Harry suffers a mental breakdown while being convicted to Azkaban. He serves his time and rebuilds his life away from the magical world. His only regret...losing his friends.
Harry stopped by a corner grocer on the way back to his flat. He needed a few more items to stretch out what he had in his icebox. His mind was so busy thinking about what he was going to make for supper that he failed to see the two men watching him from a display window.
The two men were part of gang that had been slowly infiltrating this area. They had been working on some of the still open stores for protection money when they had seen Harry walking down the street. The larger of the two, Hank, swiped up the money that had been laid on the counter in front of him by the frightened merchant and walked out the door. The second man, Gerry, had patted meaningfully the bulge in his jacket pocket. As he walked out behind the larger gang member he threw back over his shoulder,"We'll be back next week for the rest. Make sure you have it or your store might have some 'vandalism' problems."
Hank and Gerry were pacing Harry about three doors back for a block, deciding when to confront him. As Harry approached a large alleyway, they sped up and started walking slightly behind him, putting themselves between him and the street. With a grunt, Hank shoved Harry into the alleyway.
Harry stumbled into the alley, trying not to drop his bag. He had been so absorbed in his thoughts that he had not noticed the two toughs that had come up behind him. He saw a flash of a knife blade as he righted himself against a wall. A quick tightening in his gut heralded the flush of adrenaline through his body as he realized what was happening. The large man who had shoved him into the alley spoke.
"Yer going to give us yer wallet, Guv'nor. Nice an' slow, or me mate 'ere will stick you, wot?"
Harry put the grocery bag down on the garbage can next to him, and slowly pulled his wallet from his back pocket. He felt so vulnerable that he was disgusted. Because of the Ministry snapping his wand, a simple mugger could threaten him. As he was reaching out the wallet, the whispering voice he had heard in his head before, spoke.
"A hero only dies one death, a coward dies thousands. How many times do you need to die before you take up the reins of your life again? You have more depth than this. I know, because I'm a part of that depth. Now, do something about these....vermin."
Harry's thoughts were speeding. He was still slowly handing his wallet to the one tough as this all processed in his mind. The voice was right. He had been afraid long enough. What's the worst they could do to him... kill him? He had already been through something worse than death while at Azkahban.
Gerry was thinking of the steak dinner they would have tonight with this rube's money when something that had never happened before occurred.
Hank's eyebrows rose in disbelief. The mark in front of him was less than half his size, Gerry had a knife and would be able to slice him up even if he wasn't there to back him up. Was this guy crazy?!
Harry saw the confusion in the two tough's eyes. He slid back into his calming techniques and pulled the adrenaline energy that his body had generated in a flight or fight response. Funnelling it into his chest, he imagined it sweating out to bead up on his skin, then spread over like a second layer, flexible but impenetrable. Time seemed slowed. The two gang members in front of him had started to move, one to grapple with him so the other could cut him. Harry's body moved without him really thinking into the forms of his Tai Chi movements. Time sped up. There was a pull on his arm, as he brushed by the two muggers. He swept around and as his stride took him past, his arms gracefully moved through the forms he practiced in the park. His mind stayed focussed, and calm was overlaying the entire ballet of movement. Through it all, Harry could see the ley lines he was weaving around him in flows that seemed more like natural surges than manipulated power.
Hank suddenly found himself on the ground, his arm screaming in pain. Gerry was whimpering somewhere to his left. Slowly pushing himself up, he could see blood bubbling up from Gerry's mouth as the light went out of his eyes. The large handle of his knife was sticking up from the side of his chest. How? Hank was sure that Gerry had carved the knife across the little man's chest! Suddenly, a flash of red hot pain screamed though his body. Through tears in his eyes, Hank could see the mark grinding a boot down on his broken arm.
"Ok, `Guv'nor.` I don't think you should be seen around here anymore. If I see you ever again, you will suffer something worse than your most horrifying dreams." As Harry looked into the tough's eyes, he could feel the dark presence observing. On a whim, he pulled it to his eyes and glared at the gangster.
Hank saw the man's eyes go flat. Terrors and gibbering horrors flitted in those eyes. Warmth flooded his pants as his bladder let loose. Using the last of his will, he turned his gaze away.
Harry turned, picked up his grocery bag from the bin, and strode out of the alley.
As he closed the door to his flat, his knees started to shake. Harry dropped the bag he was carrying on the counter as he rushed to the washroom. He barely made it to the commode before he spewed the contents of his stomach into the bowl. He had made it back to his building before he started to feel the shakes.
After several minutes of nausea, Harry cleaned up the washroom. As he was stripping his clothes off, he noticed his shirt was cut from armpit to armpit. He quickly showered and brushed his teeth to get rid of the lingering smell of bile. With a sigh, he looked at his reflection in the small mirror. The face looking back at him was drawn and pale. He splashed some warm water on his face, dried off and went to the living area to start on supper. Hermione would be arriving in about 40 minutes.
Harry climbed the stairs to the roof garden and harvested some fresh herbs, a few potatoes and greens, and a small handful of baby carrots.
"These should go nicely with the roast I have."
As he cleaned up and tended to the greenhouse watering system, he gradually was able to put the afternoon's encounters out of his mind. He returned to his flat and washed up the vegetables. As he was cutting the potatoes for the pot, the buzzer beside his door rang. Harry dashed down the stairs to the front door and saw Hermione waiting for him just inside the security grate. Olivia had let her in and was expertly questioning her. Harry hung back just out of Hermione's sight and listened for a moment.
"So, Miss Granger, is it? How do you know James?"
"We went to the same boarding school together, in Scotland. I've known him since we were eleven."
"He's such a nice boy. You make sure he gets out more. He spends a lot of time puttering about on the roof garden. The whole building enjoys the fresh vegetables, but he really needs to enjoy life more. Such a serious boy."
Harry cleared his throat as he stepped around the corner. "Hello Olivia. I see you've met my supper guest. Was your walk over pleasant, Hermione?"
Hermione nodded her head. "Olivia was nice enough to let me in out of the chill while you came down. It was nice to meet you, Olivia."
Olivia patted Hermione's hand. "The pleasure was all mine. Don't let a nosey old lady like me keep you two from enjoying the evening!"
Hermione smiled and nodded to Olivia as she ascended the first few steps. As they moved out of earshot she looked at Harry with laughing eyes.
"You always seem to find the women who have a soft spot for strays, don't you? She's only a neighbour, and she cares for you."
Harry chuckled. "She's quite the lady. Aforce to be reckoned with in regards to the safety and security of this building. She takes her caretaker job very seriously. Here we are."
Harry opened the door to his flat and waved Hermione in. She slid off her coat, and hung it on the rack just inside the door. The smells of the cooking meal filled her nose, with an overtone of asmell that was distinctly Harry-like. Not overpowering, just...comforting.
Harry puttered about his small kitchen for a few minutes while Hermione re-acquainted herself with Hedwig. The snowy owl pushed herself against Hermione's hand as she stroked the feathers on her head. Leaning down to whisper to the owl, Hermione lowered her voice so that Harry couldn't hear.
"Good Job, girl. Now that we've both found him, let's not let him out of our sight."
Hedwig chirped and dipped her body in an imitation of a nod. Harry came from the small kitchen with some drinks in hand. He offered a warm butter beer to Hermione.
"I never thanked you for taking care of Hedwig for me. I can't tell you how much it meant to me."
"Oh, Harry. We got along like peas in apod. It was tough going sometimes, but we kept each other company during the lonely times."
Harry looked over at the owl. A sad smile was on his face as he spoke, "Yes. She's very good at that. When I was staying with the Dursley's, often we only had each other. But we got through that together, right girl?"
Hedwig hopped across the perch on the back of the couch and preened Harry's hair. He laughed and held up the owl treat he had been hiding in his hand. "She always knows when I have one for her."
Hermione's eyes were filled with tears. She tried to change the subject by inhaling the wonderful smells that were coming from the kitchen. "What have you got roasting in the oven? It smells heavenly!"
"A bit of beef, some fresh vegetables, and shortly I will be putting the Yorkshire pudding in to bake. I hope you're hungry?"
As Harry and Hermione ate, he told her about his trial and the years in Azkaban. As he was speaking about how alone and confused he felt when he was released he stopped and stared at the plate in front of him. Hermione reached over and took his hand in hers. With a steady squeeze she said, "I'll never let you go. I've been looking for you all these years, and now that I... we've found you; we will never let you go. Imissed you Harry."
Harry looked up at her and the depth of loss in his eyes caused her breath to catch. She swallowed and slid her chair around the small table to sit beside him, rather than across from him. She gathered him into her arms and held him as he cried. His tears flowed for a few more minutes, and gradually as he calmed Harry felt as if he was finally ok. He now knew in his heart that if Hermione hadn't abandoned him, then none of his other friends had either.
With a small genuine smile, he said, "Thank you, Hermione. I think I needed that. Excuse me a moment, would you?" Hermione nodded and watched as he went to the small water closet and washed the tears away from his face. She gathered the dishes and started cleaning them.
Harry emerged from the washroom looking like he had when she had arrived, but with some more color in his cheeks. While he didn't have the sparkle of mirth in his eyes, it was a start. Harry and Hermione finished the dishes and sat down at the table to have some tea and cake for afters.
Harry cleared his throat and looked at Hermione. "I ran into Bill Weasley today at Gringotts. I made a promise to him that I would write to Ron, Ginny and their parents. I really don't know how to start. Would you help me? You were always great at this kind of thing."
Hermione grinned and nodded her head. "Of course! Honestly! All this time and you're still getting me to help you with your homework!"
A/N: I am truly sorry for the very long delay and short chapter. Work conspired to keep me busy so much that I was unable to get any writing done. Combine that with a major computer problem, and a major surgery in the family, and you get the offering that I have made above.
Now that I have some more time to work on this, expect to have another chapter shortly.
Please, stick with me through the next chapter. Harry is starting to put together some of the pieces on both his life and his mind. Things will start to really jump soon!