Disclaimer: I own nothing, it all belongs to J.K.Rowling. I'm just borrowing the characters to play with for a while. This is for pleasure only and no profit is being made.
A/N: This is my first attempt at a fanfiction, so please be kind. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I've enjoyed writing it!
As evening began to set on Little Whinging, a cold gray mist hung in the air. The summer had been much cooler and damper than the previous year and the perfectly manicured lawns of Privet Drive were full and lush from all the moisture. As workers began to arrive home from the workday, umbrellas popped out of car doors as the occupants quickly made their way inside and out of the damp drizzle.
One lone figure remained outside, in no apparent hurry to escape the rain as he ambled slowly down the street. He wore a sweatshirt that hung loosely, nearly to his knees but carried no umbrella. His shoulders were hunched and his hands thrust deep in the pockets of his very baggy jeans. His raven hair was untidy, while the front lay pressed against his head, flattened by the rain, the back stuck out at odd angles.
The dreary day seemed to reflect his mood, the boy's face was pensive, his expression blank. His eyes, emerald in color and hidden behind round spectacles, were flat and listless, reflecting a great sadness. As he trudged home in the gently falling rain, his thoughts drifted aimlessly over his time at Privet Drive.
Harry Potter was not having a good summer. Not that his summers were ever great, but this one was proving particularly hard.
Upon closer inspection of the boy's gaunt face, dark circles were clearly visible beneath his eyes. His pale complexion was unhealthy and seemed to radiate weariness. Harry was having difficulty sleeping. Even though he forced himself to stay awake to the brink of exhaustion, sleep was fleeting, quickly interrupted by dark dreams. Harry was no stranger to nightmares; both the regular ones and those inspired by witnessing actual events. He had been an unwilling witness to the torture and destruction Voldemort had been causing since that fateful night back in May. His scar had been prickling constantly, whether he was asleep or awake. At night, he'd sometimes wake up feeling his head on fire and hurting so intensely he couldn't open his eyes to see. He was sure the horrific images he'd seen were real, there was no one in them he knew so it couldn't be another trap. How was he, a skinny, not quite 16-year-old with no remarkable magic ability supposed to stop him? What was this Power the Dark Lord knew not—?
"STOP," his mind would scream. "Don't think about that"
He'd repeat this mantra over and over until his thoughts strayed to safer, more neutral ground. He had spent the past three weeks doing this anytime thoughts of the Prophecy occurred to him. If he let himself dwell on them, he'd become overwhelmed and a panic would set in. Since he didn't like dealing with that, it was easier to push the thoughts away. This was his usual method of dealing with anything that became too much.
His regular nightmares were somehow worse. They all started either in the Department of Mysteries or the graveyard in Little Hangleton. He'd watch either Sirius or Cedric fall, but somehow, as dreams often do, the events got mixed up. It always ended the same though, with everyone he loved dying one by one, always through some fault of his own. He'd wake up tangled in his sheets with uncomfortable moisture on his face.
He had learned a long time ago that there was no point in crying, it did you no good anyway. He was very frustrated that he couldn't control his tears in his dreams as he did in his waking hours. His aunt and uncle were at the end of their admittedly short ropes with him. His screams were waking the house at an alarmingly regular rate, a source of endless amusement to his cousin, Dudley.
Harry's relationship with his relatives had taken a turn for the worse, something even he hadn't considered possible. The warning he'd received from the Weasleys and some of the Order at King's Cross enraged Uncle Vernon and he ranted furiously to Harry about it the entire ride home. Aunt Petunia had huffed about the nerve' and how ungrateful' Harry was for everything they'd done for him.
"How dare those horrid people approach us and make such a scene in such a public place. Nothing like that had better ever happen again or you will rue the day you'd ever been born!'"
HA! As if he weren't doing that every day anyway!
Dudley merely sat there cracking his knuckles. Harry had tuned them out and stared unseeing out the window as they drove.
When they arrived, he'd been locked in his room immediately. His school things there with him, however, so it wasn't as bad as it could've been. He missed dinner, but it didn't matter, he wasn't hungry anyway.
The next morning his aunt let him out and gave him breakfast. No one spoke except to give him his list of chores for the day. Harry didn't mind the silence, it was better than having to argue or come up with things to say.
The Dursleys began acting as if he wasn't there, which suited Harry just fine. He'd managed a bit of toast before excusing himself and making his way back to his room.
Harry's appetite was non-existent and even with the small rations his aunt gave him, he never finished his plate. What he did eat was choked down, all the while resisting the urge to vomit. He knew he needed his strength, but lacked the energy or the will power to force down more than a few bites at a time. In turn, his lack of energy and will power was made worse by not eating. He welcomed the resulting numbness; when he was alert, he thought too much
As a result, Harry had lost a good bit of weight. That, combined with a growth spurt, left him looking terribly thin and haggard. If he caught sight of himself in the mirror that hung on his closet door, he could easily count each rib and his collarbone stuck out alarmingly. Harry knew he should worry about this, but couldn't find the energy to care. He just pulled on a heavy sweatshirt.
His Aunt Petunia had taken to giving him funny, odd sort of glances when she thought he wasn't looking. She'd spent the majority of his life pretending he wasn't there, why shouldn't he treat her the same?
On occasion he'd think back to the previous summer to the night the Dementors came. He and Aunt Petunia had almost seemed to make a connection, but there was no trace of that now. He'd thought of asking her about the deal she'd made with Dumbledore, but quickly pushed the thoughts aside as soon as they would come.
What difference did it make anyway? Like it or not, he was stuck here. It wasn't like he had anywhere else to go.
Sometimes Harry wondered if maybe those Dementors did get a hold of him. He didn't seem to have any feelings left aside from hopelessness and despair. Maybe Uncle Vernon was secretly a Dementor in disguise?
On his second night back, the phone had rung and his uncle flung open his door nearly knocking it off its hinges in his rage. "It's for you," he spat. "Don't tie it up for long!"
Harry wearily answered to Hermione's voice, "Hullo Harry"
"Mr. Weasley said you should be allowed to use the telephone. Since the Weasleys don't have one, I'm your contact! They've connected my house to the floo network so I can update them"
Harry felt a flicker of annoyance at being babysat. "I'm fine Hermione," he said automatically.
"You don't sound fine Harry."
"Look, despite being told he has to let me, it doesn't mean Uncle Vernon is happy about this. I just don't have the energy to fight with him right now Hermione, okay? So it would be better if we keep contact to owls, and only send them at night so the Muggles don't have to see."
Everything he said was true, but it also let him off talking about things he didn't want to talk about. Hermione had a way of pushing and he just wasn't ready to deal with that.
She sounded put out, "Okay Harry, if that's what you want, but—"
"It is. Please," he said firmly.
"I'll write tomorrow."
He grimaced a bit at cutting her off, but it was for the best. He was going to have to push both she and Ron back anyway. May as well start now.
True to her word, Hermione wrote the next day, as did Ron. Judging by the similar tone of their letters, they were using the floo connection to discuss him in detail. This irritated him even further.
He didn't answer any of their letters, but they kept coming. Something about this warmed Harry's heart a little. They really were the best friends he could ever ask for. The one thing Harry did write as promised was a brief note to the Order every three days, always the same.
Still here, all is fine.
Muggles are behaving.
Not long after he'd sent the first two notes, more letters began arriving. In addition to Ron and Hermione, he received notes from Ginny, the twins, Mrs. Weasley and Remus Lupin. All of them said basically the same thing, asking how he was, letting him know they were there if he wanted to talk.
The twins were comical about it, and they did have a way of making Harry laugh, even if he didn't want to. They never sent individual letters, always one letter from both of them where they would switch off between thoughts and Harry was never sure which one was writing! He only noticed the switch by the different handwriting (and usually different color ink!). Their letters were nearly as confusing as the twins themselves could be and often-made Harry wonder if they did anything without the other. Both did their best to let him know they were thinking about him though, and were there for him. All he had to do was ask.
Ginny's letters were newsy, and often funny like the twins. She'd easily go on a rant about Ron that would make Harry smile. She was tougher with him than the others, usually ending her letters with something like Don't Sulk! or Speak Up, Can't Make Out That Mumble! This would get under Harry's skin a bit. He did mumble when he was uncomfortable, but it didn't happen that often! He was disgruntled that she called him on it and made a mental note to work on that.
Mrs. Weasley's letters were a bit gentler and fiercely protective, usually sent with a batch of biscuits or a mince pie. Harry had yet to eat more than a bite of any of it, but the thoughts behind it warmed him just the same.
Remus Lupin's letters simply sounded sad and made Harry's heart ache. He'd force himself to read them though.
He read all their letters, and kept them under the loose floorboards beneath his bed so he could read them over and over again. They were the only things keeping him going.
He didn't want their pity or concern, but he did want the letters. He was sure they'd stop writing when they didn't receive replies and he was terrified waiting for that day to come, but it hadn't so far. Every day there would be a letter from one of them, every day Harry would feel the same amazement and allow his heart a brief thrill before quickly squashing it. They'd give up sooner or later and that was better, right? It was better to push them away, the closer they were, the more danger they were in. He was Prophecy Boy and Merlin help anyone unlucky enough to cross his path. That was all too painfully obvious. No matter how determined he was to push them all away, Harry knew he was fighting a losing battle. He, himself, was his own worst enemy. He wanted those letters, desperately. In fact, he clung to them like a drowning a man.
The summers had always been lonely, but this one was unbearable. The loneliness was all consuming and he couldn't escape it. He had an unreasonable desire to respond to Mrs. Weasley's letters most of all and couldn't understand why. She pleaded with him to write and his heart ached at the idea of hurting her. A secret, hidden, desire that he would barely admit to himself was that she'd come to Privet Drive and check on him herself. He banished the thought quickly when it came, but it came nonetheless. He wasn't sure why he wanted to see her so bad. He wasn't a little kid, he wasn't even her kid, but the fact remained that he did want to see her and ask if she knew how to stop this emptiness within his heart from taking over completely.
Harry stopped the train of his thoughts as he entered the yard to number 4 Privet Drive. He had stopped by the home of Mrs. Figg after Aunt Petunia told him Mrs. Figg had asked him to tea. Harry didn't mind an hour away from the Dursleys, so he'd gone over to see her.
Harry was disappointed to find the house still smelled strongly of cabbage and cats. Mrs. Figg had tried to get him to stay and talk about anything, but soon Harry could tell she was frustrated by his lack of response. He ended the visit quickly, using the rain as an excuse to get back.
It was getting dark now and he quietly let himself in and went upstairs. He'd skip dinner tonight, he wasn't hungry anyway and was tired of attempting to care about what was going on around him. He plopped himself down on his bed and prepared for another night of endless dreams.
He'd told Mrs. Figg that he wouldn't go to Grimmauld Place. He couldn't go back there. Harry wanted to go to the Burrow but knew that would never be allowed. By insisting he wouldn't go to headquarters, that would keep the others safe.
Thinking of Grimmauld Place brought his mind back to where it always seemed to end up, on Sirius. Harry remembered how awful this past year had been when he couldn't communicate with Sirius. The owls were being watched, the floo was being watched, and Harry was being watched.
He had clung to the thought that maybe he and Sirius would get some time this summer, they could talk about Harry's dad and the disturbing images he'd seen in Snape's pensieve. They could talk about this damn Prophecy and what Harry was suppose to do with that! Hell, they could just talk about girls and what a complete and clueless idiot Harry was on the whole idea of how a girl's mind works! Somehow Harry suspected Sirius might know a lot about that matter. He'd never know for sure though, because none of those talks were ever going to happen. Sirius was gone, he wouldn't be coming back and it was all Harry's fault.
He felt that familiar tightening in his chest as a lump formed in the back of his throat. "I'm so sorry Sirius," he whispered miserably as he forced his face into his pillow. It was going to be a long, long night.