry felt like he was about to be sick. Sirius was looking at him fondly, his face softer than usual, despite his light stubble and disheveled hair, which fell loosely in his pale eyes.
"Hey Harry," he said brightly, though Harry thought he heard something unusual in his tone. "So, this is where you spend your summers. Well, it's certainly cleaner than Grimmauld Place, that's for sure. Though it doesn't seem any more cheerful."
Harry didn't respond – he didn't know how. He nodded, dumbstruck, thoroughly bewildered. His bedroom door opened and a man entered. The man looked strangely familiar, and Harry knew why with painful clarity. He'd seen this man before, when he'd come across The Mirror of Erised in his very first year at Hogwarts. He'd seen him in the album Hagrid had given him. He saw him every time he looked in the mirror. His father had just walked into his bedroom at number 4 Privet Drive. Harry stopped trying to understand what was going on, as he clearly had no control of it anyway.
His father smiled at him, then looked at Sirius and sat down in the chair at Harry's desk. Harry had moved to clear the seat of the cloak and mirror but realized they were already gone.
"Harry," began Sirius, "I just wanted to tell you that you really need to be more careful in the future. Not that I blame you for anything, but I'm sure you know by now that going to the Department of Mysteries last month was, well, a bit of a mistake." He paused. Harry stared at him, furious at what he was hearing. He blurted out the first thing that came to mind:
"You could have told me what that mirror was when you gave it to me," he said to his godfather in a dangerously quiet, strained voice. "You didn't tell me, not even when you knew I was risking both our necks, breaking into offices and using the Floo Network. You could have told me, and Kreacher wouldn't have ever even had the chance to lie to me. I would have never even gone there if I'd known you were okay."
"Yeah, I guess so," said Sirius offhandedly. "I guess I didn't think about it. But really, you should have listened to everyone anyway. We tried to tell you how important Occlumency was, but you're just like old Prongs here," he nodded in James' direction, "too stubborn to listen. You still need to clear your thoughts before you try to sleep, by the way. Voldemort's not going to stop trying to use you just because I'm dead; there's plenty more he could use you for, so you really need to master Occlumency. You need to try harder. Then you may not be so reckless."
How could he – Sirius, of all people – be saying this to him? Harry wondered incredulously. Did he not think Harry lamented ever learning about that damned hall, that Harry didn't regret ever willingly – invitingly – leaving his subconscious open every single night? How could Sirius think Harry hadn't learned his lesson in the most excruciatingly permanent way possible? How could Sirius act like Harry didn't mourn the irreversible damage he'd caused? Didn't Sirius know how . . . how —
"I'm sorry, okay!" Harry shouted through the hot, bitter tears now cutting their way down his face. "I'm sorry I was so stupid, I'm sorry about everything! I'm – I'm —"
But the room had gone eerily dark, too quiet, unnaturally cold. He could no longer see his godfather, and he could only very dimly make out the shape of his father still sitting in his desk chair.
"I'm sorry," he choked, searching the room for Sirius. His weight at the foot of Harry's bed had lifted, and Harry recognized the tall figure hovering where his godfather had been sitting only seconds before. A dementor had taken his place. From its direction, Harry heard Sirius' voice saying, "I don't blame you, Harry. You just should have been more careful, and none of this would have happened." The dementor began moving toward him, telling him how he should be careful, should have listened to reason, but that it didn't blame him.
"You should!" yelled Harry. "I could have prevented it! It's my fault you're dead, blame me! Blame me! It's not fair if you don't! It's not FAIR!" His head thudded against the wall as Sirius the Dementor lowered itself closer to Harry, and a flash of silver light illuminated the room. The ethereal Prongs stood by Harry's desk, pawing menacingly at the ground. Harry watched the stag beat his hooves on the wooden floor, then looked at the dementor now inches away from his face. He could see Sirius' incandescent eyes peering at him behind the hood, and the rancid breath of the dementor whispered, "I will never blame you."
At that moment, Prongs charged Harry's bed, chasing Sirius the Dementor to Harry's window, where it suddenly became the hulking form of Padfoot. As the lamplight began to fill the room again, Padfoot turned his head toward Harry, barked loudly twice, and jumped out the window. Prongs had reformed into James, and he now walked back to the bed where Harry sat, unable to move. He placed a hand on each of Harry's shoulders, turning his son to face him. "None of us blame you, Harry. There are things worth dying for. We were glad to die if it meant you would live." Harry closed his eyes in an effort to blink back some of the tears which he'd been making no effort to conceal. When he looked up, his father was gone.
He became distantly aware of someone shaking him. They were handling him roughly, impatiently. He forced his eyes open, and the shaking stopped. Aunt Petunia was standing over him, her hands now on her hips and looking at him disapprovingly. "Are you going to eat that," she gestured toward the tray of food near his door, "or is it not to your liking? Would no dinner at all suit you better?"
Groggily, he focused on the sandwich and chips on the plate, presumably cold by now since he supposed it had been sitting there for at least quite some time. Still, his aunt had given him the opportunity to claim it before she took it away, and recognizing how significant this small courtesy was, he looked at her – he hoped – appreciatively.
"No, I'm going to eat it, thank you."
She made to leave but halted before she pulled the door closed behind her. He saw her eyes linger on the cloak still draped over his chair before she fixed her gaze on him. "You know," she said hesitantly, as though not sure she should be speaking to him, "you should try to not think of anything before you go to sleep. It may stop you from having nightmares. I could hear you from the landing." Because she had not moved to leave, Harry supposed she was scanning him for a reaction to her advice. He met her gaze and nodded mutely, lowering his eyes to stare at his hands as she quietly shut the door. He hoped she hadn't seen the tears that had just fallen at her words, which at that moment hit far too close to home.
With every ounce of energy in his body, Harry lifted himself off his bed, collected the food tray, and sat back down, resting his aching head against the wall. He noticed that his shirt was sticking to him and guessed he must have been sweating in his sleep. Although he had absolutely no appetite, he choked down as much of the food as possible until he triggered his gag reflex and decided the effort to eat was not worth the health benefits of proper nourishment. He returned the tray to its place near the flap in his door. There was still half a sandwich left; he hadn't touched the chips. Scooping up a handful, he dumped them in Hedwig's food dish, hoping his aunt wouldn't be totally offended at his lack of interest in the dinner she'd provided. He knew how much restraint she'd been showing, how much the extra effort must be costing her, and strangely, he didn't want her to feel that it was pointless and going without notice.
He had no idea what time it was, so he could not decide if it would be worthwhile to go back to sleep. He didn't know if he wanted to go back to sleep. He walked to his window, running his fingers over his father's cloak as he passed it. Hedwig had still not returned, but that was not unexpected. Harry looked at the windows of nearby houses, running his fingers through his tangled hair. Most upstairs lights were off, but many downstairs rooms were still lit in most houses, which meant it was probably no later than ten o'clock, if the neighbors where still awake in their homes. He stuck his torso through the window, curious to see the moon. It was only half full. That meant Lupin, wherever he was, would still be okay for a week or so, by his estimation. He exhaled raggedly as he pulled himself back inside the room. He looked despairingly around, finally allowing his gaze to settle on the cloak, broken mirror and box. They seemed to be challenging him to look elsewhere, taunting him with their empty promises of hope.
He walked to the desk without taking his eyes away. Slowly, his shaking hand moved the makeshift package holding the mirror fragments from the cloak to atop the box on his desk. Harry shook the cloak and held it appraisingly at arm's length. Realizing that he desperately did not want to remove it from view, he instead slipped it over his shoulders and fastened the clasp around his neck. The familiar weight, the scent, the way the fabric rippled over his bare arms comforted him; it felt almost like a hug, he thought desolately. With a renewed vigor – though that wasn't saying much – Harry reached out, picked up the box from the desk, and shuffled back to bed with it held closely against his chest. Feeling somewhat satisfied at not seeing his legs stretched in front of him, he placed the mirror safely beside him and muttered, "Operto." The box's lid made a delicate clicking sound, and Harry knew it had unlocked, if he could just will his hand to pull it open. Swallowing his trepidation, the box opened easily, as though proud to show off its treasures. Moving aside the newspaper clippings, he sifted through scrolls of parchment, of which, Harry noticed, there were many more than he'd remembered. He unrolled one. "Today, same time, same place." Harry bit his lip, hard. Of course the first letter he grabbed had to be one of, if not the last letter his godfather had ever sent him. Sirius had been worried about him – he always worried about him, Harry reminded himself – and was arranging a meeting via Floo Network. That was before he'd given him the mirror . . .
Refusing to succumb to the knot in his throat, Harry returned the letter to the box and picked up a birthday card Hermione had once sent him. He read it and wished to go back to the summer she'd sent it, when his most pressing concern was not upsetting his aunt or uncle and how many days were left until he would be catching the Hogwarts Express. He didn't want to be in this summer, where everything reeked of loss and foreboding. He flipped through other cards in the box, stopping finally at one Hagrid had sent for his thirteenth birthday. He almost chuckled remembering the gift that accompanied it . . . that ferocious book. His spirits had been sufficiently elevated, and feeling assured of his own self-control, Harry lifted the photo album out of the box. It fell open automatically to a page with pictures of his parents' wedding day. They were waving at him, smiling. Happy. It had been one of his favorite pages when he'd been given the album. And there was Sirius, just to the right of his father. He was laughing. They were always laughing in these photos, all of them, but Sirius especially. He'd been laughing too, the day after Lily and James – his best friends, Harry's parents – were killed, when the Ministry of Magic hauled him off to Azkaban for thirteen murders he hadn't committed. He'd been laughing at Bellatrix Lestrange when she shot the curse that sent him through the veil, whatever the hell that was. No one had bothered explaining it to Harry. Sirius' laughter had hardly stopped reverberating through the chamber when Lupin restrained Harry from going after him. He'd thought Sirius was laughing behind the veil even, a brilliant joke. But he couldn't hear the bark-like laughter, and he knew that Lupin was right, even if he would not believe it.
He didn't bother stopping the tears this time. He didn't care if Dudley and his entire gang walked in at that very moment and saw him sitting mostly invisible on his bed, crying his heart out over a bunch of moving photos of dead people. He didn't care if his uncle heard him and beat him unconscious for disturbing his peace. He didn't care about anything other than the fact that everyone in his life who mattered was threatened by his presence, and that those who loved him the most were dead because of him. It was his fault, and he wished someone would let him take the blame. It wasn't fair that he'd never been given the choice of having a decent family. It wasn't fair that he had trusted Dumbledore and that Dumbledore had withheld so much information from him for so many years. It wasn't fair that every time his best friends were near him, there was a chance they could be hurt. It wasn't fair that he, Harry, had been too arrogant to recognize a trap when everyone else so clearly saw it and warned him. It was not fair that Sirius, the closest thing to a father he'd ever known, was dead, gone forever, because of him.
He didn't know what to do. Too tired cry, too angry to be still, too numb to move, Harry closed the album, snapping the covers shut without a farewell glance at all the grinning ghosts in its pages. He stuck it back in the box on top of all the letters and cards and clippings. Feeling completely empty, his arm flopped uselessly to his side, and he felt the bulge of parchment under his hand. He turned it over in his hand, finally set it on the photo album, and closed the box. He didn't know how long he sat there, wrapped in his father's cloak, staring unfocusedly at the wooden box in his lap.
Not for the first time, Harry thought idly how much easier it would have been if Voldemort had just killed him. He'd had plenty of chances to do so, and frankly, Harry thought, this whole situation was getting ridiculous. He'd faced Voldemort more times than any wizard he knew, with Dumbledore being a likely exception, yet he was still alive. At first it had been a primitive will to live – that's what had driven him in his fight against Quirrell four years ago. Then he'd been saving Ginny when he'd stopped Tom Riddle the year after that. His third year, he acknowledged, was pretty much Voldemort-free, but he'd spent most of that year worrying about an escaped convict. The year after that he'd been treated to being an aide to Voldemort's ascension, Voldemort had returned, and Harry had cheated death again, though the boy who'd been standing inches from him had been killed without reason; no, Harry had survived, if for nothing else than to prove his parents had not died in vain. And this year everything he'd been fighting for had fallen apart in his hands. He'd learned so much that made so little sense to him – that good people died for no damn good reason, that the explanation for his having no family lay in a mad old fortune-teller's prophecy, that while most wizards his age were allowed to worry over girls and school and Quidditch, he, Harry, got to look forward to either killing the darkest wizard in the world or being killed by the darkest wizard in the world. It wasn't fair. Why had he fought so relentlessly for the life he was now living? Why did so many people give their lives for him, if this was the only result? He wondered if he would have been better off going to that Muggle secondary school after all. Okay, he thought, that's stupid, but still . . . "No one should have to live through all this," he whispered resignedly. No one should have to make the decisions or fight the battles he'd faced – and which still await him.
Hedwig reappeared at the window ledge, jerking him from his depressing meditation. "Welcome back," he said dully. He was half-glad for the interruption and very glad for the company, such as it was. After all, he shrugged, it's not like he hadn't been through all these exact thoughts countless times in recent weeks, even though he never reached a decent resolution. He slunk off the bed, opened his trunk and lowered the box into it. Like a coffin in the ground, he thought sardonically. Then, reluctantly he removed the cloak and folded it neatly over the box. A proper burial. He winced at his own analogies. The stagnant air in the room felt oddly cold on the backs of his arms. He closed the lid and secured all three latches, but not before tearing off a bit of parchment from an almost vanquished roll.
He rummaged around in his desk drawer for a pen – he couldn't be bothered to dig quill and ink from the recesses of his trunk. Sitting down, parchment laid before him, he wondered what he intended to write, and to whom.
"This is stupid," he breathed aloud. He began writing.
Dear Professor Lupin, — sure, why not?
I think I'm going mad. Was that a bit. . . exaggerated? Harry decided it was not. I can't stand being alone here. No one knows or cares that he's gone —Harry stopped writing, contemplating the word "gone" and crossed it out, then continued— dead except for me, and it's my fault but no one wants me to believe it. I know it is.
I miss him.
When is someone going to come get me? If it's not soon, I will go mad. It's not fair that I don't have anyone around and you lot are all together. You said you wanted to know how things are here, and I keep sending owls to everyone, but no one has come. No one has even told me where I'm going to go if —Harry crossed out the word "if," forcing himself to be optimistic— when I finally do get out of here.
I dreamt about Padfoot and Prongs tonight. They were in my room. Sirius said he didn't blame me, and my dad told me that they "were glad to die if it meant you," that is to say, I, " would live." I can't stand much more of this.
Hope to hear from someone soon, Harry.
"Care for another flight?" he asked Hedwig as he addressed and sealed the scroll. She hooted by way of reply, and he affixed the parchment to her outstretched leg. He pet her head before she took off, and for the second time that evening, he watched her fly away into the darkness. Standing at the window he noticed the lights in all the neighboring houses were out, and he guessed it must be rather late by now.
He changed into a pair of baggy shorts before turning out his own light, then felt his way through the dark to his bed. He didn't expect Hedwig to return before daybreak, but as a considerate gesture he left the window open anyway. Pulling the thin blankets back, he settled himself into bed. He lay in the dark, unwilling to fall asleep. He finally removed his glasses and tossed them carelessly on the small table next to his bed. Rolling onto his side, he stared at the wall and decided to sleep, as there was no real point in staying awake. When he awoke in the morning, he would be just as frustrated, just as bored, just as desperate and hopeless as he was at this moment. The thought was hardly comforting, but it encouraged his mind to rest at last, and that was sufficient. When he closed his eyes for good, his godfather's face swam from the depths of his consciousness into clear focus. Harry didn't fight the stray tears that squeezed their way from between his tightly closed eyelids.
"I miss you Sirius," he whispered hoarsely. "I'm sorry. . ."
Then, summoning every bit of remaining mental strength he possessed, Harry forced his mind clear and drifted off to dreamless sleep.