Harry lay dejectedly on his bed staring up at the ceiling in his bedroom at his Aunt and Uncle's house on Number 4 Privet Drive, his trunk still sitting where he had dropped it after returning home from Hogwarts only two days ago. Two seemingly short yet sleepless days and nights that had stretched so very long indeed. Every time Harry attempted to close his eyes he was confronted by the ghastly image of Sirius falling backward into the veil never to re-emerge. Harry blinked wearily as he got up and went over to Hedwig's cage. The owl hooted sorrowfully as her master put some food in her cage as he stroked her beak.
"It's not fair." Harry said softly to the owl, "It was my fault he was there, if anyone should have paid for it, it should have been me."
Hedwig just hooted and shifted her weight from one foot to the other, her large eyes staring up at him. Harry turned away and tugged his trunk towards him. He haphazardly began dumping out books and objects when he heard a tinkling sound. It was Sirius's mirror that he had broken earlier. With a sigh he put it back into the trunk and flopped back down on his bed. He didn't know how many more hours he stared into the ceiling, feeling alone and just a little afraid, before he finally succumbed to his extended period of sleeplessness.
Dolohov burst into the room brandishing his wand like a sword, a great gout of flame burst from the tip like from an enraged dragon and impacted against Hermione. Harry felt his own wand slip from his fingers as he dove down to her side, as he rolled her over he felt terror grip at his heart as he stared into her blank eyes.
Harry sat straight up in bed sweating profusely, his heart still pounding in his ears from the nightmare. Weakly he got up and drug himself out of his room to the bathroom, dimly aware that he hadn't changed his clothes or bathed in nearly three days now. After a half-hearted attempt at personal hygiene Harry went downstairs. It was two o'clock in the afternoon and the Dursley's were no where in sight. Vernon was no doubt at work and Dudley was probably off beating up stray kids with his gang. Aunt Petunia could be nearly anywhere, but most likely out in her garden or at a friend's house swapping nosey gossip on the activities of her neighbors. Harry made himself a plain sandwich and retreated back to his room since he was in no mood to encounter any of his disagreeable relatives.
As Harry sat and slowly ate his lunch he remembered what Moody had told him at King's Cross about keeping in touch with the order. He didn't have the heart to write anything so he simply tore off a scrap of parchment and wrote "I'm fine, Harry" on it before attaching it to Hedwig's leg and sending her off to deliver it to Headquarters. He didn't think he could bear to have someone coming around pitying him right now, or trying to talk to him about Sirius. Harry went over to the stand next to his bed and looked at the picture of his mother, father, and Sirius. They all looked so young, healthy, and happy as they smiled and waved at him from their little frame. He stared at the picture for a long time before he heard a distant rumbling sound of thunder. Harry stood and looked out his window at the rather unusual sight of a thunderstorm bearing down on Privet Drive. He could make out the sharp jabs of lightening streaking through the sky. Harry looked at the image of Sirius waving at him again and suddenly went over to his trunk and pulled out a book. He sat down at his desk with determination and began to read. He channeled all his pain, loss, and loneliness into the book, trying desperately to distract himself from the throbbing torment of Sirius' death.
Harry jerked awake as heavy footfalls sounded on the stairs outside his door. He didn't know precisely when he had fallen asleep after reading far into the night, but he decided he was definitely ready for breakfast. Summoning up his Gryffindor courage he opened his door and marched down the stairs, hopefully looking better than he felt. He decided that he must not have looked very well at all when he saw the shocked, slightly terrified expressions of his relatives. Glancing in the dining room window he decided that he did look a bit haggard and his hair was even more messy than usual. His eyes were also somewhat sunken in and dull looking. Aunt Petunia especially seemed to realize that something awful had occurred and kept her normal sniffs of disdain to a minimum. Vernon was brave enough to give him a list of chores to do, but it was shorter than usual. Of course he had expected better treatment after the way Moody threatened them at King's Cross.
The work was a refreshing way to keep his mind off of Sirius' death, but all too soon he was finished and back in his dim, gloomy bedroom. Feeling the pain constricting his chest anew, Harry sat down heavily at his desk and began going over his books again, memorizing every hex, jinx, curse, charm, and potion ingredient that he could lay his hands on. He was dimly aware of the Dursley's activities, dimly aware that night had fallen, and dimly aware of his own drooping eyelids. Suddenly he jerked awake, heart pounding, glasses askew, still sitting at his desk with his book open in front of him and the light on. He shuddered as he remembered his dream, Hermione falling stricken in the Department of Mysteries yet again. Glancing at the clock Harry saw that it was only three in the morning, but unable to return to sleep he began reading again.
Each day passed virtually like the last for Harry, except that he became more and more reclusive. He made sure to write short notes to the Order to keep someone from coming to check on him, but he did precious little else except read until he was so exhausted that he fell asleep. The Dursley's were mortified at his strange behavior, his unresponsiveness, and so they had taken to shoving sparse meals onto the table next to his door before hurriedly shutting it and scampering away. Harry found himself wishing that he had additional books as he read through his old ones for the second time. He smirked slightly at that thought and what his friends would think. Hermione would be ecstatic in his newfound refuge; Ron would probably be shocked. His friends. Harry sat back for a second and thought about them. He hadn't spoken to them in a couple of weeks now. Guilt washed over him as he remembered the wounds that they each had suffered during his foolish trip to the Department of Mysteries. Harry reached for parchment and began writing to them separately, asking them how their health was, what they were doing, reassuring them that he was coping with his problems, and apologizing for not writing sooner. He felt immensely better as he watched Hedwig flap off into the twilight with two rolls of paper attached to her legs.
Harry looked at the small sack that he had put the shards of Sirius' mirror into which were sitting on his desk. What an idiotic thing to do he thought to himself as he looked at the bag. He knew Sirius couldn't communicate via mirror from beyond the veil and smashing the valuable magical object had surely done no good at all. Just like smashing all those things in the headmaster's office as he raved at Dumbledore had done no good. What had he been thinking? He hadn't been thinking and as he pondered that he realized that he had not been doing any thinking for quite some time. He lurched out of his chair angrily and began pacing the floor. It was time that he started thinking before he got anyone else hurt or killed. As he looked back at his five years at Hogwarts he remembered all the secrets he had kept, not just from Dumbledore and his teachers, but from his friends as well. He remembered all the petty arguments that had consumed him, like the episode with Ron over the Goblet incident. Sure, Ron hadn't believed him, but so what, that didn't justify him being so harsh with him, it had merely prolonged their estrangement and strained their friendship. As Harry paced even faster he realized that it didn't matter how others behaved, it only mattered how he behaved. He couldn't force everyone to agree with him or believe in him all the time, all he could do was be patient, sincere, and understanding with his friends. Deep down he knew that they all had his best interest at heart and that if he were to succeed he would have to trust the people on his side, the people who cared about him. Abruptly Harry stopped pacing as the words "if he were to succeed" echoed in his mind. How could he have forgotten about the prophecy? No longer could he count on Dumbledore being able to rid the world of Voldemort, prophecy named him at the only person able to accomplish such a feat.
It was like a heavy cold blanket being pressed down on his shoulders as Harry came to terms with what was at stake. It wasn't just his life, or the abstract well being of the wizarding world, it was the Weasleys, the Grangers, all his classmates, his professors, the kindly old barkeeper at the Leaky Cauldron, his next door neighbor Mrs. Figg, and everyone else he had become friends with that would suffer if he failed. No, they wouldn't just suffer if he failed, they were already suffering, and the longer the war with Voldemort went on the longer they would all be in deadly peril. He remembered Molly Weasley crying over the boggart as it projected the forms of her family members as if they were dead. Harry felt resolve harden within him and marched purposefully over to his desk. He took out a piece of parchment and began to write:
Please ask Dumbledore to release next year's book list so that someone can pick up my books and send them to me. I need them to begin reviewing. Tell whoever gets my books that I will repay them as soon as I can access my vault.
There was only one way to end the war as quickly as possible or even to win at all. Harry had to become more powerful than Voldemort who was probably the most powerful wizard for hundred's of years. Harry sealed the letter and placed in next to Hedwig's perch so that he could send it as soon as she returned. It was dark, but Harry took no notice as he sat down and began reading again. He focused on the little moving diagrams in the Defense Against the Dark Arts book that Moody had given him earlier. He might not be able to cast spells, but he could practice the wand movements and memorize the incantations.
Harry was relieved to be awoken by Hedwig's gentle hooting for a change instead of the blinding panic of watching Hermione getting struck down again. He eagerly reached over and took the scrolls off her feet before giving her some fresh water and owl treats. As Hedwig pecked at her food Harry began reading the letters.
I'm doing loads better now, the twins keep popping over to test out their latest joke stuff on me though. Its actually refreshing, Mum and Dad are busy all the time doing stuff, Percy is still acting the prat, and Ginny just isn't that much fun. I'm glad to hear that you're feeling better. Hopefully I'll see you soon.
Harry scanned the letter again and decided that the "stuff" Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were doing must be Order related. He supposed that they were all still taking turns guarding him.
I'm so glad to hear from you, I was getting concerned, but Ron was so insistent that I not bother you before the last term ended that I refrained from writing. I hope you're feeling better and that you know you can write me if you want to talk about anything. I'm feeling much better, my wound has disappeared, and I'm only having to take a couple of potions a day now, mainly as a precaution. My parents were planning on vacationing, but after I explained the seriousness of the situation in the wizarding world they decided not to go. Dumbledore dropped by earlier and performed all sorts of wards to hide us from dark forces so don't worry about us. I don't know when we're going to get to see each other, but Dumbledore assured me that it would be "soon." I tried to get him to say when, but he wouldn't talk. Write back soon.
Lots of love,
Another twinge of guilt ran through Harry as he read that Hermione was still forced to take potions for the curse wound. Hermione had suffered so much over the years because of him. She had given up seeing her parents, especially last year, and going on vacations with them. No, he forcefully corrected himself, Voldemort was the source of her hardships, just like Voldemort was the source of his own problems. If Harry didn't exist Hermione would still be in danger, but even more so because only Harry could end Voldemort's terror. Harry reached for the scroll requesting his books that he had made up earlier and attached it to Hedwig's leg. He hoped that Dumbledore would make an exception and allow him to begin studying for next year right away.
"Sorry girl" he said, "but I need you to leave again right away"
Hedwig dutifully hooted and took off, as Harry stood in his window staring out at nothing in particular for a few minutes before heading downstairs to make a rare appearance at a meal.