Potter on Paper: Fanart and Fanfiction by Mudblood428
AFTER THE DIE IS CAST
Chapter 13: The Scar
Harry was dreaming of bees. Swarming around him in a thick cloud of red and gold, strange bumblebees with long white beards buzzed and whirred setting his skin tingling as they lighted on his arms and legs – never stinging, but rather wafting a flowery aroma into his nose. He detected something sweet like honey in the air and on his tongue before the buzzing was underscored by a pair of hushed, agitated voices.
"He looks a bit… grippy… don't you think?"
"‘Grippy’? Don’t you mean 'gippy'?"
"Right, what I said.”
"I mean, he’s not so red anymore, but now it’s like he’s just spent another ten years at the bloody Dursley’s, don’t you think?"
"No, I don’t, actually. To me, he looks rather well."
"That’s a joke, yeah?"
"Certainly not. I’d much rather him pale than red in the face, seeing as it means his fever’s broken!"
"There’s no need to get all flustered, Hermione. I’m simply alerting you to the possibility that he is in dire need of some of Lupin’s chocolates, if you get my meaning."
"Are… are you mocking me?"
"Come on, just look at his face-"
"I am looking at his face, he looks just fine!"
"Well… I reckon it's an improvement over the death-warmed-up look, but-"
"You never fail to amaze me, Ron."
"Don't look so pleased, I only meant that you have the tact of a rabid River Troll."
"What'd I do now?"
"Oh, nothing! For Merlin's sake, Harry is out cold seven days after he destroys Voldemort and nearly dies in the act, and all you can think of is how ill he looks? More astonishing to me than your insensitivity and utter lack of any delicacy at all is the fact that I put up with it!"
"Brilliant. Love you too, Hermione."
"Bloody hell, they even argue in my dreams," rasped Harry, cracking open one bloodshot eye to the sight of Ron and Hermione's blurry faces at his bedside.
The two of them nearly jumped a foot out of their chairs at the sound of his voice. “Harry!” they gasped.
He blinked groggily. “Good… morning?”
It was clearly nighttime. The room was dark, nothing but what seemed like a small collection of candles in the far corner of the room to contend with the vanishing moon. Without his glasses, Harry could make out little more than the warm glowing halo behind Ron and Hermione's indistinct silhouettes. The buzzing in his ears had been the wind and the slow onslaught of rain; tapping dully against the windows, the sound seemed to enhance Harry’s fogginess as he struggled to gather his senses. It was only by the dark, dreary walls and inordinate depth of the room that Harry could tell he was at Number Twelve Grimmauld Place, his home outside of Hogwarts ever since he had bid farewell to Dudley Dursley’s second bedroom. But how he had arrived there and how long he had been confined to Sirius’s old enormous four-poster bed seemed unimportant matters compared to feeling like his mind had gone on holiday while the world – and Ron and Hermione’s arguments – went quietly on without him.
Each bringing a candle to the night table, they stood anxiously over Harry’s bed. "Thank goodness you’re awake! We’ve all been so anxious – I was starting to think you’d never come to!" cried Hermione in a loud whisper, touching the back of her fingers to Harry’s cheeks to check for fever. "How is your hearing? Are you seeing any spots? Sense anything unusual?"
Harry tried to smile at her fussing, and surprised himself at how difficult it was to make his lips cooperate. He imagined that he looked more pained than amused and stopped trying. “Does dreaming about bearded bumblebees count as unusual?” he mumbled, his throat uttering a gravelly sound that was meant to be a laugh if not for the soreness in his lungs that strangled it before it left his mouth. Hermione did not notice; she was otherwise preoccupied with making an assessment of his vitals.
"Hermione… what are you doing?"
"Eyes open, Harry,” she ordered, blinding him as she lit the end of her wand. Tearing up, his eyes creaked open wide enough for her to check whatever it was she was checking until, satisfied in her observations, she leaned back and smiled. "Now then, how do you feel?"
"And, er, how much did you hear?" asked Ron sheepishly.
“I feel like I just got through a Quidditch match with McClaggen,” muttered Harry, weakly bringing a hand to his aching head and finding a bandage wrapped tightly around it. His other hand already rested over a bandage wrapped uncomfortably around his torso. "Has it really been a week?” he murmured, and he began unsuccessfully to squirm away an itch in his side beneath the dressing. The strange tingling sensation he had perceived in his dreams was all over him now as though the hundreds of bees from his dream were still buzzing about on his skin.
"Seven days, seventeen hours exactly," said Ron softly.
"You’ve been keeping track?" asked Harry.
"Well there’s not been much else to do but wait around, has there?" Ron replied with a half-smile. "To be honest, I thought you’d be out for longer, all things considered."
Just then, Harry noticed that his limbs didn’t seem to want to cooperate either. Everything felt prickly and oddly numb. The exception was his right hand; though it was not charred quite as black as it had been before, it now felt as if his bones and sinews had been replaced by old rickety wood. “I feel weird,” he said, stretching his fingers wide, slowly wriggling the dexterity back into them.
"Madam Pomfrey expected as much," said Hermione, pulling her chair to the bed and sitting down, and Ron followed suit. "When you passed out, we took you to the infirmary in the Ministry of Magic where you were put under a spell to make your body hibernate until you woke up. Now that you’re conscious, it’s probably just wearing off."
Harry shifted uncomfortably, not altogether complacent at the idea that his body had been charmed frozen for seven days while his mind dozed; the aftereffects didn’t seem to be worth the trouble. His mouth was dry and his stomach was beginning to rumble. "Ron, you just mentioned Lupin’s chocolates, didn't you? Is he here?"
"Yeah, why, do you want some? He’s always got some on hand," said Ron brightly, already starting towards the door.
"No, I just got reminded. Actually… I was just wondering if – er – how he’s doing," stammered Harry.
"Both he and Tonks are fine,” said Hermione knowingly.
Letting out a breath of air, Harry tried again to smile and managed an awkward grimace. “She is? Well, that’s good news,” he murmured, relieved. “Seems I’m not the only lucky one, then."
Both Hermione and Ron fell silent, and Harry realized at once that he had just trespassed onto a subject that no one wanted to talk about just yet. Although being unconscious had spared Harry the immediate burden of confronting what had happened, he knew that Ron and Hermione had had an entire week to mull it over and do nothing but wait and hope that he would be all right when he woke. Unwilling to dwell on such dark thoughts, Harry rushed to recover the conversation.
“So they got her back to St. Mungo’s in time?” he said, clearing his throat.
“Thankfully, yes,” said Hermione. "Tonks has had a bit of a rough spot. She only got out a few days ago."
He gathered the worst from Hermione’s expression. "Permanent damage?"
She nodded. "She and Lupin are sharing scars now."
“But she’s quite proud of us, you know,” Hermione added with a smile. “I mean, it’s not likely she’ll return to the Defense Against the Dark Arts post–“
“Surprise, surprise,” muttered Ron under his breath.
"–But she couldn’t believe us when we told her about our fight with the Death Eaters in the concourse at Kings Cross. And then, when she heard about what Neville did to Bellatrix, Lupin practically had to hold her to the bed, she was so excited!"
"I’ll bet she was," chuckled Harry. "Remind me to thank her. Reckon we’d have done a lot worse if she hadn’t taught us what to do in battle – Neville, especially." He paused, uttering a pensive sigh. "Come to that, I owe Neville a thank-you as well, don’t I?"
"You know," said Hermione, “Neville’s actually been by to see you. Luna, too."
"They asked my mum for permission since you’ve been sort of under Weasley supervision, what with my dad’s Ministry connections and all," said Ron simply. "You know how Mum is. She took one look at Neville and started blubbering madly about him and how proud his parents would be and something about ‘rising to the occasion’. As for Luna… well, she didn’t know what to do with Luna, but then who does, really?" he remarked. "Looking back on it, I can’t remember whether or not she said yes to either of them!"
"Yeah, sounds like your Mum," Harry agreed, finally managing a successful grin. "I hope Neville got a swelled head for once. He earned it."
"Speaking of which… I’d just, you know, been meaning to tell you," said Ron, fiddling with a frayed thread on the edge of his Chudley Cannons shirt.
Harry turned his gaze upon his ginger-haired mate, who now wore a thoughtful expression. "Yeah?"
"It was a good idea – putting Neville in charge, that is," murmured Ron.
So Ron had taken Neville’s induction as leader of the D.A. as a rejection after all, thought Harry. "I’m glad you think so.”
Ron snorted. "He’s a new man. You’d barely recognize him."
"How do you mean?"
"Well, for starters he talked back to his Gran when they both came by to visit you," replied Ron, leaning back in amusement. “I’d’ve given my last Knut to see that again!"
Hermione waved a hand dismissively. "He didn’t talk back to his Gran so much as he just asserted himself," she clarified. "Basically, she’d started in comparing Neville and you like the fact that you were passed out made you a lesser wizard or something. So Neville told her that she had no right comparing the two of you when you’re the one that did Voldemort in-"
"Right, I believe his choice words were ‘if you have nothing better to do than behave like a barmy old crone, you can leave,’" sniggered Ron.
Harry’s jaw fell open.
"You’re not serious," he contended.
"Serious as Moody dressed in Winky’s tea cozy."
“Ha! I’d’ve given up my own last Knut to see that," chuckled Harry despite the pain in his side that stung especially sharply when he laughed.
"I suppose it’s good that he’s more, erm, confident, but he’s different. Sadder," added Hermione. "He hasn’t been able to talk about what happened yet. With him and Bellatrix, I mean."
"Of course not," Harry murmured, half to himself as he scratched at a tingly itch beneath the bandage on his head. Recognizing the weight of sadness in his own chest, Harry suddenly felt a greater kinship with Neville Longbottom than he had felt before. Forgetful and clumsy though he was – or had been before that fateful night at Kings Cross Station – Neville, too, had finally gotten his opportunity to be heroic and had succeeded. And yet, it appeared to Harry now that neither he nor Neville would ever find comfort in their heroic deeds.
Hermione interrupted Harry’s thoughts. "Anyway, Luna asked me to tell you that she’s saved you a copy of the latest Quibbler to give you at Commencement," she said, rolling her eyes. "You’re on the cover, of course, with ‘Voldie Dies, Potter Survives’ in big flashy letters. Something of an insipid headline in my opinion."
"And dull, too," Ron chimed in.
"Hang on… Commencement?" Still foggy, Harry had completely forgotten about graduating from Hogwarts. Suddenly, his headache worsened as he realized that he had not put nearly enough effort into his W.O.M.B.A.T.s in anticipation of his last meeting with Voldemort. "And are we sure I’m actually meant to graduate?" he muttered miserably. "I’ve skived off enough classes to count as a dropout, haven’t I?"
"Hmph. You’d think so," said Hermione, a smirk creeping onto her lips.
Harry noticed a trace of excitement in her voice. At that moment, she tapped Ron’s arm and gestured to the armoire across the room and, nodding, Ron got up from his chair and disappeared into the darkness. When he returned, Harry saw that he had retrieved a roll of parchment and a box small enough to contain a chocolate frog.
"We were saving it for you ‘til you woke up," said Ron, placing the items on the bed covers.
Harry picked up the box first. The gold string wrapped around it came off easily into his hand as though someone had already gotten into the box before him. Opening it, he found a gold medallion about the size of a Galleon fastened to a velvet lavender ribbon, and etched into the gold was a swirl of letters and symbols that Harry did not understand. "What is this?" he asked.
"Open the parchment and see," said Hermione anxiously.
Keeping a wary eye on her, Harry broke the wax seal and opened the scroll. “Erm… I don’t actually know where my glasses are.”
Hermione leapt up and plucked them off the night table. “Here,” she said, handing them over.
Harry put them on and squinted. “It’s too dark. I can’t see the writing.”
“For goodness’ sake, here,” said Hermione exasperatedly, pulling out her wand and lighting it over the parchment. “Now read!”
“Okay, okay…” Harry cleared his throat and began to read aloud.
Dear Mr. Potter,
In wake of recent events, it is the privilege of the Wizengamot on behalf of the Ministry of Magic to award you Order of Merlin, Second Class, the highest honor bestowed solely upon those who demonstrate exemplary valor and gallantry in the face of a foe of the Wizarding World.
Please accept this medallion as a symbol of our appreciation for your services and as evidence of your place among the greatest wizards of our time. The Wizarding Community commends you.
Hon. Rufus Scrimgeour
Minister of Magic
Harry was agape. “I’m- I’m in the Order of Merlin…”
Hermione looked fit to burst with pride. “I know, isn’t it wonderful?” she cried.
“I don’t believe it…,” he whispered.
Ron huffed. “Tell me about it. Old Scrimgeour just couldn’t bring himself to do more than commend you for your ‘services’,” he muttered. “You’d think you had just been picking up the rubbish on Diagon Alley ‘stead of saving the world. Should’ve gotten First Class, if you ask me.”
Wearing an embarrassed grin, Harry felt his face redden at Ron’s statement. “So does this mean my lousy W.O.M.B.A.T. marks are exempt then?”
“Oh, you actually did fine on your exams,” said Hermione, casting him a feigned annoyed expression. “I just figured you ought to know that because of what you’ve done you’ve made your grades completely obsolete. I ought to hang you for it.”
“I imagine it probably wouldn’t go over well if McGonagall failed out the hero of the Wizarding World,” sniggered Ron.
Harry’s cheeks warmed once more, but the next moment, a thought entered his mind that drained the blood from his face entirely.
“Ron... Hermione… about what happened at the station,” he began slowly. “How many people know?”
Ron exchanged looks with Hermione and sighed. “Everyone.”
“The whole bloody Wizarding World. They’re updating the history books as we speak. Poor Hermione’s going to have to replace half her librar- ow!” Hermione had slapped him swiftly on the arm.
“What Ron is trying to say is that you’ve gotten a bit of a… a new reputation now,” she explained, and Harry felt his stomach lurch. “It’s why we had to bring you here. This is the only place that’s protected enough to keep away the hoards of people who want a look at the Man Who Defeated You-Know-Who.”
“I might have known,” mutterered Harry. Letting out a gust of air, he passed a hand wearily over his face, his fingers bumping against the gauze around his forehead. Laying his palm flat over the bandage, he groaned. “This scar is going to be more of a curse now than when there was a bit of Voldemort’s soul in it, isn’t it?”
Looking uncomfortable, Ron shifted his eyes and absently scratched the back of his neck. “It might.”
“Listen, Harry,” said Hermione, placing her hand over Harry’s, her brows furrowed in trademark seriousness. “Maybe things are a little jumpy right now, but it’ll be fine, you’ll see. What does it matter what the Wizarding World thinks? Dumbledore’s Army fought with you that night – we all saw what happened while the rest of the Wizarding World only read about it in the Daily Prophet. And maybe most of us will probably never understand what happened or how you did it, but at least your friends know that you’re not just some marked man,” she said wisely.
Harry said nothing. His head was clearing and the effect was something he had not expected. Suddenly, a painful lump had welled up in his throat. “Dumbledore’s Army,” he whispered, turning his face away from them. Something inside began to hurt terribly, as if a knife’s point were pressed sharply against his heart.
“Erm… Harry?” she prompted gently.
“Susan,” he whispered. “Colin… and Padma…”
Ron uttered a long sigh. “Yeah.”
A hollow darkness greater than the gloom already present in the large room descended upon him like a Dementor’s cold draught. Closing his eyes, Harry shook his head as if it would shake free his mind from the memory of Parvati’s screams. “I promised them that… if they could only stay together, they’d come out alive,” he murmured, his voice wavering.
Both Ron and Hermione hesitated, panicked that they had already landed on the topic of who had died and Harry had barely been awake more than ten minutes.
Finally, Ron cleared his throat. “Harry, don’t think about it. You’ll only torture yourse-“
“I could’ve stopped Goyle’s dad, couldn’t I?” he interrupted.
There was another pause while Ron and Hermione gaped at him, startled. “No, Harry,” exclaimed Hermione, but Harry barely heard her.
“I could’ve. And the D.A.... I just left them. How could I do that, why didn’t I just stay...?”
“But you couldn't stay!”
Suddenly, he wished desperately that he could move. If he weren’t still regaining the feeling in his toes, he’d run – he didn’t care where so long as he wasn’t flat on his back with nothing to do but think of what he should have done differently. But no, he thought bitterly. There was nowhere to run where his scar would not give him away, only now, it would not remind him of his cursed bond with Voldemort, but forever be a mark of something far worse. Numbly, without so much as a thought about what he was saying, the words that had haunted him since the moment Dean, Seamus and Lavender disappeared down the concourse with Padma and Parvati in tow crept onto his lips at last.
“It should’ve been me.”
“What?” gasped Hermione.
“The Death Eaters only came after us because they were looking for me. They couldn’t kill me, remember? But nothing would keep them from killing anyone else, it would only be another way to get to me. I may as well have arranged it all on purpose. I led them right into a trap– "
“No, you didn’t! Don’t go blaming yourself,” said Ron sternly placing a hand on Harry’s shoulder. “You couldn’t’ve saved them. How do you know that Goyle wouldn’t have killed you instead if you’d gotten in the way of that curse?”
At this, Harry paused. “I don’t…”
“Right! And how do you know that the Inferi wouldn’t have taken over the tunnels if you had stayed with the D.A.?” offered Hermione. “And Neville – what if you had never found him and Bellatrix?”
“And then Voldemort would have wiped London clean off the map and all those Muggles and Muggle-borns would’ve died,” Ron continued, instinctively taking Hermione’s hand. “No. Trust me, there’s nothing you or Neville or any of us could have done, mate. It just… I dunno… happened.”
“Ron’s right, you know,” came a deep voice from the dark end of the room.
Harry detected a tall figure in the doorway behind the curtain of his four-poster bed. “Lupin?” he whispered.
“I heard louder voices than usual and figured you might be awake,” said Lupin, grinning warmly as he made his way towards Harry. He looked greyer, his skin etched with crosshatched scars, and his mild disposition had returned. Harry tried to smile back and could not manage it, albeit this time it was not for a lack of command over his mouth.
“For a moment, I forgot where I was; in this house, you three sound so much like James, Sirius, and me,” Lupin said with a short laugh, gazing affectionately at Ron and Hermione. Then, he turned to Harry and placed a hand on his shoulder. “I must say, seven days of beauty sleep and you’re looking much better, Harry. How do you feel?”
“I’m fine,” he lied.
Lupin sat on the edge of the bed, resting his knowing gaze on Harry’s face. He sighed. “That hang-up of yours for saving people. It’s never going to go away, is it,” he murmured. “You destroyed Voldemort… and it’s still not enough for you. When will it be enough, Harry, to be only human?”
Harry forced his eyes to look away, wishing now that he had not said anything at all.
“Well.” Lupin shifted on the mattress and folded his hands in his lap. “Listen closely, because I’m only going to say this once,” he said in a gentle voice. “Ron and Hermione have told me everything. Harry, what happened to Padma, Susan, and Colin was out of your hands before the fight even began. You’re forgetting something very important, and it’s that your friends made choices that night. The people you called Dumbledore’s Army knew what might happen to them, but they had their reasons for fighting just like you did, didn’t they? They knew the danger; the risk that they could be killed,” said Lupin. “Taking responsibility for whether or not they survived takes away from them whatever passion and loyalty drove them to fight with you to begin with. Did you ever consider that?”
“I… I hadn’t thought of it that way,” said Harry quietly.
Lupin dug a small pouch out of his pocket and held it in his lap. “Yes, well, I’ve had some time to work out my own issues over that sort of thing myself. Sirius died in a way that any of James’s true friends would have wanted to go, you know. Fighting Voldemort. Protecting you,” he said. “I used to hold myself accountable for what happened to him, but it did no good, Harry. Do you know why?”
“Why?” Harry whispered.
“Because you were the one I was meant to save.”
Startled, Harry raised his eyes to find Lupin gazing back at him with a thoughtful expression on his face. “What do you mean?”
Lupin lowered his voice. “Whichever one of us would have fallen through the Veil, you’d have run into the Veil right after him if no one was there to hold you back. Or perhaps you’ve forgotten?”
Ron and Hermione were silent and staring at the floor. Harry swallowed hard; he wasn’t sure if this was making him feel better or worse, and it seemed that Lupin could sense it as he placed a hand securely over Harry’s ashen fingers.
“I know you’re hurt. I know you feel guilty. But you need to understand that regardless of what you expect from yourself, you are only human. Your friends died, but not because of anything you did or didn’t do. Every war has its casualties. And in the end, you were exactly where you needed to be.”
Lupin flipped Harry’s hand over and emptied the contents of the small pouch onto his palm; a few fragments of chocolate, one of which Lupin plucked back out of Harry’s hand to toss into his own mouth.
“Eat,” he said, chewing. “It helps.”
Harry cast him a withered look as he slowly raised the chocolate to his lips and bit off a sliver. The effect was almost instantaneous – the stiffness in his joints began to dissipate at the same time as the weight on his heart began to slowly lift. It seemed odd that the chocolate could work so effectively when it had been a full week since his last encounter with Dark Magic. But then, something about sharing chocolate with Lupin the way they had when he was learning to cast his first Patronus, Harry decided, seemed to be precisely the thing he needed. More than satisfying an empty stomach, it was distracting.
Not that he doubted Lupin's words. Somewhere mixed in with his troubled thoughts Harry knew that Lupin was right. He was simply tired, as though he had just completed a seven year-long race that had only just finished, and now he would have to learn again how to walk instead of run. In the end Harry suspected that he would always feel responsible for what happened, but as he lay in bed in the company of Lupin, Ron, and Hermione, who had purposely changed the subject to talk of the summer and their post-commencement plans, he began to feel as though his worries and complaints were intruding on the observance of something more important. For him, his friends, and for everyone else that would have died if Harry had failed, at least there was a future to look forward to.
He instantly realized there was someone missing from the picture.
“Where’s Ginny?” he said suddenly.
Lupin, Ron and Hermione stopped talking to look at him.
“She’s right here,” said Ron.
“She is? Downstairs, you mean?”
Ron shook his head. “No. Here.” He pulled out his wand and lit it brightly enough to illuminate the room in a soft glow. “There,” he said, pointing a finger past Harry’s right side.
There was a small settee against the wall of Harry’s room, visible only when Harry slid one hand over to push aside the curtain of his four-poster bed. Sure enough, curled up awkwardly beneath one of Mrs. Weasley’s knitted blankets was Ginny Weasley, identifiable only by the long pleat of ginger hair that draped softly over her shoulder; the rest of her face was turned away from them concealing closed eyes and freckled cheeks. As he stared, he wondered at the strange feeling that had come over him – his heart began to thrum hard against the bandages and for a brief moment he thought fiercely about ordering Lupin, Ron and Hermione from the room just so he could continue to look at Ginny as she slept.
“I… I never knew she was such a sound sleeper,” said Harry at last, somewhat shocked that Ginny had not woken up and made her presence known in the entire time that the four of them had been talking.
“She’s not,” laughed Lupin, rising from the foot of the bed. Walking over to her, he lifted her arm by the wrist and let it plop back into her lap like a limp rope. “It seems she’s finally followed her mother’s advice and taken that Sleeping Draught.”
Harry raised an eyebrow. “Sleeping Draught?”
“Ginny hasn’t exactly had a restful week, Harry,” said Lupin matter-of-factly. “I can’t imagine that surprises you.”
“Oh,” was all Harry could say. Indeed, she looked beyond exhausted; perhaps it was the draught's effect, but her chest was rising and falling at an abnormally slow and steady pace. As his eyes looked worriedly upon her sleeping figure, Harry noticed that despite her stupor, the fingers of her hand were tightly clenched into a fist, the knuckles white.
Lupin cleared his throat. “Well. I think I’ll go down and tell Molly and Arthur that their charge has finally woken up!” he said cheerfully, rocking himself back onto his feet. Ruffling Harry’s hair, he said, “Don’t go anywhere.”
“I can’t. I don’t think my legs work yet,” chided Harry, and with that, Lupin stepped out of the room.
As Lupin left, Ron put out his wand and Hermione lit a lamp at the dark end of the room. “You know… Ginny’s barely budged from that spot since they brought you in here,” came Hermione’s low voice.
“Yeah. Said she wanted to be nearby in case you woke up. She’ll be right put out that she missed it,” remarked Ron.
At this news, Harry’s heart swelled hopefully in his chest. “Yeah? Can’t have that, now can I?” he said. For the first time since he had opened his eyes, he mustered his strength to slowly roll over onto his side, reaching out his wounded hand to grasp his wand from the night table. He aimed it at Ginny.
The settee lifted slowly off the floor, hovering for a moment before drifting gently towards them. Ginny did not so much as stir.
“Watch it, Harry, you might want to make sure she doesn’t have her wand on her,” muttered Ron. “I happen to know she’s not a morning person. Just ask Fred and George about the ‘Breakfast Bogey Incident’…”
“There are worse things than being Bat Bogey-Hexed.”
“Clearly, you’re not speaking from experience!”
“Harry, be careful – you’ve only just come to,” said Hermione.
“I’m fine,” said Harry, though he was admittedly just a bit dizzy from the small motion of propping himself up against the pillows. His fingers found Ginny’s shoulder and gave it small squeeze. Amanesco, he thought intensely, feeling magic trickle out of his hand to wake her.
Ginny shifted in her chair and it looked as if she might resume sleeping before she opened one sleepy eye to Harry and gasped.
“Good morning,” he whispered to her.
“Harry,” she breathed, her eyes wide.
Neither smiling nor frowning, Ginny looked as though she wasn’t quite believing what she was seeing, a reaction somewhat different from the one Harry had hoped for. Perhaps she would rather not have been woken, he thought, but he had no chance to apologize before Ginny, staring intently back at him, pushed a loose strand of her hair out of her eyes revealing a bandage bound tightly around her palm where Gryffindor’s sword had cut her. The sight wiped the expectation clean from his face. His eyes now fixed upon this wound, Harry reached over to touch her hand, but was interrupted by a shrill cry from the doorway.
“Oh, Harry! Bless me, but you’re finally awake!” cried Mrs. Weasley, and she flew past Lupin into the room towards him, joyful tears already running from the crinkled corners of her eyes. Mr. Weasley, dressed in long pinstriped pajamas and a bright purple knitted nightcap, was close behind hastening towards Harry’s bed, unsuccessfully trying to intercept his wife before her arms fixed permanently around Harry in a tight embrace. “You’re all right now, aren’t you, dear? I’m so glad Remus woke us so I could see for myself!” she exclaimed. Awkwardly patting her back as she hugged him, Harry thought for a moment that he would sustain further injury if Mrs. Weasley held him any tighter.
“Hello there, Harry,” said Mr. Weasley, waving at Harry from behind his wife’s shoulder. “Doing well, now, I see! Molly, just let him breathe, for pity’s sake....”
“Oh, hush, Arthur! I’m allowed to be excited, aren’t I?” she laughed. Sniffing, Mrs. Weasley pulled away, leaving Harry to recover the sensation in his extremities. Looking to Harry’s side, she blinked in confusion. “Heavens, Ginny, I thought you said you were going to take the Sleeping Draught. What are you doing awake?”
Ginny glanced in Harry’s direction. “I – well-“
“Er, it’s so good to see you,” interrupted Harry, smiling warmly to both Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, all the while watching Ginny from the corner of his eye as she silently straightened herself in her seat and swept her braid behind her shoulder. “I, er, hope I haven’t been too much trouble,” he added, trying not to sound distracted.
“Trouble? Goodness, no,” she snorted. “With the Hibernation Charm, the only trouble we had was trying to keep from worrying too much!”
“And Mum failed spectacularly at it,” muttered Ron out of the corner of his mouth. Harry pinched together his lips to keep from giggling.
Mr. Weasley nudged Ron’s shoulder, to which Ron gave a discontented grunt as he gave up his seat. “Harry, I’m glad you’re well. I expect Ron and Hermione have already spilled the news of your big honor?”
Quickly returning his attention to Mr. Weasley, Harry picked up the medallion to show him. “Yeah. I’m not sure I believe it just yet.”
“Yes, well, it was a great thing you did,” he said, gazing at Harry with a pride that he reserved for his own children. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t right terrified that you weren’t going to make it through, but then you have a knack for surprising us, don’t you?”
Harry swallowed hard and lowered his eyes. “Surprised myself as well,” he murmured in a distant voice. The rain outside had begun to pour heavily from the sky. Perhaps it was his imagination, but the sound of water splashing hard against the windowpanes and the sight of Ginny’s bandaged hand, it all seemed to stir something in his memory – and whatever it was had something to do with the vague sense he had that there was a significant reason for the fact that he had not died. Ginny, Harry noticed, was sitting and staring vacantly ahead, unusually quiet.
“Harry… would you mind terribly if I ask you something?” Mr. Weasley looked anxious. “Ministry related, that is-“
“For Merlin’s sake, Arthur, the boy’s only just woken up!” scolded Mrs. Weasley.
“No, it’s all right.” Better now than later, he thought; whatever he was about to hear would be something unpleasant if it had anything to do with the Ministry. “What is it?”
Mr. Weasley slipped his nightcap off to smooth the dwindling tuft of red hair that clung stubbornly to his balding head. “I do realize this may be too soon to ask you, but there’s been a matter of great importance pending for the Wizengamot since your, er, moment at Kings Cross,” he said, a weak half-smile on his lips. “And resolving it is contingent upon you.”
Harry gave a sardonic laugh. “What could the Ministry possibly have left to ask of me?”
“You see, there’s the problem of what to do with the Malfoys.”
So that was it. Harry saw Ron, Hermione, and Ginny all look the other way.
“Lucius is being held in Azkaban. Narcissa and Draco have both been left in the custody of the Ministry at a resident facility outside of London. The lot of them are charged with treason, and Draco is being held as an accomplice to attempted murder,” said Mr. Weasley, his eyes conveying a seriousness that Harry had not seen since the time they had visited the Ministry of Magic together in his fifth year to clear Harry’s name.
“Attempted murder? But we already told them ages ago that Malfoy was put up to it by Voldemort,” Harry explained. “I’ll tell them Snape confessed that Dumbledore’s death was arranged-“
“No, Harry. The matter of Dumbledore’s murder is only a small part of Draco’s problem. The attempted murder in question… is yours.”
“As far as the Minister is concerned, that little moment we all burst in on the Death Eaters was just us interrupting Malfoy handing you over to die,” explained Hermione, looking uncomfortable.
Harry huffed in exasperation. “Rot. Scrimgeour wasn’t even there! It was the only way to get to Voldemort. Malfoy was… helping. They all were,” he muttered, hardly believing the words as they left his mouth. “Well… more or less, anyway. It’s not like wizards haven’t been granted clemency for lesser acts. Besides, there were loads of witnesses. I mean, Malfoy’s dad was fighting next to you, Mr. Weasley! Didn’t anyone say anything?”
“The Ministry doesn’t care what we say,” said Ginny suddenly.
Harry’s eyes instantly flicked in her direction. “Why not?”
“I was the only one who saw what was happening from the beginning with you and Snape and Malfoy at the Hogwarts Express, so I testified,” she murmured, a hardened look on her face as though she was reigning in her own unspeakable frustration. “They said that I was an ‘unreliable source’ because… well, because I had once been possessed by Voldemort.”
Harry clenched his fists until he could feel his fingernails digging into his palms.
“It’s like this,” said Ron, leaning against one of the posters of Harry’s bed. “You already know that the Ministry’s been after Voldemort and his cronies for a long while, and Scrimgeour was getting pretty eager to get his own hands on the lot of them. I mean, think how great the Ministry would’ve looked if they had been the ones responsible for that victory at the station. But you did it instead. You sort of… stole their thunder.”
“As if I had a choice!” exclaimed Harry, so hotly that for a moment he had forgotten his weakness, and his head began to swim.
“Either way, Scrimgeour is of the mind that someone’s got to pay for what’s happened if it can’t be Voldemort, and the Malfoys have drawn enough notoriety to make their convictions a public spectacle of the Ministry’s power,” said Lupin. “They also know about your rivalry with Draco.”
Suddenly everything fell into place in Harry’s mind. “So the Ministry wants me to help them convict the Malfoys, do they? Is that what this was for?” he snapped, angrily tossing the Order of Merlin medallion away so that it landed on the covers at his feet. “They thought that all they had to do was butter me up and I’d help them? As much as I can’t stand the sight of Malfoy, I’m not going to be Scrimgeour’s pawn so he can lock up more people for crimes they didn’t commit!” Breathing quickly, Harry paused to see everyone in the room watching him with expectant looks on their faces. Even Mrs. Weasley seemed anxious. Finally, he said, “Tell them that I’ll testify. In the Malfoys’ defense.”
They all seemed to let out a collective breath of relief. Mr. Weasley clapped Harry on the shoulder. “That’s a good man, Harry.”
“Yeah, well, I’d rather side with the Malfoys than be Scrimgeour’s puppet. What does that say?” grumbled Harry.
“I can see you’re still Dumbledore’s man,” he growled, mocking Scrimgeour’s own grating tone of voice.
The joke startled Harry out of his temper. At once, he returned Mr. Weasley’s triumphant grin. “Through and through,” he said.
“That’s what I thought. Welcome back!”
Together, they passed the next hour or so helping Harry catch up on the events of the week. Sipping on Mrs. Weasley’s homemade Dittany tea, Harry learned that Fred and George were given a special feature in the Daily Prophet for their magnificent artillery handiwork and Shield Cloak design, and that the repair of Kings Cross Station was the largest and fastest reconstruction in Wizarding history to be kept secret from Muggles since an argument between Millicent Bagnold and her Muggle Minister counterpart had resulted in the total disappearance of Parliament. They joked about how many Memory Charms it took to keep Muggles oblivious to the repairs, deciding that if it were not for his own irreparable memory loss, the Ministry should have employed Gilderoy Lockhart in the effort. As for the Muggles that perished at the station that night, the Muggle Minister had declared that "the gang members responsible have been captured and dealt with by an interior department of the Ministry." Which was not terribly far from the truth, Harry supposed.
Before long, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley excused themselves, declaring it was nearly three o’clock in the morning and breakfast would not make itself; Lupin left shortly after, departing with a yawn and the promise that he would take them to see Tonks the next morning. Eager to chat for as long as their bleary eyes would stay open, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny stayed behind. Talking made Harry feel considerably improved, although the bandages were constricting and he had begun to fiddle absentmindedly with the gauze around his head.
“So has anyone seen how Parvati is doing?” he asked, biting into his last shard of chocolate.
To Harry’s surprise, a smile formed on Ginny’s lips. “Dean has,” she said.
“Every day,” added Ron.
“For a week,” laughed Hermione.
“You don’t mean… Parvati and Dean… they’re together?” asked Harry incredulously.
“You left Dean in charge of her at the station, but I suppose you didn’t expect him to take the order to heart.” Hermione leaned back and tried to look smug. “Let’s just say that… strenuous circumstances brought them together.”
“Nothing you and I would know anything about, eh, Hermione?” smirked Ron.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Ronald Weasley,” she said, casting him a coy grin.
Ginny stuck her tongue out, pretending to wretch, and Harry sniggered in discreet agreement. He had missed joking with Ginny this way, and to sit beside her now as she resumed picking on Ron and Hermione brought Harry greater pleasure than he had would have anticipated. His eyes momentarily dropped to look at the dressing on Ginny’s hand, and an intense gratitude that he could not explain came over him at once. As Ron and Hermione berated Ginny for making fun of them, Harry’s thoughts were otherwise occupied with Ginny’s wounded fingers, straying onto the memory of her defiance against Voldemort. Surely he hadn’t imagined it; after everything he had done to keep her away, her feelings were miraculously unchanged, and it filled him with a hope he had not dared let himself feel before now.
Vaguely listening to Ron argue with Ginny over the propriety of public displays of affection, without necessarily paying attention to what he was doing, Harry reached up and peeled the bandage off of his head. “Pipe down, you two, or I’ll have to…. What are you staring at?”
Everyone in the room had grown completely still and were watching Harry now with alarm.
“What? What’s wrong?” He looked down and saw the bandage in his hand. “Oh,” he said quickly, “sorry, it was just bothering me a bit-“
“H-Harry,” stammered Ron, “what on earth has happened to your scar?”
The unmistakable fear in Ron’s voice sent Harry panicking. “What do you mean?” he murmured shakily. “What’s wrong with it?”
Ginny had her hands clasped over her mouth. Hermione leaned forward and squinted at the spot just above his eyes. “I don’t believe it,” she gasped.
“Bloody miracle…” breathed Ron.
“Would someone please tell me what’s going on?!” Harry yelled.
Rising from her chair, Ginny came towards him and sat on the bed. In a movement that made Harry’s heartbeat skip, she reached out her bandaged hand and pushed aside the fringe of hair over his forehead. “It’s... gone!”
His fingers flying to his forehead, Harry felt his face blanch. “A mirror…. Get me a mirror.”
Hermione instantly leapt out of her chair and ran towards the dresser, sifting through the objects on top of it until she came across an old tarnished mirror. They all crowded around Harry as he snatched it out of her hand and gazed at his reflection in utter disbelief. They had not been lying to him. The lightening bolt-shaped scar that had haunted him in the mirror every day for sixteen years had vanished without a trace.
“Merlin’s beard,” whispered Harry. “It’s not possible.”
“Bloody miracle,” gasped Ron again.
“Would you stop saying that?” blurted Harry. “There has to be a reason! You said Fawkes brought me back, Ron. Did you see him… you know… shed any tears?”
"He didn’t," said Ginny in a low voice. "Not a one."
“He didn’t?” repeated Harry, his wide eyes glued to his reflection as if his forehead would right itself and the scar would spontaneously reappear. “But… it’s impossible…”
“Is it?” whispered Hermione, suddenly looking pensive. Letting her gaze rest on Ginny’s despondent face, she said, “What do you think, Ginny?”
Ginny seemed momentarily unsettled, but answered calmly, “I think some magic just falls outside the Hogwarts curriculum."
Harry was now watching Ginny’s face as well. She raised her eyes slowly, as if meeting Harry’s gaze demanded more courage than she could muster after all that had happened, and as their eyes met, Harry momentarily forgot about his scar, realizing that there was a different kind of mending left to be done.
Looking from Ginny to Harry and back, Hermione suddenly cleared her throat and let out an enormous yawn. “Well! I’m exhausted, how about you, Ron?”
“'Magic outside the Hogwarts curriculum'? What the bloody hell is that supposed to mean?” said Ron to himself, unaware that there was something else going on in the room than the conversation.
“Come on, let’s go,” said Hermione, taking Ron’s hand and rising out of her chair.
“Hunh? Go?” he asked, frowning as she pulled him onto his feet. “Harry’s just lost his scar! Where are we going?”
“Again, and this time, less vague.”
“Ron. Let’s. Go. Elsewhere.”
Ron stared at Hermione as though she had sprouted another head before he drew a sharp breath and his face split into a foolish grin. “Oh, elsewhere!” he exclaimed, gleefully waggling an eyebrow at her. His voice dropping to a whisper, he added, “You know, if you fancy a snog, you can just say so-”
“Not THAT elsewhere!” she shouted, her face turning ten shades of red before settling on a dark crimson.
“Please, I beg you, just go do whatever you’re going to do and don’t tell me about it!” Harry groaned. “And tell your mum not to worry about breakfast, Ron, ‘cause I think I just lost my appetite.”
“Okay, okay,” Ron grunted, rolling his eyes as Hermione tugged him forward. Turning back to Harry, he added, “I need not remind you who you’re with. When I get back in here you two had better not be… you know… doing things.”
“Suppose I’d better lock the door then?” Harry quipped.
“For heaven’s sake,” said Hermione, impatiently yanking Ron towards the door, but before they made it out of the room, Ron hesitated. He looked back once more, an unrecognizable expression on his face.
“Harry?” he said.
“I’m glad you’re better, mate.”
It was a simple statement, but its effect was profound. Harry felt a sudden rush of affection for Ron, his best friend and the first companion he had ever made at Hogwarts, after which his gaze then turned to Hermione, the girl who in seven years had become a part of his conscience, both the brightest witch of her age and an equally indispensable friend. The three of them exchanged meaningful glances and he knew they shared the same thought: that nothing would ever be the same again. And it was a good thing.
“Thanks. Both of you,” Harry murmured. “For everything.”
“’Night, Harry,” said Hermione. Shifting her gaze away from Harry, she laced her arm through Ron's and guided him through the door. Harry heard her whisper to Ron as the door closed behind them, “I’m sorry I called you tactless…”
Alone at last, Harry and Ginny sat silently for several moments, neither quite knowing what to say or how to begin. Finally, Ginny cleared her throat. “This, erm, belongs to you.”
Her other hand had been tightly closed the entire night, but she finally opened it and held it out to Harry. Resting in her palm was Regulus Black's locket.
“I know how much it means to you,” she said. “I didn’t take it to keep it; I just didn’t want Madam Pomfrey or some other Healer to toss it aside and lose it.”
“Thanks,” he murmured, “but maybe you should hold onto it for a while. Wear it for me. Until I’m better.”
A faint smile on her lips, Ginny nodded silently and placed the chain around her neck. “Well. I suppose I should let you get some rest,” she said, hastily getting onto her feet and turning towards the door.
“Would you stay?” he asked, feeling color rising up into his ears. “Just for a little while.”
Harry saw Ginny draw a deep breath before she turned around to face him, blushing so deeply herself that for a moment she looked exactly as she did when she was still inadvertently placing her elbow in the butter dish at the Burrow.
“Okay,” she said. “If you like.”
At that moment, he reached his hand out towards her. Ginny approached him and seemed about to offer him her wounded hand before she retracted it and offered him the other.
"No. That one," whispered Harry, pointing to her bandaged fingers.
Hesitating, she raised her other hand and laid it gently in his, and he carefully drew her closer. She sat back down, but he did not let go. Instead, he began to undo the gauze.
“No," Ginny said with a start, pulling her hand back. "Don't-"
Harry held fast onto her fingers and raised his other blackened hand. "I don't mind it," he said simply. "Neither should you."
She fell silent and looked on anxiously as Harry carefully unwrapped the bandage, revealing two long stripes across her palm and fingers where she had caught Gryffindor's sword by the blade. The cuts looked as though they had probably been fused shut by Madam Pomfrey and no longer bled, but the marks were still painfully bright. The sight of it brought a lump to his throat.
"It... it's not fully healed yet," she murmured, tense as she watched Harry run careful fingers over the wound.
Harry shook his head. “It doesn’t seem right,” he murmured, “for me to lose a scar… while you gain one.” She looked at him quizzically, before Harry decisively threaded his fingers in hers. “This hand saved my life," he said in a far off voice.
For the first time that evening, Ginny looked at him the way she had on the Platform - a hard, blazing fierceness in her eyes. She reached over, took his own wounded hand in hers and threaded her fingers between his, holding it tightly. "This hand saved us all," she whispered.
He gulped, thrilled at the sensation of holding her hand again after a year of wishing he could. All of his questions had spontaneously resolved themselves in his mind, and he could no more keep from telling her what he knew than he could keep from being without her.
“I need to tell you,” said Harry finally, his voice hollow, “I wasn’t supposed to survive, Ginny.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying what I did should have killed me,” he said, looking past Ginny’s face as he tried to force his memory into focus. “But something happened. Something got in the way and stopped the Killing Curse before it could take me. I can’t help but think you know what it is…”
She raised her gaze and Harry could see pools of tears forming in the corners of her eyes. He pressed a hand against her cheek and felt a shiver run through him as he breathed, “'Magic outside the Hogwarts curriculum'….”
At once, Ginny began to cry in earnest.
"It was you, wasn’t it?" he whispered. "I should have died, but I didn’t because of you. Because of this,” he said, looking once more at the scars on her hand.
"I couldn’t be sure,” she cried. “It was the only way I could explain it, but…” Taking a short breath, Ginny looked searchingly into his face. "How do you know?"
He momentarily released her hand, letting his fingers travel to the chain that now hung around Ginny’s neck. He lifted the locket into his palm. "I can't explain it, Ginny.” He raised his eyes. “I just know."
She closed her hand around Harry’s and peered down at the necklace.
“I believe you,” she murmured.
Letting out a gust of air, he shook his head wearily. "That’s surprising."
"Because I lied to you, didn't I? Last year, when I said we couldn't be together, I told you it was because I thought Voldemort would come after you. When I said it, I thought I was only trying to protect you," he explained. "I didn't know it then, but it was a lie..."
Ginny cocked her head to the side in confusion. Harry drew in a deep breath and hoped not to say something stupid.
“We should never have parted. Everything that happened at the station proved what I already knew. You never needed my protection," he said, ashamed. "I was scared. Dumbledore’s death changed everything, and if I lost you…” His voice trailed off.
Ginny lowered her gaze and nodded. “I know,” she whispered.
Harry sighed morosely. “So, you see there was nothing noble about it," he finished with a weak smile. "Not when the one I was trying to protect was me."
"Oh, just stop," said Ginny in mock exasperation. "You're an awful liar. Maybe I didn't need your protection, but you had things to do on your own without wasting every other moment wondering which one of us would be the next to die. And if you were afraid of losing anyone, it's only because... you cared.”
Just then, as Harry had done when he was inches from death, Ginny placed her scarred hand over his heart. The motion made him catch his breath, and looking up, he could see tears sparkling in the corners of her eyes.
"What could be nobler?" she whispered, smiling.
Startling himself at how easily the words came to him now, he did not wait to speak.
"I more than care about you." He grazed his fingertips over her face and whispered, "I meant what I said to you on the platform, Ginny. Every word."
A tear slid down her cheek onto his fingers. "So did I."
Something in the way she answered made Harry’s heart begin to race, and he was sure she could feel its feverish pulse under her hand where it lay. Taken by surprise, he smoothed the tear away from her cheek and wondered at the new feeling in his chest – the monster that had possessed him in Sixth Year to kiss her in the Gryffindor common room before fifty people was gone now, replaced by a strange warmth that seemed to spring from beneath Ginny’s fingers.
Resolutely, she reached over and gently removed Harry’s glasses so she could gaze into his eyes, her fingers tenderly trailing along the curve of his cheek up to his forehead and lingering on the spot where Harry’s scar had once been. The gesture drew a shiver from the base of his spine through the top of his head, and he found himself at once overwhelmed and bewildered at how she had managed to grow even lovelier since they had parted one year ago.
He tucked a strand of ginger hair behind her ear. The emptiness that had taken residence inside him for sixteen years was fast receding the longer he looked at her – indeed he felt stronger – and hazy with exhilaration, Harry raised himself off the pillow, near enough to feel her breath on his face... her palm still pressed against his wildly beating heart... his nose filled with her flowery scent...
“Ginny,” he breathed.
“Yes, Harry?” she whispered.
He took her face in both hands.
Closing his eyes, Harry brought his lips to hers and kissed her as he had never done before; reacquainting himself before succumbing completely to the longing he had fought against for a year, as though every hope of feeling right again – with himself, with the world - resided in the warmth and familiar treacle sweetness of her lips. Without reserve, Ginny guided his arms around her, and though the sensation bordered on pain as the carefully constructed walls around his heart fell to ruins, he welcomed the ache happily. Suddenly, the recollection of that endless night at Kings Cross Station seemed far away, and as tears of restoration spilled from his eyes, Harry marveled at how incandescent his love for her had become.