Not Guilty

December 2003

He wished he hadn't smashed the mirror. He wished a lot of things; the mirror had seemed so small and so trivial a thing at the time, but remained the worst of his regrets.

The teenage boy lying inside Number 4 Privet Drive had experienced a great deal of hard life lessons … but it was the death of his godfather that weighed most heavily on his mind.

Harry rolled onto his side, staring at his closed bedroom door. The Dursleys were away for the afternoon, as they tended to be this summer. Their attitude toward Harry had hardly changed; but that was no surprise. He couldn't expect them to treat him as they did Dudley, whatever threats the Order imposed. Harry didn't really care; he was perfectly content to lie on his bed and stare dully at the ceiling, whiling away the daylight hours. Hermione promised they would arrive next week to take him to Headquarters.

Headquarters … Sirius's house. Never Sirius's home; Harry hated to think of how much his godfather must have hated being trapped there, left alone in a place he never felt loved. How they could stand to be back there, going about business as usual, as though Sirius hardly mattered. And Dumbledore ….

Harry squeezed his eyes shut tight against the sudden prickling of tears, hitting the pillow as the persistent anger boiled inside of him. If Dumbledore had just told Harry, instead of ignoring it … he wasn't a child anymore! … Sirius was dead … Hermione might have died as well … the others, Ron …

Harry swung his fist around and hit the wall. The old plaster dented and left a nasty, spidery pocket. Shooting a dark look at it, Harry abruptly stood up and began pacing his room.

They didn't have to go with him; he didn't want them to go. No matter what they practiced in the D.A. meetings, they were still a bunch of school kids running around without a clue. Harry picked up his digital clock and threw it across the room.

And he had allowed them to come – his books went sailing across the room, not quite hard enough to dent the wall again – and try as he might to justify it, he simply had not done as much as necessary to keep them away. As a result, Neville wound up with a broken nose – Hedwig's cage was launched at the door, bedding and droppings falling to the floor – and Ron … Harry suppressed a shudder, remembering the sickening sound the tentacles made as they latched on to his best friend. Hermione. Hermione had nearly been killed by a Death Eater; Harry still felt cold remembering the way she crumpled to the floor, the sound of her head hitting stone – Harry smashed his glass scales – It felt as though someone had replaced his blood with ice as he watched her fall. That Death Eater broke Ginny's ankle, Neville had gotten the Cruciatus Curse performed on him, Luna went flying through the air, only to hit a desk … the contents of Harry's drawers were flung out of their respective places; papers went everywhere, his ink bottle shattered, quills and homework scattered.  Tonks had been hurt, when Order members arrived to help them. He kicked savagely at his trunk, not feeling the throbbing pain in his toe. Tonks should not have been there in the first place. Nor Lupin, or Moody, or any of the others Or Sirius. Especially Sirius. There should not have been a reason for any of them to be in the Department of Mysteries that night.

Guilt replaced the anger and he ceased the destruction of his bedroom. Exhaustion overtook him; his knees wobbled and gave out; and a fifteen-year-old Harry Potter fell to the floor.

He sat, glaring tiredly around him. He did not remember breaking the window at any point; but a cold draft trickled into the room and he glanced up to see all that remained of the window were a few shards clutching feebly to the frame.

He couldn't blame Dumbledore. He couldn't blame Sirius. It wasn't their fault; it was his, his own stupidity that led to Sirius's death. He had killed the one person that mattered most to him.

And now he was supposed to save the world? He was fifteen. How was a fifteen year old supposed to save the wizarding world when he couldn't even save his godfather? How was he supposed to stop the most powerful wizard in a hundred years when he could not stop his friends from following him to the Ministry of Magic?

A single tear, burning with blame, fury, sorrow, and a thousand emotions Harry did not have the patience to identify, slid down his cheek. Harry swiped at it; but more followed, falling faster and faster. He could not stop them. So he sat, glowering at his bedroom floor as the tears flowed. He did not make a sound; it was bad enough he was crying in the first place. He remained in sullen silence until he could not cry anymore, until he felt drained and worn out and unable to crawl to bed. He decided he did not want to sleep, but, despite his tired state, he wanted to go for a stroll. A brisk stroll. He stood, looking dully around the remains of his bedroom. He would have to repair everything when he got back to school … it didn't matter now.

He only vaguely noticed his bedroom door was unlocked and stepped out into the hallway. He looked around, not really seeing the walls smattered with pictures of Dudley, the bright, cheerfully coloured carpet; there was a vase full of colourful lilies standing at the end of the corridor. Harry wanted to smash those too.

Had he really lived in this miserable place his entire life? Excepting, of course, the year he had spent with his parents … but he did not remember that. So to Harry, it didn't count.

He proceeded slowly down the stairs, aware the tears were spilling down his cheeks; he did not know how he was able to cry again, but he made no attempt to stop.

He pulled open the door and felt a ripple of surprise underneath his deadened state to see Hermione standing on his doorstep. Her eyes widened a little at the sight of him; Harry suddenly became forcefully aware of what he must look like: bloodshot, puffy eyes; he hadn't bothered to comb his hair in days; his cheeks burned from storming around his room and scalding tears; his nose was stuffy and felt plugged with tissue; his hands throbbed painfully; glancing down, he saw the palms were bruised and shallow cuts danced across them.

"Harry!" she cried out; he moved numbly aside to allow her entrance.

"'Lo, Hermione," he said.

"D-Didn't you hear me knock?" Hermione stood close to him, peering up into his piercing green eyes with concern. He shifted, uncomfortable under her firm gaze.

"No," Harry said flatly. "I fancied a walk."

"Oh, Harry." She swiftly drew him into a hug; he surprised himself by holding her tightly, burying his face in her neck. The movement was slightly awkward; he had grown a great deal over the last two weeks.

He clutched onto her; he didn't let himself cry. When she pulled away, she would want to talk. The last thing Harry wanted was to talk.

She finally released him.

"You need tea," she said briskly, without a word as to the signs of his earlier outburst. She strode past him into the kitchen.

"Hermione," Harry said, closing the front door and staring after her. "What are you doing here?" he asked, reaching the kitchen seconds later.

She did not answer straight away; setting the kettle on the stove, she faced him.

"Very – er – tidy place," she smiled at Harry, though it seemed rather forced to him.

"Er … yeah," Harry said awkwardly, shoving his hands into his pockets. "What are you doing here?"

"You weren't answering our letters." She turned away again and began opening the cupboards in search of teacups. "Lupin thought I should have a word with you."

"Lupin?" Harry demanded, reaching over her and seizing two of Aunt Petunia's blue pansied cups. His body lightly brushed against hers and he caught of whiff of ivory soap and a faint, flowery smell he couldn't place. His heart skipped a beat and a light, puzzled frown swept across his face.

"Yes," Hermione said, still not quite looking at him. "He said –''

"Whatever he said, Hermione, I'm fine," Harry cut in sharply; Hermione appeared to stiffen and her expression was set as she approached him, teakettle in hand. Harry would never admit anything was wrong; he would keep professing the denial of his true feelings even if his world came crashing down around him.

"No, you're not," Hermione replied simply, pouring the steaming, amber fluid into his cup and turning toward the table.

"Well," said Harry, following her and plopping into the next seat, "I don't want to talk about it."

"I know." Hermione peered at him carefully, sipping carefully. "But I do."

Harry groaned; Hermione set down her cup firmly. The china hit the table with a resolute chinking sound.

"Harry Potter, I am your best friend and I refuse to see you sulking like this."

"Sulking?" Harry glared at her. "Sirius is dead, Hermione, how is that sulking?"

"Mourning and smashing apart your room because you've been stuck here for two weeks are very different," Hermione responded, her voice very severe. Harry stared at her. How did she know that?

"It's no good blaming yourself for Sirius. Dumbledore either."

"But –''

"Dumbledore made a mistake, Harry. He might be a very powerful wizard and the only person Voldemort ever feared … but he's still human. Humans make mistakes. You might as well say I started it when I came up with the idea of the D.A."

Harry's eyes widened slightly and he opened his mouth to speak.

"Oh no you don't," Hermione interrupted warningly, narrowing her eyes at him.

"Sorry," said Harry, setting down his cup, "but –''

"It's something that could not have been prevented," Hermione continued; she seemed determined to have her say now that she had begun. "You've got loads of other people who care about you and who hate seeing you this way. You can't permit yourself to accept the blame for Sirius's death, hiding in your room, refusing to answer the letters we send, insane plots to go back to the veil –''

"What?" Harry nearly choked on his tea, furious. "Did Lupin –''

"No." Hermione stared at him evenly. "Those Extendable Ears of Fred and George's are quite useful, however."

Harry scowled at his teacup.

"You don't get it, do you, Hermione?" he burst out at last. "If I hadn't been so stupid – if I'd remembered Snape – none of you should have been there – if I hadn't let you go with me – if I'd listened to you –''

"Well, listen to me now, Harry!"

Harry stared at her. She didn't get it. Why didn't she get it? It was so simple; he had been so thick. And now …

"Yes, but –''

"You are determined to be churlish, aren't you?" Hermione demanded, getting to her feet. "I fail to understand how you can be so … pessimistic. I know you're upset, Harry. We all are. But just because …" she made an exasperated noise and threw her hands into the air. "You are so infuriating, Harry; I sometimes don't remember why I love you –''

She froze, trailing off. Harry continued to stare at her, though now he was aware his mouth was slightly open.

"You what?" he asked quietly; his stomach gave a funny lurch at her words.

Hermione let out an odd, nervous little laugh.

"You're a dear friend. Why shouldn't I love you as such?" she said; she averted her eyes to the teacups on the table and a pink flush spread over her cheeks and down her neck.

An awkward pause surrounded the pair. Harry stood up and took the cup out of her hands.

"Thanks for the tea, Hermione," he said, wondering why she was still not looking at him. Was she mad at him again?

"Right. Um, well, Lupin said he and some others would be arriving around five o'clock to take you to Headquarters. I know I said next week, but Dumbledore …"

"Think I'll do something stupid?" Harry raised an eyebrow. Hermione smiled a little sheepishly.

"Yes, well, they'll be here soon." She shook herself slightly and crossed the room. "Let's see you packed."

She hurried up the stairs. Harry followed her, watching her hips sway lightly, wondering why she was acting so odd.

He trailed along behind her, and the thought that maybe Hermione was right struck him. Perhaps Sirius's death was not entirely his fault. He would never, he felt, feel completely right over what happened in the Department of Mysteries and there was still that crushing lead weight of guilt on his chest … but it somehow felt a little lighter. He, in truth, felt lighter.

"Listen to me now, Harry."

Hermione's voice rang through his head, his voice of reason, his stability, his motivation to not lose hope.

He sighed and turned into his room. Hermione was staring around at the glass strewn about the floor, books, quills, his Firebolt; Hedwig's cage lay on its side, one surface looking strangely flat. Hermione's eyes were wide, and her mouth slightly open.

"Hey, Hermione," Harry began, ignoring the mess and leaning against the doorframe.

"Harry –'' she breathed, turning to look at him, lips moving silently.

"Yeah." He glanced down the floor. "Look, Hermione … er … well, thanks. For coming here."

She blinked, her brow smoothed and she smiled faintly, seeming to forget the disordered room.

"Oh. Well, you're welcome, Harry."