AN/ This story was started before Half-Blood Prince came out. It is what I think could have happened in book 6 onwards, had a few key events been slightly different. 2019 update: If you've been alerted that this story has changed, it's not because there's anything new; I'm editing the existing story!
Harry strolled down the centre of Diagon Alley with Ron, Hermione and Ginny two weeks after having left Hogwarts for the summer. He was finally going to get to see what his Triwizard Tournament winnings had bought for the twins.
It had been a long summer for him already, his permanent bad mood was only worsened by the Dursley's behaviour and his lack of contact with his world.
The other three were chatting away about something, but Harry's thoughts were a million miles away as he stared at the cobbled pavement beneath his feet. Well not a million miles away, close by in fact, in the Ministry of Magic's Department of Mysteries.
The memory haunted him.
The crumbling stone archway, the fluttering, ragged, black veil. The way it folded in as Sirius had fallen into it. The look of surprise on his face as he disappeared out of sight, never to return. Harry felt sick as his memory replayed in his head, there was so much he could have done, and didn't. He shouldn't have even been there in the first place, he'd gone there to save Sirius, and instead, he'd drawn him to his death.
Ginny was arguing with Ron and was calling on him for his opinion.
"Oh," he said blankly, realising he hadn't heard a word they'd said for the past ten minutes, "I agree with Ron."
"The Canons are not going to win the League cup this year Harry!" ranted Ginny accusingly, "Surely the Magpies are going to win?"
"Oh, yeah, the Magpies, of course," said Harry, nodding his head, not particularly caring.
Ginny gave Ron and triumphant look and Harry returned to his thoughts.
Whereas last year he had been constantly haunted by visions of the black door, now it was only the black veil. He had wondered in the dead of night having woken up from another nightmare, whether these were actually dreams or whether they were visions.
Maybe it was Sirius trying to get in contact with him?
Harry knew in his heart that he was gone, but the overwhelming hope still existed inside him that he was trapped inside, waiting for Harry to come and get him. Sirius would know that Harry would be the only one whom he could rely on to help him, just like Sirius had always helped Harry…
Harry had found himself unconsciously planning ways in which he could re-enter the Department of Mysteries, how he would get into the room with the arch in it, how he could get Sirius back out. Luna had told him Sirius was inside the veil, all he had to do was reach in…
"Fancy an ice-cream Harry?" broke in Hermione's voice.
He looked up and realised with a jolt they were standing outside Florean Fortescue's, with Ron and Ginny already over by the counter.
"Yeah, sure…" he said in a faraway voice, "sure…"
"Are you ok Harry?" asked Hermione worriedly, "you've been awfully quiet since we picked you up."
"I'm fine," he lied with an unconvincing smile, "honestly, just a little tired… late night, revision, you know…"
Hermione nodded, understanding he was lying through his teeth and there was nothing she could do about it.
They got their sundaes and sat down around the table, laughing and chatting in the bright sunlight that Harry couldn't feel or even acknowledge. Ever since he had come out of the Ministry he had just felt cold, numb, the only thing he could feel was this ache in his stomach; like a huge gaping hole that no amount of anything could ever fill.
"I'm surprised your mum let us come out on our own," said Hermione, her voice carrying into Harry's head from a long way away, "Especially now."
"Oh, we're not alone," piped up Ginny as she fished around for the fudge piece at the bottom of her glass, "Tonks is over there. See the old woman watching us in the reflection of the Apothecary, she's wearing our favourite nose, Hermione. I'm also pretty sure I saw Mundungus over there, as well as a few new guys I don't recognise that have been trailing us since we left the Leaky Cauldron."
This revelation broke Harry out of his reverie, and he looked up sharply and took in the figures that Ginny had pointed out, dotted across the street. Sure enough, an old woman was watching them in the reflection of a window, and the nose was familiar from meals at Grimauld Place last year.
He looked across to Ginny in surprise, she must be observant to have spotted all that; Harry hadn't even noticed who he had been walking with, let alone the hidden Aurors.
"I guess mum must want us to think we still have some freedom," shrugged Ginny, scraping out her glass and noticing they were still staring at her, "What?"
"How did you notice them?" asked Harry blankly, they were trained Aurors after all.
"We've all got to watch our backs now," she told him, with a slightly haunted look in her eyes.
He nodded and stared down glumly at his sundae. He had eaten about two mouthfuls but didn't feel hungry at all now; in fact he felt quite sick. All he wanted to do was return home and sleep.
No, he lied; all he wanted to do was turn back the clocks. He prayed with every fibre of his being that he could go back to that evening of his History of Magic exam when he'd had his 'vision'. He wished so much it hurt that he had gone to Snape and told him, that he'd known about and used the mirror that Sirius had given him, that he'd checked Grimauld Place for Sirius and not just believe the word of traitorous Kreacher.
All these things he could have done but hadn't.
Sirius shouldn't have come after him and he shouldn't have gone in the first place. He should have been able to handle it by himself - who was he kidding? He'd been teaching DA for half a year in the hope of showing everyone how they could defend themselves as he had, but for what? He wasn't a teacher, he wasn't an Auror, and he should never have got ideas above his station. He couldn't protect himself any more than Neville could, and he could protect his friends even less.
Everything he did seemed to bring them one step closer to Voldemort, one step closer to death. He would rather have thrown himself into that veil than have Sirius go through it.
It was then that out of the corner of his eye he saw a great hulking black shadow. He almost cracked his neck by the speed of which he turned around to look at it, hope exploding in his chest like a rapidly inflating balloon.
"Sirius!" Harry yelled hoarsely, immediately leaping from his chair.
There was the sound of crashing furniture and smashing glass and Harry desperately push through the sea of tables, people shouting loudly at him as he pushed them aside.
"SIRIUS!" yelled Harry even louder, chasing after the long black tail he could just about make out through the crowd.
He could hear Ron shouting his name and Hermione and Ginny running after him, as he threw aside people, still desperately shouting out Sirius's name - he couldn't hear him with all that noise!
Harry felt like his head was about to explode - he knew Sirius was ok, he'd just known his Godfather wouldn't have given up on him like that. Sirius was indestructible, one little curse like that, it was laughable, he should have known it wouldn't stop his Godfather looking after him.
He was frantically pushing through the crowd, which was now drawing back, whispering in fright at the supposed mass-murderer being identified in Diagon Alley. He could see the dog's hindquarters now, it's back. Harry yelled his name once again and the dog turned around, dragging its owner who was holding the lead with him.
Harry felt as if all the air had been knocked out of his lungs. Like he'd fallen from a great dizzying height onto solid concrete.
It wasn't Sirius.
It didn't even look anything like him.
Somewhere outside the crushing pain, he was feeling he aware of people whispering, the crowds watching him in puzzlement and the various Order member closing in. All of this, however, took a backseat to the utter feeling of loss and grief that had overtaken him. It felt like he'd lost Sirius all over again, for a few brief seconds he had been ok, he had been alive.
Somehow, he had ended up on his knees and with a shaking hand he reached out a stroked the dogs' thick blank fur feeling the hole in his stomach, that ever-present ache cracking open even wider, swallowing him up.
In the background he could hear the curious whispers of the crowd, the dogs' owner demanding loudly what was going on, the sound of Hermione trying to explain. Somebody placed a comforting hand on his arm, which was still stroking the dog slowly.
"Come on Harry," said the voice softly, with a trace of anxiety hidden away in its depths.
He suddenly snapped out of it, dropping his arm to his sides and allowing his eyes to come back into focus. Climbing hastily to his feet he looked over to the owner and gave him a smile that held no humour.
"Sorry, case of mistaken identity I think," he said, before stepping back and pushing his way through the crowds.
"Harry!" came Hermione's voice as three pairs of feet scurried to catch up with him, "wait up! Please, Harry -."
However, he had reached the looming presence of Kingsley Shacklebolt, who was looking down at him with a very thoughtful, calculating expression.
"I'd like to go home now," he told him in his most authoritative voice.
"Follow me then," came the deep rumble of a voice.
Harry began to walk after him.
"Harry!" called Ginny's voice from behind him.
"Where are you going?" asked Hermione, there was the suspicion of tears in her voice.
He strode away silently, Kingsley looking down at him out of the corner of his eyes.
"Harry!" yelled Ron.
They passed Tonks who was looking sombre faced. Harry tried to gulp down the lump in his throat trying to rid the image of the black dog from in front of his eyes. He resisted the urge to push a hand onto his chest, to stop the feeling that his soul was being torn from his body. An Order member he didn't recognise became his second guard as they walked towards the archway to Diagon Alley, leaving Ron, Hermione and Ginny standing uncertainly in the middle of the street, watching him go in confusion.
When he finally reached the freshly painted front door of Number Four Privet Drive, he thanked his guards and let himself in quietly. Stowing the key away in his pocket he made towards the stairs.
"Is that you Dudley?" came his Uncle's shout from the living room.
Harry paused on the stairs, before trudging on up in answer. When he got to his room he locked the door and flopped onto the bed, burying his head in his pillows and not moving again, mind full of the Grim he had just seen and how once again it had brought death in its wake.