It was amazing how fast time went by once Harry started actually talking to people again.
before an afternoon alone in the drawing room seemed to stretch out to
impossible lengths, now the days almost passed at their normal
speed. One morning Harry woke up and realized there were only a
few days left until he would return to Hogwarts. And most amazingly of
all, he was looking forward to it. Mostly.
Seeing Dumbledore again would be awkward, obviously. Harry had
been informed that he would now be having his Occlumency lessons with
the Headmaster, so they would have to spend hours alone together. And
he could barely even stand the thought of having to sit in Snape's
class, but if he wanted to be an Auror, it would have to be done. Not
to mention what type of new menace he would have to face as a Defence
Against the Dark Arts Professor.
Then there was the
undeniable fact that if he returned to school, returned to life as
normal, it would truly mean that the world had kept moving on, despite
everything he had lost and despite all the horrible knowledge he had
gained. And, as a part of the world, he would have to move on with it.
Locked away for the summer, he had been somewhat safely cocooned with
his comfortable grief. Now he would have deal with reality. It felt
harsh. Cold. He wasn't sure he was ready. At the same time though, part
of him wanted it. But whenever he found himself longing to have his
life back, a few minutes later, he would be overcome with guilt. He
didn't know how to reconcile all the feelings he was having, so he
decided just to look forward to Quidditch instead.
one other thing Harry wasn't looking forward to: telling Hermione and
Ron about the prophecy. And soon. Probably before they left for school.
It wasn't even a question. With everything they had gone through for
him, they deserved to know. He already felt as though he was betraying
them somehow by keeping quiet for so long. He also felt that the burden
would be easier if he shared it with them, but he wasn't sure how to go
The meeting would be horrible, he was sure. The
stakes felt so high. Ron and Hermione were his true family, and he knew
they would be just as upset as he had been. Just as shocked and angry
and scared and, well, sad. He might die, and there was nothing he could
do to stop it. How was he supposed to tell them that? Not to mention
the fact, he wasn't sure how to handle all their emotions when his own
were still in such turmoil.
Harry decided he needed a neutral party to practice on first.
Someone he would feel safe talking to, without the weight of having to
worry so much about her reaction. Ginny was his obvious choice.
days before they were to leave for school, Harry approached Ginny and
asked whether he could speak to her alone. He could tell her curiosity
was piqued and he felt almost guilty as they walked to the library,
knowing she had no inkling of the gravity of what he was about to drop
He sat her down and started to pace about the
room. He explained that there was something he needed to tell Ron and
Hermione, but he was hoping he could practice on her first. Like a
rehearsal. When she agreed, he told her the story he was about to tell
would be a shock, but he needed to get it all out before she asked him
any questions or said anything. She nodded and made a bit of a show of
making herself comfortable in an attempt to lighten the mood, but he
could tell that he had already scared her a little.
Once she settled, Harry opened his mouth and let the whole thing
spill. All of it. Every gruesome detail of what had happened in
Dumbledore's office the previous spring. When he got to the prophecy,
he noticed her visibly pale, but he kept right on going. He didn't know
how else to do it. Until finally, mercifully, he finished.
just stared at him, mouth open a little bit, and it looked like she was
exerting a large amount of effort controlling her breathing. Harry
stopped moving about and looked down at his shoes. "Well, that's it.
That's all of it."
There was a brief pause. "Who do you want me to be first?" she asked a bit brusquely.
shrugged. She was taking the whole rehearsal thing a little more
seriously than he had anticipated. Really, he had just meant he wanted
to practice getting the story out, while someone was listening, but he
was curious as to what she thought the others would do. "Hermione."
Ginny was thoughtful for a moment. "She'll be very upset. She'll
probably cry, though she will try hard not to do it in front of you.
Then she'll probably say something bookish, like she'll research
prophecies that have come true in the past or something. Try and find
Harry grimaced. "And Ron?"
Ginny glowered and her voice became tight. "He'll say something
heroically loyal, like Voldemort will have to go through him to get to
Harry nearly shouted, "I don't want Voldemort to go through Ron!"
"I know, Harry," she placated, seeming somewhat agitated, "but
that's just Ron; he'll back you no matter what. Can I be myself now?"
Harry put his hands in his pockets. "Okay."
Harry was in no way prepared for the explosion that took place.
Ginny leapt off the sofa and started storming about the room. "That
ruddy bastard! How dare he keep this from you! Especially with
everything that has been going on in the last year!"
remained quite still, watching her. And he suddenly found himself
needing to defend the man he had still been so angry with only minutes
before. "He explained, though. He didn't want to put this on me after
"Fine," Ginny waved her arms about, "so he didn't tell you after
you watched Cedric die. You had been through a terrible ordeal. I get
his fatherly feelings on the issue."
"Well," Harry offered, "it wasn't like there was ever a good time."
"Christmas, Harry. He should have told you after my father was
attacked at Christmas. That's when he knew there was a connection.
That's when he knew Voldemort might be able to use you. He should have
told you everything before it was too late. It wasn't just your life he
was playing with." Suddenly Ginny stopped, her eyes tearing up. "I
thought I was watching my brother die!"
Yes. And Harry had thought Hermione was dead. And then... Then...
No, he was not about to go there right now. Harry's voice was very
quiet, "That was my fault. It was my fault you all were there."
"No, Harry," Ginny said firmly. "You were deceived by an evil,
murdering psychopath. But Dumbledore knew it could happen. And worse,
he knew that Ron and Hermione would follow you anywhere. And okay,
Neville and Luna were a bit of a surprise, but if he had any sense at
all he would have known about me too."
Harry was a bit taken aback by her temper; it wasn't at all what
he had expected from any of his friends. His own anger had still been
simmering a bit inside him and it was a surprise to watch someone else
share it. But a comfort at the same time, as if Ginny were somehow
bearing a share of his anger for him. And such a relief that her first
instinct had not been pity.
But something in particular was nagging at him. "Why should he have known about you?"
She looked at him as if he were crazy. "Don't be daft, Harry, you
saved my life." Harry felt a little disappointed in this answer. "And
you were so decent about it. I felt so ashamed and embarrassed, but you
didn't make me feel stupid, you even tried to leave me out of it when
you had to explain what happened. I noticed that, you know." For a
moment her anger dissipated as she seemed to find something fond in the
memory. "I owe you so much."
"I don't want you to owe me."
Her eyes snapped back to him. "Well we can't always get what we
want, can we? But we're getting off topic. Imaginary Ron and Hermione
are both right, you know. Maybe the prophecy says you have to be the
one to kill Voldemort. Maybe you have to throw the final curse. But you
have an entire army of people who want to back you. You won't be alone."
Harry felt a bit of his old irritation begin to return. "Funny, it
always seems like I am alone. Whether it's giant chess sets or
crumbling walls or Portkeys, I always end up alone."
Completely unabashed, she countered, "Maybe that's why you haven't
killed him yet." Then she frowned. "Except that you weren't alone this
Harry knew he wasn't making sense, but he didn't care. "A lot of
good that did; he got inside my head! Took over my whole body!"
"Make up your mind, Harry." Ginny sounded annoyed. "Either you
don't want anyone to risk their lives to stand with you or you are
bitter about having to face him alone. You can't have it both ways."
Sure he could. It made perfect sense to him. "I don't want to lose
anyone else, and at the same time, I am pissed off that it has to be
Ginny's voice softened and she moved towards him. "You are right.
It is terrible that it has to be you. At the same time, I think the
rest of us are all very lucky." Harry started to speak, but she cut him
off. "Hear me out. If he had chosen Neville and everything followed the
same pattern, you both still may have grown up without parents. Your
aunt and uncle were horrible to you. Neville's grandmother has managed
to make him believe he will never be as good as his mother and father.
Yet you grew up strong and Neville is so insecure he can't even stand
up to Snape."
"Snape is scary," Harry said dryly.
Ginny smiled. "And Neville manages to have surprising moments of
bravery. I am just saying, everything considered, I am not convinced
Neville would have made it this far. So on behalf of the world, I am
sorry for everything you have suffered, and I will support you as best
as I can, but I can't help being grateful that it turned out the way it
Harry hated that it had to be him. He hated it with every fibre of
his being. Even so, Ginny's words and the look in her eye when she said
them made him feel warm inside.
next afternoon, Harry decided he was ready to break the news to Ron and
Hermione. He and Ginny entered the study as a united front. As
Harry informed his friends there was something he needed to tell them,
Ginny gave his hand an encouraging squeeze.
Ron immediately interrupted. "Is this about the two of you?"
Harry was shocked - that was the last thing he had expected - but
it was Ginny who responded. "No, you eejit," she said, as she walked
forward and gave Ron a whack on the back of the head.
Ginny sat, down giving Harry the stage, and he began his speech
about the story being a shock, and to please not ask any questions or
say anything until he was done. And again he told his tale.
Ginny had been right; by the time he finished Hermione looked like
she was on the verge of tears but bravely holding them in. Ron, on the
other hand, got out of his chair and paced about muttering curses and
threats. Suddenly he stopped and asked Harry to repeat the prophecy
After Harry obliged, Ron stated, "Well, there you go," as though
something were terribly obvious. "I know it isn't a happy prospect,
Harry, having to kill him yourself, but you know you'll be the one to
live. 'Either-or,' Harry. Kill Voldemort and you'll be okay.
That's good news, isn't it?"
Harry loved his friend. Leave it to Ron to find a bright side.
"Well, actually..." Both Harry and Ron instantly turned to
Hermione, who looked like she had decidedly been caught with her foot
in her mouth. "Nothing. Sorry. Ron is absolutely right." Aside from her
amazing masquerade for Umbridge, bluffing was never exactly Hermione's
strong suit, and that had to be her most dismal performance.
the awkward gap, Hermione rose from her chair, walked over to Harry and
gave him a hug. Her face still muffled against his shoulder she started
to say, "You know, we really ought to go to the library..."
it a rest, Hermione, please," Harry begged. "Maybe when we get to
school, but not right now. Alright?" Telling the two of them had been
enough for one day.
Hermione looked up at him and nodded. "Alright." She took a few
steps back, straightened her dress and asked, "What do you want to do?"
Harry thought it over. "Homework?"
After a few hours' work, Harry couldn't stand it anymore. Whatever
Hermione had left unsaid earlier was starting to drive him crazy, but
somehow he didn't dare to ask her. A horrible suspicion was beginning
to fester in his mind. As subtly as he could, he excused himself from
the group and made his way to the library.
He found the Muggle dictionary exactly where he had shelved it a week ago. It didn't take long to find what he was looking for.
an adjective "either" could mean "one or the other," or "one AND the
other." "There are books on EITHER side of the shelf." Well, that was
just jolly. Harry had spent all his time worrying that he would have to
be a murderer or the murdered. It hadn't occurred to him that he could
end up being both. The most the prophecy seemed to be specific about
was that at least one of them had to die at the hand of the other, but
it didn't seem to preclude them from killing each other simultaneously.
But that was just as an adjective, maybe here "either" was a
conjunction, or a pronoun. Harry had never before wished that grammar
had been included in his studies at Hogwarts, but right now it seemed
to be a monumental oversight.
"I thought I might find you here." Hermione was standing in the
door. She looked a little sad and as though she knew exactly what he
Harry gestured at the book in his hands. "It could be both of us."
"But it doesn't have to be." Hermione walked forward.
Ron came in right behind her. "What are we talking about?"
Hermione glanced at him nervously. "The prophecy isn't as specific as you think."
"I'd thought I had it figured out," Harry mused. "When Voldemort
came back he used my blood and he said that my mother's sacrifice would
no longer protect me from him. When I told Dumbledore about the ritual
he looked almost happy. It didn't make any sense, so I thought I must
have imagined it. But then when he told me the prophecy I realized:
maybe I'm the one who has to kill him because of the blood. Maybe I'm
the only one who can get around whatever precautions he took so that no
one else could kill him."
"But now this," Harry lifted the dictionary in his hand. "Maybe
what the prophecy means, with the blood connection, maybe we both have
"Harry," Hermione pleaded, "you need to talk to Dumbledore."
"If he knew and felt inclined to tell me, don't you think he would have already?" Harry practically spat.
"No, I don't," Hermione assured. "You told us yourself - you were
already wrecking his office. Considering everything you had been
through that night, your state of mind and how much he was already
putting on you with the prophecy - no, I don't think it would have been
appropriate to throw in, 'Oh, and by the way, you have to die.' It
would have been too much for anyone to take all at once."
"And now you think it's different?"
Hermione took a cautious step towards him. "Maybe, if you go to
him and explain everything as you just did to us, and he sees how much
you have figured out on your own already and that you are genuinely
ready for the answer, yes, I think he might be honest with you."
Just then Ginny stuck her head in the door. Her bright smile
turned into one of apology when she realized she had obviously walked
in on something important. "Sorry, Mum said to come downstairs for
Watching Ginny quickly make her exit, Harry felt a painful lump suddenly build in his throat. "I don't want to know."
Getting out of bed was hard enough already - he didn't know how
he'd manage even that if he were destined to die before he even
finished growing up. And worse - secretly, he knew he'd want to run; to
hell with everyone else. "I don't. If there is some clock counting down
how much time I have left, I don't want to know that."
Ron, almost forgotten, suddenly spoke up. "Are we telling anyone else, then?"
"No," Harry said firmly. "And Ginny doesn't find out this last bit, either."
"Are you crazy?" Ron asked. "You told her before you told us. She's going to be pretty hacked off if you leave her out again."
"Doesn't much matter how hacked off she is if I'm dead," Harry grumbled perhaps a little too animatedly.
Ron looked wary. "That's what you think."
Harry's friendship with Ron and Hermione was different; they had
shared everything since the beginning. Their relationship had
practically been founded on life or death situations. But lately, the
conversations Harry had with Ginny were the closest he had felt to
normal in a long time. He wouldn't be able to stand it if the shadow of
his impending death started to lurk in her eyes. "It's not open
for discussion. Ginny doesn't know."
Hermione looked towards the door and then back to Harry with an
air of deep suspicion. "Alright, Harry." Thinking the conversation was
over, Harry started toward the exit, but Hermione continued. "You know,
I think it's the last part that is most interesting, though. According
to the prophecy 'neither canLIVE while the other survives.'"
"Well," Hermione continued, "I suppose you have both been
technically alive this whole time, but maybe, to fulfill the
requirements of the prophecy, neither of you have really lived because
the other had still managed to survive. Voldemort subsisted without a
body for more than a decade, but that can hardly be called living. And
you survived his attack, but suffered an oppressive childhood, constant
battles against people who wanted to kill you, now a war, not to
mention the trials and tribulations of unwanted celebrity. Maybe what
the prophecy actually means is you finally get to truly live your life
after he's dead."
Suddenly Harry's entire body felt light. "Freedom."