Chapter One – One Depressed Wizard
All was not well at Number Four Privet Drive. The summer of 1996 was the summer that began with the loss of Sirius Black, and the beginning of the second war against Voldemort. While Sirius' loss affected many people, there was one who felt it more than any other person: Harry Potter. It was this reason that the head of the Order of the Phoenix, Albus Dumbledore, was taking time away from his efforts repelling Voldemort's attacks to visit Harry, and to see to his welfare. Harry was more than an exceptional wizard, the one prophesied to be Voldemort's downfall, or even one of his many students. No, Harry was also one of the most afflicted and tormented boys he had ever known, and since telling Harry everything he knew about his connection with Voldemort at the end of last term, Dumbledore was committed to righting some of the wrongs in Harry's life.
Harry was outside, trimming one of the hedges that lined the Dursleys' back garden. He hung his head low and the clicks of the clippers came in oddly regular, if slow, increments. Dumbledore observed him from a nearby tree, invisible to all but the most powerful of wizards, and silently began to formulate a plan.
"Boy!" yelled Harry's Uncle Vernon. The beefy man waddled over to where Harry was and huffed for a moment before raising a consistently beefy finger. "Hurry up with those hedges. You've got to mow the grass and weed the flower beds before you get any dinner, and don't think you can skive off until dark – you'll just have to keep working through morning."
Harry took a deep breath and sighed, not pausing once in his slow extermination of wayward juniper branches. "Yes, Uncle Vernon," Harry said. There was no life in his voice, and reminded Dumbledore alarmingly of someone who had given up.
Vernon appeared to falter, as if he'd expected more protest from Harry, but then he screwed his face again. "Too right," he said, and without even offering so much as a wet towel to ward off the afternoon heat, waddled back to the house, slamming the door behind him.
Harry continued to clip the hedges, with no noticeable change in pace, until they were completed an hour later. He walked slowly to the small shed, replaced the clippers on the tool rack, and then pushed a small, ancient mower onto the grass. He filled it with petrol, checked and re-checked the engine for the proper settings, and then Harry began to pull on the starter. After five minutes of pulling, the engine finally roared to life, and Harry bent low to catch his breath. Dumbledore watched Harry mow the grass for another thirty minutes before he Apparated away with a small pop, its noise masked by the humming engine.
Harry killed the mower and listened to it sputter for a full minute before it gave up the fight. He would have to change the oil in it soon, but just couldn't muster the motivation to ask for a quart from his uncle. It was bad enough that he had to be around his hated relatives, but interacting with them was too much in Harry's estimation.
He cleaned the caked grass from the blade and housing – lest he face the wrath of his uncle for soiling the inside of his shed -- and pushed the mower back into the garage.
One nice thing about doing mindless tasks for the Dursleys was that he could safely put his mind in neutral and not dwell on the gaping hole in his soul. The wound left inside him by Sirius' passing and the subsequent emotional breakdown he'd had in Dumbledore's office was too large and too fresh. Part of Harry wanted to be away from the Dursleys forever; part of him wanted to find Bellatrix Lestrange and rip her apart. Still another part of him just wanted his whole life to be one long, convoluted dream that he could wake-up from, find himself a normal boy, with normal problems, and without any ties to evil wizards.
Running his t-shirt sleeve across his sweaty brow, Harry noted the sinking sun and estimated he had an hour before it was completely dark. He turned to fetch a pair of worn leather gloves, a small spade, and a white plastic bucket, and then walked towards the first of many flower beds his aunt Petunia kept around their house.
The soil was loose, but the weeds had sunk their roots deep over the last ten months. It was obvious that his relatives hadn't bothered to do any yard work while he was at school aside from paying for a service to mow and trim the hedges. Harry pushed the spade under a particularly large dandelion and wrenched it up. The weed was tossed into the bucket, and he began the process again. Soon, the bucket was full and he took it to a bin to dump it.
The sun set and the rest of the beds were freed of their weeds, just as Harry was having trouble distinguishing them from the flowers. He trudged into the back door, kicked his shoes off by the laundry basket, and made his way to the stairs intent on a long shower. His stomach grumbled, however, as he walked through the kitchen and spied the remains of the roast lamb the Dursleys had for dinner.
"Get cleaned up first," Aunt Petunia said from behind him. "I don't want you soiling my freshly mopped floors." Then, seeming to notice where his eyes had wandered, she added, "There's a plate for you on the table."
Harry followed her finger to where a lump of cheese and slice of bread was perched on the plastic plate. His stomach growled again, as if in protest, and he plodded slowly up the stairs.
Just as Harry was pulling on a clean set of trousers, there was a pop behind him, and Harry whirled to find the smiling face of Dumbledore staring back at him.
"Oh, hello," Harry said noncommittally, pulling his zipper closed.
"Hello, Harry," Dumbledore replied solemnly. He gestured at the bed. "Might we have a word together?"
Harry thought his bread and cheese wouldn't be any worse off for it and nodded.
Dumbledore took a seat on Harry's bed, but Harry stayed standing. His professor looked odd indeed perched by his pillow with a portrait of Hedwig behind him.
"I was wondering," Dumbledore began, "how you were doing."
Kicking his dirty trousers into the hamper with his bare foot, Harry shrugged. "I'm fine."
"I'm sure you feel that way," Dumbledore said, "but I was hoping we could talk about some of your other feelings as well." There was an awkward pause as Harry continued to stare at the floor. "You must certainly be feeling sad at Sirius' loss, and perhaps even a bit betrayed."
Harry grunted, thinking that Dumbledore had no idea what it was like to be him.
"Also, I suspect you have a good deal of resentment at being forced to spend time with your relatives."
"No thanks to you," Harry said softly, but with deep emotion.
Hedwig hooted softly, as if in reprimand for Harry's attitude. "Indeed, I am solely responsible for your being here, but I would hope that you could come to terms with the reasons for it."
"What?" Harry shot back. "So that Voldemort can't get to me here? Is that it? I'm not sure you realise it, but it's not me that's being attacked." And it was true. The evening Prophet had just reported an attack on a part-Muggle family in Wales where the parents were killed and the children tortured before Order members arrived to fight them off.
Dumbledore sighed wearily. "Yes, Harry, you are here for your protection. I wish it were otherwise; I wish that you could be with those that love you, and that you could face Voldemort and end this conflict before more people are killed, however...you are far from ready to face him."
Harry balled his fists and tried to stare a hole through Dumbledore's face. "Yeah? And exactly when will I be ready for him? How can I even get ready when I'm stuck here?"
With a passive face so reminiscent of their recent fight in Dumbledore's office, the professor stared at Harry until the tension started to wane. "That is precisely what I'd like to discuss with you, Harry. Do you remember what we talked about at the end of last term?"
"You mean about the prophecy?" Harry asked, and sank onto the floor. He was tired of standing, but not ready to sit next to his teacher.
Dumbledore nodded and swept his wand around the room, casting a blue light onto the walls, ceiling, and floor that seemed to stick. The light sparkled and glowed for a moment before they seeped into the paint and carpet. "I am specifically referring to the part where it talks about the power you possess, which Voldemort knows not of."
"Right," Harry scoffed. "There's nothing I have that he hasn't got."
Dumbledore rose from the bed and stood to his full height. "On the contrary," he said and sat on the floor next to Harry. "You have the greatest power in the universe flowing through your veins and surrounding you on all sides."
Harry hung his head and didn't answer.
"Love, Harry," Dumbledore pronounced. "Your parent's love is still with you, regardless of how Voldemort seems to have defeated that protection. You have the love of many friends, and the entire Weasley family, Remus Lupin, more than a few of the Hogwarts staff, myself included."
With a sniff, Harry snuck a glance at Dumbledore and then looked away. "You...really?" he asked. He hadn't ever really thought about it like that before.
"I'm quite certain, actually. Just yesterday Molly was ready to hex me for sending you here instead of to the Burrow. She's quite fond of you and is ready to hug and feed you whenever it is safe for you to leave here."
Something Dumbledore said made all the anger he felt return, and then, it melted away just as fast. Harry hung his head once more. "It doesn't matter. None of it matters..." Suddenly, a great wave of pain and sadness overcame him as Sirius' face appeared in his mind.
"Harry," Dumbledore pleaded. "You must realise your potential if you are to defeat Voldemort. I can teach you magic, and how to use it, but you will fail utterly if you do not have the will to live."
He couldn't answer. Something large seemed to have planted itself in Harry's throat and hot tears sprang into his eyes. He would not cry, however, and forced them away. "Go," Harry managed. "Leave me alone."
Dumbledore didn't at first, but slowly, carefully, rose to stand over Harry's balled form. "I will return to make sure you are taken care of, Harry. Remember this, however: I am not the only one that is concerned about you. Your friends despair about your condition every day, and would sooner give their own lives than see you suffer. Such is their love for you."
There was a rustling of robes and a small pop. When Harry looked up again, he was alone. Only then, did the tears finally fall.
That Saturday, Dumbledore summoned together the five students that accompanied Harry to the Department of Mysteries, Remus Lupin, Minerva McGonagall, and met at the Burrow. He was determined to show Harry how much he was loved, and knew that collectively, these people could do it.
"Thank you for coming on such short notice," Dumbledore began. "As you are all no doubt aware, Harry is in peril. Although, I must mention that it is not the peril associated with Voldemort; Harry is in danger of losing himself to his grief."
There were several whispers as heads came together. Ginny produced a letter and showed it to Neville, who nodded in agreement. Luna was sketching something in a notebook while Ron looked on, and Hermione was in deep discussion with Remus, her eyes a mask of concern.
"What I've called you here to discuss, is ways that we can help keep Harry invested in his life. I fear that as he gives in to his pain, he will lose the will to live. That is not something that anyone would wish on such a young man as Harry."
Molly stood, wringing her hands in worry. "But, Albus...what can we do?"
"That," Dumbledore replied, "is precisely what I would like to discuss. I have several ideas myself, but it would be well if all of you were to offer some suggestions."
Ginny's hand shot up immediately. "If he can't be taken away from the Muggles, maybe we can visit him."
Dumbledore nodded. "Excellent suggestion Miss Weasley. Anyone else?"
Hermione's hand was next. "We could rotate shifts. There are enough of us here that one could visit each day of the week. That way, he wouldn't be alone, but he wouldn't get burned-out on having just one or two of us meeting with him."
Several heads nodded in agreement.
"I can draw up a schedule and each of us can sign up for a specific day," Hermione continued.
"I'm available on Tuesdays," Luna offered.
"I'll take Sunday," Ron said next. "Someone's got to keep him sane on the weekend."
"And I'll go today," said Molly. "I'll be first so I can soften the idea to his...relatives."
There were more murmurings as people began to request days to visit with Harry. "Well," Dumbledore said, rubbing his hands together. "It seems that we have a solid plan in place. While on your visits, I would exhort you to focus on the positive aspects of your relationship with Harry. Make him feel like you want to be there, that you care for him, and that you need him to be a part of your lives. Each of you has a special relationship with Harry, and I suspect that as you use that in your visits, he will be drawn back to us."
Sensing that the meeting was over, Molly shot to her feet and began to assemble a basket of food. Ginny stood to help her mother and the rest of the students began to talk amongst themselves. Dumbledore caught Remus' eye and they walked into the back garden. There was still much to plan, and the two wizards needed to work out the details of the rest of Harry's summer.
As the Burrow's guests began to Floo and Apparate away, one of the students stood staring at the two figures talking in the garden. She had known Harry as long as anyone, and knew that it was going to take more than friendly visits to lighten his spirits. The problem was that Hermione didn't know exactly what it was that he needed. Problems were something she was notoriously good at solving, however; this would be no different, as long as she had access to reference material, and the problem itself. With her first visit scheduled for Monday, Hermione was anxious to return home to research her friend's problem, and even more anxious to be with Harry.