Chapter 1- Absolutely Zero
You. You were a friend. You were a friend of mine I let you spend the night
You see how it was my fault. Of course it was mine.
Who am I to say this situation isn't great? It's my job to make the most of it
Of course I didn't know that it would happen to me. Not that easy.
Jason Mraz, "Absolutely Zero"
It was a gloomy summer's day in Surrey, Little Whinging. Dark clouds loomed over the empty street and the rumble of thunder could be heard in the distance. The wind was beginning to pick up and the flowers in the garden swayed, their noses bowing down to the wavering blades of grass.
Number four, Privet Drive was almost empty and all the upstairs lights were off. Through the window you could tell that the television in the living room was flickering on and off because of the foul weather, and this greatly annoyed the portly son of the homeowners.
"Stop doing that!" Dudley Dursley roared, kicking the side of the entertainment center.
This caused some of the glass figurines to rattle and the television to flicker even more. The boy's parents were at a banquet, so he had to endure the trauma that was the ruddy living room television instead of the one in his parents' bedroom—he had broken the big screen in his own room.
The other boy of the house sat on the opposite sofa, watching with dreary eyes as his cousin attempted to fiddle with the wires of the television. He was stretched out with his hands caught in the tangle of his messy black hair, his round glasses drooping down to the tip of his nose.
Harry Potter knew Dudley's attempts should amuse him, seeing as in a second or two the boy had a good chance of getting shot across the room by an electric current, but he didn't have the energy to even look amused.
For the entire month of July, Harry had been situated in one of three spots: his bedroom, which was a horrendous mess; the living room sofa, his family tolerated this because he remained eerily silent the entire time and the garden, staying out there until it was far past his normal curfew.
It wasn't that he didn't want to go out, or that he couldn't, the problem of finding the energy and strength to do something, anything, was keeping him indoors.
Harry couldn't find it in himself to take a walk down to the play park, or head over to Mrs. Figg's to talk to Ron through the fireplace.
Actually, Harry hadn't even been responding to Ron and Hermione's letters with the enjoyment and urgency he used to. It seemed to be frustrating them to no ends, especially now that Neville Longbottom, Luna Lovegood, and Ginny Weasley had been sending him letters as well. There was a long line of people to respond to and Harry never had the urge to do so.
The only person he had bothered to associate himself with was the little kid down the street, Mark Evans.
The boy had managed to tag along during Harry's forced trips outside ("If you don't get out of this house in five seconds I'm going to throw you out!" Uncle Vernon would roar.). The boy was rather funny and witty, but he always asked questions about Harry's school life, forcing Harry to create elaborate lies about how wonderful St. Brutus' really was.
The young wizard knew something was wrong with him, physically and mentally, and he was quite aware that the entire Order of the Phoenix knew as well, which meant he might be leaving Privet Drive soon. Thing was, he didn't exactly mind what was wrong with him; he almost felt as if he deserved to be so forlorn all the time. Maybe this would make going back to Hogwarts so much sweeter…
"DAMNIT!"Dudley shrieked, and with a look of immense fury, he punched the wall.
Harry jumped slightly at the impact, his eyes widening at the hole his cousin had just created. Dudley seemed to be just as shocked, and he stared at the whole in the wall with wide, teary eyes.
"Oh hell," Harry muttered, standing up and walking over to take a closer look at the damage. It seemed that Dudley was very lucky he missed a stud in the wall, but his hand was still bleeding nonetheless.
"Geez, Big-D, you ever hear of reruns?"
Dudley managed to glare at his cousin before he whined and pulled his fist out of the wall, flicking the dust and plaster off with an awkward amount of care; apparently he didn't want to hurt himself even more. His fist was already stained red and the blood began slowly dripping down his arm.
"W-whoa, Duds," Harry warned, putting his hand out to catch some of the blood near Dudley's elbow, "get that on the carpet and your mum will have my head."
Feeling a tinge of gratefulness for having something to occupy his mind, Harry led his cousin to the kitchen, turning on the water tap so Dudley could soak his hand. The large boy was still whimpering as he washed away all the grime and junk that had landed on his hand.
"What's the matter with you?" Harry asked, rummaging through a drawer for the first-aid kit. "I'm sure you've taken harder hits than that during your boxing matches."
"Dad's going to kill me if he finds out I hurt my hand!" Dudley confessed, looking very distressed. "I have a huge match next week; all of his bosses are going to be there!"
Harry smirked slightly, finding the kit and emerging from the drawer.
Dudley had taken a seat at the table, holding his injured hand out and holding his head in the other. The young wizard couldn't stop the sympathy he was feeling for his cousin, and somehow he knew that Dudley was really worried about his dad's reaction.
He wasn't sure what caused the sudden surge of familiarity with his cousin, but he ignored his questioning conscience and left the first-aid kit on the counter.
"Give me your hand."
Dudley peeked through his chubby fingers with questioning eyes.
"Why the hell do you want my hand?"
"Just give it."
"Are you a pansy or something?"
Harry had to resist the urge to call Dudley something very rude; his mouth remained planted shut, his feet stuck to the ground.
"Damn it, Dudley, I'm going to fix it!"
The blonde boy still looked suspicious, but he stuck his hand out to Harry. With a slight roll of his eyes, Harry took his cousin's hand, grasping it around the wrist (as well as he could, Dudley was much larger than Harry), and hovered his other hand over it. Closing his eyes tightly, Harry concentrated as hard as he could, whispering 'Reparo,' trying to picture Dudley's hand completely healed..
"What are you doing?" Dudley asked, his voice slightly strained.
"I'm trying to fix your hand, how many bloody times do I have to say it?"
Harry's eyes snapped open, staring at Dudley as if he had the brain capacity of a two-year old.
"With magic, what on Earth do you think I'm using?"
The green-eyed boy winced, realizing his mistake. Almost immediately, Dudley yanked his arm away, letting out a scream of indescribable pain. He backed away and almost out of the kitchen with a terrified look in his eyes.
"Don't get any closer!" Dudley yelled as Harry approached him, trying to explain. "I'm going to tell my dad, and when he gets back he's--"
"Going to kill you for hurting yourself."
Dudley paused immediately, glaring daggers at Harry. The young wizard remained calm, looking a bit smug.
"Look, I promise I'm not going to hurt you—I honestly don't know if this is even going to work…but seeing as a bandage is noticeable, I'm going to try to fix it so it doesn't even sting."
Harry noticed that Dudley had taken some tiny steps back into the kitchen. With a sigh, the boy recalled some of his Charms lessons and spells Hermione had forced him to learn.
"I'll try to do…er…that without my…thing."
He figured if he didn't say the words 'magic' or 'wand' Dudley would remain semi-calm. It seemed to work as Dudley released a sigh and took a seat. Apparently, this boxing thing was very important to him.
"Fine. But I'm warning you, Scar-head, if you mess it up even more, I'm going to knock your lights out!"
Harry had to bite his lip to stop himself from asking Dudley if he'd knock him out just like he made that hole in the wall. The boy figured that if Dudley forgot about the hole, he'd get a good talking to by his father.
"Just hold still and be quiet, I'm going to need to concentrate."
The young wizard didn't know why he was so determined to heal Dudley; maybe it was the inkling in the back of his mind that he wouldn't hear the end of it from Uncle Vernon if he found his son's hand in such a state. Maybe it was the fact that he still felt a bit guilty for the Dementor attack from the year before. Whatever the reason, it was strong, and Harry focused a tremendous amount of energy into performing the healing.
He took Dudley's hand and placed his other hand on top of the cuts, closing his eyes and concentrating on the cuts. Hopefully wandless magic didn't count as underage magic; how on Earth would the Ministry be able to tell if it had been intentional or not?
He was repeating the spell over and over in his head, trying to trick his mind into thinking that he had his wand. If he could just use his fingers as an outlet, then maybe his wandless magic would work…
"Ooh, that's weird," Dudley whispered, his eyes wide.
Harry's eyes shot open and he pulled his hands away from Dudley's. His cousin must've felt the cuts closing up, because now they were just the size of paper cuts. The young wizard couldn't help but feel a bit proud, as he watched Dudley examine his hand.
"How does it feel?" Harry asked, trying to get a look at the hand.
"Like it never happened."
Dudley's eyes were wide with surprise, and Harry wondered for a brief second if his cousin was having second thoughts about magic.
"Well…" Dudley looked very uncomfortable, his eyes darting around the room for something to pay attention to. "Better clean up that blood on the floor."
Harry took a deep breath and forced something of a smile; Dudley was never going to change and he didn't know why he had even thought it might happen. He whirled around to find a rag he could use, but was surprised when he felt a hand on his shoulder, stopping him. Harry watched in shock as Dudley bent down to wipe up the blood.
Much more than mildly impressed, Harry mumbled a "good night," and left for his bedroom in an intense daze.
Where had that come from? Harry had always done things for Dudley (well, he was mostly ordered to do them) and never in his entire life had the boy returned the favor. What had happened over the past school year? Was it the dementor? What had Dudley felt that had changed him so?
Harry didn't think to dwell on it. Remembering last summer's confrontation with the thing that scared him the most would only bring back even worse memories, like the first time he had ever felt a dementor.
That would lead to what happened in his third year, and Harry had to stop and lean against the wall of the staircase to stop himself from reliving it all. He couldn't think of anything that reminded him of his godfather, not now, anyway. He would wait until he went to bed.
Dudley was lucky: his parents got home very late and didn't notice the hole in the wall. Harry wondered how they would react in the morning, figuring Uncle Vernon would somehow turn it around and make it Harry's fault.
He wasn't sure what time it was, probably close to twelve, but Harry didn't feel tired at all. Actually, he was exhausted, but not sleepy, and it annoyed him greatly.
Last year, he'd been able to be angry and yell and just release all of his frustration at whatever was bothering him. It had felt good to let his anger after keeping it bottled up for so long, but it wasn't very effective at making him happy, or making the pain go away.
He didn't think this pain would ever disappear.
Harry hadn't gone one night without a nightmare about his godfather. They weren't like the ones he had about Cedric, no, these were dreams about the living Sirius, the man he had got to know and the memories he would never be able to create. Last night he dreamed of Sirius taking him on a ride with Buckbeak, just for kicks. It had never happened, it never had the chance to happen, and now it never would happen.
He didn't know how to deal with losing someone he'd loved so much but never had a chance to to share his life with.
Sirius had been the closest thing Harry had ever had to a father, and losing his parents in the first place had been a heavy weight on his heart. Now he had double the pain because he had caught a glimpse of what a normal life could have been.
Sirius' death had bee so sudden, so incredibly fast, that Harry still felt as if he was under a sleeping draught in the Hospital Wing. Where had his godfather gone? The only solid answer he had got from anyone was that Sirius was dead, forever out of his life and never to be seen again. Could he have been saved? What was that curse? When would Bellatrix pay?
The thought of her made Harry's eyes well with tears and he clenched his fists; if he'd only been angrier, he could have made her suffer just like she was making him suffer—taking away his godfather was quite possibly the worst thing anyone could have done to him. If only he was angrier…
…that always made his stomach flip, too. Why wasn't he mad enough to hurt Bellatrix? Didn't Sirius mean anything to him?
"Damn," he whispered, flipping onto his stomach to bury his face into his pillow. It happened every night.
He would try to fall asleep out of sheer exhaustion, but when that didn't work, he wondered why he wasn't falling asleep and that always led to thoughts of Sirius.
The beeping of Dudley's watch woke him up even more; it was indicating that it was midnight and July thirty-first. Immediately after the beeping, a rapid tapping against his window began.and he released a deep breath as he forced himself off the bed. He noticed that it was only one owl, Hedwig. When he let her in, she dropped into his hands a single envelope.
He shuffled over to his bed, flopping onto his stomach and pulling the envelope apart, pouring out its contents. It was a picture of him, drawn rather badly, flying on his broomstick, looking very happy.
Animated Harry landed at a party of animated friends (even Crookshanks and Pig made it in) and he blew out the candles. Confetti and balloons were released, forming the words, "Happy 16th Birthday!" The picture of the party then disappeared and the words 'Go look out your window' appeared.
Clearly confused, Harry neatly folded up the rest of the package and walked over to the window, pulling it as open as it could possibly get. It wasn't raining anymore, but the dark clouds still engulfed the sky. All the houses on the street were dark and oddly enough, so were the streetlights.
His head snapped towards the ground, shocked at the sound of a voice down below in the garden. Harry squinted his eyes to get adjusted to the dark and he gasped, sticking his head out even further.
Harry couldn't help the enormous grin that had slid onto his face as Remus Lupin waved softly up at him. His former Defense professor was one of his most cherished adult friends, and to see him paying a really…late visit, just for his birthday, was very cool.
Also, in the back of Harry's mind, he thought that this could mean that he might be able to leave Privet Drive.
"What are you doing here?" Harry whispered as loud as he could, so not to wake up the Dursleys. Lupin shrugged slightly, running a hand through his hair.
"Wouldn't it be more comfortable if we were on the same level?" Lupin replied.
The young wizard nodded quickly, rushing out of his room and whisking down the stairs in probably the quietest fashion he had ever in his life. He was not going to let the Dursleys ruin Lupin's visit. The thought of it actually not being Lupin crossed his mind for a second, and he made sure his wand was at the ready position as he opened the door.
But, when Harry saw the face of the man on his front steps, he was sure that it was his former Defense Professor. Lupin's face looked old and grey; his eyes looked horribly sad in the moonlight. When he smiled, Harry could pick out many different emotions, most of them making Harry's chest tighten.
"Come in," he ushered, but Lupin shook his head, looking back out into the street.
"No…I can't, don't want to cause any trouble." He smiled down at Harry. "Let's go for a walk."
The boy shrugged, and rushed to get his cloak before following Remus out into the dark street; he didn't care if his neighbors saw him outside this late, but he care about the hole-covered pajamas he was wearing. He noticed that the street lamps had turned back on, and he shared his observation with Remus.
"Ah," Lupin said, an amused grin on his face, "yes, that was me. Didn't want the neighbors to think you're socializing with hooligans in the night."
Harry forced something like a chuckle as they continued down the pavement, his hands dug deeply into his pockets. He was eager to ask questions, but there was something blocking his usual bravery at finding out what he wanted. He and Professor Lupin shared a common tragedies. Harry and Lupin had a few conversations about the Potters, but it seemed like they were both avoiding Sirius' death, and neither wanted to start it. Harry had noticed the uncomfortable feeling the two had together the first time they saw each other after the Ministry of Magic, on the train platform.
The young wizard didn't think they would ever have the relationship they used to.
"He won't be out for a while."
Harry turned his eyes towards Lupin and saw that he was staring up at the sky, his eyes slightly narrowed as he examined the twinkling stars. The boy followed his gaze and couldn't find what his former professor was talking about.
"Er…who won't be out?"
It made Harry stop immediately, his heart thumping hard in his chest. Lupin stopped walking a few paces ahead, his eyes still on the sky. The older wizard didn't turn around at first; he just bowed his head as Harry carefully approached him.
"What…what are you talking about?"
Lupin turned slightly towards him, looking even sadder than he had at the doorstep. His shoulders sagged as he released a large sigh, his eyes obviously avoiding Harry's.
"The star, his star—his namesake? It's a winter star; we won't see him until the winter."
Harry thought briefly that the star thing was very nice, but he couldn't get out a word. He knew what was coming.
"How are you doing, Harry?"
The boy hid his wince very well. What he wanted was to talk to Lupin about Sirius, not to pour out his feelings in the middle of the street, under the light of a Muggle streetlamp. How could he expect Harry to discuss what was going through his mind because of the death of the only real family he's ever known?
His lie was obvious, but he supposed that his point of not wanting to talk was as well. Lupin opened his mouth again and even put his hand out, but he retracted, faltering. Harry saw pain flash across the older wizard's face, but he couldn't find the courage within himself to help him.
"Oh," Lupin responded, sounding professional. Harry noticed how adult he was all the time. "That's good, I suppose. Just wanted to make sure…"
"Yeah, I'm fine."
It's better than yelling, Harry thought, at least no one looks scared of you.
"Well, I'm happy about that, wish I could say the same." His sad grin made Harry feel horrible for lying. "I suppose we should be off then, I'm sure the Weasleys would like to get some sleep."
Harry's eyes widened with confusion as Lupin pulled out a small wrapped box from his inside pocket.
"Er…the Weasleys? Wh-what?"
Lupin laughed softly, his eyes betraying the genuine sound of it.
"It's a Portkey, Harry; we're going to the Burrow."
Harry had been more surprised that they were using a Portkey to get to the Burrow than the fact that they were actually going to the Burrow.
"But, I thought the Order couldn't risk unauthorized Portkeys?" Harry asked, though he wasn't sure why he was worried—he was getting out of here, he should be willing to get there as soon as possible.
Lupin took Harry's wrist in his hand and put it on the box.
"After the chaos at the Ministry, Fudge is…being much more lenient with us." He peered down at the watch on his hand, clicking his tongue with each passing second, "Three, two, one."
Immediately, Harry felt the tugging at his navel and he shut his eyes because of the nauseating feeling traveling by Portkey brought him. It didn't last as long as his last travel had, and he landed pretty well for not have practiced in a while.
"Well, look who it is," the familiar voice of one of the Weasley twins chided. Harry's eyes blinked open and were greeted by a crowd of redheads.
Mr. and Mrs. Weasley rushed over first, the twins remained in the doorway of the kitchen, Bill stood up from the sofa, and Ginny sat at the bottom of the staircase, dead asleep. Harry noticed immediately that Ron was no where to be seen.
"It's wonderful to have you back home, Harry," Mrs. Weasley exclaimed, releasing him from his hug. "Are you hungry? I have leftovers from dinner, do you want anything?"
"Mum, it'smidnight," Bill said through a yawn, ruffling up Harry's hair. Lupin nodded slightly, checking his watch.
"I should be going, Dumbledore gave me fifteen minutes to be back, or they're sending out the guard—wouldn't want Moody running about, eh?"
The older wizard looked down at Harry, smiling softly. Harry felt slightly uncomfortable, knowing that Lupin was quite aware of his lie. He wasn't sure why the guilt of it was weighing so heavily, but he couldn't apologize or reveal his feelings in front of almost all the Weasleys.
"I'll see you soon, Harry, have fun. That gift is from the Order." Lupin put his hand out and Harry shook it vigorously. With a slight bow of his head, Remus Lupin waved goodbye and disappeared with a crack!
"All right, let's get to sleep now, right?" Mr. Weasley said, eyeing the twins carefully. Fred and George rolled their eyes and disappeared with two loud cracks and a puff of green smoke that formed the words: "Make Apparition Stylish! Try Weasley's Wizard Wheezes' Puff-fo'-Pop!"
"Bill, would you please wake up Ginny? The poor dear…" Mrs. Weasley commented, ushering Harry towards the staircase. The youngest Weasley hadn't stirred, and didn't move when Harry and her mother stepped by her. ("'ello? Gin?" Bill asked as he tried to wake her up. "Mmmm, geroff!" the girl mumbled.)
"All of your belongings will be shipped here later tonight; you'll be staying in Ron's room," Mrs. Weasley noted as they made their way past the third floor.
"Er, where is Ron?" Harry asked. Mrs. Weasley frowned and gave him a soft push, telling him to continue up the stairs.
"He wanted to stay up, dear," she said, making sure Harry knew it wasn't Ron's wish to not greet him, "and made us promise to wake him up a bit before you arrived…but he hasn't been getting any sleep. Don't tell, but I think he's been having nightmares."
Harry frowned, knowing that Ron very rarely had nightmares. After sharing a bedroom with him for most of the past five years of his life, this new information saddened Harry greatly, just like everything else in the world seemed to.
"Your bed is already done, sweetheart, I'll see you in the morning." Mrs. Weasley wrapped Harry up in a tight hug, holding on a bit longer than she would have normally. Harry appreciated it, but it just made the pain he was feeling over Ron's nightmares even worse.
Harry knew what the cause of the nightmares was, and if he were wrong, he'd eat a basket load of Hagrid's famous biscuits. The Department of Mysteries was the cause of many of his nightmares, and he was sure that Ron had lived through horrors that Harry couldn't begin to fathom. That time when they were separated had been long and immensely frightening for Harry, so he could only imagine what Ron had seen.
He entered the room quietly and slipped onto his cot quickly to not wake up his friend. Ron was rolled away from him and smothered under a violent orange sheet. His room hadn't changed since the last time Harry had been over, making the young wizard realize that he hadn't been in the Burrow in around two years. How had he not missed it more?
It wasn't more than twenty minutes after Harry fell asleep that it happened, scaring Harry more than anything he had ever seen.
"Where are they? Ginny—did you see?"
Harry groaned slightly, not realizing what had woken him up. He remained hidden under his covers, the sheet pulled tightly around his head.
"Neville? Harry? Oh Merlin, where's Harry?"
At this, Harry's heart skipped a beat and he sat up, turning to look over at Ron. His friend was sitting up, his head bowed over and his fists clenching his orange sheet. The moon that was shining through the window illuminated his pale face and it was a remarkably eerie scene.
"Ron," Harry hissed, sliding off the cot. He was almost afraid to touch him because of the shocked expression on his friend's face.
"Where is he? Where's--" Ron's face took on a look of total horror, "where's Hermione? She's not here? Hermione? Hermione!"
Harry took his friend's shoulders in his hands and shook him rather roughly, making Ron's scrunched shut-eyes snap open with a glazed dizziness. The two boys stared at each other for a few moments before Ron finally blinked and looked away.
"Was I having a nightmare?"
Harry bit his tongue and nodded, walking backwards to sit on his cot. It was odd; this must be the feeling Ron always had when he woke Harry up from his constant nightmares, a feeling of helplessness and worry.
"Sorry, er…was it, bad?" Ron asked, looking sheepish.
"Yeah, I think it was when we got separated."
Ron grimaced, rubbing his forearm. Harry noticed that he was wearing a long sleeved pajama top even in the heat of the summer.
"Your scars still hurting?"
Ron simply nodded and continued to rub his arm. The two sat in silence for a few more minutes until Harry thought it was long enough to try and go back to sleep. He lay back down and pulled the sheet over his shoulders, turning over to face away from Ron.
"It was the worst night of my life," Ron murmured.
Harry froze, his eyes shooting open. He didn't turn around, hoping that Ron would think he should go back to sleep.
"I had absolutely no idea what was going on."
Harry cursed silently, and rolled over to look at his friend. Ron was still in the same position he had been in before, frozen in a snapshot of his own misery.
"You had disappeared, but we…the Order, they stuck us in this waiting room thing with these huge vases of fluffy pink flowers. They were the ugliest things I've ever seen…"
"Ron, go to sleep…"
"Luna was leaning against the wall, her dazed look intensified by a million," Ron continued, as if he hadn't heard Harry's pleas, "Ginny was on the sofa with her ankle on a pillow and Neville couldn't let go of his nose. I don't know how long I had been unconscious, but I woke up with such a headache that I thought I had died…"
Harry watched as Ron's eyes closed for a second, opening quickly and filled with unshed tears. He was trembling, his breathing scratchy.
"Then I saw her, and I…I…everything disappeared. They had just left her there, out of the way of everything, no one helping her or watching her, just there," he choked, swallowing hard. Harry watched as Ron's clenched fists shook. "I stumbled over to her but I fell because I was still woozy and Luna had to help me stand up, but I was furious because no one was helping her, they had just left her so alone…"
He paused, taking a short breath. Ron seemed to be holding in tears and his shoulders racked with the cries he wasn't going to release. Harry didn't know what to do; he had never consoled anyone but Hermione before. This wasn't supposed to happen; Ron was supposed to hide it just like him.
"G'night, Harry." Ron didn't look over as he fell back down to his pillow, his eyes shut immediately. Harry watched in amazement as his friend's breathing became calm and relaxed, indicating he was asleep.
The young wizard continued to watch his friend for as long as he could fight his droopy eyelids, and when he lost the battle and woke the next morning, he would be glad that he hadn't dreamed at all.