Response to challenge posted by Lachlan

AU - Post OotP/ Prior HBP

Harry stalked the streets silently. His mind was in turmoil, but his pace was steady. Sirius was dead; of that, there was no doubt. As to the reasons; Harry could not accept them.

Logic said that Sirius had chosen his own fate. He had willingly gone to the Ministry to defend Harry, and had risked, and lost, his life in a known cause, but Harry's heart told him that was not the whole story. Sirius had died because Harry had failed him; nothing more, and nothing less.

Harry had been fooled by Voldemort's visions and Kreacher's lies. He believed that Sirius had been taken prisoner in the Department of Mysteries, and had flown there, with his friends to rescue him, but it had been a lie. Instead of saving him, Harry had condemned Sirius to death.

Such were the thoughts of a young teenage boy as he wandered the streets if little Whinging, Surrey.

Not your average boy, but Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived; as people were want to call him. He did not notice the people he passed, the people who avoided his haunted gaze, they were nothing. His feet measured the paces, but his mind was otherwise occupied. Occasionally a comment might penetrate his thoughts, things like "That's that Potter boy, you would do best to avoid him", might give him pause. Not because of what they implied, but because of what they left out.

Nobody consider him dangerous; they considered him a nuisance.

If only they knew, thought Harry, if only.

He found himself seated on a bench near some swings in a park a few blocks from Privet drive. He had often come here last year, when he was trying to avoid the Dursleys.

There were a few local children playing at the park. One young boy was on the swings and a girl that looked to be about Harry's age was pushing him.

Probably his older sister, thought Harry.

He had often wondered what it would have been like to have grown up in a proper family. To have a brother or a sister, or parents for that matter, had been one of Harry's fondest fantasies.

When Sirius had told Harry that they were godfather and godson, Harry had nearly cried with joy. It had been even better than his first day at Hogwarts.

Now Sirius was dead, and Harry was once again family-less.

The girl turned and looked at Harry. Their eyes met, and for an instance Harry felt something profound stir within him. She seemed to be looking into his soul, and he into hers. There was recognition between them; as if they were both looking for something and had seen it in each other.

Time stopped. He heard his heart beating slowly in his chest, and his breath filling his lungs. He knew he was staring, but he could not tear his gaze away. He saw a longing in her, and loneliness, and recognised the same emotion in him.

He sat transfixed as she stopped the swing and took her brother off. Then, sending her brother to play, she walked directly over to stand in front of Harry.

"Hello," she said. "You're Harry Potter, aren't you?"

Harry's mouth was suddenly dry. She was pretty, though not overly so, and her voice was nothing unusual, but he felt as if somebody had hit him with a stunning spell. He tried to answer but his mouth was too dry, so he just nodded his head, and felt rather foolish.

"I'm Elizabeth, but you can call me Lizzy. We used to go to school together a few years ago. Do you remember?"

Harry fought to get his voice back. He didn't understand what was happening to him. "No, sorry. I don't remember anybody from my old school," he said, feeling slightly embarrassed. "Were you in my class?"

"No," she laughed. "I'm a year younger, but everybody knows Harry Potter."

Harry felt even more confused. "Why's that?" he asked.

"Well you're a bit famous you know. Although you don't look all that dangerous to me."

"Dangerous?" asked Harry. "Why should I look dangerous?"

"Don't you go to St Brutus's school for the Criminally Insane or something?" she said, still smiling.

"Oh, that," said Harry disappointed. "Yeah, yeah. I am a mentally unstable lunatic who might turn on you at any instance." He tried to make it a joke, but his heart wasn't in it.

"You don't really go there do you?" she asked, looking intently at him. "You go to Hogwarts, don't you?"

Harry was shocked. So far this girl had managed to confuse and stun him so many times he was beginning to wonder if she was real, or if he had indeed gone mad. "What?" he spluttered.

"Hogwarts. You go to Hogwarts," she stated. "Don't give me any of that secrecy act baloney either, I know all about it."

"Are you a witch?" asked Harry. It felt strange to be sitting a park surrounded by Muggles asking a girl if she was witch, and it didn't sound right either. "Sorry," he said, "that sounded rude. I mean, well, are you a, um, well, a witch I suppose; there is just no other way of putting it."

She laughed and sat down next to him. A few pigeons walked around their feet hopefully. Sometimes Harry brought some stale bread he couldn't stomach for dinner and fed them, but he had nothing today.

"No, but I wish I was."

"Then how do you know about Hogwarts?" Harry asked. "You're not a Squib are you?"

As soon as the words left his mouth, Harry wished the ground would open and swallow him. If asking somebody if they were a witch felt bad, asking them if they were a squib was a thousand times worse; it was incredibly tactless.

Some people were sensitive about their magic-less status. Born with no magical ability to in a magical family, and having to live in the wizarding world, would have to be one of the most difficult lives imaginable.

Almost as bad as being an orphan.

The girl looked shyly down at her feet. The question seemed to have embarrassed her as much as it did Harry. He wanted to apologise, to say something to make it up to her, but the words would not come.

"My aunty used to always talk to me about being a witch, before she disappeared a few years ago," Elizabeth answered, ignoring his faux pas. "She was a bit cracked though. Used to tell us some wicked bedtime stories." She looked up and a smile spread across her face at the happy memory.

"Did you say," began Harry uncomfortably. "Did you say she disappeared?" he asked.

"Yes. Nobody will tell me what happened. My parents believe she died in a car crash in Albania, but I know she didn't know how to drive and was scared of cars." Lizzy stared at the ground sadly and Harry had to resist an urge to put his arm around her for comfort.

"I miss her. She was my only aunty and used to spoil Darren, that's my brother, and me."

Harry saw a tear form in Lizzy's eye, and felt his own eye's start to water. He knew exactly what she was going through, he felt the same way whenever he thought of Sirius.

"I know what you mean," he said. "I just lost somebody close to me."

Lizzy wiped her eyes and nodded. "When I saw you sitting here all alone, I could tell. I figured you could use a friend, because I remember how it felt for me. Darren is too young, and he just wouldn't stop crying. I saw you sitting here and thought 'that boy could use a friend'. So I came over here to say hello. I didn't mean to talk about my aunty, sorry."

Harry wiped away his own tears and looked around the park. Darren, Lizzy's brother, was happily climbing the ladders and flying down the slides with a few other children. A few parents sat on benches scattered around the park, but nobody was paying them any attention except for a large brown pigeon who obviously had decided to wait around in case any food was forthcoming.

"Don't apologise," he said. "That was very nice thing to do to a complete stranger who also happens to be an unstable lunatic." He smiled hopefully.

Lizzy laughed. She had a nice laugh.

For the next hour they sat talking, swapping stories and jokes. Often they had to stop and explain bits, because neither knew that much about each other's world, but both were surprised to find how similar school was, no matter what the subject being taught.

It was comfortable being with her. It made Harry feel as if he were normal. He was just a normal boy, no magic, no Voldemort, no pain. It was sad really, for a boy so young to cling desperately to one single moment because it was so average. Just a boy and a girl, sitting and talking, but there was nothing average about what they were discussing.

After that, it became a part of his routine, to sit on the swings and look for her. He would see her, walking hand in hand with her brother, and his heart would immediately lighten. She would smile and wave and he would wave back.

Such a normal thing. But for Harry Potter, it was extraordinary.

A week after they had first met, they sat together on the swings. Harry watched as the summer breeze played with tendrils of her hair. He shuffled his feet in the sand and thought about the girl before him. It wasn't just that he had no-one else to talk to, it was because she was so different from anybody else he knew. She didn't seem to be full of the silliness that infected most wizards. It may have been something to do with not been able to do any magic, but it made it very easy to talk to her.

"Tell me about your aunty," he said.

Lizzy looked at him strangely. "Okay," she said, "but only if you tell me about the person you lost."

Harry balked at the idea of spilling his most intimate feelings to a stranger, but suddenly he found he did want to talk. "Sirius," he said. "His name was Sirius, and he was my godfather."

Carpenter was worried. It had been his turn to watch Harry, a task Dumbledore had pulled him out of retirement for, but he was not sure what to do.

The girl was not a squib, she was a Muggle, and she knew about the wizarding world. Normally he would have had no hesitation telling the Ministry of the Secrecy Act breach, but she had made friends with the Potter boy, and it was doing him a world of good.

After a few days of watching Harry, he had concluded that Dumbledore wanted somebody watching Harry, not only in case one of You-Know-Who's followers tried something, but also in case Harry decided to do himself harm.

He knew Harry's story, but he had no idea the boy had led such a lonely life. That he had, just a few days ago, watched his only family member die, was enough to make anybody black with despair, but add to it the solitary existence Harry endured, and it was a miracle the boy stayed sane.

And this Muggle girl, Lizzy, had managed to drag Harry from the blackest, darkest pit of despair Carpenter had ever seen. All she had done was sit with Harry and talk with him, and yet it had made a difference to the boy's state of mind that few would believe possible.

He had gone from suicidal sadness, to almost a calm acceptance.

Nevertheless, she was a Muggle, and that meant she should not know anything about Wizards and Witches, let alone the details the Potter boy had been sharing. She had not outright lied to him, but it was obvious he believed she was a squib.

Carpenter was stuck. He didn't want to stop Harry from having a friend to talk to, but telling a Muggle about magic was against the law.

Suddenly he decided he would write to Dumbledore. As soon as his watch had finished today and somebody else took over, he would write a letter and send it by owl. He could go himself in person, but that would be imposing on the busy Professor, and a written request might give Harry a day or two more to share with his new friend.

Carpenter spread his brown wings and flew into the branches of a tree. From this vantage point he could watch Harry walk most of the way back to Privet Drive. He could not fail to notice Harry had a spring in his step as he made his way back to the Dursley's house.

Carpenter folded the letter and sighed heavily. He would have to be on duty in half an hour, and then he would have to confront Harry.

He had come back to help Dumbledore, someone he greatly admired, but this…this was just cruel. Always before he had believed that Dumbledore did what was best for those he cared about, but Carpenter had his doubts this time.

In truth, he was happy watching the two children laugh and talk. It filled him with warmth, because he knew it was something they needed. But now…now he had to take that away.

He hadn't realised how much he detested the idea of Harry losing a close friend, especially after the amazing recovery she had helped him make. There had to be some way out, someway to stop the boy from sliding back into the dark place the girl had lifted him out of.

Then he had an idea.

Grabbing a quill and a piece of parchment, Carpenter quickly began to write another letter.

"You can't do it!" shouted Harry. He was angry, as Carpenter had expected him to be. "What has she done to deserve it?"

They had been arguing for some time. Had Carpenter not had the sense to cast a spell that made the room soundproof, they would have been attracting attention from Harry's Aunty and Uncle who were sitting downstairs having breakfast.

Harry was surprised, and a bit upset, to hear that wizards had been keeping a close eye on him without his knowledge. His anger over that had been quickly forgotten as soon as Carpenter had explained what was going on.

"She is not a squib, she is a Muggle, and she has learned about the Wizarding world, Mr Potter," he repeated. "That means she is a danger and must be dealt with."

They had been here before. Harry was pacing back and forth in the small room like a caged animal.

"I won't let you!" said Harry menacingly. He stopped pacing and drew his wand. "I'll stop you."

Carpenter was unfazed. He had been around long enough to know what to expect. "You have read the letter, Mr Potter. Dumbledore has explained what may happen to her if the Ministry finds out. We have no choice."

Harry stood shaking with rage, and sorrow. Tears filled his eyes as he forced himself to look directly into Carpenters face.

"Please?" he said quietly. "Please don't do it. She deserves to remember her Aunty; she deserves to know the truth."

Carpenter hesitated. The pleading in the boy's voice tore at his soul. He knew he was being begged not to take away the one thing that had kept Harry from collapsing under the weight of grief he carried after Sirius' death; but he had no choice.

He could not hold the boy's gaze, and had to look down before answering.

"If I do not do it, somebody else will," he said. "I am very good at memory charms, Mr Potter. I assure you she will remember her Aunty and their feelings for each other. She will just not be clear on what it is she remembers about her."

"And what about me?" Harry asked. "Will she be allowed to remember me?"

Carpenter could not look up. He felt sorrow so strong that threatened to engulf his control and reduce him to tears. It was all he could do to keep his voice level.

"No, Mr Potter. She will not be allowed to remember you. I'm Sorry."

Harry sank down onto is bed and buried his face in his hands. Carpenter was sure he was crying, but he could not comfort the boy. He had already become too involved in his plight. If he got any closer, he might not be able to go through with his orders.

"Can I at least say goodbye?" asked Harry in a sob.

Carpenter nearly chocked. He was glad Harry was not looking at him and did not see his expression. After a pause of a second or two, he was able to reply without his voice trembling.

"Yes, but I warn you against saying too much. If you warn her, or say too much, she may try to resist the spell, and the results could be unpredictable."

Later that day, Harry met Lizzy in the park as usual. He tried to be happy, but she saw straight through his charade. After sending Darren off to play she confronted Harry directly.

"What's the matter, Harry?" she asked concerned.

Harry looked around. He could not see Carpenter nearby, but he was sure he would be.

A million ideas ran through his head. He could grab her and run, or stun Carpenter, or cast a shield spell on her. All of these thoughts and some even wilder ones ran though his mind, as they had been doing since Carpenter had left him earlier that day, but he knew it was no good.

"Harry?" asked Lizzy again. "What's wrong? Are you okay?"

"Lizzy," he started, and then he stopped. He had no idea what to say. He couldn't tell her what was about to happen, it might put her at risk of the memory spell not working properly. "Lizzy, you know I have really enjoyed these days with you, don't you?"

Lizzy was a bit taken aback by the question. They had been growing closer, and he had certainly opened up to her, but she hadn't known how close they had become until his words tapped an unexpected well of emotion inside of her.

"So have I, Harry," she answered haltingly. Harry didn't notice her hesitation.

"Well, I'll be going away soon, and… and I just wanted to make sure you knew how much you have meant to me," he finished in a rush.

Lizzy was still a bit worried, since she still wasn't sure what Harry was thinking. She laughed to take some of the tension out of the air.

"I've enjoyed your company too, Harry," she said. "You have become a very good friend in a very short time! In fact, I think we might have a world record going for how quickly two strangers can become good friends."

Harry smiled, but it was filled with sadness.

"I just wanted to say," he began before stuttering to a halt. Behind Lizzy, Carpenter stepped out of the shadow of some trees. The air appeared to shimmer around him, and Harry guessed that nobody else in the park could see him. He forced his gaze back to Lizzy, who was looking a bit worried.

"I just wanted to say, thank you, Lizzy. Thank you for sitting here with me day after day. Thank you for listening to me and for helping me talk about Sirius. Thank you for, well for everything, Lizzy."

Then he smiled. It was a true smile, brought on by the thought of how much this girl he had not know until recently had given him.

Lizzy smiled back at him with a puzzled, but somehow relieved, look.

"You are welcome, Harry. You are very welcome."

"Obliviate."

It was barely a whisper, and Harry caught a just a glimpse of something shiny and silver fly through the air and strike Lizzy.

The smile stuck on her face, and she seemed to somehow go 'blank'. Then, looking slightly confused, she stood up and walked over to Darren who was trying to get onto one of the swings by himself.

Harry felt the tears running down his face. He could not help it. The blackness that had threatened to envelope him returned with more force than he thought possible. If he had been sad at Sirius' death, he was utterly devastated at the loss of his friend.

A sob escaped his lips and he stood to leave the park, a place he knew he would never be able to return.

Suddenly, somebody was standing in front of him.

"Obliviate."

Harry sat on the bench near the swings and watched the children play. He had tears in his eye's but was not sure why. Sirius was dead, but it no longer felt like somebody had stabbed a knife into Harry's chest when he had that thought. He felt sad, but not with the intensity that had nearly driven him to attack Dumbledore a few short days ago, or was it weeks? He had lost track of the monotonous days.

A plain looking Muggle girl was pushing a much younger boy on the swings. Harry didn't even realise he was staring until she turned and looked straight at him.

Their eyes met, and time seemed to stop. He saw in her eyes something profound, and he felt a strange stirring of emotion in his own heart. There was recognition of sorts; a feeling he was looking at a kindred soul. She smiled, and then turned back to give her brother another push; the moment was broken; time returned to normal.

Harry shook his head to clear the after-affects of that look. A large brown pigeon hooted loudly and pecked at Harry's feet.

With a strange feeling of regret, Harry stood and started the long walk back to Privet Drive.

The End