Disclaimer: The characters and any other places/things you recognize are obviously not mine but J. K. Rowling's.
A/N: This fic starts where the end of OoTP leaves off and takes Harry and the others through the summer as he deals with his grief, guilt, and new feelings for Hermione. It is mostly complete and I hope to update daily. This was first posted on www.harrypotterguide.co.uk (a great site with really nice people—check it out!) under the pen name Gryff. Thanks for reading and double thanks for reviewing. Hope you enjoy!
The In-Between Places
Harry slumped in the back seat of the Dursley's car as it rolled southwest out of London proper toward Little Whinging. Uncle Vernon had rushed them out the train station as quickly as he could muttering things like, "...weirdoes better not come to my house..." and "...we'll see about that..." all the time glancing furtively over his shoulder and then at Harry. Aunt Petunia and Dudley had just kept their heads down and followed along behind him leaving Harry to manage his trunk and Hedwig's cage by himself.
Harry gazed out the car window seeing shop-fronts and people blur by. He hoped to avoid any conversation with the others in the car and fortunately for him, the Dursleys appeared to feel the same.
The show of support his friends had given him at the train station had been almost overwhelming. Harry could still see their worried eyes as they tried to reassure him and bid him goodbye at the same time. He remembered the warm swell in his heart at their words. But that feeling was now becoming as distant as King's Cross Station.
Too soon, Harry heard the crunching of gravel as the car pulled in to number four, Privet Drive. He looked up at the house resignedly then at Hedwig sitting in her cage next to him. She hooted softly and tilted her white head toward him. Harry slowly opened the car door and reached back in to gently extract Hedwig's cage. Uncle Vernon had opened the back of the car and Harry got his trunk, dragging it behind him with his other hand as he made his way to the door.
Harry finally made it up to his room with his things. He closed the door behind him and looked around the smallish bedroom. Nothing noticeable had changed. Harry sat down on his bed, sighed and placed his wand on the bedside table. The Dursley's had been whispering amongst themselves in the kitchen as he had made his way up the stairs. He couldn't hear what they were saying and he really didn't care.
Harry lifted Hedwig's cage up on the bureau and went to get some water from the bathroom tap for her. She hooted her thanks when he placed it in her cage. Harry left her cage door open and after she had a drink, she flew over to the bed where he was sitting. Harry gazed out the window at the setting sun. He was hungry and fortunately he had smartly stocked up a bit from the snack trolley on the train. Harry removed a pumpkin pasty and pumpkin juice from his trunk and shared some with Hedwig.
"Here we are again, girl. Wonder for how long this time..." Harry whispered stroking her back. "I'll open the window in just a moment and let you stretch your wings."
When they had finished their food, Hedwig fluttered up to Harry's shoulder and he stood and walked to the window. After he had raised the sash, Hedwig gave a soft hoot and squeezed his shoulder gently before she took off into the darkening sky. Harry watched as she grew smaller and smaller and then disappeared behind a cloud. Harry sighed, turning from the window and laid down on his bed. He had never felt more alone.
That night in his dreams, Harry was once again forced to relive the battle at the Ministry. Over and over, he watched as Hermione took the curse from Dolohov and collapsed to the floor beside him, seemingly lifeless. Then he heard Ron yelling fearfully as he was being wrapped by the brain's tentacles. But Harry's most torturous vision was seeing Sirius endlessly falling through the veil—because of him. Harry awoke on a sob in the small hours of the morning. He flipped his pillow over to the dry side and pulled his knees in toward his stomach. Harry's breath was coming in quick shallow gasps and he thought he was going to be sick.
After he had calmed some, Harry groped with a trembling hand trying to reach the light beside his bed. He no longer wanted sleep. When Harry was finally able to snap the switch on the lamp, he found Hedwig sitting quietly on the corner of his bed, watching him. She had an envelope attached to her leg. Harry could make out Hermione's writing on it as he lifted himself and struggled to remove it. At last his shaky fingers were able to untie the letter. Hedwig gave Harry's arm a squeeze with her claw and hooted softly. Then she turned and flew up to her cage for a drink. To Harry's surprise, Hedwig flew back out of her cage and headed out into the night again.
Harry dropped the letter unopened on the bedside table, staring at the envelope. The realization that he would never receive another message from Sirius slid icily into Harry's consciousness. He felt his chest begin to heave painfully and closed his eyes. Harry still had most of the parchments his godfather had sent him—especially the first one that Pig had brought to him on the Hogwarts Express at the end of third year. But no more now.
The awful visions from his dreams began swirling in his head. 'Your fault...' A nasty little voice whispered in his head as tears stung over his eyes. 'If only you'd listened...if only you hadn't been so keen to play the hero...' A horrible knot tightened in Harry's throat. '...If only you hadn't let Voldemort TRICK you!' Harry began to rock back and forth on the bed. 'Your friends wouldn't have been injured...they'd be better off without you—you're a danger to everyone you know...' Harry covered his face and he sobbed into his hands. 'Sirius would still be safe...now he's lost forever...' "No!" Harry moaned as he turned his face into his pillow to muffle his agonized cries.
Mercifully, the night began to weaken as the sun's early light eased the shadows away. Harry was sitting up in his bed now with his back propped against his headboard by a pillow. He had calmed considerably but his eyes were swollen and haunted behind his glasses. Harry knew now that there were four cracks in his ceiling, five in the wall, twelve panes of glass in his window, and he was quite familiar with the tiles on his bedroom floor.
Harry started as a knock sounded on his door. He didn't answer but the door creaked slowly open anyway. Uncle Vernon's stoutness filled the frame and he eyed Harry who was still in yesterday's clothes. Uncle Vernon cleared his throat.
"We're leaving on holiday for a week...er...your Aunt Petunia, Dudley, and I, that is..." Uncle Vernon looked shiftily around as though the walls might be listening but plowed on. "Going to visit your Aunt Marge...uh, thought it best for you not to come this time." Uncle Vernon swallowed. "There's enough food for you and," grudgingly, "feel free to watch the telly...we would appreciate it if you didn't go outside much...and, er, don't forget to ring your friends...let them know you're all right."
Harry did not respond.
"Well then, see you in a week..." Uncle Vernon nodded curtly closing the door and Harry heard him stump down the stairs. A few minutes later, it sounded as if they all came quickly up the stairs and soon began bumping their luggage back down the steps. Not long after, Harry heard the car start and the crunching of gravel as they backed out of the driveway. The motor's sound grew quieter and quieter as they drove away.
Harry thought he should have been glad that they were gone, but he found that he didn't feel anything. Just then, Hedwig returned with another letter tied to her leg. Harry sighed as he now saw Ron's handwriting and removed the parchment from Hedwig. He also dropped this one on the table beside his bed, unread. Hedwig cocked her head at him and hooted. Harry shook his head but reached out and stroked Hedwig's back. Hedwig looked at him reproachfully, hopped to the table and picked up the letters in her beak. She dropped them in his lap but Harry just let them stay there. Hedwig nudged Harry's arm with her head but got no response. She ruffled her feathers irritably and flew to her cage where she proceeded to turn her back to Harry and tucked her head under her wing.
Harry lay there most of the day watching the shadows move across the room and then lengthen. Hedwig woke up as the last ribbon of light streamed through the open window. She gazed at him and flew to the end of his bed. She looked reproachfully at the unopened letters still in his lap and walked up to Harry's side staring unblinkingly at him. Then, as though she had made up her mind about something, Hedwig turned and headed out into the deepening sky. She turned north.