The Hogwarts Express pulled into Platform 9 3/4 with a loud
screeching of brakes and a great puff of smoke. Before it had even come
to a complete stop, students were gathering their belongings and
standing in huge queues in the corridor, waiting for the porters to
open the carriage doors. Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron
Weasley were three of the last to do so. The corridors had almost
cleared before any of them even moved from their compartment.
was their last ride on the school train. Just a week or so before, they
had finished their N.E.W.T.s (Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests) and
thus, their magical education had ended. They were now fully-qualified
Harry followed the other two out of their
compartment, looking around with a sigh. Some of the best times of his
life had been intimately connected with this train, either on the rides
themselves or at the school to which the train had delivered him. Or,
on one memorable occasion, in a flying car above the train—but that
occasion was perhaps best forgotten.
"Coming, Harry?" Hermione asked.
Getting a better grasp on the handle of his trunk and the top of
Hedwig's cage, he heaved them out of the compartment, down the short
passage, and off the train. Ron already had a trolley for him, and he
placed his trunk down first, Hedwig atop it. "Merlin," he said, looking
again at the huge red locomotive, "seven years ago, this day seemed so
far off. This doesn't even feel real."
"I know what you mean," Ron said sympathetically. He knew Harry didn't mean only the end of their school days at Hogwarts.
"How's your side?" Hermione asked. "Didn't pull anything loose hefting that trunk down, did you?"
it's all right." He touched his left side, where a bandage stretched
from the top of his ribcage almost to his hip joint, remnants of a
curse that he had barely ducked in that last, cataclysmic battle with
Voldemort. Madam Pomfrey, the school nurse, had not been pleased to see
him out of bed and back in the world of Hogwarts by the end of school,
but Headmistress McGonagall had been firm: it was time Harry was up and
Headmistress McGonagall. Another change to get used to.
Harry started, coming up out of his reverie. "Oh—sorry," he said. "I was just—"
"Thinking," Ron finished for him. "That's all you've done for three months, mate. Are you sure you're okay?"
sure." As sure as he could be. He'd spent most of the time since waking
up in hospital either studying for his N.E.W.T.s, which he had forced
himself to take, or else remembering that horrific battle—the slitted,
glittering eyes of Voldemort, reembodied and larger than life; the
cowled figures of Death Eaters standing in a huge semicircle behind
their master; the night sky lit with flung curses and explosions; the
open, staring eyes of Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts, whose
once-superhuman knowledge and strength had not, at the last, been quite
enough; the canine shriek of his godfather, Sirius, who had caught the
curse Harry had ducked and been flung backwards, transforming back into
a human with his dying breath….
Ron snapped his fingers under Harry's nose. "Come out of it, Harry!" His voice was rough with suppressed fear for his friend.
Harry blinked, suddenly back in the present.
"Harry," Hermione said nervously, "I'm really not sure—"
"I'm all right,
dammit!" Harry snapped. Hermione flinched back, and he felt a sudden
surge of guilt. "I'm sorry, Hermione," he said, looking down and
rubbing the back of his neck.
"Look, Harry," Ron said
uneasily, "we could take you back to the Burrow tonight, and then get a
Ministry car or something tomorrow to take you to your aunt and uncle's
to pick up the last of your things. You don't have to go there now."
Not like this. Not so vulnerable. Not so jumpy. Not so angry. Not so alone.
felt a sudden surge of gratitude toward his friend. "Thanks, Ron," he
said, "but I think I'd better get it over with, y'know? I can stand one
night." He gave a mirthless laugh. "It's not as though I need them to
protect me from Voldemort anymore, do I?"
"No," Ron said
slowly, looking at Harry with a strange expression on his face. "But
then, since you've known who and what you are, I don't reckon you ever
really have." He ignored Harry and Hermione's startled looks and began
trundling his own trolley toward the exit from the platform. "Come on,"
he said, "or your aunt and uncle might well have given you up and gone
Passing through the barrier was a matter of only a
moment or two, and then there stood Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia, in
all their mouth-pursed disapproval. "About time!" Uncle Vernon barked,
as he always did. "Well, come on, boy. We haven't got all day."
moved toward them without a backward glance. He could feel Hermione's
and Ron's eyes on his back, but he knew if he looked at them, he'd do
something he shouldn't. He had one more night there, he told himself.
One more. And then he would never have to lay eyes on his "family"
The ride back to the Dursleys' was absolutely silent.
Harry suspected they were trying to make him uncomfortable. It rankled
that he should have gone through everything he had in the past few
months, that he and so many others should have lost so much, and still
the Dursleys' focus was simply to try to make his life miserable.
hauled his belongings up the stairs without magic, avoiding both Dudley
(who had not come to meet him at the train, mainly because the
seatbelts in the back of the Dursleys' van wouldn't fit him any more)
and Dudley's parents along the way. In his room, rather than unpacking
everything, he began opening drawers and going through them, finding
things that he thought he wanted to keep. There wasn't much; most of
his real possessions were already packed in his Hogwarts trunk. All
that remained in his room at the Dursleys' was some Muggle clothing,
most of which was far too big for him, as it had once belonged to
But he was of age now; he could do magic outside of
Hogwarts, and he was certain that at some point he'd need Muggle
clothing in order to blend in when stepping outside the wizarding
world. Accordingly, he pointed his wand at several of the
better-preserved specimens of jeans and sweatshirts and muttered, "Reducio."
The clothing shrank to a proper size, and he packed it into his trunk.
He added an extra pair of shoes and an alarm clock that had once
belonged to Dudley, and he was packed. He sighed, sitting down on his
bed next to the trunk. An entire lifetime's worth of possessions, he mused, and they all fit in one student trunk.
"BOY!" bellowed Uncle Vernon. "You'd better get down here and help your aunt with dinner RIGHT NOW!"
rolled his eyes and called, "Coming!" He put his wand into his trunk
and started to close the lid, then thought better of it. Instead, he
pulled his wand back out, locked the trunk with a muttered spell, and
tucked his wand in his back pocket, pulling his sweatshirt down to
cover it. Now that he could use it no matter where he was, he had no
intention of ever being unarmed. He just hoped he could manage to keep
himself from doing something irrevocable before leaving tomorrow
Dinner was even more uncomfortable than the ride back
from King's Cross, but Harry almost didn't mind. He'd be leaving the
Dursleys' forever in just a few hours, and the rest of his life
stretched before him in a wonder of possibilities, each better than the
last. Though one possibility, once almost a certainty in his life, he
hadn't thought of for some time.
he got up from the table and did the dishes of his own accord, without
having to be bellowed at. Not because he felt it was his duty, but
because it was something to do before going back to his room, to the
emptiness of the hours between now and nine o'clock tomorrow morning.
Ron had been right: he'd spent too much of the last three months
thinking, reliving the past, as though he could force himself to see
something good in it, some reason for it. There was no reason, he thought bitterly. Hot water nearly scalded his hands as he rinsed a dish. No
reason at all for so many good people to have suffered so badly at the
hands of so few. I should feel good about what I've done. I should feel
as though I've accomplished something amazing. All I can remember are
the screams and the pain and the terror and the death around me.
And Ginny. Always Ginny.
cleaned even to Aunt Petunia's satisfaction, he had little choice
beyond watching television with the Dursleys or going upstairs to his
empty room. He climbed the stairs slowly and let himself in, shutting
the door quietly behind him. His trunk lay packed; he levitated it up
off the bed and onto the floor at the footboard. Hedwig sat in her
cage, clicking her beak with anticipation and looking out at the night
"Want out, do you, Hedwig?" he asked. He opened her
cage and took her onto his wrist, moving toward the window. "I'll be at
the Burrow when you get back," he told her, scratching between her
feathers at the back of her neck. She made a little sound of
contentment. "We won't ever have to come here again, Hedwig. I promise."
opened the window and gave her a little toss to help her get airborne,
as her wings were too big to fit through the window itself. She soared
up toward the moon, and he watched until he could no longer see her
silhouette against it, then slowly drew his head in and shut the window
again. He lay down on his bed, staring at the dark ceiling, but not
really seeing it. For the first time in months, he cast his mind back
beyond the Last Battle, as it was now being called, and to the Hogwarts
he remembered, before the siege of Hogsmeade.
was an ordinary September in Gryffindor Tower. Students were engaged in
various stages of homework. Seventh-years were easily recognisable by
the stacks of books surrounding them and their peevish answers whenever
they were interrupted. N.E.W.T.s were only a few months away, and the
teachers knew it; the workload they had piled on the seventh-years was
nearly twice what the students had ever had before in their lives.
glanced up from a History of Magic essay ("Oh, no! More goblin
rebellions?" Ron had groaned when Professor Binns had assigned it) and
saw a flash of red hair across the room. Ginny was sitting with a
couple of girls from her year, laughing over something on the table,
and she had unconsciously thrown her hair back over her shoulder. He
watched as she leaned her chin on her left hand and looked
mischievously at the girl who sat across from her. He couldn't tell
what she was saying, but it was obviously something pithy and probably
off-colour to boot, for they howled with laughter.
sure when he had first begun noticing her. Somehow, without his
realizing, she had gone from being Ron's annoying little sister with
the rather embarrassing crush on him, to a lovely young lady, poised,
bright, and with a sense of mischief that at least equaled that of her
Over the final two weeks of the summer, when Harry had at
last come to visit, the two of them had begun talking. It had been
surprisingly easy to talk to her. Those brown eyes could switch from
flashing fury to twinkling amusement to deep pools of serious concern
with no warning. By the time they had all boarded the school train for
his last trip to Hogwarts, he was well on his way to being fascinated.
Only two things held him back: fear of Ron's reaction to Harry's
attraction to his baby sister, and uncertainty about Ginny's own
feelings. Harry was certain Ron wouldn't be amused to know the thoughts
Harry had been thinking about Ginny, but he was equally certain that,
if he knew Ginny still felt more than friendship for him, Ron's
reaction wouldn't matter so much. Although, he thought with a twinge of
amusement, peering over the stacks of books toward his friend, Ron's
long-awaited confession of his feelings for Hermione might just make
him less likely to want to bloody Harry's nose in defence of his
sister's honour. Might.
Ginny glanced around and met his eyes, her own dancing with impish glee. She winked insolently, grinning.
warning, he felt a sudden, disturbing lurch in the pit of his stomach
and a warm tingle in his chest. He blinked. It was suddenly hard to
breathe. She continued to meet his gaze, the roguish laughter in her
eyes fading to something deeper, something almost inscrutable.
couldn't tear his gaze away. He was astounded. How could he have lived
in the same House with her for five years and never have truly seen
her? How could he have spent weeks at the Burrow and never noticed?
Images he'd never seen before flashed before his eyes: Ginny in his
arms, smiling up at him in a soft, special way she'd never smiled at
anyone; Ginny dressed in a white gown, dancing with him; Ginny in a
rocking chair, a small, black-haired infant nursing at her breast;
Ginny asleep, head on his chest, wrapped in his protecting arms—
was the first to look away, though not from embarrassment or confusion.
He knew very well what his feelings were. He just had no idea why they
had chosen that second, that moment in time, to reveal themselves, or
how he could be so sure, so absolutely certain. She was meant for him;
he was meant for her. There was simply no question. It was almost
frightening, that certainty. How can this be? he thought
stupidly, trying to get his eyes to focus on the table, trying to clear
his mind—though how he could clear it of utter clarity, he wasn't sure.
Where did this come from? I can't possibly think—I can't know—not like this, not so quickly! It doesn't happen like that, between one heartbeat and the next!
voice made him jump. He turned to see her soft, brown eyes looking down
at him. There was concern in those eyes. She gestured to the chair next
to him. "Mind if I sit?"
He pulled his knapsack off the chair,
clearing it for her, and she sat down next to him. His piles of books
effectively screened them from Ron and Hermione, working at the other
end of the table. One hand reached out and touched the back of his,
where it lay across the blank parchment beneath the few paragraphs he'd
managed to scratch out. He turned his hand over and caught hers, warm
and soft and delicate. Her skin was so translucent that he could make
out the veins running along the back of her hand. He traced them with
his eyes, fascinated.
"I was beginning to think," she said, "even after last summer, that you would never discover it."
He looked up. "Discover what?"
"Tie?" he repeated, feeling utterly idiotic repeating everything she said. "What tie?"
bit her lip, as if trying to think of the words. "Harry," she said
carefully, "remember when you saved me in the Chamber of Secrets?"
could he not? His nightmares still recalled her small, motionless form
lying on the floor of the Chamber, hardly breathing, barely clinging to
life. He nodded.
She took a deep breath. "When you did that—saved me—that created one kind of tie between us."
gratitude, you mean?" He tried to keep the flat irritation he suddenly
felt out of his voice; gratitude, or the need for it, hadn't been what
he'd felt at all.
"No! Well, that, too," she amended, "but I mean a magical tie. When one wizard saves another's life—"
he said, suddenly remembering something Dumbledore had told him in his
third year. "I've heard that." This was almost as bad. He didn't want
her tied to him by anything except—
Except what? Affection? Love? You just looked up and really saw her for the first time in five years, you git, he told himself. You can't expect her to decide she's in love with you—nor should you expect yourself to be in love with her. Not so fast. No way.
But his heart gave a little twinge of protest—for that was exactly how he felt.
there's another kind of tie binding us," she told him softly, the
firelight reflecting in her eyes. "I think a tie has been there between
us for a very, very long time."
"What do you mean?"
looked down. One hand, the one not clasped in Harry's own, reached up
to tuck her hair behind her ear. "Harry," she said finally, "what do
you know about Seers—true Seers?"
"Are there any?" The
answer was flippant, a reaction to the seriousness of the situation. He
regretted it as soon as it came out of his mouth. "No—sorry," he said,
before she could respond. "I know there are. Even Professor Trelawney
can be one occasionally. She foresaw Wormtail's breaking free and going
back to Voldemort, and Voldemort's rising again, at the end of my third
year." He gave a small shiver; the rebodification of Voldemort still
haunted his nightmares. "But they're pretty rare, aren't they?"
she agreed. Her hand had tightened on his when he'd shivered. "And even
if they don't go all mystical like Trelawney, their true Seeings are
few and far between, and generally come upon them when they least
expect or desire them. And very, very few people are pleased with the
predictions of a true Seer."
"Like Cassandra," he whispered, remembering the stories of Troy.
He could feel the tension in her. She still wasn't looking up at him.
never told anyone this before—not even Mum and Dad. But I—I have the
Gift. I can foresee things. Horrible things, usually, and almost never
anything I can do anything about. But occasionally…" She glanced up at
him and smiled. He was touched by the uncertainty in the smile, the
nervousness at baring her soul. "Occasionally, I See true, and I See
good, not evil. When I was eight years old, playing in a mud puddle
after a rain, I looked down into the water and I Saw—you."
He knew what she meant, he realised. He'd just Seen her the same way.
knew I couldn't tell anyone," she went on, looking down again.
"Especially not after seeing you at King's Cross the first time. That
year, with you and Ron at Hogwarts and me still at home, was pure
torture for me. And then, after I finally got to Hogwarts, after I got
to see you every day…." She swallowed, and he reached for her other
hand in support. "Tom Riddle. I didn't See that. I don't often See
things that relate to me; I don't know why. I don't think I've Seen
anything personal since that one time, about you. But after the
Chamber, I knew I couldn't go to you, I couldn't say anything—I had to
wait for you to make the first move—and I had nearly despaired of it
ever happening—" She took a breath and raised her eyes back to his.
"Harry… I hope you don't think I've gone completely round the bend with
He'd heard stories of love at first sight. Most were
just that: stories, fairy tales. Some, though, had happened to people
he knew. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, for instance. And his own parents. But
this wasn't first sight, was it?
"N-no," he said slowly. "But, Ginny—how can we know that what we've Seen is true? I mean—"
"We?" she interrupted, looking at him intently. "We, Harry?"
He nodded slowly. "Just now," he said softly, not dropping his gaze. "For the first time. But how do we know, Ginny? What could there possibly be to—to make us destined
for each other? Because that's what this is, you know. If you feel what
I feel, if you Saw what I Saw, it can't be anything else."
squeezed his hands gently. "Have you ever really thought about my
birthday, Harry?" she said. "About what happened the day I was born?"
He was a little surprised at the sudden change of topic. "Well, your birthday is Halloween, I know—oh."
He sat back, not releasing her hands, but suddenly stunned that he
hadn't realised it before. "You were born the day that—that—"
mum and dad were killed," she finished softly. "Yes. I think that's
why, Harry. One link was broken; another was forged. Fate, I've Seen,
doesn't take disruption of Her plans lightly." She smiled a crooked
little smile that made his heart turn over.
Fate. He had
railed at the machinations of Fate since he had found out what had
really happened to his parents—since he had discovered he was really a
wizard. He had given up so much—parents, a normal childhood, the
ability to just be Harry and not Famous Harry Potter—could this be
repayment for what he had endured?
No, he decided. Ginny could never be repayment for anything. She was who she was, and she had endured her own pain at the hands of Fate and Voldemort.
He took a deep breath. "Well," he said slowly, "I suppose there's only one thing to do."
A flash of fear appeared in her eyes, but she kept her voice steady. "What's that?"
smiled and brought one of her hands to his lips, kissing her palm
gently. "Work out some way of telling Ron without becoming his punching
bag," he said playfully.
She blinked, then smiled so broadly that he thought the entire Common Room must be able to see. "You—you mean—you're not angry?"
being manipulated by Fate?" He shook his head. "Ginny, my interest in
you has been growing for months; I just hadn't got up the courage to do
anything about it. If I've been given a swift kick in the rear and told
in no uncertain terms to get on with it—" he grinned mischievously
"—then who am I to ignore it? Besides, though my Divination marks might
not be so hot, even I can tell a true prediction when I See it."
Harry groaned and raised his hands to his face, rubbing his eyes wearily. Perhaps not so true now,
he thought. The moon was well up; he could see the outlines of leafy
branches waving in the puddle of moonlight by his bed. Sighing, he
undressed and got into his pyjamas, pulling his History of Magic
textbook out of his trunk and putting his wand carefully on the
nightstand. If anything was going to get him to go to sleep, it was
History of Magic.
He was exhausted; he had been exhausted for
months. It was only the past few weeks that he'd been able to get
anything like normal sleep, though; for the first month, he'd had to be
given sleeping draughts every night. He didn't want to dream tonight.
He was so tired of the dreams.
Unless, a small voice said quietly in the back of his head, I dream about Ginny.
"Shut up," he told the voice aloud, and, propped up on his bed, opened the textbook at random and began to read.
woke to birdsong. He started, grasping for his wand, still
sleep-befuddled and unsure where he was. The smooth, cool wood of his
wand in his hand helped clear his mind; the heavy textbook that fell
off his chest brought him back to full consciousness. He sat up all the
way, massaging the soreness in his neck from having been at such an odd
angle for so long, and glanced at his watch. His jaw dropped. Eight
o'clock! He had slept 'til eight o'clock! "Ye gods," he whispered. He hadn't got so much sleep since—
stopped there. He wasn't going to dwell on that today. Swinging his
legs over the edge of the bed, he bent to open his trunk and looked at
the few things he'd elected to take away with him.
suddenly dawned on him that he really could leave and never come back,
never have to listen to them mutter and whine about his magic. He
thought about the summer after his first year, how he had them all
afraid of him until Dobby had spoiled it by getting him a letter
warning that he was forbidden to use magic outside of Hogwarts. But he
was of age now, and if he was going to leave and never come back, why
not give them something real to complain about? Since they thought he
was such an ingrate anyway, why not tell them what he really thought of
He pulled out some clothes, closed his trunk, and
sealed it with a spell. Today was the first day of the rest of his
life—the first day of his Dursley-free life—and he was going to make
the most of it. Grabbing his wand and the newly-shrunken clothes, he
headed for the shower.
By the time he got out and dressed,
Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia had gone downstairs. He brushed his hair
quickly (right out of the shower, it actually lay down and behaved
itself) and, dressed in well-fitting Muggle clothing for the first time
in his life, went downstairs, grinning broadly. He had been waiting for
this day since his eleventh birthday. Ron would be here in half an
hour. It was time, on his last day at the Dursleys', to have a bit of
As he had expected, Aunt Petunia was at the cooker and
Uncle Vernon was sitting at the kitchen table when Harry walked in.
"Bring me my coffee," Uncle Vernon barked without looking up from his
paper. "And comb your—"
But he stopped, because levitating in
front of him was a perfectly creamed and sugared cup of coffee, just at
the proper height for him to take it in his hand. Eyes bulging, he let
out a yell, dropped the paper, and scooted his chair as far away as he
"I did comb my hair," Harry said cheerfully, thoroughly enjoying himself. "See? It's lying down and everything."
"You—" Uncle Vernon gasped, "—you—you dare—"
Petunia turned to see what had upset her husband and let out a
bloodcurdling shriek of her own. Her flailing hands caught the skillet
and would have overturned it, sending hot bacon grease all over the
kitchen and spilling the slick food all over the floor, but Harry
caught that, too. He let the cup down onto the table, gathered up
half-spilled bacon and eggs and grease back into the pan, and lowered
the pan back onto the burner, all without leaving the doorway.
Grinning, he twirled his wand in his fingers and sauntered farther into
Aunt Petunia backpedaled, retreating behind her
husband as Harry came in. "See how useful it can be?" Harry said as
though he had done this to them every day of his life. "Glad I'm of age
now, aren't you?"
"You—" Uncle Vernon sputtered. "How could you—you dare bring that unnaturalness into our house—"
interrupted, finishing the familiar tirade for him. "—'With all that
Petunia and I have done for you, we've given you food, a roof over your
head, and clothed your ungrateful back, and all we get for our
sacrifice is this?'" He leaned one hip against the kitchen counter and
balanced his wand by its tip on his finger. "Well, yeah, I kind of
thought so. I didn't ask to be put here, you know. I didn't ask to have
my parents murdered. I didn't ask to have a murdering wizard decide he
was going to take over the world. I certainly didn't ask to have
anything to do with either of you, or Dudley." He caught his wand and
turned to look directly at his aunt and uncle. "All I asked for was to
be treated with a little kindness and respect—and you did your damnedest to keep me from getting it anywhere, here or Hogwarts!"
shrank away at the growing hardness of his tone. He paused and took a
deep breath. This wasn't what he'd intended. Anger was surging to the
top of his consciousness. He couldn't afford to get angry. He was here
to tell them what he'd always wanted to tell them, to get that
confrontation out in the open, now, here, so that they couldn't shrug
it off, and then to get off to the Weasleys' before his aunt and uncle
could reply. Anger was dangerous. He had been angry before, of course,
but the last time he had been this angry had been at the Battle.
kitchen door swung open violently and Dudley lumbered in. Startled,
Harry turned to cover him with his wand. Dudley didn't even notice.
for breakf—" Dudley began, then stopped suddenly, looking at his
parents who stood frozen in place, terrified. Slowly he turned to face
Harry. His piggy little eyes widened farther than Harry had seen since
he was in primary school, and he started to bolt for the kitchen door.
Harry pointed his wand at it. It slammed shut, not swinging back and
forth as it was supposed to, and Dudley skidded to a stop.
so glad you came down, Dudley," Harry said cheerfully, as though he
hadn't nearly lost control over his fury. "Sit down. I'd like to
include you in a little chat."
Aunt Petunia somehow overcame
her terror long enough to stand up, wrap her arms as far around Dudley
as they could go, and pull him down into a chair. "You will not hurt
our boy!" she shrieked.
"Oh, shut up," Harry said. "I'm not
going to hurt your ickle Duddy-dums. I'm not going to hurt any of you,
if it comes to that. It's not worth it. But—" he pointed his wand at
them like a finger, and they shrank back even further from him, "—I am bloody well going to give you a piece of my mind."
was not a sound in the kitchen as he stared them all down. "Sixteen
years," he said, his voice low to cover the way it quivered slightly.
"Sixteen years and never once have I got one word of acceptance from
you. Not one word of protection. Not one word of anything but lies and
He stopped again, breathing heavily. His
wand was shaking and his control nearly gone. He wanted nothing more
right now than to curse them, to see them suffer. It was intolerable to
him at that moment that Dumbledore, that Sirius, that Lupin and Snape
and countless others had been tortured, maimed, killed, while these
petty abusers sat here in their perfect kitchen in their perfect house,
never once even considering—!
The kitchen fire flared
with green flame suddenly, and a tall, red-haired figure stepped out of
it. "Hi, Harry!" Ron said cheerily. "Are you rea—" He stopped, staring
at the scene before him.
"Hullo, Ron," Harry said flatly. It
was as though he were standing outside himself, watching all this take
place. He didn't recognise his own voice. It trembled with the rage he
was now holding onto by the thinnest of hairs. He remembered everything
they'd done to him, every last thing: the nights he'd spent locked in
his cupboard; the years of enduring the encouraged bullying by Dudley;
the times he'd had to sneak down to eat after midnight because he'd
been so hungry he thought he'd pass out; his desperate attempts as a
very young child to do something, anything, that was acceptable, that
would earn him a kind word… His hand tightened on his wand.
Ron spoke carefully. "Harry, what are you doing?"
"Giving them a piece of my mind. Don't you dare!" he snapped, and Dudley, who had shifted in his seat, froze again.
"Harry," Ron said as he stepped forward a pace, his voice very even and low. "Don't do this."
"My trunk is up in my room, Ron," Harry said, not listening, his wand
still on the Dursleys. How long had he wanted to do this? How long?
"Why don't you go get it? One person should be able to bring it down,
now that we can use magic outside of school." The Dursleys all flinched at the word magic, and Harry felt a sudden surge of exhilaration. At last he was making them flinch for a reason.
don't we both go get it, Harry?" Ron said, still in that strangely
even, low tone. He paused, and then his voice became more insistent.
"Harry. Come on, now. Putdown your wand."
eyes never left his aunt, uncle, and cousin. "You have no idea, Ron,"
he said, and his voice quavered still more. "You have no idea what I've
put up with from them. You have no idea what they've done. You have no
idea what kind of people they are. You have no idea."
stepped forward again. He was right next to Harry now. "I know," he
said quietly. "I know. But are they worth it? Are they worth a life
sentence in Azkaban? I mean, all you have to do is come upstairs with
me to get your things and then we're both out of here forever. And no
looking back, right?"
Harry shook even more. A wand in his hand. Wasn't this where he belonged? Wasn't this right?
"Harry, come on. Put it down. Let's just get out of here. Put it down."
Slowly, he lowered his wand. Slowly, he began to realize what he had nearly done—what he had been about to do—
Ron said sharply to the Dursleys, "Scarper. NOW!"
They didn't need telling twice. All three of them disappeared out of
the kitchen, and less than fifteen seconds later, Harry heard the van's
tires squealing on the pavement. Harry sank into a chair, quaking so
hard he nearly dropped his wand altogether. He raised horrified eyes to
his best friend.
"Ron," he whispered, "my God… what I almost did…."
you didn't," Ron said firmly. He crouched down in front of Harry and
placed a hand on his shoulder. "You didn't. You stopped yourself.
Remember that. It wasn't you. It wasn't you."
gulped and nodded. "Okay," he said. Only it wasn't okay. He had begun
to think it would never be okay again. He put his wand down and buried
his face in his hands.
Ron waited a moment, and then said, "Will you be all right for the few seconds it'll take me to go get your things?"
"Yeah," Harry said, his voice muffled. "Yeah."
heard Ron rise and go out the now free-swinging door. Tears prickled
the back of his eyes, and he pressed the heels of his hands against his
lids, willing them not to fall. He had come so close, so close. The
Cruciatus Curse had been on the tip of his tongue. He could still see
it: Dudley screaming and writhing on the ground; his parents unable to
do anything but watch; his wand's inexorable path from his cousin to
Aunt Petunia, then to Uncle Vernon, their screams a beautiful vengeance
for sixteen years of unceasing mistreatment.
He had almost performed an Unforgivable Curse on his own relatives.
had killed his own father in revenge for abandoning his mother when
she'd got pregnant and revealed that she was a witch.
Was he taking after Voldemort?
Ron was back with his trunk and Hedwig's cage. "Let's go, Harry," he said quietly. "Come on. Pick up your wand. Let's go."
Harry did as Ron said. A quick kindled fire, a pinch of Floo Powder
from the pouch Ron had brought, and he was whirling toward the Burrow,
heart heavy with self-loathing.
nobody was in the kitchen when they arrived at the Burrow. Harry and
Ron managed to get upstairs into Ron's room without meeting anyone.
Harry collapsed on the bed that had been set up there for him, drawing
up his knees and wrapping his arms around them, forehead resting on his
kneecaps. Ron sat down on the edge of his own bed, not speaking. Harry
was grateful both for his presence and for his silence. He didn't think
he could have stood it if Ron had set right in trying to comfort him
or—his stomach churned—asking him what in the hell he had been
thinking. Truth to tell, he didn't know. He hadn't thought, not
really; the anger had just taken him over, years and years of buried
emotions coming out at their first chance and almost overpowering him.
still shook. It had been bad enough in the Battle, when it was curse or
be cursed; this was pure, cold-blooded torture he had been
contemplating. An image of Remus Lupin, bound and gagged, convulsed in
agony as Lucius Malfoy's wand pointed at him, came to mind, and his
arms tightened about his legs. He felt sick. How could he have done
that? How could he even have considered doing that?
But you didn't, Ron's voice echoed in his mind. It wasn't you. It wasn't you.
it had been him in the Battle. Not an Unforgivable curse, not then, but
he had been responsible for explosions and damage and wounds and death.
Some of them he had caused to Death Eaters; some had happened to the
innocents or combatants on his own side that he had been unable to
No. He wouldn't think about
Ginny. Couldn't face her, not after this. How could she not have Seen
him doing what—what he'd just done?
"Hey," Ron said softly. "You all right, mate?"
raised his head, looking at the wall. "I don't know what's wrong with
me, Ron," he said hoarsely. "I was just—just going to—show them some
magic, you know, levitating cups and such. Finally tell them what I
thought of them. Make them sweat. But somehow…." He swallowed and
glanced down again. "It got out of control." He finally looked at Ron
with haunted eyes. "I almost performed the Cruciatus Curse, Ron. It was
on the tip of my tongue. It was so close."
Ron shifted forward and put his hand on Harry's shoulder. "Harry, you've got to stop beating yourself up about this."
"What kind of wizard threatens his own family?" Harry said forcefully, finally voicing his worst fear. "Dark wizards, that's what. Voldemort and Malfoy and—"
hand fell away in incredulous surprise. "So you're comparing yourself
with V-Voldemort now?" He stumbled over the defeated Dark Lord's name,
but managed it. Now that Voldemort had finally been completely
defeated, the whole wizarding world was trying to get over the fear of
his name. "Come on, Harry, would he have even hesitated if he'd
got the same sort of treatment from them that you did? Or Malfoy—Lucius
Malfoy killed his own wife, remember? Would they have stopped
themselves? Would they have agonised over it? Would they be so shaky
they could hardly stand up?"
He seemed to be waiting for an answer, so Harry whispered, "No."
"No! So you can't be just like them, can you?"
"You did nothing," Ron repeated. "Honestly, Harry, even if I hadn't been there, you wouldn't have done it. I know that. I know you."
great shudder ran through Harry, loosening the taut muscles of his
shoulders and back, and he drooped. "I wish I were as convinced as
you," he said softly.
"Look," Ron said, obviously casting
about for something to say, "why don't you go on downstairs? Everyone
should be back soon, and they'll want to see you. Maybe you can take
your mind off things."
Harry pictured the faces of the Weasley family—his
family, his real family, to all intents and purposes. He couldn't face
them. Not just yet. "D'you think they'd mind if I rested for a bit
first?" he asked hesitantly. "Napped, maybe? I haven't got much sleep
"Sure, Harry." Ron gave him a wan smile and stood up, moving toward the door.
Ron stopped, turning back. "Yeah?"
Harry felt his face flushing. "You won't—tell anyone, will you?"
"Of course not. I'll just tell them you haven't been sleeping well."
nodded and left. Stomach still churning, though somewhat less than
before, Harry took off his glasses and lay back on the bed. To his
relief, sleep claimed him almost immediately.
trudged up the side of a vaguely familiar hill. A glimpse of Hogwarts
castle in the distance told him where he was: the hill past Dervish and
Banges, where he, Ron, and Hermione had had secret meetings with Sirius
before his name had been cleared. Something felt different, but he
couldn't put his finger on what. After a moment, it came to him: his
side no longer hurt, and no bandages impeded his movements. He frowned
briefly. Where had they gone?
He rounded a bend
in the trail and saw his godfather there, sitting on a big, flat rock.
His hair and beard were trimmed, his robes spotless, his worn face once
again young-looking. He reminded Harry of the pictures from Harry's
parents' wedding, when Sirius had been best man. Harry stopped, not
sure if he should go any farther. What if Sirius knew? What if Sirius
had somehow found out about his threatening the Dursleys?
smiled at Harry and gestured to another rock next to him. "Pull up a
chair," he said in his warm, low voice, "and tell me what's wrong."
Harry sank down onto the stone. In a would-be normal voice, he said, "Wrong? What do you mean?"
Sirius's face tightened slightly in concern. "Harry," he said softly, "you know you don't have to pretend with me."
he did know. Harry rested his elbows on his knees and buried his head
in his hands. He couldn't bear to have Sirius disappointed with him.
warm hand settled onto Harry's shoulder, and Harry tensed, anticipating
what he was afraid his godfather would say. He had almost performed an
Unforgivable Curse. What was there to say besides—
"I'm very proud of you, Harry," Sirius said.
Harry jerked his head up. He said in shock, "You're what?"
proud of you." Sirius met his startled gaze squarely, and there was
compassion and understanding in those eyes. "Not many could have held
themselves back, once they got a chance to get back at someone like the
Dursleys. I doubt I could have. I'm grateful that I never was put in a
position where I had power over Barty Crouch, for instance. I don't
know what I would have done—I might have earned my sentence, for all I
Harry knew that Bartemius Crouch,
then-head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, had been so
anti-Dark during the first war with Voldemort that he had had Sirius
imprisoned without trial for the murders of Peter Pettigrew and Harry's
parents. Sirius had lost twelve years of his life to that unjust
imprisonment, and even more while on the run from both Voldemort and
his own people. His freedom had been granted only days before he had
been killed—killed by the curse that should have taken Harry's life.
had happened in the darkest hour of the Battle, just after Dumbledore
had died, attacked on three sides by Death Eaters who had got through
the Ministry line that had been set up just a little too far east.
Hagrid, enraged that his mentor had been killed, had waded into the
fray, wandless, magicless, breaking heads and trying to reach Voldemort
to physically squeeze the life out of him. Harry had screamed Hagrid's
name, screamed for him to come back, but his voice had been drowned out
by the explosions and the screaming around him, and he had had to watch
his oldest wizarding friend crumple like a rag doll as the blinding
green Killing Curse hit him square in the chest right in the middle of
the street in Hogsmeade, crumple at the feet of Death Eaters who
laughed and turned their wands on the rest of the Ministry wizards
assembled there. A flash of green light hurtled toward them, and Harry
had leapt unthinkingly out of the way. Fire scraped across his left
side as the stench of burning wool from his robes filled his nostrils.
A dog's shrill scream of pain and terror sounded from behind him, and
he turned just in time to see the big, shaggy black dog morph back into
the figure of his godfather—
"Harry," Sirius said urgently. Harry snapped back to the present. "Harry, don't."
blame yourself." Harry started to protest, but Sirius cut him off.
"You've been doing it since the siege of Hogsmeade began. You can't know everything, you can't predict everything, you can't protect everyone, and you can't be other than human. And 'human' means imperfect, by definition."
looked down. He'd come here upset about the Dursleys; now he was flung
back into the terrible memories of the three-month siege and the horror
of the Last Battle one more time. "Everyone kept looking to me for
answers," he mumbled. "And I didn't have them. I didn't know what to
do. But I was the Boy Who Lived; how could I not know? And people died because I didn't know what to do."
knew what to do," Sirius insisted. "Some of us had more experience than
others--Moony and Dumbledore and I, for instance--because we'd fought
in the first war. But there was no way any of us could have predicted
everything that happened."
Yes, there was, Harry wanted to tell him. Someone could have. If I had just listened to Ginny…
But he couldn't say anything about Ginny. He'd promised.
Harry," Sirius persisted. "Not even Ginny could have seen everything.
No matter how true she Sees, no Seer sees everything."
Harry's head jerked upward, his heart thumping. "How do you know about Ginny?" he yelped. "I never—I didn't—"
you didn't. And neither did she. But things are clearer from this side
of the veil, Harry. There are a lot of things I can see now that I
couldn't, or didn't, before."
Oh, yes, Harry
remembered. That was what had been wrong with this conversation all
along. Sirius was, after all, dead. And he knew about what Harry had
done at the Dursleys. Harry's heart sank again and he looked down.
"Sirius, I--" he began.
Sirius leaned forward
again, taking both of Harry's shoulders in his hands. "Harry, dammit, I
told you: you are only human. Most people imagine getting back at the
people who hurt them; the worse the betrayal, the worse the imagined
revenge, and your aunt and uncle have more to answer for than most
people ever will in their lives. It speaks of enormous strength of
heart and character that you didn't do it. You stopped yourself before
anything happened. That's the important part."
"I didn't stop myself," Harry said dully. "Ron stopped me."
Sirius gave a half-smile. "Who disarmed you?" he asked quietly.
"Disarmed me?" Harry blinked, glancing up despite himself. "Nobody. I put my wand down."
put your wand down." Sirius gave him a little shake. "Harry, I'm not
pretending that it wasn't a very serious thing you were
contemplating—but none of us are guilty of crimes for what we think.
Had you done it, you would have been far beyond the pale, but you
didn't. You stopped yourself, and then you felt horribly guilty, and
you went all to pieces realising what you could have done."
Harry looked up at him, feeling a slight lightening of his heart.
Harry," Sirius told him, "this may sound like a bunch of medi-wizard
mumbo-jumbo, but the truth is that you're expecting yourself to go
right back to normal after the Last Battle, and you can't possibly. You
survived a war, were unconscious for almost a month, woke up only to
start studying like a madman for your N.E.W.T.s, took the hardest exams
you'll ever take in your life, then promptly got on the Hogwarts
Express and came back. You never had a chance to deal with what you
saw, what you experienced. Nobody comes unscathed out of war, Harry,
mentally or physically. Nobody."
welling up in Harry's eyes, try as he might to suppress them. "Everyone
else seemed to," he said thickly. "Everybody else seemed so—so normal—I
couldn't bear to think I had been so changed, so twisted…"
else had a month to try to recover, to cry on each others' shoulders,
to assimilate the deaths and mourn them at memorials. You were
unconscious. And then, when you should finally have been able to take
that time, you forced yourself into revising. Harry, you are no more
twisted than Ron or Hermione. But our experiences shape us, and you
have had more experiences in your lifetime than any three other people.
You're going to have more to assimilate." Sirius released his shoulders
and sat back. "You are responsible for none of the deaths that have
touched us so deeply, Harry—not Dumbledore's, not Hagrid's, and
certainly not mine. I knew what I was doing when I got into the fight,
and I would not have been in the way of that curse if I hadn't been
running toward you to knock you clear. If I'd trusted you to be able to
get away in time—" He sighed and ran his fingers through his hair, then
looked up with a grin. "But no parent thinks clearly when their child
is threatened, not even a godparent."
very still, trying to digest what Sirius had been telling him—what Ron
and Hermione had said to him many times. He still felt as though he
should have been able to do more, but the terrible guilt had begun to
fade now, into regret. As for the Dursleys—
Sirius was right, he realised. Ron was right. He hadn't done it, after all. He had stopped himself.
would not have stopped himself," Sirius said, again uncannily reading
Harry's mind. "Yes, he sought vengeance and took it, violently. You
sought a harmless, pranksterish vengeance and were taken by surprise
when it became something more, then stopped yourself before it could
get out of control." He touched Harry's arm, and Harry looked at him
again. "Remember that you felt that way," Sirius said softly, "because
it will give you strength later on. Remember that you overcame your
lesser tendencies. Remember that you did not take the easy path.
Remember that you chose to be humane, as well as human. And remember, as always, Harry, that you are my godson, and I love you very much."
tears brimmed over, and Harry leaned his head in his hands again,
shaking. Sirius moved to sit next to him on the rock and put a
consoling arm about his shoulders, letting Harry sob out months' worth
of fear and anger and loss and the horrific weight of guilt he had been
carrying for so long. "It's all right," Sirius murmured. "It's all
right. And it will be all right when you wake. You'll see."