phoenix ashes
the cost



Harry absently picked at the three-day old salad with his fork. The lettuce, brown and shriveled around the edges, moved around on the plate in a complete disarray as his gaze turned from the wall to the window. The mid-July sunlight practically blinded him, reflecting itself off his round spectacles, and he squinted his eyes, not really paying any attention to the others who sat around the table.

"Boy, are you going to finish your salad, or should we just send you away from the table this instant?" barked his uncle Vernon's fierce voice.

Harry, not the least bit shocked by Uncle Vernon's persistant threats, shrugged his shoulders and stood up from the table. Without looking any of his relatives in the eyes, he muttered, "It's not like I'm missing out on some sort of rare delicacy anyway..."

Harry picked the plate up and emptied the remains, which was actually most of the salad that had initially been given to him, into the waste bin. He could hear his aunt Petunia scoff as he left the kitchen, her squeaky voice complaining about "no respect" or something ridiculous. The boy made his way through the living room and toward the front door, knowing that he needed some fresh air. Being trapped in the same house as the Dursleys was hardly Harry's idea of a good time, and since the day outside was promising enough, he thought a nice, long walk might be just the very thing he so desperately needed.

As Harry stepped out on to the front stoop, he closed the door quietly behind him and took in his surroundings. Number four Privet Drive was just like all the other houses on that street, being square and conforming to the "normalcy" of the Muggle neighborhood. From a very young age, Harry was viewed by the neighbors and his relatives as different, and on Privet Drive, being different was not a welcome thing. Few people extended invitations to parties or gatherings to Harry over the years, and he was used to the strange looks people gave him as he walked past their homes. They was comfortable with things they understood, and at that very thought, Harry left a sarcastic laugh escape his mouth. Normal. Well, normal hardly described what happened last summer in this neighborhood. Two dementors attacked Harry and his cousin Dudley, and that was just the beginning of what had proven to be his most difficult and challenging year at Hogwarts ever.

Hogwarts. Just two more years left, and what would they bring? Harry's thoughts turned and cycled relentlessly through his mind. These Muggles didn't know what types of threats lay hidden from their safe and protected world. They didn't have any sort of understanding or appreciation for the efforts wizards and witches made to ensure that the world kept going, despite the likes of Voldemort and his fellow Death Eators. Harry hadn't heard anything particularly strange in the news these past couple of weeks, but it was almost inevitable that Muggles and magical-folk alike weren't safe, not as long as Voldemort was still alive.

Still alive. Harry thought about the Prophecy, about how he had to be the one to kill Voldemort, and at this thought, Harry's head spun and his insides churned. What price would be paid in the end to defeat the Dark Lord? Being just shy of sixteen years, Harry was just truly beginning to understand the weight of the burden he carried on his young shoulders. The famous "Boy Who Lived" would have given anything five or more years ago to be recognized by somebody. Now, it seemed, his life had done a complete one-eighty. And people wondered why he was angry at the whole world...

Harry stopped. He suddenly realized where he was standing. Just a few streets over from Privet Drive, Harry now was standing in the exact same spot where he had first seem Sirius Black in his animagus form three years prior. The black dog had scared the already-frightened thirteen-year-old Harry, and Harry now found himself scared in a completely different way. He wasn't just scared for his own life anymore. Things had since become much more complicated than that. Dumbledore's most recent words hung in Harry's mind like a raw piece of meat left to drain the blood from the flesh.

Dumbledore. The old, wise wizard who Harry had looked up to, the man who seemed too good to be true, and he was. Harry had experienced the bleak weakness of Dumbledore during his fifth year, and Dumbledore admitted his defeat to Harry only too late. Harry was still angry at the old man, although angry didn't begin to describe how furious Harry truly was with Dumbledore. Yes, Harry thought, you should have told me the truth about the Prophecy a long time ago... Dumbledore, being a century and a half old, admitted how he had forgotten what it was like to be young when he realized he should have told Harry about the Prophecy when Harry was eleven. At eleven, Harry had already defeated Voldemort twice, but the final defeat was yet to come. But at what price?

Innocence lost and innocent lives... That was the price, or was it? Were James Potter and Sirius Black as innocent as Harry had once believed? Harry blinked a couple of times at the thought of Sirius. The death of Cedric the prior year had been bad enough, but losing his own godfather too soon left him feeling empty and confused. How well did Sirius even know Harry? Harry had mixed feelings regarding his late godfather. Sirius had told Harry that he was less like his father than he thought. How was Harry supposed to take that?

An insult or a compliment? Nothing was clear-cut anymore. Sirius wanted his childhood best friend back, no doubt, but Harry needed someone who was more like a father than a friend. Sirius never really had the chance to be a father-figure toward Harry, but was it something he was even capable of? A father-figure.

Father. Harry's father, James Potter, a man who he had never really known. A man who he had seen in old photographs waving at him, looking at him sadly from the Mirror of Erised, spoken about by his old friends (and enemies), an echo from Voldemort's wand, and a memory frozen in Snape's pensieve.

Snape. Harry wanted to spit at the thought of that man's name. With everything else Harry had to endure and tolerate (or fight), the last thing Harry wanted to deal with were thoughts regarding the Potions professor who insisted on making his life a living hell. Or was it really a living hell? Harry ventured that he had yet to see the worst of what hell really was. Snape might have been a threat to Harry (or so he saw it that way), but Voldemort was the real threat here. Snape was on the same side as Harry now, and that added to the confusion. Snape had been telling Harry the truth all along about his father, but still, Harry didn't want to venture down the road of trying to figure out the man who was and is Snape. He had his own set of problems.

The wind blew fiercely, adding to the dryness of his eyes. Tears refused to come; they were a weakness anyway, and Harry refused to be weak. If he had any sort of dignity left, he wouldn't let people see him as a weakling. Ignorance was bliss sometimes.

His hair was matted even worse by the relentless wind, and Harry realized that clouds were starting to roll in. Yet another summer storm, but all the rain or tears in the world couldn't wash away the filth that was Voldemort that quite literally plagued Harry's mind. His vision blurred, almost as if he had removed his glasses, but he knew the wind was drying them out. If there were any tears worth sheading, they would have been blown away, but there would be no tears.

His feet and thoughts had taken him far enough for one day, and as Harry continued to wander down the streets and through the neighborhood, he came only to realize that he was back where he had started. Number four Privet Drive. His feet were aching, and Harry wondered just how long he had been walking. He glanced through the front window to see his uncle and aunt watching the television. The evening news were on, and the news reporter's voices echoed through the window and into Harry's ears as he listened tentatively. Nothing new, nothing life-threatening. With that, Harry sighed heavily and proceeded to the front door and turned the knob. With a click, the handle turned and the door opened.

Harry stepped into the room, his uncle glaring at him with complete distrust. "And where have you been, boy? You haven't been getting into trouble, have you?" he demanded ferociously.

"No," Harry mumbled, staring at the floor. Admiring his feet clad in a pair of Dudley's old shoes, Harry realized he would rather look at worn shoelaces and torn soles instead of his uncle's purple face twisted in anger. "I was just thinking about how my life is so different from yours."

"Well, that's one thing you're bloody right about," Uncle Vernon replied with malice before he turned his attention back to the television. Aunt Petunia "hmphed" and gave her nephew the cold shoulder.

Funny, thought Harry, funny how this place protects me from the likes of Voldemort, yet I'd much rather be anywhere else in the world right now.

Harry proceeded up the stairs and down the hallway, closing his door to the world and locking himself away from yet another night. Another day had passed, and the world as all Muggles knew it had continued on, with no thought or worry about whether the sun would rise the next morning. Harry, however, knew better. Those days were numbered, and as he lay on his bed, the clouds cleared away, and the sun slowly sank into the western horizon. Harry wondered just how many more lives would be lost. That would be the final cost. He closed his eyes. For tonight, anyway, his scar would leave him in peace, but his dreams and thoughts wouldn't. That was the cost indeed.

Questions? Comments?